There are 57 scheduled monuments in the South West Peak, including Bronze Age barrows, a medieval motte and bailey castle, an Iron Age promontory fort on Combs Edge, and Goyt’s Moss colliery dating from the early 17th century. Added to the scheduled monuments of national importance are a series of some 80 non-scheduled barrows, a host of medieval packhorse routes, field systems and settlements, post-medieval turnpike roads, gritstone quarries, coal mines, lime kilns and disused mills.
A site with evidence of a long period of occupation is Fox Hole Cave on the edge of the South West Peak. Here, the skull of a brown bear was found, placed upside down and covered with flat slabs, an act attributed to Late Upper Palaeolithic or Mesolithic.
The first settlers in the area were Neolithic farmers; a settlement discovered to the west of Buxton in the 1980s revealed rare evidence of rectangular buildings with central hearths. Stone tools, pottery and traces of the settlers’ crops and diet were radiocarbon dated to around 3,500 BCE.
The Iron Age hillfort of Castle Naze sits on a triangular promontory high above what is now the town of Chapel-en-le-Frith. It is thought that the fort was built in several phases, starting around 500 BCE when the inner bank was constructed.
To date, little other evidence of Iron Age activity has been found in the South West Peak; at this time the climate was becoming cooler and wetter and the nature of farming changed to more extensive, rather than intensive activities.
After the prehistoric period, the interdependence of upland grazing and lowland cultivation continued to develop. While there is some evidence for oval enclosures pre-dating the Roman period, the area’s small-scale enclosures date from the medieval period at least.
The medieval Pilsbury Castle sits on a spur overlooking the River Dove a short distance south-east of Fox Hole Cave. The remains include a castle mound and three baileys or courtyards enclosed by ramparts and ditches. Located in the valley, Pilsbury Castle monitored traffic along the valley-bottom road, a symbol and a demonstration of power and control.
In the northern half of the South West Peak were three medieval hunting forests: Macclesfield Forest in Cheshire, Malbanc Frith in Staffordshire and part of the Royal Forest of the Peak in Derbyshire; which served to inhibit further settlement until later medieval times.
Many farmsteads appeared during the 16th and 17th centuries, in tandem with the early development of field barns, and some rebuilding took place in the 17th to 19th centuries using local gritstone. The decades following the Parliamentary Enclosure Acts in the late 18th and 19th centuries increased the rate of boundary building and resulted in the current landscape we know today with walls and hedgerows defining field boundaries.
The tales told by those who know and love the South West Peak are as varied as the landscape itself and often just as colourful.
Many people in the Staffordshire Moorlands know at least one version of the tale about Doxey Pool; sitting atop the ridge path of the Roaches. The pool is said to be bottomless and house a malignant water spirit. In 1949, Mrs Florence Pettit visited this pool one morning for a swim before lunch in the company of a friend from Buxton. She wrote afterwards that just before she was to enter the water:
“…a great ‘thing’ rose up from the middle of the lake. It rose very quickly until it was 25 to 30 feet tall. Seeming to be part of the slimy weeds and the water, yet it had eyes, and those eyes were extremely malevolent. It pointed its long boney fingers menacingly at me so there was no mistaking its hostility. I stood staring at the undine, water spirit, naiad or whatever it was while my heart raced. Its feet just touched the surface of the water, the weeds and the air. When I dared to look again, the creature was dissolving back into the elements from which it had formed.”
About 4 kilometres away from Doxey Pool is Blake Mere (also known as Black Mere) beside what was the Mermaid Pub on a high area known as Morridge overlooking the Roaches. There are a variety of myths associated with Blake Mere: it contains a mermaid; it is the drowning place of an attractive young woman said to be a witch; no animals will drink from it; birds will not fly over it or land on it.
In reality, a murder took place here in 1679. Andrew Simpson, who worked at the Red Lion Pub in Leek, overheard a young woman speaking of how well she had done selling her lace, wool and thread. He followed her home across the moors and murdered her for her money. He threw the body into Blake Mere but the corpse was found and he was later hanged on the nearby Gun Hill (Raven, 2004).
The story behind the name of Folly Mill on the River Dane at Allgreave is less sinister. It is claimed that Abraham Day built a watermill at Allgreave sometime in the late 18th century and it was destroyed by a flood. The same thing happened to the next one he built. When he started to build a third, his wife threatened to take to her bed and stay there. Undeterred, Abraham started the mill once again, whereupon his wife retired to bed and never got up again, finally dying there in 1826 (Bonson, 2003).
Bonson, T. (2003). Driven by the Dane: Nine centuries of waterpower in South Cheshire and North Staffordshire. Congleton: The Midland Wind and Water Mills Group.
Clarke, D. (1991). Ghosts and Legends of the Peak District. Norwich: Jarrold Publishing.
Raven, M. (2004). A Guide to Staffordshire and the Black Country. Michael Raven.