Set in lonely moorland countryside, six miles to the southeast of Buxton and close to the Derbyshire border is the ancient village of Longnor. The River Dove flows to the north, the River Manifold to the south and large numbers of visitors come here to explore the upper reaches of these two famous valleys and the rugged scenery that surrounds them.
Little was heard of Longnor, in what was a wild and rugged area at the northern most boundary of Staffordshire, before the first written reference to the founding of St Bartholomew’s Church in 1223. Agriculture was the main pre-occupation of the few people who lived here, but by the mid-1600s, there were four annual fairs and two weekly markets. The trading opportunities attracted more and more people to Longnor and its importance rapidly increased. New trades sprang up and local farms provided food for consumption. On market days, the streets were thronging with people buying and selling goods.
The population continued to rise and by the mid-19th century, Longnor was referred to as a market town. The church was rebuilt and extended to cater for rising numbers, the Methodist Chapel extended for the same reason, and schools were built. However, by the outset of the 20th century, easier access to other towns and cities and with the improvements in technology workers migrated to newer industries. Agriculture retained its importance, but with increasing mechanisation, fewer workers were required.
Longnor still has the appearance of a small market town, a position it once filled until the disappearance of the coaching age. The decline in farming and improved communications all contributed in taking business away to Buxton and Leek. At the upper end of the steeply cobbled market place is a house dating back to 1873, when it was a prosperous market town and on the board outside the scale of charges, are listed. Despite losing its status as a market town, Longnor still has the facilities that are the envy of many other villages in the area and in 2003, four pubs, two coffee shops, a fish and chip shop, a general store and a post office and shop remained.
The village became a conservation area in 1977, and attracted European and Rural Regeneration money to develop the community. Tourists can send their post cards home by e-mail from the cyber café, or climb the area’s only indoor climbing wall at Upper Limits, where there are also facilities for archery and other team building activities. A work centre has been set up in a disused factory for disadvantaged young people, which has been highly acclaimed in a government report and attracted visitors from abroad on fact-finding missions. The project even has a stall on Leek Market stocked with garden furniture and other craft items made at the centre.
As part of the National Park Authority’s Integrated Rural Development experiments, local farmers were encouraged to retain and promote herb rich meadows and some were paid for the number of different wild flowers in their fields. Payment was also made for the upkeep of dry-stone walls, which helped keep this old craft alive. Small businesses were established and repairs undertaken.
The Longnor Craft Centre now occupies the Old Village Hall, where you can sit and have a cup of coffee and a rest from browsing. Next-door is Simply Scarlett another coffee shop, which recently won a Peak District National Park award for promoting local produce. The Red Bull in cobbled Chapel Street, once a public house, is now an art gallery. The former Wesleyan Chapel was for a time a Doll’s Hospital where children’s dolls were brought for repair.
There are many quaint epitaphs in the churchyard, which was closed for burials in 1888, and a new cemetery opened. The one most quoted is that for William Billinge, born in a cornfield in 1679, he died 106 years later only a stone’s throw away. He lived through seven reigns, and fought in countless battles and was still soldiering at the ripe old age of 66.
Longnor Races are a very colourful event, said to have resulted from a meeting of local farmers who decided to put up a wager to decide the winner by racing their mounts round the village. This popular event is continued to this day, but in a somewhat different format with harness racing, motorbike and sidecar racing and a gymkhana.
Hollinsclough Silver Band, which despite its name has been based in Longnor for 40 years, plays at local events including the Wakes and at fairs and Christmas events.
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The Upper Dove and Manifold valleys are visited on this scenic moorland walk, which crosses from Staffordshire to Derbyshire and back again.
The view from Dove Ridge as you leave Longnor inspires you for the walk ahead as the path drops down to Beggar’s Bridge, where Staffordshire is left behind and Derbyshire entered.
On the return journey you descend into the Manifold Valley that runs over a soft clay lining. It is easy to see the difference from the more rugged limestone valley you just left.
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