“The pretty village of Castleton, with its show caves and extensive literary history, is set in the large green amphitheatre at the end of the Hope Valley. The Norman castle and Mam Tor tower over the small settlement, which has a fascinating underground history.”
The writers on the Heaven and Hell route:
With short abridged extracts from The Literary Way, written by Terry Goble and published by The Creative Peak
The castle and what is underneath it brings us a quite amazing literary legacy. Writing paragons have been visiting the small village of Castleton for centuries. They have left us some of the most lucid and compelling descriptions that we find anywhere on The Literary Way. The Norman castle has stood proudly overlooking the village for nearly a thousand years. It was the catalyst for one of the greatest names in literature to pen a story. But it is not the only one based on the castle, because a local man, from nearby Chapel-en-le-Frith, has also written a swashbuckling novel about the castle.
In this section of The Literary Way we will be going underground where, from ancient times to modern days, people have found intriguing experiences. One of our friends, Lord Byron, discovered he was in love when in one of the caves. Another leading poet, writer and architectural critic, reports how frightened he was when, as a young boy, his parents took him down one of the old mines. But a famous philosopher’s mother thought even worse, and she believed that death was just around the corner. But it’s not all doom and gloom in the chilling depths, as we have both a masque and a pantomime.
There is also a fascinating story of a late eighteenth century diary that came to life at the end of the twentieth century and stimulated some modern cave exploration, which eventually led to a subterranean cavern, which is taller that St Paul’s Cathedral in London. St Edmund’s church stands squarely in the middle of the village and we are particularly interested in one inhabitant of the vicarage, who arrived just after King Charles I came to the throne.
We leave the village of Hope, and take the riverside path along the valley to the village of Castleton. As we approach it across the fields, we can see that the village is nestled into the broad green sweep of the hills that enclose the end of the valley. The Norman castle, which overlooks the settlement, is perched on an easily defended hill. Castleton is only a small village and so it is no time at all before we reach St Edmund’s Church.
In 1627, a young man, twenty-three years old, arrived in Castleton from Brasenose College, Oxford. He had just finished his degree and had come to take up the living in the village. His name was Isaac Ambrose. Let’s place him in history with reference to some other writers we have come across on The Literary Way. Both Thomas Hobbes at Chatsworth, and Isaac Walton in Dovedale, would have been slightly older that Isaac Ambrose, while there are a couple of writers in the chapter, who would have been his comtemporaries. Charles I had just come to the throne and the English Civil War would still be decades in the future. The new vicar would only stay for about two years, and eventually moved on to Lancashire. His writings took place later in life and, while they are mainly devotional, there is one unusual book that he wrote and it was called, The Well Ordered Family. Let’s take a small extract from a section about the governance of the household.
Of the Duties of Governors in General. In the proceedings of these family duties we are to consider the duties of: 1.The Governors 2. The Governed.
The Governors; if (as in marriage) there be more than one, as first the chief Governor, the Husband and secondly the helper, the wife, both these owe their duties to their family and to one another. The duties they owe to their families are either in general to the whole or in particular according to their several relations. That which in general they owe to the whole is either to their bodies or their souls.
The Well-Order Family – Isaac Ambrose
However, Isaac Ambrose did regret leaving Castleton. We find the source of this information in De Spiritualibus Pecci by William Bagshaw, who had met Isaac Ambrose. William Bagshaw was a man of the Peak. He was born in 1628 and became a non-conformist minister. With the changing views of the monarchs in his lifetime, he varied from open preaching to secret meetings in his home. He lived for a long period at Ford Hall, which is a few miles from Castleton. De Spiritualibus Pecci comprises biographical fragments of his life.
Before we leave the religious theme that has started this chapter, we turn our attention to carol singing. Throughout the Peak District, and surrounding areas, many of the villages have their own carols. The origins of some are known. In Eyam for instance, Richard Furness wrote a carol every year, but many are shrouded in the mists of time and have undergone many changes as the new generations have taken to them.
