The village of Rowsley, Derbyshire

Ashley Franklin explores a 'portal to the Peak' with more than its share of its own visitor <br/><br/>attractions.

Some Derbyshire villages are visitor attractions, others seem to be mostly passed through. Rowsley happens to be both of these. It could also be the most visited village in the county. Four miles north of Matlock, it stands as the portal to the Peak, with Chesterfield Road off the main A6 taking travellers not so much to Chesterfield as to Chatsworth, just a couple of miles away. If this route to the UK’s most popular stately home takes only half the traffic Chatsworth receives, that’s still 300,000 trippers coming in and out of Rowsley every year, with further hundreds of thousands per annum passing through the other half of the village en route to Haddon Hall two miles up the road, and thence to Bakewell, Buxton and wider Peak District delights.

However, several thousands a year come to Rowsley itself, notably to Caudwell’s Mill, Peak Rail and Peak Village shopping centre. There are also two fine art galleries – the Derwent-Wye and gallerytop – two grand hotels – The Peacock and East Lodge – and a large, popular pub restaurant – Grouse & Claret. With the village standing at the confluence of the Derwent and Wye rivers, the surrounding area is also a magnet for ramblers and a catch for fly fishermen. As Bulmer’s Derbyshire directory states in 1895: ‘The scenery is varied and beautiful – a combination of wood and water, and hill, dale and meadow.’ I have walked the Derwent Valley Heritage Way here, taking in Lindop Wood in a valley perfect for soaring birds, as well as Stanton Moor and the Nine Ladies stone circle.

A walk through Rowsley itself is a pleasure. As Roy Christian declared, it’s ‘an attractive village of an unusually warm shade of gritstone’. Actually, Roy was alluding more to the older half of the village that used to be referred to as Great Rowsley, separated from Little Rowsley by the River Derwent, and officially so until as late as 1987 when it was finally deemed propitious to join them.

Also significant about Rowsley is that while many villages have become dormitories, Rowsley is a village to which a large number of people commute. There are 23 retail outlets at Peak Village and a busy industrial estate occupies the site of the old sidings and dairy. The Grouse & Claret alone has a staff of 35. In the previous century, Rowsley was a major railway village which at its peak would have housed a fair proportion of the 700 workers employed on the railways between Matlock and Bakewell. Most of these workers came to live on the Matlock side of the village, creating the irony of Little Rowsley being greater than Great Rowsley.

From small acorns grow… literally in Rowsley’s case as its original name Reuslege means ‘a clearing in the forest’. Since feudal times, Rowsley has been a Haddon domain, the church, school, village hall and recreational field all being the gift of the lord of the manor. Even today, the Haddon estate owns 80 properties in the area, including The Peacock and Grade II listed Caudwell’s Mill. The last, however, was named after John Caudwell, who built it in 1874 on a river island site where mills had stood since the 16th century. The family continued to operate the water-powered flour mill for the next 104 years and it still stands, thanks to the diligence and determination of industrial archeology enthusiasts who fought against its demolition and established a Trust to preserve it. It is one of only about a hundred mills left in this country: around the turn of the 20th century there were over a thousand.

A visit to Caudwell’s Mill reveals an amazing array of pulleys, belts, sifters and other moving parts over four floors. Of the 5,000 people annually who tour the workings, director Graeme Walker finds that ‘most people have no idea that flour milling is so complex – and fascinating, too.’ Sadly, following a machinery breakdown a decade ago, Caudwell’s had to stop milling flour and, as Graeme told me, the mill’s uniqueness has worked against it as all the machine parts that need to be replaced are no longer available and would have to be re-constructed at enormous cost. However, Caudwell’s is still the place to go to obtain a wide variety of flours milled traditionally at other sites and, as Graeme reveals, ‘virtually all our customers return’ – including one who regularly drives up from Suffolk.

Most Read

Thousands of people each year also flock to the mill’s Craft Centre, opened in 1987 by Richard and Pat Priestley. Richard’s passion for industrial archeology and Pat’s background in textiles and design fatefully combined and they hit upon the idea of ‘helping preserve the mill by attracting visitors through the creation of a place where artists and craftspeople could take inspiration from the beautiful, tranquil setting.’ On the practical side, there were redundant buildings ripe for conversion: the old grain store, for example, is now a craft and gift shop with a dizzying array of goods, leading one regular shopper to comment that she can ‘always find something beautiful, original or quirky.’ The Country Parlour caf�, however, was built on site, although Richard used largely recycled materials. The beams and wood for the tables came from a Scottish mill, which coincidentally also dated back to 1874, and the seating pews and unique counter were salvaged from Crich Carr chapel. ‘We were determined not to “gentrify” the site,’ remarked Richard. ‘We wanted to keep as much of the old whilst blending in the new.’

