So What Did Great Great Grandfather George Brayley Fox Keep In His Barns In 1892?

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Here we were then staying in the ancestral Callow barns and in the greatest comfort, each day looking out on the fields farmed by four generations of our Fox family, and wondering what it must have been like to have lived a life in these remote uplands above the Hope Valley, to have worked this land in all weathers.

The name Callow perhaps says it all – deemed to mean cold or bare hill in Old English. A hard life then, and especially for the women who mostly died in their forties and fifties after giving birth over and over. By contrast the Fox men tended to be long lived 2x, 4x and 5x-great-grandfathers all lasted into their eighties, and George Brayley’s grandfather, George, was 93 when he died. Tough old birds the lot of them, and some of them prone to a bit of competitive fist fighting, a pursuit that was illegal but much favoured and therefore well supported by the gentry.

In the last post I said that many of Derbyshire’s yeomen farmers were also much involved in lead mining and processing. This dangerous trade could make your fortune or kill you. The Barmote Court that regulated the industry’s practices was an ancient institution going back to 1288 when 115 square miles of Derbyshire’s High and Low Peak was established as the King’s Field, a free mining area. Surprisingly the construct pertains today, the last surviving Barmote Court still meeting at Wirksworth once a year.

According to Peak District Online the rules of the King’s Field were as follows:

Anybody was allowed to set up as a miner and work by very liberal rules permitting them to search for lead ore anywhere but in churchyards, gardens, orchards and highways. The miners had right of access, water and space to mine and dump their waste without regard. They did however have to pay a royalty on all ore mined, of one thirteenth to the Crown( known as a lot ) and one tenth or tithe to the Church.
The Barmote Court was established to deal with disputes and claims arising from lead mining and to collect the royalties due.

In other words, the lead miners were likely to be tough, free-booting individuals and, although answerable to the Barmote Court in the staking and working of their claims, their pursuit of lead gave them the chance to break free from feudal obligations as tenant farmers and manorial employees.  One 16th century yeoman, Arthur Mower, also bailiff to the Lord of the Manor of Barlow, became so rich from lead mining and exporting he soon outclassed his lordship in terms of wealth and property. Not so the Foxes, at least not the Callow clan. But then George Brayley Fox did have quarry tools in his barn. And many more things besides.

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The 1891 census shows that George is seventy years old and  a widower. He is living at Callow with his son George (22 years) and daughter Louisa (25 years). His 9 year old step-grandchild from Farnsworth, Bolton in Manchester is also staying there at the time of the census, and this may be a clue as to the real reason why George B had announced his intention to sell up by the following year.

Giving up the tenancy of the farm where he was born must have been a wrench. It was certainly newsworthy, and reports of the Fox family finally leaving Callow were published in regional newspapers as far away as Leeds. The reports made much of the family’s connection with Callow’s environs since Norman Conquest days, a claim that was part of the Fox family narrative, much repeated down the generations, but so far lacking verifiable substance. The report below also says that the reason for selling up was due to the high rent, which was very much a common complaint of Derbyshire farmers at this time. But I still wonder if this was the chief reason, or the one meant for public consumption.

Derbyshire Courier 25 March 1893

Derbyshire Courier 25 March 1893

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So back to facts.

On Saturday 29 October 1892 the Sheffield & Rotherham Independent newspaper listed items in the upcoming Callow Farm sale. It is a vivid snapshot of life on the farm, and the picture it gives is of a well-managed enterprise using up-to-date technology, not of a farm that is failing. Much of the equipment is stated to be new, and the livestock of good quality.

First there are the horses – a black mare in foal, and an ‘excellent worker’; a valuable six-year old brown horse with ‘splendid action’; a roan foal by Bedford. There are 23 cows including 5 strong bullocks, a cow in calf for 25th December, and 4 cows due to calf in April. Then there are ‘11 superior stock ewes, 6 fat sheep, one two-shear ram, 12 strong lambs’. Finally in the farmyard there are ‘two fine ducks and one fine drake’.

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And now for the barn contents.

These included some pretty high-tech (not to say cutting edge) gear of the day, including a nearly new Samuelson 2-horse combined mower-reaper complete with spare shafts. This was the sort of pioneering equipment that was shown off at national trade exhibitions of the day, produced by the Britannia Works, Banbury.

Samuelson mower reaper

There was also a plough, several sets of harrows, a stone roller, a horse turnip hoe, 2 horse carts, a winnowing machine, a joiner’s bench and tools.

Then there are clues as to what the farm was producing. There is a stone cheese press, rack and boards (nearly new), five stacks of white oats, three stacks of wheat, two brewing tubs, a quantity of eating turnips – all of which reflect the standard staple diet of Derbyshire farming folk. For the animals there was one stack of ‘prime new hay’ and two stacks of black oats – probably horse fare.

