Dark Satanic Mills…..

The Mill

Whilst this mill* has recently been spruced up you can still understand why,  in the industrial areas of the UK,  these mills became known as the “dark satanic mills”.

They were noisy, polluted, dark and dangerous places to work. Employment conditions for many were poor and had no respect of age… children to elderly grandparents were the labour force.

The legacy they leave are buildings, that with a degree of skill and imagination,  have in many locations, been turned into luxury apartments, art and design studios, gyms and high grade offices.

Whilst I appreciate the saving of these buildings, buildings that are an important part of our industrial heritage, I often think they look rather ‘prison’ like.  Maybe those early mill workers felt the same way about their place of employment.

* This Mill is at Darley Abbey Complex, Derby.  It is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site along the Derwent Valley.

6th August

(C) David Oakes 2019


The Other Valley……


Church of the Holy Cross, Ilam, The Manifold Valley, Staffordshire

Most visitors to this part of middle England head for the famous Dovedale, it certainly is beautiful. A Limestone dale through which over the millennia the River Dove has cut its way.  The River itself was made famous by the Angler Izaak Walton, his writing ” The Complete Angler” of 1653 is still a fisherman’s read.  But the Dove also creates the boundary between Derbyshire and Staffordshire. So if the traveller continues on into Staffordshire they will enter  an equally beautiful but very different valley – The Manifold Valley.

Pass through the Swiss style village of Ilam and enter the Ilam Estate. The Neo Gothic Hall stands on a rise above a sweep in the River Manifold and overlooks The Church of the Holy Cross with its distinctive saddleback roof to the bell tower.

Holy Cross is built upon Saxon foundations but the building you see today dates mainly to the 17th & 19th centuries. An ancient tomb to St. Bertram stand is a chapel to the south side of the Church.


The story or legend that surrounds St. Bertram is too long to recount here but a search on the web search will tell you  all (..oodegr.com/english/biographies/arxaioi/Bertram_Mercia.htm )

In a Chapel on the north side of the church is a memorial to one of the Watt – Russell family who at one time owned the Hall and indeed had the village built in Swiss style. This rather moving memorial was installed into the new chapel in 1831.  The work of Sculptor Sir Francis Chantrey it depicts David Pike-Watts (d 1831) with his daughter Mary and her 3 children…a dramatic sculpture in a dramatic setting…


The Hall today is a Youth Hostel and what a great location for exploring the Beech tree clad Manifold Valley and its surrounds of Staffordshire and Derbyshire. The Hall has an  Italian style gardens currently being restored by the National Trust and gives great views towards Bunster Hill, Thorpe Cloud and Dovedale. But explore the immediate estate along the river is itself well worth while. Note that at time the River will disappear and run below the surface.  The limestone here is so porous that underground water channels and springs are common…. it all depends upon the weather! Look and you will find the famous 12c Battle Stone and discover for yourself the Springs and Wells.  The river bank during the summer months has an abundance of wild flowers….

As this is now a National Trust Property you can refresh yourselves with a Cream Tea and a laze in the garden…   and just enjoy the view


Bypassing the honey spot of Dovedale is no hardship, takes you to a very different valley and one just a little more peaceful.


3rd August

(C) David Oakes 2019

Silent Sunday…. So off to Church


St. Michaels and All Angles Church, Kniveton, Derbyshire

It is always enjoyable and sometime revealing to explore the many Derbyshire villages we have close to us. Some 3 miles south east of the Market Town of Ashbourn is the tiny village of Kniveton. Founded I understand on the ancient estate of the Kniveton family.

Like most of the Derbyshire villages the centre piece is the Church, never that big but all sporting a rectangular Bell Tower some like here at St. Michaels have the addition of a small Spire.  I am also told that St. Michaels is also the oldest of the buildings in the village and dates back to the 12 century.  Its religious and architectural heritage is recognised by the its important Historic Grade 1 Listed Building status….and rightly so, it may be a small and very simple church in its construction but also a very intimate and beautiful centre piece for village life.

