BELPER WELL DRESSINGS 2004
Belper held its well dressings from the 17-22nd July, and although the weather was unsettled large crowds of visitors were once again attracted to this popular event. With in excess of 30 well dressings on display, stalls and entertainment over the weekend there was certainly plenty to keep visitors to the festival occupied. Many of the wells are the work of children from local schools, who are encouraged to create the displays and perhaps become the well dressers of the future.
Well dressing in the town dates back to 1838 when the Mill Lane Well was dressed. The idea caught on and the following year another three wells were dressed. Dressings lapsed for the Second World War and were not revived until near the end of the 20th century. For 2004, the charity selected for support was the County Air Ambulance Service, founded in 1991 with one helicopter, the charity today has three helicopters and flies an average of 2,000 missions every year.
Belper's story really began as a small settlement in the Royal hunting forest of Duffield Frith when it was given the name of ‘Beaurepaire’ which means ‘Beautiful Retreat’. The name has been adopted by the Beaurepaire Group, who every year design a well dressing, normally with a nursery rhyme theme. In 2004, they chose for their theme Punch and Judy, an ever popular attraction with both young and old.
The Belper Womens' Institue Well Dressing, at an height of 12 feet and weight of three tons, must be one of the largest and heaviest on the circuit. A moments refection on this year's theme 'Postcard from Belper,' serves to remind both visitor and local person alike of the town's attractions. Although this must seem rather strange reading to the motorist who has driven through the town on the over crowded A6 road, his only desire being to reach the other side as quickly as possible.
For those who have taken the time to explore, a completely different picture emerges - of a small town so rich in industrial heritage that it is not only of national importance, but occupies a pre-eminent position on the - world stage. Belper is indeed an important part of the Derwent Valley, which is universally recognised as the Cradle of the Industrial Revolution and now holds World Heritage Status.
The description of the Christ Church Well in the souvenir brochure seems to very aptly cover what is a religious festival, but once was considered a pagan festival.
" The Priest of this beautiful church is the festival's Chaplain, the Rev. David Perkins. The church has a huge congregation led by their most popular vicar and can boast of having some experienced and highly skilled well dressers who without fail produce a greatly admired display."
The River Gardens are hidden from site by East Mill, a seven storey red brick building of 1912, formerly occupied by the English Sewing Company, and the wall along the busy A6 road. For many visitors they come has a complete surprise. This is a pity for they are delightful to visit at any time of the year, and not just when the well dressings are in place. With well tended flowerbeds, an arboretum, bandstand, water gardens, children’s playground and boating facilities set alongside the River Derwent. It is now possible to walk from the Riverside Gardens, past the semi-circular weir and Derwent Valley Visitor Centre, all now part of the Derwent Valley World heritage Site.
The Independent Order of Oddfellows Lodge - Colville, in Belper, dates back to the 17th century and is one of the orders oldest. It is still very active with over 100 members and regularly participates in the town's well dressing ceremonies.
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PLACES OF SPECIAL INTEREST IN THE LOCALITY
St. John’s Chapel Heritage Centre: (Tel. 01773 822116) dates back to about 1250, contains an interesting collection of old photographs of Belper and memorabilia. Open weekdays (except Thursday) 9.30 to 12.30. Also open the last Saturday in the month. See feature.
Derwent Valley Visitor Centre: (Tel: 01773 880474) situated in North Mill where superb displays of hand spinning wheels, Hargreaves’s Spinning Jenny and many more exhibits bring this old mill back to life. An exhibition not to be missed. See feature.
Heage Windmill: (Tel 01773 853579) built in 1797 and restored in 2002, it is the only working, stone-towered, multi-sailed windmill in England. In the basement, the interpretation centre tells the story of the windmill. An adjacent kiln, acts as a reception centre and shop selling flour and souvenirs. There is a large car park and wheelchair access to the ground floor of the windmill, interpretation centre and the reception centre. Telephone for further information, Groups by special arrangement. Guided tours. A Grade II*Listed Building. See feature.
The Lion Hotel (Tel. 01773 824033) recently refurbished, the hotel stands on the A6 in the centre of the town. It dates back to the period when Jedediah Strutt established the first cotton mill in 1774. There are two bars and a relaxing lounge. Open all day, bar and restaurant meals available, also coffee shop facilities. Accommodation.
Chevin Coffee Shop (Tel. 01773 829830) a delightful little coffee shop situated on the first floor of the De Bradelei Mill Shop. Home cooked food served throughout the day. Open daily.
A registered charity (No.1000456) provides technical equipment for disabled people, had the ingenious device pictured below on display on its stand at Belper Well Dressings.
Remap volunteers design and manufacture, or adapt, equipment for people with disabilities providing it is not available commercially. The equipment is supplied free of charge to the client. Volunteers are always required with engineering, craft, administrative, promotional or medical skills to help people with disabilities. Contact Remap on: 0845 1300 456 for details of the nearest contact point, or for assistance.
COUNTY AIR AMBULANCE CHARITY
The sponsored charity (Register No. 1001064) at Belper Well Dressings for 2004. Its three helicopters serve an area of 7.8 million people covering 8,000 square miles. The air ambulance can be airborne within two minutes and reach all parts of the region within 19 minutes flying time. For further information, on fund raising, air ambulance merchandise, becoming a volunteer and providing funding. For further information. Contact County Air Ambulance on: Telephone Number 01384 241133
Belper is an important part of the Derwent Valley, universally recognised as the Cradle of the Industrial Revolution and now a World Heritage Status. Up until 1770, Belper was only a small village surrounded by fields with a population of just over 500 people. But, in 1771 all this was transformed when water powered mills were set up along the River Derwent.
This excellent walk takes you through ‘Strutt Country’, setting off from the Riverside Gardens past North Mill, along the Derwent Valley to Milford, before walking along the Chevin with splendid views of the valley below.