The whole lot up for auction at 12 noon on the 3rd November 1892.

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And the reason for the sale – well my big guess is that it has much more to do with his eldest daughter, my Great Grandmother, Mary Ann Williamson Fox. According to my aunt she was engaged to the Squire of Abney (just over the hill from Callow), but at the age of 22  she ran off and married a young widower, a shuttle and flyer manufacturer from Farnsworth, Bolton. And not very long after that, it was all downhill for the last generation of Callow Foxes. But that story will have to wait for another time.

Mary Ann Fox

copyright 2018 Tish Farrell

Blessed Earth ~ Our One And Only

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And when we’ve trashed this one, there won’t be another (see postscript).

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In case you’re wondering where I’ve been for the past week – we’ve been staying in a barn in the Derbyshire High Peak where we woke to views of Higger Tor and Millstone Edge (haloed here) and the wide vistas of Hope Valley. The barn in question was one my maternal ancestors would have known and used, though not in its current luxurious holiday-let manifestation of five bedrooms, three bathrooms, plus central heating, range cooker, vast TV screen and free Wifi.

For around two centuries the Fox family lived at Callow Farm, tenants of the Eyres, and later of the Dukes of Devonshire who bought the Highlow estate from the Eyres/Archers in the early nineteenth century. The Foxes were also in this particular vicinity (around Highlow and Offerton in Hathersage Outseats) for at least the preceding 500 years, although trying to unravel the multiple generations of Georges and Williams is proving pretty impossible. All the more tantalizing when we know a 19th century list of Derbyshire Charters has a certain William Fox holding a few acres at Offerton in the late 1200s.

The more recent tenant Foxes owned some land too, and so in their way were very minor landlords. This in itself is a puzzle, since from earliest times this whole territory was controlled by abbots and monarchs and thence parcelled out to sundry lords and lordlings who taxed, tithed and generally reaped the rewards of ordinary mortals’ labours.

In High Peak the bulk of those returns included a large annual cut from the proceeds of the lead mined and processed by  Derbyshire yeomen farmers like the Foxes – a raw and life-threatening trade carried out when they were not engaged in growing oats, making cheese and butter from their small dairy herds, cutting mill- and grinding stones from the precipitous millstone grit edges or minding their sheep. I have evidence of some of these multiple activities from local newspaper details of October 1892 when my great great grandfather George Brayley Fox sold off the Callow Farm stock before leaving the farm. This also means I know precisely what was in those barns at that particular time.

I have also now witnessed what the Dukes of Devonshire did at Chatsworth with the income from their tenant farmer-lead miners. The extravagant display of the 6th Duke in particular is jaw-dropping. But for all this and more – see upcoming posts.

For now here’s a daylight view from Callow farm fields, looking across the Derwent Valley to Hathersage: Higger Tor on the far right, Stanage Edge along the skyline to the left.

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And here is Callow Barn – now cut off from the next door farmhouse, the properties being privately and separately owned and perhaps originally sold off from the Chatsworth Estate in either the 1930s or 1960s, both occasions when the estate’s massive death duties required the sale of extensive property and farmland.

And finally Callow Farmhouse as seen from the public footpath to Leadmill:

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P.S. Much of Derbyshire – the uplands and dales – lies within the National Park. I learn this morning from the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE is an organisation well worth supporting) that our government wants to bury nuclear waste in our National Parks, wilderness areas that are now used by many hundred thousand citizens for walking and cycling, and whose consistent presence there through much of the year significantly supports local rural economies. The Derbyshire national park in particular positively teems with humanity at weekends, happy families and dogs out for a jaunt and some very fresh air, away from the nearby cities of Manchester, Sheffield and Derby. Words fail.

Six Word Saturday

#AncestralLandscapes

copyright 2018 Tish Farrell

Portrait Of My Aunt

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Miriam Wilkinson nee Hickling:  21st February 1914 – 17th March 2003

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There was only one thing my aunt loved more than her Devon garden, and that was the Derbyshire Peak District – the lanes round Bradwell, Ashford and Hathersage, the byways of Fox and Bennett family forebears. To a child brought up in the suburbs of Manchester, the Peak District of spring and summer holidays seemed like heaven.

For most of her married life, Miriam was a nomad – living in 42 different rented flats. Each one she tried to make home, and always with much flair and limited funds, as she followed her engineer husband from one telephone exchange to another, whenever and wherever he was dispatched to oversee the upgrade of Britain’s telecommunications. They had married at the start of World War 2, and the header photo probably dates from around this time. After a makeshift marriage whither my grandmother had arrived wearing only her shopping clothes since she looked down on the whole affair, Miriam had been left married, but stranded with her unsympathetic parents while my uncle was posted off to West Africa.

