Bakewell’s secret ingredients - what makes this town such a popular attraction

Arcading in Portland Square

Arcading in Portland Square - Credit: Archant

Careful exploration reveals that there are many secret ingredients that make Bakewell such a tasty visitor attraction

The ancient bridge over the River Wye

The ancient bridge over the River Wye - Credit: Archant

One of Derbyshire’s most cherished legends concerns the origin of Bakewell pudding. Most versions of the story begin with a request for strawberry tart from a group of noblemen who were staying at the White Horse Inn (now the Rutland Arms) in the late 1860s. Misunderstanding the instructions she had received, the cook spread an egg and almond mixture on top of strawberry jam, rather than stirring it into the pastry. Fortunately, the resulting concoction was an instant hit with the diners.

The sequel to this episode is less clear cut. According to the proprietors of the Old Original Bakewell Pudding Shop, based in premises formerly occupied by a candle-maker, the recipe for the new pudding was acquired by the candle-maker’s wife, who began selling the pudding at her husband’s shop, claiming that her recipe contained an ingredient known only to her. Thanks to this clever ploy, customers were soon waxing more lyrically about her pudding than her husband’s candles.

However, the proprietors of nearby Bloomers Bakery claim that it is their product which is ‘the only original Bakewell pudding’, because it is based on a secret recipe that may have been handed down by a lady called Mrs Greaves to a gentleman called Mr Radford, who may have passed it to Mr Bloomer, the founder of their shop. Yet another source of the famous pudding is the Bakewell Pudding Parlour, which has been making puddings according to its own recipe for over 20 years.

These rival claims not only add to the mystique surrounding the dish, but also help to draw visitors to Bakewell, which has the additional advantage of occupying a beautiful location at the heart of the Peak District National Park. Given the familiarity of the town to so many visitors, it might be thought that there is nothing new to add to existing descriptions of the place. In fact, a careful exploration reveals that there are many secret ingredients that make Bakewell such a tasty visitor attraction.

Houses on North Church Street, with the Arabian tent-like roof at the livestock market in the background

Houses on North Church Street, with the Arabian tent-like roof at the livestock market in the background - Credit: Archant

The first surprise that strikes observant visitors is that the fabric of the town is very different from the limestone of the White Peak and the grey gritstone of the Dark Peak. Bakewell’s texture is more akin to Cotswold stone, particularly when early morning sunlight gives the buildings a honey-coloured appearance. All Saints’ Parish Church, which dominates the town from the summit of a prominent hill, looks particularly fine under this illumination.

Most tourists approach the church via King Street, but an alternative route uses North Church Street, which runs past a cottage with a display of teapots before climbing alongside a fine row of houses arranged in echelon. The church is known for its magnificent octagonal spire and for its memorials to the Vernon and Manners families, who were merged in romantic fashion when Dorothy Vernon eloped with John Manners from nearby Haddon Hall.

But the church has a less well-known attraction. The south porch contains a remarkably extensive collection of elaborately carved Saxon and Norman grave-slabs, crosses and figure-heads, so tightly stacked that the entranceway has the appearance of a very well-stocked architectural antique shop. A narrow passage beyond the churchyard leads to a surprising confrontation with a very imposing sixteenth-century yeoman’s dwelling, which now houses the Old House Museum. Beamed rooms with great open fireplaces contain many fascinating reminders of past life in the town, including a fine historical toy collection, a Tudor toilet, and a Victorian privy! A derelict adjacent building was once a row of cottages built by Sir Richard Arkwright for his workers at Lumford Mill. The ruined shell now contains an open-air cut-out model of a former occupant cleaning raw cotton.

Tucked away in the higher reaches of Bakewell, the museum and the former Arkwright site are secrets that remain undetected by many visitors, but they deserve to be on every tourist’s itinerary. The town centre contains many other secrets that are waiting to be discovered, because it is a warren of alleyways and courtyards with a wonderful range of independent and specialist shops.

Bakewell Pudding

Bakewell Pudding - Credit: Archant

One place that is certainly worth seeking out is Hebden Court, off Matlock Street, which has the delightful appearance of a Dickensian courtyard. Within this picturesque little enclave, there is a fabulous chocolate shop, a craft and interiors shop, various gift and clothes shops, a fly-fishing shop and a very inviting tea room. Emily Roper and Shelly Pilkington of Beau, a little emporium selling ladies’ fashion accessories, said: ‘Those visitors who never find their way to this little courtyard are missing out on a place that is very special.’

All Bakewell’s other courtyards, small squares and arcades merit exploration. For example, Granby Arcade may look like a little out-of-the way alleyway, but goods on sale there range from cupcakes, chocolates and computer parts to stamps, jewellery and embroidered gifts. There is a shop which offers the highly unusual combination of pet supplies and auto parts, and the arcade even houses an accountancy business and a shop run by an ‘energy practitioner’ who promises to relieve stress and anxiety.

A hidden pedestrian alley running off Granby Road at the heart of the town is the unexpected location for Bakewell’s swimming pool. Nearby Portland Square has a stone arcade that looks as if it has been lifted out of a painting by Giorgio de Chirico. Its shops include Mini Chic ladies’ accessories, Elliott Rose’s fine apothecary and The Wee Dram with its extensive collection of whiskies. Two premises standing side by side on Water Street are a further illustration of the eclectic choice of goods available in the town: Tiroler Stüberl sells a huge range of imported Austrian foods while the adjacent Stone Art Jewellery has items made from Whitby Jet as well as Blue John stone.

Bakewell has a thriving weekly stall market, a monthly farmers’ market and a really great choice of coffee shops, tea rooms and pubs. An ice-cream van does a roaring trade with the many visitors who enjoy relaxing on the banks of the River Wye, even though their peace is likely to be disturbed when the river’s abundant bird population spots the chance of being offered titbits and takes off en masse as though auditioning for a scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s film The Birds.

In this age of Amazon, the town is fortunate in having several bookshops, including Maxwells on Granby Road and the well-known Bakewell Bookshop on Matlock Street, although the latter does now use one half of its premises as a café. A second-hand bookshop, located at the entrance to the famous ancient bridge over the Wye, has also managed to survive but, as manager Margaret Wood explains, ‘The shop was saved from closure because it was acquired by Bakewell and Eyam Community Transport, which uses the takings to support their community bus services. The shop is run by a team of 15 volunteers who are motivated by their love of books and their wish to preserve this much-valued transport service, which is currently under threat due to financial cutbacks.’

Another group of volunteers is busily drawing up plans to extend Peak Rail’s heritage railway service from Rowsley to Bakewell, an ambitious scheme that would involve the construction of a new bridge over the A6, the laying of new tracks and extensive fencing and drainage work. If the extension goes ahead, it would bring yet more visitors to explore Bakewell, a town whose many secret ingredients make it such an appetising tourist and shopping destination.

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The Old House Museum is open every day from 11am to 4pm from 25th March to 5th November. Bakewell stall market operates on Mondays from 7.30am to 4pm and the Farmers’ Market takes place on the last Saturday of each month at the Bakewell Agricultural Centre, alongside which there is parking for 420 cars. Smith’s Island Car Park, on the west side of the River Wye, has 120 short stay and 450 long stay places. There is easy access by pedestrian bridge to the town centre.

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