Over Haddon, which is situated just over 2 miles south-west of Bakewell , is probably one of Derbyshire’s prettiest villages, with an assortment of houses and cottages mainly built of limestone, typical of the White Peak.
The villages, has an idyllic setting, nestling on a ridge high above Lathkill Dale which stretches like a deep dark chasm toward Monyash in the west whilst opening out into a lush green dale with a succession of weirs as the river flows downstream towards Alport.
At the far end of Over Haddon stands the impressive whitewashed Lathkil Hotel which can be seen from far and wide as a distant landmark. It was formerly the Miners Arms and its dining room is said to have the best views of any Derbyshire hostelry.
In a nearby field, on a promontory of land above Lathkill Dale, was the site of Over Haddon Hall, which was built in the mid 16th century but demolished before the invention of cameras, and only a few drawings of this manorial house are known to exist. What fabulous panoramic views there must have been from its windows.
The rich pastureland around Over Haddon has been farmed since Neolithic times. In the Middle Ages several Granges were established in the locality where monks farmed huge flocks of sheep, mainly for their valuable wool.
Behind The Lathkil Hotel is a high wall by the parking area where it is just possible to see the remaining fabric of an early cottage which belonged to Martha Taylor. She was renowned as being the ‘Derbyshire Non-Such’, the ‘Fasting Damsel’ or ‘Mirabile Pecci’. Martha gained nationwide interest and curiosity, putting Over Haddon well and truly on the map and in the record books. At the age of 8 Martha was struck a blow on the back by a neighbour which led to spinal trouble and she took to her bed in 1662. On 22nd December 1667 when aged 18 Martha began a fast which is said to have lasted more than a year, existing only on a few drops of water and sugar or the juice of a roasted raisin. She nearly choked to death on one occasion when persuaded to try and swallow part of a fig!
Martha was visited by both doctors of medicine and theology and in a pamphlet printed in 1668 which is held at the British Museum, it quotes: “this maid is alive and hath a watch set over her by the Earl of Devonshire” – the Earl is said to have taken a great interest in Martha’s case, arranging for a rota taken from a selection of between 40-60 neighbouring villages to watch over her to see if the fast was genuine. It was proven that for long spells Martha did not take nourishment other than that mentioned and she slowly deteriorated in condition. However, her burial was not recorded until June 12th 1684.
Over Haddon has another claim to fame in being the birthplace of Sir Maurice Oldfield who was the son of a local farmer but went on to become the head of MI6 from 1973-78. His grave can be found in the churchyard of St Anne’s, which is a little gothic style church built in 1880 that serves the parish.
A narrow lane leads down into the dale from the main part of the village to a fishing lodge and the remains of an old corn mill. Records show that the present mill building dates from at least 1529 and was still working until the early 19th century. However, a mill is known to have existed on this site in medieval times. Upstream of the mill are the fascinating and stabilised remains of lead mines including the bob wall of Mandale Mine and the derelict remains of Bateman’s House which was built by Thomas Bateman, one of the mine managers. It was constructed directly over a mine shaft, as he wanted to keep secret his then revolutionary engine used to pump water from the continuously flooding mine - at that time there were several companies competing in the dale to extract the valuable lead ore.
The river Lathkill is a ‘disappearing river’ in that long stretches dry out in summer months or following dry spells of weather, the depleted water flow following an underground route before reappearing from a series of swallet holes just downstream of the lodge.
Below Over Haddon, the river is swelled by a series of eleven weirs, with one particularly deep section being known as The Blue Waters due to its colour. One opinion is that the colour comes from the purity and depth of water, whilst another theory being that it is due to the high content of minerals present after having flowed through the limestone.
It is possible to observe mallard , moorhen, grebe, dabchick as well as dipper on the river.
To the side of the river is a trout breeding pool, and it is interesting to note that Charles Cotton of Dove Dale fame wrote the following of the ‘Lathkin’ as he referred to it, “it is by many degrees the purest and most transparent stream that I ever yet saw, either at home or abroad, and breeds it is said the reddest and the best trout in England”!
By the side of the river are the remains of a tiny pump house which once held equipment that fed troughs in the villages, of Over Haddon high on the hillside above, until mains water was installed.
In 1854 the bank to the side of the river took on a ‘Klondike’ appearance. It was claimed that gold had been found in a bed of volcanic toadstone, resulting in the £1 shares in the mine to escalate practically overnight to £30 each. After much publicity and excitement the bulk of the find was analysed as iron pyrites or ‘fools gold’ and within a short while the mine was closed, thus ending the Over Haddon Gold Rush!
About ¾-mile downstream from Over Haddon is the medieval Conksbury Bridge which appears at first sight to be a long solid wall until you observe the tiny low-down arches. This carried the Newhaven to Grindleford turnpike and was also used as a sheepwash bridge until after World War II. The settlement of Conksbury on the banks to the south was abandoned centuries ago.