A Pictorial and Descriptive
Guide to Buxton, The Peak, Dovedale, Etc.

Ward, Lock & Co.'s

Illustrated Guide Books
Series 1939-40

Transcriptions by Rosemary Lockie, © Copyright 2013



THE district that may be described as George Eliot's Country is situated some 20 miles south-east of Buxton. It can be conveniently explored from Ashbourne. For the most part it lies in Staffordshire, the “Loamshire” of Adam Bede, as Derbyshire is its “Stonyshire”, Dovedale its “Eagle Dale”, and the mountains of the Peak are its “barren hills”.

Ellastone is the “Hayslope” described in the second chapter of Adam Bede, and was the early home of Robert Evans, “George Eliot's” father. The family residence was the two-storeyed cottage standing by the side of the road leading to Wootton, and is easily recognized by the curious pinnacles which surmount the garden wall.

The “Donnithorne Arms” of the story is the Bromley Arms at the cross roads, “Oakbourne” has been identified as Ashbourne, “Snowfield” as Wirksworth (4 miles south of Matlock), and “Norbourne” as Norbury. “Donnithorne Chase” is supposed to be either Wootton Hall, a mile to the north of Ellastone, or Calwich Abbey, half a mile to the east. Of the foregoing places that demand more than bare mention in these pages and have not yet been treated, by far the largest and most important is-


The town figures in the Domesday survey as Esseburne. In 1644 and again in 1645, Charles I was in Ashbourne at the head of his troops, then engaged in the struggle with the Parliamentary forces, and on both occasions he attended service at the parish church. In 1644 his army was defeated; but a year later the tables were turned, and the Roundheads Red. A century later, Charles's equally unfortunate great-grandson, Charles Edward Stuart, visited Ashbourne on his journey to and on his retreat from Derby, and proclaimed his father, the Pretender, King of Great Britain and Ireland. On that occasion Sir Brooke Boothby was the owner of



Ashbourne Hall, and he and his family were unceremoniously dispossessed of their home, which was occupied by the prince and his officers.

The connection of Cotton and Izaak Walton, and before them of the Cockaynes and the Boothbys, with Ashbourne are its chief literary glories. Later, Dr. Johnson frequently visited it when wearied of his favourite “walk down Fleet Street”. On such occasions he was always the welcome guest of his friend, Dr. Taylor, whose house, now called The Mansion, and notable for its stone portico, is still to be seen. It is the last house but one on the left-hand side of the main street, which ends at the east gate of the churchyard. It was being partly rebuilt during Johnson's visit in 1784, to his great disgust.

Writing to Mrs. Thrale, in July, 1771, Johnson describes the town as “Ashbourne in the Peak”. “Let not the barren name of the Peak terrify you”, he adds, “I have never wanted strawberries and cream”. It was the landlady of the Green Man - now the Green Man and Black's Head - who, so Boswell tells us in his Life, promised him “her sincerest prayers for his happiness in time and in a blessed eternity” if he would only be kind enough to mention her house favourably to his friends! The Black's Head, a fierce looking effigy set up on a signboard across the main street, was the sign of a house of which the business was taken over by the Green Man.

It was the pealing of the bells in Ashbourne Church that inspired Tom Moore to the writing of one of his most exquisite songs, Those Evening Bells, and in the closing verse he alludes not only to the bells, but to the dells of the neighbouring Dovedale-

“And so 'twill be when I am gone,
That tuneful peal will still ring on,
While other bards shall walk these dells,
And sing your praise, sweet evening bells”.

The town is built in a fertile valley, a mile and a half eastward of the Dove, with well-wooded hills protecting three of its sides, and with an extensive outlook over the valley through which the river flows to the south. The straight main street runs eastward from the Parish Church to the park around the Hall, a distance of about three-quarters of a mile.


Here and there is a bridge over the Henmore, a little tributary of the Dove, which, before it reaches the town, flows through the grounds of Ashbourne Hall. We have already spoken of the incident of the Young Pretender's visit to this mansion. To-day the building is arranged as flats and the grounds form a public park and recreation ground.

