The Derbyshire Advertiser
Friday June 3rd 1972
The Village Scene
WHATSTANDWELL – a beautiful neighbourhood
by L.H. Meakin
“Whatstandwell and Crich Carr” is to-day less accurate than “Whatstandwell OR Crich Carr,” since for all practical purposes the two are alternative names for the same community. The village climbs steeply up the side of the Derwent Valley, three miles upstream from Ambergate and nearly every house commands a breathtaking view of one of the most beautiful neighbourhoods in the southern half of Derbyshire.
A DISTINCTION OF THE VALLEY IS THAT RIVER MAIN ROAD, RAILWAY AND CANAL SHARE ITS NARROW SPACE. THE CANAL IS DISUSED, ALTHOUGH THERE ARE HOPES OF RESTORING IT FOR PLEASURE BOATING. THE RAILWAY, ONCE A MAIN LINE, HAS LOST STATUS IN RECENT YEARS. ONLY THE A6. ALWAYS HUMMING WITH TRAFFIC, SURVIVES AS A BUSY TRANSPORT LINK.
The road across the valley, from Wirksworth to Alfreton, began the story and caused Walter Stanwell, or Stonewell, to build the first bridge across the Derwent in the Middle Ages. It is this bridge and one or two neighbouring buildings, including the well-known Derwent Hotel and a former smithy, which is the true Whatstandwell
Over the hill is the old town of Crich, and Crich Carr, I suspect. spread down the slope, rather than up it, since some of the oldest cottages are to he found on the highest road. Only the school now makes official use of the name Crich Carr. Whatstandwell Post Office is near it and Whatstandwell is the postal address of all the residents, although those in the higher part of the village may interpose “Crich Carr” before it if they wish.
The whole village is in the parish of Crich. for both ecclesiastical and local government purposes.
Pub, Post Office and school surely confer the status of village on a community even if the refinements of church or parish council are lacking. The residential Derwent Hotel near the river is a well-known Derbyshire landmark.
The Derwent Hotel inherits traditions which probably date back for three centuries. “Part of the building dates from the early 1600s” I was told by Mrs Daft, wife of licensee Mr George Daft, who has been at the Derwent for 5½ years.
A well-appointed residential hotel, the Derwent is a popular stop-over for A6 motorists. Strategically placed, where the road from Derby bends sharply to cross the bridge, the house, covered with a Virginia creeper which makes an attractive Autumn picture, is a favourite haunt for weekenders. “We also get quite a lot of Continental tourists making overnight calls” says Mrs Daft.
Whatstandwell also has a village pub in traditional style, The Wheatsheaf, where Mr Bowmer has been licensee since 1940. Born at Crich, Mr. Bowmer has been a member of Crich Parish Council for 35 years and has been chairman three times. For most of the same period he has been one of the parish’s representatives on Belper Rural District Council and was chairman of that authority in 1952- 53.
He has lived in the Whatstandwell valley since he was a baby, his father for long operating a corn mill on the Alderwasley side, when a water-wheel was still its driving power. Mr. Bowmer combines running The Wheatsheaf with directing a road haulage business and the daytime visitor to the pub is more likely to meet Mrs. Bowmer, or her sister, Mrs. Emma (“Pem”) Blaymire, a widow for 14 years, who has lived at Whatstandwell for 30 years. A game of dominoes in the bar of the Wheatsheaf is still a favourite pastime at Whatstandwell, although the march of sophistication has somewhat undermined this simple pleasure. “We used to have quite a big ‘school’ at one time, with the old-age pensioners but it doesn’t flourish so much now,” she said. The Bowmer family, however still flourishes locally. A son lives in the neighbourhood and is employed at the Ambergate wire works, while all the members of the family live at Alderwasley. His elder son is at Darlington.
Apart from trunk road traffic, Whatstandwell has seen little change in his time. There are between-the-wars houses on the higher part of the hill but of recent building there has been very little. For the most part, it is a peaceful place, although the tourist invasion is heavy at Summer week-ends.
