Crich, a town no longer, is a large sprawling village lying in a sheltered position in a hollow, on a hillside high up above the Derwent Valley. It is a fascinating, if unusual village. It has a lighthouse, yet is situated in the middle of England, and trams still clank along in a worked-out quarry, far away from the cities they used to serve.
The village sits on top of an expanse of limestone because of a geological accident in what otherwise is a gritstone area. It was the minerals underneath the cliff face which bought its fortune. Crich limestone always being highly regarded for its superior quality and was as a result much in demand.
Less than two centuries ago, the male inhabitants were principally involved in lead mining and limestone quarrying, while the women folk busied themselves with the hosiery trade. There were about 90 stocking frames in operation at one time. Both the hosiery business and lead mining have long since ceased. Limestone quarrying still continues in the area, but the mode of transport has changed from rail to road.
When limestone was first extracted in the area, it was carted away by packhorses. This was a slow and costly business with the horses unable to carry heavy loads. A solution was found when a tramway was built, stretching over a mile from Hilts Quarry at Crich, to the lime kilns at Bull Bridge. The wagons ran down hill by gravity and were hauled back empty, by horses. In 1813, Brunton’s ‘steamhorse’ was introduced, a walking locomotive with stilt like legs. It travelled at about two and a half miles per hour, and after the quarry men had recovered from the shock of working with such a strange machine, it operated quite successfully. Unfortunately, a similar machine blew up, killing 11 men at a colliery in the north of England and Brunton’s steam engine was withdrawn from service.
The famous railway engineer, George Stephenson who designed the ‘Rocket’, built the Crich Mineral Railway in 1837, to carry limestone from Cliff Quarry to a battery of limekilns at Ambergate. It was a distance of about two and a half miles. For the major part of the route from the quarry, the line ran along the ridge, before descending ‘The Steep’ to reach its destination. A weighbridge and braking scheme operated the system, when as trucks loaded with limestone descended, empty trucks at the other end of the cable ascended.
When the quarry was exhausted, it was converted into a tramway museum. Now known as Crich Tramway Village, it has been an important tourist attraction in Derbyshire for over 40 years. Vintage trams run every few minutes along a period street out into open countryside with spectacular countryside views. Behind the façade of the Old Derby Assembly Rooms, is an exhibition hall that houses trams from all over the world and tells the story from horse drawn to electric motor.
Rising above the quarry at a safe distance from the edge, is Crich Stand. Built in 1923, it is dedicated to the memory of the men who died in the Sherwood Foresters Regiment during the Great War. Subsequently the men who served in the Second World War have been remembered. A pilgrimage takes place on the first Sunday of July each year for a memorial service.
It is a landmark that can be seen for miles around and on a bright day it is possible to see Lincoln Cathedral, 50 miles away. This is the third stone built tower on the site and before that there was at least one wooden structure. It is thought a bonfire was lit here to celebrate the defeat of the Spanish Armada; now it is a light powered by electricity that lights up the sky.
The market place was originally located at the Market Cross, opposite to where the Jovial Dutchman pub stands, named after the Dutch navies, who worked on the Cromford Canal. As Crich expanded, the market place moved to where the four stone drinking troughs sit. These once provided refreshment for thirsty packhorses. Looking down over the village square is the impressive Baptist Chapel of 1877.
Crich was the original location for the hit television series ‘Peak Practice’. The fish and chip shop even changed its name to include ‘Cardale’, the fictitious village where the series was based, in the title. Over the road Allsop’s Bakery has been replaced by 'the loaf' bakery, deli and cafe. The superb three storey stone house in Surgery Lane was a doctor’s house for many years.
The church of St Michael – originally dedicated as St Mary’s – creates an impressive landmark with its tall spire. It is partly Norman in construction and is well worth a visit. The Wesleyan Methodist Church, founded in 1765, is the oldest still used for its original purpose in the county.
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PLACES OF SPECIAL INTEREST IN THE LOCALITY
Crich Tramway Village (Tel. 01773 852565) boasts a large array of vintage trams from all over the world. Unlimited rides through a period street to stunning views over the Derwent Valley. For further information see the special feature
Wingfield Manor (Tel. 01246 857436) impressive ruins of a huge country mansion where Mary Queen of Scots was once imprisoned. It is now under the care of English Heritage. For further information website: www.english-heritage.org.uk Only roadside parking is available, in a lay-by 150 yards from the entrance to the path to Wingfield Manor.
Shipley Country Park (Tel 01773 719961) contains over 600 acres of attractive parkland with lakes, woodlands and miles of footpaths and bridleways. There is a Visitor Centre with a countryside gift shop and café.
The Black Swan (Tel 01773 852026) the building dates from the 17th century and is supposedly haunted. The hallway contains a collection of ‘Peak Practice’ pictures. Food served at lunchtime and in the evenings daily
Crich Tea Rooms and Gallery (Tel 01773 852751) situated close to the Tramway this pleasant little tearoom, gallery and gift shop, serves home cooked food, homemade soup and cakes. Open from Thursday to Sunday and Bank holidays.
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.
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Quiet lanes, field and woodland paths lead to the impressive ruins of Wingfield Manor. The walk then returns through lovely countryside to one of Derbyshire’s most famous viewpoints at Crich Stand.
Shortly after leaving Crich, you cross a lane leading to Hilts Quarry. This was once the route of an old railway, built over 200 years, ago to carry limestone down to the kilns at Bull Bridge. Brunton’s locomotive, in the 19th century, must have caused a lot of interest with its grasshopper legs as it towed wagons along at a speed of less than three miles an hour.
Sitting on a hilltop are the ruins of Wingfield Manor, built in the reign of King Henry VI, where Mary Queen of Scots, was once a captive. It is now in the hands of English Heritage and well worth a visit.
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