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Tideswell - a Peak District village with a 'can-do' culture

PUBLISHED: 00:00 15 April 2019

The Church of St John the Baptist, Tideswell – 'the Cathedral of the Peak'

The Church of St John the Baptist, Tideswell – 'the Cathedral of the Peak'

mike smith

Nine years on from the Big Lottery SOS Scheme Mike Smith returns to find that it has fulfilled its promise by creating a ‘can-do’ culture in the village.

Pete Hawkins - SEE NOTEPete Hawkins - SEE NOTE

In 2010, when I penned an article called ‘Tasty Tideswell’ for Derbyshire Life, I reported that the village had just been chosen as one of six places to be awarded a very substantial grant from the Big Lottery’s Village SOS Scheme. The £400,000 grant had been given to allow the villagers to realise their ‘Big Idea’ of setting up a commercial kitchen and cookery school where they could convert vegetables they had grown into foodstuffs for sale in local shops under a new ‘Taste Tideswell’ label.

One of the driving forces behind the Lottery bid was Pete Hawkins, who chaired a group of accommodation providers whose members shared ideas about promoting local businesses. When I met up again with Pete, who operates the Visit Tideswell website, I asked him to remind me why the villagers had put in a bid to the SOS Scheme and whether their ‘Big Idea’ had become a reality.

He said: ‘Although plenty of visitors came to see our parish church, known as the “Cathedral of the Peak”, or to use the village as a starting point for walks, very few of them explored the place further or spent much money in the local shops. However, we knew that we had a full range of food shops, which not only made Tideswell almost unique but also gave it the potential to be a food destination.’

Recalling Tideswell’s starring role in Sarah Beeney’s television series about the villages short-listed for the SOS Award, Pete said: ‘After the programmes were aired, hundreds of people who had never been to Tideswell before descended on the village, and many of them have returned since. Thanks to the grant, we were able to set up the Tideswell School of Food and put on courses there for both outsiders and residents. We also established a vegetable garden, extended later by the addition of an orchard. Unfortunately, the Lottery money was given as a capital grant and did not cover on-going costs. Although the Cookery School was well used on several days of the week, the income raised could not cover the costs involved and we had to close the school in 2014.’

Marlene Allard and Richard Willis of High Nelly's CaféMarlene Allard and Richard Willis of High Nelly's Café

So did the ‘Big Idea’ turn out to be a ‘big failure’? Pete Hawkins certainly does not think so. He argues that the Cookery School initiative triggered a ‘can-do’ culture in the village and encouraged other groups to make bids for grants to support their own ‘big ideas’, many of which have turned out to be very successful. He also points to the fact that three new eating places have been established in recent years, making Tideswell the food destination he had hoped for.

One of those new eating places, known as ‘The Merchant’s Yard’, is located in the very building where the Cookery School was based. The Merchant’s Yard is a bar and AA two-star restaurant offering ‘locally-sourced cuisine and carefully-crafted drinks in an atmospheric and friendly environment’. It was established by the Markovitz firm of builders’ and plumbers’ merchants, who also operate a kitchen, bathroom and bedroom showroom in an adjacent building.

When H&D Exotic Teas moved from the Old Wool Shop to much larger premises in 2017, it became a café and a bistro, where Caribbean, Mexican, Thai, Tapas and Greek food is served on Friday and Saturday evenings. All-day breakfasts, lunches and afternoon teas have freshly-prepared gluten-free, vegan and vegetarian options, and tea-tasting days allow teas from all over the world to be sampled.

High Nelly’s Café is a popular addition to several well-established cafés and chip shops in the village. It is owned, not by High Nelly, which apparently is the name of an Edwardian bicycle, but by Marlene Allard and Richard Willis, who have decorated their premises in an imaginative way and serve drinks and a wide menu, including mouth-watering Scandinavian-style cakes and sandwiches.

Members of the Living History Group in front of their interpretation panels in Bank Square. Left to right: Mary Landon, Paul Harrison, Diana Walkden, Judy Cooke, Gillian AdamsMembers of the Living History Group in front of their interpretation panels in Bank Square. Left to right: Mary Landon, Paul Harrison, Diana Walkden, Judy Cooke, Gillian Adams

High Nelly’s was the venue for my meeting with five members of the Tideswell Living History Group: Mary Landon, Paul Harrison, Diana Walkden, Judy Cooke and Gillian Adams. The members told me how, between April 2012 and February 2015, they had conducted many hours of oral history interviews with residents, ex-residents and visitors. Their aim was to compile a record of the profound changes in village life that came about in the 20th century. They had also built up a visual record of the community over the 150 years by scanning hundreds of old photographs.

Thanks to a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the members have published their painstakingly collected records in the form of a DVD called Postcard from the Past and as a book entitled Tideswell Tales. And, with help from Tideswell Parish Council and a grant from the Peak District National Park, they have managed to acquire an old telephone box at the heart of the village, which they have converted into a ‘History Box’, where recorded memories they have collected can be dialled up on the telephone. These aural memories are supplemented by a display of photographs.

The work of the Living History Group has not stopped there. In 2016, the members used a grant from a Peak District Sustainable Development Fund to erect a series of illustrated panels in Bank Square Gardens. The panels tell the continuing story of a thriving and very active community. The well dressings, revived by Oliver Shimwell in 1946, still kick off the annual Wakes Week; the Tideswell Band still plays the soundtrack to village events as they have done since Queen Victoria’s day; the Male Voice Choir still serenades audiences as it has done since first performing in the George Inn in 1963; and the Community Players still tread the boards as they have done ever since 1930.

The panels also display memories of ‘a night at the pictures’, when villagers would ‘form long queues on Saturdays for two showings, before rounding off their night out with a bag of chips on the way home’. After an absence of nearly 40 years, cinema has returned to Tideswell, thanks to the initiative shown by another group that exemplifies the ‘can-do culture’ described to me by Pete Hawkins.

Members of the Tideswell Cinema Committee. Left to Right: Jacqueline Teeney, Barbara Crossley, Paul Harrison, Diana WalkdenMembers of the Tideswell Cinema Committee. Left to Right: Jacqueline Teeney, Barbara Crossley, Paul Harrison, Diana Walkden

To hear about the new Tideswell Cinema, I was taken by Diana Walkden and Paul Harrison to the George Inn to meet Jacqueline Teeney and Barbara Crossley, who are fellow members of the Tideswell Cinema Committee. Two other members, Jean Hopkin and Margaret Filer, were not present on this occasion.

I was told that the Tideswell Cinema had grown from a small film club established in 2005 to become one of the most popular community arts venues in the Peak District. In addition to monthly digital screenings of award-winning films, including sub-titled foreign language films, classics and recent releases, the cinema has been broadcasting live screenings from the National Theatre since 2012, when it became the first community cinema to do so. The enterprising committee has now added regular live broadcasts from the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Royal Ballet and the Royal Opera House, as well as productions from West End theatres and other first-class UK theatre venues.

The venue for this appetising cultural diet is the upper room of the George Inn, which adds to the menu by offering pre-show meals and interval drinks. Standing alongside the Church of St John the Baptist, the former coaching inn, with its eight deep-set Venetian windows, forms one half of a stunning set piece. The 14th century church has magnificent proportions, perfect architectural unity and contains intricate woodcarvings by Tooley of Bury St Edmunds and four generations of the local Hunstone family. Once the prime reason for visiting Tideswell, the ‘Cathedral of the Peak’ is now just one of many attractions that make this ‘can-do’ village one of the most appealing destinations in the Peak District.

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