The history of Two Dales in Derbyshire

The corner of Chesterfield Road and Wheatley Road

The corner of Chesterfield Road and Wheatley Road - Credit: Archant

Everything from the ‘quiet picturesque hamlet’ once known as Toad Hole to a gold award-winning holiday resort can be found just off the busy A6 near Matlock.

Cottages on Chesterfield Road

Cottages on Chesterfield Road - Credit: Archant

A mere stone’s throw from the A6 in Darley Dale, there is a village called Two Dales. Crichton Porteous, the well-known author and journalist, lived in Two Dales from 1946 until his death in 1991, at the age of 89. In Portrait of Peakland, published in 1963, he wrote: ‘The village is still known affectionately by old inhabitants as Toad Hole. The change to Two Dales was insisted on at the end of the last century by a squeamish rector of Darley.’

The two dales referenced in the modern name of the village are Halldale and Sydnope Dale. In the late 18th century, Daniel Dakeyne harnessed the stream that runs through Sydnope Dale to power his new flax mill. Daniel’s sons, Edward and James Dakeyne, designed a machine called the ‘Equilinium’ to prepare the flax for spinning and they went on to develop a hydraulic disc engine designed to make better use of the high-pressure water available at the mill. Given its tendency to groan and roar, the device was christened the ‘Romping Lion’ by local people. According to Frank Nixon, author of The Industrial Archaeology of Derbyshire, ‘The most striking characteristic of this ingenious machine is perhaps the difficulty experienced by those trying to describe it.’ In the words of Stephen Glover, author of The Gazetteer of Derbyshire, ‘The patentees only succeeded in producing descriptions of monumental incomprehensibility’.

Today, the large former flax factory, known as Ladygrove Mill, provides accommodation for various businesses, including Ashton & Coleman Joinery, Two Dales Garage, which provides servicing and car repair needs, Dansport, which specialises in the preparation of competition vehicles, Global Brands Limited, an independent drinks company that markets and distributes beverages, premium spirits, soft drinks and beer, and First Taste, a charity that promotes the arts and educational and stimulating activities for older people in nursing and residential care.

Back in the heyday of the flax mill, members of the Dakeyne family lived in a number of grand houses, including Knab Hall, set high above Sydnope Dale. This fine building was acquired five years ago by Andrew Walker, who deals in scientific instruments and owns self-catering accommodation for up to 30 people at the imposing Stretton House between Ashover and Alfreton. Andrew immediately set about restoring Knab Hall to its former glory. He also added a very eye-catching internal touch that serves as a suitably ingenious tribute to the innovative Dakeyne brothers.

The avenue leading to Sydnope Hall

The avenue leading to Sydnope Hall - Credit: Archant

Andrew said, ‘When I decided to create a drinks bar in one room, I obtained a copy of the drawings of the Romping Lion from the Patent Office and commissioned a Sheffield craftsman to make a replica in solid steel of the famous machine for use as the bar.’

Another former Dakeyne house is The Holt, described by architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner as ‘a grand very handsome three bay, one-and-a-half-storey, stone house with extremely elongated main floor windows, and extremely elongated thin giant Ionic pilasters.’ Crichton Porteous said the design of the house always made him think of a bank – ‘and why not, for from it the Dakeynes, who at one period were bankers, issued bank notes headed with the name Holt House, Derbyshire.’

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As well as constructing large houses for themselves, the Dakeynes built more modest cottages for their workers in the village of Toad Hole, described by Porteous as ‘a quiet, picturesque hamlet guarded by tree-decorated slopes’. Given the amount of traffic that now uses the main road that cuts through the village, Two Dales is often far from quiet these days, but its attractive cottages, many fronted by colourful and well-tended gardens, and its lush woodland setting are still very much in evidence.

The extensive woods in Halldale were purchased from the Forestry Commission in 1994, thanks to fundraising and generous donations by local people. Now owned by the Woodland Trust, they consist of oak, birch, ash and some yew, plus a variety of ground flora and woodland birds.

