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

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Wardlow - `Won from the Wilderness'

Wardlow is the epitome of the original Derbyshire hill village, a former lead-mining and agricultural community, with stone-built farmhouses and limestone rubble cottages surrounded by part-cultivated enclosed land, hard won from the wilderness of the surrounding moorland.

`its essential character has remained unchanged down the years'

The settlement was founded sometime around the mid-thirteenth century, as evidence from the medieval layout of it’s pre-enclosure field systems suggests, and its essential character has remained unchanged down the years.

Remote and isolated from the rest of civilisation on the lower western slopes of Longstone Moor and with neither shop or post-office of its own, the village presents a countenance to the visitor which is entirely dependent upon the seasons.

Standing on a north facing hillside, with dwellings mainly facing east or west, the place can seem inhospitably harsh, barren and windswept in the cold winter months – but it is transformed into a picturesque country paradise during the spring and summer, with its pretty church, village pub, and ancient stone-built farmhouses set amidst wonderful walking country.

First mentioned in 1258, Wardlow gets its name – which means `watch – hill’ - from the old lookout atop Wardlow Hay Cop, rising to almost 1200 feet just half a mile to the west of the village.

A mile further south-westward stands the better-known Roman lookout post at Fin Cop, which towers over the Wye Valley at the head of neighbouring Monsal Dale, and this direction is perhaps the best approach to the village.

The B6465 road follows the ancient route of the old Portway, climbing steadily northward for almost four miles from Ashford-in-the-Water past Monsal Head and winding up over the eastern shoulder of Wardlow Hay, before dropping gently down its northern flanks to the T-junction with the main A623 Chesterfield to Chapel-en-le-Frith road at Wardlow Mires, and the mile-long village sits astride the northernmost stretch of this minor road.

This stretch of the Old Portway was little more than a cart track until 1759, when it was laid out as the Bakewell to Wardlow Mires turnpike, with a toll-gate at either end of the Ashford to Wardlow Mires section.

Evidence of prehistoric occupation was discovered during the course of this 18th century roadlaying, when workmen unearthed a late Neolithic chambered barrow containing seventeen skeletons arranged like the spokes of a wheel, with two central interments completely walled-up separately and encased in stone from head to foot, one of only three such burial sites to be found in England.

But Wardlow Mires is locally famed for a single skeleton of a far more macabre and grisly origin – that of murderer Anthony Lingard, executed at Derby in 1815, and the last person to be gibbeted in Derbyshire.

Lingard was found guilty of the murder of seventy year-old widow Hannah Oliver, who kept the long since demolished toll-bar cottage which stood at the junction of the turnpike roads opposite the inn. He broke into the cottage on the night of Sunday 15th January 1815, strangled the widow with a scarf and robbed her of her money and a pair of red leather shoes.

He escaped undetected, but the shoes were his downfall!

His girlfriend liked neither the shoes, nor the way he had obtained them– and reported him to the authorities. The police found the red shoes hidden at Lingards home, and the cobbler, Samuel Marsden from Stoney Middleton, recognised them as the pair he had made for Hannah Oliver. Ironically, this was confirmed by a piece of packing used in the heel of a shoe on which were printed the words, `commit no crime’.

Lingard was hanged at Derby on March 28th 1815, and as was the custom in those days, his corpse was hung close to the scene of the crime - in Gibbet Field at Wardlow Mires – appropriately perhaps, on April Fools Day!

The grisly spectacle drew carnival crowds of up to two thousand people for months, and side-shows and booths were set up around the field, until finally the Duke of Devonshire ordered the gibbet to be removed following complaints from residents that the rattling of the bones in the iron cage was keeping them awake at night!

These days the more pleasant attractions at Wardlow Mires include the delightfully unique early seventeenth century Three Stags’ Heads - which for almost two hundred years doubled as a farmhouse and a pub run by the Furniss family - and the Wardlow Miers Café and Rex filling-station on the opposite side of the main road.

There are no longer any Furniss’s left in Wardlow, but the Three Stags’ Heads remains a dual purpose living for the current landlord, Geoff Fuller, is a potter and runs a small country pottery next door! The quaint interior of the pub is a delight with its tiny bar and homely front parlour atmosphere, complete with open fire and Dickensian kitchen range, it remains a rare untouched gem from a bygone age.

Almost a mile to the south beside the undulating road which runs through the centre of the village stands the Bull’s Head, a pleasant country hostelry which provides home cooked food and fine ale!

The Church of the Good Shepherd, built in 1873, stands nearby on the crest of a small rise, next to the bell-turreted former village school. The school predates the church by forty years, and since its closure some years ago, has doubled as both Sunday School and Village Hall.

Well Dressing takes place here each September, and until the advent of piped water in 1937, Wardlow depended on several wells for its supply.

One of the wells is down a lane beside Elm Cottage, the home of Mr.Frank Robinson and his wife Barbara, who told me that the overgrown well once had a pump, and that the village relied on stand-pipes for it’s water until the 1950’s. Frank, a lifelong resident of Wardlow was born seventy five years ago “at farm up top” – which means at Hay Farm, on the slopes of Hay Cop.

“When I were a lad it were all farms and a couple of smallholdings, lamented Frank, but now Fearns at Somerset House down at the Mires, (beef and sheep) is just about the only proper farm left. Manor Farm’s empty, but Philip Maltby still farms the land, but rest of them are gone”, he said. Frank told me that his mother bought Elm Cottage sixty years ago for £200; a similar property just up the road is currently for sale at £275,000, “And it has no garden!” exclaimed Mrs. Robinson, as I stood admiring Frank’s handywork in the vegetable plots and colourful borders of their beautiful cottage garden!

The Farm `up top’ these days is Undercop, which stands next to Hay Farm and was built forty years ago by Mr. Stan Wain, who has since moved lower down the slope and across the road to the spacious Hall Farm, the deeds of which he has traced back to 1620. Indeed, the main farmhouse, although substantially altered, has the original characteristics of a typical Jacobean Hall, with gritstone mullions and two rare original oriole windows.

Stan, a noted builder, has also transformed the old outbuildings into several very desirable courtyard cottages, and the modern complex at Hall Farm is a tribute to his foresight and skill, and does him great credit.

At the other end of the village stands Manor Farm, which also exhibits the characteristics of a much older complex, in this case, a laithe house or longhouse in which house and outbuildings were interconnected and shared one roof. Thus the main house of 1720, where tradition holds that John Wesley once preached, could be an 18th century modification of a much earlier building.

The rich `White Rake’ lead vein attracted settlers here over three centuries ago, but the nearby Watergrove lead mine closed in early Victorian times, and with the decline in farming over the latter half of the twentieth century, there has been a subsequent upsurge in farm modernisation and barn conversions. Property prices have rocketed and twenty-first century Wardlow has become a `des-res’ commuter village - as Frank Robinson pointed out to me as I was leaving;

“You can only come to Wardlow nowadays if you’re very rich”, he called from the doorway of Elm Cottage.

I replied that I wasn’t, - but that if I was, then perhaps I’d stay a bit longer.Wardlow is that kind of place!

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