In 1908, Ralph Vaughan Williams visited Castleton and was given some traditional local verses and their music. He included them in the Oxford Book of Carols. One stands out as it has grown in popularity over the years and has been recorded by many artists. Its title is Down in Yon Forest. It has a fascinating history dating back to 1504. It was noted in a London manuscript by Richard Hill.
John Mawe did not live in Castleton, but he did frequently visit the village. He was born in 1764 and would build a business in mineralogy. He visited South America, collecting specimens from caves and mines. His extensive travels were, possible because he had the support of the Portuguese royal family. When he returned to England, he opened a shop in The Strand, in London, which was recognised as a leading mineral establishment. He had previously worked as an apprentice in Derby making marble artefacts. In this role, he knew the geologist from Bakewell, White Watson. He didn’t publish many works, but did produce a ground-breaking one on conchology, or the study of shells. He considered the area around Castleton to be the best in the country for understanding geology and mineralogy, and in 1802 published The Mineralogy of Derbyshire.
John Mawe’s introduction to the rocks of Derbyshire gives us a theme which we are going to explore in this chapter. The rocks, and the consequent caves in this vicinity, have inspired writers in many forms and so we are going under ground. We leave the church and go to the market square, and turn down the short hill, by the former Castleton Hall. We then cross the bridge and take the footpath, on the left. We are in for a surprise, for as we emerge past the last of the cottages we enter a huge rocky atrium, with an arched cave entrance at the foot of the cliffs.
Michael Drayton is not a well-known name, but it is one that promoted a theme, which many others have contributed to and commented on. In 1622, he published a quite remarkable poem that was fifteen thousand lines long. It was written in sections, which were called ‘songs’. The poem was called, Polyolbion. Michael Drayton was born in 1563, and so is one of the oldest literary sources we cover on this journey. He was born five years after Elizabeth I came to the throne. He became a page to Sir Henry Goodeere, who ensured he was well educated. In 1591, at the age of twenty-eight, he produced his first work entitled, The Harmonie of the Church. He would become a prolific poet, with Polyolbion just one of his works. Much of his poetry is either pastoral or looks back at famous events and a typical one from Michael was The Ballad of Agincourt. But Polyolbion is different. Michael describes the topography of England in his poetic songs. He must have travelled extensively and learned a great deal about the areas he visited. He often focused his attention on rivers, but also covers major features such as forests and hills.
When the Song arrives in the Peak he introduces the limestone country with the following description:
But to th’ unwearied Muse the Peake appears the while,
A withered beldam long, with bleared wat’rish eyes...
Polyolbion – Michael Drayton
Michael points out that the mining industry was prevalent during his tour and the extraction of minerals for medicine was also evident. The emblem of the Peak District National Park is the millstone, which was in use during his time. The caves clearly fascinated him. He described then as:
Ye dark and hollow caves, the portraitures of hell,
Polyolbion – Michael Drayton
The part of the Polyolbion that gripped many later writers was when Michael identified the seven wonders of the Peak. The one that interests us the most is the cavern, which lies near the castle in Castleton.
O thou my first and best, of thy black entrance nam’d
The Devil’s-Arse, in me, O be thou not ashamed,
Polyolbion – Michael Drayton
The seven wonders were caves, wells, a hill of sand and a forest, many within the local area near Castleton. We will visit the hill of sand, Mam Tor, and Eldon Hole.
Buxton which is 15 km away had two of the wonders, namely St Anne’s Fountain, which is still there, and is opposite the famous Crescent in the town.
The second of Buxton’s wonder is Poole’s Cavern. Tideswell, again a few miles away, was named after an ebbing and flowing well. So let us go to the Peak Cavern, which is tucked under the castle. It has been variously named the Peak Cavern and the Devil’s Arse as depicted by Michael.
Let’s now take the views of several visitors over the centuries as to what they thought about Peak Cavern, after that we will look at some fiction that has been inspired by the cave.
One well known figure that we have already met visited Castleton. Here is what Daniel Defoe has to say with regard to the cavern. He visited Castleton about one hundred years after Michael Drayton.
