[dropcaps]Monday has been market day in Bakewell since at least 1330 when it was confirmed by royal charter and it was important enough in Norman times to be recorded in the Domesday survey. Farmers bring their store cattle and sheep for sale and have a chat with their friends, while shoppers browse for bargains on the opposite side of the river.[/dropcaps]
Until a decade or so ago, the stock market and commercial stalls had to compete for the limited amount of space and tales are told of shoppers ending up inside cattle trucks when they took a wrong turning. By moving the agricultural side of things to the purpose built sales facility, the stall market has been able to expand beyond Portland Square and into Granby Road. Badecean Wiellon (Beadeca’s spring), as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles called it, grew around a natural crossing of the River Wye.
Two ancient and two modern bridges now span the river at Bakewell, the first to the north and a little downstream from Lumford Mill is a multi-arched packhorse bridge. Dating from 1664 it is just wide enough to take ponies carrying heavy panniers on their way to industrial south Yorkshire. A path leads downstream from it through Scott’s Meadow, a lovely stretch of water meadow, to the venerable road bridge into Bakewell town centre. Ducks and huge rainbow trout congregate below the bridge, the former hoping for crumbs from riverside picnickers.
A modern single-span footbridge connects the cattle market and major car park to the street market backed by the venerable market hall now used as a well stocked information centre. Although there was once a wooden palisaded castle built by Edward the Elder in 942 to protect a river crossing to the east of the town, there is nothing left of this other than humps in a field and the Gothic lettering of Castle Hill on Ordnance Survey maps. Without doubt though, the oldest recognisable building in Bakewell is its parish church. It stands on a hillside beyond the Monyash road with its tall spire overlooking the town from almost every angle.
Traces of its Saxon foundations can still be seen, together with the stumps of two stone preaching crosses and a collection of stone coffin lids in the porch. The inside of the church is well documented, especially the Vernon Chapel which has a fine memorial to Dorothy Vernon and her husband John Manners with whom she romantically eloped in 1563. A little way above the church along one of the typically narrow lanes meandering through the town, the Old House Museum with a well presented collection of local memorabilia, is housed in an early-Tudor house saved from demolition by the local historical society. Below the church and beside the Monyash road, houses in Avendel Court date from around the same time, but are fronted by a Georgian shop exterior.
There is a part-timbered building within the same group that dates from 1684; originally serving as the town hall, it had a group of alms houses to the rear and for a time was the local grammar school. Rutland Hotel overlooking the town square was built by the Duke of Rutland around 1700 when he tried to establish Bakewell as a spa in competition with Buxton. Still fed by a natural spring, the Bath House is in the top left-hand corner of Bath Gardens. Unfortunately his scheme failed due mostly to the fact that the water was too cold for comfort!
However, the gardens remain, an almost year long attraction and a popular background for wedding photos. As befits a market town, Bakewell is well served with long established inns and restaurants, there are even two pubs next door to each other in the market place; The Queen’s Arms and The Peacock. Adjacent to these is the old market hall now used as an exhibition and information centre by the Peak District National Park Authority. Shops catering for almost everything from rare whiskies to outdoor gear and fashions line the streets and courtyards around the town centre, but it is the Monday market that brings the biggest crowds. Bucking the trend away from printed books, two small but excellent bookshops seem to be able to cater for all needs.
Bakewell for Books in the main street is well stocked with local guides and Book End, the second-hand bookshop on Bridge Street run by Lynne Wilson and Ellie Potten encourages browsers. Unlike so many second-hand bookshops, Book End’s stock is carefully set out by author and subject. A new addition to the attraction of market day has appeared of late. Dotted around the stalls, skilled performers busk for charity. When we were last there we chatted to Patrick Cooke of Crich; Patrick’s hobby is restoring and playing, or grinding to use the correct expression, street organs. Complete with his (toy) monkey, he was grinding away much to the fascination of passing children and their parents and seemed to have an unlimited stock of tunes.
Pre-dating computers by hundreds of years, the music is played by pulling punched cards over air vents. Patrick told us that he is hoping to be Bakewell’s official organ grinder and become a regular feature in the town, not only on market day. Two other talented buskers were pulling the crowds on the fine sunny day that coincided with our recent visit. The first could be heard long before we saw him, but the fine tenor voice of Maxwell Thorpe didn’t need an amplifier as he ran through his short repertoire on the corner of Water Street. The other crowd stopping sight was a statuesque couple dressed in flamboyantly heavy medieval Venetian costumes, only moving to bow to those that dropped coins into their National Trust buckets.
Calling themselves Statue Knight and managed by Zdenek Goc, they perform for parties or advertisements throughout the East Midlands. Although there is a shop calling itself The Bakewell Tart, take care when ordering the town’s speciality. Two shops claim to have the original Bakewell Pudding recipe locked away in their safes, but the truth of the matter is more mundane. Traditionally it was first made by the cook of the former White Horse Inn on Matlock Street, around 1860. Given instructions to bake a strawberry tart, in a bit of a fluster, she inadvertently put the jam into the baking dish first, followed by an egg and butter-based flaky pastry mix with a hint of almond essence. The result, rather than being rejected, was an instant success and became a popular item on the inn’s menu; the rest as they say is, history.
Bakewell Show in the first week in August is the highlight on the rural calendar of the Peak District. Held on the show ground beyond the cattle market, the show attracts competitors from far and wide; pampered, carefully groomed beasts are led around the show ground and show jumpers take their turn in the arena. A Norwegian princess competed in one year’s jumping event, but was no match against local riders! Garden produce, floral displays, fly-casting demonstrations and Women’s Institute stands, alongside commercial stalls, bungee jumping, helicopter rides and the chance to meet friends and renew acquaintances, or possibly pick up a bargain, make the show the best local event of the year.