Richard is also proud of the Country Parlour’s cuisine – ‘Locally sourced food, prepared and cooked by happy, loyal and talented people producing some of the best home made food you will ever taste.’ Many customers are delighted to see kingfishers, dippers and wagtails through the caf� windows. This is one of the reasons artist Helen Clark is so happy to have been ensconced in a gallery workshop there for the last ten years, declaring: ‘Just walking from the car park to my shop I see sheep, cattle, ducks, geese and all kinds of birds, and I have painted virtually all of them. Sometimes the subjects come to me: I had a tiny treecreeper in my studio once and have a robin who pops in regularly. And I’m surrounded by the stunning landscape. I get goosebumps driving in to work from my Chesterfield home, especially when I see the deer emerging in the Chatsworth mist.’

Fellow incumbent artists Darell and Joy Greenhalgh, who create beautiful glass pieces fused with 24ct gold and platinum, feel very much the same. ‘This truly is a little world all of its own,’ declares Joy. ‘The sun sets behind the mill stream which flows by our window so there is a light show every evening. It’s a constantly changing, ever-inspiring place and after 21 years of being here, every day still has something new to offer.’ They also relish the fact that visitors have an opportunity to ‘meet the maker’, which, as Joy says, works both ways: ‘After putting heart and soul into making something, it’s great to meet the person who will own it.’ Helen Clark adds: ‘Our customers often remark how pleasing it is to take something home that is “Made in Derbyshire” – not China.’

Next door to Greenhalgh Glass is a blacksmith’s where Bob Brown forges all manner of metal goods from window frames, weather vanes and curtain rails to door hinges and latches. I was especially taken by his bird feeder hangers and pokers topped with the head of the Derby Ram. Completing the Craft Centre is The Jewellery Gallery run by Pat Priestley, which includes local Blue John amongst a variety of gems and stones. After expressing concern over the future of craft centres around the country, Joy Greenhalgh concludes: ‘Let’s hope Caudwell’s Mill stays blissfully unchanged and remains a haven for people and nature in a hectic world.’

You can escape into more art at both ends of the village. In Great Rowsley sits Derwent-Wye Fine Art, opened three years ago by David Naylor, Stephen Earnshaw and John Basford who found they shared a passion for modern British art. They have built up an impressive client list of those keen to seek out works by artists such as Harry Epworth Allen, Stanley Royle, Sandra Blow and Sir Terry Frost plus numerous 20th century Northern and Cornish artists. They have also developed a reputation for finding specific works for their client base – ‘we are part gallery, part art detectives,’ remarks John. When I called in, the gallery was on the point of delivering a beautiful major work Portrait of a Young Lady by David Jagger, one of the 20th century’s leading portraitists who painted the Royal family, Winston Churchill and Baden-Powell. The works they seek out can command prices as high as �50,000, some even more, and although clients come from all around the country and the world, they also receive strong support locally.

Derwent-Wye is also a publishing house, with their own book on HE Allen considered to be definitive. Their recent publication on abstract artist Harry Ousey by Sue Astles won their Sheffield printers Print Week magazine’s Book Publisher of the Year 2009 award.

In Little Rowsley sits gallerytop, run by Keith Logan and Jill Wilson, where you can obtain ‘exclusive contemporary art and objects to enhance your living space’, from an impressive roster of over 150 artists and makers – experienced and popular practitioners sharing space with exciting emerging talents. When I called in at the gallery there was a palpable buzz about its latest exhibition of limited edition prints by Sir Peter Blake, the ‘grandfather of British pop art’ who will be forever associated with his design for the cover of The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper album. My Sunday visit also included a trip ‘next door’ to East Lodge, which was kindly housing Blake’s colourful double-decker ‘Art Bus’ in its grounds. For once East Lodge wasn’t busy with a wedding party – a surprise as this elegant country house, originally the hunting lodge for the Haddon estate, is a leading wedding venue, hosting 76 weddings this year. Iain Hardman, who runs East Lodge with his father David, told me that his family’s mission was to make it the ‘Sharrow Bay of the Peak District’. It would appear it’s mission accomplished: ‘We now have more accolades than Sharrow,’ Iain added. Accolades include being named one of the top 150 hotels in Britain, the Derbyshire Restaurant of the Year 2007/8 and runner-up this year, and earning the Hotel of the Year silver prize at the VisitBritain/EnjoyEngland awards, regarded as the Oscars of the tourism industry. Set in ten acres of countryside with impressive views, I also got to see the greenhouses and plots which provide most of the food served up in its AA Rosette award-winning restaurant.