The Bell Tower sports a number of Gargoyles now showing their age and wooden stave slats allow the sound of the Church Bells, one dating to 1665 to echo round the village.  Not sure how old the main Stained Glass windows are but I feel that there style and colours indicate a great many centuries.  The Church yard and its gravestones can also tell many stories of Kniveton families over the centuries and of course no Church yard would be complete without the traditional Yew Tree.



Like so many of our Derbyshire village Churches, each is different and each worthy of exploration.

28th July

(C) David Oakes 2019


On the Hunt for Wild Orchids….. and a step back in time


Being honest it isn’t so much of a ‘hunt’ as a trek to a location in South Derbyshire that is a little off the usual beaten track. The location is Ticknall Limeyards, but more about this once very busy industrial location later.

For now let me tell you that the site is a listed SSSI for its botanical and geological importance.  It is the later that provides the chalky Limestone soils so loved by many herbs and especially Orchids.  Common Spotted Orchids are the predominant specie. Usually the flower spike with its tight cluster of petals are carried high on a long stem…. so once you find the right location spotting them is usually easy.  But this summer we had forgotten just how virulent all the plant growth has been…and the past week of rain and high temperatures have added to the abundant growth of herbage. However once you spotted one you soon spotted many more….

Apart from the Common Spotted Orchid, the squat dome shaped heads of the Pyramidal Orchid are just starting to establish themselves, so another visit is needed.

Now let me tell you about the history of Ticknall Limeyards.

Well lets start by saying that this location sit’s astride the Geological Thringstone Fault.  The fault runs east west through the village of Ticknall.  To the south are the Coal Seams of South Derbyshire and Leicestershire whilst to the north are beds of Carboniferous Limestone and in places around the village are areas of heavy clay….all three valuable commodities and to have all three in one location was a bonus to be taken advantage of.

The Limeyards are really quarries where limestone was excavated. To make it valuable it was then burnt under very high temperatures to extract a powder we know as Quicklime.  The furnaces needed coal and there was plenty of that within relativly easy reach.

Within this old quarry a number of furnaces, called Lime Kilns, were built.  Deep pits, stone and brick lined. A coal fire was built in the base and the limestone shovelled in from the top…. after some time the Quicklime was  raked from the base.  I believe there were 8 Kilns in use.


To make the process profitable it all needed a constant and large supply of materials and of course the Quicklime needed to be shipped out to industrial customers. … and this is where you can stand and see just how imaginative and creative our predecessors where. We are talking about the 18th and 19th centuries. Hand labour was the power and Horse drawn carts the transport.  So multi layer roadways in and out of the quarries were built for the carts.

But innovation didn’t stop there.  Apart from product from the Limeyards, Bricks and Tiles from the nearby Brickyards needed transport to the Midlands and South of England.  There was a Canal at nearby Ashby but the landscape prevented its economic extension to Ticknall.

To solve the transport problem the Engineer Outram was commissioned to build a Horsedrawn Tramway linking Ticknall to the Ashby Canal some 10 miles away. Opened in 1802 it carried all the local produced products of Lime, Bricks, Pottery and Tiles. Coal came the reverse direction.  It fell out of use in the early 1900’s.

That Tramway can still be traced today and makes a great walk.  The Limeyards have gone back to nature.  Trees surround, pools have formed in hollows and the vegetation  is prolific forming and a haven for wildlife.

One of the exciting experiences of walking into the Limeyards is to approach through one of the tunnels built for the Tramway.  Nearly 200 yards long it is dark but does lets you feel that you walking back in time. So grab a torch and join us….


A onetime busy, noisy, dirty, smoky  location is now a place of solitude.

There are a great number of quarries and mine locations across Derbyshire all with stories of our industrial heritage…. many like Ticknall Limeyards are now some of the very best Nature Reserves in the county…. nature soon takes back what was taken from it so violently.

4th July

(C) David Oakes 2019