Dramatic views and distinctive architecture in Hadfield
- Credit: Archant
Mike Smith visits the ‘historic gateway’ on the North-West border of the county
A Pennine town that is peopled by an assortment of eccentrics, including a butcher who sells ‘special sausages’ rumoured to contain human blood, a veterinarian who is so accident prone that he kills all the animals he treats and a couple of shopkeepers who tell their customers that ‘there is nothing for you here’. This was the setting for a cult television series called The League of Gentlemen, which ran from 1999 to 2002 and was recently revived for three ‘specials’.
Many of the addicts of the original series are in the habit of making pilgrimages to Hadfield because the Derbyshire town can be identified clearly as the place that featured in the programmes, even though the intimidating border sign that was visible in the series actually read: ‘Welcome to Royston Vasey – You’ll Never Leave.’ Hadfield was chosen as a film location because its appearance closely resembles the fictional town imagined by the writers, who were nevertheless at pains to point out that the bizarre characters in the series were not based on actual people living in the locality.
Although grateful for this disclaimer, the originators of the Hadfield and Padfield Heritage Trail were happy to adapt the name of the television series to advertise Hadfield as a ‘Historic Gateway in a League of its Own’ on one of the information boards used to signpost the trail at various locations of historic interest. Another board stands in Old Hall Square, a large green area on the summit of a high ridge. Much of the history of Hadfield can be traced in the buildings that flank the square and in the various streets that lead away from it. The square features an old-fashioned lamp standard and is overlooked on one side by Hadfield Old Hall, a large mullioned-windowed residence commissioned in 1646 by one of the few people who could afford to build in stone at that time.
A terrace of buildings to the right of the hall was built in the 19th century in a period when Hadfield contained a number of large spinning and weaving mills, with the workers being housed in scores of similar stone terraces that were constructed in the town. The roofs on one row fall away in echelon down a street that runs from the right-hand side of Old Hall Square. Known as Kiln Lane, the street affords dramatic views of the surrounding moors, where high rainfall and fast-running streams provided the perfect conditions for the town’s industrial revolution to take place.
By way of contrast, Hadfield Road, which drops equally steeply from the other side of the square, has a number of mullioned, three-storey houses that date from the pre-factory era, whereas a group of modern residences on yet another flank of the square indicates that Hadfield has now become a commuter base for Manchester rather than a manufacturing centre supplying the city’s needs.
A heritage board at Brosscroft, on a lofty site on the other side of the town pinpoints houses in the area where Hilary Mantel, the celebrated novelist, spent much of her childhood. In her memoir Giving up the Ghost, the author recalls the times she spent at her home in Brosscroft and at the homes of her grandparents and aunt in nearby Bankbottom, where she was fascinated by an iron ring protruding from the wall that had been used, according to her grandfather, to tether a pet monkey. The ring is no longer there.
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In the same way that readers of Hilary Mantel’s memoir are delighted to see her non-fiction book brought to life when they visit the town, many fans of the fictional League of Gentleman programmes hope that the premises that featured in the off-beat television series will be brought to life when they walk along Station Road, Hadfield’s busy shopping street.
Some of the shops on Station Road are certainly highly unusual, but not in the alarming ways that characterised the shops in the television programmes. A small wooden building that looks like a railway signal box turns out to be a barber’s shop. Called the Railway Cutting, it was established in 1999 by Mark Jansen, who somehow finds room for two stylists to work there at busy times. A shop called Brigadoon, established more than 30 years ago by Dorothy Hulme, is an emporium which stocks virtually every household item and much else besides, including school uniforms for pupils attending local schools. As Dorothy says, ‘I sell a bit of everything.’ Given the extent of the goods on display, it would be more accurate for her to say, ‘I sell a lot of everything.’
Another very conspicuous shop is the Halcyon Tea Rooms and Restaurant, where the olive-green façade and the elaborate olive-green draperies visible through the windows suggest that the interior will be equally eye-catching. This promise is more than fulfilled because owner Dr Pamela Mackie, who is also an ‘out-of-hours’ GP, has decorated the 50-cover eatery with wonderful flair. One room contains a statue of Puck, carries a quotation from A Midsummer Night’s Dream on the floorboards and is decorated with William Morris wallpaper, which is even used on the walls of the toilets.
The tea rooms and restaurant offer a very imaginative selection of food, as well as a wide choice of drinks, including cocktails and fruit teas. Pamela and her partner, an architect, bought the premises in 2008 and began converting them into a home for themselves and a stylish two-bedroom holiday apartment before creating the tea rooms and restaurant. The period look of the Halcyon is very fitting in a town where most of the public buildings date from the Victorian and Edwardian eras.
Hadfield Hall, not to be confused with Hadfield Old Hall, was built in 1905 at the summit of Station Road by industrialist Edward Platt. In 2010, the Friends of Hadfield Hall (FOHH) took over the management of the lower and top floors in conjunction with High Peak Borough Council. Activities taking place there include art shows, dances, yoga classes and a poetry-reading group that was set up over 30 years ago and still meets three times per month – at the time of my visit the members were reading Ted Hughes’ powerful mythological poem ‘Crow’.
The former Hadfield Church School, dating from 1855 and located on the hill behind the hall, has been converted into smart residences known as Kingsmoor Court, and St Andrew’s Church, situated further up the hill, has an interior that has been remodelled for flexible use whilst retaining its Victorian external appearance. Immediately beyond the War Memorial, Station Road becomes Platt Street and leads to the Longdendale Trail, a central section of the Trans Pennine Trail, a footpath and bridleway that extends for 150 miles from Liverpool to Hull. People who walk on this particular upland section are able to share the bracing moorland air with curlews and short-eared owls.
The children who attend Hadfield Infant School are fortunate in being given every opportunity to have their own close encounters with the natural world. As well as having its own woodland area, the school has a greenhouse and a vegetable patch where the children can grow potatoes, onions, carrots, tomatoes and beans. A pond is being constructed in the grounds to supplement the garden area where a flower they had nurtured won a prize for the largest sunflower in a competition organised by the local Rotary Club.
The pupils are also fortunate in having a headteacher who ‘loves nurturing people.’ Alison Barnes was appointed in January 2016 and discovered only four months later that her school was scheduled for an OFSTED inspection. Even with so little time to have made her presence felt, she impressed the inspectors with the impact she had made. Their report said: ‘You have built on the strengths already evident in the school, raised further expectations for all staff and shown no complacency in your approach to any aspect of school improvement. As a result of your leadership, the clear direction you set and the high standards you insist on, your staff are dedicated, hard-working and united.’
Alison has introduced new measures for tracking the progress of pupils and she has set up breakfast and after-school clubs to provide ‘wraparound care’. Believing that ‘the school should be at the heart of the community’, she welcomes up to 70 adults to the weekly assemblies where good work by pupils is recognised and she has started a mutual-support group for parents. Alison’s mission is ‘to make a difference to children’s lives’ and she clearly loves making this difference at Hadfield Infant School, where she and her staff are clearly putting the school in a league of its own.