Walkers are also familiar birds of passage, the canal tow path being a favourite route.
With no parish constituation of its own, Whatstandwell derives much of its community feeling from its energetic Women’s Institute, an organisation which does not exist in big neighbour Crich. Whatstandwell WI has 35 members who include some from Alderwasley and from Holmesford, a hamlet higher up the valley. In her third session as president is Mrs Rose Fowler, whose home Woodgate Cottage, high up the road to Crich, looks across the Derwent at its loveliest. Below are the four ribbons of river, road, rail and canal opposite the woods of Shining Cliff, with the white facade of Alderwasley Hall staring back from the highlight. “It is lovely here at all seasons” said Mrs Fowler, who has lived with this view, for company for 20 years. “I like it as much in Winter as in Summer.” Husband and son are both in Derbyshire industry, with Rolls-Royce and with the Ferodo at Chapel-en-le-Frith, respectively.
With so much natural beauty enfolding of the village, it is not surprising that the Women’s Institute made a notable contribution to last year’s “Green and Pleasant Land” exhibition organised by the Derbyshire Federation of Women’s Institutes. The exhibit was simply entitled “Our Village” and was much admired.
A Whatstandwell stalwart who has lived for 65 years in the village (since he was 8) is the Fowler’s next-door neighbour Crich-born Mr Archie Mason. “My parents lived here and both died here” he said. He later lived lower down the village but returned it to its present home in 1938. His busy life has included many years as a wire drawer at Ambergate. Later he worked in the building trade. Mr Mason recalled the coal barge traffic on the canal (William Jessop’s Cromford Canal built in 1793), which finally ceased in the 1930s. “There were sometimes children’s outings,” he said. “A boat would be specially scrubbed out for the occasion.”
New in Derwent Terrace near the older lane to Crich (which climbs much more steeply than today’s Main Road) I talked to Mr Mason’s elder brother Ernest. Now 82 he has lived in his present house for 59 years. He too served the Ambergate wire works and was employed there for 60 years. Mr Ernest Mason was for more than 60 years a member of the Crich band. Photographs in the living room keep happy memories green particularly that of the smartly uniformed young Ernest Mason of long ago. The passage of time has dealt harshly with a village band tradition as with many old-time pleasures. “The young ones just do not take an interest today,” he said. For both Mr Ernest Mason and his wife, it is their second marriage. They will celebrate their silver wedding anniversary on October 25 this year.
Still higher in this village of almost alpine gradients live Mr and Mrs Sam Cowlishaw, in the Road which is laconically and very accurately called Top Lane. He has just celebrated his 81st birthday. Mrs Cowlishaw, the oldest lady in Whatstandwell, will be 85 on October 16. Also Crich-born, Mr Cowlishaw worked for more than 50 years as the great quarry below Crich Tower which is now the home of the Tramway Museum. I was shown a photograph of workers at the quarry face and of the original Crich Stand, the tower which was the predecessor to the present Sherwood Foresters Memorial. Mr and Mrs Cowlishaw have been married 54 years and have always lived in their present house, a sturdy stone cottage with inside beams and a stone staircase. An old-fashioned kitchen range includes a side oven, which Mrs Cowlishaw still uses – and prides herself on her cooking. Mrs Cowlishaw was born Mary Ann Houghton at Middleton by Wirksworth, where her father was a gas worker and her brother a blacksmith. She is a devout churchwoman, although the parish church at Crich, nearest Anglican place of worship, is now too far away for her to attend regularly. She is often among the small congregation at the Methodist Chapel a short distance away along Top Lane. “There are often only a handful was of the service,” she said, “but there is a fellowship meeting every Thursday”. The chapel is on the Belper Methodist circuit. An inscription calls it a chapel of the “Primitive Methodist Connexion” and records that the foundation stone was laid by J.Sims, Esq, on October 8, 1877.
