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Crich, Matlock, Derbyshire

PUBLISHED: 20:53 01 February 2010 | UPDATED: 15:05 20 February 2013

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Ashley Franklin visits Crich with its stand, tramway village and TV location making it Derbyshire's most famous village?

Crich has to be the most famous village in Derbyshire. Its name elicits not one, but three familiar associations. Firstly, there's Crich Stand. It's reckoned more people are born within sight of Crich Stand than any other Derbyshire building. Indeed, driving through Crich I found myself behind the Stand warden's van promoting the words: 'View 8 Counties'.
On a clear day you may even see Lincoln Cathedral and the Humber Bridge and it's little wonder that here, nearly 1,000 feet up, a flaming beacon both signalled the sighting of the Armada and celebrated its routing. Coronations and jubilees can continue to be marked by the recent erection of a propane gas-fired beacon, while every night a light continues to shine out from the top of the Stand, arguably 'the most land-locked of lighthouses'.
This memorial to the 11,409 Sherwood Foresters who died in World War I (and since re-dedicated to include the 1,520 who perished in World War II), is immortalised in one of the great works of literature: in D.H. Lawrence's Sons & Lovers, Paul Morrell and friends visit the 'straggling grey village of Crich' and climb the tower which the author could see from his family's Eastwood garden, which is as it should be given that the beacon light was intended to shine over the homes of the fallen in both Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire.
Crich Stand sits atop a quarried-out rock face which brought prosperity to Crich in its heyday as a market town. On the Cliff Quarry bed where George Stephenson built a mineral railway sits another famous Crich landmark: the Tramway Village nearing its 50th anniversary. As curator Glynn Wilton proudly points out, this museum is unique for the sheer range of its tram collection: 'Possibly nowhere else in the world displays the variety of tram design and type. We have electric trams, horse trams, even a steam tram; and several vehicles are the only surviving examples of their type in the world. It's also the ultimate interactive museum - you can get into a tram and ride in it!' Along with its careful recreation of a period tram town and its Woodland Walk, it's no surprise to hear of 100,000 annual visitors.
More recently, Crich became even more famous, albeit under another name: in the early 1990s, the village became one of the sites of Cardale, the fictitious town that was home to the hit television series Peak Practice starring Kevin Whateley. Crich resident Phil Dolby recalled the surreal sight on his TV as Whateley turned a Crich street corner suddenly to enter a lane in Ashover. For a while tele-mad tourists poured into Crich, though now the only lingering evidence of Crich's other existence is the Cardale Fish Bar & Restaurant in the Market Square.
Crich is, in a sense, another place again if you read Crich Tales, a 1983 collection of engaging yarns compiled by late resident Geoffrey Dawes. It recounts a lost age when Crich, like many Derbyshire villages, was bristling with characters. As Geoffrey observed in his Prologue, 'In the change from candle light, privies and the pony and trap to frozen foods and video recorders, the village has lost much of its self-sufficiency. Talk has become more and more moulded to BBC standards and there seem to be fewer personalities about.' Reading these anecdotes - largely garnered from The King's Arms - is enough to make any Derbyshire villager not only weep with laughter but also hanker for a simpler, more settled rural life when a village used to be self-contained, everyone knew everybody else, people worked as well as lived in the vicinity of the village, and the pub was a place for beer and banter.
What Crich Tales also tells you is that you'd be lucky to follow the pub regulars' conversation unless you had a GCSE in Derbyshire dialect. Resident Peter Patilla recounted the time an Australian medic working in the village on a doctor's exchange went to treat elderly local Albert Smith and had to call an 'interpreter' to the house so he could decipher what Albert was saying about his ailment. The Aussie doctor successfully treated him and was relieved to hear that when Albert called him a 'buggat', he was only using another word for 'stranger'.
