MIDDLETON BY WIRKSWORTH
A rugged village full of character, once a lead-mining stronghold which turned to quarrying towards the end of the nineteenth century. It is bigger than it first appears, with streets leading off the main street to houses that seem to hide away in ‘nooks and crannies’ on the steeply rising hillside. The views at the top of Middleton over the Via Gellia are outstanding and were described by D H Lawrence, who lived in the village for a short time, and wrote: ‘From the height it is very beautiful’.
Mountain Cottage was the home of Lawrence and his wife for nearly twelve months in 1918-19. Born at Eastwood in 1885, Lawrence returned to the Midlands with Frieda, his German born wife of aristocratic descent, after brief stays in London and Berkshire following their expulsion from Cornwall. Unfounded accusations were made that they were spying for Germany and they were given notice that they must leave and live in a restricted area. The loud singing of German songs while out walking along the cliffs hadn’t endeared them to the local Cornish people who thought they were spying on the shipping supply lines.
The small quarry in the centre of Middleton, before it was converted into a mine, was nationally famous for its uniquely beautiful Hopton-Wood stone which is over ninety nine per cent pure limestone. The stone is hard and dense like a foreign marble and capable of taking a high polish and could be quarried in very large blocks. Many eminent sculptors have used the stone for sculptures that are to be found in galleries and public places all over the world. The list of buildings supplied with Hopton-Wood stone is impressive: Houses of Parliament, Law Courts, Tower of London, Baliol and Keble Colleges and many others. After the First World War an order was received for the supply of thousands of headstones for graves in France and Belguim, which required skilled labour to be brought into the Middleton area.
Middleton Mine was reputedly the only limestone mine in Europe in 1959 when it was opened. Quarrying had become uneconomic because of a layer of rock protecting the limestone underneath – mining made it possible to go much deeper underground. By 1983 the mine stretched for one and a half miles to Hopton Quarry on the other side of the hill. It is the leading mine in the UK for industrial minerals.
Situated at the top of Middleton Incline on the High Peak Trail is the restored Middleton Top Engine House, which was built in 1829. In the past it was used to haul wagons up the incline, but although those days have long since gone, it can still be seen in motion on the first weekend of the months between April and October. Originally timber was supplied daily to fire the boilers, now it is compressed air that does the job.
Middleton Top Engine House is the sole survivor of nine that once stood at the top of every incline along the Cromford and High Peak Railway. It is designated as an Ancient Monument, together with its Butterley beam engine which in the past hauled the cables up the track. Derbyshire County Council are now the custodians of this important piece of our railway heritage, visited by enthusiasts from all over the world. During 2003, it was featured on BBC2, when Fred Dibnah was the programme presenter.
The engine house hauled wagons up Middleton Incline, a distance of 708 yards and gradient of 1 in 8.5, for 134 years before retirement in 1963. At the outset it had been intended to construct a canal system to link the East Midlands with Manchester and by-pass the Trent and Mersey Canal. The canal was never built due to technical difficulties, one of the main reasons being the lack of water on the limestone plateau.
In the mid 1900s, Middleton had a cricket team with two very menacing fast bowlers, or so their names implied: they were Killer and Death. According to the local cricket stalwarts, if Killer does not get you then Death will! Both are old Middleton names and at one time Killer Brothers owned Hopton-Wood Quarry.
One of the founders of the D-I-Y giant B&Q, which stands for Block and Quayle, lives in the village. There are two pubs the Nelson and The Rising Sun, the latter at the southern end of the village is popular with walkers and cyclists on the High Peak Trail.
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PLACES OF SPECIAL INTEREST IN THE AREA
The National Stone Centre (Tel. 01629 824833) tells the story of stone, its geological and industrial history. The exhibition inside shows how advanced technology makes use of stone in an incredible number of ways. Outside the visitor centre, the quarry trail takes you back over three hundred million years. Open all year seven days a week.
Steeple Grange Light Railway (Tel. 01246 205542 during running times 07769 802587) is an 18 inch gauge line built on the trackbed of the CHPR now the High Peak Trail. It provides a scenic ride of approximately 20 minutes. The surrounding area is a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Please telephone for details.
Middleton Top (Tel. 01629 823204) the visitor centre tells the story of the Cromford and High Peak Railway and provides information, maps, walk leaflets, books, gifts and refreshments. There is a car park, toilets, cycle hire centre, engine house and picnic site. The centre is open at weekends during the winter and then daily from14 April to 16 September. Also open for half term – ring for details.
Middleton Top Visitor Centre (Tel. 01629 823204) light refreshments available, picnic lawn outside and picnic tables located at convenient points on the High Peak Trail. For full opening details please ring or visit website.
Carsington Water Tea Rooms (Tel. 01629 540363) there is a restaurant and tea rooms on the first floor of the visitor centre. There is also an outdoor food facility in the Courtyard. Open daily all year.
The Rising Sun, Middleton (Tel. 01629 822420) walkers and cyclists are very welcome at this popular pub within easy reach of the High Peak Trail. Open daily. Meals served at lunchtime throughout the year and in the evenings apart from Thursdays and Sundays (meals are served on Sunday evenings in the summer). There is a beer garden and a secure lock up for cycles. Boules played.
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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Splendid views and fascinating places to visit, this walk reveals much of the heritage of the area and the industrial landscape.
After the climb up over Middleton Moor, the former High Peak Railway Station at Middleton is reached. The Engine House contains a beam engine once used to raise and lower waggons up the incline.
There are two waymarked trails around Black Rocks that start at the gate from the car park, which you can easily follow if you have time.
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