Doing Up Derbyshire
Ann Hills looks at the impact of the Derbyshire Historic Building Trust
Wirksworth, a Derbyshire market town known for lead mining and for the manufacture of red tape, presented an extraordinarily Dickensian air of neglect a few years ago. During the 1980s the Derbyshire Historic Building Trust (DHBT), which inhabits one of the refurbished town centre houses, has had a substantial impact by investing in the repair of more than a dozen properties. A fascinating Heritage Centre in a former silk and velvet mill, recounts the Wirksworth story with tableaux, artefacts and documents.
A sense of purpose has replaced inertia; the National Stone Museum, to be opened beside quarries and old lime kilns on the northern edge of town, is at the planning stage; shops are colourful – selling goods from modern furniture to high fashion.
Next year festivities will centre around the 700th anniversary of the first recorded mention of the Barmote Court in 1288, which dealt with lead mining matters. The Court still sits each April and October, and is open to the public.
The town has won awards and civic pride has been restored. Property prices in Wirksworth have risen and private owners have been spurred on to improve their houses – as anyone can see if they follow the illustrated town trail. It pinpoints a Georgian coaching inn, leads visitors to the Heritage Centre and along steep, narrow walled 'ginnels' (alleys) between merchants' houses and modest cottages, to panoramic views. You can peer down into the vast hole of Dale Quarry and imagine the noise and dust of the industrial era. (What tourists will not see is a face with malevolent features unearthed between two back to back fireplaces in the fine seventeenth-century Babington House. It is being rehidden. Superstitions still run high.)