In Praise of Crich

Derbyshire Times 24 February 1906
Whatstandwell and its Name
A Slight to Crich Carr

by Horace MERLIN
The neighbourhood of Whatstandwell Bridge station is just now greatly excited over the fight for a footpath which will considerably lessen the distance from Crich Carr and consequently we are hearing a good deal about a place called Whatstandwell. As a matter-of-fact, however, and it may surprise many people to learn this, there is historically and legally no such place. The bridge, called after its builder Walter Stonewell, who dwelled hard by in the 14th century, is, of course, an ancient and well accredited landmark, but this description for the locality had probably little or no documentary existence until the railway company named their first station Whatstandwell Bridge. The next step occurred when a new station was built and the word “Bridge” dropped, without any justification whatever, so that the name of the mediaeval bridge builder, in corrupt form, now became the name of a railway station, and as a consequence, of the neighbourhood roundabout.The correct name for the most important part of this district is Crich Carr and the post office strictly speaking ought to be so named. There is no parish nor manor, nor ancient tenure of any kind bearing the name Whatstandwell and the railway station should be known as “Whatstandwell Bridge for Crich”. It is really is rather surprising that the Crich people have not raised this question before.

The proper centre for all this locality, which is embraced in the old township of Crich, is the scattered village on the top of the hill that to some extent has lost his chances of modern renown merely because the railway company has chosen to ignore its existence.

Moreover a certain recent handbook to Derbyshire with scant courtesy somewhat aggravates our grievance by calling Crich “a dull village.” it all depends upon the observer and his personal insight concerning certain Derbyshire characteristics. It will be difficult to find a better type of the solid picturesque upland village so peculiar to the county as this grey and weatherbeaten collection of houses on the high ridge. Removed a couple of miles from the railway, from which it cannot be seen, and exposed to all the winds that blow, it is to some extent beyond the fancy of the ordinary tripper and many people who visit the famous Stand for his unrivalled prospect over the surrounding country, do not enter Crich village at all. Nevertheless no true lover of local charm and of quaint old landmarks could fail to see some special points of interest in it numerous houses with mellow stone roofs, mullioned windows and leaded panes, it’s several quaint inns and especially its dignified parish church.

If anything has spoiled the charms of Crich and made it in places worse than dull it is the work of the irrepressible building fiend who has no charity in his heart for anything venerable but flaunts cheap and nasty abominations in the midst of things rendered venerable by the storied past. Many old houses, whose stone window frames and leaded lights once made a cosy shelter against the wild weather have been maimed and defaced by the inordinate craze for staring great windows that make you feel always uncomfortable, being able neither to get out of the glare of the sun in fine weather nor out of sight of the depressing prospect in bad.

The fine old house next the Black Swan has recently escaped “by the skin of its teeth,” to quote the patriarch Job. The new lower windows might have been worse, nevertheless the old ones were better. Here and there among houses century or two old, solid and picturesque in shape and proportion one may come across some cheap and vapid erection that exudes all the vulgarity of certain modern ideas. The Co-operative Society’s shop, built by a community supposed to hold enlightened views on social questions, might well have been a little more in harmony with its surroundings. The Holy Well is now overshadowed by a row of buildings that are a positive nightmare. Really it is high time that some strong protest was raised against the persistent desecration of what still remains to us of Ancient Derbyshire, both in Crich and in many other places. There are, however, still in the village more than a hundred houses that still preserve in great measure their characteristics of the last two or three centuries. Let us hope they will be saved and if alterations must be made for strong practical reasons there are plenty of modern architects who know how to build and remodel in worthy comparison with the best old work.
The old marketplace is the concentrated essence of Crich in all its dour and solid and uncompromising resistance of wind and weather at all points. Consider these sombre grey walls, there and but scantily relieved with windows mellow with litchen and topped with low roofs of stone! The fury of the Peakland storms sweeps fiercely around these stony corners and there is no superfluous vegetation to bear the brunt. Few of the houses stand square to the open space but mostly turn as though each would take the weather in its own way; or they face into the narrow thoroughfares leading up and down the hill. Eight or nine gable ends and corners confronts you as you look around the ring of stone walls seems absolutely complete for the several roads bend in a few yards and not a single one presents a distant view. There is a modern touch here and there in some recent improvement it is true, but allowing for all this the sense of an age-long battle with the elements and a simple effective durable work is everywhere apparent. Close at hand is the old inn “The Jovial Dutchman,” which bears traces of having had, once upon a time, a low steep roof whose eaves would almost have touched your hat. It will certainly be several centuries old and its sign is almost unique, for though you will see many “Jolly Dutchmen” elsewhere, the “Jovial” is peculiar to Crich. A good many years ago it had a thatch roof and someone in Crich is fortunate enough to possess an old print of the inn in this condition.

