Derbyshire boasts some of the greatest arts and heritage attractions in the country. You will already be familiar with many of the places named here, but we’ll walk you through the county with a sample of the places to visit for amazing cultural experiences. We’re publishing this article in March, which is the time a lot of the stately homes mentioned in this article open their doors to welcome the new season. We’ve compiled opening times for each of the venues mentioned here for an ‘at-a-glance’ guide to what’s on offer.
The North and Northwest
Starting in the North West tip of the County is the town of New Mills which has a Heritage Centre that tells the ‘New Mills Story’. It includes a model of the town in 1884, the year the high level bridge over the Torrs was built; a small library focused on New Mills’ industrial heritage; and details of walks that can be taken from the Heritage Centre.
A little further south is the roman spa town of Aquae Arnemetiae – better known to us these days as Buxton. To be found here are many attractions such as Poole’s Cavern, the Pavillion Gardens and Serpentine Walk and the magnificent Georgian Crescentwhich still displays clues to Buxton’s spa town past. You can pick up a copy of the Buxton history trail from the Tourist Information Office. Buxton is also home to the Buxton Museum & Art Gallery which is a treasure trove of Derbyshire related geological, archaeological and historical artefacts as well as the venue for several art exhibitions through the year.
Pictured above: Buxton Opera House. Photograph supplied courtesy of Deborah Porter
Buxton Opera House is a 900 seat opera house that has a wide ranging programme of arts and cultural events and a 19th century building which is simply stunning. The big highlights on its cultural calendar each year are the Buxton Festival and the Buxton Fringe Festival and the International Gilbert & Sullivan Festival hosted in the summer there each year.
To the west of Buxton high in the moorland is the wildly remote feeling Lyme Hall. A Tudor house originally, that was transformed into an Italianate palace by the architect Leoni. Filled with beautiful objects such as Grinling Gibbons wood carving, Mortlake tapestries, historical portraits and the rare Lyme Caxton Missal. It was also used as the backdrop in Pride and Prejudice (1995 TV series) where Darcy (Colin Firth) emerges from the lake. Granted to Thomas Danyers in 1346 for his services to the Black Prince, Lyme Park was gifted to the National Trust in 1946.
North east from Buxton are the imposing ruins of Peveril Castle standing above the town of Castleton. The castle is one of the earliest Norman fortresses and visitors who climb up to the top of the hill where the castle sits are rewarded with sweeping views of the Hope Valley.
East from here is North Lees Hall that stands underneath the gritstone crags of Stanage Edge. The estate has been the film location for many visiting cast and crew members including The Other Boleyn Girl (2008 film) and Jane Eyre (2006 BBC TV series). Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre has close associations with North Lees and the small town of Hathersage below. The Hall is reputed to be the inspiration for Thornfield Hall in the book and Bronte visited North Lees just before writing her novel.
Hathersage Churchyard contains a 3 and a half metre mound that is reputed to be the grave that contains the remains of Little John. The grave has been in existence since at least 1685, and when excavated in the 1700s was found to contain a huge thighbone measuring 75 centimetres long.
Moving further east again we find Staveley Hall near Chesterfield. Owned by Staveley Town Council, it is the base for Staveley History Society. The SHS hold history events and guided tours throughout the year.
Chesterfield has the landmark ‘Crooked Spire’ of Chesterfield Church. Not as some folklore might have it , from being struck by lightning, the wrath of the devil or because of the marriage of a virgin in the church, but a warping of green timber used in its construction and a lack of skill on the part of the workers who constructed it. Visitors can take guided tours of the ‘Crooked Spire’ Church during the Chesterfield Arts and Market Festival in October each year and the Lantern Parade of this festival starts from the Churchyard and weaves its way through the town to the Garden of Light.
Visitors to Chesterfield can also learn the story of the town at Chesterfield Museum and Art Gallery from its origins as a Roman fort through to its present day incarnation.
Railway enthusiasts can visit Barrow Hill Roundhouse Railway Centre near Chesterfield which is the last operational railway roundhouse in the country. There is a changing display of steam, electric and diesel trains and visitors can also take a short ride on the short passenger line at the Centre's open day events.
A little further north from Chesterfield towards Sheffield is Renishaw Hall. Opening to the public for the first time in 2010, guided tours take place every Friday at 2pm. It has played host to the Antiques Roadshow, and was used in the 1995 TV adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. It boasts a vineyard, with wines available for tasting in the cafe and purchase in the gift shop; extensive Italianate gardens containing a children’s Fairy Trail and the Sitwell family’s sculpture collection; and the orangery homes The National Collection of Yuccas.
