Youlgrave - The village with many names
PUBLISHED: 00:00 25 February 2020
Mike Smith visits the ancient upland village of Youlgrave, which has its own very distinct character and atmosphere
Woodturner Matthew Lovell
All Saints' Parish Church
A detail from the window attributed to Edward Burne-Jones
An alabaster panel depicting the Virgin and Child and Robert Gilbert, his wife and their 17 children
An effigy of Sir John Rossington holding his heart in his hands
A 12th-century wall carving of a pilgrim
Jade Stacey, proprietor of the Village Shop and Tea Room
Hannah Tory of Peak Feast
The Fountain, a Conduit Head
Youlgrave Old Hall
Old Hall Farm
The Youth Hostel, formerly the Co-op, which featured in the film ‘The Virgin and the Gypsy’
Thimble Hall, the smallest detached house in the UK
Lathkill Dale on the northern side of Youlgrave
In 2003, when I was researching a village feature for Derbyshire Life, I was surprised to come across three different versions of the name of the place I was about to visit. Although the village was marked on my Ordnance Survey map as Youlgreave, a finger-post at Newhaven pointed me towards Youlegreave, whereas a sign at the boundary of the village told me that I was about to enter Youlgrave. Seventeen years later, the contradictions remain. In fact, the Village History Trail, produced by the local history society, goes out of its way to add to the confusion by naming all 52 historical variations of the place-name that were discovered by Bill Shimwell.
Settling on the heading of 'Youlgrave' as the least convoluted of the variations, the village trail takes visitors on a 0.75 mile-journey along the main street of this former lead-mining centre, which sits on a shelf of land between the beautiful valleys of Lathkill Dale and Bradford Dale. The restrained architecture that characterises most of the stone-built village houses is offset by the far grander appearance of Youlgrave Old Hall and Old Hall Farm, two 17th-century gabled dwellings that look as if they have been transplanted from a village in the Cotswolds.
However, three new-builds constructed since my last visit to Youlgrave have been designed to match the unpretentious appearance of all the other dwellings in the village. These comprise a development of affordable, energy-efficient houses on Hannah Bowman Way, a new toilet block at the western end of the village and a new house that has featured on television as a 'Grand Design'. Although much of this structure is rather futuristic in appearance, its multi-tiered southern aspect hides below a roadside section with the simple styling of other buildings on the main street.
Five hundred houses in the village obtain their drinking water from a spring in the depths of Bradford Dale. At one time, the villagers had to endure the daily chore of dragging buckets of water up a steep hill from the spring to their homes. Welcome relief came when Hannah Bowman led a successful campaign to have the spring-water piped into the village via a massive conduit head, known as The Fountain, built in 1829 to hold 1,500 gallons of water.
The current secretary of the Youlgrave Water Company is Matthew Lovell, who said, 'I am proud of the fact that our company is one of only two locally-owned water suppliers in the country, but I think it is a great shame that the new-builds situated on a road that is dedicated to Hannah's memory are supplied by Severn Trent rather than by our local company.'
Matthew lives at Christmas Cottage, a dwelling at least as ancient as the Old Hall. When he is not attending to his tasks as a company secretary and acting as the clerk to the parish council, he works as a woodturner. Most of his products, including bowls, dishes, plates, cake stands and candlesticks, have been meticulously fashioned to achieve perfect symmetry, but a few of them have been given odd shapes, simply because Matthew loves taking on the difficult challenge of making asymmetric objects. Giving his reason for needing to take on two jobs in addition to his woodturning, he quipped, 'In times past, the woodturner always ended up as the village pauper.'
The tiniest house in the village is Thimble Hall, an 18th-century building that is reputed to be the smallest detached house in the UK. Despite having only two rooms - 'one-up and one-down' - the house served at one time as a home for a family of eight. By way of contrast, one of the tallest buildings in Youlgrave is the Youth Hostel, housed in a former Co-operative store which featured as a fictional shop in the film version of D H Lawrence's novel The Virgin and the Gypsy.
The Co-op is long gone, but three other local food outlets are still thriving, not least because they are run by enterprising owners. Two years ago, Amy Young acquired the village Post Office, which sells newspapers and magazines and stocks a very good range of confectionery, including vintage sweets. Thanks to new signage, Amy's shop also has a very attractive frontage. More recently, Jade Stacey took over the Village Shop and Tea Room, housed in a greatly expanded former butcher's shop, where she has added to the range of her products and offers a takeaway menu that includes jacket potatoes, salad boxes, pastries and paninis. Dawn Skinner has owned Peak Feast, the village bakery on Moor Lane, for five years. It supplies local shops and cafés and sells all manner of homemade cakes, brownies, puddings, pies and tarts. One of her bakers, Hannah Tory, showed me an outdoor seating area where snacks such as homemade soup and porridge with honey can be enjoyed.
If you want to satisfy your taste buds, there is no doubt that Youlgrave is the place to be, not only because of its food shops, but also because it has managed to retain three inns at a time when pubs are closing at the rate of 18 per week. The Farmyard Inn serves meals at all times of day and offers accommodation in a choice of apartments with interesting names - you can opt for the Cow Shed or the Sheep Pen or the Pig Sty. The Bull's Head was described by one customer as 'a proper old coaching inn - very Pickwickian'. Its food offerings include an Early Bird menu on each weekday, Proper Pie Nights on Thursdays and Curry Nights on the first Wednesday of the month. The George Hotel is an unspoilt country inn, where the landlady says: 'Many of our customers are walkers who need building up, so we serve large portions. No sense in them going home hungry, is there?'
Lots of walkers make a point of visiting the village in June in order to see Youlgrave's five well dressings, which are some of the finest in the Peak District.
The annual dressing at The Fountain was designed by Malcolm Nix each year between 1977 and 1989, with one notable exception. After hearing a boast by John Piper, one of the country's most celebrated artists, that he had worked in every medium known to him, Malcolm contacted the artist and asked if he had ever designed a well dressing. When Piper admitted that he had not done so, Malcolm invited him to design the Fountain well dressing for 1979. The artist responded with a picture of a 'Foliate Man'. Unfortunately, the image proved to be very difficult to dress, showing that the designing of well-dressing images is probably best left to locals who are familiar with traditional dressing techniques.
A rather more successful image produced by another celebrated artist is the design of the stained-glass east window in the large Parish Church of All Saints. Attributed to the Pre-Raphaelite artist Edward Burne-Jones, this colourful depiction of four evangelists flanking the figure of Christ was put together in the famous workshops of William Morris. The window is just one of many wonderful works of art in the church, including a fine wall memorial, which depicts Sir Roger Rooe, his wife and their eight children, and a remarkable alabaster panel, which consists of a carving of the Virgin and Child flanked by Robert Gilbert, his wife and their 17 children. A memorial to Sir John Rossington is also unusual, not because it shows even more offspring, but because the single figure of Sir John is shown holding his own heart in his hands.
Perhaps the most intriguing image in the church is a small wall-carving of a figure with a frilled collar who is carrying a staff and a pouch. Thought to represent a pilgrim, the carving probably dates from the 12th century, when the village was known as Giograve, the earliest of the many place-names that have been given to this fine Peak District settlement over the centuries.