The village of Bamford,Peak District, Derbyshire

Mike Smith visits the highest remaining village in the Derwent Valley, set amongst the hills, dales and edges of the Peak.

The elements of Air, Water, Earth and Fire have all played their part in the story of Bamford, the highest remaining village in the valley of the Derwent, a river that starts life on wild moors in the northernmost reaches of Derbyshire. The role of the classical elements is graphically illustrated on four sculptured standing stones, or 'touchstones', which stand in superb locations on the boundary of this fascinating settlement.Erected to mark the Millennium, the touchstones are three-dimensional collages, which were created from images produced by 250 villagers under the guidance of local artist Jenny Mather. Constructed from resin and gritstone, the sculptures are permanent, tangible landscape objects that not only record the history of the village in the most vivid terms, but also complement the local environment, which is a beautiful collage in its own right, being a stunning combination of bold hills, green dales, dark gritstone edges, an infant river and a shimmering lake.The touchstone representing 'Fire' stands by the old mill pond and the weir at the southern boundary of the village. It includes depictions of ancient industries such as metal-working and charcoal-burning, a relief of 'Edna', the steam engine that was used to power the mill, and an image of a steam train on the Manchester-Sheffield line, which was finally completed in 1894 and replaced the stage-coach service on the Sheffield-Sparrowpit Turnpike. Three huge tollgate posts at the southern entrance to Bamford are reminders of the days before this transport revolution took place.It was the coming of the railway that brought tourists and growth. The first expansion had taken place 70 years earlier, when William Cameron Moore acquired Bamford's cotton mill. According to local historian Lorna Wilson, William's son Samuel was a close friend of Engels, who asked him to translate the first volume of Marx's Das Kapital into English and also sought his advice on conditions in British industry.However, conditions at the Bamford mill were far from typical, because William Cameron Moore was much more benevolent than most employers of his time. As well as building good houses for his work force and providing them with health care, he endowed a church, a rectory and a school, which is now a respected primary school with Beacon status. The factory has now been converted into an up-market apartment block, but it operated as a cotton mill until the 1960s, when it was acquired by Carbolite, a company that manufactures furnaces and is now based at Hope.When the firm gained a Queen's Award for industry in 1986, it was represented at Buckingham Palace by Andrew Thorp, one of the longest-serving employees. Andrew lives with his wife Angela and son James in one of the semi-detached houses on the western side of Bamford's main street. With three-storeys at the front and four at the rear, these tall, high-gabled residences have been an eye-catching and idiosyncratic feature of the village scene ever since their construction in 1907.Andrew is a keen member of Sickleholme Golf Club, an 18-hole course in the glorious countryside adjacent to Bamford Station, and Angela, a former teacher, makes celebration cakes and acts as a judge at local shows. Creative talent in all its guises is given an outlet by Bamford Community Arts and Crafts, which organises a raft of activities, including workshops, exhibitions, community dancing and a Living Memory project based on oral reminiscences. Convened by Pippa Jones, the group is a successor to Jenny Mather's art group, which grew out of the Touchstones project when so many local people realised for the first time that they possessed creative ability.Jenny's studio, which is crammed with her vibrant paintings, is located at Blackberry Cottage, the home she shares with her husband Roger, who is an energetic chairman of the Hope Valley Christian Youth Association. He is also a Reader at the parish church, which stands across the road from the Mathers' cottage and is the only Derbyshire church designed by the Victorian architect William Butterfield, who was a leading figure in the Gothic Revival.Roger took me into the church, which has a large rose window, a chancel that is slightly tapered at its east end, presumably for reasons of perspective, and a tall nave with a single aisle. A narthex links the nave to the tower, which is astonishingly tall and very slim - so slim, in fact, that the original bells were far too big for their housing and could very easily have brought the whole structure crashing down to earth as they swung against the masonry.Former church warden Elaine Frost told me that this problem had been solved in 1894 by the installation of an Ellacombe chiming device, which enabled the bells to be hit by a hammer while being 'hung dead'. However, the Bamford chimes were notoriously unmelodic, largely because they were made from Sheffield steel. Elaine spearheaded a project to raise funds for the installation of new bells that would be manufactured from bell-metal and have dimensions more appropriate to Butterfield's slim-line tower. They were put in place in time to ring in the new century.According to the Rector, Katie Tupling, this great money-raising effort is typical of 'a community that always pulls together when there is a need to complete a project'. New musical sounds can also be heard these days from within the church, where guitars occasionally supplement the organ as a source of musical accompaniment. This innovation reflects Katie's belief in 'a partying God rather than a sensible God, who is much over-rated'.Although Katie suffers from cerebral palsy and has had to use crutches since the age of 19, she has lived life to the full. After