Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether summer clothe the general earth
With greeness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while the nigh thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

A Moorland Walk

On a coolish morning under a sky filled with heavy clouds a small group of Time Travellers (our local archaeology group) set off on a walk which began with a short but very steep climb up a narrow rocky path onto Birchen Edge in the Peak District. This was the view from the top looking out over the Derwent Valley. The little brown dots in the field are cows which gives you an idea of how high above the valley we were - about 900 feet above sea level at this point.

As we walked along there were great sheets of heath bedstraw stretching out in every direction, it's low growing and likes acidic soil so up here on the moors is a perfect habitat for it. Heath bedstraw is related to sweet woodruff and goose grass and as it's name suggests it was once used for stuffing straw mattresses. It's apparently also useful for staunching bleeding.

Most of the group arrived at Nelson's Monument well ahead of me. Since I'm usually messing about taking photographs I'm almost always racing along trying to catch up with any groups that I'm with:) The Monument was built in honour of Admiral Lord Nelson after his death and victory at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. A local man called John Brightman paid for it to be erected in 1810 thirty years before Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square was constructed.

These three huge gritstone boulders are known as The Three Ships. Each one has the name of one of Nelson's famous ships carved onto it - Victory, Defiance and Royal Soverin. It's not my spelling that's a bit dodgy by the way - it's the chap who carved it who had his own interpretation:)

This one is Victory, you will probably need to enlarge the photo to see it properly.

This great boulder contains a basin which forms a drinking trough and must be used by many birds and wild creatures. I think this one is a natural formation but in the early 1900s a wealthy local businessman called William Wilson had seventy five drinking troughs carved into large boulders all across the grouse moors that he owned in this area - the idea being apparently to encourage the grouse to stay on his moors and not migrate to any of the neighbouring estates!

Now we are moving into the prehistoric landscape on the moor, there was a surprising amount of activity in this period and the moors around my area are thick with burial cairns, stone circles, barrows etc.You will need to use a good deal of imagination here but take my word for it that you are looking at the entrance to a Bronze Age roundhouse. one large stone on the left and the one which Robert is standing on mark the entrance which faces south east as was usual during this era. Two pits were found inside, one near the entrance and one in the centre, both of which contained burnt bone and were possibly cremation burials. The stones will have formed the foundations for a timber framework filled with wattle and daub and thatched with reeds or turf.

This is a superb example of prehistoric cup and ring carving - or at least it's an excellent resin replica of the original which now lies buried to protect it from further erosion. No-one really knows what these carvings were for but as they are often found near important prehistoric paths and field boundaries they may mark territorial boundaries.

This however,though smaller and less impressive,is the real thing.

This standing stone is about 4000 years old. It was erected around 2000BC and stands over 2 metres high. It is deliberately slanted towards the south and it's believed to be an astronomical marker connected with the midsummer sun.

We passed a lot of this flowering moss which looked really attractive.

Gardom's Edge is part of the Dark Peak named for the dark Millstone Grit which overlies the limestone in this area. It's a rather bleak and forbidding landscape but provides some fantastic views even on a day of heavy cloud as this one was.

We saw many other things including a really well preserved neolithic barrow which was obvious when you looked at it but didn't show up well in a photograph. So here we are nearly at the end of what was a really interesting and enjoyable walk. One thing I (and everyone else in the group) did learn in addition to all the history - never ever go on the moors in summer without insect repellent however dull and cool it is! I ended up with something like 25-30 bites on my face,neck and hands and spent a very uncomfortable few days until the itching finally stopped.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Arkwright's Mill

Last week my friend P and I went on a guided tour of Arkwright's Mill in Cromford, a small village which lies in the Derwent Valley in Derbyshire. Richard Arkwright was born in Preston in 1732 and was the son of a tailor. From humble beginnings and with a pretty rudimentary education he went on to become a very wealthy and successful man. In 1786 he was knighted by George III.

This is the mill yard, Arkwright's first mill is on the right, it was built in 1771 and was originally five stories high. Cotton spinning continued here until sometime in the 1880s and after that the buildings were used for various purposes including two laundries and a brewery. From the 1920s until the 1970s it was occupied by a chemical works and during their tenure a great deal of damage was done to the site from pollution caused by the chemicals and by a couple of fires( one of which destroyed the top two floors of the original mill) and general lack of care of the buildings.

The rescue of this important industrial site began in 1979 when a local charity, The Arkwright Society, bought it. Over £7 million pounds has been spent decontaminating the site and restoring the buildings. Many of these are now occupied by cafes and shops which help to bring both life and revenue to the site. The whole of the Derwent Valley is now a World Heritage Site though perhaps not quite as glamorous as the Taj Mahal or the Alhambra! The water is the head race taking the water from the Bonsall Brook to the wheel pit of the second mill .

This is a scale model of the invention that changed the face of industry forever - the spinning frame. Prior to its invention spinning and carding had been done by hand in people's homes but this machine allowed the factory system to be developed as it was now possible to spin 128 threads at a time and the machines could easily be worked by women and children. At first Arkwright set up a factory in Nottingham and the frames were powered by horses but it was obvious to him that water would be a much better source of power and so he built the mill at Cromford. In 1776 a second mill of seven stories was built and the expansion continued all along the Derwent Valley. He also licenced other mills to use his spinning frame especially in Lancashire and it was the royalties from these licences that made him wealthy. To his credit he built not only mills but also good quality housing for his workers, each house had a large garden for growing vegetables and a pigsty. He also built the Greyhound Inn in Cromford village and a Sunday School as well as founding friendly societies and clubs.

