Back to FrogFind! | Browsing URL:

Wirksworth - Wikipedia

View page images: [1] [2] [3] [4] [5]

Wirksworth is a market town in the Derbyshire Dales district of Derbyshire, England. Its population recorded as 5,038 in the 2011 census[1] was estimated at 5,180 in 2019.[2] Wirksworth contains the source of the River Ecclesbourne. The town was granted a market charter by Edward I in 1306. The market is still held on Tuesdays in the Memorial Gardens. The parish church of St Mary's is thought to date from 653. It developed as a centre for lead mining and later stone quarrying. Many local lead mines were owned by the Gell family of nearby Hopton Hall.


The origins of Wirksworth are thought to have depended on the presence of thermal warm water springs nearby,[3] coupled with a sheltered location at the head of a glaciated valley, capable of producing cereals such as oats and providing timber suitable for building.

The area of Wirksworth in the White Peak is known for Neolithic and Bronze Age remains.[4]

Bar Moot hall on Chapel Lane

Woolly rhino bones were found by lead miners in 1822 in Dream Cave, on private land between Wirksworth and present-day Carsington Water. A nearby cave at Carsington Pasture yielded prehistoric finds in the late 20th century.[5]

In Roman Britain, the limestone area of today's Derbyshire yielded lead, the prime area of production probably being Lutudarum in the hills south and west of present-day Matlock.[6] Wirksworth is a candidate for the site of Lutudarum.[3] Roman roads from Wirksworth lead to Buxton (The Street) and to Brough-on-Noe (The Portway).[7] The town has the oldest charter of any in the Peak District, dating from 835, when the Abbess of Wirksworth granted nearby land to Duke Humbert of Mercia.[3]

Wirksworth is listed in the 1086 Domesday Book.[8] Outlying farms (berwicks) were Cromford, Middleton, Hopton, Wellesdene [sic], Carsington, Kirk Ireton and Callow. It gave its name to the earlier Wirksworth wapentake or hundred.

In Anglo-Saxon times, many lead mines were owned by the abbey of Repton. Three of these are identified in Wirksworth's Domesday Book entry.[8] Scientists studying a Swiss glacial ice core have found that levels of lead in European air pollution between the years 1170 and 1216 were similar to those during the Industrial Revolution, pointing to the local lead and silver smelting around Wirksworth, Castleton etc. as the main source with a remarkable correlation.[9][10][11] There is a tiny carving in Wirksworth Church of a miner with his pick and kibble (basket). The carving is known as "T'Owd Man of Bonsall." It stood in Bonsall Church for centuries but was moved for safekeeping during a restoration project. It was later found in a Bonsall garden and moved to Wirksworth by the vicar of the time. The ore was washed out through a sieve, whose iron wire had been drawn in Hathersage since the Middle Ages. Smelting took place in boles, hence the name Bolehill. The lead industry, the miner, the ore and the waste were known collectively as "t'owd man".

Henry VIII granted a charter for a miners' court in the town, the Bar Moot. Anyone had a right to dig for ore wherever he chose, except in churchyards, gardens or roadways. All that was needed for a claim was to place one's stowce (winch) on the site and extract enough ore to pay tribute to the "barmaster". The present Bar Moot building dates from 1814. Within is a brass dish for measuring the levy due to the Crown. Even into the 20th century, the penalty for stealing from a mine was to have a hand nailed to the stowce, giving a miscreant the choice of tearing himself loose or starving to death. The Barmote Court is still held at the Bar Moot hall in Chapel Lane and controls all matters of lead mining.

By the 18th century there were many thousand lead mines worked individually. Daniel Defoe gives a first-hand account of such a family and the miner at work.[12] At this time, the London Lead Company was formed to provide finance for deeper mines with drainage channels, called soughs, and introduce Newcomen steam-engine pumps.

Many institutions in the area have ties with the Gell family of nearby Hopton Hall. One member, Sir John Gell, 1st Baronet, fought on Parliament's side in the Civil War. A predecessor, Anthony Gell, founded the local grammar school, and a successor, Phillip Gell, opened the Via Gellia (perhaps an allusion to the Roman Via Appia), a road from the family lead mines round Wirksworth to a smelter in Cromford. More recently he has been remembered in the name of Anthony Gell School.

