Glossop - building a glorious future on its industrial past

PUBLISHED: 09:00 21 May 2014 | UPDATED: 14:13 18 January 2018

Looking up Station Road, Glossop

Looking up Station Road, Glossop

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The High Peak town that’s creating a thriving modern community by preserving and building on its past

Relaxing in Norfolk SquareRelaxing in Norfolk Square

Old Glossop

Wandering around the picturesque streets of Old Glossop, I came across a painter who was sitting on a low stool at the foot of Hawkshead Road. As I approached to take a closer look, I realised the painter was not adding pigment to a painting of the attractive street scene, but was restoring the lettering on a free-standing street sign; a job normally carried out by the local authority. After introducing himself as Ivan Bell, the volunteer sign-writer said: ‘A group of us are not prepared to wait for the day when the council finally decides to come along and touch up the lettering. We are much too proud of Old Glossop to let our street signs become unsightly.’

Ivan is right to be proud of this picturesque enclave on the northern outskirts of the town. Old Glossop’s principal street is Church Street, which runs in an arc as it skirts around the boundary walls of the sloping churchyard of All Saints Parish Church. On its entire length, the built side of the street is lined by attractive stone terraces comprising 17th century cottages, all featuring low-pitched slate roofs and wide mullioned windows. The steep eastern flank of Church Street runs from the gabled former resident of the manor-bailiff as far as the entrance to a small former market square, which is surrounded by yet more 17th century houses.

Despite the modest size of the Old Town, it contains no fewer than three welcoming pubs. The Bull’s Head, which dates from 1607 and is the oldest pub in Glossop, has a menu that includes curries prepared by chefs trained on Manchester’s ‘Curry Mile’, while the Queen’s Head has an Indian restaurant on its first floor and The Wheatsheaf is listed in the CAMRA Good Beer Guide.

Apartments in the former Wren's Nest MillApartments in the former Wren's Nest Mill

Old Glossop has another claim to fame for lovers of good beer, for it is the home of the Howardtown Micro-brewery, originally established in 2005 by Tony Hulme, Rowena Curley and Les and Janet Dove. Since 2007, the brewery has been run by Tony with his friend Peter Clarke. Despite a lack of previous brewing experience, they produce a range of fine beers, all of which are named after local landmarks, such as Bleaklow, Dinting Arches, Dark Peak and the multi-award winning Wrens’ Nest. That pride in the locality, so well exemplified by Ivan Bell, is evident yet again.


The 17th century buildings of Old Glossop date from the time when the town first came into the hands of the Howard family, whose head is the Duke of Norfolk, the Earl Marshal and premier peer of England. Although it was the Howards who rebuilt the parish church and added an impressive Catholic church at the entrance to the Old Town in the 19th century, they were also responsible for shifting Glossop’s centre of gravity down the hill to the valley floor.

It was here that the 12th Duke began the development of a new town centre in 1838, by constructing a Town Hall, complete with an arcaded ground floor and an impressive clock tower. The 13th Duke carried on his good work by adding a railway station, which is topped by a sculpture of a lion from the crest of the Howards, and a market hall, which features Doric columns and the coat-of-arms of the family. One part of this building still operates as a market hall to this day but another section is now used as the headquarters of High Peak Borough Council.

Not surprisingly, given the presence of so many reminders of the Howard family, the new town centre became known as Howardtown in Victorian times. Norfolk Square, a spacious area planted with gardens and surrounded by impressive buildings, was constructed as its grand centrepiece. It remains a favourite meeting place and area for relaxation to this day.

As the 19th century progressed, this dignified civic centre was swamped by new developments. When the town evolved into a major textile centre, dark satanic mills and endless grey terraces of workers’ houses began to spread along the valley floor and up the surrounding hills. By the mid-century, there were over 50 mills in the town, most of them devoted to the production of cheap fabric for colonial markets. In addition, there were paper-making factories, established by the Partington family, and print works founded by Edmund Potter, the grandfather of Beatrix Potter.

