The Sage

Big Moor close to the home of G H B Ward

The Sage

“The quiet and secluded Cordwell Valley, with its literary men and women sitting with the sage of Millthorpe, contrasts with the wonderfully bleak Big Moor, where one of the pioneers of rambling first set out for the enjoyment of the countryside.”

Curbar Gap to The Grouse through Millthorpe : Circular Walk - Map and Directions : Google Earth Tour for this Walk

The writers on the The Sage route:

Edward Carpenter – Olive Schreiner – Isabella Ford - E M Forster –Henry Salt – George Bernard Shaw - G H B Ward

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


We are going in pursuit of a sage. Our main writer in this chapter left the hurly-burly of city life to move to the quiet and solitude of the Cordwell Valley. He often didn’t manage to achieve that tranquillity, because he became a writer who everyone wanted to meet and were prepared to travel thousands of mile to talk with, and to listen to him. He was a Cambridge graduate, who took holy orders, but left the south of England, his birth place and family home, to build a house on the fringes of the Peak District.

His writings are not easily accessible, due to the complexity of his thoughts, but he gathered friends and like-minded people near him. Some were permanent residents and other visitors. He wrote and received letters from the famous the world over. His relationships with both men and women make a compelling study. Among those who came to the quiet village, was a London loving playwright of the twentieth century and also a man who had many times been described as the master English novelist of the same century.

Another man who shared similar political feelings, but had a completely different mission in mind. He was one of the pioneers of opening up the countryside for walkers. He did such a magnificent job, that in the 1940s, the Ramblers Association, bought and presented him with a hill-top in the Peak District. And finally we have two women. One created a famous novel, now a classic, about South Africa. The other was campaigner for the right of women to have the vote, and she was also a novelist. One of her books was read to an assembled group of friends in our Sage’s cottage.

We leave Curbar Edge and head across the moors on a path almost parallel to the road. In winter, this is really a windswept and desolate moor. It is a winding path that picks its way across the boggy parts of the moor with their accompanying reed grasses. We turn left along the main road for a short while and then take the lane towards Shillito Woods. It is a quiet road and we can stroll happily along looking out at the distant views. We turn right and in front of Shillito Woods and then after a few fields take the first left land towards Unthank. Its a longish walk of a few miles from Curbar to our destination beyond Unthank, but it is worth it as we shall see. We begin to descend and are heading down into the verdant valley, which we can see in front of us. It quiet and well sheltered especially when compared to the open moors from which we have come. We pass the old Unthank Hall and some farms. Where the lane takes a sharp turn to the left we go straight on along the footpath. We are now going along the side of the valley and we need to keep a careful eye to the left. At the bottom of the slope is a stream. On the far side appear some houses with largish gardens. We are looking for a small hut, it looks a little like a small summer house, near to the stream and at the bottom of the garden.

Towards Democracy

We can see the small village of Millthorpe straddled along the Cordwell valley. This small stream and its local countryside became a centre of literary pilgrimage in the late 1890s and early twentieth century. Edward Carpenter was a prolific writer, who became a resident in Millthorpe. He was a pioneer of socialism in England and was one of the founders of the Fabian society. He is perhaps best known today as one of the first gay activists and this is reflected in many of his socialist philosophy writings. It is interesting to compare Edward with our last notary, The Duke of Wellington. Two completely different characters, who had an outlook on life that was poles apart. They will never have met has Carpenter was only eight when Wellington died in 1852, but in their time, both would move in the highest circles with England and personally know many famous leaders and authors.

Edward was a man who put considerable thought into his writings and attracted many people into his sphere of influence. Several of the people he met, and corresponded with, came from completely different background. Isadora Duncan, the American dancer, who moved to Europe, aspired to the same principles as Carpenter. As many will know, she moved to Russia to join the social and political revolution there. Carpenter was initially inspired by the writings of the American poet, Walt Whitman. They would become friends and meet on several occasions. Edward was a founder member of the Fabian Society, which is an intellectual socialist movement. It still operates today and is given the press label, ‘think-tank’. It was founded in 1884 and soon became driven by Sidney and Beatrice Webb. This led to the rapid attraction of new members, including some famous playwrights and novelists of the twentiethth century, such as George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde, HG Wells, Virginia Woolf and Edith Nesbit, who wrote The Railway Children. The political activists who became part of the Society, included Emmeline Pankhurst and Ramsey MacDonald. And here is link with a writer we have already met on The Literary Way. Alison Uttley, the children’s writer, was a friend of Ramsey MacDonald and his wife. They enjoyed Alison’s company for many years, but did not see her in a political light, although Alison had socialist inclinations at the time.