Looking back, he must have been helping to provide British navel and military intelligence with radio surveillance capability since he had no service rank as far as I know. He apparently lived in some style out in Africa. But it was all change a year later when he was posted to Coventry during the Blitz, presumably to work on restoring bombed out telephone connections. And this is where married life actually began, in a dismal rent room smelling of boiled cabbage and with Luftwaffe bombs raining down.

My uncle did not cope well with either the bombing or the war-time privations. Miriam had to keep him together on all fronts, while she went to work in a munitions factory. I cannot imagine what it was really like for her. She had lived a life of quiet and modest gentility, though always within the orbit of rich relatives. She had endured her mother’s spirit-crushing jibes while doting on a father who, in her hearing, had once described her to a family friend as ‘a dud’. Neither her mother or father had the faintest idea about parenting or how to prepare their two daughters for adult life.

My grandmother had been mostly brought up by a housemaid and a slightly dotty aunt as her own twice widowed mother drifted around in black silk dresses, taking covert sips of gin, while presiding over a Cheshire Inn. Grandfather had been abandoned by his own mother, who apparently fled merchant-class respectability and ran off to be an actress. She deposited grandfather with his dour Victorian Hickling grandparents, though returned in later life from time to time, wafting in at the family firm for a cash injection from ‘master Georgie’.

You can well see how lives of ‘quiet desperation’ get handed on from generation to generation.

Miriam had a talent for drawing and writing but even this outlet was denied. She had poor eyesight and had terrible headaches, but my grandfather would not let her have spectacles. No visible signs of imperfection would be tolerated. She told me how once, when returning from a childhood trip to Derbyshire by train, she had developed a rash on her face. Her parents being highly alarmed, took themselves off to another carriage to complete the journey to Manchester leaving Miriam alone in a state of disgrace. By the time she was fourteen she had suffered four nervous breakdowns and had to be taken out of school. Both she and my mother, who was eight years younger, were sent to small private schools. My mother was not allowed take up a place at a prestigious girls’ high school despite gaining a scholarship. My grandfather would have no ‘blue stockings’ in his family. He had some notion that providential husbands would somehow materialise: both his daughters would ‘marry well’ and thus be taken care of.

They did not and they were not. But each in their own very different ways made the best of very bad jobs, though in my mother’s case her methods of choice were destructive and damaging to others. Miriam remained stalwart, loyal to a man whose nerves were fragile, and who, in extremis, once attempted to strangle her as she slept.

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My mother, Peggy, probably sixteen years old, Miriam around the time of her marriage circa 1939. Both stepping out with so much intention.

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Miriam did not have a home of her own until the mid-1960s. It was on top of the hill in Pinhoe, near Exeter. There she made a garden that was filled with wildflower reminders of girlhood Derbyshire holidays – dame’s violets, bloody cranesbill, saxifrage, cowslips, primroses, the wild yellow pansies of the limestone uplands.  In their latter years, she and my uncle took to having an annual spring holiday in the Derbyshire Peak District. It was a source of great joy to both of them. Sometime later I took her ashes there.

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Miriam around 4 years old c 1918. The first time she met her father was when he returned from France at the end of the Great War. He had been an ambulance driver, and came home with gas-damaged lungs, which left him an invalid for the rest of his life. It left him the poorer too with years of medical bills to meet.  He said wearing a gas mask got in the way when he was trying to pick up the wounded.

copyright 2016 Tish Farrell

Daily Prompt: constant

In Book Heaven At Scarthin Books

And no, the place isn’t haunted by the ghosts of bibliophiles past, at least I didn’t meet any while I was there. That’s me caught accidentally in the mirror, and with a daftly blissful look that reminds me of the Bisto Kid adverts wherein lads do much paradisal sniffing of delicious aromas. And of course books have their own parfum – from  well used and hypnotically musty to freshly pressed. So why would I not be looking happy in Scarthin Books? This well known Derbyshire emporium has 100,000 thousand volumes, old and new – spread over three floors (often literally) and stacked up to the rafters in 13 rooms.

The bookshop was once voted the 6th best in the world and, in  the forty odd years since it began, it has become a landmark and institution in the small Peak District village of Cromford. And if that name rings a bell, then it is the place where in 1771 Richard Arkwright built his cotton mill, thereby bringing us the factory system and all that went (still comes) with it. But please overlook that bit of unsavoury orientation. Overbearing capitalism is not the atmosphere one finds in the bookshop. Far from it. You can tell that, can’t you – even before you set foot inside.

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In fact, once in there, it’s as if time has stopped, despite the ticking of the clock. There is nothing you need do; no schedule to keep; no quota to fill or target to reach. It’s more like stepping into Looking Glass Land then.