There was food ready to bedished up when I hot-footed it round the corner to Peak Rail’s Rowsley station before the Sunday train departed with its diners packing the restaurant cars. I couldn’t see a spare seat, a great tribute to a group of volunteers who worked hard to preserve a part of our heritage, in this case the Midland Railway line between Manchester Central and St Pancras that once made Rowsley a great railway village. The steam and diesel trains take trippers to Matlock and back, with ambitious plans to eventually re-open the line to Buxton.

Little Rowsley became a product of the railway age in 1849, with a sign stating ‘Rowsley for Chatsworth’ rapidly erected on the station platform. As well as a destination for excursions, Rowsley was an important freight siding. At the height of operations at the turn of the 20th century, 17,000 wagons rolled by per week and, when the Express Dairy came to the village in 1933, 33,000 gallons of milk a day steamed their way to London. Right up to the Beeching cuts, around 100 trains a day started from or passed through Rowsley.

The coming of the railways may have created Little Rowsley, but Great Rowsley folk called it ‘Up Klondike’ as many of the new houses sprang up around the time of the Yukon Gold Rush. However, the rush to extend the line from Rowsley to Manchester was scuppered by the Duke of Devonshire who refused permission for it to pass through Chatsworth Park. Eventually the Duke of Rutland agreed to allow the track to be routed up the Wye Valley on condition that it passed unseen behind Haddon Hall in a covered cutting. However, this left the original station – a gem of Italianate design by Sir Joseph Paxton – marooned in the wrong valley, so the Midland had to build a second station.

The Paxton building is now part of an industrial estate where Richard Bean initially set up home and a cottage industry entitled Natural Stone Sales, bolstering the business when Chris Kelsey became his partner. Stone masonry production then expanded into the company’s key attraction: kitchen work surfaces in granite. Also produced here is Mandala limestone, a true local stone owned by the Chatsworth Settlement Trust.

Fortuitously, the growth of Natural Stone Sales has come at a time of the increased popularity of stone worktops. ‘Natural stone has innate make-up and beauty,’ says Richard, ‘and its variations in colour and veining mean every piece is unique. We’ve found customers love the way granite worktops enhance the beauty and feel of their kitchen as well as being functional – granite is remarkably durable and easy to clean.’

As a parish councillor, Richard Bean was pleased to show me the striking new building adjacent to his site which has just won two awards for its architecture. First Level is home to First Movement which works with learning disabled adults, creating projects to inspire their creativity. There is an especially welcoming ambience to First Level. Project co-ordinator Caroline Bagnall told me: ‘Key to the design was a building that transformed the expectation of our disabled users. Each of our studios was created around a specific arts activity. There’s no doubt this centre has raised their self-esteem and worth by giving them a high quality beautiful environment that is well equipped, spacious and responsive to their needs.’

On the opposite side of the road is Peak Village. Most villages would oppose the development of a shopping centre in their midst but as resident Vernon Harrison told me, it was developed on what was locally referred to as ‘The Pit’, a derelict industrial site. So, the coming of Peak Village in 1999 was welcomed, not least by the many shoppers who increasingly flock to this happily located centre with free parking and multifarious outlets, as well as Woodlands Fitness Centre with beauty salon and hairdressers. Noted for its spacious layout, Peak Village is regarded as a particularly calm and pleasant shopping experience for the elderly and immobile and is a draw for coach tours, walkers and families. Manager Terence Morgan says it’s a happy tenth anniversary year for Peak Village: ‘I’m delighted to say that we are managing to defy the downturn. Just look at The Peak Barn Food Company which was brave enough to open only last September. Darren Marriott and Sally Raynor have long had a mutual adoration of Derbyshire produce and decided to open an outlet offering customers “a little taste of Derbyshire to take away”. Businesses like that show that there is still entrepreneurial spirit which can shine in the economic climate.’

Peak Village also hosts free events – James Lewis will be offering free valuations for the third time this year on 14th December – and the local school sings carols every year at the Christmas lights switch-on. That school, Rowsley C of E Primary, is nestled in the old part of the village in a delightful stone building dating back to 1840.

An excellent book on the history of the Devonshire and Rutland villages by Keith Taylor reveals that absenteeism was one problem facing rural schools in the Victorian age. A Rowsley headmaster from 1887 notes, ‘absenteeism was rife’, although rather than playing truant, pupils were hard at work in the fields ‘blackberrying, potato-getting, bracken-cutting, elderberrying and mushrooming.’