Ladygrove Mill, a former flax spinning mill

Ladygrove Mill, a former flax spinning mill - Credit: Archant

An open stream once ran through the village centre until it was roofed over at some point between the two world wars, because too many people were apt to fall into it after leaving the three village pubs. The only pub that exists today is the 18th-century Plough Inn, which stands on Wheatley Road, a narrow lane leading away from the main road. It has a cosy and welcoming bar, with beer on tap including favourites such as Timothy Taylor’s, Landlord Ales and Abbeydale Moonshine.

E W Coates, Two Dales’ well-known butchers shop, is located in a prominent location on Chesterfield Road. The business has been managed by the same family for five generations, with Nick Coates being the present owner, who is ably supported by his very friendly and helpful staff. Explaining why the shop is called a ‘retail and catering butchers’, manager David Limb said: ‘We supply lots of local restaurants and guest houses, and our pies are purchased by Matlock Town Football Club.’ David added, ‘All our meat is locally sourced and we have made sure that we have traded for generations with farms where animal welfare is of paramount importance. Our sausages, pork pies and home cured bacon have won many awards.’

Facilities and shops at the lower end of the village include the excellent Jayne H Hibbard Pharmacy and a busy Post Office, owned by Brian Gadsby and his wife Margaret, who are praised by local people for their friendly and helpful service. Oddford Lane leads from Chesterfield Road to the Forest Garden Centre, an independent business that has been run by seven generations of the same family. The centre has a wide selection of plants and garden furniture, as well as pet supplies, a gift shop and a popular restaurant known as Tall Trees, which serves locally produced food and boasts ‘the finest scones in Derbyshire.’

In its upper reaches, Chesterfield Road evolves into Sydnope Hill, which makes a long, winding climb to Darley Moor. Sydnope Hall is a large mansion that stands at the end of a long tree-lined avenue. Sir Francis Sacheverel Darwin, the second son of Erasmus Darwin, the grandfather of the celebrated naturalist Charles Darwin, purchased the 80-hectare Sydnope Estate in the 1820s. Some years later, the architect J Barron Wright was commissioned to extend the hall and re-fashion it in mock-Tudor style. The house has now been subdivided into ‘high-end’ apartments.

Looking towards Holt House from Wheatley Road

Looking towards Holt House from Wheatley Road - Credit: Archant

Sir Francis is remembered in the name of the Landal Darwin Forest country park, a 44-acre self-catering holiday resort comprising 124 redwood lodges, superbly constructed by Pinelog of Bakewell and set in beautiful woodland on the hills above Two Dales. The resort contains a large health and fitness centre called Evolution, comprising a swimming pool, a gymnasium and a spa with beauty therapy and massage suites. Other facilities include the Foresters Bar and Restaurant, the Little Monkeys children’s soft play area, an activity den for older children, an all-weather tennis court, footpaths, cycle trails, mini-golf, table tennis and opportunities for sports such as archery and fencing. Given these great facilities, it was not surprising to hear reception supervisor Adele Taylor say, ‘We attract holidaymakers from all over the country and from abroad, including many people from the Netherlands, who come during the Dutch school holidays.’

Marketing Manager Caroline Povey said: ‘The Landal Darwin Forest park is owned by the Grayson family, who also run Sandybrook Country Park near Ashbourne. Our centre has won a Gold Award from Visit England for its hospitality and customer service, as well as a David Bellamy Award for its conservation work. The park can accommodate 550 people at any one time and we welcomed 37,000 guests last year.’

Local people benefit from the fact that they are able to use the fitness centre and all the other facilities in the holiday park. Of course, the villagers also enjoy ready access to the outstanding countryside that brings so many visitors to Darwin Forest Park and to the many excellent B&Bs and holiday lets in Two Dales.

Part of Sydnope Hall

Part of Sydnope Hall - Credit: Archant

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