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Logo: Tom Bates, Derbyshire Local Histrory writer  
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Posted Sunday, May 13, 2007

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Sheldon - `Remote & Untouched'

The small hill-village of Sheldon sits alone on the eastern edge of the White Peak plateau at around 1000ft. and is one of the highest and most remote of Derbyshire’s limestone villages.

This settlement of about 100 inhabitants presents two distinctly different faces to the visitor, depending upon the direction from which it is approached.

Travellers from the south and west coming over the high, wild windswept moors from the direction of the neighbouring villages of Chelmorton, Flagg and Monyash are presented with a tree-less landscape and an array of crumbling and derelict field barns, lead-mine spoil heaps and deeply cut rakes which scour the surrounding bleak and barren moorland and provide ample evidence of Sheldon’s industrial past.

In dramatic contrast the landscape to the north and east of the village is far more hospitable as the road through Sheldon crests the hill top and plunges down through Kirk Dale and the steeply wooded slopes of the Wye Gorge towards Ashford in the Water.

There are many spectacular views from this hill top village, which lies just 3 miles due west of Bakewell and about one and a half miles from the A6 as it leaves Ashford in the Water and begins to climb up through Taddington Dale.

In between these two contrasting landscapes lies a very pretty and largely `untouched’ limestone hill village with wide pleasant grass verges and surprisingly colourful and verdant cottage gardens beside the undulating and twisting road which runs through it’s centre.

The most prominent and familiar feature standing starkly silhouetted on the Sheldon skyline like a giant finger pointing to the sky, is the chimney stack rising from the skeletal remains of the old Magpie Mine.

Standing on a plateau half a mile away above the village and the largest of several in the area, the mine is the finest lead mining relic in Britain and provided work on and off for almost three centuries, most profitably in 1868-70 when £19,000 worth of lead ore was extracted from depths of almost 700 feet.

Around this time the population of Sheldon rose by 25% owing to the influx of Cornish miners who came originally to install a Cornish beam engine and stayed on to work in the mine.

The Magpie was frequently closed owing to flooding, and an attempt to rework it between 1951 and 1958 ended in failure for this reason, and a dramatic collapse in the lead market. It is a listed building and now a mining museum administered by the Peak District Mines Historical Society who open it to visitors during the summer.

The Magpie Mine has a fascinating history which includes a murder charge against 17 miners who were accused of killing 3 fellow miners, - and acquitted at Derby Assizes after a two day trial in 1833. The 3 widows of the dead men are said to have put a curse on the mine,- and a ghost was reputedly sighted there in1946.

Sheldon’s population of around 100 has halved since the height of it’s lead mining `glory’ days in the mid 19th century which saw the building of the Gothic-Victorian church of St.Michael & All Angels in 1865 and the National School in 1878.

An 1877 Sheldon directory lists 10 farms in the parish including one run by the landlord of the Devonshire Arms which finally closed in 1972 after being run for almost a century by the Gyte family.

Although there is ample evidence of human activity around Sheldon dating back to 6,000 B.C during the Mesolithic period, the earliest records date from the time of Edward the Confessor when the village was an outlier of the Royal Manor of `Asheforde’.

Things have changed little since the Norman Conquest and during the intervening millennium Sheldon has retained it’s links with Ashford. Both villages are served by a joint Parish Council, and both churches, along with those at Wardlow and Longstone are served by a team vicar who currently resides at Ashford in the Water.

Another link with Ashford, now severed, was the old Arrock Quarry, a source of the famous Ashford `black marble’ which provided employment for the men of Sheldon until it’s closure in 1905.

Until land and property was sold off in the 1950’s to help pay death duties Sheldon was a ducal village belonging to the Duke of Devonshire, who gave the old National School building as a gift to the village. Renamed the Hartington Memorial Hall, it was presented to the village in memory of William Frederick John Cavendish, Marquis of Hartington, a Major in the Coldstream Guards who was killed in action on 10th September 1944.

The church of St. Michael & All Angels which stands back off the village street was built in 1865 and replaced a much earlier building which was recorded as a chapelry attached to the church at Bakewell. The present church is exceptionally well cared for and has a surprisingly light and spacious interior.

Most of the buildings in Sheldon are of limestone and date from the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and indeed, it would seem that the 20th century brought a long, slow decline in Sheldon’s fortunes with the closure of it’s lead mines and it’s quarries. Now at the start of a new Millennium Sheldon still has a small but dwindling number of farmers, it has never had a post office, and it no longer has a shop, - but in this somewhat remote and unspoilt village there is one amazing exception to the rule of general decline, - The Cock & Pullet, which has replaced the Devonshire Arms as the lone public house.

To the casual observer the Cock and Pullet appears to be a well sited and long established stone-built village hostelry, standing half way down the steep village Main Street almost opposite the footpath to the church, and beside the village’s public telephone kiosk. The stained glass panel at the entrance gives a clue to the surprising and completely unexpected interior which resembles a remarkable 17th century museum-like parlour, dining area complete with period fireplace, and oak beamed ceilings. This apparently well preserved `gem’ was constructed in 1995!

This White Peak hill village exhibits a range of contrasting moods throughout the year and each changing season brings a remarkable and fascinating transformation of character.In the late autumn and winter months Sheldon seems a cold, bleak and inhospitable place and its surrounding sullen moorlands and fields lay barren and deserted. But at the height of full summer the village is transformed into a countryside paradise of air and light, and the lanes and ancient trackways are thronged by walkers who come to sample the scenic delights and peaceful tranquility of this White Peak wonderland.

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