Hathersage today is a large attractive village with hotels and shops lining the main street. To the north, Stanage Edge rises steeply and to the south flows the River Derwent. In the 19th century the scene was very different. Five chimneys belched out black smoke, Hathersage being the centre of the needle, pin and wire drawing industry. Brass buttons were also manufactured and in 1847 Samuel Fox designed his Fox Frame lightweight umbrellas. Those industries, along with their smoke, vanished around 1900 although four mills still remain but now with different uses.
Button manufacture started at Dale Mill in 1720, the metal brought by packhorses from Sheffield before being returned in the form of brass buttons which were much in demand.
In the mid 1700s the rural quiet gradually began to change with the arrival of the wire drawing industry. It was nearly 100 years before the industry really took off, following the Great Exhibition when orders started to come in rapidly. Somewhat cynically, it was said that a wire drawer was easy to identify because he had several missing fingers. Even more serious were the working conditions for ‘grinders’ who seldom lived much over 30 years of age. The dust from the rapidly revolving millstones over which they toiled, got into their mouths and lungs until they contracted the dreaded ‘grinders’ disease’.
Conditions were gradually improved, particularly as a result of a Royal Commission investigating the working environment. The grinders, however, did not always take the precautions advised as they claimed these slowed productivity. When the industry finally came to an end, Hathersage once again returned to its former peace and quiet.
Hathersage has strong literary connections. Charlotte Bronte’s best friend at school was Ellen Nussey, whose brother was vicar of Hathersage. In 1845, Charlotte stayed at the vicarage with Ellen for about three weeks to prepare for the return of the vicar and his wife from honeymoon.
During her stay Charlotte took the opportunity to explore, walking on the moors and visiting many of the houses scattered around the area. Her famous novel ‘Jane Eyre’ was set in Hathersage. She used the name of the landlord of the George Inn, a Mr Morton, who greeted her when she first arrived, as the name for her fictitious village.
The famous outlaw Robin Hood is said to have been born at Loxley, only eight miles from Hathersage. His lieutenant, Little John, is reputedly buried in Hathersage churchyard, in a grave measuring 11 feet from head to footstone.
The grave was opened in 1784 and a thigh bone 30 inches in length exhumed, which would make the occupant over seven foot tall. For many years a great bow and arrow hung in the church. On Stanage Edge is Robin Hood’s Cave, which he is supposed to have used as a hideaway and the Hood Brook flows through the village. Yet it is Nottinghamshire and not Derbyshire which has reaped the commercial benefits from this legendary figure.
Standing on the hillside above the village is St Michael’s Church, which contains a fine collection of 15th century brasses of the Eyre family. In the porch is a large 600 year old stone said to have once marked Little John’s grave. The churchyard is well tended and the Lych Gate particularly impressive.
Close by the church is Camp Green which dates back to 850 AD; the circular mound was a fortification built by the Danes. At the bottom of Church Bank is a well-preserved example of a Pinfold that provided a secure lockup for straying livestock. It was the Pinders’ responsibility to round up stray animals and not release them before the owner had paid a fine.
Set low in the wall about 50 yards above Dale Crescent, is an inscribed Gospel Stone, where the priest stood at Rogationtime to bless the crops.
The present Scotsman’s Pack Inn was built in the early 1900s, but there has been an inn on the site since the 14th century. A ‘Scotchman’ or ‘Scotsman’ is a name given to a pedlar, not necessarily from Scotland, which is how the inn derived its name. The George Hotel is another coaching inn, to the right of which close by the footpath, is a 19th century cheese press.
Just above at the entry to The Crofts, is an ancient milestone indicating ‘10 miles to Sheffield’. The railway station is a short distance down the Grindleford road and a little further on is an award winning cutlery factory for architectural design.
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PLACES OF SPECIAL INTEREST IN THE LOCALITY
David Mellor Cutlery Factory (Tel.01433 650220) designated a masterpiece of modern architecture. The shop beside the factory sells a wide range of cutlery and is open seven days a week. The factory may be visited during the week.
Padley Chapel an early 14th century gatehouse and chapel is all that remains of Padley Manor House, the home of two Roman Catholic families who were persecuted. Two priests from here were executed for their beliefs.
Ladybower and the Derwent Valley is a popular area for visitors. The dams in the valley were used by Dr. Barnes Wallis and his team to test his bouncing bomb and the film ‘The Dam Busters’ was partly shot here.
Longlands Eating House (01433 651978) upstairs in the popular outdoor shop, the café provides good wholesome food in pleasant surroundings. A familiar haunt for walkers open seven days a week.
Scotsman’s Pack Inn (01433 650253) standing on one of the old track ways to Sheffield, there has been an inn on this site since the 14th century. There is a good choice of food available seven days a week. Seating outside when the weather is suitable.
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A lovely valley walk alongside the Hood Brook, before climbing to North Lees Hall with good views of Stanage Edge and returning across the fields to explore Hathersage.
The Hood Brook provides one of the many connections with Robin Hood in the area. Another landmark with literary connections that is passed early in the walk is Brookfield Manor, which is linked with Jane Eyre.
Stanage Edge looms high above, concealing a cave where Robin Hood is said to have hidden. North Lees Hall, Thornfield, in Jane Eyre is one of the seven manors that Robert Eyre distributed among his seven sons.
On returning to Hathersage yet another connection with Robin Hood is found in the well tended churchyard of St Michael’s, where Little John is buried!
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