Crich - A tale of three villages
PUBLISHED: 11:39 18 June 2013 | UPDATED: 11:48 18 June 2013
Mike Smith discovers more about life in the heart of Derbyshire
Take the title of a novel by Charles Dickens, change a noun, make two into three, and end up with ‘A Tale of Three Villages’: an apt description for the story of Crich, a place with three distinct incarnations. The first is the authentic Crich, a settlement with a thousand years of history, the second is an artificial village and the third is an entirely fictional one. It so happens that the parish of Crich comprises three real villages, but Whatstandwell and Fritchley deserve separate coverage in another issue. This piece is solely about the village of Crich and its three manifestations.
The name of the village is derived from a Celtic word meaning ‘crag’ or hill’, a reference to the ridge on which the place is built. At its summit, there is a tall tower known as The Stand, which rises to a circular look-out that provides expansive views stretching, on a clear day, as far as the Humber and the Wash. The tower is now designated as a fine memorial to members of the Sherwood Foresters who lost their lives in battle – 11,409 in the First World War and 1,620 in the Second World War.
One can imagine the soldiers who survived the carnage returning to Crich and rejoicing at their first glimpse of the spire of the parish church, a sure sign that they were almost home. Pevsner describes St Mary’s (which he calls St Michael’s) as ‘quite an important church’. The nave has large Norman arches in the north aisle and ends in small pointed arches, which subtly mark the transition to the chancel, where there are some beautiful ogee-shaped arches, particularly above the sedilia (seats for the clergy). Attached to the chancel wall there is a rare stone bible-rest.
But why does Pevsner refer to this fine church as St Michael’s? I turned for an explanation to Peter Patilla, a former headteacher who is the editor of Crich Area Community News (CACN), a magazine distributed quarterly to all households in the parish and also available on line. Peter told me: ‘Apparently, the name of the church was transcribed wrongly in some documents at one stage and the inaccurate label stuck for a time. The carved figure on the village cross may even be St Michael.’
Members of the committee formed to set up CACN in 1996 had a mission to ‘enhance and further community spirit within the Crich area’. As well as producing the magazine, which contains news, humorous snippets and deliberations of the parish council, the present members run photographic competitions and confer awards on people who make significant contributions to the community.
In conjunction with Brian Gibbons, a former chief officer at Wirral Council, Peter is also jointly responsible for the Crich Parish Website, which contains a history of the parish, church records, a roll of honour and a genealogy section. Brian is chairman of Crich Heritage Partnership, which combines the provision of regular talks by visiting speakers with activities such as the creation of an archive of old photographs and an oral history project. Peter and Brian told me that Crich’s long industrial history has embraced the production of stockings, the mining of lead and the quarrying of a remarkable variety of stone found in the area – limestone, gritstone and even a little ironstone.
The knowledgeable duo also shed light on the origin of three buildings in the main street that had caught my eye. A tall building with an array of mullioned windows is the former Wheatsheaf Inn, where George Stephenson signed a contract in 1841 to construct a one-metre gauge railway to connect quarries at Crich with the main line at Ambergate. The Mansion House is the former home of Sir Jack Longland, educator and mountaineer, and the Jovial Dutchman, once a pub and now a B & B, may have been named after the Dutch workers who helped construct the Cromford Canal.
The village still has three public houses, which are focal points for village life and provide meeting places for local groups, and the wide market place has an impressive range of services, including a post office, a convenience store, a butchers, a fish bar and restaurant, a Bangladeshi restaurant known as Jeera, a large hair and beauty salon and the Loaf, a popular bakery, café and deli.
The Loaf was opened five years ago by Roger Bode, who had worked for the BBC, and Andrew Auld, formerly Head of Communications at Derby City Council. They have transformed the spaces behind the shop’s traditional exterior into a welcoming café, a well-equipped kitchen and a conference room, used for staff training, bread-making courses and as a facility for local groups. As well as gaining a reputation for their customer care and the quality of their artisan bread, Roger and Andrew performed creditably on Britain’s Best Bakery, where they were eliminated by the eventual winners.
Crich seems to be a favourite venue for people looking for a change of lifestyle. Sally Oglesby, a sociology graduate who worked at Leicester University before returning to the village at the age of 34, now has three children under five, but her husband Declan was in danger of missing out on their formative years because he was spending long hours in Nottingham as the manager of a car dealership. A few months ago, the couple decided to rectify this situation by setting up Ambergate Vehicles, an internet-based business which uses Declan’s expertise and long experience.
Declan markets cars, which can be viewed on line or by appointment at Ambergate Saw Mill, and he also sells cars on behalf of customers. Explaining the basis of his business and his new lifestyle, he said, ‘I offer customers personal shopping for their new or used car, guaranteeing them the best possible deal and relieving them of the stress normally associated with the process of selling, buying or exchanging a vehicle. Sally works as an auditor on two days per week, but we now have quality time with our children and have been able to build up a network of friends in this friendly village.’
Yet another couple who moved to Crich for a change of lifestyle are Ged and Sue Heath, who took over the tea rooms located at the head of the village six years ago. Once famed for Harrison’s home-made ice cream, the tea rooms now provide takeaways, daytime and evening meals, and Sunday roasts, as well as being a selling point for various gifts and pictures by local artists. The tea rooms are especially popular with cyclists and with visitors to The Stand and the National Tramway Museum.
The museum is located at Crich Tramway Village, which stands on the site where George Stephenson’s railway was constructed. Its collection of trams from all around the world began with the salvaging of a Southampton tram after its last run in 1948, but the Tramway Museum Society was not formed until 1955 and the site at Crich was only acquired in 1959. A track along the old Stephenson route lets families enjoy the thrill of a vintage tram ride, with the entrance ticket allowing visitors to indulge in as many rides as they would like on the day of their visit.
But, as curator Laura Waters demonstrated, the ticket offers much more than this. The main hall, which has vehicles representing a century of trams from 1860 to 1960, has now been supplemented by interactive exhibitions in a new discovery centre, located in the upper floor of the old Stephenson workshop, a new viewing gallery, where visitors can look down on trams being restored, and an exhibition, housed in the reconstructed Derby Assembly Rooms, which brings the story full circle by tracking the re-introduction of trams into our cities over the last decade or so.
The reconstruction of the Derby Assembly Rooms on this site is just one element in the creation of the Crich Tramway Village, which now has a period street, which includes a tea room, an ice cream parlour, a shop selling old-fashioned sweets and the Red Lion pub and restaurant, rescued from Stoke-on-Trent and rebuilt here brick by brick. As business manager Laura Greaves explained, ‘The village is brought to life with a whole series of events, including a rock ’n’ roll weekend in June, complete with teddy boys and American vehicles, and a 1940s weekend in August. We now have a wedding licence and have just hosted our first Edwardian-style wedding.’
The tramway village stands side-by-side with the authentic village of Crich, but there is, or was, a third Crich. The television drama Peak Practice, which ran for twelve series between 1993 and 2002, was set in the fictional village of Cardale, based for the most part on Crich. The owners of the local fish and chip shop cashed in on the village’s new-found fame by renaming their shop ‘Cardale Fish Bar and Restaurant’ and the present owners have retained the name. Fiction has become reality. n