Dame Joan Bakewell's Derbyshire

PUBLISHED: 09:53 26 January 2011 | UPDATED: 20:33 20 February 2013

St Mary's, Wirksworth

St Mary's, Wirksworth

Mike Smith introduces the broadcaster's selection of her favourite places

Although the celebrated broadcaster Dame Joan Bakewell was born and brought up in Stockport, she has a particular fondness for Derbyshire. Recalling that she and her school friends at Stockport High School For Girls were often required to sing Lift Thine Eyes Unto The Mountains, she says, When we did so, we saw Derbyshire and it exhilarated us.

In 1999, the BBC produced a series of programmes based on The Buildings of England, Nikolaus Pevsners countyby- county survey of the countrys architecture. Joan was commissioned to write and present the edition that was devoted to Derbyshire and she took on the task with great enthusiasm.

The opening sequences showed her at the head of Winnats Pass, which she described as my kind of Derbyshire; wild and high; exposed to the elements; tough and strong.

Pevsners book in hand, Joan took viewers on a tour of some of her favourite places in the county, beginning with a visit to a circular structure dating from 2,500 BC and ending with a round building constructed in the 20th century. Writing some years before the creation of this modern circular masterpiece, Pevsner had found nothing of note from the 20th century in Derbyshire, but Joan sees the period in a different light. She says: Tucked away at the rocky heart of England, Derbyshire has managed to avoid most of the ravages of the 20th century. It is self contained, keeps itself to itself and is happy to be that way. Here are some of Joan Bakewells favourite places, which are described in her own words.


(which was awaiting renovation when Joan Bakewell made her programme in 1999 and is still awaiting renovation) Although the Crescent at Buxton is smaller than some of those at Bath, it has a great deal of charm and some very attractive detailing. It is a building that is far too good to let go.


Unlike most show houses, Haddon Hall has not been greatly altered over the centuries, because it lay dormant for over 200 years. Saved by neglect, it is like a time capsule from 1700.


The surface workings of this lead mine, near Sheldon, are impressive, but it is the underground workings that tell of the harsh conditions endured by the miners, many of whom were children. Pevsner missed a trick in not covering the countys underground features in his book.


There is something satisfying about circles unjagged, soothing, going on forever. Arbor Low is impressive and mysterious and could be regarded as one of the earliest examples of architecture, in the sense that humans have deliberately placed stones in a certain order and made a lasting impression on the landscape.


In asking Michael Hopkins to design this circular factory at Hathersage, master cutler David Mellor set out to prove that it is possible to undertake manufacture in the countryside without wrecking the landscape. This is just the sort of factory we should be looking for in the 21st century.


The faces on the effigies of Thomas and Agnes Beresford are completely hidden because the heads on the two figures are shrouded. Some historians suggest this is because the sculptor had no record of the appearance of his subjects, but I prefer to believe that there was something haunted in the imagination of the stonemason. Each of the shrouded figures has the appearance of a chrysalis waiting to turn into a butterfly.


Pevsner is rather sniffy about the 19th-century restoration of this church, but we overdo criticism of the damaging hand of Victorian restoration. The Victorians may have been over-enthusiastic at times, but they saved much that would have been lost. The carving on the Anglo-Saxon Wirksworth Stone, which once covered a stone-built vault, is a great religious work of art with a series of carvings packed with incident like a strip cartoon.


Unlike some well-preserved country houses, Chatsworth has warmth, because it has always been kept in the family and is run as a family concern. Its many wonderful treasures include a superb marble sculpture by Antonio Canova, which was acquired by the 6th Duke for his sculpture gallery, and Deborah Devonshires collection of Elvis Presley memorabilia.


This great house features a fascinating contrast between the severe, classical north front and the softer, more curvaceous south front. As Pevsner says, the Great Hall is one of the most magnificent apartments in England, but the massive pillars look as if they were designed to support something much heavier than the light and airy ceiling above them.'

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