Pictured above: A detail from a ceiling in Bolsover Castle. Photograph supplied by Robert Steadman
South from Renishaw Hall is Bolsover Castle which dominates the landscape view from its hilltop as you approach from the west. Built by the Peverel family in the 12th century, it was purchased in a state of neglect by Sir George Talbot and then moved into the hands of Charles Cavendish in 1608. The Cavendish’s are responsible for rebuilding and adding to the castle that can be seen there today. Visitors can wander around the Venus Gardens, with hidden love seats or explore the indoor Riding House where the Duke of Newcastle trained his horses; the ‘ Little Castle’ is a favourite with children.
North of Bolsover Castle is Barlborough in Chesterfield, home to Barlborough Hall, a Grade I listed building from the sixteenth century. Originally built as a family seat to the Rodes, famous architect Robert Smythson is thought to have created the Elizabethan design of the hall. The hall became a Catholic Jesuit school in the late 1930s, and is still a school today, now the Preparatory school for Mount St Mary's College at Spinkhill.
Also in the Bolsover area, in this ex-mining area of the county, is Creswell Crags. The limestone crags and cave systems are a unique geological feature and the site is a designated SSSI, a Scheduled Ancient Monument, a Conservation Area, part of an Area of Local Landscape Significance and a registered Park and Garden. The site is also home to the only known Ice Age Cave Art.
Found at the site by the Victorians were many artefacts that can be seen on display at the newly updated visitor centre. These artefacts include Ice Age and Stone Age art, and many bones including those of hyenas that once took shelter in the caves there. The road that used to run difrectly underneath the foot of the crags has now been re-rerouted and the old road turned into a pedestrian walkway. On a sunny day it makes a very pleasant walk. Open year round, it is well worth a visit.
Pictured above right: Creswell Crags Aerial Photograph.
Photograph supplied by Carole Crompton
The millions of travelers who pass by on the M1 will recognize Hardwick Hall. It is a magnificent statement of the wealth and authority of its builder, Bess of Hardwick. Designed by Robert Smythson, the house is remarkable for being almost unchanged since Bess lived here and is the venue for popular outdoor concerts and performances.
Pictured above: Hardwick Hall. Photograph supplied by Sharon Stevens-Cash
The beautiful, historic village of Eyam is in the Derbyshire Peak National Park in England. This was the setting of the Plague’s most devasting visitation to the county in 1665/6. The village is steeped in the historical importance of this event on its community and the sacrifices it made to save others in the North of England. Eyam Museum records and preserves the events of that year. Also in Eyam is Eyam Hall - a fine example of a Jacobean manor house with a 17th century garden. Summer season tours take place on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Sundays and Bank Holiday Mondays throughout July and August.
Tideswell Church can be found a little to the west of Eyam Village. Known as the 'Cathedral of the Peak' due to its historic beauty, this church was built around 1320, built all around the same period but encompassing a number of architectural styles including the Late Gothic style and the Perpendicular style. The tomb of Sir Samson Meverill lies in the centre of the Chancel, a local knight who is thought to have fought at Agincourt and again later against Joan of Arc, trying to regain England's grip on France.
At Ashford in the Water is the 12th century Thornbridge Hall, which is a private stately home that is available for hire as a venue for events and the gardens are opened as a part of the National Gardens Scheme.
Nearby is the town of Bakewell, home of the Peak District National Parkadministrative headquarters and that is a town typified by its local sandstone architecture. A walk around the town will lead you to treasures such as the Rutland Arms Hotel that bears the coat of arms of the Duke of Rutland above its entrance – and is where Jane Austen stayed just before commencing writing of Pride and Prejudice.
Also within Bakewell is the Bakewell Old House Museum, which tells the story of Bakewell’s industrial history and has displays that include a rare Tudor toilet and a Victorian privy. Bakewell is also the home of the original Bakewell Pudding, which bears virtually no resemblance to Mr Kipling’s cakes, and is more like an egg custard.
A short distance down the A6 from Bakewell towards Chatsworth is Haddon Hall, the present-day home of the Manners family. It is a beautiful fortified medieval manor house dating from the 12th Century that has featured in many films and TV programmes including Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre.
Cauldwell’s Mill at Rowsley on the River Wye near to its confluence with the River Derwent. It is the only remaining, complete Victorian water turbine powered roller mill. Built and run as a family business for over a hundred years by the Cauldwell family the working mill museum complex is now home to artists and workshops, gift stores and a cafe.