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Do I know this man?

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Books, books and more books on every conceivable topic. You could spend days and years here. And the good thing is there’s no need to leave because they feed you too – delicious vegetarian and vegan dishes, produced from behind a bookshelf in what passes for a kitchen.

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And if the bookish experience becomes too overwhelming, you can take the air with the sunflowers up in the roof garden. What an utterly sound establishment.

And in case you are wondering which books tempted me, I bought Margaret Atwood’s Negotiating With The Dead: A Writer On Writing, which I am yet to read, but made its presence felt from a nearby bookshelf while I was eating the delicious carrot soup, and Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea, which so completely entranced me that, once home, I set about tracking down everything Jean Rhys had written, and so mislaid the Atwood. Fortunately, writing this post has reminded me to locate both books, so I can re-read one and make a start on the other.

The places then – both physical and metaphorical – where words take us, including the disgracefully dusty bookcase under the bedroom window. So thank you Ailsa for this week’s prompt at Where’s My Backpack. Please follow the link below to see her ‘words’ challenge photos.

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This post is for my good friend Kate who is also a devotee of Scarthin Books.

Now please watch the video which will tell you more about the bookshop, how it began and the people who love it.

Where’s My Backpack: WORDS

In Search Of Lost Time In Eyam And An Outbreak Of Plague

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This very unusual wall sundial is to be found above the Priest’s Door on the east side of Eyam parish church in Derbyshire. It dates from 1775, and was designed and made locally. I discovered it when were in the village doing a spot of family history research – not researching in any organised way I might add – more a matter of walking ancestral paths and acquiring a sense of place. Eyam is anyway a village with an awful lot of history, not least the story of how its inhabitants dealt with an outbreak of bubonic plague in 1665-1666 by imposing a cordon sanitaire around the village boundary, and for over a year sticking to it so as not to spread the disease to neighbouring communities.

Over the fourteen months that the outbreak persisted, 280 out of the 800 population died. It is thought the infection arrived in a parcel of fabric, sent in late summer from London to the Eyam tailor, Alexander Hadfield. The package was opened by his assistant, George Viccars, and it was he who was the first to fall ill and die. Thereafter, the disease spread rapidly throughout the autumn, slowed over the winter, and returned in full force in the following spring and summer. In the worst month of August 1666 seventy eight villagers died.

Eyam’s self-imposed quarantine was managed by the young village rector, Reverend William Mompesson, and Nonconformist minister Reverend Thomas Stanley. It was agreed that every household would bury their own dead and, in a bid to  maintain morale and give comfort to survivors, church services were held in the open air so people could gather together, but not too closely. Local landowner, the Duke of Devonshire, and others from neighbouring villages saw that supplies of food and other necessities were left at the village boundary.

It is a harrowing episode that demonstrates great human resilience and bravery, not least by the Reverend Mompesson, whose own wife was among the last victims. And today, as you wander around the village, the event continues to be marked by commemorative plaques outside the cottages that were once the homes of the families who were particularly afflicted.

It could seem mawkish, crass even, to make a visitor attraction from this horrific episode, but somehow it isn’t. The village quietly embraces you in a reflection on shared humanity – now and back through time.  In fact the sun dial says it all: Induce animum sapientum –  cultivate an enquiring mind. And then on the two supporting stone corbels, which you can’t quite read in the photo: ut  umbra sic vita – life passes like a shadow.

I especially like the way that when it is noon in Eyam, the sundial shows the relative times in Calicut, Mecca and Panama, to name but a few of the far-flung places inscribed on the dial. It also includes a chart for longitudinal adjustments of local True Sun Time to Greenwich meantime, and throughout the year. Somehow it is uplifting to feel that in this isolated Derbyshire village, and over the centuries, the gaze of its inhabitants has extended to a world beyond its village boundaries.

So far I haven’t mentioned why we were visiting Eyam or explained presumed family links with this locality. Researches into the Fox family of Callow in Hathersage (covered in other posts) suggest that a possibly direct ancestor, one Robert Fox, yeoman farmer and lead miner, was living in the area between 1678 and 1699. I have a copy of his will and household inventory, so I know he owned 13 cushions and several field beds in one or more parlours. There were no Fox plague victims in Eyam, although Robert Fox’s second wife, Margaret Mower, had lost an uncle, Rowland Mower. His will is included in the 1842 book by local historian, William Wood, The History and Antiquities of Eyam ~ with a full and particular account of the Great Plague.

The Fox family connection is all a bit of a yarn, which may never be unravelled. So for now some more views of the village:P1050536

Eyam Parish Church and its 8th century Saxon Cross complete with Celtic influences.