Castleton, where we come to the so famed wonder call’d, saving our good manners, ‘The Devil’s A ------e in the Peak’,
Now not-withstanding the grossness of the name given it, and that there is nothing of similitude or coherence either in form and figure, or any other thing between the thing signified and the thing signifying; yet we must search narrowly for anything in it to make a wonder, or even any thing so strange, or odd, or vulgar, as the name would seem to import.
A Tour thro’ the Whole Island of Great Britain – Daniel Defoe
The name has changed over time from the Devil’s Arse to Peak Cavern. It is a natural cavern and has only been changed slightly to avoid a section, which could only be passed, in the eighteenth and nineteenth century, by visitors lying down in a boat.
The entrance to the cavern has its own fascinating history in that it was the home for a group of rope makers for many years, the practice only ceasing in the twentieth century. Any underground cave system excites the imagination of many who have gone through the caverns and caves over the centuries. Let’s remember that a traveller such as Celia Fiennes visited the Peak Cavern in the late 1600s. Celia declined to take to the boat so she stopped her exploration when reaching the water:
This is what they call the Devil’s Arse in the Peak, the hill on one end jutting out in two parts and joins in one at the top, this part or cleft between you enter a great Cave which is very large, and several poor little houses in it built of stone and thatch’d like little sties...
You pass a good way by the light of many Candles having lost sight of day from the first stooping Entrance. At last you come to a river they call it, a great water it is and very deep, they say its about 12 yards over and some do go on it with a little boat to the other side but I would not venture...
Through England on a Side Saddle in the Time of William and Mary – Celia Fiennes
On The Literary Way in Matlock, we visited the Temple Hotel, where we found out that Lord Byron went there because it was a favourite visiting place for Mary Chaworth, who he was trying to court. Previously Lord Byron, Mary and others from their two families had visited Castleton and the Peak Cavern. It was when he was on the boat in the cavern that he thought about his love for her. This is how he describes it in his diary:
When I was fifteen years of age it happened that in a cavern in Derbyshire I had to cross in a boat in which two people only could lie down, a stream which flows under a rock with the rock so close upon the water as to admit the boat only to be pushed on by a ferryman, a sort of Charon, who wades at the stern stooping all the time. The companion of my transit was MC with whom I had been long in love and never told it though she had discovered it.
The Life of Lord Byron: with his Letters and Journals – Thomas Moore
In Matlock Bath, Lord Byron was responsible for scratching on the window of the Temple Hotel, but although we have just seen him as a fifteen year old when he was in the Peak Cavern, it was not him, who left his mark. A visitor scratched his name on one of the rocks in the depths of the cavern. It certainly would be frowned on today, but in the late 1700s, such an eminent visitor could get away with it. He was Sir Joseph Banks, who was President of the Royal Society at the time, a distinguished position that he held for forty-one years. He was a botanist and naturalist, who came to fame after sailing with Captain Cook on his first voyage to Australia.
As well as having a great influence on the development of Kew Gardens, and the garden’s specimens, he also commissioned the first geological map of the United Kingdom. Unfortunately, he did not record his visit to the Peak Cavern, but Barthélemy Faujas de Saint-Fond, a French geologist left us a description. Our last visitor who had a different perspective visited Castleton in the early 1800’s. She was visiting England from her home country of Germany.
Johanna Schopenhauer was a regular traveller in Europe in the early nineteenth century and recorded her travels in detailed diaries. Her journey around England paints a wonderful verbal description of our towns and cities and the British way of life, as perceived by someone from another country. Unfortunately her son, the eminent German philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer, did not accompany her. Let’s look at Johanna’s first impression of the Peak Cavern.
Once inside the cave, the black night changed to dusk as our eyes grew accustomed to the gloom. We could soon distinguish the figures of women and children, cowering like gnomes busily spinning. These creatures as miserable as imagination could perceive, live out their wretched existence in this cold damp darkness, sleeping at night in little wooden huts they have built inside the cave.
