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History in the Peak District

Photograph: Solomon's Temple near Buxton, courtesy of Rod Dunn.

The history of the Peaks is not only written in its stone, although our lead and limestone certainly helped shape the foundations of our hills and homes. Our tranquil landscape finds itself home to a rich history of influential figures and landmarks, both good and grim. Stories of witchcraft possess the quiet village of Wincle. The pestilence of plague saw the peaceful population of Eyam gradually decay. Even the legend of the headless horseman haunts the roads of Onecote.

Our unique history isn’t restricted to the medieval times. The Derwent Reservoirs served as a testing ground for the famous Dam Busters of the Second World War. Successful tests resulted in Operation Chastise, in which 19 Lancaster bombers destroyed two German dams – knocking out their production for four vital months.

It may even be argued that the industrial revolution was sparked within our peaks, with pioneer and inventor Richard Arkwright, who developed methods of machinery and water power near the Derwent Valley. Such revolutionizing methods of production landed him the title of “father of the modern industrial factory system” – often attributed to him because of his innovations discovered at the Cromford mill.

Holy sites sweep across the Peaks and Dales, representing a long history of religious expression and conflict. Solomon’s Temple towers over the town of Buxton, built and rebuilt atop a Bronze Age barrow, offering vast views of the surrounding landscape.

If you’re feeling adventurous, journey north to Lud’s Church; an ancient mossy chasm that sits between two towering cliffs near Gradbach, Staffordshire. Followers of early church reformer John Wycliffe sought refuge here amid violent persecution, with subtle references of ‘The Green Chapel’ alluding to the site in late medieval poetry.

Our stone hills and ancient mills host more than just the birth of the industrial revolution. Science genius Henry Cavendish, gifted for his game-changing discovery of hydrogen and measurement of our planet’s density, was the third son of William Cavendish, the 2nd Duke of Devonshire. Coincidentally, the ancestral seat of the Dukes of Devonshire rests within our peaks, with the breathtaking Chatsworth House embedded as one of the Peak District’s leading tourist attractions, standing as a visual marvel of British architecture and history.

Long before waterwheels and cotton mills stood the Peak District’s Bronze Age – remnants of which remain to this day. The Nine Ladies, an ancient Bronze Age stone circle at Stanton Moor meekly rests in a field. To this day, Pagans and Druids continue to visit the landmark to celebrate summer solstice.

Even the Roman Empire enjoyed the fruitful offerings of the Peak District, exploiting the rich mineral veins embodying the ground beneath. Surprisingly, beautiful Buxton was used as a Roman settlement, developed as a spa town due to its geothermal springs. It didn’t take long for Bakewell to compete – constructing our very own Bath Gardens as a local health resort.

Pathways and roads were constructed by the Empire, connecting Buxton – referred to in their Latin tongue as Aquae Arnemetiae, Chesterfield, Glossop and more. Even parts of the A515 and A53 south of Buxton are believed to follow the outlines of ancient Roman routes.

Contemporarily, the Peak District brought about the legal freedom for walkers to roam the vast beauty of Britain. Originally, most of our wonders, including much of the Peak District, were reserved by private landowners and aristocrats. However, 1932 saw the events of the Kinder Scout Trespass – a mass trespass of ramblers that eventually led to the implementation of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act in November 2000.


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