Just around the corner in the Derwent Valley, is Chatsworth House and Gardenswhich is home to the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire. The 2008 film release of The Duchess was based on Georgiana, the 5th Duchess of Devonshire who was brought to life by Keira Knightly. The film was shot partly on location at Chatsworth, with the house playing itself in Georgiana’s story. Chatsworth has also been the film location for other films such as the 2005 release of Pride and Prejudice and 2009’s The Wolfmanstarring Benecio del Toro.
There is plenty for the whole family to do at Chatsworth the year round. Walkers can wander the many footpaths through the Park, children can visit and handle animals in The Farmyard and adults can enjoy markets, fairs and concerts at events held throughout the year. The extensive landscaped Gardens attached to the house are the venue to the annual autumn ‘Beyond Limits’ exhibition, and the House is packed with arts from throughout the centuries.
Continuing our journey down the A6 and through Darley Dale we find the Red House Stables Working Carriage Museum. It has an impressive collection of original horse drawn carriages and vehicles including a rare Hansome Cab, a Stage Coach and a Royal Mail Coach.
Nearby Wirksworth bears the scars of its industrial heritage, which you can learn more about at the Wirksworth Heritage Centre. The town itself is a maze of footpaths and alleyways, narrow streets, small courtyards and ginnels – with some healthy hills to climb thrown in for good measure. The town has strong links with George Eliot, who’s aunt and uncle (Samuel Evans and his wife Elizabeth) lived in what is now referred to as Adam Bede cottage. Samuel became Adam Bede in Eliot’s novel by the same name and Elizabeth was portrayed as Dinah Morris. Wirksworth literally throws open its doors in September each year when residents allow their homes to be turned into galleries for the Wirksworth Festival Arts & Architecture trail. The Festival itself grows in size and momentum each year and thousands flock to the town to take in its carnival atmosphere.
Take a look at our special feature article on County Hall in Matlock which is a feature of the landscape that anyone who has ever visited Matlock will recognise. It's spent it's time as a hospital, a hydro hotel, a military school of intelligence and latterly, as admin HQ for Derbyshire County Council.
Nearby in Riber there are two spots of interest. Riber Castle dates back from the nineteenth century and overlooks Matlock. Built by John Smedley in 1862 as his private home, it is built of local grit stone, which was pulled up 200 metres using pulleys. Over the years the castle has been home to a boys' school until the 1930s and after this it was used by the Ministry of Defence for storage for a short while. It was left unused after this until the 1960s, when it became reincarnated as Riber Castle Wildlife Parkuntil it closed in September 2000 amid some controversy over the way the animals were kept and then later sold on. While it was still open, some animal rights activists released a number of lynx from the zoo, leading to sightings of "The Beast of Lumsdale". It has since fallen into disrepair, although planning permisson was given in 2006 for what is left of castle to be renovated into apartments. Along with the town of Matlock, the castle was a key shooting location for the Shane Meadows film Dead Man's Shoes.
Right next to the castle is Riber Hall, which has had a long and colourful existence from the 1400s until today, and home to a number of historically important figures, including the last of the Riber household Anthony, who is known for writing a ninety volume history of England, unpublished in his lifetime but can now be found in the British Museum. Visiting this building is an architectural walk through time, since every century has seen an extension to the hall. Much later the hall was occupied by the Gregorys and it became a guest house before the Second World War, and Boots Chemists founder Jesse Boots is known to have stayed at the hall on a number of occasions. The place became derelict after the war until the 1970s when the Biggin family renovated it into a hotel and restaurant. It has served this purpose ever since, although very recently in February 2010 it was closed unexpectedly, and the future of the hall is now unclear.
From many hilltops in the surrounding countryside Crich Stand can be seen. It is a memorial to fallen soldiers from the Sherwood Foresters regiment. From the stand, five counties can be seen on a clear day and the geography of Derbyshire can be seen from the industrial flatlands of the east to the peaks and moorlands in the west and north. Also here is the Crich Tramway Museum. The museum has working displays of a variety of trams, which are great fun for old and young alike. It also is home to the old façade of the Derby Assembly Rooms, which was otherwise destroyed by fire in the 1970s. There is also an arts trail through its parkland.