Diaries – Johanna Schopenhauer from A Lady Travels – Ruth Michaelis-Jena and Willy Merson
Johanna took a different perspective on the crossing in the small boat to our previous writers.
Never had the impression of being buried alive seem clearer to us than in this coffin-like little boat with the black roof looming over us. Our guide had to wade along, stooping; one knock against the rock above would have rendered him unconscious and we should have found ourselves alone in the most horrible situation.
Diaries – Johanna Schopenhauer from A Lady Travels – Ruth Michaelis-Jena and Willy Merson
Let’s leave Johanna and move to the portrayal of Peak Cavern in fiction. After the doom and gloom of some of our writers, we will take a light-hearted view from a person who also had French origins.
Let’s move from the Peak Cavern at the end of the 1700s to the famous Drury Lane Theatre in London. David Garrick, the long-term friend of Samuel Johnson, was the theatre manager there. He employed a young French artist, who would settle in England, as a scenery painter. The artist’s name was Philip de Loutherbourg and he had a vision for a different way of providing scenery for plays. Up to that time backdrops were painted to set the scene. Philip introduced the technology of the time into the creation of the theatre sets. He introduced moving objects and used light and visual effects. His work helped the theatre survive during that period, as his designs were very popular. When Richard Brinsley Sheridan took over the managership of the theatre, after David Garrick died, Philip found another supportive patron. Philip had been on his travels and painted many scenes across England. He then took the sketches he had made in Derbyshire and he built them into elaborate sets for a pantomime. The work was called The Wonders of Derbyshire, with an alternative title being, The Harlequin in the Peak. One of the scenes that came in for most praise was his representation of Peak Cavern. Chatsworth also figured in the pantomime and was also given high praise.
One prevalent story, that has has been purported for years, is that an Elizabethan called Cock Lorel assembled a band of thieves who hid in the Peak Cavern. It most probably is a myth, but the name does appear in some old documents, but whether the real person was a villain is doubtful. However, the legend lives on. Some versions of the myth link the people in the cave with Gypsies. One writer drew the legend of Cock Lorel into a royal song. He was Ben Jonson, who was born in the first Elizabethan era, although he found no favour with that monarch. It would be some time later, and under King James, that Ben became successful, both as a playwright and a poet. He certainly was a character who we can warm to. He came from a poor family, but did manage to go to the nearby Westminster School, where life was hard. It was at that school that he learnt Latin and Greek, which would help him in his later life as it would get him off a charge of murder.
Until he came under the wing of King James, he was often in court for causing problems, mainly criticising the government, with his plays. But he gradually became a more and more successful playwright. One of his specialities came in the writing of masques. These were musicals with dancing, in which some of the audience, mainly the aristocracy, participated. The highlight of the royal year for masques was on Twelfth Night. Ben’s entertainment became more and more lavish and hence expensive. In the early 1600s, his masques could cost several thousand pounds to stage even though he would normally only receive about £10 for writing each one. At the height of his popularity with the King, both as a masque writer and a poet, he was awarded a pension which adds him to the list of poet laureates. He lived until his sixties and, despite the royal and aristocratic support, he was often in poverty and near the end of his life, he struggled and called in a few favours from his previous sponsors.
Ben was a playwright contemporary of William Shakespeare, who was part owner of a successful acting group, called the Kings Men. Ben wrote many plays, which were performed by these players, and it is thought that William may have been in at least one of them, although the information about both men is very sketchy in places. After William Shakespeare’s death his work was drawn together in a first collection. Previously some of the plays had only been printed individually. Ben Jonson wrote the preface for the first folio of Shakespeare’s works.
Having introduced our man, let’s see what he had to say about the Peak Cavern and Cock Lorel. The cavern is mentioned in two of his works, and he refers to it as the Devil’s Arse. On this walk we have just met Michael Drayton, who wrote about the Devil’s Arse in his Polyolbion. Ben and Michael were contemporaries with the latter being about ten years older. It is believed that they did not like each other. Following the publication of Michael’s main topographical work Ben wrote a play called, The Devil is an Ass. The play was performed by Shakespeare’s group, the Kings Men.
