Though enjoying village status Darley Dale is far removed from any conventional conjecture of a typical village settlement. It is in fact made up of several smaller settlements, namely Churchtown, Darley Bridge or South Darley, Darley Hillside, Northwood and Two Dales.
The village is recorded in the Domesday Book as `Derelie’, and although there is a single reference to `Darley-in-the-Dale’ by a seventeenth century writer, it was known simply as Darley for 800 years – until `Dale’ was added late in the nineteenth century. Two Dales, where the well known local writer Crichton Porteous lived, came into being around the same time, having been previously known as Toad Hole.
However, Darley Dale remains forever associated with the pioneering engineer Sir Joseph Whitworth, famous inventor of the true plane and the Whitworth thread for nuts and bolts. Born in Stockport in 1803, Joseph Whitworth served his apprenticeship in his uncle’s cotton mill before setting up his engineering business in Manchester. He introduced the first standard gauges, taps, dies and planing machines and became an extremely wealthy industrialist. He bought Stancliffe Hall on the eastern slopes of the Dale where he spent the last fifteen years of his life. The Hall was later enlarged by E.M.Barrie and is now a boys prep. School.
Whitworth was responsible for much of the development here including the rather grim Victorian edifice of the Whitworth Institute and the well equipped public park complete with its lake, bowling green, tennis courts, war memorial, obelisk and ornamental trees. He died in 1887 aged 84 and was buried at Darley Dale. His widow also founded the Whitworth Hospital.
Modern Darley Dale owes it’s size and status almost entirely to the road and rail links developed early in the nineteenth century, with the A6 trunk road being driven through in 1824, and the railway 25 years later in 1849. Road, rail and river follow the broad Derwent valley floor, running virtually parallel all the way from Rowsley to Matlock, a distance of about six miles.
Thus most of the ribbon development along the valley floor, a mixture of industrial and domestic buildings, is of 19th and 20th century construction, whilst the older and more interesting structures are to be found along the steep hillside which forms the eastern wall of the dale.
The one exception to this is the Parish church of St. Helen at Churchtown, the oldest and certainly the most interesting building in the entire parish, with it’s square 14th century battlemented west tower rising amongst the churchyard trees.
The church was founded around 900 AD and almost entirely rebuilt after the Norman Conquest. Parts of the 12th century fabric remain, along with some earlier Celtic and Saxon stonework, excellent Norman masonry, and a selection of ancient stone coffins in and around the porch. Directly opposite the main porch entrance stands the famous Darley Yew, a tree reputed to be two thousand years old – and with an enormous girth of 33 feet around it’s ancient trunk! A plaque on the tree tells of the Saxon settlers who built their huts just yards to the west of the church.
After the Conquest, William Peveril, bastard son of William the Conqueror was esconced in Peveril Castle and gave lands here to his Knight, Sir John de Derelie who rode up the Derwent Valley from Matlock early in the 12th century and built himself a Norman manor house on a `knoll of rising ground’ on the east bank of the river.
Two hundred years later another and more infamous Sir John de Darley died here and has a fine stone tomb in the north transept of St. Helen’s church which shows the Knight dressed in chain mail and holding his heart in his hands, dating from 1322. The church also has a wonderful stained glass window by Burne-Jones and William Morris of 1860 which depicts the Song of Solomon, and a peal of eight bells dating from 1618.
The only fifteenth century structure in the locality is the five arched Darley Bridge which spans the Derwent. The bridge is crossed by the road to Wensley and Winster which runs southward across the Flatts flood plain from the A6 crossroads. The same road also runs north-eastward from the crossroads through Two Dales and up the steep hair-pin bends of Sydnope Hill towards Stanedge and Chesterfield.
Darley Dale is also the home of the well known D.F.S. furniture store and close by stands the Red House Carriage Museum which houses a unique collection of horse-drawn conveyances.
Gardeners and plant lovers are well catered for with two large garden centres and there are literally dozens of various retail outlets along the six mile stretch of ribbon development. There was even a hydropathic establishment built in the nineteenth century to rival the more famous ones in Matlock, but Darley Dale Hydro closed many years ago and the building is now home to the girls of St. Elphin’s Public School.
Dominating views across the river from Darley Dale is Oker Hill, crowned by its distinctive landmark of a single Sycamore tree. Legend has it that two brothers each planted a tree, one tree flourished and the other died and the lives of the brothers are said to have mirrored the fortunes of their tree. William Wordsworth, passing through Darley in 1838 on his way to Dovedale was sufficiently inspired by the legend that he composed a sonnet about it called `The Keepsake’. A different tale claims that a local man named Shore planted the twin trees to provide in due course of time, the wood for his coffin!
Immediately adjacent to Whitworth Park is Darley Dale Station where steam train buffs can buy a ticket and climb aboard at weekends throughout the year courtesy of Peak Rail, a group of dedicated enthusiasts who have earned Heritage Railway status.
A four mile section of the former Midland Railway line has been reconstructed between the old rail-head at Rowsley and Matlock Station, and Peak Rail have ambitious plans for the future to re-open the line all the way to Buxton. Watch this space!