Peter Patilla also told me of Albert's wife Bertha who couldn't stop herself from chastising and checking up on him. Even when he slipped off to the outside privy, Bertha would come rapping on the door, yelling: 'Are you in there, Alb?!' One morning, Albert decided enough was enough: he emptied several spades-full of slurry outside the door of their house. When Bertha spotted her husband outside, she walked up to the door to hear Albert's warning: 'If yew put yer foot in thet, yew'll be theer forever.' Thinking it was cement, Bertha went no further; and a grinning Albert retired to his garden seat where he spent the entire day puffing on his pipe in peace and quiet.
Crich wives come in for choice chaff in both Crich Tales and its sequel More Crich Tales. When Colin the bellringer said he was off to Tansley 'to get a rose for the wife', his pal Adrian replied, 'That seems a fair swop'. Another resident, Rod, referred to his wife as 'a woman who would talk a glass eye to sleep.' However, the women could be as witty and caustic as the menfolk. When a villager called Herbert suffered a fatal heart attack while fetching a cabbage from the garden for dinner, a sympathetic neighbour said to the widow: 'Wot on earth did yeow deow?' 'It werr orr-rayht really,' she replied. 'Ar'd got a tin er peas in.' On a similar note, when the vicar visited the house of two elderly sisters just after one of them had died, the surviving sister was heard to say: 'Yes I do miss her - but oh - it's so nice to be able to have a strong cup of tea.'
Peter Patilla told me of one local woman, Ivy Vickers, who was as tough as any man owing to a workhouse upbringing. She still delivered papers well into her 80s. Crich Tales recounts the time a Radio Derby reporter joined Ivy on her paper round and 'had a puffing struggle to keep up with her.' When asked what her ambition was, she replied 'to keep going'. Another great character fondly recalled by Peter is Ted Rollinson, the one-armed postman. 'He once used to cycle on his rounds,' Peter points out. 'Imagine trying to ride a bike with only one arm and a heavy post bag. Needless to say, he had more than one accident.'
After reading Crich Tales, I counted myself fortunate that on visiting Peter and other residents, none of them was like Dennis of Dimple Hollow who, when asked the way to his house by his work boss, was told: 'It's ter complicated ter tell. Just stop in Crich when yew say sumbdi wi a red nose an ask im wheer ar live.' Presumably, that somebody with a red nose would be one of Dennis's fellow imbibers at the King's Arms.
Mind you, I'm sure a few locals would have directed me to Peter Patilla's house had I got lost, as Peter has become well known in the village in the several years he's been editing - 'with a tireless editorial committee' - the Crich Area Community News, a quarterly 72 page magazine delivered free to 1,650 households and now available on the internet thanks to the diligence of webmaster Andrew Auld. This valuable 'free line of communication for all village organisations' with its outlet for opinion and articles of general interest is indicative of a considerable community spirit which Peter happily confirms.
'Crich is thriving,' Peter declares. 'The village is blessed in having three churches (C of E, Baptist and Wesleyan); four pubs, all proper local inns which have resisted turning into themed brass-number-on-the-table type taverns; several schools; a health centre; community centre; a fire station run by our Postmaster Phil Dolby which is a vital service when you consider it gets around 130 call-outs a year. Although Allsop's Bakery has just closed, we still have a post office that is thriving, an excellent family-run butchers, chemist, mini-supermarket, chip shop, car repairer and several small businesses from hairdresser to dry stone waller. We also have an annual fete, revived ten years ago, and our own band called Crich Brass, which started off in 2001 as three players under village newcomer Derek Swindell and which can now turn out a 16-piece ensemble. There are plenty of organisations for young and old from playgroups to Brownies to senior citizen clubs, and active concerns like the WI, WEA classes, a Luncheon Club celebrating its 25th anniversary, an historical society called the Crich Heritage Partnership plus more informal groups involved in family history, watercolour painting, reading and other pursuits. That's not bad for a community of about 1,600 homes, is it?'
