Foolow Village is a collection of distinctive grey-limestone dwellings clustered together around a picturesque and original village green complete with duck pond, stone cross, bull-ring, and an ancient well enclosed on three sides by a stone wall, this upland village lying at 1,000 feet above sea-level can hardly ever have been more attractive throughout the seven hundred years of it’s history, than it is today.
Derbyshire is a county of remarkable contrasts and contradictions, especially literal ones. As opposed to London and the provincial cities where people from the suburbs go `up town’ – all over Derbyshire, whether folk are travelling uphill into the town or not, they are always going `dairn’t tairn’.
But then this is hardly surprising when Derbyshire has always been a county where `low’ means high – or in actual fact,`hill’ – and there are probably more `lows’ in Derbyshire, one of Englands highest counties, than in any other county in the land! Examples which spring to mind are Arbor Low, Minninglow, Grindlow, Hucklow, – and Foolow, originally ` La foulowe'(1284) – meaning `a hill frequented by birds’.
But don’t be fooled into supposing that Foolow shares a similar prehistoric heritage with many of the other `lows’ – because this picture-postcard village set high in the limestone hills – which is only a mile to the east of the perhaps appropriately named Silly Dale – has its origins firmly rooted in the thirteenth century.
In Edward the Confessor’s time (1042-66) the area had two carucates of taxable land shared between Wulfric, Hundulf and Ernwy – but there is no mention of Foolow in the Domesday Book, although the Anglo-Saxon settlement of Hucklow (`Hucca’s Hill’) – it’s nearest neighbour which lies a mile away to the north is described in 1087 as `waste’. This is probably because by that time the area had been `cleared’ of habitation and incorporated into the Royal Forest of the High Peak.
A document dated 1338 refers to it as`Fuwelowe’, thus suggesting that the previously uninhabited `hill frequented by birds’ was settled around the beginning of the fourteenth century.
There is little doubt that the availability of water, rare on these limestone uplands, was originally responsible for attracting people here, for Foolow has numerous natural springs which would have been used by travellers journeying along the medieval trade-routes between the earlier established settlements of Tideswell, Stoney Middleton and Eyam. Like these, and the majority of villages in this area of Derbyshire, it was the mineral wealth lying beneath the surface that was responsible for the subsequent lead-mining foundations of Foolow.
With the opening up of rich veins along Eyam and Hucklow Edges to the north, and at the Watergrove Mine to the south – and as the architecture of its dwellings suggests -the village reached the height of its lead-mining prosperity in the early years of the eighteenth century.
With the decline of lead-mining around the 1860’s, Foolow folk reverted to simple upland farming, and the century of agricultural obscurity which followed played a major role in shaping and mellowing this relatively harsh and isolated upland outpost into the quaint and quintessential English country village of today.
Alas, Foolow is no longer a farming community. Until recent years there were three working farms in the village, mostly concerned with dairy cattle, and some of the elderly residents can remember the days when as many as forty head of cattle could be seen drinking at the mere. Now there are none, and the days when the Ollerenshaws of Manor farm, who came here from the Hope Valley in 1921 and proved that good corn could be grown at 1,000 feet by winning prizes for it at the Bakewell Show – where they also showed their dairy short-horns – are long since gone.
Unlike some of the older and more historical villages in this series, Foolow has no obvious `architectural gems’ amongst it’s population of dwellings, although the seventeenth century Old Hall and `The Nook’ of a similar date come close. The Manor House and its handsome outbuildings which nestle snugly in a corner of the village green belong to the following century, along with perhaps the majority of other dwellings including the last remaining of five village pubs, the Bull’s Head.
Standing proudly at the junction where the road from Housley meets the old Eyam to Hucklow road and originally part of a row of lead miners cottages, the Bull’s Head has been licenced premises for at least two centuries. A few years ago the pub’s name was changed to `The Lazy Landlord’ – and the landlord at the time apparently did his best to live up to the name, consequently both the landlord and the name were dispensed with – and a couple of years ago the pub got its old name back, and a new landlord! Recently refurbished, the Bull’s Head is the epitome of the English country pub, with an excellent restaurant, open fires, good ale and a warm and friendly welcome from new landlord Les Bond.
There is no parish church in Foolow but to the north of the Green stands the Wesleyan Reform Church of 1836, with its pointed lancet windows and resplendent Truscan porch entrance, whilst nearer the village duck pond stands the intriguingly tiny Anglican Church of St. Hugh, originally built as a private dwelling early in the nineteenth century.
Old photographs from a century ago show a row of lead miner’s cottages stretching from the Bull’s Head to a Toll House along the stately tree-lined road to Eyam, and a village water pump at Piece End, a reminder that Foolow did not get piped water until 1932. All disappeared, trees and buildings alike long before the second world war – which also saw the demise of the tennis club whose court was to the west of the Green – and the village cricket team who played in the local leagues.
Much has changed here in the last fifty years; the familiar landmark of the Watergrove chimney was demolished in the sixties thus severing the villages last link with it’s mining heritage – and Slaters Engine Mine and the Bradshaw Mine are now barely discernible industrial hillocks in the landscape to the north.
Todays visitors emerging from the footpath beside the old Manor House which leads from Silly Dale to Foolow, and standing at the corner of the village green – cannot fail to be completely enchanted by the scene which greets them in the centre of this charming Derbyshire upland village – which sits once again, as its name suggests – on `a hill frequented by birds’.