Down in Derbyshire
Sunday, 9th September 2007

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Virginia and I spent a few nights at Willersley Castle in Derbyshire during September 2007, seeing history in the area. Our hotel had originally been built for Richard Arkwright we discovered. All I knew about Arkwright was that he invented the spinning jenny. I learnt he didn't invent the water frame, his big innovation and what made him rich was implementing a factory system for processing raw cotton into cotton thread.

Very close to our hotel were two of Arkwright's factories or mills. We went round the machines at the working museum at Masson Mills (when we managed to find our way through the shops.) The noise of the machines would have done for me as a worker, let alone how dangerous some of the work was. Children as young as 7 were employed to clean fluff from the working machines while suspended over them. One of the machines was interesting to me as related to the computers which keep me employed. From the punched hole patterns which drove Jacquard looms evolved punched cards which were how I first programmed.

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Virginia particularly wanted to see Chatsworth House which we did the first day. It was in fact a disappointment, partly because of all the modern art scattered around which seemed out of place. The stately homes we were used to are frozen in time, no longer living places. Chatsworth House is still very much someone's house, and having pieces of modern art on show fulfills a purpose.

Stately homes were or are much more than places to live in. They make statements - that their owners are rich, powerful, different to the hoi polloi. So the modern art which is centred on making statements rather than being artistic is perfectly suited to the elite who want to make statements about their being the elite.


We preferred Kedleston Hall to Chatsworth, though that had plenty of statements in it. Landscaping by Robert Adams (fashionable at the time.) A 3 span bridge (because Chatsworth was having a 3 span bridge and they didn't want to seem poorer.) The furnishings seemed less dingy than Chatsworth though Chatsworth allowed photography inside (very rare.)

I have a soft spot for places like Toys of Yesteryear where memories of Fireball XL5 and Stingray and Man from Uncle are revived. We visited Haddon Hall another fascinating glimpse into the past, a hall which has grown organically over the centuries. The long gallery (for Elizabethan ladies to get exercise walking up and down in) has very uneven windows - deliberately to spread the light. King John restricted the height the wall that could be built around the earliest buildings (to prevent Englishmen's homes being their castles.)


We also dropped in to see, and have a good time at, the Tramway Museum at Crich. I admired the volunteers who so freely gave their time to make the show run, it must be nice to be part of a team like that. Amusing to see that some old tram cars ended up as people's homes!

On our final day we joined in a minibus tour which involved hours of bumpy uncomfortable travel. Saw well dressing at Hartington

  • what remains of an ancient tradition. Hartington had a nice little cheese shop and we bought some Wensleydale cheese. I was unable to resist the Wallace and Gromit connection. Wensleydale reminded me of Cheshire cheese, not a strong taste. I almost got a slipware large mug from Rookes Pottery - the pattern was beautiful but I couldn't justify to myself buying it. We had a cup of tea at a team room which was also the Post Office and an art gallery with nude paintings for sale.
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Biddulph Grange gardens were marvellous, and we could have spent more time there. A series of different styled gardens with connecting tunnels wondrous. The National Trust has had a lot of restoring to do there.

Lastly Little Moreton Manor gave an impression of how bare (to us) Tudor times were. Virginia was alarmed by the ice-cream eating ducks which aggressively clustered round when we had a couple of cones!