The current headteacher, Alison Wain, clearly adores running what is for her, ‘a lovely school in beautiful surroundings producinghappy, rounded children and with a great family feel.’ One particularly rounded example was the late MP and broadcaster Philip Whitehead who continued to reside in Rowsley, as did many Whitehead generations. Alison also believes that the very active parents bring great community cohesion to Rowsley, the school’s involvement in the annual village well-dressing being a vital example. ‘It’s a very rural, traditional school with close contact with our lovely church and vicar,’ adds Alison, though she also acknowledges the need to look out, citing links with both Gambia and Missouri. Closer to home, at Caudwell’s Mill, pupils can both learn about milling flour and make their own bread. There are visits, too, to Haddon and Chatsworth where pupils have been invited to decorate rooms for Christmas.

The aforementioned church, St Katherine’s, built in 1855, is a dainty building of local stone, which the Revd Tony Kaunhoven says has ‘an intimate and very spiritual feel.’ He continued, ‘There’s a very caring, committed and welcoming church community here which very much reflects the village itself.’

Walking back down the lane from the church in this hushed part of Rowsley, I noticed the Post Office/Store and was reminded of a caring Haddon estate. Indeed, as the estate property manager Mike Elliott confirms, the estate ‘would have been very active in keeping open this essential aspect of village life.’ Adding, ‘Rowsley is a well-kept village and the estate will do all it can to keep it that way.’ It’s refreshing, too, to see that Little Rowsley still has a busy shop called The Country Store, run for 25 years by Eugene and Sheila Swift, which is perfectly located on the road to Chatsworth.

It’s no surprise to see the Grouse & Claret busy. Formerly the Station Hotel, built to cater for the influx of railway workers, this four star AA rated dining pub with eight double rooms and a caravan park has one major plus or, should we say, three: ‘Location, location, location’, states Catherine Barton, who has run the pub with husband John since 2003. When they moved in, it was a ‘tatty pub with small rooms’, in dire need of refurbishment which Marston’s provided at a cost of �1m. It’s a popular, friendly diner which can seat 178 and a further 100 in the garden.

Nearby rests The Peacock in the grand heart of Great Rowsley, built as a manor house by John Stevenson in 1652. Today it still warrants its description by a 19th century traveller as ‘the beau id�al of an English country hostelry.’ A supremely elegant hotel with a sophisticated fine dining menu. Since arriving in 2003, managers Ian and Jenni MacKenzie have made significant improvements. ‘We like to think we have brought a caring and professional view, achieving our goals and exceeding them,’ states Jenni. Indeed, they now have a superior 3 red star hotel rating and are aspiring to their third rosette for their food.

The Peacock has been able to take advantage of its main road location by offering guests a 50 per cent discount to Haddon Hall. What’s more, Haddon and Chatsworth’s popularity as a film and TV location has resulted in a visitors book filled with the signatures of actors who’ve stayed there. These include in recent times: Ralph Fiennes, Keira Knightley, Scarlet Johansson, Kristin Scott-Thomas, Emily Blunt and Benicio del Toro, the latter pair starring in the forthcoming film The Wolfman. It was reported that one Rowsley lady had occasion to remark on how nice it was for Princess Anne to be able to stay there unwatched by policemen – apparently oblivious of various tall, smart-looking gentlemen carefully admiring neighbouring cottage gardens.

The Peacock has been selling fishing tickets on the Wye for over 200 years and attracts anglers from all over the world, including an Australian gentleman who comes annually. As The Field once opined: ‘If you haven’t fished the Derbyshire Wye, you haven’t fished.’ Jan Hobot must have one of the most pleasant jobs in Derbyshire: he is the Wye Riverkeeper for the Haddon Estate. ‘The Wye is a very special river,’ declares Jan, ‘as it contains wild rainbow trout, brown trout and grayling. You would be hard-pressed to find these in any other river in the UK.’ As well as dealing with thousands of anglers each season, including poachers who he says often keep him up well into the early hours, Jan is also concerned with ‘habitat improvement’ for the local wildlife. This includes, memorably, ospreys, otters, barn owls, red kite, fallow deer and badgers. As he admits, ‘It’s a lovely way to make a living.’

Jan was also warmed by the welcome he received on moving to Rowsley two years ago – ‘It didn’t take long to get to know most people as they are all very friendly.’ Parish councillor Richard Bean is one of many villagers who feels that a strung-out Rowlsey further divided by a river and lacking a traditional drinkers’ pub doesn’t aid community spirit. ‘However,’ he concludes, ‘Rowsley is still a beautiful village in an idyllic setting and it’s continuing to improve, not least in bringing both businesses and visitors to the area. In fact, looking at the new buildings and thriving businesses, Rowsley is returning to the glory days of the railway age.’

Comments powered by Disqus