East and South
In the industrial flatlands to the east of Derbyshire is Eastwood, which is actually just over the border in Nottinghamshire. Eastwood is the birthplace and spiritual home of D H Lawrence. Proud of his roots, his birthplace is now a museum – The D H Lawrence Birthplace Museum. 8a Victoria Street has been converted back to how it would’ve looked when Lawrence lived there as a child. The Durban House Heritage Centre introduces the visitor to Lawrence’s early influences and also houses exhibitions and displays of contemporary art works. A trail takes Lawrence enthusiasts through the streets of Eastwood to connect Lawrence related sites around the town.
Pictured right: D H Lawrence bust. photographer Robert Steadman
We've pulled together two special articles on two of the biggest towns in Amber Valley, those of Alfreton and Belper. Find out more about the geography, buildings and people of interest in those two by clicking the links.
In and around Ripley there are numerous places of historical interest, including Codnor Castle, a thirteenth century ruin that was a stone keep established by William Peverel after the Norman conquest. William Peverel is thought to have been the illegitimate son of William I by his mistress but took the name of Peverel from his stepfather. He is listed in the Domesday Book as having several large holdings in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, as well as elsewhere in Britain. The castle overlooks Erewash valley, and although it is now fenced off from the public, good views of the ruins are still available from nearby public footpaths. The area is still very interesting historically however, as Channel 4's archaeological television show Time Team proved when they did a dig around the castle in June 2007.
Nearby there is also Butterley Hall, which is an eighteenth century house originally built for the Home family but later occupied by Benjamin Outram, who founded the Butterley Company. The hall has belonged to a number of interesting people over the years, including William Jessop, the High Sheriff of Derbyshire in 1878, and these days houses the Derbyshire Constabulary. It has been a Grade II listed building since 25th May 1988.
To the West of Ripley in Heage, the Heage Windmill can be found and visited, and is actually the only working, stone-towered, multi-sailed windmill in England. Another Grade II listed building, there are guided tours and flour can be bought from the mill. There are also beautiful views across the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site. Below is a video of the windmill courtesy of the Heage Windmill Society, which is part of their virtual tour on their website giving an idea of how picturesque the windmill is. Of course, the full extent of the experience can only be had by a physical visit to the windmill. As well as this, the society run an Art Challenge Weekend each year, which is going to be held on the 20th June this year. Artists come to paint the windmill in their own preferred style and from their own preferred angle, and the results are judged.
South of Ripley, Denby Pottery is situated. The pottery is still in big business today with worldwide trade of its tableware, cookware and decorative pottery, and many old designs are collectible items. There is a visitor centre and tours of the factory and a small museum displays examples in the pottery’s 200 year history.
All the way down the Derwent Valley you will find the various Derwent Valley Mills Heritage sites that are linked by waterway and take in Masson Mills, Cromford Milland Wharf, Leawood Pump House and North Mill before moving on towards Derby with Darley Abbey Mills and the Silk Mill being the southern boundary of this World Heritage Site.
Derby is home to Markeaton Park. With more than 207 acres of parkland and the host of many events in the year including the The Big Draw and an annual bonfire and fireworks display, it attracts over 1 million visitors a year. This makes it the most popular park in the East Midlands! There is a Craft Villagesituated in the centre of the Park between the duck pond bridge and the tea rooms. It is within the old stable yard at the rear of the Orangery and was opened in 1987. There are a number of small craft workshops and businesses where hand made goods may be purchased. There are also activities and events held here during the summer months.
Derby Cathedral - more properly known as The Cathedral of the All Saints - is the seat of the Bishop of Derby and is also the smallest Anglican cathedral in England. It sits near to the Silk Mill and is the host for many music events, recitals, festivals and exhibitions, though it is more recently better known for its resident peregrine falcons!
A short walk from the Cathedral down Irongate, to the end of Sadlergate, and down the Strand is Derby Museum and Art Gallery which is the natural home of Joseph Wright of Derby. This collection, in part or in whole, spends a great deal of its time touring the UK and the World. The Museum also displays a large collection of porcelain from the surrounding area.
Further down Friargate at number 41 is Pickford’s House Museum. It is an elegant Georgian town house built by architect Joseph Pickford in 1770 to home his own family. The museum shows the accommodation of a late Georgian professional and has displays of eighteenth and nineteenth century costume. Other places of significance to the history and economy of Derby are Royal Crown Derby and Rolls Royce who employ many people from the region.
Pictured above: Derby Cathedral. Photograph supplied by Sharon Stevens-Cash
Continuing south from Derby you will find Alvaston Park, Elvaston Castle Country Park and Shardlow Heritage Centre sitting in the southern-most reaches of the Derwent Valley Heritage Way. The Shardlow Heritage Centre is housed in old canal warehouses and has displays relating to the canal port in which the Centre is housed, including a full size replica of a narrow boat back cabin, the village of Shardlow and rural crafts and industry displays.