One political agenda, that was pioneered by the Webbs, and for which Edward had a lot of support, was the growth of co-operatives. They took on many forms and many have commercially stood the test of time until the modern-day. The idea of a commune had already been taken up by one of Carpenter’s friends, John Ruskin, who established one a few miles from Millthorpe. It was nearing the end of its existence when Edward Carpenter stayed there before building his house at Millthorpe. Although he never tried to establish a formal commune, Edward did buy the land and built his house with a view to self sufficiency. He certainly started with the notion of creating a market garden. It was successfully run for a short while by one of his associates, but he paid less and less time to it as his volume of writing increased.

To return to our location overlooking the valley with Edward Carpenter’s back garden and the stream side hut. Whilst it was a large house, for many years, he had another family staying with him. In the latter years, it would only be his partner, but by then, he was famous and inundated with visitors. So he used the hut in the garden to gain solace for his writings. Let’s follow the path until it comes out on a lane and then we turn down into the village. We go over the footbridge by the water splash. As we reach the main road we turn left past the pub, the Royal Oak. This was where George Merrill, Edward Carpenter’s long term partner frequented, as he was reputed to be a man who liked his pint. Edward was known to play the piano there during the Sunday night singalong.

Carrying on along the road and we come to the front of what is now called Edward Carpenter House, but when it was built, in 1882, it was called Millthorpe Cottage. It was the year after he moved in that he wrote the work which was to make him famous. It was called Towards Democracy. Unlike many political writings, such as Hobbes’ Leviathan, it does not seek to build a reasoned and logical argument for the nature of man and society. Instead Edward’s approach was a mixture of the poetical, the transcendental, and the totality of existence. It has its roots in Walt Whitman’s approach. It is written in a series of verses in poetic style mixed with prose. Its publication, led to its widespread reading and established Edward Carpenter as a leading thinker of the time. As people discovered not only his writing, but his way of life, so a visit to Edward at Millthorpe came on to many people’s agenda.

An African Farm

There would be many women who would intellectually engage with Edward. Before his publication of Towards Democracy, and his subsequent high profile, he became aware of an newly published book about individuals and women in society. It had the unlikely background of being written from an isolated farm in South Africa. It was published in 1883 and was called The Story of an African Farm. It was written by Olive Schreiner, but the first edition was published under the male pseudonym Ralf Irons. She became prolific writer on individualism and the importance of friendship. She moved to London for a number of years, but never really settled in one place and journeyed around a great deal. She became very close friends with Edward and stayed in a cottage in Millthorpe for a number of months during her period in England. Olive was also instrumental in helping Edward sort out some of his complex relationships that he developed, particularly when one of his first loves, George Hukin, decided to get married. Olive and Edward would remain friends for the rest of Olive’s life. She returned to South Africa just before her death in 1920, at the age of 65.

On the Threshold

Isabella Ford came from a very different background from Olive, but was equally determined about women’s rights and socialism. Her father was a forward looking solicitor from Leeds, where Isabella lived for all her life. She soon became involved in the Independent Labour Party. In the 1900’s she would become a suffragette, but abhorred the violence in the movement and distanced herself from them. She was highly articulate and, as she could speak French and German, she often represented socialist, womens, and trade unions at international meetings. Through her speeches and writing she became known to Edward and they became friends.

As with Olive, she helped him in some of his relationships and the two women also became good friends. She was a frequent visitor to Millthorpe and was regularly invited by Edward. She was in Millthorpe, at Edward’s cottage, shortly after the publication of her book On the Threshold. Evenings at the cottage were often spent reading or listening to music. On one occasion Isabella read her newly produced book to them. The novel is about two young women who tire of their lower middle class life in the provinces. They go to London with the idealist notion of changing the world. The book is a gentle one about their trials and tribulations. Isabella uses some of the speakers to put forward her views on society. The principal mouthpiece in the novel for these views bears many characteristics of Edward Carpenter.


There were many visitors who came to Millthorpe to meet Edward and discuss his work and views on society. Edward Morgan Forster, who is best known for his works Room with a View and Passage to India visited in 1912. He went on to become very well known in the 1930s and 1940s. He was elected to a Fellowship at Cambridge, broadcast regularly for the BBC, and wrote libretti for Benjamin Britten. In 1953 Morgan was awarded the Order of Companion of Honour and in 1969 given the Order of Merit by the Queen, despite having turned down a knighthood some twenty years earlier. At the age of ninety, Morgan died at the home of his long-term friend Robert Buckingham.

