Peak District pubs past and present
PUBLISHED: 00:00 07 August 2018
Andrew McCloy charts the changing fortunes of our traditional village inns, plus a selection of the best Peak District pubs for a perfect summer’s evening.
The country-wide decline in the number of rural pubs, down by a quarter since 1982, is even being felt in a popular national park like the Peak District, where over 10 million visitors a year underpin the local economy. Of course, pubs have always come and gone. In the 18th-century heyday of the Derbyshire lead mining industry a village like Winster could boast a dozen pubs and Eyam was reckoned to have as many as 23 separate alehouses, while as late as 1840 over 50 separate pubs were recorded in the town of Wirksworth alone.
There are some wonderful tales associated with these long-lost places, such as a pub called the Hole in the Wall in Matlock which was supposedly named after the activities of its rather shady customers who used it to sell on stolen goods. The former Star Inn at Taddington once incorporated part of the village’s historic Norman font which was used to wash dirty beer mugs; while a pub at Sparrowpit near Chapel en le Frith called the Devonshire Arms (and before that the Three Tuns) was put up for sale in the 1950s, and after it initially failed to get any bidders it was re-named the Wanted Inn, which it’s still called to this day.
Although today’s pub closures owe much to changing social habits and economic trends, last orders have been called for some unusual reasons. When Lady Constance Lowther of Pott Shrigley detected alcohol on the breath of her groom outside church one Sunday morning in 1922, in defiance of the Sabbath, she slammed shut the doors of the Lowther Arms for good in a fit of moral outrage. The Cross Daggers at High Bradfield, located near the gates of St Nicholas’ Church and nicknamed ‘Heaven’s Parlour’, closed in 1900 after navvies building the new reservoirs kept getting into drunken fights; while a beerhouse in Taddington called the Traveller’s Rest went teetotal overnight when it changed to a temperance house. Then there were some pubs that literally disappeared altogether. The Derbyshire Sally in Winster and Volunteer Arms at Hartington were both blown up after accidents thought to involve mining explosives stored on the premises; and the Ashopton Inn near Bamford was submerged in 1943 when the Derwent Valley was flooded to form Ladybower Reservoir.
Regardless of when and why they have gone, the list of ex-pubs in the Peak District is considerable. Hathersage lost the Hare and Hounds and the Old Bell Inn around the time of the First World War when the authorities decided there were too many pubs in the village. Other former hostelries include the Drum and Monkey at Calver, Commercial Inn at Hayfield and the Bateman Arms in Middleton by Youlgrave. Also long vanished are the Swan with Two Necks at Dove Holes, Royal Standard in Bakewell and Noah’s Ark Inn on Wirksworth Moor.
Pubs that have closed just in the last few years for conversion into residential properties include the Bakers Arms in Buxton, Duke of Wellington in Middleton by Wirksworth and Jovial Dutchman in Crich, the last of these originally a thatched building that is believed to have been named after the Dutch navvies who dug the nearby Cromford Canal. The Marquis of Granby at Bamford, a hotel that had stood in the Hope Valley since the mid 1800s, was closed in 2011 and subsequently demolished to make way for a hotel that has never been built. In Victorian times Ashbourne had 36 named inns and pubs, but even the Green Man and Black’s Head Royal Hotel, an historic coaching inn on St John Street, stopped serving pints in 2012 (although its historic scaffold sign still spans the main street). As recently as 25 years ago there were four pubs in Eyam, but one after the other – the Rose and Crown, Royal Oak and Bull’s Head – have all been sold off for conversion to private dwellings. Now just the Miner’s Arms is left to service a large, busy and popular tourist village in the heart of the Peak District.
More curiously, there are also one or two pubs that never existed in the first place. Fictitious inns have been created for films or TV series set in the Peak District such as Peak Practice, which depicted a village pub called the Inn on the Square (in reality the Horseshoe Inn at Longnor – ironically just closed down for real). The White Swan at Alstonefield was invented for the filming of The Life and Times of Henry Pratt; and the Black Dog Inn appeared fleetingly at the hamlet of Gratton, near Youlgrave, as a set for the 1970 film of D H Lawrence’s book The Virgin and the Gypsy.
Despite the closures, there are of course many popular and well-run pubs across the Peak District that continue to thrive, with the most successful usually appealing to visitors and local people alike. In 2013 the Anglers Rest in Bamford became Derbyshire’s first community-owned pub and now the enterprising establishment, voted Pub of the Year by Sheffield CAMRA District in 2017, also incorporates the village post office and a popular café. (Just outside the Peak District, local residents saved the Spotted Cow at Holbrook from closure last year and now it, too, is owned and managed by the community.) More unusually, the Cock and Pullet in Sheldon, near Bakewell, was built from scratch in the 1990s to replace the former village pub which closed in 1971. Other pubs have flourished either by brewing their own beer or run by independent Peak District breweries, such as Ashover’s Old Poets’ Corner (Ashover Brewery) and the Red Lion at Birchover (Birchover Brewery). Elsewhere, pubs have broadened their community role by incorporating the village shop, such as the Sycamore Inn at Parwich; or simply carved out a quirky reputation. Where else would you find hen-racing (Barley Mow at Bonsall) and toe-wrestling (Bentley Brook Inn at Fenny Bentley)? And if you’re feeling really intrepid you could always enter the annual Great Kinder Beer Barrel Challenge and help team-mates carry a full 72-pint beer barrel between the Old Nags Head at Edale and the Snake Pass Inn via the 2,000ft summit of Kinder Scout.
Despite time being called on many Peak District pubs over the years, the traditional ‘local’ is still regarded as a quintessential part of village life – and with real food and well-kept beer, hospitable surroundings and good conversation, they surely still have a place and function in our modern age. As an early visitor, Dr Johnson, once said: ‘Nay, I am for the country liquor, Derbyshire ale, if you please; for a man should not, methinks, come up from London to drink wine in the Peak.’
Andrew McCloy is a writer and journalist based in the Peak District whose books include Peakland Pubs: A Pint-sized History.
Perfect Peak pubs for a summer’s evening
The Lathkil Hotel, Over Haddon: who wouldn’t want to sit with a drink and look over Lathkill Dale?
The Gate, Tansley: at the heart of a picturesque village. Combine a visit with a walk around scenic Lumsdale
The Rose & Crown, Allgreave: real ales, child and dog friendly, beautiful views south to the Dane Valley
Hurt Arms, Ambergate: newly refurbished and large beer garden
The Royal Oak, Hurdlow: Handily-placed for a refreshing drink or hearty meal at the end of the High Peak Trail
The Moon Inn, Stoney Middleton: a Posthouse since c.1821
The Devonshire Arms, Beeley: 18th century village inn with garden terrace and gin menu!
The Packhorse Inn, Little Longstone: compact, charming and oozing character
The Scotman’s Pack, Hathersage: named after the travelling drapers who used to ply their wares across the northern hills
Old Eyre Arms, Hassop: history, charm and a recent CAMRA pub of the month
The Barrel Inn, Bretton: c.1597, oak beams and flagstone floors at the highest pub in Derbyshire – with panoramic views over five counties on a clear day
The Rambler Inn, Edale: relax and unwind as you look out over those rolling Peak District hills
The Flying Childers, Stanton in Peak: Wholly unspoilt, out of the way and peaceful village pub