The Crich markets were formally of considerable importance in the township. The concourse of people easily filled this small square in the middle of the village and frequently enveloped almost the whole of the neighbouring thoroughfares. The fairs for horses and cattle are still held in March and September, presenting much the same features as of old, but the markets are held on the village green, a more commodious situation, which has of late years usurped the name of the marketplace, leaving the old original centre in comparatively undisturbed quietness.

The Market Cross, unfortunately, is but a modern structure of indifferent design and more over perpetuates the error that has also occurred elsewhere in Derbyshire. It bears the figure of St Michael, to which saint, the church at one time was supposed to have been dedicated. How this error occurred is not very clear, but it is certain that the patron saint of the village is not St Michael but St Mary, and those interested in these things may seem the figure of the Virgin and Child in a niche over the west door of the tower. There is a legend that this piece of sculpture was brought from St Mary’s Church, Nottingham, and somewhat in corroboration of this tradition is the fact mentioned by Dr Cox (Churches of Derbyshire) that there was formally an exchange of benefices between the two churches. This may very well have occurred in the 14th century when William de Wakebridge who was Knight of the Shires of and Derby and Nottingham in the parliaments of Edward III, richly endowed certain chantries in Crich, perhaps as a work of piety after the decimation of his family by the plague. it is too long a task at the present time to enter into an account of Crich Church, but it requires no very searching scrutiny to proceed that it is in many ways of exceptionally fine workmanship. The Abbots of Darley seem to have had considerable rights and possessions in the church and parish throughout the Middle Ages and as the Abbey was the richest in the county Crich Church profited accordingly. The design of the chancel windows with their rich deep mouldings, the decoration of the tower; the numerous base mouldings, especially of the east end, all points to more than ordinary enterprise. From late in the 13th century we have on record and account of the vestments and ornaments of the church which show them to have been of surprising value. One of the vestments “de Viridi Carnacoe” being of silk interwoven with other precious stuff, was valued at some equal to at least £200 in modern money (vide Churches of Derbyshire).

As in the case of many Derbyshire villages lead mining features largely in the history of Crich. There was, according to Domesday Book, a lead mine here as early as the time of Edward the Confessor, and the lead industry continued to be the staple trade of the place down to the 19th century. The Derbyshire author , Rhodes, writing in 1837, refers to the extraordinary richness of the Crich mines and states that a little before his time the Glory Mine was worth from 30to 40 thousand pounds per annum, and the geologist Adams , twenty years later, writes that when the Wakebridge Mine was first opened the owner was offered £10,000 for the ore “on site of the vein”.

Just above the marketplace is an inn, the “Wheatsheaf” which is associated with the beginning of another considerable industry in Crich. Here George Stephenson launched when engaged in the construction of the Derby to Leeds line and as a consequence of this undertaking he built the lime kilns by Ambergate station at a cost of £20,000, and with an astuteness of commercial judgement for which he was well-known. They were to consume the small coal from Clay Cross which would of course travel over the railway he was making and the burnt lime at that time extensively used for manure, would be carried by the selling railway over a system.

The directors of the railway enterprise regarded Mr Stevenson’s lime kilns as a great acquisition to their business. To supply the kilns the great engineer made a remarkable inclined railway work by a steel rope and immense drum which brings the limestone down from the Crich quarries. Not many visitors to Crich have seen the curious piece simple but effective engineering.