Crich – The National Tramway Village

The large and sprawling village of Crich sits high in the rolling Derbyshire hills five miles south-east of Matlock, where the White Peak extends a thin finger of carboniferous limestone into the gritstone country east of the wooded Derwent Valley. This ancient settlement has long been a `gateway to the Peak District’, and sits strategically placed on the route of an old ridgeway which runs north from the Trent Basin and on up into Yorkshire.

The familiar landmark of Crich Stand rises from the highest point of the limestone outcrop known as Crich Cliff, whose massive white face looks westward and can be seen by travellers as far away as the A6 between Cromford and Ambergate. The lighthouse-like monument is itself visible from five counties, and on a clear day Lincoln Cathedral can be seen from it’s base.

Modern roads converge on the village from every direction, providing evidence of it’s importance as a regional centre of industry and commerce, which it has been at varying times thoughout it’s two thousand year history. This reached a peak during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries when Crich was caught up in the Industrial Revolution and railways and knitting machines were added to the lead-mining, quarrying, smelting, lime burning and farming which had previously occupied the increasingly growing population.

By 1851 lead mining had declined and the census for that year shows only 23 lead miners in the village, although the Wakebridge, Old End and Jingler mines were worked until the 1950’s. Employment in 1851 was focussed mainly on quarrying and frame-knitting, with 85 quarry workers and 5 lime-burners in the parish, along with 270 people working mainly at home engaged as stockingers.

Limestone extraction was under way from two quarries by 1734 and was carted away by packhorse trains until the Butterley Company built a narrow-guage railway from Crich to the lime kilns beside the Cromford Canal at Bull Bridge over a mile away in 1792. The wagons ran downhill by gravity and were hauled back up by teams of horses until steam traction was introduced in 1860.

George Stephenson built the second mineral railway in 1841, linking Church Quarry and Cliff Quarry with his lime kilns beside the canal at Ambergate. The Butterley Company’s line closed in 1932, whilst Stephenson’s original line latterly used deisel locomotives before eventually closing in 1957.

These days Crich’s economy is mainly fuelled by tourism – and the village seems to have developed a bit of an identity crisis!

For almost forty years the National Tramway Museum – now the Crich Tramway Village -has been the main attraction for tourists but now it has a rival. The former Crich Fish & Chip Shop is now called the `Cardale Chippie’ and the village is known to millions of television viewers as `Cardale’, the original location for Central T.V.’s `Peak Practice’ series.Even the old established Allsop’s bakery just off the Market Place now doubles as a Café and photographs of the cast from the hit show decorate it’s walls. Yet Crich remains attractive, as it has always been.

The name of the village suggests Celtic origins, for Crich is an ancient Celtic word for `a hill’. Early settlers would have been attracted by this strategic location which afforded commanding views over the important fertile river valleys of the Derwent and the Amber, and by the plentiful supply of water from the numerous springs at this geological divide of limestone and gritstone.

It is likely that the Romans mined lead here, for they were certainly in the vicinity as evidenced by the pottery and hoards of Roman coins found in the parish. The Saxons were here too and fragments of their stonework, along with that of the later Norman masons survives in the fabric of the mainly 14th century parish church, whose short spire rises from a Perpendicular tower on the northern hillside overlooking the village.

Crich was once an important market-town which held a weekly Friday market and had sheep and cattle fairs in April and October in the old market place up near the church.As the village expanded alongside the road to Bull Bridge and Fritchley, so the village centre, along with the Market Place, was relocated further down the hill beyond the four-way junction with the splendid gritstone market cross in the middle, and now surrounds the four stone drinking troughs which mark the centre of the present village square which is dominated by the large pedimented gritstone Baptist Chapel of 1877.

Civic pride and enterprise flourishes today in Crich’s Market Place with a range of shops and businesses that larger towns would be proud of. A typical example is Crich Pottery owned and run by Diana and David Worthy who manufacture a unique range of superb award-winning stoneware which is exported all over the world.

Like all Derbyshire villages Crich is best explored on foot, and there is so much here of interest and fascination to the visitor. Crich Stand must be the most conspicuous war memorial in the land rising 63 feet from it’s base to reach a height of 1,018 feet above sea-level.

The magnificent panorama from the viewing platform, reached by a spiral stone staircase, is breathtaking and well worth the 10p admission fee.

This memorial to the 11,409 men of the Sherwood Foresters Regiment who fell in the Great War was opened on August 6th 1923 by General Sir Horace Lockwood Smith-Dorrien, and an annual memorial service takes place at the Stand on the first Sunday in July. Local tradition tells of an original wooden tower here surmounted by a beacon, which was one of dozens on high ground throughout the country used to signal the approach of the Spanish Armada and other events of national importance.

The first stone tower was built in 1788 by Francis Hurt of Alderwasley, but was dismantled in 1849 after being struck by lightning. It’s successor suffered a similar fate and was dismantled after surviving a landslip caused by quarrying that buried two lead mines and demolished a number of buildings in 1882.The current tower was designed by Lieut-Col. A.W.Brewill and was built using the stones from the original construction.

Down below in Crich Quarry is the Crich Tramway Village, visited by many thousands of tourists between April & October each year. The first passengers were carried in a tram hauled by a mare named Bonny hired from a local farmer in 1963 on the original track-bed laid by George Stephenson over a century earlier.

Nowadays there are more than 50 trams from all over the world at the museum and visitors can ride in open-topped splendour along a spectacular rural route high in the hills above the Derwent Valley to Wakebridge and back, before sampling the delights of the Tramway Village with it’s Edwardian façade of shops and cafes. Truly a unique experience – as is any excursion to this ancient and wonderful village set high in the Derbyshire hills.

Resident Writer – Tom Bates