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This is Eyam Hall, very much post-plague, and built between 1671-6 and incorporating a much smaller existing property in the heart of the village. Its builders were newcomers, the land-owning-merchant Wright family, and their arrival signified revival, and an increasing interest in developing the lead mining potential the area. Landowners large and small were keen to exploit this highly valued mineral. And although lead had been mined across Derbyshire since Roman times, there is almost a ‘gold rush’ feel about the exploitative zeal from the late 17th century.

It is possible that post-plague opportunities around Eyam attracted the likes of putative ancestor, Robert Fox. My band of fellow Fox-hunters has not been able to establish if he was an incomer or if there were existing family connections with Eyam. His father was a tenant farmer at The Oaks, near Highlow, a few miles away, and he and Robert’s brothers may also have been involved in the lead business,  possibly smelting.

Robert owned four small parcels of lead-bearing land in Foolow, two of which adjoined Wright land. When he thought he was dying in 1691 and wrote his will, he was very concerned to make it clear he had ownership of them, and that the proceeds of his property should be managed by his brother and brother-in-law for the upbringing and education of his four children – James, William, Mary and Robert. In fact he did not die until 1699, and it is not clear what happened to his family. We think the eldest James became a shoemaker in Eyam, and that Robert was possibly a very successful joiner in Wirksworth, the lead mining capital of Derbyshire. William is the one we have our eye on as the possible ancestor for the Callow Foxes, but his baptismal record has so far proved elusive, which is most annoying when we know that his three siblings were baptised in Eyam church. Ah, well. Such are the fascinations and frustrations of tracking down traces of families long past.

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From: William Wood The History & Antiquities of Eyam 1842

Black & White Sunday: Traces of the Past

 

JOSEPH SIDDALL

P.S. A number of readers have asked what became of 3 year old Joseph Siddall. The Eyam Museum researches seem to indicate that there were in fact two surviving Siddall children, and they went to live with relatives in Sheffield, not that far from Eyam. There is quite a dynasty of Siddalls in the Eyam-Stoney Middleton area of Derbyshire, so they would not have been left without any family connections.

Meet T’owd Man ~ AKA The Old Man Of Wirksworth

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He is said to be 800 years old, or thereabouts, this mythic little figure of a lead miner with his pick and kibble (basket). He is presently to be found embedded in the wall inside St. Mary’s Church in the Derbyshire Peak District town of Wirksworth. But this was not his original home. He once lived in the nearby village of Bonsall, where he was found during the restoration of the 13th century  parish church of St. James. This was in 1863, and it was then that T’owd Man found his way (along with other pieces of interesting medieval stone work) into the garden of one Churchwarden Coates.

This highhanded commandeering of the local lead miners’ talisman did not please the general populace, who wanted him restored to sacred territory. Somehow in the argy bargy he ended up being firmly mortared into the wall of St. Mary’s Church in Wirksworth instead – where he has remained ever since for his own good and general safekeeping. He has also become the town’s ‘unofficial’ symbol, so you can pay him a visit, AND get the tee shirt.

But this story of general displacement is making me wonder. What  if T’owd Man is a good deal older than is currently thought.  I’m assuming his 13th century date was given him because he was found in a church of 13th century origins. But to my eye he could easily be a Saxon carving. What if the medieval builders of the Bonsall church had also recycled him?  (There are in fact many examples of Saxon carving within St. Mary’s, all re-deployed from an earlier church. See my post Expressions of Power  ~ Secular and Spiritual? for more of the background history).

Lead mining was a key industry in the area from at least Roman times. There is also documentary evidence of its importance in Saxon Wirksworth. In 835 the township was ruled by Abbess Cynewaru, and in a missive of that time she states that she was every year sending a gift of lead valued at 300 shillings to Christ Church, Canterbury. Much later in the Domesday Book of 1086 the entry for Wirksworth includes 3 lead works.

Wirksworth was in fact the centre for the trade. It was a hard and dangerous business. The miners were also a maverick lot. Many were yeoman farmers who combined hill farming with lead working, and some grew extremely rich on the trade, although many died from explosions in the mines, and the general toxicity of working with lead.

All the miners’ activities were subject to a system of rigorous rules and regulations overseen by the Barmaster of the Barmote Court. This court was held in Wirksworth for at least 7 centuries, and had its origins in Saxon Burg Moots (moot is Saxon for gathering or assembly). The last version of the court or Moot Hall still survives. It was built just out of the town centre in 1814 to replace a grander Moot Hall that stood in the Market Place. It seems the noisy behaviour of the miners, and the congestion they caused in the town centre, led to the earlier building being demolished.

