Monday 31 October 2011

A Detour Into The Present

As we managed to hunt some curiosities this weekend for the first time in what seems like ages, it seems appropriate to take a break from this embarrassingly infrequent historical tale-telling. I had a rather thick head after Dan's zombie party, so some fresh air seemed like a tremendously good idea. I'd been mulling over the idea of a trip to Derby to visit the city's seven curiosities for a while, so this seemed like a logical plan.

Our first port of call was Derby Museum, which was quite wonderfully rubbish. I'd be surprised if anything there was new since the mid-80s, but that just added to the charm of the place. Our goal was a replica pig of lead (basically a lead ingot) which looked nothing like the picture in the book, but it was a pig of lead in Derby Museum, so it would do.

87 - Roman Pig Of Lead

Our next target was a wrought iron font cover made by celebrity 18th century iron-wroughter Robert Bakewell and situated in St Werbergh's church. We found the church easily enough, but the door was locked and there was a for sale sign up outside. We were despondent, was this the end of our quest? We were just contemplating ringing up the estate agents and arranging a viewing (I'm sure they would have been impressed) when we noticed a small note in one of the windows saying that the museum had a key. So back to the museum we went, where we signed out the biggest key I've ever seen in my life. This gave us entry only to a small side-chapel, but it contained our font cover so we were happy.

The maxi-key of win. If all keys were like this, people would need bigger keyrings

44 - 'Pece Of Irron Worke'

Our next curiosity was barely a stones throw away. Apparently the tower of Derby cathedral is one of the country's finest examples of the Perpendicular style (whatever that may be?) and was funded by the brewing and sale of special church tower ales throughout the region. It's quite nice anyway.

41 - Derby Cathedral Tower

The interior of the cathedral is a pretty odd place. It has more of the feel of a stately home or a town hall than a church (religious paraphernalia excepted of course). It does, however, contain the burial place of a certain Robert Bakewell, as well as a delightful alabaster confection dedicated to Bess of Hardwick Hall. The book derides it as pretentious, particularly in view of the fact that Bess designed it herself and had it built whilst she was still alive (well she was incredibly rich after her surviving each of her 4 rich husbands).

123 - Bess Of Hardwick's Monument

A pleasant stroll away under a busy dual carriageway lies St Mary's church. Originally built on the original bridge over the Derwent, it is now rather indelicately sandwiched between the A601 and the aged, but still ugly 1794 bridge. One of only 5 (or 6 depending on who you believe) surviving bridge chapels in England, it was here that the Padley martyrs' (of no. 59, Padley Chapel fame) dismembered bodies were impaled as a warning to other would be catholics.

42 - 'Our Lady Of Ye Brigge'

Just round the corner again (Derby town centre has an improbable curiosity density for what is on the surface a really boring concrete 60s abomination) stands a rebuilt version (after a fire in 1910) of the first silk mill in the land. Legend has it that the owner, John Lombe, stole the secrets of silk-making from the Italians and was fatally poisoned a few years later for his insolent thievery. It isn't a tremendously exciting building of itself, but it does have some nice wrought iron gates courtesy of, you guessed it, Robert Bakewell.

163 - England's First Silk Mill

With just one curiosity in the city centre left, we ventured off in search of the arboretum, home to a headless cross. Allegedly. After a false start we managed to get into the rather pleasant wooded park, but there was a distinct lack of crosses, headless or otherwise. In desperation I sought inspiration from the great lord Google, which informed me that the cross had been relocated to Friar's Gate on the other side of the city in 1979. The curiosity book was published in 1979. Bad researching Mr Rodgers.

Suitably corrected we headed to Friar's Gate, and, next to an off licence called Plonkers, we found our crossless cross. Apparently this was its original location, where, during the plague, the locals and the farmers would exchange food for money (which was left in a bowl full of vinegar to kill any plaguey badness)(the money that is, not the food).

43 - The Plague In Derby

Wednesday 8 June 2011


Sorry for the long lack of posting, but I'd been a bit pre-occupied with moving house and changing jobs (and sadly not much curiosity hunting). Anyway, where were we?


Curiosity 12 - Little John's Grave (67) SK234818

Our first outing with Roanna, Dan and baby Erica since she stopped being a baby, and we went for a little stroll around Hathersage in the sunshine. I managed to engineer the route so we took in the grave in Hathersage churchyard which preports to be that of Little John himself. Rumours abound of a thigh bone having been excavated which suggested a man of at least 7ft was buried here. I'm a little more sceptical, but it's nice to believe these things might be true. The church itself also has some rather fun gargoyles


Curiosity 13 - Lud's Church (99) SJ987656

Away for the weekend in Staffordshire we went for a stroll to check out the chasmy delights of Lud's Church. Hiding away on the side of a hill, you wouldn't know it was there if you didn't go looking for it, but when you stumble upon it it's undeniably impressive. A great chasm in the rock, the likes of which I've not seen anywhere else in gritstone country, it was reputedly used as a secret meeting place of a much-persecuted religious group called the Lollards. There are plenty of side-tunnels to explore, and holes to squeeze through to satisfy one's darkest speliological desires. A real treat!


Curiosity 14 - Three Shire Heads (70) SK009686

The next day, Avril, Dan H, Daryl and Bob crammed into my car and went on a little tour of the local curiosities. We kicked things off with a gentle stroll to the Three Shire Heads, where Derbyshire, Cheshire and Staffordshire meet at the point where two rivers meet. Legend has it that local miscreants used to hang out here making counterfeit money, and when the authorities came to hassle them, they simple crossed into one of the neigbouring counties and out of the police's jurisdiction. The wonderfully named nearby village of Flash is supposedly named for this counterfeit money (no, I've never heard of it referred to as flash, but maybe language has changed since the curiosity book was written in 1979. Either way, it was a pleasant little spot.

