Discovering historic Stoney Middleton
- Credit: Archant
From Ancient Britons to broken hearts - the stories and revelations behind Stoney Middleton’s fascinating past
‘Stoney’ (as its inhabitants call it) is perhaps not as well known as other local Derbyshire villages such as Bakewell, Castleton or Eyam.
The small village sits astride the A623 main arterial road between Sheffield and Manchester and it is often the case that motorists travelling through tend to look neither right nor left. Also, the cliffs which tower over it, whilst popular with climbers, tend to create a somewhat gloomy aspect. All of this is misleading, however, for the village offers a great deal, including a ‘Roman’ Bath, a rare octagonal church, an award-winning chip shop and a splendid hostelry called the Moon Inn, which has a substantial history in itself.
All of this got started around 4000 B.C. when the first signs of human visitation have been identified. Actual habitation dates from around 2000 B.C. when Ancient Britons moved in, living in mud huts. This remained the case until the Roman Occupation; regarded as running from A.D. 43 to 410 in Britain.
After the Romans, the village experienced Anglo Saxons, Danes and the Norman Conquest, as did much of the rest of the UK. We know though that in 1415 a local lady called Joan Eyre was so delighted by the return of her husband from the battle of Agincourt that she was inspired to pay for the erection of a church in Stoney. However, in 1757 a fire broke out leaving only the tower remaining. This led to the construction of the existing octagonal design in 1759, supposedly shared with only one other church in the country in Teignmouth, Devon.
Fast forward to 1665 and Stoney Middleton plays its part in a significant historic event. In 1665, plague decimated the UK and in particular arrived in the village of Eyam, where the villagers isolated themselves to prevent the spread of the disease. Stoney is the nearest village to Eyam and its residents supplied food to help with their struggle. The parallels with modern events need hardly be drawn.
In 1762 a young lady called Hannah Baddeley climbed to the top of the aforementioned cliffs. Hannah had been courting a Mr William Barnsley but William had decided his amorous future lay elsewhere. Unable to cope with this news Hannah had resolved to jump from the top of the cliffs. When she did so, however, her petticoats billowed out forming a makeshift parachute and she floated gently to the bottom, landing in some trees and sustaining only minor injuries. The location of this event is known as Lovers Leap and the site is currently occupied by an Indian restaurant.
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There are other well-known Stoney stories featured in my recently published book entitled Discover Stoney Middleton. The History of a Forgotten Village, including the doomed love of Alan and Clara, the sad fate of the Scottish Pedlar, the exploits of the renowned wrestler William Capps and the infamous activities of the highwayman, Black Harry.
This is also a good point to introduce the Roman Bath mentioned above. Stoney has a Bath House, next to a lovely spring in the village, comprising two rooms for the use of men and women respectively. This building was erected in 1815 with funds provided by a local landowner, Lord Denman. The Denmans still own land around the village and there is a Denman Crescent named after them.
The favoured account for the purpose of the baths is that they were created for the use of the Lord and his guests with the villagers also having access when the Denman contingent was not in attendance. What is of more interest is the use of the word Roman. Obviously, the current building is not Roman but it is rumoured that when built it was necessary to demolish an ancient stone wall. There are other stories of the natural waters in the area prior to 1815 so it may indeed have been that the Romans did have some edifice on the site.
As the years passed the village expanded as a range of industries developed, probably the best known are farming, lead mining (around since the Romans), quarrying and boot making. Of these, only the last survives in the form of Lennon’s boot factory in the middle of the village.
As the village entered the 20th century there were several boot making establishments in the village and a major incident in Stoney history occurred in 1918 when the Boot and Shoemakers Strike broke out lasting some two years. My book has a chapter on this but I would also refer anyone interested to Steve Bond’s The Air of Freedom and eventually to Leslie Oldfield’s play Striking Feet, currently in production.
The influx of industry enabled the village to expand and one consequence was the growth of drinking establishments in the village. Discover Stoney Middleton lists all fifteen pubs present in the village at one time or another and also chronicles their decline to the point where only the Moon Inn remains. The Moon is located on the site of what was once the village rectory and became a pub in 1842. It is currently run by David Duroe and Joy Mason. Joy was born in the village and her and David have developed the establishment, offering good food and accommodation.
During research I gained access to two things which made my life as a historian a good deal more rewarding. One was the book Cobblers Patches which is the diary of a man called Tom Carter who worked in the boot and shoe industry and kept a record of village events in meticulous detail; a key source of information and one which should be published in its own right.
The second was direct testimony in that it was possible to interview living village residents about their experiences. Thus we were able to talk to Gladys Barker about working at Calver Mill, the Longden family about farming when tractors were not invented and muckspreading had to be done by hand and Lois Bekeris about meeting and marrying her husband Johnny when he was residing at the POW and Displaced Persons camp in the village, having arrived from his home nation of Latvia.
This information adds a whole new aspect to a study of this nature, introducing more detailed and, above all, personal and vivid recollections.
Stoney survived two world wars and a lovely memorial in the village churchyard reveals names of the men who lost their lives - far more in WW1 than WW2. It also survived a number of floods when water overflowed from the quarries above the village, as well as joining the great Derbyshire tradition of Well Dressing in 1936. The event has been celebrated every year since until Covid-19 brought the tradition to a temporary halt in 2020. The village is a different place to its heyday but is still very much a working village, albeit one that has adapted to new industries such as tourism.
Graham is working on a companion book entitled Tales from Stoney Middleton featuring fiction, non-fiction, children’s stories, poetry and artwork. Entry must be by a Stoney resident or about the village. Graham can be contacted at email@example.com or 01433 639639. Experience in writing is not required - authenticity is what is wanted.