The carboniferous limestone around Wirksworth has been much quarried over the town's history, resulting in several rock faces and cliffs surrounding the town. There was a workhouse from 1724 to 1829 called Babington House. It stood on Green Hill (grid reference SK286541) and housed 60 inmates.[13]

In 1777 Richard Arkwright leased land and premises for a corn mill from Philip Eyre Gell of Hopton and converted it to spin cotton, using his water frame. It was the first cotton mill in the world to use a steam engine, to replenish the millpond that drove the mill's waterwheel.[14][15] The mill was adjacent to another, Speedwell Mill, owned by John Dalley, a local merchant. Arkwright's mill was sublet in 1792, when Arkwright's son, Richard, began to sell off family property and move into banking. It was named Haarlem Mill in 1815, when converted to weaving tape by Madely, Hackett and Riley, who had set up Haarlem Tape Works in Derby in 1806. In 1879 the Wheatcroft family, who were producing tape at Speedwell Mill, expanded into Haarlem. The two mills together employed 230; their weekly output was said to equal the circumference of the earth; Wirksworth was the main producer of red tape for Whitehall. These mills are close together at Miller's Green next to the Derby road. Haarlem Mill now houses an art collective; Speedwell Mill has been replaced by private houses and a carpentry workshop.


In the 2011 census Wirksworth civil parish had 2,416 dwellings, 2,256 households and a population of 5,038.[1]

Districts of Wirksworth include Yokecliffe, Gorsey Bank, Bolehill, Mountford and Miller's Green. Bolehill, although technically a hamlet in its own right in Wirksworth's suburbs, is the oldest and most northerly part of the town, while Yokecliffe is a newer estate in the westerly area. Modern houses have been built in the Three Trees area and at the bottom of Steeple Grange (Spring Close).


There are five schools in Wirksworth:[16] Church of England and county infants, and regularly combined but on two sites, Wirksworth Junior School, the Anthony Gell School and Callow Park College. Anthony Gell was a local, requested by Agnes Fearne to build a grammar school on her death. The original site is now a private house on the edge of the churchyard. The current school is an 11-18 comprehensive on a larger site by the Hannage Brook with about 800 pupils. The school's four houses are named after Fearne, Arkwright (Sir Richard Arkwright), Wright (Joseph Wright of Derby) and Gell. Its catchment area is the town and surrounding villages: Middleton, Carsington, Brassington, Kirk Ireton, Turnditch, Matlock Bath, Cromford and Crich. The Anthony Gell School qualifies as a Sports College.

Culture and community[edit]


Well or tap dressing in Wirksworth in the 1860s[17]


Fanny Shaw's Playing Field, just beyond the centre, is the main recreation area for the north of the town. It includes a new skate park and a play area. In the south is the "Rec", another children's play area, along with cricket and football pitches. There are public toilets in the car park alongside the United Reformed Church in Chapel Lane.

Cultural references[edit]

Haarlem Mill has been mentioned as the possible model for the mill in George Eliot's The Mill on the Floss. The town of Snowfield in George Eliot's Adam Bede is also said to be based in Wirksworth; Dinah Morris, a character in that novel, is based on Eliot's aunt, who lived in Wirksworth and whose husband ran the silk mill, now Wirksworth Heritage Centre.

Wirksworth was the main location of ITV's Sweet Medicine in 2003, having featured as an occasional location in its forerunner, Peak Practice. More recently, some of Mobile was filmed on a train on the Ecclesbourne Valley Railway, and much of an episode of the BBC series Casualty was set in the town.

Wirksworth features in the 2015 memoir The Long Road Out of Town by author and journalist Greg Watts, who grew up there.[22]

Middle Peak Quarry, on the outskirts of Wirksworth, featured in the 2010 music video "Unlikely Hero" by the Hoosiers.

Town twinning[edit]

Wirksworth is twinned with Die in southern France and with Frankenau in the Kellerwald range south-west of the Talgang, Germany, through the Wirksworth Twinning Association.

Notable residents[edit]

In alphabetical order:


Wirksworth Stone in St Mary's Church, an early stone carving depicting scenes from the life of Christ

Wirksworth civil parish contains 108 structures listed by Historic England for their historic or architectural interest. The Parish Church of St Mary is listed Grade I and eight structures (15 Market Place, 35 Green Hill, 1 Coldwell Street, Haarlem Mill, Wigwell Grange, the Red Lion Hotel, Gate House and the former grammar school) are Grade II*.[27] Wirksworth Heritage Centre is just off Market Place in Crown Yard. The exhibition shows the history of Wirksworth from its prehistoric Dream Cave and woolly rhinos, through its Roman and lead mining histories, to the modern era. Other nearby attractions include the Ecclesbourne Valley Railway, the Steeple Grange Light Railway and Peak District National Park.

The study Wirksworth and Five Miles Around, written by Richard R Hackett (1843-1900), includes census information, notes on church monuments, accounts of crimes, church wardens' accounts, maps, a transcription of "Ince's pedigrees", monument inscriptions and old photographs, parish registers and wills.