Morgan had a difficult life in many ways. While he was free from financial worries, his father died young and he remained very close to his mother throughout his life. He struggled for many years to deal with his homosexuality and his visits to Edward almost certainly helped him to come to terms with it, but it was still a long while before he settled into a discreet relationship. All of his novel writing, many of which have become celebrated, was completed in a relatively few years. In later life, he became a broadcaster and critic, but he never wrote another novel after the age of forty-five.

During Morgan’s visit in 1912 he paid particular attention to the relationship between Edward and George Merrill. By the following year Morgan had written a novel based on George which he entitled Maurice. Although it was completed in 1913, it would not be published until after his death in 1970. Maurice is a book that follows a man from his school days through to adulthood and his homosexual loves. The book has been subsequently, in 1987, produced as a film starring James Wilby, Hugh Grant, Denholm Elliott, Simon Callow, Bille Whitelaw and Ben Kingsley. The real life relationship between Edward and George was the bringing together of middle and working class. In Maurice the same theme is explored between a stockbroker and a gamekeeper. When Morgan was at Cambridge he met Lytton Strachey, who we cited on The Literary Way as the biographer of Florence Nightingale. In a note at the end of Maurice, Morgan says that he based the undergraduate in the novel on Lytton Strachey.

We retrace our steps past the pub and turn left to walk along the lane to Cartledge hall. A friend of Edward, and a fellow writer, lived in this Hall and they would often share a bottle of whiskey. His name was R Murray Gilchrist and he wrote novels, short stories and travel guides. However, we will leave considering Murray, as he also lived in another village along The Literary Way and we shall discuss his works when we arrive there. A path takes us from Cartledge Hall, across the field, and it is a short distance to Horsleygate Lane. We can soon see the label to a house called Little Orchards and this was the residence of another prolific writer, who was also a friend of Edward.

A Sage at Close Quarters

Henry Salt came from a privileged background and went to Eton, and from there to Cambridge, where he excelled as a classics student. As a result he returned to Eton as an assistant master. Life was normal for a man from his background and his talents. However, he became enthralled by writings of H D Thoreau, who advocated a simple life in country seclusion. It was then that Henry read of Edward Carpenter setting up a form of self-sufficiency in a country village. Both these writers inspired him and he chose to do the same. He received further encouragement from Edward when he met him and, in a short time, had left Eton and moved, with his wife Kate, to a cottage in Surrey.

As Henry developed his views on life, he began to advocate vegetarianism and the abolition of cruelty to animals. He was instrumental in setting up the Humanitarian League. In a similar vein to Edward, Henry wrote many articles and put considerable energy into getting them publishing. This was quite an achievement as many were against the norms of society at the time. In all his life he never gave up his causes. He gained international recognition for his promotion of vegetarianism with the highest accolades coming from Mahatma Gandhi, who thanked Henry for his justification of vegetarianism and in introducing him to the writings of H D Thoreau. Henry produced many works during his lifetime which spanned 1851 to 1939. These included biographies and appraisals of H D Thoreau, Percy Bysshe Shelley and Alfred Lord Tennyson. He was among the founding members of the Fabian Society, but accepted that socialists were not good at agreeing with themselves, and would philosophically accept when schisms took place in new labour focused movements.

Henry has been credited with being one of the first writers to advocate the rights of animals. The Humanitarian League produced a controversial volume of essays entitled Killing for Sport. Henry married a former colleague’s daughter, Kate, who agreed with the lifestyle and principles. Eventually they would leave Surrey and London and move to Millthorpe to be near Edward. Whilst he and Kate lived at Millthorpe, one of the many works that Henry produced was The Logic of Vegetarianism, Essays and Dialogues. This was published in 1906.

Nobel and Academy

Let’s step back a little to before Henry was in Millthorpe to when his wife, Kate, would play a significant part in the development of a triangle of writers. Henry's volume Killing for Sport had a preface written by George Bernard Shaw. He was both a vegetarian and a Fabian, and was to be friends with Henry for the rest of his life. GBS would, not only frequently meet with Henry and his wife Kate, but they would share many evenings of music and literature. Kate became George’s unpaid secretary for a period.