Whatstandwell’s “new” residents are relatively few and fairly recent arrivals include that important village personality – the postmaster. Mr and Mrs J.J. Bell took over the post office which is one of the villages two grocery stores 5 years ago. Mr Bell has had long service in the Merchant Navy, retiring as a chief officer. He was very familiar with the North Atlantic run and with the voyages to the Mediterranean and the Baltic. He joined the service from school (in County Durham) and he says: “I still have a hankering for it.” Mrs Bell is a Derbyshire lady her native village being Glapwell near Chesterfield. She and husband have developed a keen love for Whatstandwell. Their lounge window commands an exquisite view, like most in the village. “It is particularly lovely in autumn,” she said. Local patriotism is is a strong characteristic of Whatstandwel folk. “We sell local view cards,” said Mrs Bell “and it is surprising how many village people, after returning from a holiday, will buy them to send back – just to show that we can keep in step with the most beautiful places.” The Bells have two sons, one of whom is a school at Ripley which is now the secondary school centre for the area. His younger brother is at Crich Carr Junior Mixed and Infants School, as the village school is called officially.
Built in 1884 the school now has a complement of 40 children. It is a happy community under the guidance of Miss Nellie Outram, who has been headmistress for 14 years. She has one assistant teacher, Mrs M.G.Gill.
As a satellite of a much larger village, Whatstandwell, except for its ancient bridge, lacks the historical focal points which normally attract attention in a village – church, or manor house or almshouses. In the history of the last 200 years, however, the area has played a very creditable part and Mr Frank Nixon’s Industrial Archaeology of Derbyshire gives it a very honourable mention.
A mile up the river at Holmesford is the handsome new Water Works building of the South Derbyshire Water Board, still fed by the Meerbrook sough, a tunnel driven two centuries ago to drain Wirksworth area lead mines. Remains of a lead smelting works survived until recent years.
Jessop’s Canal opened a little later, marked the real beginning of the modern world in the Valley. The present A6 road, originally a private venture of the Arkwright and Strutt families, dates from the early 19th century.
The Midland Railway was a comparatively late arrival, pushing its line from Ambergate toward Matlock and Manchester in the midcentury. When completed it became one of the Midlands star scenic routes, showing Manchester bound travellers some of the best Derbyshire scenery. The present railway station is not, however, the original. The line northwards immediately enters the short tunnel and the platform of the first Whatstandwell station survives just beyond it. There is a good view of it from the canal tow path. The present station, however, quite apart from being a pleasant late Victorian structure, has something of considerable interest to the observant and Derby visitor. On a very decorative iron footbridge he will find a plate inscribed “A Handyside and Co Ltd 1894, Derby and London”. This is, presumably, one of the humble products of the famous Derby firm which built bridges all over the world before reaching the sad finale of bankruptcy.
The visitor might still do worse than approach Whatstandwell by train. The old mainline has been demoted and is now a single-track branch, with unstaffed stations, terminating at Matlock. To alight from the train and cross the footbridge, negotiating a long flight of steps makes quite a dramatic entrance to the village. It gives a heightened sense of confrontation with the community, which is scarcely visible to the passing traffic on the A6. From British rail’s point of view and encouraging number of Whatstandwell residents use the railway. “It is cheaper than the bus, said several residents.”
In most rural places it is assumed that the motor car is king – or a least a necessity of life. But there are a fair number of residents of Whatstandwell to whom the cost of public transport is a matter of concern. “When I first went to work at Brettles of Belper, the bus fare with 5p return,” said Miss Ruth Allsopp of 11 Main Road Whatstandwell who was employed for 20 years with the hosiery firm “Now it is 12p each way”. Miss Allsopp, a founder member of Whatstandwell Women’s Institute, was the only resident amongst those I met who voiced a mild complaint. “I have always been fond of walking” she said, “but too many local footpaths are being closed. One finds the stiles have been blocked up”. Miss Allsopp has always lived at Whatstandwell and has long memories. “As a child I used to go to the coal wharf by the canal, to pay our bill,
I found myself hoping that the shade of old William Jessop might be gratified by the long survival of the waterway.