The popular and picturesque Peak District village of Bradwell
- Credit: Archant
Mike Smith visits a Peakland village with all the amenities... including delicious ice-cream
In Bradwell: Ancient and Modern, published in 1912, Seth Evans described Bradwell as ‘one of the most comical looking, beautiful and picturesque old towns even in picturesque Peakland.’ More than a century on from this memorable description, motorists passing through the village on the busy main road that links the Hope Valley with Tideswell Moor may not have chance to appreciate the qualities that inspired Seth to spend so many years compiling his ‘collections and recollections in a Peakland village’. However, a more leisurely exploration shows that the characteristics that Seth found so endearing about the place are still very much in evidence.
On the side of a hill to the east of the main road, two steep streets called Bessie Lane and The Hills are flanked by lots of picturesque cottages, many of which are decked with colourful flowers. This area is a charming survival of the old Bradwell that was described by Seth, with a slight touch of poetic licence, as a village of ‘steep winding streets – if streets they can be called – and all sorts of queer little out of the way places running in and out in all directions, break neck, oblique, skew-tilted, beginning everywhere, leading nowhere, making the stranger feel he is still living in medieval times.’
Another fine example of one of the streets depicted by Seth as ‘curiously winding lanes lined with cottages that have been there for centuries’ is Town Gate, which makes a very long, twisting ascent up the hillside to the west of the main street. The street’s steep terraces of restored cottages are punctuated by three significant buildings: the White Hart, a traditional and homely inn dating from 1676; the well-stocked premises of High Peak Heating and Plumbing Supplies; and Bradwell Methodist Church, a large gabled building whose architectural austerity is counteracted in grand fashion by a large Tuscan portico with a balustraded parapet.
The church is set back from the street and accessed by a path that runs alongside the colourful and lovingly tended garden of Colin Biggin’s cottage, which is known as the Gate House. When he is not working in his garden or enjoying his delightful summer house, Colin spends time in his workshop responding to requests for his well-crafted joinery products, even though he formally retired from his job as a cabinet-maker in 2001.
Town Gate helter-skelters its way down to Bradwell Brook, a stream that follows the perimeter of a large play area as it rushes through the village over a series of weirs before flowing under the main road close to a shop where Bradwell’s famous ice-cream originated. According to legend, the recipe for this ‘intensely moreish and rich’ dairy product was concocted in 1899 by ‘Grandma Hannah’, whose recipe was passed down to Noel Bradwell, who made the ice-cream until his retirement in 1992, when he sold his company to Lawrence Wosskow. Bradwell’s ice-cream, available in a choice of 20 flavours, can now be obtained from various outlets in the local area, where it is marketed as ‘The Peak of Excellence – luxury ice-cream from the heart of the Peak District’.
Another old building, located a little further along the main road, was the birthplace in 1815 of Samuel Fox, the inventor of the Paragon steel umbrella frame, whose revolutionary design is the basis of umbrellas used all over the world today. As well as being a maker of umbrellas, Samuel was the founder of a steel company at Stockbridge, north of Sheffield, which grew to an enormous size. According to Seth Evans, he was also a generous benefactor to Bradwell, sending large sums of money which were used each winter on ‘household requisites for the poor’. He also set up a number of trusts to help those in need and helped to fund the building of St Barnabas’ Church.
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The impressive limestone church, built in 1868 and extended in 1891, stands on the eastern side of the main road, where the gabled frontage and offset square tower make it one of Bradwell’s most prominent landmarks, along with the Shoulder of Mutton, which is located on the opposite side of the road. The large inn has five well-appointed bedrooms and serves hand-pulled ales and homemade food, including Yorkshire Puddings, a favourite food even in the heart of Derbyshire.
There are lots of other great sources of good food to be found further along the main road. Bradwell’s fish and chip shop attracts customers from far and wide, not only because its fish and chips are unfailingly delicious but also because the portions are so generous. David Mccrea, who opens from 11.30am to 11pm on every day other than Sunday, says, ‘I always cook each fish in response to individual orders placed by customers when they come into the shop.’
Rob Stewart and Sally Newham took over the adjacent Bradwell Village Shop five years ago. Explaining the current layout of the store, Rob says, ‘We completely regenerated the place two years ago to accommodate a “Post Office Local”. We re-arranged the shelving to stock a wide range of speciality preserves and biscuits, along with other produce, including Bradwell’s famous ice-creams.’
Bradwell has a busy Co-op convenience store, and Sarah and Tony Stirk extended the village’s range of food outlets yet further three and a half years ago by opening The Bakehouse. Sarah, a graduate of Bradford University and a former probation officer, said: ‘Our unique selling point is that all our food, ranging from pastries, paninis and tarts to cakes, bakes and soup, is homemade – apart from the bread, which we buy in. I also like to think that we offer a valuable community service by being a place where local people, especially those who live on their own, can call in for a chat when they come in for our hot takeaway meals.’
Two other sources of good food in the village are situated in the northern part of Bradwell. They both offer excellent accommodation for people looking to visit the village as a place that is ideally located as a base for a holiday in the heart of the Peak District.
Ye Olde Bowling Green Inn, known locally as ‘The Green’, dates from 1577. Standing on an elevated site, it has a long façade with an array of multi-paned windows set in black surrounds. Real ales and home-cooked food are served in the olde-worlde rooms, which have low beams, brasses and cosy fires. Six comfortable en-suite bedrooms are located in a barn conversion next to the pub.
The Samuel Fox Inn at the far end of the village is a five-star country inn with four well-appointed bedrooms. It was described in a glowing report in the Daily Telegraph as ‘more of a restaurant with rooms, rather than a standard pub’. The interior has contemporary décor and paintings by Lynne Wilkinson, a well-known local artist, and the food, which merits entries in many good food guides, is prepared by chef-patron James Duckett, who is responsible for the inn’s ever-growing reputation as a great place to eat.
The roadside sign for the inn is a witty tribute to Samuel Fox. It depicts a fox with anthropomorphic features sheltering from the rain under an umbrella. Were Seth Evans able to return to the village he described so well in Bradwell: Ancient and Modern, he would almost certainly appreciate the humour. In his book he tells the story of a lady who gave one of Fox’s umbrellas to her servant who had decided to emigrate, saying: ‘Now Martha, if thou must emigrate, cling to thy umbrella. It will be a comfort to thee when it’s wet, and when it’s dry thou may want to use it to drive off some man.’
Original copies of Bradwell: Ancient and Modern, published in 1912, are very scarce but Country Books published a facsimile version in 2004 with print enlarged by 15 per cent.