Landmark Publishing, Ashbourne, Derbyshire
PUBLISHED: 12:25 18 March 2011 | UPDATED: 15:02 20 February 2013
Mike Smith talks to the Ashbourne-based publisher of local history books and travel guides.
Lindsey Porter is celebrating two remarkable achievements. As a writer, he has just penned his 40th book, which is a carefully researched account of some of the Peak District's lost buildings, from grand country houses to humble tea rooms. As a publisher of local history books and travel guides, he has issued his 1,000th title, a new edition of the Landmark Guide to the Vende.
Lindsey's lifelong interest in local history and topography began in his schooldays and was sparked by a trip made with his uncle to the Manifold Valley, where he was shown the remains of the Ecton copper mine. Amazed to discover the existence of a rich vein of copper in an area normally associated with lead mining, he immediately set about researching the history of the mine and even produced a 30,000 word monograph on the subject.
Although this ambitious schoolboy treatise was never published, it was an indicator of things to come. Over the next ten years, Lindsey pursued his interest in the industrial heritage of the Manifold Valley, but put on hold his plans to convert his embryonic first book into a fully fledged published work so that he could concentrate on his job as a chartered surveyor with the Inland Revenue. In 1972, his literary aspirations were finally realised when he teamed up with John Robey to write an account of the copper and lead mines that once operated in the Manifold Valley.
Having published his own book, Lindsey felt that there were many other accounts by enthusiastic and knowledgeable local historians that deserved to see the light of day. With this end in mind, he gave up his work as a chartered surveyor and, in partnership with John Robey, established a company called Moorland Publishing, which was launched with a double mission: 'to provide opportunities to previously unpublished authors and to produce good quality books that would give readers an opportunity to learn more about their area'.
One of Moorland's earliest publications was Peakland Roads and Trackways, a study of the Peak's prehistoric tracks and ancient highways, written as a retirement project by the husband and wife team of Arthur and Molly Dodd. Lindsey says: 'Thanks to a meticulously researched text, their book has not only become an inspiration for budding local authors, but has also acquired the status of a classic. In fact, since it went out of print, the demand for "Dodd and Dodd" in second-hand bookshops has been so great that it has now been republished.'
As well as producing books about the Peak District, Lindsey's company published walking guides to the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales for the Youth Hostels Association. His involvement with the YHA began in 1963, when he signed up as a volunteer. Nineteen years later, he became National Vice Chairman; he is still on the board of the organisation and one of his landscape photographs is currently used as the illustration on their credit card.
Lindsey had realised from the outset of his publishing venture that he would be placing himself 'at the risk end of business', and disaster duly struck in 1996, when WH Smith removed all Moorland's books from their shops after running into financial difficulties. With one third of its businesses disappearing overnight, Moorland could not survive. However, Lindsey was determined to carry on publishing. No sooner had his first company been laid to rest than a new publishing house grew out of the ashes.
Despite the fiercely competitive nature of the book trade, this second venture, which is known as Landmark Publishing, has operated successfully for 11 years. The company now has its offices at Ashbourne Hall, a suitably historic building where Bonnie Prince Charlie spent the night in 1745, immediately before his army's unsuccessful march on Derby, which finally forced him to abandon his attempt to seize the English Crown.
Since 1982, the publication lists of Moorland and Landmark have been dominated by colourful, well illustrated and informative travel guides to destinations far and wide, but Landmark's portfolio still includes a good number of local history titles, which now cover many different regions of Britain. For example, Cromer's lifeboats and the lighthouses of England and Wales are the subjects of two recent publications.
Two other current titles, a history of Ffestiniog's narrow gauge steam railway and Colours of the Cut, a book about narrow boats, are both superbly illustrated with Edward Paget-Tomlinson's paintings, which Lindsey first discovered on the wall of a pub in Shardlow. In typical fashion, he became enthused by the colourful pictures, which show a strict adherence to scale, and decided that he would love to produce books based around them. After 35 years in publishing, Lindsey has lost none of his passion for producing beautiful books.
His love of the Peak District also remains undiminished. His own Visitors' Guide to the Peak District has been through many up-dates over the years and his Spirit of Ashbourne, which was produced to mark the Millennium and traced the story of the town in the 20th century through 500 archive photographs, was the first of several similar Landmark publications that cover places throughout the Peak District and beyond.
Lindsey has a particular fascination with Ashbourne's traditional Shrovetide football match, which he believes is 'as much a part of our heritage as an old building'. His interest in the annual sporting rough-and-tumble has led him to research the history of similar events nationwide. Relating some of his findings with characteristic enthusiasm, he told me, 'Chester's mayor put a stop to that city's annual free-for-all in 1530, replacing it with horse racing, and the current practice of calling football matches between local teams "derby matches" has its origins in Shrovetide football in the city of Derby.'
Lindsey speaks with obvious pride about two of Landmark's most recent publications: the Dowager Duchess' biography of the eleventh Duke of Devonshire, which was launched at Chatsworth in November, and Eric Wood's history of the landscape of the south-west Peak District, which he believes could become a classic in the mould of 'Dodd and Dodd'.
His own current researches are centred on Georgian Hartington, particularly the role played in the area by John Heaton, the fifth Duke's agent. Lindsey says, 'I still get a tremendous buzz out of unearthing facts and using them to interpret history - it's like playing detective.' Fittingly, discoveries from his present investigation include new revelations about the proceeds from the Ecton copper mine, the very place where his enduring fascination with local history began more than 40 years ago.