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Celebrating community spirit in the Upper Derwent village of Bamford

PUBLISHED: 11:12 05 May 2015 | UPDATED: 11:12 05 May 2015

Sunset on Bamford Edge looking towards Bamford

Sunset on Bamford Edge looking towards Bamford

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The High Peak settlement of Bamford has a long history of harnessing natural energy and ‘people power’

Gabled houses on Main Road, BamfordGabled houses on Main Road, Bamford

As we shall see during our tour of Bamford, the harnessing of natural energy that drove a cotton mill at the southern entrance to this High Peak settlement is an apt metaphor for a village where human energy has been harnessed to great effect in so many ways.

The old mill pond is a large expanse of calm water which becomes a raging torrent as it spills over a weir. This sudden release of pent-up energy was used to drive a cotton-spinning mill that was established here in 1780 by William Kirk. The mill continued to function until 1965, at which point it was converted into a factory for the manufacture of electric furnaces. When the company moved its operation to Hope, the mill was transformed into apartments, whose residents have the considerable advantage of looking over a waterside view that combines tranquillity and power.

William Cameron Moore, who acquired the mill in the mid-nineteenth century, was far from typical of factory-owners of the time. As a close friend of Friedrich Engels, the co-author with Karl Marx of the Communist Manifesto, he had an acute social conscience and was markedly benevolent to his workers, providing them with health care, good houses, a school and a church.

The Church of St John the Baptist is the only place of worship in Derbyshire to have been wholly designed by William Butterfield, one of the leading figures in the Gothic Revival. As Nicholas Pevsner noted in his Buildings of England, the church is like no other church in Derbyshire. Its needle-sharp spire and very tall tower have a simple profile that is completely free of protruding pinnacles.

The Rest Café at the Community HubThe Rest Café at the Community Hub

As Roger Mather, a reader at the church, explained, ‘There have always been problems in accommodating bells in the slim-line tower, not only because of the destabilising effect of their weight but also because access to them is difficult. When rust began to eat away at the bells, which were widely known as the “jangly bells of Bamford”, the villagers got together to raise a large sum of money to pay for replacements. As the lightest bells in Derbyshire, the new instruments are not only designed to reduce strain on the narrow tower, but also to be far more melodic than the old ones!’

That excessively tall spire stands opposite a long row of excessively tall gabled houses, which are unlike most other houses in the Peak District. Both the spire and the houses feature prominently in a fine painting by Roger’s artist wife Jenny Mather. The picture depicts the village in its dramatic setting in a bowl between the conical Win Hill and the high gritstone ridge of Bamford Edge. Jenny was also responsible for harnessing the energy and creative talents of 250 villagers who helped to design a series of sculptured ‘touchstones’ sited at various locations in and around the village. The stones represent air, water, earth and fire: the elements that have helped to shape the village.

Jenny’s own highly accomplished art is full of swirling brush strokes which seem to re-create the geological upheavals that fashioned the local landscape. Recently, she has been given access to Castleton’s caves, where she has painted the elemental forces that shaped the subterranean world of the Peak. Another recent venture has seen her painting in her garden in semi-darkness to make imaginative visual translations of the sound of the dawn chorus. A further series of pictures records extensive travels undertaken by Jenny and Roger in what they describe as their ‘belated gap year’. The energy harnessed by Jenny’s project did not dissipate when the touchstones were finally put in place, because two art groups were formed by villagers keen to extend their newly-discovered creative skills. One is a group that organises art, craft, drama and musical activities; the other is the Bamford Art Group, which is led by Rod Wilson and meets in the Bamford Institute, a building that is another example of the tall gabled edifices that are dotted about the village. The Institute was built in 1912 and financed by subscriptions raised from the villagers. Improvements, including the provision of a room for the use of the art group and the local well-dressers, were carried out in 1999.

I discovered more about the workings of the Institute from Sue Beckett and Gordon Danks, two parish councillors who are also trustees of the Institute. They told me that the continuing upkeep of the building relies on fees collected from its 100 members, who enjoy excellent facilities for billiards, snooker and indoor bowls. A range of other activities, from IT courses to Yoga, also take place here.

One of the overflows at Ladybower ReservoirOne of the overflows at Ladybower Reservoir

As well as being treasurer of the Institute, former civil servant Sue is a trustee of the village’s recreation ground committee and the editor of the Bamford News, a monthly newsletter. She was also responsible for coordinating the fantastic money-raising effort that led to the provision of sparkling new Christmas lights for the village. Gordon, who is a National Park Ranger, voluntarily gave up his time to erect the lights, imaginatively designed by Peter Hearnshaw and John Cotton.

As Ruth Downing reported in the January edition of Derbyshire Life, the villagers came together in yet another great community effort in 2013, when they formed a society to purchase the leasehold for the Angler’s Rest. Now owned by over 300 people from the local area, it is one of the first community-owned pubs in the country and comprises a pub, a venue for musical evenings and farmers’ markets, a post office and the Rest Café, already famed for its all-day breakfasts.