The play is based around an aspiring devil, called Pug. Satan eventually allows him to come to earth to trick a foolish old man, Fitzdottrel, who has always wanted to meet the devil.
Ben Jonson’s main use of the Peak Cavern is in the Gypsies Metamorphosed. In this masque, the king of the gypsies invites the devil for dinner. The ingredients are different types of people. The masque was performed to celebrate the marriage, in the presence of King James, of the Duke of Buckingham. He married Katherine Manners, the daughter of the Earl of Rutland, the family that we met at Haddon Hall. Ben Jonson could allow much more to happen in this masque, as it was a private affair, away from the formal court of King James. It was so popular, with the aristocratic singing and dancing that it was performed three times, which was something of a rarity. The following is from the haunt of the gypsies in the Devil’s Arse.
Cock Lorel would have the Devil his guest,
and bid him home to Peak to dinner,
There fiend never had such a feast,
prepared at the charge of a sinner.
With a hey down, down adown, down,
His stomach was quesie, he came thither coached,
the joggings had caused his cruets to rise,
To help which he call’d for a Puritan poach’d,
that used to turn up the white of his eyes.
With a hey down, &c.
Cock Lorel – Gypsies Metamorphosed – Ben Jonson
For our final fictional look at the Peak Cavern we have a story set in the same Elizabethan times, but written during the Victorian Era.
On The Literary Way, at Dethick, we introduced Charlotte Yonge and the novel she wrote, Unknown to History, about Mary, Queen of Scots. It is unlikely she ever visited Castleton as she stayed virtually her entire life in the quietness of rural Hampshire, where she wrote many novels and other works, principally for young Christian women. However, her description in Unknown to History is realistic, especially the scenes set in Sheffield where Mary is held on house arrest.
At Elizabeth’s request Mary spent a long time under the guardianship of the Earl of Shrewsbury. In the story Mary asks to go to Castleton and down the Peak Cavern. The Earl of Shrewsbury is not pleased with Mary’s idea of visiting the cave.
So on the ensuing morning, when the Earl came to pay his respects, Mary assailed him with, ‘There is a marvellous cavern in these parts,my Lord, of which I hear great wonders.
‘Does your grace mean Pool’s Hole?’
‘Nay, nay, my Lord. Have I not been conducted through it by Dr. Jones, and there writ my name for his delectation? This is, I hear, as a palace compared therewith.’
‘The Peak Cavern, Madam!’ said Lord Shrewsbury, with the distaste of middle age for underground expeditions...
Unknown to History – Charlotte Yonge
Let’s leave the Devil’s Arse and head upwards, as we are going to the castle. If we retrace our steps to Castleton Hall, the entrance to Peveril Castle is opposite. The keep was built by Henry II in 1176. Let’s wander round and take in the fine views across the valley.
Our journey, The Literary Way, started near Ashbourne and we soon met Samuel Johnson whose name stands out in the history of English literature. In Castleton, we meet another prominent doyen of literature, Sir Walter Scott. He was given his baronetcy in 1822 as a result of his writings. His novels and poems became very famous in his lifetime, and with the increased travel across the world at the time, he became one of the first writers to be known in many countries during his own lifetime. His works are still read today and many of his writings are classics of both English and Scottish literature.
His most well-known works include Ivanhoe, Rob Roy and The Lady of the Lake. These and others form the Waverley Novels, for which he is best remembered for. He had a quite amazing output of writing and completed sixteen novels in fifteen years. Many of these novels involved detailed research. Simultaneously, he also published poetry. Scott qualified as a lawyer but, at the age of twenty-five, he began to write and publish poetry. By the age of forty-three, he had begun a printing press and had been become acclaimed for his poetry. However, the printing press started to get into financial problems and he chose to write a novel to bring in some much needed income.