The Parish Church

is the chief object not only in the town but in the neighbourhood. Boswell spoke of the beautiful building as “one of the largest and most luminous churches that I have seen in any town of the same size”, while George Eliot, going much farther, described it as “the finest mere parish church in the Kingdom”.

The Church was consecrated in 1241. It occupies the site of a church mentioned in Domesday, and is dedicated to St. Oswald, king and martyr, who is represented by a modern red sandstone statue at the western end. Chiefly Early English, with additions and alterations in the Decorated, Perpendicular and Tudor periods, the building consists of chancel, transepts and nave, with a south aisle, evidently a later addition. The central tower supports a beautiful octagonal spire 212 feet high, pierced with twenty dormer lights, and known as the “pride of the Peak”. In the belfry are some of the bells that charmed the poet Moore.

The choir is remarkable for its fine Perpendicular east window by Kemp. It contains the arms of Normandy and England, of France and England, and of Bradbourne, Ferrers, Brereton, Russell, Burdett, and Blount - old county families connected with the neighbourhood. On the south side is a coupled lancet window containing stained glass representing the history of David and Goliath. It attracts special notice because Ruskin described the artist's efforts as “a disgrace to a penny edition of Jack the Giant Killer”. On the north side of the choir is a canopied recess, with crocketed pinnacles, said by some to be an Easter sepulchre; others declare it a memorial of Robert Kniveton (d. 1471).

In the north transept on the west side near the door is a priceless lancet window of thirteenth-century glass, representing scenes connected with the Nativity. In the adjoining Lady Chapel are fine windows, an ancient aumbry, memorials of the Cockayne family (fourteenth to seventeenth centuries) and also memorials of the Boothbys and the Bradbournes. The white marble recumbent effigy by Thomas Banks, R.A., of Penelope Boothby excites the admiration of every


visitor, and gave Chantrey, it is said, inspiration for his sculpture of the sleeping children in Lichfield Cathedral. It has inscriptions in English, French, Italian, and Latin. She died in 1791 at the age of 5 years and 11 months. Her portrait, when she was little more than three, by Sir Joshua Reynolds, is one of the most famous and attractive of his pictures of children. In 1859 it was bought by the Earl of Dudley for 1,100 guineas and was purchased in 1885 by Mr. Thwaites for £20,000. What is said of the child's marble effigy adds interest to the fact that her portrait led to the production of another celebrated picture - the “Cherry Ripe” of Millais, who thus painted little Miss Talmage, who had been to a fancy dress ball as “Penelope”.

In the south transept is a large “Te Deum” window by Hardmans. Beyond the screen is the ancient Chapel of St. Oswald, a particularly fine Perpendicular window, and the dedication brass (1241), supposed to be the oldest in existence. (The Chapel is now a vestry and otherwise filled by the organ.) There are also cannon balls that were found embedded in the masonry and are relics of the visit of the Parliament's artillery, 1644. The registers date from 1538.

The nave contains coloured windows of which the most attractive is the “Turnbull” window, on the south side. It is by Christopher Whall, and was erected in 1905. The wearied St. Cecilia has fallen asleep at the organ, but angels carry on the creation of song and praise.

A feature of the town is the number of its Almshouses. Adjoining the churchyard are some due to the charity of Nicholas Spalding, who, a couple of centuries ago, was in many ways a benefactor of the town. In Church Street Oldfield's and Pegg's Almshouses adjoin; in a recess on the south side of the same street are almshouses for clergy-men's widows; and another group adjoins Zion Chapel.

The Free Grammar School was founded in 1565 in the old two-storeyed building in the main street, near the church, but now occupies a block at the east end of the town.

At Clifton, about 1½ miles from the town, is the Ashbourne and Dove Valley Golf Course of 9 holes. Annual subscription-Gentlemen, 63s.; ladies, 31s. 6d.; month, 15s.; week, 7s. 6d.; day, 2s. 6d.

Shrove Tuesday Football.