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Wirksworth is a fine town for a visit. Its many surviving seventeenth and eighteenth century houses attest to the general prosperity of the place over many decades.  When the lead ran out in the 19th century, limestone quarrying replaced it. Rivers were harnessed to power cotton mills, and so the industrial age kicked in. And if this smacks too much of ‘dark satanic mills’, don’t you believe it. The town sits in glorious countryside, in the heart of England, in fact at ‘its very navel’ as one-time resident D.H. Lawrence put it. Here, then, are some more views from England’s very green and pleasant navel:

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copyright 2017 Tish Farrell

Thursday’s Special ~ Traces of the Past Check in here to see what Paula and other bloggers have posted.

The Old Quarry At Middleton Top, Derbyshire

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With today’s images I’m having a complete change in mood from yesterday’s full-colour Wenlock Edge vistas. These Middeton Top photos were taken in September during our brief stay in Derbyshire.

As you can see, the light was flat and dull. I thought colour photos probably wouldn’t work, but decided to try out my camera’s monochrome setting. (And yes a tripod might have helped.) The result, to my eye, looks rather like a lugubrious nineteenth century (if not older) engraving – quite a fitting outcome I’m thinking for this old Industrial Age quarry.

Middleton Top is anyway a dramatic spot. The quarry lies beside the old Cromford and High Peak Railway Line now part of the fabulous High Peak Trail. There is also an impressively long and steep inclined plane (1 in 8) and the 1829 steam winding engine that once hauled wagons up the hill is still there within its dark-stone engine house.

I always find quarries very disturbing places, the landscape hacked and blasted. Also the limestone in this part of the world seems to loom oddly – even on dull days. Up on the skyline between the two small trees you can just see a cluster of boulders; they caught my eye for this very reason. I also thought I spotted a raven there, but it flew off before I could organise myself with the binoculars. Instead, I went for maximun zoom on the Lumix and ended up with this ‘charcoal sketch’ effect. Also a bit unsettling. You will have to imagine the raven. Or a Wuthering Heights moment displaced from Yorkshire.P1050680

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And I couldn’t end without including a photo of the steam-winding engine house: an important piece of Britain’s industrial archaeological landscape. The engine is still in working order and has demonstration open days, though sadly no longer powered by steam. There’s a video HERE.

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Black & White Sunday

Looking Back: Traces Of The Past

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I took this photo on a whim, just to see how it would turn out. This old farm-field post was one of several on the footpath to the Hathersage stepping stones that cross the River Derwent just outside the town. For those of you who read my earlier Derbyshire posts, you’ll know I was on a quest to follow in my great grandmother’s footsteps, taking the path that she once took from Callow Farm and into Hathersage.

I don’t remember ever seeing stone posts like this before, and don’t know how old it is. But I think it’s safe to say that this and others were there in the late 1880s-90 when Mary Ann Fox passed by to do her shopping.

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You can read more of her story at Stepping Stones Through Time and Stronghold – The Telling Of Family Tales

There was also another idea running through my head when I took the photo – a far cry, too, from Derbyshire and my ancestors. When I saw the hole in the stone I was reminded of the 1960s young adult novel The Owl Service by Alan Garner. It is set in Wales and explores the rival affections between three teens through a parallel tale from the Welsh medieval story cycle of the Mabinogi.

It’s a great story, both the original and Garner’s use of it. Here’s a quick version of the myth.

The magician Gwydion makes a woman, Blodeuwedd, from flowers. She betrays her husband Lleu with a man called Gronw who tries to kill Lleu with a spear. He turns into an eagle and escapes. However, rough justice allows Lleu to have his turn to throw a spear at Gronw who may only use a stone for protection. Lleu throws the spear so hard, it passes straight through the stone and kills Gronw, and to punish Blodeuwedd for her part in all this, the magician Gwydion turns her into an owl.

So the first shot is my photo version – the stone of Gronw.

copyright 2016 Tish Farrell

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If you want to post some of your own ‘Traces of the Past’ please visit Paula at Lost in Translation

#ThursdaysSpecial

Derbyshire’s Arbor Low ~ They Call It The Stonehenge Of The North

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Unlike Stonehenge a visit to Arbor Low does not include accompanying hosts of fellow enthusiasts, tacky gifts and bad coffee, nor the parting with large sums of money to go in (adult ticket £16.50). In consequence there are absolutely no facilities, no opening or closing times, and thus no need to pre-book to avoid the rush.

There is, however, an honesty box by the farm gate, and a requested fee of £1 per person. This is fine by me. The monument, though scheduled, is on private land. The farmer has to put up with the repeated nuisance of standing stones devotees, although on the September afternoon of our visit, takings suggested that scarcely a couple of dozen others had preceded us that day, and as we set off from the car there were only three people ahead of us on the track.