  1. ^ a b c UK Census (2011). "Local Area Report - Wirksworth Parish (1170212845)". Nomis. Office for National Statistics. Retrieved 17 March 2018.
  2. ^ City Population. Retrieved 13 January 2021.
  3. ^ a b c M. Wiltshire, 2016, "Wirksworth: A History", Bannister Publications (Chesterfield).
  4. ^ C. R. Hart, 1984, "The North Derbyshire Archaeological Survey to AD 1500", Derbyshire Archaeological Society, pp. 17-68.
  5. ^ Wirksworth history site Retrieved 24 June 2018.
  6. ^ Millward, Roy; Robinson, Adrian (1975). The Peak District. The Regions of Britain. Eyre Methuen. pp. 129-130. ISBN 978-0-413-31550-2.
  7. ^ Wirksworth Archaeological Society: Reports.
  8. ^ a b Domesday Book: A Complete Translation. London: Penguin, 2003, p. 741. ISBN 0-14-143994-7
  9. ^ Loveluck, Christopher P.; McCormick, Michael; Spaulding, Nicole E.; Clifford, Heather; Handley, Michael J.; Hartman, Laura; Hoffmann, Helene; Korotkikh, Elena V.; Kurbatov, Andrei V.; More, Alexander F.; Sneed, Sharon B.; Mayewski, Paul A. "Alpine ice-core evidence for the transformation of the European monetary system, AD 640-670". Antiquity. 92 (366).
  10. ^ "Alpine glacier reveals lead pollution from C12th Britain as bad as Industrial Revolution". Retrieved 8 April 2020.
  11. ^ Loveluck, Christopher P.; More, Alexander F.; Spaulding, Nicole E.; Clifford, Heather; Handley, Michael J.; Hartman, Laura; Korotkikh, Elena V.; Kurbatov, Andrei V.; Mayewski, Paul A.; Sneed, Sharon B.; McCormick, Michael. "Alpine ice and the annual political economy of the Angevin Empire, from the death of Thomas Becket to Magna Carta, c. AD 1170-1216". Retrieved 8 April 2020.
  12. ^ Daniel Defoe (c. 1724), A tour thro' the whole island of Great Britain, divided into circuits or journies: Letter 8, Part 2: The Peak District, Reprinted: London: J. M. Dent and Co, 1927 [1] Archived 8 May 2017 at the Wayback Machine
  13. ^ P. Higginbotham (2007), Workhouses of the Midlands, Tempus, Stroud, p. 27. ISBN 978-0-7524-4488-8
  14. ^ Fitton, R. S. (1989), The Arkwrights: spinners of fortune, Manchester: Manchester University Press, p. 57, ISBN 978-0-7190-2646-1
  15. ^ Tann, Jennifer (July 1979), "Arkwright's Employment of Steam Power", Business History, 21 (2): 248, doi:10.1080/00076797900000030
  16. ^ "Wirksworth Federation Infant Schools". 30 April 2012. Archived from the original on 26 July 2011. Retrieved 10 October 2008.
  17. ^ a b 1860s picture, PictureThePast, Retrieved August 2009
  18. ^ "Second year for Wirksworth Book Festival". Wirksworth Festival. Retrieved 13 April 2017.
  19. ^ [2] Archived 2 September 2011 at the Wayback Machine.
  20. ^ "carnival site". Archived from the original on 12 September 2017. Retrieved 11 January 2019.
  21. ^ "Town hall lifts curtain to reveal major makeover". Derby Telegraph. 27 December 2010. Retrieved 8 April 2017.[permanent dead link]
  22. ^ Peddy, Chris (8 March 2015). "'I escaped Wirksworth but failed to become a priest', reveals Derbyshire writer Greg Watts". Derby Telegraph. Archived from the original on 21 May 2015. Retrieved 3 April 2016.
  23. ^ Elliott, P. (1999), "Abraham Bennet F. R. S. (1749-1799): a provincial electrician in 18th-century England" (PDF), Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London, 53 (1): 59-78, doi:10.1098/rsnr.1999.0063, S2CID 144062032.[permanent dead link]
  24. ^ Gordon Goodwin, "Draycot, Anthony (d. 1571)", rev. Andrew A. Chibi, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 accessed 28 February 2009.
  25. ^ "WIRKSWORTH-Parish Records 1608-1899-Old Photos".
  26. ^ ODNB entry for John Woodward: Retrieved 14 October 2011. Pay-walled.
  27. ^ "Listed Buildings in Wirksworth, Derbyshire Dales, Derbyshire". Retrieved 13 April 2017.

External links[edit]

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Wirksworth.