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

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Once the administrative and judicial centre for the Royal Forest of the High Peak – and so incongruously named for such a beautifully situated village, the ancient settlement of Wormhill sits high on the limestone plateau halfway between Buxton and Tideswell.

`Surrounded by deep valleys and wooded hills, high on the north bank of the River Wye'

Surrounded by deep valleys and wooded hills high on the north bank of the River Wye above Miller’s Dale with panoramic views all around, Wormhill is the mother village of a large and sparsely populated parish which includes the hamlets of Tunstead, Hargatewall, Smalldale and Upper End.

The Roman Road known as Batham Gate runs from Brough on Noe to Buxton and passes through the parish - originally part of the vast Parish of Tideswell from which it was annexed in 1859 – also within it’s boundaries are the well known beauty spots of Chee Dale and Blackwell Mill.

Farming and quarrying have been the main occupations of the menfolk hereabouts down the centuries and little has changed in this remote and rural backwater.

The Mountain Limestone of the Miller’s Dale and Chee Tor Beds is of the highest quality and the purest in the country. In this area it runs to a depth of several hundred feet and is ideal for quarrying – which explains why the massive hole in the ground known as Tunstead Quarry is the largest in England with a working face almost a mile long – and which creeps ever closer along Great Rocks Dale threatening literally to undermine the village!

Mining and quarrying have waxed and waned here since the Middle Ages but farming has been a constant occupation since Mesolithic man began clearing these forested hills over 5000 years ago.

Farming on the lower slopes above the Wye can be traced back to Saxon or even earlier Celtic times – as evidenced by the narrow strips of terraced lynchets visible on the hillside from the B6049 as it climbs upward in a series of twists and turns from Miller’s Dale to the lofty heights of Wormhill at over 1000 feet.

In late Saxon times Wormhill had 500 acres of cultivatable land but by the Domesday Survey of 1086 it was described as `waste’ and had been given over to hunting by the conquering Normans as the Royal Forest of the High Peak – inhabited only by wolves, wild boar and deer.

A tiny chapel was established towards the end of the 13th century and dedicated to St. Margaret of Antioch and by 1324 Wormhill (which translates into O.E. as `Dragon-Hill’) had become an administrative centre of justice where foresters held court meetings and where Thomas Foljambe shared fifteen acres of land with John de Wolfhunt.

The parish church of St. Margaret stands surrounded by trees on the east side of the road through the village and was almost entirely rebuilt during the incumbency of Rev.A.A.Bagshawe in 1863-64, with transepts added between 1904 and 1910. The base of the tower, one small window and a part of the north wall are all that remain of the earlier chapel. The Rhineland cap on the tower is based on the famous Saxon helmet tower at Sompting in Sussex and is unique in Derbyshire.

Hidden from view below the church stands Wormhill Hall, the family home of the Bagshawe’s who acquired the manor from the Foljambes in the mid 15th century and have been a major influence here for over 500 years.

Early parish manuscripts, immaculately kept by Churchwarden Barry Pierson record that Nicholas Bagshawe was “Clerk and Schoolmaster, for want of a better” in 1674. Adam Bagshawe built the present hall in 1697 and the church has had a large number of Rev. Bagshawe’s down the years.

William Bagshawe, `The Apostle of the Peak’ preached his first sermon at the old Chapel on the site of the current church. He was a pioneering nonconformist, being ejected from his living at Glossop following the Act of Uniformity in 1688, and preached secretly at various locations throughout the Peak during many years of persecution.

During the Victorian `religious revival’ of the late 19th century F. Westby Bagshawe gave a gift of land at Upper End in 1888 on which was built a house for the curate, and on 22nd July in that same year Rev. Charles E. Bagshawe held a mass baptism at St. Margarets. Tim Bagshawe, the present owner of Wormhill Hall is a direct descendant of `The Apostle of the Peak’.

Opposite the entrance to the church on the crest of the hill is Wellhead Farm which was also the village post office until it’s closure in 1978. Since 1980 it has been the home of Barry Pierson and his wife who run a fine bed & breakfast and café establishment from the premises. Barry also doubles as Churchwarden and Clerk to the Council.

Wormhill is formed around a central village green with it’s gurgling brook, spring well-head which is dressed annually during the last weekend in August, and recently restored village stocks. Beside the road at the western edge stands a rather ornate fountain with three stone troughs which was erected in 1875 “In Memory of James Brindley, Civil Engineer, Born in this Parish 1716”.

Brindley was born in a small cottage at Tunstead and was responsible for revolutionising the transport system of the 18th century. He was a millwright and civil engineer who became a pioneer canal builder – and earned his fame in joint canal building ventures and engineering enterprises with his friends Josiah Wedgewood and the Duke of Bridgewater. He died in 1772 at the early age of 56 and though the cottage was demolished long ago, a bronze plaque marks the spot where it stood.

At the other end of the village stands Hargate Hall, built in 1900 by J.W.Wainwright. It was the home of the Whitehead family until it became a Red Cross Hospital during the Second World War, and later a residential home for the elderly. These days it is owned and run by Jim and Carol Jackson who have converted it into luxury self-catering holiday apartments.

The towered stable block next door was the home for the last 20 years of famous World War Two fighter-pilot ace Air Vice-Marshal Johnny Johnson CBE, until his sad death in February 2001.

Wormhill has been described as `a dying village’ and with the closure of the school over 30 years ago, followed by it’s post office and it’s only pub, unsurprisingly called `The Bagshawe Arms’, now converted into a private residence beside Knotlow Farm – it is easy to see why. But there is much rebuilding and renovation taking place and enough spirited enterprise to suggest that there is still some fire left in the breath of the dragon!

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