There are many biographies and articles that comment on the complex relationship between Henry, Kate, Edward and GBS. One supposition, that is frequently referred to, is whether Kate and Henry’s marriage was every consummated. Certainly she confided a great deal in Edward, especially through letters before they moved to Millthorpe, but unlike many other letters between the four of them, the ones from Kate to Edward have been destroyed.

While Edward and GBS weren’t the closest of friend,s they both had a great admiration for Kate and were good friends for life with Henry. They all certainly tolerated GBS’s humour and did not take offence at some of his caustic comments. For example, Henry and Edward were members of the Fellowship of Life and the Fabians. George was only a member of the latter. He described the difference between the two organisations to be “sitting among the dandelions or organising change in the docks.”

Another point of considerable conjecture is about a play written by GBS entitled Candida. It has been suggested that Edward Carpenter was a model of Morell and Kate Salt was the lead role called Candida. GBS never liked travelling far from London or his house in Hertfordshire, but he, for the sake of friendship, did travel up to Millthorpe and stayed near to where Henry and Kate were living. GBS was held in esteem by Henry, Kate and Edward and it is easily forgotten the extensiveness of his capabilities and high regard in which he was held in literary eyes. He is still the only person to be awarded both the Nobel Prize for Literature and an Academy Award.

Let’s return to the theme of walking and look at another character from just north of this village who would share more than the love of the countryside with Edward. We leave Millthorpe by walking down Horsleygate Road and taking the path to the left. After crossing the road and following the curve of the fields we have a pleasant stroll through the woods. After we reach the lane we turn right and head for the moors. We cross the main road and go directly onto Big Moor. The path joins a track which passes the single house that is in sight. We follow the edge of the disused reservoir and take the track towards the road. However, we do not go on to the road and cross a footbridge over the stream. On a post nearby is a marker commemorating G H B Ward.


The Clarion newspaper was founded by Robert Blatchford in Manchester in 1891. It was developed as a paper to represent Socialist views. It continued in production until the 1930s. Apart espousing the political agenda it also encouraged, and established a platform, for the development of community groups. The Clarion was Socialism based on a sense of community rather than the Marxist interpretation. Two of the main local community groups that were formed were either choirs or cycling clubs. They would often use a cycling trips into the country as a form of enjoyment, but would often distribute socialist literature, when they arrived at their destination.

Many of the Clarion cycling groups would visit the Peak District and, one point of call for many of them, would be one of the leading socialists in the country at the time, Edward Carpenter. Several of them would have heard him speak at meetings in Sheffield and therefore wanted to visit him. This was just one of the groups that descended on Edward. In 1900, George Herbert Bridges Ward, usually known as Bert, used the Clarion contacts to invite anyone who would like to join a walk across the moors. There were a number of difficulties on walking across land at the time. The moors were particularly protected by the landowners who wanted to use them for shooting. Bert true to his socialist principles, believed that there should be a right for people to be able to walk the countryside paths. From these initial contacts, the Clarion Ramblers were formed, and many Clarion groups still remain in existence today. Bert lived just outside Millthorpe and shared both the walking and socialist interests with Edward Carpenter. In 1910, Bert become the founding editor of the annual handbook for Clarion Ramblers. For decades he edited the annual handbook and chaired the Sheffield Clarion Ramblers until his death in 1957 at the age of 81.

Bert did not restrict his excursion to walking in this country and he became a seasoned traveller. One particular destination inspired him to write a book about it. Bert was a strong socialist and so the book is not a travelogue but one that addresses the political issues in Spain around about 1910.

From the bridge we take the path through the heather and over the top of the ridge to look down on the Longshaw Estate. The path on our left leads us down to the Grouse Inn.

Let’s Rest Awhile at the Grouse Inn

The sleepy, small and remote village of Millthorpe at the beginning of the twentieth centurywas an unlikely place to find such literary talent and output. Edward Carpenter was the attraction, although Henry Salt and his wife Kate also drew visitors, such as George Bernard Shaw. Edward, the metaphysical poet, didn’t finish his days in Millthorpe and neither did Henry, but when they were there they made an impact, not just on the local area, but far and wide. Their correspondence was remarkable both in volume and the number of famous names with whom they corresponded. It is a pity most of the letters between Kate and Edward were lost as they would have shown some additional perspectives on their life style.

Edward and Henry enjoyed walking, and spent many hours on the moors and in the Peak District. The local man, Bert Ward, also a socialist, and the most forthright campaigner for access to the countryside lived nearby and clearly knew Edward very well. It's good to know we following in the footsteps of such eminent people.