Curiosity 15 - Relic Of A Silk Mill (162) SJ983687

Our next port of call was the nearby village of Wildboarclough, where the village sub Post Office was possibly the largest in England, and a hangover from the days when this sleepy valley was a bustling hive of industry. After our initial sweep failed to locate a Post Office we sought guidance from the local pub, and soon managed to track the place down. Unsurprisingly it isn't a Post Office any more, just a rather grand house.

Curiosity 16 - Winking Eye (148) SK020624

Although my climbing adventures had taken me to Ramshaw before, climbing on the winking man buttress is banned, and I'd never witnessed the actual winking before. To be honest I wasn't sure how an inanimate rock formation could wink, and I was none the wiser after traipsing across the heather to see it at close quarters. After returning to the car and driving past the bottom of the crag, the mystery was solved. A protruding block on the skyline behind temporarily blocks out the sky through the eye, and the man really does wink. It was a sufficiently cool effect that we about-turned and went back for another pass.

Curiosity 17 - Mermaid's Pool (147) SK040613

Our final port of call for the day was this isolated pool overlooking the source of the River Churnet. Local folklore claims that it is connected to Doxey's Pool on top of the Roaches on the other side of the valley. This seems quite unlikely, but would be pretty cool. Being December, the pool was well frozen, and in spite of several minutes spent throwing big rocks at it, we were unable to puncture the ice. It was good fun trying though.

Tuesday 10 May 2011

The Story So Far...


Curiosity 1 - Arbor Low (93) SK160635

Although we did pass the intriguing carved sign at the Bull i'th' Thorn on the way, we neglected to photograph it, so our curiosity hunt began at Arbor Low, a neolithic henge. Like Stonehenge if all the stones had fallen over. Its relatively low profile (down a tiny back road, very few signs to it, and only an honesty box for the admission fee) made it feel a bit more special, and the views over the Peak District were fabulous.

Curiosity 2 - Rowtor Rocks (31) SK235621

Hidden in the trees behind the Druid Inn, Rowtor Rocks is an amazing jumble of boulders, tunnels and carved rocks. Hewn out be a mysterious Reverend, there are rooms, armchairs, a giant rocking stone and even a bizarre bus stop. Great fun, and remarkably interactive as curiosities go. This was proper confirmation that curiosity hunting was definitely a good idea.


Curiosity 3 - Melbourne 'Birdcage' (94) SK387249

Taking advantage of the fact that this weekend represented the last day of the year when the grounds of Melbourne Hall were open and an unusually high local curiosity density, we made the long drive South to Melbourne Hall. Hidden in the gardens amongst lots of daft statues was this intriguing wrought iron structure dating all the way from 1705. Strangely Frank Rodgers found this so curious that he put it in the book twice:

Curiosity 4 - Melbourne 'Birdcage' Roof (95) SK387249

Curiosity 5 - Yew Tree Tunnel (96) SK 387249

Still in the grounds of Melbourne Hall, and almost unnoticeable until we were actually in it, is this rather ace tunnel of wizened yew trees. Over 100 yards long, and thought to have been planted during the reign of Charles I, it's a pretty unique feature. All gardens should have one (as well as a maze).

Curiosity 6 - An Uncrowned King (126) SK390262

This unassuming cross in the nearby village of Kings Newton is apparently the only such monument in the country to mark the succession to the throne of King Edward VIII (who was never crowned). The cross in itself wasn't particularly exciting, and normally I'd have walked past it without giving it a second glance, so it was nice to have the book give it an interesting context.

Curiosity 7 - Cruck House (97) SK 385251

After spending some time driving aimlessly around Melbourne (which is not a big place), we eventually managed to locate this 18th Century thatched house (the rerouting of the B587 at some point in the last 30 years didn't help). The big wooden frame at the end of the house is made from two halves of a single tree trunk, which makes this pretty unusual. Further curiousness (although not an actual curiosity) was added by the nearby almshouses built by a Mr Thomas Cook (yes, that one).

Curiosity 8 - A Converted Windmill (45) SK377245

Lurking in the car park of Staunton Harold reservoir, this tower looked like some kind of misguided 60s edifice. It turns out that it's actually much older than that, and was once a windmill.

Curiosity 9 - Horseshoe Bridge (65) SK356240

This was another one of those curiosities that you'd normally drive straight past without noticing. A relic from a long-defunct early 19th Century railway, the curious aspect of the bridge is the odd way the arch bulges out above the ground, like a horseshoe.

Curiosity 10 - Village Lock-Up (23) SK349190

I didn't fancy our chances of finding this one, with the book describing it only as being somewhere in the village of Smisby, but we spotted it easily enough. It was sitting oddly on the edge of somebody's garden, with no apparent purpose, but back in the days of yore this was where the village drunks were locked up to cool off overnight. I don't recall ever noticing one of these 'lock-ups' before, but now I know what to look for I've noticed several of them in rural villages around the country.

Curiosity 11 - Lullington Spud (7) SK249129

The most distant curiosity from our house, the oddly named church in Lullington is notable for having a clock, but no clock faces. The only way of telling the time is when the bells chime the hours. Sadly we arrived at ten past the hour, and there didn't seem to be enough to entertain us in Lullington for the next fifty minutes, so we just had to imagine the bells.