Bradwell History

Bradwell is perhaps one of the more obscure of Derbyshire villages, lying as it does in a narrow valley of its own along a minor road which runs between Tideswell and the Hope Valley deep in the limestone hills to the north of the county.

This is rugged countryside at the northern limits of the White Peak and Bradwell seems to blend perfectly into the natural landscape, with its narrow ginnels and stone houses either clinging in haphazard clusters to the steep hillsides, or following the course of the road and the Bradwell Brook which meander through the village along the valley floor.

This ancient settlement takes its name (Brad-well means”˜broad-stream’) from the Bradwell Brook, which these days runs mainly culverted through the village northwards toward the Hope Valley, of which Bradwell is on the southern edge. The Romans certainly knew this area and mined lead here, probably enslaving the local mixed population of Celts and Ancient Britons who populated the Hope Valley at the end of the Iron Age.

A Roman pig of lead was unearthed on Bradwell Moor over a century ago, and the ruins of the Roman Fort of Navio which was garrisoned by the First Cohort of Aquitanians and in use as a Roman lead-mining administration centre can still be seen, (though nothing remains standing above ground), one and a half miles away at Brough

The Roman road of Batham Gate which ran between Aqua Arnemetia (Buxton) and Anavio (Brough) passes less than a mile to the north of Bradwell and it is inconceivable that the Romans hadn’t already been here before the Anglo-Saxon farmers, and later the Danes, brought agriculture to the Hope Valley.

Following the Norman Conquest, King William gave the manor of Bradwell to his bastard son William Peveril, the builder of the castle which still bears his name at nearby Castleton, and at the time of the Domesday Survey the manor of Bradwell was classified as purely agricultural and thus had no substantial dwellings.

The earliest of Bradwell’s substantial dwellings is from the Tudor period; with a date stone of 1549 atop the coat of arms of the Vernon and Swynnerton families carved above the five-arched mullioned windows on its west gable, Hazelbadge Hall stands at the roadside, now part of a large farm complex on the outskirts of the village at the southern end of Bradwell Dale. Interestingly the crest above the coat of arms, though crumbling and almost indiscernible appears to be a wolf’s head; this could signify the home of a high ranking forester and of course, in Tudor times the Bradwell Brook marked one boundary of the Royal Forest of the High Peak.

The rich veins of lead just beneath the surface in the surrounding limestone hills were worked from the Middle Ages to the end of the nineteenth century and Bradwell became a centre for the lead mining industry at the extreme northern edge of the Derbyshire lead-field.

In those early days the miners dwellings tended to follow the rich veins, and as there was no squire to regulate any village plan and with level building land at a premium, then over the last five hundred years the village has developed into the higgledy-piggledy conglomeration of tightly packed dwellings that form it’s basic shape today.

Gradual in-filling, especially from the mid nineteenth century onwards has eaten up much of the available space at the narrow southern end of this surprisingly pleasant village in the valley – whilst as the valley broadens out at the northern end there is space enough for livestock to graze in the lush meadows alongside the brook on the lower slopes of Bradwell Edge, whose towering eternal presence provides shelter for the 1600 village inhabitants from the sharp east wind.

Lead mining however, was not Bradwell’s sole industry; two hundred years ago there were several hat manufacturers here and Bradwell was famous for both its fashionable felt hats and the Bradda Beaver – a hard hat favoured by miners.

There were at least two lead-smelting mills, and a cotton mill was built in 1878 beside the brook, which these days races beneath the town bridge and under Butts Mill before becoming a pleasant natural feature in the lush lawned gardens of the appropriately named Willowbrook House, where the willows dip their branches in the swiftly flowing stream as it passes by below the tennis-courts.

Bradwell’s most benevolent benefactor and also it’s most famous son was Samuel Fox, inventor of the folding umbrella frame and founder of the giant Stocksbridge Steel Works who was born at 15 Water Lane in 1815. His numerous gifts to the village included the land for the vicarage, and a considerable sum towards the building of St. Barnabas Parish Church in 1867. The square towered church stands fronted by trees facing the main road, with a peaceful graveyard at the rear in the shadow of Bradwell Edge.

Nearby stands the St. Barnabas Church School of 1872, whilst other public buildings fronting the rather mundane and uninspiring road through the village include the Memorial Hall (1923), the Wesleyan Sunday School (1844) at the junction with Bridge Street, which is now a gents hairdressers, and Newburgh Hall (1925) which is now the Bradwell Antiques Centre.

Bradwells award-winning Dairy Ice Cream is nationally famous and has been made here since 1899 when Grandma Hannah Bradwell had ice brought by train from Sheffield and first made her legendary recipes in her front parlour on the corner of Bridge Street. Her Grandson Noel Bradwell carried on the business from the 1960’s until it was sold ten years ago to Lawrence Wosskow. These days, with a factory across the road at Wortley Court producing a million litres of ice cream a year in 16 different flavours Bradwell Ice Cream continues to win national awards and is still sold from the busy ice-cream parlour where it was originally made.

To the west of the village, Town Gate, with High Peak Heating Supplies at its base runs steeply up past the White Hart from Brookside, passing the well supported Methodist Church with its own graveyard on the hillside. The The Hope Cement Works is the largest local employer, its tall chimney being visible above the rooftops in the valley a mile north of Bradwell and providing both employment and the proverbial blot-on-the-beautiful-landscape since 1928.

Limestone is still quarried in the surrounding hills and heavy traffic through the village’s narrow main street rather spoils its overall attractiveness. However, modern Bradwell has the ameneties and attractions of a small town with post-office, newsagent, fruit and veg shop and the inevitable fish and chips from Bradwell Fisheries forming a parade of shops along the main street – where it has its own petrol station, garage and Fire Station.

It also has its own Brookside and N.E.C. The former runs beside the brook and has an attractive childrens play area and a splendid mixture of old and new housing, whilst the latter is the Newburgh Engineering Company, formed in 1939, and with large modern premises to the east of the main road.

Once off the uninspiring main street Bradwell has a surprise around almost every corner, and this sprawling settlement has more corners, oblique alleys, narrow inter-connecting ginnels leading to hidden cottage gardens, and colourful secluded terraces hiding away from general view than any other Peakland village.

Though largely undiscovered by tourism, Bradwell is well worth a visit, especially during the late summer months – and not least for its delicious ice-cream! The entire village comes alive during the first two weeks in August when several wells are dressed and the village-in-the-valley is festooned with colourful bunting and thronged by various parades as it celebrates its annual Carnival and the traditional Hope Valley Wakes Week.