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The limestone caves and stately homes of Derbyshire

Posted in Architecture, British Countryside, Geography, Historical articles, History, Industry, Royalty, Scotland on Friday, 30 March 2012

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This edited article about Derbyshire originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 680 published on 25 January 1975.

Young Pretender in Derby, picture, image, illustration

By Christmas Bonnie Prince Charlie’s jubilant Highlanders were making merry in Derby on their ill-fated march to London, by Angus McBride

A dark, unknown world, where rivers rush down narrow black passages, pouring into huge, inky underground lakes with a thunderous roar . . .

What place can this be? Africa? South America?

The answer is neither. For this intriguing world is in Britain – under the limestone hills of Derbyshire.

Every summer skilled parties of young people challenge the mysterious world of caves and pot-holes under Derbyshire’s hills. They are called pot-holers, and since pot-holing is a hazardous business, you may read about them from time to time.

Exploring the caves can be exciting and fun – but it can also be dangerous. If an accident happens below ground, rescue squads rush to the area.

Police with portable radios and mountain ambulance units stand by as members of Cave Rescue teams crawl through twisting passages and up vertical gullies. It may take more than a day before the injured man, lashed on a stretcher, can be taken to hospital.

But how does this underground world happen to be in Derbyshire? The answer lies in the rock which forms many of the hills there. The rock is limestone, which is dissolved by rain which has picked up acid from the air and the ground.

The rain seeps into cracks in the rock, and slowly dissolves and erodes it away to give the fantastic network of caves and pot-holes, which are really deep holes in the limestone linking up with the caves.

The Derbyshire town of Ashbourne, set in the green foot-hills of the Pennines, could be called the gateway to the cave country. It is also the key to Dovedale, the beautiful wooded valley of the River Dove.

The River Derwent, its waters trapped in man-made lakes to provide water for far-away towns, flows down the centre of Derbyshire.

To the north rise the rugged heights of the Peak District, the southern end of the Pennine Chain.

During the summer ramblers explore the wild, bleak moors, or visit Chatsworth, England’s most impressive private house.

Derby, the county town, famous for its textiles and china industries, saw a great plot against the throne of England crumble to dust when Bonnie Prince Charlie, the Young Pretender to the English crown, camped there on his march south against London in 1745.

Outside the town, the War Council met – should the army advance, or was it not strong enough to do so? It was decided to return to Scotland – and the Young Pretender’s cause was lost.

The people of Derbyshire may spend their leisure time underground, but for many of them their work is below the ground too.

Derbyshire’s underground workers are of course miners, and the ease with which coal could be mined led to more and more industry in the county. The presence of iron and limestone (used in the production of iron) led to the setting up of iron foundries.

Engineering works have contributed to Derbyshire’s fame – the original Rolls-Royce car factory opened in Derby in 1907. British Railways have one of their largest locomotive works here.

Silk and textiles form an important part of the county’s industry. The famous inventor, Richard Arkwright, built one of his first cotton mills in Cromford. The first silk mill in England was at Derby.

Derbyshire has a hard-won tradition of craftsmanship. Its products speak for themselves – Crown Derby porcelain is exported throughout the world, and Rolls-Royce aircraft engines, made in Derby, power the world’s aircraft.

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