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The History of Bakewell

Set in an enviable location on the banks of the River Wye, in the heart of the Peak District, is the picturesque old market town of Bakewell.

When in 1951, the Peak was the first of the national parks to be set up in England and Wales, Bakewell - the only sizeable market town in the park - was the logical choice as the administrative centre. From its offices at Aldern House, it controls an area of 542 square miles and covers Staffordshire, Cheshire, West and South Yorkshire and Greater Manchester as well as Derbyshire. The population when the park was set up was only 38,000 and has not changed drastically since that day.

The Peak Park marked its 50th anniversary in 2001, in what must have been the worst year in its history, due to the foot and mouth epidemic. It is gradually recovering and the hopes are that 2003 will be a bumper year for everyone.

Visitors flock to Bakewell in the summer, to shop and explore its many nooks and cranies, to admire its fine buildings, or just relax and feed the ducks by the lovely, clear, sparkling waters of the River Wye. There is more space in the winter, but on a sunny day even, that is limited.

The town is particularly busy every Monday, which is market day, when the stalls and the livestock market, in normal circumstances, do brisk business. Until recently, the livestock market occupied a position near the centre of the town, before moving to its controversial new building on the other side of the river away from the town centre.

The strong connection with agriculture is further emphasised every August when the town hosts one of the largest agricultural shows in the country. The two-day event is normally attended by in the region of 35,000 people and despite foot and mouth, it continued in a modified format in 2001.

Less than 200 years ago, Bakewell presented a completely different picture with narrow streets and timber framed properties, many of which had thatched roofs. The modern layout of the town only came about in the 19th century. Rutland Square was created and the Rutland Arms replaced the Old White Horse Inn.

It was at the Rutland Arms, in about 1860, where the hotel cook misunderstood her instructions and produced the world famous Bakewell Pudding. Instead of stirring the egg mixture into the pastry, she spread it on top of the jam, which has to this day proved to be a stroke of genius in creating name awareness for the town.

The Bakewell Pudding Shop is an interesting place to visit, with information panels and exhibits to view as well as the chance to sample a delicious Bakewell Pudding, not ‘tart’, as some mistakenly call it nowadays. Tours of the Bakehouse can be arranged for parties after closing time.

In 1811, Jane Austen, who wrote ‘Pride and Prejudice’ is said to have stayed at the Rutland Arms and incorporated it in her writing. The hotel has even named a suite after her to commemorate the visit.

The site, on which All Saints Church stands has been used for worship since Anglo - Saxon times and contains the largest and most varied group of medieval monuments in the United Kingdom. Inside the church, there are many references to the ‘Manners’ and ‘Vernon’ families, the story of the elopement of John Manners and Dorothy Vernon being one of the Peak District’s most romantic tales.

The Olde House Museum is well worth seeking out, hidden away as it is behind the church. Originally a Parsonage, it was later converted into six cottages by Sir Richard Arkwright, another four cottages were accommodated in the adjacent barn, to house his workers at Lumford Mill. It is now one of the best-preserved 15th century houses in the country, but only 50 years ago it was nearly demolished, the local council having served a ‘Demolition Order’. There was an outcry locally and the house was eventually saved and restored to its former glory by the Bakewell Historical Society. It is now a fascinating folk museum worth climbing up the hill to visit.

Half way down Bagshaw Hill is Bagshaw Hall the former home of Thomas Bagshaw, who was a solicitor. The house is a pleasing mixture of gritstone and limestone, the town being situated on the edge of both areas. At the bottom of the hill is Arkwright Square, where the cottages housed factory workers.

Arkwright’s cotton-spinning factory at Lumford Mill, built about 1782, at its peak employed about 350 people, mainly women and children. It was sold to the Duke of Devonshire in 1860, but unfortunately, it came to an untimely end when it was burnt down eight years later. After re-building, it continued to operate as a cotton factory to the end of the century. An attractive row of workers’ cottages remains.

Downstream is Holme Bridge, dating from 1664, and a former packhorse crossing point. Packhorse leaders coming from the Monyash direction, to avoid paying tolls in the centre of the town used the bridge. Loads of up to two hundred weight were carried in pannier baskets, slung on either side of the horse. The bridge was of sufficient width and the parapets low enough, to enable a horse to cross with ease to the other side.

Victoria Mill stands on the outskirts of Bakewell, where an old, Saxon Corn Mill once stood. The mill was used for grinding corn until 1945. The water wheel now looking rather lost in the yard is 25 feet in diameter.

The five-arched bridge across the River Wye is one of the best-known landmarks in the Peak. It dates from 1200, is among the oldest in the country, and now designated as an Ancient Monument. From here, you have the choice of two short river walks. The first is to go upstream through meadowland known as Scots Garden passing Holme Hall, a small Jacobean Manor, built in 1626. Then crossing the packhorse bridge, by the side of the sheep dip, and retuning along the A6 to Bakewell. Alternatively you can walk southwards along the banks of the River Wye, where rainbow trout wait to be fed, down to the attractive sports ground and back.

Quarter Sessions were once held, at The Old Town Hall, but a riot by lead miners from Great Longstone and other villages in the Peak, put a stop to that and the Sessions were transferred to Derby. The miners’ indignant at what they thought was unfair treatment, marched to Bakewell when the Quarter Sessions were in progress. They built a great bonfire in front of the courtrooms and ceremonially burnt their army call-up papers.

Across from Rutland Square, at the far end of Bath Gardens, is the Bath House. This was for years the home of the famous Derbyshire geologist, White Watson, who acted as a bath superintendent. The Duke of Rutland, who owned the premises, tried to establish Bakewell as a spa town, similar to Buxton and Matlock. The warm water from the natural spring, at only 15 degrees centigrade, was much colder than that of its rivals and the venture failed.

Further along the street is The Old Market Hall, which was built as an open-sided market hall. Since those early days, it has seen many uses: as a washhouse, dance hall, library and restaurant. Now it serves as a Tourist Information Centre and holds several interesting exhibitions.

Bakewell celebrates its Well Dressings at the end of July each year. Carnival day is the first Saturday in July.

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