A little further south towards Burton-on-Trent is Repton Priory, the site of a monastery that is supposed to have been founded as far back as around the year 600. In historical records the priory is mentioned as being famous; King Sigebert's brother Cynehard is recorded to have been buried at Repton, as well as numerous other important ancient figures. Adding to the illustrious history of the priory, Repton was the centre of Christianity's beginnings in 653 AD. Four priests came from Northumbria with a mission to convert the royal family of Mercia, who were pagans at the time, to Christianity.
Just south of Repton Priory is where the famous Bretby Cedar tree grew for centuries since around 1676 before its demise in 1954. It was believed to have been the oldest of its kind. An intriguing legend surrounds the tree, that because Lady Margaret Chesterfield jumped from one of the towers and died there, spilling her blood, that whoever cut down the tree would be burdened by bad luck. The tree, though now long gone, still adorns the banner of Bretby Lodge, on which you can see the chains that fasten the branches of the tree to the trunk, recalling the legend that every time a branch of the tree fell, this would bring death to the head of the House of Chesterfield.
Moving back north and to the west of Derby is Kedleston Hall which is a spectacular 18th-century mansion with Adam interiors, a pleasure ground and parkland. Some scenes from The Duchess were filmed here also.
South from here is Sudbury Hall and the National Trust’s Museum of Childhood. Sudbury Hall is a late 17th-century house with sumptuous interiors that have been featured in the BBC's Pride and Prejudice. The Museum of Childhood, gives you a fresh look at childhood with eight new galleries which introduce you to toys from the past and to bygone eras of ‘play’.
The National Trust owned Calke Abbey is a baroque mansion within the grounds of 600 acre Calke Park. The abbey itself is preserved in a state of neglect, evoking a period when ‘ impoverished aristocracy’ struggled to maintain their inheritances. It is host to many arts and heritage themed events throughout the year and houses a huge collection of artworks, antiques and interesting artifacts.
Ashbourne is perhaps best known for its Shrovetide Football event held on Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday each year between two teams called the Up'Ards and the Down'Ards. It is a custom that has lived on for over 8 centuries, but to the outside observer may look no more than a giant scrum of hundreds of people. The two goal posts are 3 miles apart, one at Sturston Mill and the other at Clifton Mill. The winning team are the ones who score the most ‘goals’ over the two day game. Goals are scored by repeated hits of the ball against millstones at each mill ‘goalpost’ .
On a more cerebral level, Ashbourne celebrates with its own arts festival each year, and the streets are a pretty wander year-round.
Near to the town of Ashbourne is Dovedale with its iconic stepping stones and unusual rock formations with names such as the Twelve Apostles and Tissington Spires. Nearby are the Izzak Walton Hotel, named to commemorate The Compleat Anglerauthor’s close fishing associations with the River Dove that cleaves Dovedale; and Ilam Hall, which is a Victorian Gothic mansion that is now a Youth Hostel. Dovedale also has literary associations with Charles Cotton, author of The Wonders of the Peake, whose depiction of the dale helped build its reputation as an idyllic place to visit.
A little further north is Tissington Hall - in the FitzHerbert family since the 1460’s though the current house dates from 1609. The Jacobean mansion is near to a village with a duck pond and village green. Open days are held throughout the year and there is a tearoom open daily through the summer for refreshments on your visit. It markets itself as a perfect venue for filming, and there have been some high-profile television shows and films made here, from Peak Practice in 1997, Antiques Roadshow in 1998, a BBC adaptation of Jane Eyre in 2006 and The Duchess in 2007. Most Haunted also filmed an episode here in 2005.
The National Forest covers a large tranche of Southern Derbyshire which is home to the Rosliston Forestry Centre. A very large proportion of the Derbyshire Dales and High Peak are also within the Peak District National Park. It was the first National Park to be established in the UK in 1951 and is home to over 38,000 people. It is also thought to be the second busiest National Park in the world, attracting an estimated 22 million visitors a year.
Derbyshire is also well-known for its Well Dressings across the County. The ritual of dressing the wells dates back hundreds of years and is thought to have originated in Derbyshire.
Check out our round up of opening times for each of the venues mentioned here
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Many thanks to Deborah Porter, Sharon Stevens-Cash, Carole Crompton, Bygonederbyshire, Peak and Fell Walking, The Derby Local Studies Library and Robert Steadman for picture contributions to this series.
Source materials for this article