Just over two years ago, around 2,500 homes in Crich parish received a free copy of the Community Map, another spirited community effort initiated by Crich Heritage Partnership. A superb map illustrated by John Nicholson is part of a massive fold-out pamphlet containing vital parish information and comprehensive detail of the area's rich history. Crich's history was literally built on stone. The village's very name seems to have evolved from cryc, the Celtic word for crag or hill, and unearthed hoards of coins point to Roman settlers who would likely have mined the abundant lead ore. The geology of Crich has been described as 'the geology of Derbyshire in miniature', being a meeting of the gritstone of the Dark Peak and the limestone of the White Peak. 'In Crich's history you can also see the Industrial Revolution in miniature,' adds Professor Jim Eggleston of the Crich Heritage Partnership, as he points to not only the quarrying of limestone, lead ore and gritstone but also the arrival of widespread framework knitting workshops.
There is reference to a Crich lead mine as far back as the Domesday survey of 1086 with lead being worked up to the mid-19th century when quarrying became the village's main industry. Quarrying forged ahead around the turn of the 19th century with the building of a mineral railway by the Butterley Company, and especially by the 1840s when George Stephenson came to link both Church and Cliff Quarry with his massive new lime kilns in Ambergate. The railway's final drop of 550 yards on a 1 in 4 gradient must have been a jaw-dropping sight to behold. The mineral railway operated until the line closed in 1957. Parish councillor Kate Smith rues the fact that the railway wasn't utilised in some way. The best that could happen now, according to Jim Eggleston, is the restoration and conservation of stretches of line that are still visible.
Interestingly, any Crich householder still has the right to procure Crich stone: a parliamentary commission of 1786 reserved six acres of land for local freeholders 'to obtain stone for the building and upkeep of roads and bridges in the Parish.' Romantically, this ancient right was exercised by the Parish Council when a stone from the Tors Quarry was incorporated in the walls of Crich's new Glebe Field Centre in 1997.
All this quarrying and mining would have bred a tough, hardy populace steeled to dangerous and exhausting labour. On a visit to a local lead-ore field early in the 18th century, Daniel Defoe could scarce believe that any man would venture down such narrow holes to 'so great a depth in the earth'. He also encountered a miner who was 'pale as a dead corpse, his hair and beard a deep black, his flesh lank ... and being very tall and very lean he looked like the inhabitant of the dark regions below who had just ascended into the world of light.'
Work was also long, hard and onerous for the framework knitters who numbered over 250 by the mid-19th century, over 10 per cent of the population. In spite of the craft involved, framework knitting families were virtual paupers, working in cramped, badly ventilated rooms. In spite of their 14-16 hour days, families often had little else but bread and potatoes to eat, and hunger cravings were stilled by opium. As an observer wrote at the time: 'These families' clothing could scarcely be held together, their dwellings were mostly filthy and abodes of discontent and misery. Children had no scholastic education at all.'
For those who did go to school, the Education Act of 1848 saw the introduction in Crich that year of the C of E Parochial School, known as the Top School; with the Bottom School - officially the British School - opened in 1885. As Geoff Dawes' book History of Crich reveals, the enmity between Top and Bottom institutions shows that disruptive schools are not just a current concern. Worse still, a letter to the Vicar from Mr Sumner, the Master of the Parochial School, appears to show a headteacher as ringleader. Complaining initially of 'intimidation' by the British School Master Mr Scott and his scholars which brought Mr Sumner to 'rarely go out alone whilst it is light', he described how those scholars rushed into a Parochial School classroom, creating a hue and cry with the blackboard being hauled down and stones thrown - 'including one that hit Mrs Sumner.' Some of his children had been left distressed by having Mr Scott's scholars 'hitting their face with nettles' and, to add to Mrs Sumner's distress, she was stopped on her way home by Mr Scott and 50 of his scholars who 'shouted opprobrious epithets.'
