Castleton

Extract from Lewis's Topographical Dictionary of England, 1831.
Transcribed by Mel Lockie, © Copyright 2010
Lewis Topographical Dictionaries

CASTLETON, a parish in the hundred of HIGH-PEAK, county of DERBY, 4½ miles (N.) from Tideswell, containing, with the chapelry of Edale, 1428 inhabitants. The living is a discharged vicarage, in the archdeaconry of Derby, and diocese of Lichfield and Coventry, rated in the king's books at £6. 7. 6., endowed with £200 private benefaction, and £600 royal bounty, and in the patronage of the Bishop of Chester. The church, dedicated to St. Edmund, is a small ancient edifice, the arch, with its mouldings entire, separating the nave from the chancel, being a fine specimen of early English architecture; the pews are of oak curiously carved, but the exterior has been greatly modernised. There is a place of worship for Wesleyan Methodists. A school has been endowed with about £23 per annum, by Richard Bagshaw and others, for the education of poor children, in which there are. about twenty-three scholars.

Castleton is in the honour of Tutbury, duchy of Lancaster, and within the Jurisdiction of a court of pleas held at Tutbury every third Tuesday, for the recovery of debts under 40s. It is said to have taken its name from a castle built by William Peverell, natural son of the Conqueror, who gave him this honour, along with thirteen other lordships in the county, which, from its situation upon a steep and high peak, was called the Castle of the Peak, or Peak Castle; but from various records it appears that a castle existed here previously, supposed to have been erected by Edward the Elder, or his heroic sister Ethelfleda, as, at the Conqueror's survey, it was described "Castelii Wi Peverel in Pechivers", and in the reign of Edward the Confessor it was the property of Earl Gundeburne.

The extent of the ruins evinces the former magnitude of the building, the castle yard, the walls of which are in some places twenty feet high and nine feet thick, occupying almost the entire summit of the hill; the keep, consisting of two stories almost entire, and standing at the south-western point of this high and precipitous limestone rock, towering above the mouth of the great cavern of the peak, is fifty feet in height, the whole being nearly isolated, and only to be approached with difficulty from the north. Part of the arch of the principal gateway at the north-east corner is still visible, appearing to be formed of hewn gritstone. The castle remained in the possession of the Peverells until the attainder of the third William, when it was granted by Henry II. to his son John, Earl of Montaigne, afterwards King John; and, during the absence of his brother Richard I., Hugh Nonant, Bishop of Coventry, possessed it.

In 1204, King John appointed Hugh Neville governor, but the disaffected barons seized it and kept possession until the reign of Henry III. From that period it had various occupiers, until settled by Edward III. upon his son, the Earl of Richmond, commonly called John of Gaunt, who having married Blanch, youngest daughter of Henry, Duke of Lancaster, in 1359, his father, in 1362, created him Duke of Lancaster, and then the castle in the peak became part of the duchy of Lancaster, and continues so to the present time. It was used in preserving the records of the miners' court down to the reign of Elizabeth, when they were removed to Tutbury castle. His Grace the Duke of Devonshire now possesses it, as lessee under the crown.

Castleton is a considerable village, situated at the foot of the Castle hill; the inhabitants principally derive their support from the mining district by which it is surrounded: it was fortified by a rampart, the ditch being still visible, and called the Town ditch, extending from the ravines at the base of the rock, to the outworks connected with the castle, the ruins of which are boldly prominent on the verge of the hill. About half a mile east of the town is the site of an hospital, founded by King Stephen. The whole of this district abounds with greater natural curiosities than almost any other portion of the empire. Immediately under the walls of the castle is Peak Cavern, or the Devil's Cave, a succession of vast and magnificent excavations, formed in the interior of this stupendous rock.

The approach to it is by the side of a clear stream, flowing from limestone rocks, that here rise to the height of two hundred and sixty feet on each side, and from the entrance to the cave, which is in a dark and gloomy recess, consisting of a tolerably well formed arch, forty-six feet high and one hundred and twenty feet wide, and exhibiting a checquered diversity of coloured stones, from which a fluid that soon petrifies is continually dropping. Immediately within the arch is a cavern of nearly the same extent, and in depth about ninety feet, where some twine-makers have established their residence and manufactory. Here the light disappears, and the rest of the cavern must be explored by torch-light.

The arch leading to the next chamber is narrow and low, until arriving at a spacious opening called the Bell-house; at the end is a stream of water forty-two feet broad, over which it is necessary that visitors should be ferried. On landing, another vast vault, two hundred feet square and one hundred and forty feet high, presents itself: at the end of this is another stream generally crossed on foot; here the passage leads to what is termed Roger Rains' house, a projecting pile of rocks on which water is incessantly dropping. The next excavation is called the Chancel, which leads to what has been denominated the Devil's Cellar, and then follow numerous other immense cavities, that have received various appellations, such as Half-way House, Great Tom of Lincoln, &c., the whole extending two thousand three hundred feet from the entrance, and supposed to be six hundred and forty-five feet in depth from the summit of the mountain.

About a mile from this is the Speedwell mine, situated near the foot of what is called "the Winnets", from the gusts of wind that constantly prevail here, in consequence of the formation of this mountainous range: the mine was formerly worked for lead, but it proved unprofitable. The descent is by about one hundred steps, beneath an arched vault, leading to the sough, or level, where a boat conveys the explorer over a very broad stream, bounded by an immense gulph, the depth of which has never been accurately ascertained, though sounded by a line of three hundred and fifty feet; and above, the roof of the cavern is invisible, even with the aid of rockets and Bengal-lights. The rushing of the superfluous water through an artificial gate into this profound chasm, which has already swallowed forty thousand tons of rubbish, arising from the blasting of the rocks, without the least apparent diminution of its depth, produces an appalling effect.

A little further west is the Odin lead mine, said to have been worked by the Saxons, who honoured it with the name of one of their deities, and, although in operation for so many centuries, few mines in the county are yet more productive, affording employment to about one hundred and forty persons. At some distance beyond this, raising its majestic head one thousand three hundred feet above the vale of Castleton, is the "Mam Torr", or Mother hill, having also received the name of the "Shivering Mountain", from the fragments of shale and grit-stone almost continually falling from its south side, and which have formed an elevated mount in the valley, called "Little Mam Torr". On its summit are the remains of a camp, supposed to be Saxon, with the greater part of the rampart entire; and on the south-west side are two barrows, in one of which, when opened a few years since, were found a brass celt and fragments of an unbaked urn.

Near this mountain is the Water Hull mine, where the beautiful and peculiar fluor spar, locally termed "Blue John", is procured, the most esteemed of which are the violet-blue and rose-coloured, which are worked into elegant vases, urns, &c.: here is also found, between the schistus and limestone, a species of elastic bitumen, that burns with a bright flame; another variety, less elastic, is formed of filaments, and is called wood bitumen. About half a mile midway in this mountainous ravine, which exhibits in many places proofs of volcanic origin, is a place called the Cove, where large masses of basaltic rocks are conspicuous, in which are imbedded quartz, chrystals, &c. Such an assemblage of natural curiosities renders tile neighbourhood of Castleton one of the most interesting districts in the kingdom.

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