Cat and Fiddle Inn, Buxton (1928)

Recent Photograph of Cat and Fiddle Inn (1928) (Buxton)

One of Derbyshire's notorious landmarks, the ‘Cat and Fiddle Inn’ is allegedly the highest Licensed House in England, being 1690 feet above sea level.

Some very intriguing theories exist for its naming. One theory suggests it is a corruption of the name ‘Catherine Fidelis’ - Catherine of Aragon, the first wife of Henry VIII - and I have to admit this one does rather appeal to me, in suggesting a definite history for its origin. Less appealing is a suggestion of ‘Cat’ being Catherine, the wife of the Tsar of Russia, Peter the Great, although it is not then clear how ‘Fiddle’ became appended, nor what she may have had to do with events in England! A further theory nearer to home suggests it was named for one of the eccentric Dukes of Devonshire, who passed along this road on his way to and from Buxton and stopped at the summit on a regular basis to play his violin!

Another theory, which is on the face of it more plausible, as it suggests a common pastime which could have taken place at public houses before the more modern amusements of the one-armed bandits and juke box arrived! The game of ‘Trap Ball’ involved the use of a ‘cat’, or tapered stick, and perhaps the Inn was also notorious for its fiddle players providing the accompanying music? Ahem, so ‘The Devil (not only) went Down to Georgia’ but down to Buxton too...

However... whilst this theory is tempting to believe, as many place-names are derived from customs associated with them, some further investigation into the game rules it out as one to be played indoors! It was mentioned as an early bat-and-ball game on what was formerly the SABR UK (Society for American Baseball Research) web site, which related several descriptions. Specifically, on their site in one piece entitled ‘The Chicken or the Egg ?’:-

“This game is recorded as being played at least as long ago as the 14th century, being especially associated with Shrove Tuesday festivities. The game is essentially the same as baseball or rounders but for the fact that the ball instead of being thrown was projected toward the hitter by means of a miniature version of the type of catapult used at that period to hurl cauldrons of molten lead at one's military adversaries. This medieval pitching machine consisted of a spoon suspended between two uprights; the thin, or handle, end of the spoon being struck downwards thus slinging the ball at the batter. Truly, there is nothing new under the sun.”
(related from ‘The Oxford Companion’)

On the other hand, we have Inns named ‘The Cricketers' Arms’, so perhaps I'm being precipitate in ruling it out on the basis of playing outdoors!

Alternatively, it may be simply derived from the Nursery Rhyme - ‘Hey Diddle Diddle, The Cat and the Fiddle’, as depicted on the carved stone plate now on the wall, which may well be contemporary with its founding, as it may not be as old as its reputation might suggest.

The Inn can be dated with certainty to the early 19th century, but whether it predates the building of the ‘new’ A537, built in 1823 is not known. Current evidence suggests not, as its present location belies it being a Coaching Inn. The old Macclesfield to Buxton turnpike road by-passed the present site, following a route down to Derbyshire Bridge and along the Old Macclesfield Road to Burbage. Pity...

(Information provided by Rosemary Lockie)

[1] Price, Clive - Playing the Peakland Name Game. Article published in Peak District Magazine (Dalesman Publications), July 2000, pp43-46.
[2] Peak District Education - The Goyt Valley in the Peak National Park
[3]The Devil Went Down to Georgia’ - music track by The Charlie Daniels Band, 1979.

This image is one of a collection of photographs taken during a touring holiday in the summer of 1928.

Image contributed by Robert Mather on 4th February 2003.
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