Approaching the town along the Chesterfield Road, the skyline is dominated by the impressive looking Bolsover Castle. William Peveril built the first castle on the site after being given the land by William the Conqueror. The Keep was added about 100 years later and, after a succession of owners, the castle came into the hands of the Talbot family, before it was leased in 1608, to Sir Charles Cavendish and sold to him five years later.
The castle by this time was in a state of almost complete disrepair, more of a fortified manor house than a castle; Sir Charles Cavendish rather surprisingly built a replica of the Norman Keep on the original footings. It was a descendant, Sir William Cavendish, later to become the Duke of Newcastle, who was responsible for rebuilding the family home at Bolsover Castle in the style of the times. An accomplished horseman, he built a superb Riding School within the castle walls.
At the end of the Second World War, the castle was again in a ruinous state and the owner, unable to afford the cost of restoration, and gave it to the nation. The castle was gradually restored and parts opened to the public. However, it was in the late 1990s, when a project was funded to revitalize the historic centre of the town and the castle, that the restoration work was completed and a new visitor centre and shop created.
Horses’ hooves can once again be heard as you walk through the Riding School, and ghosts mysteriously appear in the Little Castle to wish you farewell. All this together with the wonderful paintings, the vaulted chambers, the Venus Fountain Garden with what is said to be the ‘rudest fountain in the country’ and the outstandingly restored battlements, led to the award in 2001 of the ‘Heart of England Tourist Board Visitor Attraction of the Year’.
The main castle walls look out over the Vale of Scarsdale towards another impressive North Eastern Derbyshire landmark, Sutton Scarsdale Hall. Built in 1724, for the fourth Earl of Scarsdale, it is now in ruins. The M1 motorway, something of a modern intruder, divides the two, but with no easy exit point nearby, potential sight seekers tend to drive by to seek out other attractions.
All along the ridge on the southwestern side of the town, William Cavendish had a pipe laid to carry water from Springfield to Bolsover Castle. Four Conduit Houses were built spaced across the ridge and they may have provided security for maintenance workers as well as adding to the prestige of the castle's defensive capabilities. A track was laid connecting the conduits, which provides excellent views across the valley. From the town a short walk down Surprise View opens up a similarly wonderful vista.
The first church to be built in Bolsover in 656 was of Saxon origin and constructed of wood. Stone was first used in 1152. In 1897, and again in 1960, the church was gutted by fire, but the Cavendish Chapel added nearly 400 years ago survived. It has a finely carved wood and plaster ceiling and houses tombs of the Cavendish family. Further along High Street the former Presbyterian Church, now a private residence, was built nearly 350 years ago of local hand made bricks and is one of the oldest non-conformist churches in the county.
Bolsover was one of the first towns in Derbyshire to have a market charter, but once the traditional trades of buckle making and clay pipe manufacture faded, the town began to decline. The turning point came in 1891, when Emerson Bainbridge founded the Bolsover Colliery Company. He sank a pit to the west of the town and built a model village called New Bolsover to house colliery workers and their families. The houses were built in long rows on three sides of a spacious green, with a combined school and village hall. Larger houses were built for colliery officials and playing fields were constructed for recreation. A co-operative store was provided along with a comprehensive range of welfare facilities.
The Bolsover District Council and English Heritage carried out major refurbishment work in the 1990s and the whole of New Bolsover is now a conservation area. Under the Changing Places scheme the area that was once thick with coalmine workings, has been returned to nature with trails, viewing points and seating provided to enable local people and visitors to enjoy the peaceful surroundings and observe wildlife. The valley is considered to be of high ornithological importance and contains a wide range of wetland habitats. It is also of national significance as an important migratory route.
Outside the castle, the ‘old town’ has seen a substantial programme of improvements. The Market Place is particularly attractive, its row of limestone cottage shops restored by the Derbyshire Historic Building Trust, and the remains of the medieval market cross replaced by the War Memorial. On the site of the original town pump, the Civic Society installed a pump in 2002.
The White Swan on the main street is probably Bolsover’s oldest public house. It served as the Moot Hall until the early 19th century, where judgements were passed on alleged wrong doers. Middle Street was lined with houses tightly packed into the space available until the 1960s, when the houses were demolished to make way for a car park and covered market. The re-development fits well into the general pattern of things; even the town centre car park is quite attractive particularly as it is free! Built in the mid-1970s the library, with its steeply pitched pantile roof, blends in successfully with the other buildings in the centre of the town.
