Chapel-en-le-Frith Parish Council
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nestles in an upland valley in the High Peak, and is surrounded
by a dramatic landscape of gritstone ridges and shapely hills. In
the thirteenth century, a vast stretch of this region, bordered
by the rivers Goyt, Etherow, Derwent and Wye, was designated as
the Royal Forest of the Peak, a hunting reserve used by the Norman
Kings and the nobility. The town was founded in 1225, when the Earl
of Derby gave permission for foresters in the area known as Bowden
to build a chapel in the forest – a “chapel-en-le-frith”.
The foresters’ chapel, which was consecrated on July 7th 1225, was dedicated to St Thomas Becket, who had been murdered in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170. Exactly five years to the day before the consecration of Chapel-en-le-Frith’s church, the saint’s body was moved to a specially constructed shrine in the choir of Canterbury Cathedral. July 7th came to be known as the Feast Day of St Thomas.
The present parish church, which stands on the prominent site where the original foresters’ chapel was built, was largely remodelled in 1733, but some parts of the chancel probably date back to the thirteenth century. In the churchyard there is a slab that is engraved with a simple depiction of an axe and is said to mark the grave of a forester from the days of the Royal Forest.
In 1648, 1,500 Scottish soldiers, who had been captured by Cromwell’s forces at the Battle of Ribbleton Moor, were imprisoned in the church for two weeks. When the doors were opened, 44 men were found to be dead. This gruesome episode earned the church the title “Derbyshire’s Black Hole”.
The settlement that grew up around the chapel became known as the Capital of the Peak. Because the town stands on a natural gap in the Pennines, it was a stopping point and trading place on pack horse routes between Cheshire and Yorkshire. It was also an important staging post in the coaching days, as is evidenced by the plethora of inns around the Market Place.
One of the most remarkable features in the parish of Chapel-en-le-Frith is the high concentration of country houses or “halls”. Although they have changed hands and been altered over the years, the halls probably owe their origin to the granting of estates to burghers of the Royal Forest as a reward for services to the Crown. They include: Bradshaw Hall, built in warm brown stone in 1620 by Francis Bradshaw, a relative of Judge John Bradshaw, who presided over the trial of King Charles 1; Bowden Hall, remodelled in the nineteenth century, but with an older stables block in its grounds; Bank Hall, once the home of Squire Frith, a Georgian country gentleman and huntsman who is said to have pursued a poor fox for 40 miles during a chase in 1788; Slack Hall, which stands almost in the path of the road to Castleton, because the turnpike was built through its garden (the newer Slack Hall hides in the valley below); Whitehough Old Hall, a late Elizabethan country house in the hamlet of Whitehough; and Ford Hall, the ancestral home of the Bagshawes, whose most famous member is William Bagshawe, the “Apostle of the Peak”, who conducted secret services at the hall and founded many non-conformist communities in the Peak District after he had been expelled from his ministry at Glossop for refusing to conform to the Book of Common Prayer.
The Chapel-en-le-Frith parish contains
some of the oldest Methodist communities in England. John Wesley
visited the area on four occasions between 1740 and 1786, most memorably
in 1745, when the miller at Chapel Milton deliberately let out the
mill water in an attempt to drown out the preacher’s voice.
Wesley recalled: “It was labour lost, for my strength was
so increased that I was heard to the very skirts of the congregation.”
In 1748, Wesley proposed to Grace Murray, who had nursed him back to health during an illness, but Charles Wesley objected to his brother’s liaison. Grace then married John Bennett, one of Wesley’s leading preachers. Some time after her husband died at the age of 45, Grace moved to Chapel-en-le-Frith, where she lived until her death at the age of 85 in 1803. She is buried in the churchyard of Chinley Independent Chapel.
In 1796, a horse-drawn tramway was opened to link the quarries at Dove Holes with the terminus of the Peak Forest Canal at Bugsworth Basin. On the steepest section of the tramway horses were replaced by a gravitation railway, which used the weight of heavily-laden trucks descending the slope to pull up the empty wagons, to which they were connected by hemp rope. The tramway closed in 1926 and the track was removed ten years later, but some of the original sleeper-stones remain, particularly at the basin and in a stretch through Dove Holes. Part of the track is now a walking route.
599 local men served in the First World War; 78 were killed in the carnage. Unusually, the names of all the men who served, and not just those who died, are commemorated on the town’s war memorial.
by the inadequate stopping power of the “untidy and ragged
brakes” on the wagons which he saw negotiating the steep hills
of the High Peak, Herbert Frood determined that he would find something
better. A chance discovery of some discarded oil-impregnated belts
at his father-in-law’s belting factory prompted him to carry
out an investigation into their friction properties in his garden
shed in the hamlet of Combs. Frood began manufacturing his revolutionary
brake linings in 1897 at Gorton but moved his factory to Chapel
in 1902. Frood’s fortune was made when his company, which
traded as Ferodo, an inaccurate anagram of the founder’s name,
won the contract for the London Omnibus Company. Although the firm
has now been acquired by Federal Mogul, an American multi-national,
the Chapel-en-le-Frith factory still operates on its original site,
where Frood’s garden shed-cum-laboratory has been re-erected,
and Ferodo brake and clutch linings are still in use on vehicles
throughout the world.
Whilst every care has been taken in compiling this publication and the statements contained herein are believed to be correct, the publishers and promoters cannot accept responsibility for any inaccuracies. Reproduction of any part of this publication in any format, without permission, is strictly forbidden. All the photographs in this booklet were taken by: Mike Smith and Guy Martin.