The White Peak village of Taddington
- Credit: Archant
Mike Smith investigates this historic picturesque settlement and meets some of its residents
If you want to experience the essence of the White Peak landscape, take the high road between Chelmorton and Taddington. You will cross a plateau that would be almost featureless without its lattice of dry-stone enclosure walls. Eventually, you will reach the rim of an escarpment, where the road takes a turn to the left and begins a steep descent. Pause at this point to take in one of the finest views in Derbyshire.
Although the countryside that is laid out before you has noticeably more trees than there were on the plateau you have just left, the landscape is essentially a complex pattern of pastel-green fields and enclosure walls extending to a far horizon. The immediate foreground is dominated by the linear settlement of Taddington, which stretches for almost a mile along a limestone ridge situated more than a hundred feet below your vantage point but far above the wooded valley of the River Wye.
I called on local historian Ray Slack, hoping to discover why a village grew up on this elevated site. Ray told me that he believes Taddington was planned as a linear settlement as far back as the eighth century when the open-field system was introduced into England. He said, ‘The soil above the valley floor was suitable for farming; the escarpment behind the village afforded shelter from the worst of the prevailing winds; and a well, known as High Well, provided a reliable source of water, which was carried down to the village along a series of “watering lanes”.’
Lead rakes in the vicinity added another source of income, but economic activity in Taddington reached its peak in the late 17th and early 18th centuries when the village street became part of the national turnpike network. Saddle and harness makers, blacksmiths and wheelwrights set up workshops and, at one period, there were no fewer than six inns in the village.
Many of these local businesses began to go into decline when the Buxton to Bakewell railway line opened in 1863. However, the rise of motor transport in the 20th century brought traffic through the village once again and prompted the appearance of petrol stations and a revival in the fortunes of the pub trade. As congestion increased, Taddington became one of the first candidates in the country for a by-pass. Ray told me: ‘Plans were approved in 1936, giving the Taddington relief road the distinction of being labelled as one of the few ‘Edward VIII by-passes’ in the country.’
The village street, which had been such an important route to somewhere, suddenly became a route to nowhere. Although Taddington was left in peace, it was deprived of economic stimulus. Today, there is only one public house in the village: the Queen’s Arms, founded in 1736 and formerly known as the Miners’ Arms. The pub is managed by Kirsty Allen and her daughter Jane, who attract a fair number of tourists and passing ramblers with their home-cooked food and their large beer garden. Until recently, they also ran a little village shop in the pub, but the rise of internet shopping and the presence of supermarkets in the nearby towns of Buxton and Bakewell has meant that this provision is no longer sustainable – yet another twist in the fluctuating tale of Taddington’s economic history.
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Throughout all these upheavals, the 14th-century parish church of St Michael and All Angels has been a permanent presence. Built in limestone with gritstone dressings, the church is distinguished by its finely-proportioned broach spire of gritstone. As in so many other Derbyshire churches, the chancel is wide and flooded with light from tall windows; it also contains two stone corbels in the shape of jolly round faces which almost invite visitors to return their smiles.
Appearing somewhat detached from the village, the church stands in a large undulating field, part of which is left as meadow. The graveyard contains several unmarked graves of orphans employed at Litton Mill, where the regime was particularly harsh. Trevor Ride, the secretary of the Parochial Church Council, revealed possible plans to erect a memorial to their memory. As well as telling me how the villagers team up to bring colour to the church during the annual well dressing and flower festival, he stressed the part played in the community by the Church of England primary school.
Although Karen O’Connor only took over as headteacher of the school last September, she has already ensured that her pupils now take leading roles in the Harvest Festival, the Remembrance Service, the Christmas Carol Concert and the annual village bonfire. Karen said, ‘I have already found that the children in this school are particularly good at caring for each other and that they have the sort of confidence which allows every child to take on a speaking part in our family assemblies.’
Bubbling with enthusiasm for her first headship, Karen told me of her plans to create a new library, develop the school’s outdoor space and to create an area for growing fruit and vegetables. With the help of her highly committed teachers, she is also introducing a new cross-curricular approach and is determined to build on the school’s excellent reputation, which attracts many applications from outside the catchment area. In fact, the village is only able to supply eight of the 53 pupils on roll.
This statistic is a clear indication of the distorted age profile of Taddington, which is one of the concerns highlighted by Patrick Brady, the Chairman of the Parish Council, who is also a member of the board of the Peak District National Park. He says, ‘As well as there being a need for affordable housing that will help to prevent young people from leaving the village, there is a requirement for new accommodation that would allow older people to downsize.’
Pointing to the recent careful re-building in local stone of several derelict properties that have blighted this essentially attractive village for many years, Patrick says, ‘A similar approach would allow the construction of appropriate new builds without corrupting the character of Taddington. We also need to preserve the assets of the village, such as the recreation area, the High Well, the war memorial and the lych gate, as well as finding a new use for the redundant red telephone box.’
Another important asset is the Bramwell Memorial Institute, given to the village after the First World War by Mrs Bramwell of Taddington Hall. Since taking over as chairman of the trustees, Trevor Ride has worked hard to improve the facilities of the hall. He also made sure that it was re-painted for the festivities that took place there to celebrate the Royal Wedding in 2011, not least because he was determined to use the occasion to kick-start his plans to ‘make the institute alive and different’.
The impressive range of regular activities now taking place in the hall is evidence of the success of Trevor’s scheme. These include dancing classes, Pilates, yoga, a film club and a club for older people. There are occasional musical performances and regular meetings of the local W.I. and the gardening club. Lunches are provided at weekends for the many ramblers who pass through the area and ‘Taddington Teas’ are served on Bank Holidays. A doctor’s consultation held in the hall on Thursdays is a welcome facility in a village that is a considerable distance from the nearest surgery.
As a person whose impaired sight prevents him from driving, Trevor feels he is fortunate to live in a village where people are particularly good at supporting each other. This quality was also highlighted by Patrick Brady as one of the many reasons why he and his wife love living in Taddington. He had added: ‘The village is also surrounded by some of the best walking country in the White Peak and it is close to Deepdale, one of the prettiest dales in the whole of Derbyshire.’