The only problem with Arbor Low is that once you’ve trekked through the farmyard and across the field to visit Derbyshire’s most important Neolithic henge (one’s head inevitably full of Stonehenge images, and lots of anticipation) it all looks decidedly flat when you get there, and so quite lacking in the upstanding drama of its more famous southern analogue. And while Arbor Low surely has considerable edge when it comes to setting (a thousand feet up on a limestone crest of the White Peak)  one wonders why the comparison has been implied at all. Isn’t Arbor Low its own special place?

I suppose, then, that mentioning the two sites in the same breath is really more about emphasising their prehistoric importance than suggesting any correspondence in physical scale or appearance. Arbor Low is anyway a much smaller circle. But it does have its own unique features, apart from the recumbent stones that is. These include a very impressive encircling ditch and an outer rampart with the added extra of a later Bronze Age round barrow built across its southerly bank. You can see it on the right of the next photograph.

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So now that I’ve raised the vision of Stonehenge with its great sarsen lintels, I want you to forget it, and think about digging. The time is some four and half thousand years ago. I am the foreman, and I am handing you an antler pick, and maybe a cattle bone shoulder-blade to use as a shovel. We have marked out a circle some 70 metres across, and now you have to start digging 3 metres down into the limestone bedrock, while shovelling up your spoil to create the outer bank.

After many, many, many man-, woman-, and child-hours you can step back and regard the massive earthwork thus created. The freshly dug limestone of the rampart will doubtless have an unearthly white-grey glow. It will be visible from miles around, despite a more wooded landscape than today. At sunrise and sunset it will look spectacular against the skyline, the bank much taller and with a sharper profile that the present remains. In other words, it cannot be mistaken for anything other than a highly prestigious, and momentous man-made structure – the visual shock equivalent of coming upon a designer high-rise in the middle of a wilderness. Or maybe Starship Enterprise.

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After all the digging you are left with a central oval platform around 50 metres across. Perhaps the limestone slabs are already located there, set up on end, and bedded, after much hefting and shunting, in the rocky ground. They could have been worked during the making of the ditch, or sourced from somewhere nearby. In any event, they would have involved considerable effort given your limited toolkit of stone, wood and bone.

From outside the earthwork – and because of the height of the outer bank, you cannot see either the stone circle, or to observe anything that is going on within. Stepping through the entrance to view the newly built monument is thus perhaps a deliberately contrived catch-your-breath moment: the scene before you covert, unnerving, awe-inspiring, drama-filled. If some ceremony is in progress – a narrative declaimed or sung, the outer bank will amplify the sounds in mysterious ways – echoing, resonant, other-worldly; it may be a place of loud whispers.

There will perhaps be no grass cover, just an exposed limestone arena. Around the oval platform you will see some forty standing stones.

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In the centre there is also some kind of sanctuary, a rectangular configuration of more standing stones. The barrow on the southern bank is not yet there. It will be another thousand years before this spot is used as a burial site – perhaps by strangers, perhaps by the distant descendants of  you henge builders. These newcomers have also built another barrow, Gib Hill, just across the field from Arbor Low. Here they raised their own tomb atop the long barrow built by your forebears, a monument that possibly long preceded the stone circle. And so although you can no longer remember the rites and customs of these ancestors, you do know that, like the great mediaeval cathedrals of Europe with their roots in Roman and Saxon times, this place was considered ‘sacred space’ for a millennium and more…

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And so back to reality and the flattened circle we see today. No one knows when the stones were laid low or why. There are other so-called recumbent stone circles in Britain. Sometimes some of the stones have also been buried. Superstitious dread could have much to do with it: an attempt to neutralise the stones’ power perhaps. There is also archaeological evidence in other contexts that suggests that the prehistoric occupants themselves have ritually ‘closed’ particular sites, perhaps prior to moving to a new centre of operations. There are other more practical reasons too: later farmers came along and simply re-used or moved the stones because they were ‘in the way’.

I also seem to remember from my student field-trip days to Avebury stone circle in Wiltshire that one of the stones had been buried in mediaeval times to cover up a murder. When the stone was being restored to its upright position, beneath it was found the grisly remains of a surgeon-barber, identifiable by the tools of his trade that were still with him. More fanciful interpretations of this find could of course suggest the presumed continuing practice in pagan sacrificial offerings, i.e. the kind of activity that we modern folk so very much like to associate with all ancient stones.

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I suppose one of the most surprising things I discovered about Arbor Low is that there has been no archaeological exploration of this site since early Victorian times when the local antiquarian Thomas Bateman of Lomerdale Hall, and serial excavator of prehistoric barrows, tackled the place. It was he who discovered a human burial in the stone circle barrow and, during his Gib Hill excavation, uncovered a stone cist (a slab built tomb) in which the cremated human remains were placed along with an urn and offerings of meat and flint tools. And this, it seems, is all that is known.