At the rear of Sherwood Lodge, built for a director of the Bolsover Colliery Company, parts of the town’s intrenchments are clearly visible and run as far as Dykes Close. The intrenchment would have encircled the settlement and may date back to the Iron Age. Ahead is an open space referred to as Kitchin Croft, named after a local clay pipe maker. Here pieces of clay pipes have been found, called fairy pipes, which according to legend were used by fairies under the earth! Archaeological excavations in the grounds of Sherwood Lodge have provided evidence of Roman occupation of the town, with remains of Roman pottery and a beehive quern being discovered.
You can travel in style by vintage coach round the local attractions during the summer. Groups of enthusiasts have lovingly restored a 1948 Bedford ‘OB’ Duple, which spent its early working life in Dundee and lay in a shed for many years. The old world atmosphere on the coach is complemented by period music, and passengers can use the coach all day, hopping on and off to visit attractions of their choice. The income derived from the venture is intended to pay for the restoration of another vehicle and eventually a museum.
Well Dressings are held annually in the town at the end of August. Bolsover Castle holds many open-air events including battle re-enactments, opera concerts, a children’s festival in July, and recently a Food and Drink Fair. Some of the best tasting food in the British Isles is on display in Station Road at Jaquest who have won several gold awards and numerous silver and bronze, which are recognised as the food industries equivalent of Oscars.
One of the most famous names associated with Bolsover in the latter half of the twentieth century has been its controversial socialist MP, Dennis Skinner. It has produced its own sporting heroes and Stanley Worthington, remains the only Derbyshire born player to score a test century for England.
Another Bolsover man to have achieved fame was Peter Fidler. Born of a farming family, at 18 years of age he signed up for the Hudson Bay Company in Canada as a labourer. He became an architect, meteorologist and ship builder and was the company’s Chief Surveyor and mapmaker. Highly regarded and respected in North America, he is commemorated by Canadian place names and numerous memorials, including a giant 32-foot high redwood statue. He learned to speak the native language and married a Cree Indian who bore him 14 children. On a brief return to Bolsover in 1812, he built his mother a home that later became a public house called The Hudson Bay, beerhouse.
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PLACES OF SPECIAL INTEREST IN THE AREA
Bolsover Castle, (Tel. 01246 822844) an award winning attraction that provides a romantic example of a Cavalier’s pleasure palace. Under the control of English Heritage, there is a shop a spacious café. For further information website: www.english-heritage.org.uk
Hardwick Hall (Tel 01246 850430) one of the greatest Elizabethan houses, which survives almost unchanged. It holds one of the best collections of tapestries in Europe, in the impressive Long Gallery. Please telephone for details or visit website.
Creswell Crags (Tel 01909 720378) world famous archaeological site with limestone gorge, caves and a lake. Home of Neanderthal hunters, 40,000 years ago. Please telephone for details or visit website.
The Hudson Bay Beerhouse, originally built by Peter Fidler the famous North American pioneer and surveyor for his mother, it has now been converted into a very modern and tasteful public house. Seating available outside with excellent views. Food lunchtime and evenings (tel 01246 828300).
Bolsover Castle Tearooms combined with the shop, provide a pleasant area to relax and take tea and light refreshment. Seating available outside. Opening times are the same as for the Castle (tel 01246 822844).
THE DISCOVER DERBYSHIRE AND THE PEAK DISTRICT GUIDE
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An invigorating walk through attractive open countryside, between Bolsover Castle and Sutton Scarsdale Hall, which are the two most prominent landmarks in this part of North East Derbyshire.
The route descends steeply from the Castle to New Bolsover, built during the 1890s as a ‘Model’ mining village; it has undergone a major refurbishment in recent years.
Sutton Scarsdale Hall, once one of Derbyshire’s finest houses now lies in ruins. The house was built for the first Lord Scarsdale, who is supposed to have been the model for the old peer in Hogarth’s ‘The Rake’s Progress’. A later owner was thought to have been the person that Sir Clifford Chatterley in D H Lawrence’s novel ‘Lady Chatterley’ was modelled on.
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