The ancient village of Youlgreave (or Youlgrave as it is locally spelled) sprawls along the ridge of a south facing hillside above Bradford Dale deep in the heart of the scenic White Peak.
From it`s junction with the A6 the Youlgreave road climbs steadily upwards from the floor of the Derwent Valley; it winds its way past the picturesque hamlet of Alport, and in a series of bends, ascends the hill which rises steeply before levelling out along the ridge, – to become the village Main Street.
All Saints Parish Church with it’s 15th century square tower, reputedly the finest in Derbyshire, dominates the Main Street, which seems to shrink in awe of it`s mighty shadow. The road does, in fact, narrow at this point and becomes a `bottleneck` for motorists, many of whom will testify to having spent some pleasant summer hours stuck in the traffic outside the George Hotel!
Narrow lanes run north and south adjacently off Main Street, with those on the south meandering steeply down the hillside towards the River Bradford in the valley bottom.
Earliest records suggest the church here had Saxon origins, and the current structure with it`s Norman pillars was built around 1130. It boasts a unique Norman font which features a stoup supported by the carved figure of a Salamander, a Continental symbol of baptism and the only one of it`s kind in England. The font was the cause of some local controversy early last century for it originally stood in the church at nearby Elton,- until the spire collapsed and the church had to be rebuilt in 1812.The font lay in Elton churchyard until 1833 when it was spotted by the Vicar of Youlgreave, Rev.Pidcock, who removed it to his vicarage garden and used it as an ornament.
His successor Rev.Wilmot, recognised it for what it was and had it placed in the church in 1838. When the villagers of Elton heard about this and realised their loss they demanded the font back. Youlgreave refused, and in an effort to resolve the dispute Mr.Thornhill of Stanton Hall had an exact replica made at his expense and presented it to the church at Elton!
In 1870 the Thornhills also made a gift to Youlgreave Parish Church of a full peal of eight bells, which were manufactured at the foundry of Mears & Stainbank in London. The eighth bell is inscribed with this rhyme: `I call the living, mourn the dead. I tell when days and years are fled; For grief and joy, for prayer and praise, To heaven my tuneful voice I raise.`
Westward of the church on the narrow Main Street stands the Bull`s Head, an old coaching Inn built in 1675 and almost opposite at the centre of the oldest part of the village stands a squat and incongruous circular construction known (almost as incongruously) as `The Fountain`.This is a reservoir which holds 1500 gallons and it was built in 1829 to provide water for the villagers, each household paying the sum of sixpence a year for it`s use.
For centuries prior to this the villagers had struggled up the hill with water from the River Bradford, and many deaths amongst children were caused by contaminated water, especially in the `fever months` of July and August. In 1829 Youlgreave had 200 houses and a total population of 951.
Two years earlier the Women`s Friendly Society was founded under the inspirational leadership of Hannah Bowman and set up a fund to pay for the conveyance of water to the village from Mawstone Spring, itself given as a gift by the Thornhills.
The laying of 1,106 yards of iron pipes from Mawstone Spring to the Fountain was completed in 1829. The reservoir filled each night and at 6am. a village `Waterkeeper` unlocked the tap to allow the queue of waiting ladies to fill their pails. This necessary `gathering` around the Fountain made it a popular local meeting place and mini-market throughout the 19th century. The Fountain was upgraded and renewed in 1869 and mains water fed to stand pipes in various parts of the village.
Youlgreave is recorded in the Domesday Book as `Giolgrove`, probably a corruption of the Saxon `Auldgroove` which refers to an old mine. Local miners were often known as `groovers` or `grovers` and the history of lead mining in the area dates back to the Romans.
The ancient Parish of Youlgreave included a number of villages and hamlets such as Elton, Middleton and Winster; it became a prosperous market centre and the hub of the local lead – mining industry and was granted a market charter in 1340.
The original village school was built in 1672 and had 25 pupils. The site is now occupied by the
imposing Victorian structure of the Youlgreave Co-operative Society building (1887) with it`s three-arched palisaded front, now a youth hostel. This stands opposite the Fountain at the village centre, and the rest of the narrow main street in both directions offers a pleasant variety of stone built dwellings ranging from early 17th to late 19th century.
One of the oldest and most impressive is the Old Hall built around 1640, and up a street nearby stands Old Hall Farm built in a similar style about twenty years earlier.
The `new` Church of England Primary School which stands next to the church was erected in 1887/8 and the dining room & kitchen were added almost a century later in 1979.
Other noteable dwellings include Auburn House built in 1734 for the Coates family. Rev.Coates was vicar of Youlgreave in 1650, and the family made a fortune in the cotton industry.
Early in the 19th century Jane Shimwell, the landlord`s daughter from the Bull`s Head, married Alexander MacDougal of self-raising flour fame, and became Lady Jane MacDougal.
The Shimwell`s have been a prominent Youlgreave family down the centuries and have contributed considerably to the village`s social history, – whilst the Thornhills have been it`s major benefactor.
The Victorian religious revival of the mid – late 19th century seems to have peaked in Youlgreave in 1853 when two additional places of worship were built. In that year the Wesleyan Reform Chapel was built on land given by Mr.Thornhill, and the Independent Chapel was built at the expense and instruction of Thomas Bateman of Middleton, and later, of Lomberdale Hall.
Youlgreave, unlike the vast majority of it`s neighbours boasts a garage and petrol station, and a number of shops, including a post-office. The village has a large and sloping playing field and recreational area on the south side of the main street opposite the garage, and has both football & cricket teams which play in the local leagues.
It is a village better suited to pedestrian rather than motorised traffic; a place for walkers & ramblers with some of the most beautiful valley walks in the country.
It has an olde-worlde and unspoilt Derbyshire hamlet at either end of Bradford Dale;Middleton to the west and the quaint, picturesque hamlet of Alport to the east. Between the two and annexed at the southern end of the village is the former hamlet of Bradford, built beside the river which takes it`s name.
The one mile riverside walk which covers the length of the dale from west to east ends at Alport bridge, one of several old packhorse bridges along this stretch of the river. This is the confluence of the rivers Bradford & Lathkill and marks the southern gateway to Lathkill Dale. The walk is exhilerating for it`s sheer charm and rural tranquility and is a must for any visitor to the upland White Peak village of Youlgreave.
This article has been brought to you by our resident peak district writer Tom Bates