Wirksworth

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

WIRKSWORTH, a parish, in the hundred of HIGH-PEAK, county of DERBY, comprising the market-town of Wirksworth, the townships of Cromford, Hopton, Ible, and the hamlets of Callow, and Middleton, in the hundred of WIRKSWORTH; the townships of Alderwasley, Ashleyhay, Biggin, and Idridgehay with Allton, in the hundred of APPLETREE; and the hamlet of Iron-Brock-Grange, in the hundred of HIGH-PEAK, county of DERBY; and containing 7315 inhabitants, of which number, 3787 are in the town of Wirksworth, 13 miles (N.N.W.) from Derby, and 139 (N.W. by N.) from London. This place, formerly written Wircesworth, Werchestworde, and Wyrkysworth, is of very great antiquity, and is supposed to derive its name from the valuable lead-works in the neighbourhood, which, by an inscription on a pig of lead, found in 1777, appear to have been worked so early as the time of the Emperor Adrian, at the commencement of the second century; and the Saxons subsequently carried on mining operations here on an extensive scale.

In 714, Eadburga, abbess of Repton, to which abbey Wirksworth then belonged, sent hence to St. Guthlac, patron saint of Croyland abbey, a leaden coffin; and in 835, Kenwara, another abbess of Repton, granted her estate at Wercesvorde to Humbert, on condition that he gave annually lead worth £15 to Archbishop Ceolnoth, for the use of Christ Church at Canterbury. In Domesday-book. Wirksworth is described as the property of the Crown, having a church, a priest, and three lead mines; and it remained so until King John, in the fifth year of his reign, granted it to William de Ferrers, in whose family it continued until the attainder of his descendant, Robert, in the reign of Henry III., by which monarch it was, in 1265, given to his son Edmund, Earl of Lancaster, and the manor has since that period constituted a part of the possessions of the duchy of Lancaster.

The town is situated in a valley nearly surrounded with hills, at the southern extremity of the mining district; it is not regularly lighted or paved, and is supplied with water, brought by pipes, from the hills on its eastern side. The chief employment of the inhabitants arises from the lead mines, but some of them are also engaged in the cotton manufacture; and there are, in the town and its immediate neighbourhood, three establishments in which common ginghams are made, and others for the production of hosiery, hats, tape, silk, and for wool-combing. The Cromford canal, and the Cromford and High Peak railway, commence in this parish; the former about a mile and a half north of the town, near where it crosses the river Derwent, by means of an aqueduct, the span, of whose arch, over the river is eighty feet; and the latter about half a mile north.

The mines and miners of this neighbourhood are governed by ancient customs, confirmed by a commission of enquiry in 1287; and all disputes and offences are determined at the Barmote courts, held twice a year before the steward, in the moot-hall, a handsome stone building, erected in 1814, by the Hon. Chas. Bathurst, late Chancellor of the duchy. In this hall is deposited the ancient brass dish, the standard from which those used for measuring the ore are made, which must be brought to be corrected by it, at least twice a year, by all the miners. The code of laws and regulations by which these courts are governed is very similar to that in force in the mining districts of the duchy of Cornwall: one remarkable custom is, that each person has the privilege of digging and searching for lead-ore, in any part of the king's field, which, with a few exceptions, comprehends the whole wapentake; and should he discover a vein of lead, he has a right to work it and erect buildings necessary for that purpose, without making any compensation to the owner of the land.

A market on Wednesday, and an annual fair for three days, were granted by Edward I., in 1305, to Thomas, Earl of Lancaster: Tuesday is now the market day, for provisions generally; and there are fairs on Shrove-Tuesday, Easter-Tuesday, May 12th, July 8th, September 8th, and the third Tuesday in November, for cattle, the last being also a statute fair. The town is governed by a constable and head-borough, and a petty session is held by the county magistrates, on Tuesday in each week. Two courts baron, at Easter and Michaelmas, and a court leet at Easter, are held annually for the king's manor, by the lessee of the crown; and a court is also held for the rectorial manor, under the Dean of Lincoln, as impropriator: there is also another manor within the parish, for which no courts are held, called the Holland, or Richmond, manor, granted in 1553, by Henry VIII., to Ralph Gell, Esq., which now belongs to his descendant, Philip Gell, Esq., of Hopton.

The living is a vicarage, in the archdeaconry of Derby, and diocese of Lichfield and Coventry, rated in the king's books at £42. 7. 8., and in the patronage of the Dean of Lincoln. The vicar is entitled, by custom, to every fortieth dish (of fourteen pints) of lead-ore raised in the parish, but the quantity, of late years, has been very small. The church, dedicated to St. Mary, is a handsome, structure in the later English style, with a square tower, supported in the centre by four large pillars, and contains some ancient monuments. There are places of worship for Baptists, Independents, and Wesleyan Methodists.

The free grammar school, adjoining the churchyard, was founded and endowed by Anthony Gell, Esq., of Hopton, in 1576, and has been recently rebuilt in the English style of architecture, at an expense of about £2000: the present income is upwards of £250 per annum; the boys on the foundation are taught the classics free, but pay a small sum quarterly for instruction in English grammar, writing, and arithmetic. This school, in common with those of Ashbourn and Chesterfield, is entitled, next after the founder's relatives, to two fellowships and two scholarships at St. John's College, Cambridge, founded by the Rev. James Beresford, vicar of this parish, who died in 1520.

Almshouses for six poor men, near the school, were also founded and endowed by Anthony Gell, Esq.; the inmates receive a small monthly allowance. Elizabeth Bagshaw, in 1797, bequeathed £2000 three per cent. consols. to trustees, for the benefit of the poor, the dividends of which, amounting to £56 per annum, are distributed in sums of £1 each: there are many other small donations and bequests, producing together a considerable sum, which is annually given to the poor of the town and parish; and a library for their use has been, recently established, and is supported by subscription. In 1736, a quantity of Roman coins was discovered; and spars, fluors, &c., are found in great variety in the neighbourhood. Here were also some mineral springs, but they have been destroyed by draining the mines.

ALDERWASLEY, a chapelry in that part of the parish of WIRKSWORTH which is in the hundred of APPLETREE, county of DERBY, 2 miles (E. by S.) from Wirksworth, containing 454 inhabitants. The chapel belongs to F. Hurst, Esq., who appoints his own chaplain. There are iron-works and furnaces for smelting lead-ore in the neighbourhood.

ASHLEY-HAY, a township in that part of the parish of WIRKSWORTH which is in the hundred of APPLETREE, county of DERBY, 1¾ mile (S.) from Wirksworth, containing 223 inhabitants.

BIGGIN, a township in that part of the parish of WIRKSWORTH which is in the hundred of APPLETREE, county of DERBY, 5 miles (E. by N.) from Ashbourn, containing 160 inhabitants. This place 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. Here was formerly a church, or chapel, but for many years not even the site of it has been known.

CALLOW, a hamlet in that part of the parish of WIRKSWORTH which is in the hundred of WIRKSWORTH, county of DERBY, 2 miles (S.W.) from Wirksworth, containing 100 inhabitants.

IBLE, a township in that part of the parish of WIRKSWORTH which is in the hundred of WIRKSWORTH, county of DERBY, 4 miles (N.W.) from Wirksworth, containing 135 inhabitants. This township 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.

IRON-BROCK-GRANGE, a hamlet in that part of the parish of WIRKSWORTH which is in the hundred of HIGH-PEAK, county of DERBY, containing 34 inhabitants.

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