I recorded in my own book A Cinema Near You an occasion when opprobrious epithets were hurled at the projectionist at the Crich Picture House in the 1950s. Mind you, they had due justification. Crich's dream palace was, in truth, 'run on a flea pittance', being described by regular Josie Howarth as 'a spartan shed lacking every luxury'. However, she remembers 'a lovely family atmosphere' and 'friendly staff who doubled up to do all the jobs'. One of the staff in the 1950s was usherette Betty Alldread who told me of one notorious night the manager took the projectionist's place when he failed to show. That manager, Harry Major, was described as 'a blunt down-to-earth Yorkshireman' and maybe it was a touch of Yorkshire arrogance that caused him to come a cropper when he decided that sooner than give the audience its money back, he would undertake the projection duties himself. 'My young brother Brian was an apprentice in the box', Betty recalls, 'but Mr Major said: "I'll do it, lad." Maybe he should have left it to Brian because everything that could go wrong, did. First of all, Mr Major put one reel on upside down. A further reel went backwards and the end reel went on in the middle. By then a restless audience turned into an angry mob, banging on the floor shouting "We want pictures!" At that point, my brother vividly remembers Mr Major peering through the projection room peephole and declaring: "We've lost 'em, lad ... they're goin'." In the end, the audience did get its money back.'
To Mr Major's credit, he was a devoted manager who tried everything to keep the Picture House going when attendances dwindled. Betty remembers him staging talent contests, including a beauty show which he persuaded a reluctant Betty to enter. 'I knew that hadn't worked when I ended up winning my heat,' quips Betty. The cinema eventually closed at the end of the 1950s.
Ironically, the first time I visited Crich - in 2003 - was when the cinema had returned to the village, albeit through the Derby Metro's mobile cinema scheme Derbyshire Film. The screening was at the Glebe Field Centre, a vital village resource which has just celebrated its 10th anniversary. As Glebe trustee and Management Committee Chairman David Billyeald explained, Crich had previously housed an ageing and increasingly inadequate parish room for meetings and activities. Inspired by local GP Dr Glyn McArthur, a concerted fund-raising campaign saw the conversion of a field into a purpose-built community centre with an emphasis on elderly day care. According to parish councillor Kate Smith, Glebe Field was a great testament to community closeness: 'It took such incredible amounts of energy, commitment and co-operation that we almost reached donation fatigue.'
On my return visit to the Glebe, Day Care Manager Vicki Billyeald spoke of a centre that meets an essential need for the elderly of the parish: 'Social isolation can be rife in rural areas so it's very satisfying to know that we've got 50 or so clients coming here every week who would otherwise spend their whole time staring at four walls. There's one man here who is partially sighted and has just lost his wife; if it hadn't been for this centre, he would be in a home. Everyone gets a home-cooked lunch, too, so some people come every day.' One visitor, Mary Jordan, spoke of 'lovely dinners', while Mary Redfern declared, 'This centre brings me out - most of us would be lost without it.' Friendships are forged and the centre is abuzz with news of its first courting couple, both of whom are in their late 80s.
To walk from the Day Care room to another one brimming with babies says everything about the Glebe. Indeed, the centre's diary is full every weekday and night. While public and private group activities (including conferences, christening parties and craft fairs) fill some rooms, others are used for NHS and private health services including blood tests, hearing tests, chiropody, osteopathy and optometry. Also there on the day I visited was the Crich Toy Library, founded and run by a former mum at the Baby Clinic, Anne-Marie McMillan. Soon to celebrate its eighth year, this impressive resource houses over 700 toys which can be loaned out to parents, childminders, groups, schools, nurseries, health professionals and for parties. Provision extends well beyond the parish and Anne-Marie spoke proudly of their patron, Simon Groome, whose wife Gilly regularly supports Toy Library events.
In spite of the Glebe, parish councillor Kate Smith says youth provision in Crich is lacking, so she's campaigning to improve facilities, especially in the area of sport. Meeting also at Glebe PC 2666 - better known as Community Police Officer Lisa Walker - I was told that 'Crich is largely a safe, law-abiding place and we're here to keep it that way.' Lisa has been on the Crich beat for only a year but she already feels that her presence is reassuring whether she's out in a marked car, on a bike or on foot patrol - 'and I'm always contactable,' she adds.
