Gateway to the Classics: The Counties of England by Charlotte Mason
The Counties of England by  Charlotte Mason


I. The Peak District

The wide-spreading moors of the Pennine chain stretch southward into Derbyshire. The whole of the county north of Castleton is a mountainous tract, called the Peak District; it consists for the most part of high and barren moorland, where sheep find scanty pasturage. Here and there high peaks rise above the rest, as the wild and rugged Kinderscout, with its tors, pools, and crags, and Mam Tor, which is nearly as high; none of these peaks is quite 2000 feet in height, but the district is so broken, rocky, and wild that it is truly mountain country.

Deep, narrow valleys cross the moors, river valleys, with noisy mountain torrents dashing through them; while thick wood grows down the sides of these glens to the water's edge, and high crags rise among the trees.

All the curious sights of the Peak District are not to be seen above ground. There are large and lofty caverns,—chambers opening into the very heart of the mountains; some of them penetrating, room after room, a distance of more than half a mile. To explore these caverns one must have guides and torches; and surprising it is to see, within, every fantastic shape hanging from the roof or rising from the floor; now a fringe, deep and broken, now a miniature forest in stone, and now strange shapes of bird or beast.

Have we got into a palace of the gnomes, and do they spend their years in thus adorning their chambers?

The same unwearying artist has hewn these caverns out of the solid rock, and beautified them to suit his fantastic taste; a workman whose name you would little suspect. Soft as rain is and hard as some rocks are, there is none so hard but the rain will in time make a way through its substance. The mountain limestone of which these mountains are made is full of cracks; the rain does not all flow off the sides of the hills; much of it sinks through these cracks, down and down, wearing away the lime as it goes, and carrying the atoms along in its course. Sometimes the water forms for itself quite a wide channel; indeed, in limestone districts it often happens that a broad stream, a river, flows in at the mouth of. a cavern, makes its way underground, and does not appear again for miles, and all this time the water has been wearing away the stone-and enlarging the caverns.

The water does not carry away quite all the lime it wears from the rocks. Every tiny drop that falls from the roof of a cavern carries its own grains of lime. Some grains it leaves on the roof; some grains drop upon the floor. This goes on for ever, night and dayr until at last the lime on the roof has made a little shoot, like an icicle, and the lime on the floor another little shoot rising up to meet it. There are many drops falling, side by side, and, in the course of ages, there is formed a sort of fringe, which hangs from the roof, as icicles might, while similar forms rise from below. These limestone droppings grow very, very slowly,—it has taken many hundreds of years to make the strange figures in the caverns. Those on the roof are called stalactites, and those on the floor, stalagmites;  two long names which come from a word in the Greek language, meaning "to drop."

The Peak Cavern and Bagshaw Grotto are the largest in the district.

This mountain limestone contains a treasure besides the building stone, which is so excellent that some of it was carried to London to build the handsome Parliament Houses; this treasure is veins of lead ore, which occur from the Peak, southward, as far as Wirks-worth, a great lead-mining place.

The Odin Mine, the Speedwell Mine, and the Bradwell Mine are in the Peak.

II. The Dales

Derbyshire, like Yorkshire, is famous for its beautiful dales. But in Derbyshire the Peak sends its spurs south instead of east; these long spurs reach into the middle of the county and separate the river valleys.

The Derwent valley is thus enclosed between hills, and a very beautiful valley it is, containing Chatsworth Park, the Duke of Devonshire's place. Farther south is Matlock, among hills; Abraham Heights, which the visitors climb upon donkeys, and High Tor, a giant crag with a steep face, are the best known heights. Matlock is a fashionable place, crowded with visitors in the summer, who come to drink, and to bathe in, the warm waters of the spring.

When the underground recesses become too full of water to hold any more, the water is forced out in springs:  and when the water is forced up in this way from a great depth, the springs are warm; for the deeper we get into the earth's crust, the warmer it becomes. The water of these springs has often an exceedingly unpleasant taste, for the underground stream which at last breaks out in a spring does not carry lime only with it, but iron, or sulphur, or magnesia, or soda, or whatever substance it passes through. The waters of Matlock are good for consumptive and rheumatic patients.

There are two other watering-places with mineral springs in the lovely Wye valley, Bakewell and Buxton.

The most delightful of the dales of Derbyshire is Dovedale. The Dove is a tributary of the Trent which flows from Dove Head, near Buxton, where it rises, until it joins the Trent, between the two counties of Stafford and Derby. Here, the cliffs overhang the* river, making dark, deep-looking pools; there, they open out; the woods come down to the river's brink,. great crags jut out, and the blue stream gurgles over boulders at the bottom: now it is a wide river, and now so narrow and shallow, that it is crossed upon stepping-stones.

III. The Coal-Field and Derby

East derbyshire is a mining district; the coal-field which begins at Leeds stretches southward through the whole of Derbyshire, as far as the town of Derby: a line between that town and Nottingham shows where it ends. The mining towns lie thick in this district, sometimes five or six miles apart, sometimes nearly touching one another, in a zigzag line from north to south.

There are blast furnaces in many of them, for iron ore is found with the coal, and is smelted in these furnaces.

Chesterfield, a large town, is the centre of a mining district: Staveley lies to the north of it; Ashover and Claycross to the south. In the latter towns iron is worked, as it is also in a group of iron towns farther south,—Swanwick, Ironville, Codnor Park, and Ripley. There are large cotton mills at Belper, on this coalfield; Glossop, quite in the north, on the borders of the Lancashire coal-field, is the centre of large cotton works, and is the chief manufacturing town in the county. The mills of Arkwright, who invented the "spinning-jenny," are at Crompton.

The land between the Dove and the Derwent is chiefly a corn-growing district, with green pastures by the rivers. The little bit of the Trent valley, about ten miles, where that river runs through the south end of Derbyshire, is also a rich green pasture land. Derby stands on the Derwent, which is a tributary of the Trent, and the chief river of the county. Derby means "the town of the Derwent," and the "by" in the name shows it was at one time a town held and named by the Danes. It is a busy town, where many things are made; porcelain, stockings, lace, and, most important of all, silk.

There is a bridge crossing the Derwent at the north end of Derby town, and from this bridge you get a view of a long brick building on the west bank, or, rather, on a little island in the river. This, you are told, is "John Lombe's silk mill."

A silk mill is the place where raw silk is prepared for the weaver by spinning or twisting, or throwing, as it is called in the trade.

The raw  silk comes in hanks from Italy, France, Bengal, China, and some other countries; the silk is called raw after it has been reeled off the cocoons.

Silk in this state, raw  silk, is what is brought into England now; but in John Lombe's day the silk came thrown, or spun into threads ready for the weaver. How to throw silk was the secret he set himself to find out. He went to Italy to see the machines used there. The Italians would not allow him to enter their mills, so he bribed two workmen to let him in secretly, and hide him where he could watch all that was going on. He watched by day and sat up at night to make drawings and write an account of what he had seen.

He had just finished when the Italians found him out, and would have killed him, but he and his two helpers escaped to a ship and sailed for England.

In time, he built his mill on this island in the Derwent (1717), and English throwsters  did their work as well as those of Italy.

The silk goods made in Derby are: ribbons, fringes, and other trimmings; sewing silk, cords, tassels, gloves, and stockings.

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