King Sterndale is an oasis amid the hills, trapped in a pocket of beauty and tranquillity, mostly thanks to the Pickford family who transformed the once bleak surroundings into an arboreal estate.
King Sterndale has a total population of around 30 people, and is reached by car only from one direction on a fine example of an enclosure road from Heathfield Nook off the A515 Buxton to Ashbourne road. The road is 60 ft wide for most of its length and was created when the surrounding fields were enclosed around 1773. The road was diverted slightly after the church was built in 1847 to include it into the parkland of the Pickford’s estate.
From the regally named King Sterndale, there is a steep track down into Deep Dale which is a fascinating dry ravine with precipitous limestone crags, slitherbanks and a stony filled valley bottom. The dale contains a cave which has provided evidence of habitation from at least 1,000 years ago, and it may well have been occupied in prehistoric times.
One of the largest caves in Deep Dale is some 100 yards long but contains a drop after about 20 feet. It is known as Hobs Hurst House where it is thought that the mischievous elf or pixie known as Hob lived. He was one of the ‘little people’ often talked of in old stories and legends and supposedly put a spell on a neighbouring spring so that anyone who drank the waters on Good Friday and believed in its virtues were healed of any sickness.
Further up Deep Dale is a fork where Horsehoe Dale heads off in front. Here there is a path known as the Priest’s Way. Centuries ago before the main roads were laid, this path was a safe route used by the priests of Chelmorton to visit their neighbouring parishes towards Buxton.
By the side of the road heading for King Sterndale is the tiny Christ Church which was built in 1847 and designed by Sir Henry Hawkins. In it are said to be the memorials to the Pickford family as well as some beautiful stained glass windows. There are examples of carved oak including the pulpit and lectern, which are the work of Advent Hunstone of Tideswell. The parish also includes the villages of Staden and Cowdale.
In the centre of King Sterndale are a little cluster of cottages which make up this hamlet and a tiny village green with the remains of an ancient butter cross which was restored in 1937.
King Sterndale Hall or The Cottage as it is now known was the home of the Pickford family who founded the famous firm of carriers. Here the horses rested and were changed on their regular journeys from London to the north.
James Pickford came from Cheshire. In 1756 in the Manchester Mercury, it was advertised that the ‘London & Manchester waggoner’ could cover 20 miles in a day. In 1776 the fly-waggon was introduced which had springs to make travelling more comfortable. By this time the journey from Manchester through Buxton, Derby and to London took 4 ½ days and covered 42 miles per day. By 1903 this trip had been shortened to 36 hours. I wonder what it is now? William Pickford was master of the rolls and obtained a peerage as Baron Pickford, the title dying with him in 1923.
Hundreds of wonderful beech trees were planted around King Sterndale by the Pickford family to transform the bleak and desolate moorland landscape into a more cultured and sheltered parkland.