Sadly, St Mary's Church was a recent victim of crime: lead was stolen from its roof. 'Fortunately, we were insured,' points out the Vicar, the Revd Philip Brooks, 'but with so many thefts of lead countrywide, I'm not looking forward to the next insurance quote!' On a happier note, Philip has loved his 12 years in Crich from the day his family arrived at the vicarage to find a large hamper of food waiting for them. He's pleased with church attendances, especially at the three Sunday services, is continually looking to improve church facilities and, even 12 years on, still savours the 'lovely atmosphere' of St Mary's, humbled by the thought of all the people who have worshipped there down the centuries. Described by Philip as 'a real architectural treasure', St Mary's dates back to at least the 14th century, though there is a Norman font and arcades and, appropriately for Crich, a stone lectern, believed to be rare outside Derbyshire.
St Mary's is the old centre of Crich, where once a cattle fair was strung out all the way from the church down to the imposing village cross. Pre-war Crich housed up to 27 farms - now only six remain. Many cattle on their way to market would have slaked their thirst at the ancient four-fold drinking trough in the Market Place. Jim Eggleston of the Crich Heritage Partnership hopes an interpretation board can be erected at this 'county treasure'. Jim speaks proudly of the interpretation board on the South Wingfield road which points to an old well the Heritage Partnership restored. Jim also spoke of the good work he and other volunteers put in a few years ago when funding allowed them to survey 80 local rights of way totalling 26 miles which led to new signposting, the repairing of steps and even the erection of a wooden bridge. For ramblers, the countryside may not be as lush as it was in 1833 when Glover's Directory drew attention to 'some of the most beautiful woods that ever waved their branches to the winds' but among the remaining trees, there is an abundance of wildlife, from bluebells and yellow archangel to nuthatches and sparrow hawks, with jackdaws and even ravens seen to nest on the cliff faces.
The countryside around Crich was a particular draw for Professor Jim Eggleston when he was appointed Chair of Education at Nottingham University. He also came to enjoy a pint at the Black Swan where lurks a Crich Tale yet to be published: finding himself fascinated by the pigeon fanciers he met, Jim used his knowledge of genetics to teach a pigeon breeding course in a room at the pub. 'Nine came along to the first class,' recalls Jim. 'For experimental purposes I was using fruit flies which we needed to anaesthetise with a few drops of ether. However, one of the students applied the ether to excess. This had two effects: it killed the insects and the ether vapour reacted with the draught ale. Inhaling ether when you've even had half a pint can make you rather squiffy. Both students and tutor were subject to this intoxicating effect and the session was abandoned. The following week, the class of nine became ten: one of the wives turned up to make sure her husband didn't get "drunk" and come home again tottering on his feet and slurring his words!' The pleasing coda to this tale is that two years after Jim's course, one of the pigeon breeders, Jim Byard, won the Federation Cup.
Although village characters like Jim are all but gone, the dialect lingers on. Ged and Sue Heath, who arrived in the village 15 months ago to run the Crich Tea Rooms, admit that conversation with a few local customers can be an auditory challenge. However, refurbishing and reviving the tea rooms has been 'the best thing we ever did,' says Ged who speaks of warm support from the village and many friendships forged. Their smart, bright, welcoming place seats 30, is festooned with fine original artwork - 95% of it locally-based - and there's a popular bistro every fortnight. 'It's taken me 30 years to realise Sue is a great cook,' quips Ged.
The most amusing of the Crich Tales refers to a character called Liza who wouldn't know about brewing up a nice cuppa: she kept nothing but brown ale in her teapot. When her husband Arthur was on his deathbed with relatives and friends all gathered around, he was asked if there was anything he wanted. He summoned Liza and said he'd like a bit of the ham he could smell cooking downstairs. 'Yew canna 'ave enni o' thet,' she responded. 'It's fer t' funeral.'



More Crich Tales is available from the publisher Scarthin Books, Cromford, 3.95.

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