The small town of Chapel-en-le-Frith is situated on a high ridge surrounded by hills, six miles to the north of Buxton, close to the border with Cheshire. It does not enjoy the best of reputations with those drivers from the industrial towns of the northwest who, when visiting the Peak District for the day, did stop in the town - not to look round or take refreshment; but because they were stuck in a traffic jam. Fortunately, in 1987 a by-pass was opened that took much of the traffic away from the centre of the town.
For those who turn off by the King’s Arms at the top of the town, they will be delighted. The eye-catching cobbled Market Place rises up from the main street, standing 776 feet above sea level, with a market cross, stocks and a number of colourful old inns setting the scene.
Originally known as Bowden, the town derives its present name from a Chapel of Ease, built in a clearing in the Royal Forest in the early 13th century; ‘Frith’ being the Norman French word for forest. A grant of the land to build the chapel was obtained, when according to the records the inhabitants of Bowden ‘had become so numerous’ as to make the building of a chapel desirable. The foresters cleared the land and built the chapel dedicating it to the martyred Thomas `a Becket.
The present church stands on the same site as the original and is the result of many frequent restorations. Over the doorway is a declining wall sundial; rectangular in shape it is set on a stone tablet rising above the porch. At the eastern end of the churchyard a gravestone displaying the carving of an axe and the initials P.L., is known as the Woodcutter’s grave, and if it marks the last resting place of a 13th century forester, it may be the oldest in the country. Nearby encircled by iron rails is a horizontal sundial about five feet in height. Inside the church, there are some fine box pews, Flemish-style chandeliers, a 13th century stone coffin and several memorials.
The Bagshawe family figure prominently amongst the memorials, the most famous, William Bagshawe who was a well-known evangelist, acknowledged as ‘the Apostle of the Peak’. After the Restoration of Charles II, Bagshaw was ejected from the ministry at Glossop for refusing to conform to the Book of Common Prayer. This did not stop him from continuing his ministry in less accessible parts of the Peak and chapels were built for him. He lived within half a mile of the town and despite warrants being issued for his arrest they were never enforced.
A great scandal occurred in 1648, when Cromwell’s men locked up in the church about 1500 prisoners of the Scottish Army who had fought at the Battle of Ribbleton Moor. The conditions were appalling, few could even lie down because of the overcrowding and they were left there for 16 days before being released. No fewer than 44 died during this period and another 10 were too weak to survive the forced march back to Scotland. The dead were buried in the churchyard and after that the church became known as ‘Derbyshire’s Black Hole’.
Human life in the area goes back over 3000 years, Bronze Age burial mounds and earthworks have been found nearby. The Romans made little impact and all that can be traced is a Roman Road. For many years, the area was a Royal Forest, where several small communities huddled together for protection. The forest itself never really existed in the truest sense of the word except to provide the basis of the vast Norman hunting preserve. In the main, the area was made up, as it is today, of open space rather than woodland.
The strategic location of Chapel enabled it to grow quickly and become one of the centres of power in the Royal Forest of the Peak. At a much later period in its history, the arrival of the Midland Railway gave the town a further boost with the London to Manchester connection. All that remains today is the Manchester to Buxton line.
On the southwest side of the church is the town’s most attractive feature the cobbled Market Place, where the cattle market was once held. An open-air market now takes place there every Thursday.
In the Ye Olde Stocks Café, is a mural by Claire Taylor illustrating a market day in 1897. The large number of pubs surrounding the Market Place dates back to the time when Chapel-en-le-Frith was a market town and convenient stopping point for travellers. Apart from the fine old Market Cross and the town stocks probably dating from the Cromwellian period, a horse trough commemorating Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee is prominently sited in the Market Place. Among all the numerous objects to be found in Derbyshire that celebrate the Diamond Jubilee, this is one of the most practical.
The War Memorial not only records those men who died during the First World War, but all 599 who served. In 1994, the local council added a tribute to all those people who served in the Second World War.
Church Brow, a steep, cobbled street leads off the Market Street. It is lined with attractive little cottages that no architect ever planned, but that fit together in picture postcard fashion. It has been likened to Gold Hill, in Shaftesbury, the small hilltop town in Dorset on which Hovis based a successful advertising campaign. Vehicles descending to High Street risk running out of control – unless they have good brakes – something for which the town is justifiably famous.
Chapel-en-le-Frith has played an important role in the development of the automobile, with the massive Ferodo works to the west of the town-bearing testament to that fact. Local man Herbert Frood first developed a brake block for horse drawn carts, before just over a century ago turning his attention to mechanical vehicles. He invented a brake lining for buses and with the steady increase in the number of vehicles on the roads, he provided brakes for vehicles as well and his business rapidly prospered. The Ferodo works now produce vast quantities of brake linings for vehicles all over the world.
The King’s Arms was a regular stopping place on the Buxton to Manchester Turnpike. In days when licensing laws were much stricter, The Roebuck had special dispensation to remain open until 4pm on Market Days, for the benefit of farmers, cattle dealers and their men. The Royal Oak, where the Magistrates’ Court was once held, and the Dog Inn also continue to trade out of the large number of pubs that at one time clustered around the centre of the town. A carved bull’s head over the doorway of one large house rather gives the game away as to where the old Bull’s Head public house was sited.
On Market Street, the building with a stone staircase at the side is the Hearse House, where the parish hearse was kept available for hire to anyone able to provide the horse. The Town Hall and Library is often mistaken for a church, which its design seems to try to imitate. The Primitive Methodist Chapel of 1852 is no longer used for the purpose it was intended.
Chapel-en-le-Frith Carnival takes place annually on the first Saturday in July, when the streets are colourfully garlanded, shopkeepers decorate their windows and a procession takes place through the streets. At the same time, the town holds its Well Dressings. Another form of entertainment is provided at the Playhouse Theatre, formerly a cinema, where the Chapel Amateur Players perform.
www.derbyshire-peakdistrict.co.uk is an independent, not for profit website.
No recommendation of any establishment is implied by inclusion on this website.
PLACES OF SPECIAL INTEREST IN THE AREA
THE DISCOVER DERBYSHIRE AND THE PEAK DISTRICT GUIDE
Provides a wide range of features with heritage trails and detailed countryside walks, through some of the most scenically attractive countryside in the UK.
1. To return to the main site click the link below.
2. To return to the contents page of the main website click the link below.
A special new sub-section has been added to this website, based on the Discover Derby Supplement, published by the Derby Evening Telegraph during March 2005. The most recent additions are:
Click below for details.
This is a delightful scenic walk, in a peaceful corner of North West Derbyshire between Chapel-en-le-Frith and Whaley Bridge.
The walk starts from the Combs Reservoir car park and follows the banks of the reservoir, before going through a series of fields and along a country lane to the charming little village of Combs.
After leaving Combs the walk climbs up the hillside near to Bankhall Farm, before descending slowly towards the railway line below. This section of the route provides fine views over Combs Reservoir towards Manchester and in the other direction, the cliffs of Combs Edge.
All details on this page were correct at the time of publication, but changes may be made without notification.