If you have ever walked in the Peak District you may have marveled at its landscape and rustic architecture and pondered what might be the history of the Peak District…
It all began around 360 million years ago – the Peak District lies beneath the sea, its limestone rock being formed by the millions of creatures that lived and died there.
If there is a God, he showed favour to rock climbers when another 80 million years or so later, sea all gone, deposits of sand and mud form wonderful gritstone for future generations to enjoy pulling their moves on.
Zoom forward to around 10,000 years ago … We’ve endured an ice age and humans roam the earth. The earliest human settlers arrive in the area from London where cave prices have just gone through the roof. These are Mesolithic (middle stone-age) nomads come to the area seeking food. Another 4000 years on and Neolithic man is showing a bit more savvy, not to mention commitment by becoming more settled.
About 2300 – 700 BC, Bronze Age man masters copper and tin minerals to create bronze tools and weapons. Using these tools he forests the woodlands which gave rise to the bare grasslands of the dales that was used for primitive farming. Burial grounds (Carls Wark), hill forts (Mam Tor) and hut circles that scar the landscape provide a glimpse into the life of one of the Peak District’s earliest settlers. This continues through the Iron Age (but with a bit more sophistication and on a greater scale).
It’s now circa 80 AD and the Romans are here under the pretence that it’s a war on terror; everyone really knows that they’ve come for the lead. There’s lots of lead to be mined and combined with the thermal springs at Matlock and Buxton providing them their hot baths there’s no shifting them for another 300 years or so.
The Dark Ages … Holiday makers and hooligans from Scandinavia, Germany and Holland bring their loose morals, loud music (and sledge hammers) and make the most of a diminishing Roman Empire. Anglo-Saxons are everywhere and the ones settling here are called the Peacs (from the Pecsaetan tribe) after whom the area is so called. King William of Normandy decides to put a stop to the fun and games and takes over in 1066 bringing with him his own set of rules. Not popular with the locals, motte and bailey castles start to spring up – and the best known Norman castle is Peveril Castle in Castleton.
And so life continued – through the middle ages and the Tudors and so on. Not much happened bar the odd episode of bubonic plague giving rise to disease, pestilence, famine and fame for the village of Eyam, getting itself into the history books with its self imposed quarantine.
And then the Industrial Era made its mark upon the scene! Abundant water power and still lots of lead to be mined with nearby reserves of coal made this a perfect place for industry to thrive. New machines were invented powered by water mills supplying energy to the growing textiles industry in Derby, Cromford, Cressbrook, Litton and Bakewell.
To feed the growing industry, new roads, canals and most importantly of all – the railways! These opened the way to tourism. The working classes worked in those days. And when they didn’t, they came to the Peak District for a spot of fresh air and ‘romance’: it was considered to be a romantic place.
Then one day a fellow, enjoying the fresh air, walking on Kinder Scout comes across a gentleman who tells him to leave his land forthwith. “Why’s it your land?” asked the fellow. The gentleman explains that his father’s father’s father’s father had fought for it – and that’s why. “Ok” says the fellow rolling up his sleeves – “I’ll fight you for it” … And so there was a lot of tension about how no one was actually allowed on this land. Pressure was building up and moves were literally afoot to allow access to the land. A gang of walkers from Sheffield and a gang of walkers from Manchester decided that en-masse they’d walk on it anyway. It was 1932 and this was called the Kinder Mass Trespass.
Eventually and monumentally – the Peak District National Park was born on the 17th April 1951. This was the first national park in Britain. Today, the Peak District is said to be the second most visited National Park in the world. It has a new chapter in its varied history: the fight to preserve and protect the iconic landscape for future generations to enjoy and embrace.