Hidden from the main road, the centre of the village clings to the steep hillside. Tiny individually shaped cottages set at odd angles, among a profusion of narrow winding streets and alleyways, give the appearance of a picturesque Cornish fishing village, with just the sea and several thousand gallons of whitewash missing.
Approaching the village from the south through Bradwell Dale, considered one of the most beautiful valleys in the county, steep cliffs line either side of the road for about three quarters of a mile. On reaching the village, the lack of obvious long term parking facilities seems to invite the driver to press on towards Castleton and Edale. This is a pity, because although Bradwell is very much a working village and not a recognised tourist trap, it does have a lot to offer as well as excellent walking and beautiful scenery.
In its heyday, lead mining was the main pre-occupation of the majority of the population, the village being one of the most important lead mining settlements in Derbyshire. Although originally there were several large mines in the area and innumerable small ones.
The miners wore ‘Bradder Beavers’, a hat styled in the fashion of a military helmet, said to be the prototype of the ‘tin hat’. On the top of the hat, a candle was placed to light the way down the mine. The hats became very popular and were used widely throughout Derbyshire, although originally designed for lead miners they were soon put to other uses and their popularity spread well beyond the county boundaries.
The demise of lead mining did not result in the collapse of the local economy as other forms of employment included silk weaving, cotton spinning, clog making. More unusually Bradwell became the local centre of the optical industry producing telescopes, opera glasses and spectacles.
Some of the women worked in the cotton mill at Bamford, a twelve-hour day starting at 6am in the morning. They had to undertake the long journey twice a day, whatever the weather. In order to ensure they did not oversleep, a ‘knocker-up’ was employed to go round the houses in the morning. He carried a long pole, knocked on the windows, and called out the women’s names.
Samuel Fox, the son of a shuttle maker was born in Bradwell in 1815; he had an inventive mind and a capacity for hard work. He not only founded the massive steelworks at Stocksbridge, near to Sheffield, but gained worldwide recognition by designing the folding-frame umbrella. A benevolent man, he never forgot his home village, providing money to build a church, a site for the vicarage and setting up a trust fund for annual distribution to the poor and needy.
The building in 1868, of the church of St Barnabas, enabled the Anglicans to worship in their own village instead of having to go to the church in Hope. Many of the villagers though attended non-conformist services. The first Presbyterian Chapel (now Scout HQ) was built in 1662, for the ‘Apostle of the Peak’, the Reverend William Bagshawe, and other chapels and Sunday Schools soon followed. Methodism was strongly supported in Bradwell and John Wesley preached in the village, in 1747. The former Wesleyan Sunday School, now a private house, is unusual, in that it is built over the Bradwell Brook.
An interesting custom for many years was for youths to stretch a rope across the road and not allow the bride and groom to get to the church before they had paid a toll. The money was then normally spent in the nearest hostelry, when no doubt a toast to bride and groom was drunk!
In 1807, lead miners working in Mulespinner Mine discovered Bagshawe Cavern. It takes its name from Lady Bagshawe, who together with her husband owned the land and visited the mine soon after its discovery. The cavern has an extensive network of chambers some of which have not been fully explored. Arrangements can be made for parties to view the cavern.
The main source of employment is the Cement Works at Hope and the local quarries. In the village itself, Newburgh Engineering employs a good number of people; during the Second World War the company made munitions. Bradwell’s the ice cream manufacturers make their award winning ice in the village and also operate a small shop.
The village is well served for public houses with the Bath Hotel, Ye Olde Bowling Green, White Hart Inn and Valley Lodge. Bradwell has its own Fire Station, opposite The Beggars’ Plot - the main sports ground before the new complex was opened on the edge of the village. Close to the foot of Smalldale an information panel tells the story of Cobb Barn, that was once used as both an hatting factory and optical works.
On Carnival Day, held on the Saturday before the first Monday in August, the procession starts from Beggars’ Plot at the beginning of Well Dressing Week.
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In an area where most walkers head for Castleton and Edale, this walk will come as a pleasant surprise, with its glorious views and fascinating historical information.
Brough is the site of the Roman fort of Navio, though little can be seen today. Recent excavations revealed an enclosure with walls six feet thick.
The walk climbs steadily upwards from St Ann’s Well, with fine views soon coming into sight as you work your way up past the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust Reserve of Overdale, to Robin Hood’s Cross. This was sited near where you turn to descend Bradwell Dale, only the base of the cross remains embedded in the field wall.
As you make the steep descent to Bradwell, the views of the village are exceptional.
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