The rather remote hamlet of Miller’s Dale nestles along a romantically beautiful stretch of the River Wye between Buxton and Tideswell – and the built environment here is almost entirely a product of the Industrial Revolution.
The pervading atmosphere is distinctly nostalgic; the place has a poignant, magical quality about it, tinged perhaps with sadness at the nineteenth century industrial despoilation of such a beautiful natural setting. Yet Miller’s Dale is a beauty still; set amidst the surrounding landscape of the Peak District at it’s very best, characterised by natural beauty - and the derelict remains of a former industrial age.
Miller’s Dale has little known history; following the Norman Conquest the area was covered by the Royal Forest of the Peak where wolf and wild boar were hunted, but it appears that there was no significant settlement in this industrially blighted valley until the early years of the nineteenth century: although at any given time up to the First World War there were around twenty water mills working along the Wye Valley between Ashwood Dale and Bakewell.
The earliest were water-powered corn mills, but later, after the opening of the new turnpike road between Tideswell and Buxton in 1812 which provided easier access, there were mills for timber, silk, cotton – and even distilled peppermint!
Thus Miller’s Dale gets its name from the abundance of water-mills that once flourished here, and there was probably a mill here at the time of the Norman Conquest, although Miller’s Dale is not recorded in the Domesday Book. The earliest mention of a mill in the Wye Valley comes from the late thirteenth century Tideswell parish register which records the grant to a Tideswell miller of land to erect a corn mill. This mill was later owned by the monks of Lenton Abbey who farmed in nearby Monks Dale, and following the Dissolution, the ownership was transferred to the Duke of Devonshire.
William and Henry Dakin acquired the freehold in the late eighteenth century and later built a second mill nearby for grinding corn for flour. The two mills were operated for several generations by the Dakin family and in Victorian times by two brothers, George and Thomas Dakin, but died during the winter of 1912/13 by which time the mills had become unviable, and they finally ceased production in the 1920’s.
Between Miller’s Dale and Monsal Dale there were two large cotton mills, Cressbrook Mill which commenced operations under William Newton in 1783, and the notorious Litton Mill built originally in 1782, and under owner Ellis Needham, noted for the inhumane conditions suffered by its workforce of pauper children.
The Coming of The Railway
Apart from the houses built for the mill workers there appears to have been no community settlement here until the peaceful tranquility of this beautiful dale was controversially transformed forever in mid-Victorian times by the coming of the railway.
Indeed, as Ruskin famously wrote:
“That valley where you might expect to catch sight of Pan, Apollo and the Muses, is now desecrated in order that a Buxton fool may be able to find himself in Bakewell at the end of twelve minutes, and vice-versa”.
Miller’s Dale was a very important railway junction, where passengers for Buxton joined or left trains between London and Manchester on the old Midland Railway. When it opened in 1863 the station had two main platforms, and after the building of a second viaduct across the valley in 1905 two further platforms were added, making it the largest station on the Midland Line. Farmers from all over the Peak converged on the station every morning in time to catch the `Milk Train’ which conveyed two thousand gallons daily to the bottling plants in Sheffield and Manchester!
Hundreds of day-trippers poured off the trains from the smoke-blackened industrial heartlands of Manchester and Sheffield every day during the summer months, seeking the fresh country air of the Peak District, and for one hundred and five years Miller’s Dale remained one of the busiest stations on the line.
But the coming of the railway in 1863 also heralded further despoilation of the natural beauty of the dale, for it provided much easier access to the rich limestone deposits. With much larger quantities of stone and lime now capable of being transported, intensive quarrying began, quarries expanded and in 1876 a lime works opened up above the station, with batteries of lime-kilns being built alongside the track.
A number of new houses were built for the railway workers, lime-burners and quarrymen, and two hostelries were erected to cater for both the increasing commercial workforce and the day-trippers brought by the railway: the Railway Inn, which later became an hotel, and the well known and popular riverside retreat of the Angler’s Rest. The square towered St. Anne’s Church which stands beside the Buxton to Tideswell road as it follows the course of the river through the dale has a date of 1879 on the clock tower, and was designed to serve as both school and place of worship by the Vicar of Tideswell, Rev. Samuel Andrew.
All Change at Miller’s Dale!
A charming eighteenth century cottage near the church with a date-stone of 1740 and appropriately enough called `The Seventeen Forty House’, is the earliest dwelling. Almost directly opposite, near the wooden footbridge which spans the the river stands a restored water wheel marking the site of the old Meal Mill, demolished in 1972.
To reiterate what must once have been a familiar cry echoing around the now deserted remaining station platform, it was certainly a case of `all change at Miller’s Dale’ when Doctor Beeching’s axe fell in 1968. The line closed and the infrastructure surrounding the railway subsequently collapsed, the remaining quarries closed, the lime works was demolished in 1971, and all but four of the massive lime kilns, plus the Railway Hotel followed shortly afterwards.
The Peak National Park Authority took over the old line in 1980 and converted it into the extremely popular Monsal Trail, but not before vandalism had accounted for many of the old station buildings.
The hustle and bustle of the past are but distant memories and today Miller’s Dale station stands peacefully derelict beside the Monsal Trail, although the former ticket office has been restored and is now used as a base for the Peak Park Ranger Service. Also thankfully restored, are the public toilets!
There is still industry here, a Craft Industry based on the skillful art of woodturning, which is operated from an old corn mill built at the western end of the dale around 1860, purchased by Mr. Nick Davidson in 1977, and converted to suit the needs of Craft Supplies Limited.
Craft Supplies have been running residential woodturning courses at the mill for over twenty years and have a high reputation for excellence, having trained over five thousand students in woodturning and other specialised wooworking skills. Accommodation is provided opposite the mill at Milne House, a former farmhouse which these days provides comfortable bed and breakfast accommodation.
YHA accommodation is provided at Ravenstor, a large Victorian country mansion which was presented to the National trust in 1937 by Alderman J.G.Graves of Sheffield along with 64 acres of land, which included a one mile stretch of the River Wye and Tideswell Gorge, all of which are leased to the YHA and open all year round.
The old quarries are now nature reserves where wild orchids and other rare limestone loving plants grow, and both Monk’s Dale and Station Quarry are signposted and accessible from the Monsal Trail. The old station provides an ample car park for visitors, but these days it is more likely to be populated by free-range hens than cars!
Regretfully the quaintly named, `Wriggly Tin” – a fondly remembered corrugated tin shack cafe just outside the station, which once dispensed refreshments to thirsty hikers, cyclists and day-trippers alike, has also closed for the last time. But there is plenty in Miller’s Dale to fascinate and enchant the visitor, and although the massive stone and steel viaducts still dominate the valley, and the four remaining large lime-kilns still stand on the hillside above as testimony to a bygone industrial age, time and nature seems to have blended them into the landscape and they have become characteristic of the strange and magical beauty of Miller’s Dale.