Then started one of the more intriguing stories of publishing in the nineteenth century. Waverley, the first of the novels, was published anonymously in 1814. But it would be some thirteen years later before he would actually admit to being the author of Waverley, the novel, and all the other novels classified under the same heading. It is thought that he only admitted authorship because, despite the success of the books, his business was again in financial difficulties. The initial novels were all based in Scotland, but the fifth book, Ivanhoe, was based in England, and we introduced a section from it when we told of the Robin Hood connections with the local area.
This English theme he carried further forward with the ninth book, Peveril of the Peak. The story is not based at the origins of the castle, but during the English Civil War.
The novel then introduces the characters of this post-English Civil War conflict. Sir Walter published this novel in the 1830.
William Bennett was a writer of a novel, also based on Peveril Castle, but his was set some thirty years earlier than Sir Walter’s at the beginning of the Civil War. William was a solicitor, who had his family home in Chapel-en-le-Frith, which is about six miles from Castleton. In the Preface, he gives a lengthy description of finding an old manuscript, from which he claims he wrote the story, and notes that Banner Cross is now known as Castleton. We have come across William before, but we knew him as Lee Gibbons, when he wrote the three-volume King of the Peak about the Haddon Hall elopement.
The book based at Banner Cross, called The Cavalier, was also written under the same pseudonym, Lee Gibbons. The most obvious reason for this was to protect his professional reputation. He was an active solicitor in Chapel-en-le-Frith and Manchester, and so it might appear frivolous to his clients to see him as a novel writer. His family went on to have a large influence in the development of Buxton with one of his sons responsible for the hospital. The Cavalier is set in and around Banner Cross and he retains several local names such as Hope Dale and Mam Tor. It is a tale about the growth of Puritanism and the ensuing fighting that the civil war brought. In the first chapter, William introduces the principal family and at the beginning of the second chapter is the description of Banner Cross.
We leave the castle and, returning to the Market Square, take the path between the cottages that leads us into Cave Dale, which is a collapsed limestone valley. Peveril Castle perches on the cliff top above our heads. The next part of our journey is across some fascinating limestone country features, which are part of an area of Special Scientific Interest, due to the geology of the area. Cave Dale takes us up on to the limestone moors and out onto Dirtlow Rake which shows the remnants of lead mining and mineral extraction.
It is now time to visit the gaping hole in the ground called Eldon Hole. It is a natural deep cavern about which there have been plenty of myths and stories. This is the start of a poem by Charles Cotton about Eldon Hole, which is one of the wonders of the Peak. His poem was written in 1683.
Hence two miles east, a fourth wonder lye,
Worthy the greatest curiosity,
Call’d Eldon Hole, but such a dreadful place,
The Wonders of the Peak – Charles Cotton
It really is quite astonishing the number of people over the centuries that have come to visit this limestone feature. Compared to Peak Cavern and Mam Tor, it is somewhat of a disappointment, as it is only a hole in the ground. Even today it is a fairly difficult place to access whether you come from Castleton or from Peak Forest, which is the village we can see in the distance, when we are at Eldon Hole.
We return along the path and take the track that takes us near to the top of the Winnats, which we descend through the steep limestone pass. At the bottom of the Winnats Pass is the Speedwell Cavern, which is an old lead mine, but is now a show cave and it is open to the public. The great interest for many tourists is the trip through the old mine taken on a flat-bottomed boat.
In 1771, a son was born into the very respectable home of Robert Plumptre, who was President of Queen’s College, Cambridge. The baby’s name was James, and as we would expect from his background, he was raised in an atmosphere of knowledge and learning. His family were also strongly connected with the church, with his father having taken holy orders. James, as the third son, took the same preferment at University and went into the church. This was a familiar situation for many such families, however, James did have a little bit of rebellion in him.
At Cambridge, he left his father’s college and transferred to Clare College, and this was an unusual occurrence. His other slightly unusual leaning for a man about to enter the church was his love of the stage. With the often ribald nature of the acting and theatre life, there seemed little hope of easy reconciliation, but James was not deterred. He was determined to make the stage and theatre morally acceptable. He wrote a number of plays and even a comic opera. He wanted some of the major works to be available in an acceptable form, both morally, and family related, and so re-edited many plays and stories. Whilst much of this was done in his youth, even after taking the cloth, he still mixed literary related activities with more religious writings.
