The village of Rowsley sits astride the A6 between Bakewell and Matlock and a mile from the grand medieval manor of Haddon Hall owned by the Duke of Rutland, who until relatively recently owned most of Rowsley village too – and about three and a half miles south west of Chatsworth House, home of the Duke & Duchess of Devonshire.
Rowsley is situated at the junction of the two valleys of the Rivers Derwent and Wye, and bisected by both the Derwent and the main A6 trunk road giving the impression of two separate settlements.
Indeed, Great Rowsley on the west bank of the Derwent and Little Rowsley on the east existed side by side until the two were amalgamated in a local government reshuffle of April 1987 when the County Council decided that two into one would go and Great & Little became known officially, collectively and simply – as `Rowsley’.There was an Anglo-Saxon settlement here before the Norman Conquest, and in the Domesday Survey `Rowesley’ is mentioned as an outlier of the Royal Manor of Bakewell, occupying the `tongue of fertile land between the Derwent and the Wye’.
The village of Rowsley has been a Haddon domain since feudal times and down the centuries first the Vernon’s, and then the Manners Family under the generous patronage of various Dukes of Rutland, have provided the village with employment and housing – and with it’s church, school, village hall, playing fields and many of it’s more noteable buildings.
Of the two once separate settlements the Ducal domain of `Great’ Rowsley was the older – whilst conversely `Little’ Rowsley was the larger in population – and almost entirely a product of the great railway age of the early nineteenth century.
The oldest surviving structure in the village is the bridge over the Derwent which was originally a fifteenth century packhorse bridge, widened to carry increasingly motorised traffic in 1925.
However, there are some architectural gems from the `Great Rebuilding’ period of the 17th and early 18th centuries. The most splendidly prominent of these is undoubtedly the magnificent Peacock Hotel whose visitors book includes the names of many famous guests, including royalty, who have enjoyed a brief sojourn in the luxuriant surroundings since it became a hostelry in 1828. The house was built in 1652 by John Stevenson of Elton, agent to the Manners Family and served as a Dower House and later as a farmhouse before it became an inn.
The stables at the rear were built towards the end of the seventeenth century, whilst Ivy House, standing directly opposite The Peacock at Rowsley was built a year earlier in 1651. Other noteable dwellings include The Beeches and Holly House, built in 1710 as one dwelling. This was thought to have been the Manor House and was the home of Sir Francis Darwin until the property was divided at the end of the nineteenth century.
The Victorian era brought many changes to Rowsley. The railway arrived in 1849 with the opening of the impressive Italianate station designed by Sir Joseph Paxton. But further construction of the line which was intended to run via Buxton to Manchester was held up when the Duke of Devonshire refused permission to extend the track up the Derwent Valley through Chatsworth Park, – and then the Duke of Rutland objected to a secondary plan to route the track up the Wye Valley. Eventually the Duke of Rutland agreed to the Midland Railway’s plans on condition that the track passed unseen behind Haddon Hall in a covered cutting and thus the line was routed up the Wye Valley – leaving the newly built gem of Paxton’s station marooned in the wrong valley!
The Midland Railway built a second station a quarter of a mile south at the end of the Wye Valley which was completed in 1863. The Station Hotel (now the Grouse & Claret) was built nearby and shortly afterwards came the railway depot and sidings plus the row of brick houses known as Midland Cottages to accommodate the influx of railway workers.
The village school was a gift from the Duke of Rutland in 1840, as was the Church of St. Katherine of 1854-55 which stands on higher ground up Church Lane towards Haddon Woods.
The village fountain which stands on Church Lane adjacent to the Peacock Hotel was carved by Trevis Bath towards the end of the nineteenth century, and he also carved the stone peacock high above the front porch of the hotel. A little way up Church Lane beyond the fountain stands Rowsley Post Office, run these days by Alan and Ingrid Smith and built in 1910 to supercede the old Post Office which used to be further up the lane at Granby Cottage. The rather quaint lamp which stands in the middle of the road at the junction with the lane that leads across the Wye and up to Stanton Lees was given by farmer and village blacksmith John Holmes `in gratitude for 60 years at nearby Bridge House’.
Largely hidden behind a cluster of buildings which include Mill House and Bank House stands the famous Caudwell’s Mill and Craft Centre.John Caudwell founded this water-powered flour mill on the Wye in 1874 and today it claims the unique distinction of being the only complete water-turbine powered flour mill in the country, still producing wholemeal flour for sale to the public.
Set in an idyllic location amongst the ducks and waterfowl beside the River Wye and with a wooden footbridge lending enchantment to the riverside walks, the Mill and Craft Centre at Rowsley boasts a smithy, wood turner, glass blower, potter, picture framer and it’s own resident artist; visitors can enjoy food and drink in the excellent cafe and see the mill working throughout the year.The centre is open everyday 10am-5.30pm, and is closed 24th, 25th,26th December
The railway at Rowsley was chopped by Mr. Beeching’s axe and closed in the 1960’s, – along with the Rowsley Express Dairy. Rowsley station became an engineering site; the old sidings became an industrial estate.
But todays Rowsley presents a much changed face to the thousands of motorists for whom it remained little more than a bridge over the Derwent and an elongated S-bend on the busy A6 until the recent (1998) opening of the innovative Peak Village retail park and `Toys of Yesteryear’ tourist attraction on land which was once occupied by the old railway station.
Paxton’s Italianate gem of a station now stands proudly at the centre of a new village and symbolises a new era of regenerated hope for Rowsley at the start of a new Millennium.