This is the wheel pit for the second mill built in 1776, the water comes from the Bonsall Brook via the head race in the earlier photo and in the centre you can see the recess for the vertical drive shaft which transmitted the power to the mill floors above. The tail race on the left of the photo drained eventually into the River Derwent which is about half a mile away.

This weir was built around 1777 as part of the development of the second mill but in the 1790s it was adapted to take water to the nearby Cromford Canal.

Once the tour had finished P and I opted for a short walk along the Cromford Canal as it was both dry and fairly warm - not a combination often found in recent days! This is the narrowboat 'Birdswood' built in 1938 and now enjoying a new lease of life taking passengers on relaxing trips along the canal.

The path along the canal is a good deal better than I was expecting, in my young days canal towpaths tended to be decidedly muddy places.

As we walked under the bridge we noticed these grooves in the wall worn into the stone by the towropes of countless horse-drawn narrowboats being pulled along the canal.

The coming of the railways signalled the decline of the canals and trade had declined significantly on the Cromford Canal by 1888.It struggled on until being pretty much abandoned in 1944.Since 1968 it has been gradually restored and this is still a work in progress.

There were several big clumps of comfrey growing along the canal bank and according to a notice at the beginning of the towpath there are water voles here though we didn't see any signs of them.

We did see this though, I think it's a little grebe. It took several goes to get a photo as it was constantly diving under the water and reappearing several feet away from its original position. We had a very pleasant and interesting afternoon and were really lucky with the weather as within minutes of getting back to the car it started to rain heavily and carried on for the rest of the evening.

Monday, June 13, 2016

History In A Quilt

Last weekend our local History Group had a stand at Dronfield History Fair which was being held to highlight the recent rescue and restoration of Dronfield Hall Barn, a wonderful medieval barn that stands in the centre of the town. The Fair itself was held in a rather uninspiring Victorian building which was formerly a Methodist Chapel but is now used as a community centre. Since there were four of us on the stand we were able to take turns to go across to the restored barn and see the Dronfield Heritage Quilt which we had all heard of but none of us had actually seen. To be honest I wasn't expecting anything very wonderful but it turned out to be a real gem. It was made over a period of twelve months by a group of about 30 ladies (at least I think they were all ladies!). The theme of the quilt was the medieval history of Dronfield. Inspiration for the colour palette and design came from fragments of medieval glass from the original East Window of the parish church. At some point in the past these had been gathered up and used to form a border and three roundels in one window and a kind of jigsaw of random pieces that had been set into a second window.

The effect of the whole quilt is that of a stained glass window, this little panel shows the barn as it would have looked originally and a woman cutting cloth to make a garment. In fact the barn was originally built as a Hall or small manor house for the agent of Lady Alice Deincourt who had leased the Manor of Dronfield in 1406 and held it until her death in 1433.

Here is Lady Alice, she was a wealthy woman and connected by birth to two of the most powerful families in the North of England at the time - the Nevilles and the Percys. She spent a great deal of her time at court as she was was governess to Henry VI who became king in 1422 when he was only 9 months old. Lady Alice probably never spent any time in Dronfield at all as her main estates were in Lincolnshire.

Dronfield was a very rural parish and the quilt illustrates many of the seasonal activities connected with farming including this one of a pig about to be dispatched with an axe! These images are taken from contemporary illustrations of The Labours of the Months.

This illustrates another important aspect of medieval and Tudor life in Dronfield and in fact in the whole of this area - lead smelting. Lead has been mined in the limestone areas of the Peak District since Roman times and probably earlier than that.

Dronfield Hall Barn as it looks now after its restoration. It was converted onto a stone clad barn in the early 18th century. I gather that eventually at the back there is going to be a garden filled with plants from the medieval period but this is still a work in progress. The quilt actually shows several medieval medicinal herb plants, in fact the more you look at the quilt the more you see - a tiny plague rat for instance because this of course was the era of the Black Death.

The interior of the barn's roof, the original building was a box frame with a king post roof. All the beams are original apart from two which had to be replaced. However the replacement beams are of the same age (1430) though they came from a barn in France that by a happy coincidence was being demolished at just the right time.

This is the only surviving original principal post which supported the medieval roof structure. Dendrochronolgy puts its felling date at 1430 and as oak was used unseasoned it dates the original building pretty accurately.

The Blue Stoops is almost as old as the Hall Barn. It was built in 1596 as an inn and has served that purpose ever since although sadly it appears to be closed now. Apparently the name comes from the custom of painting the door posts blue to indicate to travellers that it was an inn.

This datestone is on the front wall of the Blue Stoops - I can't believe that permission was given to place the extractor fan right over the top of it though! As a result the 6 looks like a 0 but in real life it's possible to see the upper stroke of the 6.

A pretty little cottage garden caught my eye as we walked back to the car. In case you are wondering why our history group was involved in an event at Dronfield - until 1844 both Dore(where I live)and Totley(which has the history group)were part of the parish of Dronfield and there are many graves in the churchyard of people from what were then these two small Derbyshire villages.