CHAPEL-EN-LE-FRITH PARISH COUNCIL

 

A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE PARISH
 

The oldest monument in the parish is to be found in the village of Dove Holes in the shape a large circular earthwork known as the Bull Ring. This important “henge” dates from the Neolithic period and has the same dimensions as the stone circle at Arbor Low

 

The town of Chapel-en-le-Frith was founded in 1225 by foresters in the Royal Forest of the Peak, who were given permission by the Earl of Derby to build a chapel in the forest (a chapel-en-le-frith). Their building was largely refashioned in1733, but the present parish church still occupies the site of the original chapel and the churchyard contains a grave said to be that of a woodcutter from the days of the Royal Forest - its simple headstone bears the letters P.L. and a crude depiction of an axe. An unusually high concentration in the parish of grand halls (country houses), including Ford Hall, Slack Hall, Bradshaw Hall, Whitehough Old Hall and Bank Hall, also results from the period of the Royal Forest, when houses and estates were granted in return for services to the Crown.

   

 

 

In 1648, 1,500 Scottish soldiers, taken prisoner by Cromwell at the Battle of Ribbleton Moor, were locked in the parish church for two weeks, before being marched to Chester. When the doors were opened, 44 men were found to be dead. This gruesome episode earned the church the title “Derbyshire’s Black Hole.”

 

On the sloping land between the parish church and the main street, there is a well-preserved Old Town, with cobbled streets and alleyways, including picturesque Church Brow and a market square crammed with interesting monuments.

 

The stocks possibly date from the Cromwellian period; the market cross may have originated as
a preaching cross; the horse trough was erected to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee and the war memorial is unusual in listing all the local men who served in the First World War, rather than simply those who died in battle.
The war memorial at Dove Holes also commemorates the fallen in both World Wars.

At the present time, the Market Place is served by no fewer than four inns, but there is evidence of many more – look out for a tell-tale inscription on the wall of the post office, the name of a former inn incorporated into the name of a cottage, and a fine relief of a bull’s head on a house near the church gates. This high concentration of inns is evidence of Chapel-en-le-Frith’s historical importance as a stopping place on routes across the Pennines. Salt carriers from Cheshire, cattle drovers and stagecoach passengers all broke their journey for refreshment in the town.

Chapel’s role in the history of transport goes well beyond its importance as a staging post. A tramway was constructed in 1797 to carry stones from the quarries of Dove Holes to the terminus of the Peak Forest Canal at Bugsworth. The trucks were horse drawn for much of the journey, but a revolutionary gravitational railway was used on the steepest section, whose path can be traced on the eastern boundary of the town.

Combs reservoir, to the west of the town, was also constructed in 1797, in order to service the Peak Forest Canal. Twin railway viaducts at Chapel Milton are great monuments to the Railway Age and the Chapel-Whaley Bridge by-pass, opened in 1987, is one of the engineering achievements of the Age of the Automobile. The Ferodo brake lining company (now Federal Mogul) was founded in 1897 by Herbert Frood, who developed a revolutionary new braking material in his garden shed at Combs, within the parish of Chapel.

The parish also has a significant place in the history of non-conformism. William Bagshawe conducted secret services at Ford Hall after being expelled from his ministry at Glossop in 1662 for refusing to conform to the Book of Common Prayer.
 

John Wesley preached in the Chapel parish on four occasions and he was engaged for a time to Grace Murray, who spent much of her life in Chapel-en-le-Frith and is buried at Chinley Independent Chapel. Charles Wesley felt Grace was not a suitable match for his brother, so she transferred her affections to John Bennett, one of Wesley’s leading preachers. Two hamlets in the parish, Bagshaw and Sparrowpit, are among the oldest Wesleyan communities in the world.

 

MARTINSIDE CROSS

 

 

Writing in 1907, Rev. J Charles Cox gave a description of an old wayside cross which he had seen at Martinside, on the high road between Dove Holes and Chapel-en-le-Frith: “The height of its squared base was 20 inches and it measured at the top 28 inches by 26.5 inches. In the centre was an empty shaft socket 11 inches by 9 inches by 8 inches deep. The south side of the mortise hole has been broken away, but the mortise hole is unmistakable. A small channel cut from the edge of the socket to an angle of the base stone seemed to be original and may possibly have served as a pointer to the next boundary stone.”

When Neville T Sharpe, author of The Crosses of Derbyshire (Landmark, 2000), went in search of the cross that had been described in such detail by Cox, he couldn’t locate it. He reported, “A careful search of the roadside and wall in June 2000 failed to find even a trace of stones which might once have served as part of a cross shaft or base.”

When former parish councillor Denis Hill read this account, he realised that Sharpe’s search had been unsuccessful because he was looking in the wrong place. The author had understandably concentrated his efforts on an area near the summit of the hill, knowing that wayside crosses were usually placed in a prominent location so that approaching travellers could catch an early sight of them, but Denis remembers that the parish council took a decision some 30 years ago to re-locate the cross several yards further down the hill, because it had become vulnerable to damage from snow ploughs.

However, searches of the verges some distance below the summit failed to unearth the monument until Dove Holes historian Jenny Nicholson came up with vital information. Jenny told parish councillors that she knew the precise location of the monument and she even went to the trouble of removing the earth and long grass that had hidden it from view for so long. The newly exposed cross base has an appearance that matches Rev. Cox’s description in every detail.

Delighted to have uncovered this ancient monument, which has been dated as pre-Norman by archaeologists, parish councillors have decided to erect a plaque by the cross with a description of its history. Some local people have now come up with a story that the shaft of the wayside marker may have been plundered many decades ago for use as a farmer’s gatepost.

All in all, Chapel-en-le-Frith has a long and fascinating history, much of which can be traced by exploring the many monuments and old buildings to be found in the parish.

The Hearse House Visitor Centre, which was the headquarters of the now defunct Chapel-en-le-Frith Civic Society

 

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Page updated on 02/04/2014

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