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Darley Dale ‘Out and About’

Darley Dale ‘Out and About’

Despite sharing the same DE4 post code, most of Darley Dale’s inhabitants prefer to think of themselves as living separate from neighbouring Matlock. Attempts to build on the small ‘green belt’ next to the DFS warehouse on the A6 between the two are met with furious objections. Darley Dale is, to them, still as it always has been, an independent village in its own right.

Nowadays, the village is mainly a residential enclave on the border of the Peak District National Park, dominated by three large housing estates, where at least one them has a high proportion of bungalows popular with those preferring to live on the flat rather than hilly Matlock.  Those estates and adjoining smaller developments link a chain of little hamlets strung along the spring-line on the eastern side of the Derwent valley – Hackney, Farley, Two Dales (formerly the less attractive sounding Toadhole), Hillside and Northwood.  These together with Churchtown in the valley bottom make up what has become to be known as Darley Dale.

The oldest remaining dwellings linking the past to the present are in those one-time hamlets.  Dating from the 12th century, St Helen’s the parish church and spiritual focus to the area, stands oddly enough, just above the flood plain of the Derwent.  It is probably the oldest building in the district, but the yew tree standing close to the church door is probably older still, making links to a pagan pre-Christian era. Although nothing remains other than the name of nearby Abbey Farm, it is likely that the church began as an oratory of a nearby small abbey whose monks preached beneath the yew’s spreading branches.

South-west facing Hillside once had a number of specialist nurseries, although they no longer grow plants for sale – there is even a Darley Dale heather developed by one of them. Changing gardening fashions led to their demise and nowadays, domestic gardeners in the area buy their plants from Forest Nurseries, a perfect link between old and new.  A rarity amongst garden centres, it is one of the few places where experienced advice can be given in answer to an amateur’s problem.

The old pack horse way across the valley came by way of the river crossing at Darley Bridge below Wensley, and then climbed steep Sydnope Hill beyond Two Dales, or Toadhole as it then was, over the moors along Jagger’s Lane to Chesterfield.  The old school for the district is on this road just before it reaches the original houses of Two Dales.  With high windows to prevent wandering eyes, where pupils once had the ‘3 Rs’ hammered into their minds, the school has since been a bakery but is currently being converted into a house.

‘Jaggers’, or packhorse drovers, would have stopped for refreshment at the Plough Inn that stands on what is now a side road. Some carriers thankful at not having to climb the hill, would have turned off along Ladygrove Road towards the village mill.  In the sixteenth century it became a flax-spinning factory powered by three reservoirs further up the narrow valley.  Owned by the Dakeyne family, a dynasty of bankers and engineering inventors, it prospered for at least two centuries.  In 1793 Daniel Dakeyne patented a machine known as the equilibrium, which he used in the mill as a more efficient way for preparing and spinning flax. Later, his brothers Edward and James, patented a hydraulic engine.  An early version of a turbine engine, there is no record of its success, so one must assume that this innovative machine, though ahead of its time, was a failure.  When the mill stopped spinning flax, it was taken over by S and E Johnson (East) Ltd for the preparation of animal feedstuffs, but since its closure, parts of the mill have been used by a variety of small industries, such as one making timber furniture.

High grade pink gritstone was quarried by the Stancliffe Stone Company in Hall Dale Quarry on the hillside above Two Dales and carried by a narrow-gauge railway into the valley bottom.  Most of the stone used to build the grand houses that sprang up along the valley sides and the A6 came from there.

During Matlock’s hey-day as a Victorian spa, it became popular for businessmen to build their homes nearby, handily convenient to the numerous mini-spas that followed those started by John Smedley.  With the demise of the fashion for immersion in cold water, one of them became a minor public school for daughters of the clergy.  Known as St Elphin’s it moved to Darley Dale from its original site in Warrington to escape a cholera epidemic. One of its pupils (although she had left before the school moved to Matlock) was Richmal Compton, author of the famous Just William stories.  Since the sudden and unexpected closure of the school in March 2005, the building has been steadily expanded into a high class retirement home.

One of the businessmen who made Darley Dale his home was Sir Joseph Whitworth, engineer, inventor and philanthropist.  He came to the area in 1854 when he bought Stancliffe Hall.   By this time he was well established as an engineer based on his company in Manchester, specialising in making machine tools.  One of his many inventions and innovations was to advocate a standard and uniform screw thread – until then every implement and machine had its own uniquely threaded screws.  He also designed a measuring device that was accurate to a millionth of an inch – a bass relief of this machine is featured on Sir Joseph Whitworth’s memorial in Darley Dale Park.  His philanthropy covered such things as a scholarship for graduate engineers studying at Manchester University, but he also helped the village where he had made his home.  The Whitworth Hotel and adjacent Institute are the most tangible effect of his caring nature.  Probably the biggest ‘village hall’ in the country, it provides space for public meetings, conference and lecture halls, theatrical events, indoor sports, mother and baby meeting space.  Despite its grandeur, the Whitworth Institute as it is officially known, is about half the size of its original plan, something the present-day management committee must be grateful for, in the face of ever rising heating and maintenance costs.

Joseph Whitworth as he was when he first came to live at Stancliffe Hall, did not have the luxury of travelling into Manchester by train – had to travel by way of Ambergate and Sheffield.  This came later when George Stephenson’s railway that had been steadily making its way through the Midlands from London made its way up the Derwent Valley.  For years the line had ended at Rowsley, prior to its intended routing under Chatsworth Park to link with the Sheffield to Manchester line at Grindleford.  It was only after a lot of negotiating by the Duke of Rutland, that the line took the more difficult route through Monsal and Miller’s Dale. A large marshalling yard was built near Rowsley, providing employment in the area – the sturdy stone-built terraced houses near Broadwalk in the centre of Daley Dale, were initially the homes of railway workers and their families.

Not only did the railway bring work to the area, but it led to changes to the names of the tiny hamlets surrounding Darley Dale, along with the name of the village itself.  All this came about as the result of the local vicar, the Rev. Daniel Vawdry’s plan to put the place on the map as an inland holiday resort. No doubt Whitworth had a hand in it, but the station was a rather grand affair for such a small place.  At that time the village was simply known as Darley and Mr Vawdry decided that in order to attract visitors, the word Dale should be added in order to publicize its position in the Derwent Valley, and so Darley Dale it became.  At the same time he tidied things up around the district by suggesting that the name ‘Toadhole’ be altered to the more attractive ‘Two Dales’. With its park endowed by Sir Joseph and the station still used as a stopping place on Peak Rail’s line from Matlock, Darley Dale is still a popular place from which to start many of the long or short walks in the area, or simply walk the dog on a sunny day.


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