Charlesworth - the last outpost of the Peak District
PUBLISHED: 00:00 22 January 2018
Mike Smith travels to the north-west of the county and finds enticing food and drink offerings and a masterpiece of Victorian railway engineering
The Peak District has often been described as a green and pleasant island surrounded by a sea of towns and cities. At their western extremity, the highest hills of the ‘island’ end abruptly at the ‘headland’ of Coombes Edge, below which there is a long descent towards the suburbs of Greater Manchester. The gritstone village of Charlesworth clings to the steep slopes of this cliff-like hillside, stubbornly retaining its characteristic Peak District appearance in defiance of the waves of red-brick urban sprawl that have engulfed so many of the settlements on the great plain below it.
The ancient highway that crosses the last of the Peak District moors before descending towards the village is known as the Monks’ Road, because it was used in the Middle Ages by the monks of Basingwerk, a Cistercian abbey with a domain extending from North Wales to the Derbyshire hills. Legend has it that a monk who was caught in a violent storm as he crossed over the wild uplands of the Peak founded a chapel on the edge of the moors as a means of giving thanks for his survival.
Since 1797, the lofty site of this place of worship has been occupied by Charlesworth Congregational Chapel. Known locally as ‘Top Chapel’, the church has two large Venetian windows in its gable end and features a balcony that runs around all four walls, as well as an enormous organ that towers above the pulpit. Despite its geographical isolation, the chapel has a loyal congregation whose growing parking needs are now being satisfied by a large extension to the car park.
The car park commands distant views over the tower blocks of Manchester towards the Beetham Tower, the city’s tallest building. As the Monks’ Road drops towards the village it runs alongside large houses whose varied styling reflects changes in architectural fashions from the eighteenth century to the present day. After twisting its way down to a slab-like war memorial at the centre of Charlesworth, the downhill route follows a dog-leg as it briefly joins the main road from Glossop to Marple before making its final descent towards the River Etherow at the foot of the village.
All Charlesworth’s shops and commercial properties stand on this main road, which runs across the village from north to south. The memorial is overlooked by two public houses: the George and Dragon and the Grey Mare. Ian Liversedge ran the George and Dragon for many years until his retirement in 2016. When no permanent replacement landlord could be found, there was talk of closure until Andy Hoyle came to the rescue. After working at the Rising Sun in Tarporley, Andy felt the George and Dragon would give him a great opportunity to start his own business.
Andy dispenses a number of different cask ales and serves meals every day, including roast on Sunday, curry on Wednesday and steak on Thursday. A nice additional touch is a large barrel installed alongside a dog bowl on the pavement outside the pub. Filled with water, the barrel is advertised as offering ‘free doggy beer’. Unfortunately, no such touches are to be found in or outside the Grey Mare because the pub has now closed and is said to be on the point of being converted into apartments.
There is also uncertainty about the future of the village newsagents, off-licence and general store. Peter and Doris Henshall, who have run the business for nine years, are hoping to retire and have put the shop up for sale. On a more positive note, a nearby property has been opened recently as the Bake and Muffin Café by Lindsay Goodwin, whose husband works at the adjacent Charlesworth Motors. Lindsay offers lots of enticing breakfast options and sells hot and cold snacks and drinks.
‘Village Greens’ on the opposite side of the road is a very busy fruit and vegetable shop, which also sells fish and meat. The shop was acquired four years ago by Kim and Rod Hartshorne. Australian-born Kim met her husband in Dubai and she and Rod spent seven years in France, where they led the ‘good life’, growing most of their own fruit and vegetables. The results of Kim’s French experience are very evident in her shop, where the displays of delicious fruit and vegetables are as tempting as anything that could be found in a French market and, thanks to Kim’s careful placement on the shelves of products with different colours, their display brings to mind a still-life by Cézanne.
When customers enter this lovely shop, they are offered a free taste of soup made by Kim’s assistant Sharon Kershaw, who sells bags containing a recipe and the ingredients that enable purchasers to make the soup for themselves. Matching Kim’s enterprise, Sharon creates new soup recipes every week. A visit to Village Greens is always as refreshing as the fruit and vegetables on sale.
Despite being located several hundred yards away from the village centre, another shop that is very well used by locals is Dyson’s general store. For many years, Eric and Joyce Dyson ran the shop, which was founded in 1946 by Eric’s father. It is now managed by their son Andrew and his wife Alison, a former nurse. Takeaway food and drink includes tea, coffee, sandwiches and hot pies, as well as Bradwell’s famous ice cream. Not surprisingly, the shop attracts lots of passing trade.
An old toll house located a few yards beyond the general store carries a banner that announces that the nearby Woodlands was named Tearoom of the Year in the Derbyshire Life Food and Drink awards for 2015, which it also won in the following year. The licensed restaurant and tearoom, run by Judy and Brian Mairs, has an extensive menu and opens for bistro evenings on Fridays and Saturdays, as well as lunches on Sundays. The tearoom originally occupied a ‘lean-to’ conservatory but this has now been replaced by a superbly designed and beautifully furnished orangery that overlooks a colourful garden and commands fine views over the surrounding countryside.
Judy was formerly a purser in charge of cabin crew for an airline and Brian was heavily occupied in a business that took him all over the world until a health scare prompted him to seek a change of lifestyle by opening a B&B, initially to provide accommodation for visitors coming for the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester. From their first tentative steps, the Mairs’ new business evolved into an AA 4 gold star B&B, named as one of the top twenty B&Bs in the country, with Judy being chosen as one of the top twenty finalists in the AA Landlady of the Year awards in 2003, 2004, 2006 and 2008. The couple also has a self-catering holiday-let called the Barn.
Dwellings on Town Lane
Cottages dating from the early eighteenth century
Charlesworth War Memorial and the George and Dragon
Andy Hoyle, landlord of the George and Dragon
Free doggy beer
Lindsay Goodwin of the Bake and Muffin Caf�
Kim Hartshorne (left) and Sharon Kershaw in front of the colourful shelves in Village Greens
Andrew and Joyce Dyson of Dyson's General Store
The Old Toll Cottage
Brian Mairs of the Woodlands Tea Rooms and licenced restaurant
The Church of St John
The railway viaduct above the River Ethero
The old toll house, also owned by Brian and Judy, stands on the main road facing the grounds of Charlesworth and Chisworth Cricket Club and Charlesworth’s large village green, which displays a poetic request to users: ‘Resemble not the slimy snail, that with its filth records a trail, let it be said where you have been, you left the face of nature clean.’
The village green occupies the lower slopes of a hillside that stretches back up to the point where our journey began at Charlesworth Congregational Chapel, which had served as the parish church until 1846, when the Church of St John the Evangelist was built near the centre of the village. This church is said to owe its existence to Revd Goodwin Purcell, who was so dismayed to find there was no Anglican place of worship in the village that he embarked on a sponsored walk to Land’s End. Supplemented by donations from local benefactors, the walk raised enough money to build a school and a vicarage as well as a church.
Charlesworth possesses two other churches: Trinity Baptist Church, which occupies a large building on the northern section of the main road, and the Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception, which stands at the foot of the village near the point where the great downhill stretch of road that leads from the Peak District moors terminates at a bridge over the River Etherow. Towering above this ancient river crossing, there is a massive railway viaduct that is even higher than the famous brick viaduct in nearby Stockport. There could hardly be a more dramatic end to a village that is a final outpost of the Peak.