The Return of the 'Tantivy' - recreating a nostalgic journey from Belper to Cromford
PUBLISHED: 00:00 06 October 2017
Trevor Griffin tells the tale behind one of the outstanding highlights of this month's Discovery Days Festival in the Derwent Valley World Heritage Site
On 15th October this year a coach and horses will leave the Lion Hotel in Belper and travel north along the A6 to Cromford returning in the afternoon. The amazing thing is that this actual coach, the ‘Tantivy’, last travelled the same route in 1895, 122 years ago!
So why is the ‘Tantivy’ returning and how has such a remarkable thing happened? The answer lies in the fact that this part of the county lies within the Derwent Valley World Heritage Site and every year since 2005 a festival of events known as Discovery Days has taken place. Increasing in popularity year on year, Derwent Valley Mills Discovery Days offer access to hidden gems and allow people to take part in exciting special events with a heritage theme. This year’s festival takes place between 14th and 29th October and the return of the ‘Tantivy’ will be one of the highlights.
It is exactly 200 years since the Cromford and Belper Turnpike Road was authorised by Parliament. This was an important event for the valley because although the cotton mills had been established over 40 years previously, there was no direct road communication between them. Goods had to be transported by wagon up and down steep hills on either side. The new road was well engineered and for the first time stagecoaches, running from London to Manchester, Bristol to Leeds and so on, could travel through the valley, and coaching inns like the Lion Hotel in Belper were built to serve this new traffic.
The road has changed very little in character since it was first built, although the two toll houses have disappeared: one at Meerbrook, north of Whatstandwell Bridge; the other in the middle of a road junction where a branch road connected the older Cromford to Langley Mill Turnpike at Bull Bridge. This latter tollhouse was called the Amber Gate after the nearby river, which is how the modern village of Ambergate got its name. So it was decided to celebrate this important bicentenary by running a horse-drawn coach as part of the Discovery Days, and purely by chance the ideal coach was discovered in the Forest of Dean by Kevin Morrell of Belper.
The glory days of stagecoaches were actually short-lived as they were quickly superseded by the railway, which reached Belper in 1840 and Cromford in 1849. The lucrative mail services were transferred to rail and stagecoaches were reduced to acting as feeders to the new railway system. However, as they declined, nostalgia for them increased. Through organisations such as the ‘Four in Hand Club’, wealthy gentlemen began to operate coaches just for fun. After a while the coaches began to carry fare paying passengers so that people could enjoy attractive trips in parts of the countryside that railways had not reached. This ‘Road Coach’ revival was a bit like the nostalgic steam special trains that run today.
Among the many Road Coach enthusiasts was James Eadie of Barrow Hall at Barrow-upon-Trent, the son of a wealthy Burton-on-Trent brewery owner. Eadie purchased the ‘Tantivy’, which had been built by the great London revival coachbuilders Cowlard and Selby in the 1880s, although its wrought-iron chassis appears to be recycled from a much older mail coach. He began to operate ‘Tantivy’ between Burton-on-Trent and Tamworth but as the route was not well patronised in 1894 he ran it instead on a much more popular route from the St James’s Hotel in Derby to the New Bath Hotel in Matlock Bath, changing horses at the Lion Hotel in Belper.
The coach ran three times a week in the summer of 1895, but in 1896 the brewery hit hard times and ‘Tantivy’ was put into store. It remained there until the Bass Company bought the firm in 1933. Two years later it was presented to the Hinckley Museum. They ran it, in rather shabby condition, to celebrate the 1935 Silver Jubilee, after which it remained on static display. That was until 2015, when due to a change of policy the museum struck a deal with Adrian Lander of Rushmere Farm Carriages in Coleford, Gloucestershire. Lander was able to acquire the coach and return it to the road, provided he properly restored it.
The professional restoration is now complete and ‘Tantivy’ is ready to return to its old stamping ground. The coach, drawn by four horses, will leave from the Lion Hotel, Belper at 11.30am on Sunday, 15th October. It will return from the newly refurbished Greyhound Hotel in Cromford at 2pm, allowing time for a buffet lunch. Tickets are relatively expensive, reflecting high costs and the uniqueness of the event. Passengers will be encouraged to wear period dress, booking is through the usual Discovery Days process and so far the demand for tickets has been very high. Profits from the event will help to fund the much-needed new Swiss tearooms at the Belper River Gardens in the heart of the World Heritage Site, which are being provided by Belper Community Enterprise, a Community Interest Company.
The coach will be flagged away by the Mayor of Belper and large crowds are expected to attend to take photographs and ‘selfies’ with this unique journey as a background. Troops of the ‘Loyal Volunteers’ will be on hand in Napoleonic period uniforms to keep everyone in order. Special events will be taking place in both Cromford and Belper on the day, including an exhibition of the stage coach era in the Lion Hotel and another in the Greyhound. It is hoped that as many people as possible will share in the celebration, watching the coach pass by along the route and taking part in events at each end.
For full details of this year’s fantastic Discovery Days Festival and to book, view www.derwentvalleymills.org/discovery-days.