Villages of the Blackbrook Valley Whitehough, Chinley and Buxworth, Derbyshire
Three High Peak villages that have retained natural beauty and a close community
The Black Brook is not much of a river. It rises in the Dark Peak hills above the tiny hamlet of Blackbrook and flows for a mere six miles to join the River Goyt at Whaley Bridge. But this is a little stream of some significance, because its waters have powered various industries on its banks and the deep valley that it has helped to carve out between the conical hill of Eccles Pike and the great ridge of Chinley Churn has long served as an important route through the Pennines.
In 1797, a tramway was constructed through the Blackbrook Valley to carry limestone from the quarries near Buxton to the canal basin at Bugsworth. Supplemented by a gravitational railway in the steepest section, this horse-drawn tramway operated until 1926. Tracks for steam trains were laid through the valley in 1866 and extended in later years, so that passengers and goods could be carried from Manchester to both Derby and Sheffield. In 1987, a dual carriageway was constructed through the entire length of the dale, in order to take the A6 away from the towns of Chapel-en-le-Frith and Whaley Bridge.
Surprisingly, the construction of all these trackways has failed to destroy the natural beauty of the Blackbrook Valley and the setting of the three conjoined villages that are strung along its length.
Whitehough is located between the dual carriageway, which is well sunken and out of sight at this point, and the track of the 18th-century tramway. Sitting snugly in a deep, cosy hollow at the foot of Eccles Pike, its cottages are clustered around a beautiful Elizabethan hall. In the 17th century, the hall was the home of the Kyrke family, one of whose members was Groom to the Royal Bedchamber of Charles I and present at the King’s execution. It is now the residence of the Capper family and its lawn serves as an occasional venue for a group of T’ai Chi enthusiasts from New Mills U3A, who aim to ‘tap the energy of the universe’ in this exquisite setting as they go through choreographed moves designed to increase their flexibility, circulation, concentration, memory and balance.
The Old Hall Inn, which adjoins the Elizabethan manor house, is now managed by Daniel Capper, who gave up his job as a business consultant to take over the running of the pub from his parents. The inn has eight en-suite rooms and is much prized for its range of real ales, including lots of guest brews, and for locally-sourced food that is served in its bar and its restaurant, which extends into the manor house and is overlooked by an Elizabethan minstrel’s gallery. A three-day beer festival was attended by 2,500 people at the inn last year and the demand for meals in this beautiful country setting has even caused Daniel to use the family’s private dining room in the old manor house as an overflow restaurant on occasions.
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Across the road from the Old Hall, there is a second inn, which is known as the Oddfellows Arms, because it was the meeting place of the Oddfellows Friendly Society from 1830 until 1970. Eighteen months ago, Peter Willis, who has been in the pub trade for 40 years, became its new landlord. He told me, ‘When I first saw the village and looked at the lovely inn from the outside, I accepted the chance to come here without even looking inside the building.’ Peter has plans to refurbish the interior and to put on traditional food aimed at the many walkers who come to the area. The inn has long been used as a venue for meetings of the Derbyshire and Cheshire Cricket League and Peter sponsors the local team.
At one time, the Oddfellows was called the Paper Mill Inn, because a paper mill once operated alongside the Black Brook at the foot of the village. The weir that harnessed the waters of the brook for the mill is now a much photographed waterfall and White Hall, the handsome stone mansion that was formerly occupied by one of the owners of the mill, stands on the far side of the river at the head of a vast lawn. The mill wasconverted by John Welsh into a bleach and dye works. This has been superseded by a PVC plant, which stands a little downstream from the waterfall and alongside the track of the old horse-drawn tramway, now converted into the Tramway Trail, a walking route and bridle way.
Whitehough village terminates at a former chapel-of-ease which stands on the southern bank of the Black Brook and is now the home of Chinley 1st Scouts. The northern bank of the brook marks the southern boundary of Chinley, a village that sits immediately below the high ridges of the poetically named Chinley Churn and Cracken Edge.
Chinley was little more than a scattering of farms until the railway arrived in 1866. According to local historian Keith Holford, the coming of the railway prompted the Manchester Guardian to dub Chinley as ‘Manchester’s newest suburb’. Lots of new houses and some rather smart villas were indeed built in the village when the railway from Manchester to Derby was routed through the valley and its station assumed even more importance when a second line was constructed to link the village with Sheffield.
A rather grand stone-built hotel was erected in the centre of the village in order to accommodate rail passengers who had to change trains at Chinley Station. Eventually, the hotel was renamed as The Squirrels, and has now been converted into apartments. Its fine bowling green, which was good enough to host county matches, has been acquired by the parish council and converted into a village green that was christened Squirrel Green in response to the winning entry in a naming competition open to local children. Chinley is fortunate in having a second large green space, which is called Derwent Square and is flanked on all sides by houses.
