It’s nice to live so close to easily accessible geology. Gritstone is all around the Dark Peak area of the Peak District. On Loxley Common there are a great number of small quarries still visible where the Chatsworth seam of gritstone was so close to the surface men just had to walk in and take it. The 1792 Parliamentary enclosure of Loxley Common gave rise to quarrying and mining. The mines were for coal and gannister both closely associated with Chatsworth Grit. The quarrying was for stone for local use, the enclosure walls were made from the stone found right next to the line of build. Gritstone was also in demand for building and the area around Loxley Common is mainly of gritstone build, including High Bradfield Church, a wonderful example of the finish that could be achieved with the material. A Mrs Sissons and a Mr Pearce both had ownership or licence of the quarries on Loxley Common in the latter of the 19th century, with Sheffield growing at a fast rate and the use of gannister in steel and glass production becoming widespread, it must have been a very profitable business.
I really must make an effort on 2017 to learn all about fungi, especially the ones that appear on The Common. There are some wonderful shapes and colours around. The trouble is I have no idea what I am looking at unless it is a Fly Agaric, so I am missing out on these fascinating jewels on my walks around the common.
I went to have a look for Cave House on Loxley Common today. The Ordnance Survey map of 1852 shows the dwelling sitting on the edge of a rectangular enclosure so it should not be too much of a problem in identifying it.
I found the remains quite quickly sitting just below the Loxley Edge right where the map said it would be. There isn’t much left of it. Because of copyright I have no image to show, but this is what it looked like here . It was demolished in the 1920’s using explosives, probably from the quarry workings and possibly because there is a quarry right behind it and the approach to the house up a nice ramp would have made easy access for the stone to be removed.
The house was built into the rock and consumed a cave as part of the dwelling. Its construction was known as a fire house, all of it being built of stone including floors, another was the old Robin Hood pub in Little Matlock across the valley, built by the same person. Mrs Revill who lived in the house with her husband was found murdered in the house at the turn of 1812, her husband went quietly mad and finally hung himself at the house before the next year was out.
A few decades before, one Frank Fearn, lured a watchmaker to the Old Horns Inn at High Bradfield and killed him on his way back to Sheffield. He was caught and tried and hung, then gibbeted on Loxley Common for seventeen years until his bones fell out of the iron girdle on Christmas Day. A few years later an accomplice of Spencer Broughton the highwayman escaped capture and hid out on Loxley Common. When found he committed suicide there instead of being captured and hung.
Who would have thought one small area could see so much crime and punishment.
Nature put on a beautiful display this morning on the common. The sky had a broad undulating wave of cloud stretching from west to east. The cloud an Altocumulus undulatus, isn’t that a lovely name, hung like a roll of cotton wool just pulled from its packet. This type of cloud is formed when the air above and below move at different speeds, producing a shearing effect and giving us these soft billows of white fluffiness.
Autumn is starting to settle in now. The air is much cooler in a morning and the sun stays lower throughout the day. One of the nice aspects of autumn is the unexpected warmth the sun can give once out of the shadows. Sitting against some gritstone with the sun on my face and looking out across the Common is a pleasure I look forward to.
The Common has not started to produce its distinctive autumnal smell, decaying leaves, fungi, damp peat and earth, but it will not be long. The low sun gives a nice display of shadow lighting on the woodland floor. Streaks and dapples of sunlight dancing on the oak and beech leaves that carpet the woodland from last winter.
Nearby we have a common, one hundred acres of enclosed land split in two by a gritstone escarpment that runs east to west along its entire length.
In the seventeenth century oak and birch were planted to the south of the gritstone to supply the growing local population with timber for building and fuel. Today you can still see pollarded trees that produced long straight poles, perfect for the hand tool industry that had grown up in Sheffield.
North of the gritstone edge the land was enclosed for grazing and now stands as heath land with heather and silver birch. A large open space in the middle enclosed by stone walls was used for grazing of herds sheep, protected from the wind which can whip across the common by the oak woodland that surrounds it.
The common is full of flora and fauna. Greenfinch, woodpecker and warblers can all be seen amongst the seventy plus birds that frequent the area. It is rich in food for these and small mammals. In summer the common has huge quantities of bilberry amongst the heather and come autumn fungi abounds both on the heath and in the woodlands.
I find myself spending more time there, becoming more inquisitive about its history and the hand that man has played in shaping the land. One hundred acres with so much diversity and history, it is the perfect study of Dark Peak development.