Horse Tales

Bradbourne, the village Nat Gould called home

“The rolling landscape of the White Peak, with its rough grey dry stone walls and sheep pasture fields, give us a wonderfully tranquil vista as we stroll along the quiet lanes, which follow the raised acclivities of the limestone plateau.”

The writers on the Horse Tales route:

Nat Gould

Tissington to Brassington through Bradbourne : Circular Walk - Map and Directions : Google Earth Tour for this Walk

With abbreviated extracts from The Literary Way, written by Terry Goble and published by The Creative Peak


This is the only walk that is dedicated to a single author, but fortunately for us, he was a very interesting character. He was a prolific author, who rose to the peak of his popularity among the soldiers of the First World War. He was a native Mancunian, but gained fame and fortune in the horse racing world of Australia, however, he always believed his real home to be the small village of Bradbourne. We take our leave of Tissington and join a footpath across the estate land, with its dry stone walls and rolling landscape. On our right we pass a mound, which is the abandoned medieval village of Lea Hall. As we approach the slope down to Bradbourne Brook, we take the footpath to the left. Just further on the road has a ford to cross the stream. There are not many fords around in modern times and it is interesting to see a number of cars turn back when they realise that the water isn’t always just a trickle. As we cross the fields, we can see the old mill nestled down by the roadside.

The Magic of Sport

It is not much further and we walk up the hill and enter the small, sleepy village of Bradbourne. It is just off the main road and so preserves the atmosphere of peace and tranquility. Along the road into the village, there is a shallow dale to our right, which is backed by a rough grassed slope, which is called Haven Hill. The tower of the church has been visible for a while, but we must look to find the entrance to the church grounds, as it is set back from the road. Bradbourne is an ancient village with its registration in the Domesday Book, although the stump of the cross in the church grounds is believed to date from several hundred years earlier. A characteristic feature of these very old villages, as we saw at Alsop, is the close proximity between the lord of the manor’s house in the village and the church. Bradbourne is no exception, with the Elizabethan Manor walls forming the edge of the church grounds. The door in the wall made it is easy for the local aristocracy to go to church. There is a man buried in this churchyard, who was a prolific author. Most of his novels were not about the Peak District, but were set in the horse racing world. Perhaps the best way of describing him is as a Edwardian Dick Francis. He wrote his first novel while working as a journalist in Australia. It was published in 1891, when he was aged thirty-four years-old. By the time of his death aged 62, he had written one hundred and thirty books, with more than twenty of them being released after his death.

Nathaniel Gould, known as Nat, was born in Manchester but both his mother’s and father’s family were from the Derbyshire farming community. After his education, he chose to go to Derbyshire to work on the farm of his relatives, first at Pilsbury, and then he came to the village of Bradbourne. From his earliest times in this village, he particularly took to horses and used every opportunity to work with them. He would only spend a few years here, but throughout the rest of his life, he always regarded Bradbourne as his true home, as we can see from his autobiographical writing, The Magic of Sport.

Bradbourne, figuring under the name of Millbourne in my novel “Hills and Dales” is perhaps the one place in England that I look back to as my old home and village. In Australia, up country, in the cities, amid the riot of press work and the racecourse, travelling up the Blue Mountains or the ranges of Queensland, sweltering under the burning sun, I have often thought of the village on the hill, Bradbourne, the sweetest little spot in all the lovely countryside of Derbyshire. The memory of it never left me; it came across the thousands of miles of ocean like a breath from the dear old hills.
The Magic of Sport
– Nat Gould

It is in the first line above that he introduces us to one of the few novels that he wrote, which wasn’t about horse racing. In 1897, this story, based on Bradbourne, was published called Horse or Blacksmith. While the book was well received, the critics did not like the title and so, in subsequent editions it was called Hills and Dales.

Nat had been well-educated and, prompted by his mother, who thought he could do better than just working on a farm, took an opportunity to apply for a job working on a newspaper in Newark, Nottinghamshire. This experience, and no doubt the wanderlust of a young man, took him to Australia, where he developed his journalistic career and began to write fiction. He spent just over a decade in Australia and became a leading journalist on the horse racing scene. By the time he returned to England he was writing novels full-time. As they were based on horse-racing he chose to live in Middlesex, so that he was close to several of the major racecourses. He never returned to live in Derbyshire but, following his death, he was brought back to Bradbourne.

The film industry was in its infancy around the time of the first world war, but growing in popularity. Eight of his novels were made into films, the first in 1911 and the last in 1920.This is a quite remarkable achievement when one thinks it is during a period of early silent films.

One of his novels The Rider in Khaki is set during the First World War. The heroism and descriptions used, show why Nat Gould’s books became very popular with the troops. A little further on The Literary Way, we will encounter D H Lawrence. We can then see how he refers to the Nat Gould novels. We leave the church and continue along the road to the junction. On our right is the Haven Grange farm, where Nat Gould developed his love of horses. We continue straight on and as we are taking the quiet lane along a small ridge that leads to Brassington. Despite the reference to a blacksmith in the novel, Bradbourne during his days never had a farrier. So it would be along this same lane that Nat would take the horses to the nearest blacksmith in Brassington.

Brassington has its origins in the lead mining industry, which is a traditional industry that goes back to Roman times. The White Peak Limestone has been mined in ‘rakes’, which are long mines either on the surface or underground that follow the ore as it spread through the limestone. The village is very typical of the area. Old houses date back to the early seventeenth century and the tradition of building with the local grey limestone continued throughout the centuries. As with many villages, it is mentioned in the Domesday Book, meaning that is has been a settlement for at least a thousand years. The village is dominated by the church on the hill with two of oldest buildings in the village standing out and they are the Tudor House on the main road and the Olde Gate pub. Just up the road from the Tudor house is the old Smithy.

Let us rest awhile at Brassington

Nat Gould comes across in The Magic of Sport as a relaxed man, who enjoyed many sports, but he chose his life to be set around horses. Let us get Nat to introduce us to writers, who we will meet on our route, including one in the next chapter. As as young journalist in Newark, he was often sent to report on speeches made by national figures visiting the area, such as the Prime Minister William Gladstone. He heard all of the leading politicians of the day, but singled out John Bright as being the most powerful orator. We will meet John later in our walks. D H Lawrence spent a period of his life in Australia, and its during that time, he comments on Nat, who had become very much of an institution there. Fortunately for our purposes D H Lawrence’s comment come through a semi-autobiographical novel he wrote during his period away from Europe.