In a village where people give so much of their energy to the community, it is not surprising to find that the Parents, Teachers and Friends Association of the local primary school is very active. Executive Headteacher Alison Perkins said, ‘The association organises a whole range of activities, including Christmas and summer fêtes, discos, popular ‘Ice Cream Fridays’, pool parties at Hathersage’s open-air swimming pool and Easter Bingo sessions accompanied by fish and chips. Part of the money raised by the association has recently provided ten new lap-tops for the pupils.’

Adding her praise for the parents, grandparents and other people in the village, Assistant Head Kate Gemmell said, ‘They care a great deal about the children, the school and the community. Many of them contribute to the craft club; Naomi Baynes coaches the choir and organises ‘Singing Stars’; Institute members are introducing the children to indoor bowls and the Methodist church is working with us on the Godly Plays, which enable children to recreate Bible stories through drama and craft.’

Looking towards Bamford edge from Main RoadLooking towards Bamford edge from Main Road

The Executive Headteacher stressed the benefits to the children of being educated in a beautiful part of the country. Peak Park Ranger Gordon Danks helps to teach the pupils about the local environment and many of the children took part in a sponsored walk that took them on a circuit which embraced visits to all the Touchstones, including the standing stone high on Bamford Edge.

The edge is a magnet that attracts lots of ramblers to the village, many of whom stay in the self-catering accommodation at the former Derwent Hotel, which is yet another example of those tall gabled Bamford buildings. As the ramblers make their way towards the steep path that climbs up to the edge, they can seek sustenance at the Rest Café and at John Pellegrina’s excellent bakery.

Motorists passing through the village are likely to be making their way to and from the scenic Upper Derwent dams. Ladybower, the last of the three dams to be constructed, is located immediately beyond the famous Yorkshire Bridge Inn and features two enormous bell-mouth overflows. The vision of excess water being released like a vortex into these sink-holes is an awesome sight. It is also a reminder that water has intrinsic energy that can be harnessed to great effect, as was the case at the old mill at the beginning of our journey through Bamford, a village where human energy has been harnessed to great effect for the benefit of the community.

Jenny Mather’s art can be viewed at the Great Dome Fair at Buxton on 18th and 19th July, at the Fine Art and Design Fair at Tatton Hall on 3rd and 4th of October and at the Derby Cathedral Centre on 2nd to 28th July.

Bamford in Brief

As the crow flies, Bamford is 8 miles from Sheffield and 24 miles from Manchester.

Bamford Edge, the gritstone ridge overlooking the village, is popular with walkers and climbers and stands about 515 metres (1,689 ft) above sea level.

Ladybower Reservoir, approximately 2.5 miles from the village, was built between 1935 and 1943, its completion delayed by the Second World War and resulting scarcity of materials. It took two years to fill and was formally opened by King George VI on 25th September 1945.

Bamford survived the creation of Ladybower while the nearby villages of Ashopton and Derwent were both flooded to create it. Ironically Ladybower, its surrounding woodland and the visitor centre at Fairholmes now attract a stream of visitors to the area and the village.

In the 18th century, Bamford’s cotton mill was owned by the Moore family, who also owned mills in Manchester and were responsible for building a school, church hall and mill houses for workers.

Bamford Sheepdog Trials Association was formed in 1943. Its popular sheepdog trials take place on Spring Bank Holiday Monday each year.

Bamford’s traditional Carnival – complete with Carnival Royalty of elected Queen, Princess and Rosebud – takes place this year from 11th-19th July

Another long-established and popular valley tradition is the Bamford Carnival Fell Race, during Carnival Week in July, which regularly attracts a field of over 200 runners and which takes in Win Hill, to the west of the village, and its spectacular views.

Also during July is Bamford Well Dressing Festival.

Bamford Garden Society will be staging its 100th annual show this August. Its impressive list of classes include special prizes for sweet peas and hanging baskets.

Amongst the many buildings designed by William Butterfield, the architect of St John the Baptist Church, are Keble College in Oxford, buildings at Rugby School and, further afield, St Paul’s Cathedral in Melbourne, Australia, and the Afghan Church in Mumbai, built by the British to commemorate the dead of the disastrous defeat in the First Afghan War of 1838.

The 108-ft high tower of the church was a reference point for the pilots of 617 Squadron in practise runs for the Dam Busters raid.

The village featured in the 1955 film about the RAF mission ‘The Dam Busters’ which starred Michael Redgrave and Richard Todd.

In the nearby hamlet of Thornhill, Thornhill Hall once stood. It was the main seat of the Eyre family, at one time principal landowners of the area. The original Eyre came to England with William the Conqueror and lost an arm at the Battle of Hastings.

Bamford’s Yorkshire Bridge, where the award-winning inn of the same name stands today, was the last place to cross the Derwent in Derbyshire.

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