A description of Ashbourne would be incomplete without mention of Shrove Tuesday Football. Magisterial powers, exercised again and again, with summonses and prosecutions, have proved


quite inadequate to suppress this carnival, and the game has received Royal approval, King Edward VIII, when Prince of Wales, having “thrown up the ball” in 1928. Special trams and motor trips are now run further to popularize the fete - or rather fight. Not only do the inhabitants of Ashbourne take part in the “game”, but the neighbouring villages supply strong reinforcements. It is a “clearing-house” day, when old scores are paid off and old accounts adjusted. On the following morning the local chemists find a phenomenal demand for arnica and surgical plasters. The combatants are known as “The Uppards” and “The Downards”. Anyone born north of the dividing line plays with the “Uppards”, while those born south side with the “Downards”.

At two o'clock punctually the ball - a large leathern sphere stuffed with cork. shavings - is thrown up on a little knoll in the centre of Shaw Croft, usually by some leading local tradesman, to the strains of the National Anthem, Rule Britannia, and other patriotic airs. Then the “fun” waxes fast and furious. “The Uppards” play by Sandy Lane, the Park, and across to Sturston Mill. “The Downards” play over and under the Bridge, past Compton Street, the Paddock, and across Tomlinson's Fields to Clifton Mill. The goals are a mile and a half apart. Sometimes the ball is reduced in the rough and tumble of the scrimmage to a mere scrap of leather. But when that tiny scrap touches the mill wheel it scores.

Of the neighbouring places to which “George Eliot” has added interest, only one has a railway station. This is-


the novelist's “Norbourne”, some 4 miles south-west of Ashbourne. Its peculiar treasure is St. Mary's Church built between 1370 and 1380, and restored by the Clowes family in 1899. Seated on the summit of a hill, its tower is seen for a long distance and commands a wide landscape; but the edifice is chiefly noteworthy for its large windows and the beauty of their early stained glass, of which Dr. Cox remarks,

“There are not six parish churches in the kingdom that have so fine and extensive a display”. The FitzHerberts (Lords of Norbury) owned the Hall from the twelfth century till recently; and the Church contains their tombs, brasses, etc. One of the most notable is the monument of Sir Anthony FitzHerbert, a judge in the days of Henry VIII. He is represented clad in full judicial robes, and his wife wears a wonderful heraldic mantle. The earliest of the tombs is that of Sir Henry FitzHerbert, who lived two hundred year before the days of the judge. The old edifice is now a farmhouse, and a new hall has taken its place.

Within a mile to the north-west of Norbury is-



the “Hayslope” of Adam Bede, and conspicuous on entering the village is the Bromley Arms (the Donnithorne Arms of that story). The village boasts a fine old Perpendicular church, the embattled tower of which is a familiar landmark. Within is the altar-tomb of Sir Richard Fleetwood, lord of Calwich in the days of Charles II.

Calwich Abbey, half a mile east of Ellastone, is a modern residence, occupying the site of an oratory founded in the reign of Stephen. There formerly stood here a house in which Handel composed part of the Messiah.

Wootton, of interest because its hall disputes with Calwich Abbey the right to be regarded as Donnithorne Chase, occupies a cheerless situation a mile and a half north-west of Ellastone. In a local epigram it appears as “Wootton-under-Weaver, where God came never”. The Weaver, under which it stands, is a limestone range, one of the outlying sentinels of the Peak mountains.

Wootton Lodge, a parapeted mansion, about a mile and a half west of Ellastone, is said to have been designed by Inigo Jones. Through the introduction of David Hume, Rousseau was able to make it his home for a year (1766-7). The highway between Ellastone and Ashbourne crosses the Dove by the Hanging Bridge at Mayfield, an ancient stone structure of five narrow arches. Mayfield Church is interesting for its many Norman details, chief of which is the arch of the south door: this door, by the way, still bears marks of bullets fired at it by the Pretender's soldiers in 1745. But the chief attraction of the village is the cottage wherein Moore resided with his wife “Bessie” from the summer of 1813 to March, 1817. Here he wrote Lalla Rookh and other poems, including that sweetest of all, Those Evening Bells, and here, too, he was visited by the banker-poet Rogers.

The cottage was much admired while Moore was resident, but when the poet left it was neglected and soon became dilapidated. It may now be recognized by its sloping roof and high chimneys.

OCR/transcript by Rosemary Lockie in November 2013.

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