But it wasn’t his religious writings or his theatrical talents that have brought him to our attention here at the Speedwell Mine. As a young man at University, he did what so many do today and set off travelling. He made a number of excursions and kept a rather spasmodic account of some of the places he visited and the people he met. He often travelled with his tutor, from Clare College, and on one trip to Derbyshire he had an interest to go underground.
Speedwell, at the time, was a working mine. Apart from Peak Cavern, which regularly had visitors, the other way people went underground was to pay miners to take them down. This is what James did, and he recorded the details in the journal of his travels. They went underground with two miners at the Speedwell Mine in 1793. They travelled in a boat in the same way as visitors do today. But at the end of the canal the miners led them onwards.
After James Plumptre’s death his papers went to his University. In the late twentieth century his diary was found to contain some interesting travel details, but it was the details of his trip down Speedwell Cavern that attracted attention. It wasn’t a route that was currently used by cavers. They made a long climb and at the top of their climb James and his companion had been offered a further climb, but as that was through another miner’s working they declined and retraced their steps.
James Plumptre’s account led cavers to the cavern he climbed and this is now called Leviathan. From there, after much hard work in the clearing of routes, the cavers then found the large cavern which has the deepest shaft in the UK, which is 464ft. For comparison St Paul’s Cathedral in London is 365ft.
John Ruskin, the art and architecture critic and social writer, visited Speedwell Cavern as a young boy of about eleven years old. The visit was part of his interest, encouraged by his parents, in collecting minerals.
I pursued my mineralogical studies on fluor, calcite, and the ores of lead, with indescribable rapture when I was allowed to go into a cave. My father and mother showed far more kindness than I knew, in yielding to my subterranean passion; for my mother could not bear dirty places, and my father had a nervous feeling that the ladders would break, or the roof fall, before we got out again. They went with me, nevertheless, wherever I wanted to go, — my father even into the terrible Speedwell mine at Castleton, where, for once, I was a little frightened myself.
Praeterita – John Ruskin
We came across John Ruskin in Monsal Dale, where he complained about the railways spoiling the valley. His comments and opposition to the emergence of the steam train did not stop there. Among others he was instrumental in stopping the railway coming to Castleton. Instead it passed along the next valley, Edale.
Castleton has for centuries been a place to visit. The castle and particularly Peak Cavern, have attracted many visitors, who started coming in the seventeenth century. In many cases, the picturesque setting of Castleton, tucked into the end of the sweeping Hope Valley, with its dominant castle, subterranean explorations and the steep Winnats Pass, has inspired many writers. One of the doyens of literature, Sir Walter Scott, chose the setting of Peveril Castle for a tale named after the Norman fortification. Of the other Victorian writers, one chose the castle, but he was a local man and would know it well, while the other picked the impressive story of Mary Stuart and gave one setting as Peak Cavern. It is also the last time that we encounter Lord Byron with the touching scene, on a cold, damp flat-bottomed skiff with rocks near their heads, where he found one of his first loves.
Our favourite period though, is long before the Victorians, it is near the beginning of the seventeenth century, when we can see the links between this small village and the centres of society in London and Oxford. From the latter, the young man, Isaac Ambrose, newly ordained, chose this sleepy village for his first parish and then regretted leaving it so soon. Attached to the royal and aristocratic ensembles were two writers, who, although not friends, took to the wonders of the Peak Cavern, firstly in Polyolbion and then in Gypsies Metamorphosed. We can therefore say that Isaac Ambrose and Ben Jonson gave us a real feel for sixteenth century heaven and hell.
The rolling limestone landscape with the deep valleys and underground caves, caverns and mine workings gave us the fascinating story of the modern find of Titan Cavern. From near the Speedwell Cavern, we can see the broad sweep of the Hope valley and can easily pick out Ebenezer Elliott’s Win Hill and Lose Hill. The top of the latter was presented to one of the authors from a previous chapter, G H B Ward.