taking a degree in theology, spending time as a youth worker and working for a short period in telesales, a job she describes as 'dire and never to be repeated', she trained for the ministry and served four years as a curate at Belper. In April 2007, she was given responsibility for Bamford church, along with those at Hathersage and Grindleford. Emphasising that she wants to reach out beyond the walls of these places of worship, she said, 'God doesn't only turn up in church; I want to get everyone excited about Him.'There are two other churches in the main street, both of which have histories linked to the element of Water. The Methodist Chapel was extended in 1951 at the expense of Methodists from the village of Ashopton, who had lost their chapel when their village was flooded to make way for Ladybower reservoir, and the Catholic Church, which was built in 1881 on land given by the Duke of Norfolk, and includes members who are descendants of Irish workers who helped in the construction of the reservoir. My guide to these and other buildings on the main street was Malcolm Dungworth, who is vice-chairman of Bamford and District History group, which has not only published an informative illustrated walking tour of the town, but also a CD based on newspaper cuttings covering events in the area over the last 40 years. Malcolm told me that he had become a collector of old photographs and artefacts because, as a young man, he had been alarmed to see some of his grandmother's possessions being thrown away immediately after her death.One of Malcolm's oldest photographs shows the village green in the days before it acquired its commemoration stone to mark Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee in 1897. The stone is still there, but it is now accompanied by a plinth that supports a map of the Touchstone Trail. Naturally enough, the green is the focal point for many outdoor events, but the Institute is the venue for most of the village's indoor activities, including dances, indoor bowls, snooker and meetings of various societies. Founded in 1912, it is owned by all the villagers and held in trust for them.News of meetings and events is circulated in Bamford News, a popular monthly newspaper produced by Sue Beckett, a retired Civil Servant. Sue is a trustee of the Recreation Ground Committee, which is presently hoping to find the means to renovate the sports pavilion and upgrade the children's play area, and she is chair of the Parish Council, which is lobbying for an improved bus service to Hathersage, where the villagers need to travel to find a doctor's surgery and a bank.As Malcolm's photographs illustrate, Bamford once had a number of banks and a multitude of shops, including the flagship store of the Hancock family, who owned a chain of businesses in the Peak District. Hancock's former store is now a dental practice and many other business premises have been converted into dwellings. Just three shops remain, but this is three more than in many other villages.John Pellegrina has been the village baker for the last four years. He says that his home baking is popular because it is 'wholesome and plain, rather than something that is merely fancy'. Neil and Susan Hough, who have been running the village's general store for 26 years, have become Bamford institutions. Their shop is also a newsagent's and off-licence. Paul Towers is a popular village postmaster who has been widening his retail offerings since discovering that his post office business is not under threat of closure. One of his specialities is Cow Molly ice cream, which is made on a farm at Dungworth. Paul claims that it is 'the best ice cream ever'.The building that houses the Post Office was the Cheshire Cheese Inn before 1901, when the licence passed to the new Derwent Hotel, which became a favoured venue for social events. Unfortunately, the Derwent Hotel was empty at the time of writing, but the Yorkshire Bridge, on the northern edge of the village, is hugely popular and the Angler's Rest, in the heart of the village, is also thriving under new landlords John and Suanne Philbin, not least because Zimbabwean-born John has developed a varied menu of home-cooked food that is based on local produce. The work of local farmers is celebrated on the Earth touchstone, which is located on the western side of the village. Shepherds and their dogs are given pride of place on this three-dimensional collage, because Bamford is well known for its sheepdog trials, an annual event that was started in 1943 as a means of raising money for local servicemen. Several farms were lost during the construction of Ladybower reservoir, when two villages were also submerged, leaving Bamford as the only substantial settlement in the higher reaches of the Derwent Valley. In 1943, Ladybower and the neighbouring dams of Howden and Derwent were used by the 'Dam Busters' as practice areas for their 'bouncing bomb' raid on the Ruhr reservoirs. This period is commemorated on the Water touchstone, which stands on the western edge of Ladybower's retaining wall. Ever since the 50th anniversary of the attack, an annual exchange of church members has taken place between Bamford and Mohnersee, a village near the bombed dams. On the most recent visit to Germany, Jenny Mather exhibited her painting of Soest, a city in the region.Jenny chose Bamford Edge as the location for the Air touchstone, because the edge forms the dividing line between Earth and Air. The view from this lofty viewpoint also includes the element of Water in the shape of Ladybower reservoir. The fourth element of Fire has been absent from the panorama since 1996, when the mill chimney was dismantled, but the present-day village of Bamford, which looks like a neat toy town when viewed from the edge, owes much of its fine appearance to the benevolent mill-owning family who built that chimney in the first place.