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Logo: Tom Bates, Derbyshire Local Histrory writer  
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Bakewell

Posted Thursday, May 24, 2007

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`Capital of the Derbyshire Dales'

Bakewell – Historic Market Town

The picturesque and historic market town of Bakewell is the largest settlement in the Peak District National Park, and is well known to residents and visitors alike as the `Capital of the Derbyshire Dales’.

Indeed, Bakewell’s Aldern House is the headquarters and administrative centre of the Peak District National Park Authority, and the sympathetically restored seventeenth century Market Hall, with its miniature gables and twin-light mullioned windows is now home to the excellent Peak Park Information and Exhibition Centre.

The town has a long and fascinating history; first mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1085, `Badequella’, meaning `bath-spring’ has been attracting visitors for two thousand years ever since the Romans discovered it’s warm chalybeate wells, of which there were at least twelve, making it an ideal place for settlement.

`A virtual paradise beside the pure crystal waters of the Wye'

Little wonder that the Celts and Romans were followed by the Saxons and Danes to this `little wonder’; this virtual paradise beside the pure crystal waters of the Wye, for throughout the rich tapestry of its history, Bakewell has provided an abundance of lifes pleasures for those who have sought solace and beauty in the heart of the delightful Derbyshire Dales countryside. It still does, and there is `little wonder’ that modern 21st century Bakewell has become the most popular and most visited town in the Peak District of Derbyshire, for it provides an ideal base for tourists to explore its numerous attractions, and those in the surrounding landscape.

Fascinating gems there are in abundance, but the jewels in Bakewell’s crown must be the River Wye with its gothic five-arched 14th century bridge, one of the oldest in the country, and the Parish Church of All Saints, whose fine spire and unusual octagonal tower have been a landmark on the hillside overlooking the town for over six hundred years.

The Saxons built the original church on the site and the Normans added to it, but the present church dates from the 13th & 14th centuries - although a sympathetic major 19th century restoration by Gilbert Scott has added a magnificence to the already beautiful aspect of the structure. Around the porch area are Celtic, Saxon and Norman relics, including a beautifully carved Anglian Cross from the 8th century, whilst inside are fine monuments to the Vernons and Manners of nearby Haddon Hall, and a particularly fine alabaster effigy of Sir Godrey Foljambe.

In the centre of the town stand the resplendent Bath Gardens, awash with the colour and variety of intricate floral displays throughout the summer, with manicured lawns and seating areas sheltered by ornamental trees adding ambience and atmosphere to the peace and tranquility of the place in the very heart of the bustling market town. The Gardens take their name from a 17th century bath-house which houses an original stone bath, built over the `Warm Well’, the main chalybeate well in the town, by the Duke of Rutland in 1697. The bath-house still stands but is not open to the public, although the water from the well bubbles through an ornamental fountain and fills a large stone trough in the gardens, making an attractive water-feature.

Of the many noteable buildings in the town perhaps the oldest and most interesting, and certainly one with the most fascinating history is the Old House Museum, just off Church Street. Originally built in 1534 by Ralph Gell of Hopton Hall, its owners down the centuries include Sir Richard Arkwright and the Duke of Devonshire. Sixty years ago, with the building in disrepair and with no modern amenities, the local council issued a demolition notice, but in 1954 the Bakewell Historical Society was founded and saved the house from being demolished and spent many years restoring it into today’s historic museum.

The Old Town Hall in King Street was built in 1709, and Bagshaw Hall, north of the churchyard, is probably a century earlier than its 1684 restoration by Thomas Bagshaw.

The Rutland Arms is a large handsome Georgian Coaching Inn standing on the corner of Rutland Square in the town centre. It was built to replace the old White Horse Inn which had become inadequate to cater for the increasing number of visitors to the town. One of its first guests was novelist Jane Austen who stayed here in 1811, and based the fictional town of Lambton in `Pride & Prejudice’ on her impressions of Bakewell.

Of course, Bakewell is famous the world over for the culinary delights of its Bakewell Puddings – not tarts, thank you very much Mr Kipling! The original recipe remains a guarded secret, and is kept in a safe at Ye Olde Original Bakewell Pudding Shop in the town, from where Bakewell Puddings are sent all over the world.

Modern Bakewell has something for everyone, and everything for someone, from its many historic buildings and its wonderful riverside walks along the banks of the Wye, to its award-winning newly designed and recently revamped town centre with shopping arcades and numerous emporiums of excellence.

In recent years the town had added a modern swimming pool, a new Public Library, and a completely renovated and attractively landscaped riverside area, with a new metal footbridge across the river to its wealth of cafes, tea-shops, restaurants, bistros and friendly pubs.

Bakewells success is based on its beautiful location in the Wye Valley and its function as a centre for commerce, agriculture and tourism. Its Market Charter was granted in 1330, and there is an open market in the town every Monday, whilst the Cattle Market is one of the largest in the county, and held these days in the award-winning Agricultural Business Centre across the river.

The famous Bakewell Show is held every August on the Showground across the river; inaugerated as a mainly local show in 1819, it has since grown out of all proportion into one of England’s Premier Country Shows, with regular crowds of around fifty thousand – weather permitting!

Haddon Hall, barely a mile away down the valley is regarded as the finest medieval Manor House in England, and is a seat of the Duke of Rutland, whilst the Duke of Devonshire’s splendid Chatsworth House, known as the Palace of the Peak, stands sedately beside the Derwent less than three miles away.

Bakewell has a golf course to the east of the town accessible from Station Road, whilst also accessible from the Old Station car park nearby is the Monsal Trail. The Trail was once the main railway line to Buxton and Manchester, but now provides one of the most scenic of walks both beside the Wye, and through some of the most picturesque of dales landscapes all the way to Miller’s Dale – and best of all, it’s free!

 
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