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So many mysteries then, and no likely answers. Instead I’ll leave you with the words of Thomas Bateman and his description of Arbor Low from his Vestiges of the Antiquities of Derbyshire 1848:

…the solitude of the place and the boundless view of uncultivated country are such as to carry the observer back through a multitude of centuries, and make him believe that he sees the same view and the same state of things as existed in the days of the architects of this once holy fane.

 

copyright 2016 Tish Farrell

Disconnected Sunday: Plane…Sheep…Cloud…And Then…?

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I was attracted by the sheep doing an ovine impression of Landseer’s Monarch of the Glen –  as spotted last week during our short break in the Derbyshire Peak District. Its posing place of choice is Hordron Edge, below Moscar Moor and Stanage Edge. We were walking up here on what he-who-is-usually-the-team-leader suspected would turn out to be a Tish-type wild goose chase. In short we, or rather I was in pursuit of a Bronze Age Stone Circle, otherwise known as the Seven Stones despite the fact that there are apparently eleven stones in the circle, and three more besides nearby.

I should admit straight off that I’m not renowned for my accurate map-reading, and so once we’d passed the sheep, walked for ages in surprisingly hot sunshine for late September, and then found ourselves on a path which kept wending onwards and upwards with absolutely no sign of a megalithic monument anywhere on the sky-line where I was expecting it, even I began to think I’d misread the map, and that we were definitely on a wild goose chase. Worse still, we’d left the lunch picnic in the car, so there wasn’t even the possibility of making the best of a bad job. And it was just the day for a moorland picnic too, not a state of affairs you can rely on in England’s uplands whatever the time of year.

‘We’ll just go to the next bend’ – I said – ‘so we can see over the brow of the hill’. But as always happens in such situations, we never came to the bend’s end. In fact the path began to rise very steeply. Then we noticed that exposed here and there beneath the turf were signs of a stone-paved trackway. Very puzzling in this middle of nowhere, but at least it suggested that we were headed somewhere. (I surmised later that it must be the relic of an old packhorse road up to Stanage Edge whither the locals once went quarrying to make millstones and grind stones).

And so as we pushed on, drawn on by the stone road, and quite unexpectedly Moscar Moor and Stanage lay before us. It is an awe-inspiring landscape, and so it is scarcely surprising that this whole area is rich in prehistoric cairns, circles, and settlement remains.

Also, by now I could see that my map-reading had been spot on, although the stone circle really took some finding in the heather.

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So I hope you weren’t expecting Stonehenge. Because here it is – the Seven Stones Circle of Hordron Edge, probably dating from around four thousand years ago.

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The tallest stone is the one seen here in the foreground, and is about 1 metre high. It stands on the south west edge of the 16 metre circle, and has been dubbed the Fairy Stone. You can see it on the far right in the middle ground of the next photo. P1050638

Its particular significance is taken to be its relationship to the two conical hill tops, Win Hill on the left and Lose Hill on the right, the top of the stone possibly mirroring the landscape features. Peak District archaeologist John Barnatt has apparently observed that at the traditional start of winter and spring, the times of age-old festivals, the setting sun appears to roll down Win Hill.

Perhaps the placement of stone had something to do with the gathering of sun-power? Or the marking of the seasons in relation to the farming calendar? We can never know. All we can be sure of is that these monuments were important to the people who created them – gathering places for discourse, rituals, trade, or all of these. More recent local folklore has its say too – hence the naming of the Fairy Stone, and tales of strange lights being seen around about it.

And what do these monuments say to me? Well the main thing is that we should never underestimate the capacities of our ancient antecedents. Also that we should never equate current technological whizz-kidery with intellectual superiority. These people  of the past  knew how to make a life in this challenging territory – a life charged with meaning and a deep sense of their place in the landscape. I feel too, we have lost much of our ancestors’ capacity for poetry and metaphor – the exchange between fellow humans that relied almost exclusively on language – the songs sung, the tales unfolded, the riddles set, the nuances of double and treble meanings.

But before I get too carried away with highfalutin notions, we decide that lunch is now too far away for comfort. We retrace our steps down the old stone trackway. It perhaps does date from much more recent medieval times. I’ve been unable to find out anything about it, although there is medieval packhorse road along the top of Stanage Edge.

As I descend the steep hill on a sunny Indian Summer day I wonder what it must have been like to urge pack horses up this route in a blizzard, the wind slicing under your cape, threatening to snatch your bonnet, the biting cold, the darkness. Just imagine…

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copyright  2016 Tish Farrell

Hordron Edge Circle
Bronze Age Stone Circle
East of Ashopton, Derbyshire  OS Map Ref SK21528685
OS Maps – Landranger 110 (Sheffield & Huddersfield), Explorer OL1 (The Peak District – Dark Peak Area)