The centre of Chinley is located at the very foot of Chinley Churn, one of the most prominent hills in the High Peak. Its two main streets, Green Lane and Lower Lane, meet at right angles and contain a good range of shops for a small village, including a post office, a newsagents, a launderette, a deli, an Indian restaurant, a hairdressing salon, a pharmacy, a hypnotherapist’s and a general store. Some of the shops stand under a carefully-restored arcade.
Although the rail line to Derby was closed to passengers some yearsago, Chinley remains a favoured place of residence for people working in Manchester and Sheffield. About half the population of the village is made up of commuters, but the Chinley, Buxworth and Brownside Community Association has done much to foster community activities in recent years. These include a village cinema, yoga and pilates groups, clubs for brownies, young people, over-60s, parents and toddlers, and community swimming sessions at the splendid hydrotherapy pool at Peak School, which caters for special needs children and stands to the east of the village centre, only a few yards from Chinley Primary School, which has an excellent reputation.
Chinley Independent Chapel is located even further to the east and is sandwiched between two curving viaducts that were constructed to carry the railway lines across the higher reaches of the Blackbrook Valley. Built in 1711 as one of the earliest non-conformist chapels in the country, it is a singularly beautiful building. Its churchyard contains the graves of John and Grace Bennett, whose lives have been carefully documented by Mabel Bamford, a remarkable lady who has written and illustrated a history of Chinley and is so active and agile that she was still playing tennis up to her 90th year.
Mabel told me that Grace had nursed John Wesley back to health at one point and had then accompanied him on a six-month tour of Ireland. There was much speculation that the pair would be married but, according to Mabel, John was something of a ‘ditherer’ and was also aware that his brother Charles objected to the union. On one occasion, Wesley brought Grace and two of his ‘Holy Club’ members to visit John Bennett, a Chinley man who was one of Wesley’s finest preachers and had evangelised much of North West England before Wesley came to the area. When Wesley departed from the village, he set off for London with his two friends and unwisely left Grace in the care of John Bennett. Tired of Wesley’s dithering, Grace fell for Bennett and subsequently married him.
Keith Holford has also meticulously researched the history of Chinley, as well as the village of Buxworth, which is located a little further downstream. In 1992, he coordinated a ‘Bygone Buxworth’ exhibition, in order to raise funds for Buxworth School, which was threatened with closure at the time but has survived and recently received an outstanding Ofsted report.
One of the villagers unearthed a history of Clayton, California, that had been written by the great granddaughter of Joel Clayton, a Buxworth man who had emigrated to America in 1837. It emerged that no fewer than 12 members of the Clayton family had moved to America in the space of five years and that Joel had been so successful in finding and exploiting coal and lead deposits in Wisconsin and Oregon that he had been able to purchase 40 acres of land in the Diablo Valley, where he established a vineyard and a cattle ranch, and even laid out streets. The settlement came to be known as Clayton.
In 1997, it was decided that Buxworth should be formally twinned with Clayton. On the basis of an account in the American book, Brierley Green Farm was identified as the Buxworth home of Joel Clayton and blue commemorative plaques were placed on the picturesque cottage, which stands on the eastern edge of the village. This gesture was perhaps a little premature, because Keith is now convinced that the Claytons actually lived at nearby Green Head Farm.
There has also been much controversy about the name of the Derbyshire village, which was originally called Bugsworth. In 1930, Mr Prescott, the village schoolmaster, and Rev. Towers, the local vicar, successfully conducted a campaign to have the name of the village changed to the ‘less ugly’ name of Buxworth. In the millennium year, some villagers campaigned for a return to the original name, but their suggestion was defeated in a referendum, even though many people still refer to the place as ‘Buggy’.
However, the canal basin at the foot of the village is still known as Bugsworth Basin. This is the place where limestone carried by the wagons on the horse-drawn tramway was unloaded onto barges for transportation along the Peak Forest Canal. In its heyday, the interchange was the largest inland port in the country and saw 600 tons of lime per day being loaded onto 40 barges. Some of the stone setts that supported the track of the tramway can still be seen and the remains of the canal basin have been restored by the Inland Waterways Protection Agency.
The Navigation Inn on the northern bank of the basin provided stabling for the horses and refreshment for the men who worked on the tramway and at the port. In more recent times, the inn was owned by Pat Phoenix and Alan Brown, one-time partners and costars in Coronation Street. It is now managed by Janet Flynn and Roger Cockerill, who are busily refurbishing the en-suite rooms and the interior of the pub, whilst retaining the panels of ‘barge art’ that are so attractive to the many customers who disembark at the Navigation from pleasure craft that they have sailed along the Peak Forest Canal. Janet and Roger moved from London to take over the canalside inn, not only because they saw its ‘enormous potential’, but also because they fell for the charms of Buxworth and the Blackbrook Valley