Trouble at’ Mill

The disruption to supplies of raw cotton caused by the American Civil War of 1861 to 1865 dealt a terrible blow to the cotton industry, bringing poverty and starvation to thousands of families. The mill owners and local gentry of Glossop did their best to provide relief, including the provision of food and clothing, so avoiding the riots that took place in some other cotton towns. However, the industry was dealt further blows in the 20th century by the onset of the depression and by the appearance of cheap cotton goods from Asia. Glossop’s cotton industry never fully recovered.

The new Glossop

Most of the old factories have now been demolished, but two of the biggest former mills were allowed to remain. They have been sensitively renovated and converted to new uses, making them the most visually obvious symbols of the remarkable revitalisation of the town. Upper floors of the vast Howardtown Mill have been converted into apartments, including penthouse apartments on a newly-added top storey. The two lower floors now house a Travelodge with 62 bedrooms.

Assistant manager Sean Modder said: ‘The hotel is proving a great hit with both tourists and business people, because it is situated just 0.1 miles from the rail station, with direct links to Manchester and Sheffield, and only one mile from the boundary of the Peak District National Park.’ Keen to mention a further major selling point, he said, ‘We’ve now introduced “Dreamer Beds” to all our rooms. Each bed has 950 individual springs designed to follow the contours of the body.’

At the foot of the hotel, in the former mill yard, there is a brand-new shopping precinct, including a M & S Simply Food store and a Wetherspoon’s pub. Glossop’s second remaining factory from the heyday of the mills is Wrens’ Nest Mill. This gigantic building has also been converted into an apartment block, together with shops on its ground floor, which form part of yet another Glossop shopping precinct. A few yards away from the Wrens’ Nest, there is a large Tesco supermarket.

Aside from these new shopping opportunities, Glossop is blessed with a long main street with a remarkable number of independent shops, including some long-standing family businesses. J.W. Mettrick & Sons was declared the ‘best butchers in the country’ by the Countryside Alliance in 2012, and the shop’s pork pies have won a Gold Award for being the finest in the land. John Mettrick, who is a member of the fifth generation of his family in the business, is one of only 13 Master Butchers in the country.

Bill Sowerbutts is the best-known member of the Sowerbutts family, who have run a fruit and vegetable shop on the main street for three generations. He is remembered as a celebrated panellist on the BBC’s long-running show ‘Gardeners’ Question Time’. The current manager of the shop is Nigel Sowerbutts, who gives a guarantee that the fruit and vegetables sold will have been bought from the wholesale market that very morning.

Another retail outlet with a reputation that stretches far beyond the confines of the High Peak is Glossop Caravans, which occupies a 6.5 acre site at the western extremity of the town and contains one of the largest selections of new and used caravans in the country. The firm delivers touring caravans and motorhomes to countries worldwide, especially to South Africa and Australasia.

Director of sales Michael Hodges, who has worked for the company for 27 years, said, ‘The popularity of caravanning has increased hugely during the recession, because many people have chosen to take more holidays to destinations that they can reach by road. And, of course, taking their own accommodation with them avoids the cost of hotel bills.’

The days when caravanning offered inferior comfort and poor facilities are long gone. Today’s touring caravans offer central heating, showers and microwaves. In some instances, the chore of converting seats into a bed each evening has been replaced by the convenience of a separate bedroom. Remembering the undeniable comforts of the ‘Dreamer Bed’ at Glossop’s newest hotel, I also decided that a well-appointed bedroom in a modern caravan is another place where I would be equally happy to rest my head.

Where Wittgenstein rested his head

In the spring and summer of 1908 and 1909, the future philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein lodged at the Grouse Inn on the high moors above Glossop. He had come to Manchester University in order to design a flying machine, and he would invite his students to conduct experiments on the moors with various kites. Michael Howard of Manchester School of Art brings his own students to the moors, so they can copy these early experiments. Michael says, ‘It was after Wittgenstein left Manchester that he decided to turn his attention to flights of the mind rather than flights of the body.’

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