Wirksworth Town Walk

This Wirksworth Town Walk is a lovely historical walk that will take around 2 hours and takes in some interesting buildings and architecture.

by John Merrill

– 3 Miles


Map – 1:25,000 Explorer Series No. OL24 – The White Peak – East Sheet.

Car parks – Market Place and Barmote Croft.

Market Day – Tuesday.

ABOUT THE WALK – Wirksworth was once the centre of a vast lead-mining area, whose prosperity is reflected in the present buildings. Recently, much of the architectural heritage of the town has been restored. Cotton and tape works are on the fringe of the town. On the walk you see many of the main buildings and a remarkable Moot Hall, where the lead mining disputes were settled. You cross fields to see two mills and an area associated with Adam Bede, George Eliot’s renowned novel. As you wander back past a mixture of modern and old buildings you reach the church, which houses an unusually interesting array of historical items. Wirksworth celebrates the well dressing custom in June and the unusual custom of “Church clipping” in early September. A visit to the Heritage Centre, just off the Market Place is highly recommended.

WALKING INSTRUCTIONS – Starting from the Market Place, cross the road to the Library and Red Lion Inn. Turn right down Coldwell Street and left almost immediately beside The Vaults and into the car park in front of Barmote Croft. Exit onto the lane at the top righthand corner of the car park and walk straight ahead to the Moot Hall, passing a walled path on your left just before it. After seeing the Hall turn round and turn right almost immediately into the path. Follow this as it turns sharp left to a bridge over the main road. Ascend beyond Mountain View house on your left to a narrow road. Turn left and descend this, past Babington House to the Market Place. Keep on the main road and descend into St. John’s Street, passing the Hope and Anchor Inn and later Lloyds Bank on your right. In front of the Vetenery practise, turn right along Hammonds Court. Keep left later and cross a field on a defined path to a road.

Turn right and walk along the road, passing Arkwright Street on your left and, almost at the road end, Summer Drive on your right. At the end of the road go through the stile on your left and walk to your left close to the edge of the field. Keep the housing estate on your Ieft, and just beyond it reach a stile and track. Continue ahead and descend past Speedwell Mill on your right. Keep straight ahead and cross the minor road, and walk along the road to the main road. A little way to your right is Haarlem Mill . Turn left and walk along the main road hack to Wirksworth, passing the King’s Field Inn on your Ieft and later the Wheatsheaf Inn on your right. Opposite the Vetenary practise, with the ‘cruck construction’ just ahead, turn right into St. Mary’s Court – to your right is the Adam Bede cottage .20 yards later turn left and enter the circular path around the church. Exit one of the openings on the left (west side) to return you to the Market Place.


MARKET PLACE – Wirksworth was, in the 18th Century, the third largest town in the county. With the decline of lead mining it became less important, and by 1901, with a population of 3,807, was 35th in the county. The market is held on Tuesdays and dates from 1397.

THE LIBRARY – The building, which forms parts of the Town Hall, is in Italianate style and dates from 1873 . Outside is an early nineteenth-century milepost.

RED LION INN – Former coaching inn, with central coach entrance. The front was built in 1750.

MOOT HALL – Built in 1814 for the settlement of mining disputes. An earlier Barmote court existed in the Market Place. The carved tablets on the front of the building depict the various tools used in lead mining.

BABINGTON HOUSE – Magnificent mullioned building, recently restored. Known as the Babington House for its association with the Babington family at Dethick, five miles away. Anthony Babington was executed in 1586 for his part in the famous Babington Plot to release Mary, Queen of Scots.

LLOYDS BANK – A local, John Toplis, started a bank here in 1780, and it was for a while the only bank between Derby and Chesterfield.

SPEEDWELL MILL – Former cotton spinning mill built by Sir Richard Arkwright in 1780. Nine years later it had 200 employees. In 1852 it was a tape mill .

HAARLEM MILL – The mill has had a variety of uses. In the I5th Century it was a waulk mill for fulling cloth. Later corn milling was begun, and in 1780 a cotton spinning mill – part of Sir Richard Arkwright’s empire. In the 19th Century it was used for tape weaving. Red tape made Wirksworth famous.

KING’S FIELD INN – Although a new inn, the name recalls that Wirksworth was once the centre of a lead mining area – 73,800 acres – known as the King’s Field. In the 9th Century the area was owned by Repton Abbey, and rent was paid in the form of lead. When the Abbey was destroyed by the Danes in 875 AD, the area came under the ownership of the Danish King.

ADAM BEDE COTTAGE – Former home of Samuel and Elizabeth Evans, who in George Eliot’s book – Adam Bede – were known as Adam Bede and Dinah Morris. Elizabeth Evans was a lay preacher who preached in the Methodist Church and was often named Dinah Bede. She was George Eliot’s aunt and is buried in the parish churchyard. In the book Wirksworth is named Snowfield.

CRUCK CONSTRUCTION – shows beams resting on stones; believed to be 15th Century, and was discovered in 1971.

ALMSHOUSES – Founded in 1584 and built soon afterwards.

FORMER GRAMMAR SCHOOL – Founded in 1584 as a Free Grammar School by Anthony Gell. It is now a wood-carving factory. The present Gothic-styled building dates from 1828. The doorway lintel on the right bears the date 1576 and came from a much earlier building.

PARISH CHURCH – dedicated to St. Mary the Virgin.

The cruciform-shaped church dates from the 13th Century and is one of the largest in the county, being unique by having a circular path around the outside. The interior contains the Blackwall brass dated 1525 and four monuments to the Gell family, from nearby Hopton Hall. They were great benefactors of the town and Sir John Gell, who died in 1671, became notorious as the Parliamentary Governor of Derbyshire and was the first baronet of the family. The font is Norman and lead-lined. The pride of place goes to the Wirksworth Stone, believed to be a coffin lid dated about 800 AD . The stone was found by accident in 1820 when paving was removed in front of the altar.

John Merrill 2004