The north Derbyshire village of Calver spreads itself across the floor of the Derwent Valley alongside the main A623 road between Baslow and Stoney Middleton. The village dwellings, which are a pleasant mixture of old and new, lie mainly on the west bank of the Derwent in a triangle between the A623 and the B6001 Bakewell to Grindleford road, which cross just below Calver Sough.
This part of the Derwent Valley has been inhabited since Neolithic times - as evidenced by the recent archeological discoveries of a prehistoric settlement on nearby Gardom's Edge, and the ancient enclosures and stone circles on the moors above Curbar.
Calver is part of a large parish which also includes the villages of Curbar and Froggatt, both situated higher up the eastern slopes above the Derwent - and is the only one of the three mentioned in the Domesday Survey of 1087 when it was an outlier of the Royal Manor of Ashford.
It would be easy to suppose that the settlement in the valley bottom grew up around the so -called Calver Crossroads - but this is not so. The earliest settlement here probably began near the old bridge across the Derwent where several ancient east-west trading routes forded the river. From the Middle Ages up to the end of the nineteenth century this ancient way was used by jaggers leading pack-horse teams across the river, sometimes with up to forty heavily laden animals, before climbing the steep eastern bank up through Curbar Gap and on across Big Moor or Leash Fen to the towns of Sheffield and Chesterfield.
The settlement grew in importance following the building of the first Calver Bridge in pre -Tudor times, which replaced the earlier ford and made crossing far less hazardous - and the advent of lead-mining in the 17th and 18th centuries. A cotton mill was built near Calver Bridge in 1778 by Thomas Pares of Risley and John Gardom of Bubnell, and in 1785 Gardom built another, much larger mill close by. But tragedy struck twice within the space of three years when the 300 year-old bridge was swept away during the disastrous floods of 1799, and then the larger of Gardom's two cotton mills burned down completely in 1802. However, both bridge and mill were rebuilt within the space of two years and stand today as testimony to the tenacity of Calver folk - who remain as tenacious as ever judging by the improvements which have taken place in recent years and which are evident throughout the village today.
Throughout the 18th century Calver prospered from the development of local quarrying, lead smelting and lime-burning, and with the new industry came a new road as the Chesterfield to Wardlow Mires Turnpike was opened in 1759. Thus by 1821 the population had risen to 600, but declined along with the lead-mining industry as the century wore on.
In 1870 James Croston, in his book `On Foot Through The Peak` noted that the air at Calver was `full of pale blue smoke that wreathed itself into a variety of fantastic looking clouds' - a reference to the lime-burning and lead-smelting which still took place in late Victorian times. Sixty years later just before the second world war, travel writer Thomas Tudor remarked, "Calver is not pretty for it has mills and lime works and ugly houses, and gives little suggestion of the rural charm which agriculture and its attendant interests can throw over these Derbyshire dales"?.
These days the polluting smoke of industry is consigned to Calver's past and despite heavy traffic over the new Calver Bridge, built in 1974, the village still wears a cloak interwoven with threads of rural charm.
In it's centre, at the junction of Main Street and High Street stands the ancient village cross surmounted by a lamp which was erected in 1977 to commemmorate the Queen's Silver Jubilee. The stone base once housed the village pump and also carries commemmorative placques celebrating Queen Victoria's Coronation of June 28th 1838, and the erection of the original lamp by public subscription to celebrate the Coronation of King George V, June 22nd 1911. Facing the cross in the oldest part of the village is the post-office, which was once a bakehouse, and on higher ground overlooking this scene is Hall Fold dating from 1628.
Higher still and on a rise which overlooks the cricket ground towards Calver Sough stands the Derwentwater Arms, a Georgian Inn which is said to be haunted. This is the headquarters of Calver Cricket Club, one of the oldest cricket clubs in the county.
There are two other pubs, the Eyre Arms standing on the corner by the crossroads just beyond White's Garage, and the Bridge Inn with its riverside beer -garden, which stands beside the old bridge at the bottom of Curbar Lane directly opposite All Saints Parish Church and the village school.
The eastern side of the village also boasts the Calver Newsagents and General Store, and the excellent Derbyshire Craft Centre and Tea Rooms, established some years ago by Chris & Christine Lowe, which is generally thronged with visitors all year round.
Behind this modern enterprising scene stands the gritstone edifice of Calver Mill, recently converted into luxury apartments.Originally a cotton mill, it became a Ministry of Supply store from 1940 - 45, and then a factory which manufactured stainless steel products, but it is perhaps more famously recognised with swastika's flying from it's battlements as Colditz Castle, for it was used as the location for the original `Colditz' television series!
The village was on the television news a couple of years ago too - when the Fourways CafÃ© at Calver Crossroads was destroyed by fire!
Calver has changed almost beyond recognition during the last century, and has seen much `infill' building by both the local authority and private sector since the second world war, especially between the old village centre and Calver Sough where the large and very popular Garden Centre now stands.
The sough is a great underground basin which collects water from several lead-mine soughs (water drainage channels); a brook empties from the underground basin and meanders quaintly through the village to spill into the Derwent, adding charm and character to the lush gardens along it's winding route.
These days there is an air of regeneration about Calver and a number of very pleasing changes have taken place quite recently. The old ramshackle tin-roofed village hall alongside the main road has been replaced by a new Kingdom Hall, and an excellently equipped new Village Hall was opened a couple of years ago on land opposite the re-vamped Methodist Chapel on the old Main Street.
Calver has risen like a phoenix from the ashes of it's industrial heritage and a new cloak of rural charm now clothes this `village in the valley' amidst the Derbyshire Dales.
This article has been brought to you by our resident peak district writer Tom Bates