Castleton (St. Edmund)

CASTLETON (St. Edmund), a parish, in the union of Chapel-En-Le-Frith, hundred of High Peak, N. division of the county of Derby, 4½ miles (N.) from Tideswell; containing 1500 inhabitants, of whom 941 are in the township of Castleton. This parish consists of the townships of Castleton and Edale. The former is said to have taken its name from a castle built by William Peverell, natural son of the Conqueror, which, from its situation upon a steep and high peak, was called the Castle of the Peak, or Peak Castle; but from various records it appears that a castle existed previously, supposed to have been erected by Edward the Elder, or his heroic sister Ethelfleda, and which, in the reign of Edward the Confessor, was the property of Earl Gundeburne. The castle remained with the Peverells until the attainder of the third William, when it was granted by Henry II. to John, Earl of Montaigne, afterwards King John; and during the absence of the earl's brother Richard I., Hugh Nonant, Bishop of Coventry, held it. In 1204, King John appointed Hugh Neville governor; but the disaffected barons seized it and kept possession until the reign of Henry III., from which period it had various occupiers, until settled by Edward III. upon his son, the Earl of Richmond, commonly called John of Gaunt, who was created Duke of Lancaster, in 1362, when the castle became part of the duchy of Lancaster. The Duke of Devonshire now possesses it, as lessee under the crown. The extent of the ruins evinces the former magnitude of the building; the castle-yard, the walls of which are in some places twenty feet high and nine feet thick, occupying nearly the whole summit of the hill. The keep, consisting of two stories almost entire, and standing at the south-western point of this high and precipitous limestone rock, towering above the mouth of the great cavern of the Peak, is fifty feet in height.

The parish, exclusively of Edale, comprises about 2900 acres, exhibiting a very hilly surface, and several varieties of soil: the township of Castleton occupies the western extremity of the large and deep valley which commences at Mam Tor, and runs eastward to join the valley of the Derwent. The great limestone district of Derbyshire has its northern termination at Castleton, the hills to the north being upon gritstone, and those to the south on limestone: the soil on the south side is very superior. The village, which is situated at the foot of the Castle hill, was fortified by a rampart, and the ditch is still visible, extending from the ravines at the base of the rock, to the outworks connected with the castle. The inhabitants principally derive their support from the mining district by which the village is surrounded. The living is a discharged vicarage, valued in the king's books at £6. 7. 6.; net income, £186; patron and appropriator, the Bishop of Chester. The great tithes have been commuted for £100, and the vicarial for £50; the appropriate glebe consists of 87½ acres, and the vicarial of 22 acres. The church is a small ancient edifice: the arch, with its mouldings entire, separating the nave from the chancel, is a fine specimen of early English architecture, and the pews are of oak curiously carved; but the exterior has been greatly modernised. At Edale is a separate incumbency. There is a place of worship for Wesleyans; and a school is endowed with about £23 per annum, arising from land.

The whole of the district abounds with greater natural curiosities than almost any other portion of the empire. Immediately under the walls of the castle is Peak Cavern, or the Devil's Cave, a succession of vast and magnificent excavations, in the interior of a stupendous rock. The approach to it is by the side of a clear stream, flowing from limestone rocks that here rise to the height of 260 feet on each side and form the entrance to the Cave, which first presents a dark and gloomy recess consisting of a tolerably well-formed arch, 46 feet high and 120 feet wide, and exhibiting a chequered diversity of coloured stones, from which a fluid that soon petrifies is continually dropping. Immediately beyond the arch is a cavern of nearly the same extent, and in depth about 90 feet, where some twine-makers have established a manufactory. Here the light disappears, and the rest of the Cavern must be explored by the aid of a torch. The arch leading to the next chamber is narrow and low, until arriving at a spacious opening called the Bell-house: at the end is a stream of water, 42 feet broad, over which it is necessary that visiters should be ferried. On landing, another vast vault, 200 feet square and 140 feet high, presents itself; at the end of which is another stream generally crossed on foot: here the passage leads to what is termed Roger Rain's House, a projecting pile of rocks on which water is incessantly dropping. The next excavation is the Chancel, which leads to what has been denominated the Devil's Cellar, and then follow numerous other immense cavities, that have received various appellations; such as Half-way House, Great Tom of Lincoln, &c.; the whole extending 2300 feet from the entrance, and supposed to be 645 feet in depth from the summit of the mountain.

About a mile from this is the Speedwell mine, situated at the foot of what is called "the Winnets," from the gusts of wind that constantly prevail here, in consequence of the formation of this mountainous range: the mine was formerly worked for lead. The descent is by about 100 steps, beneath an arched vault, leading to the sough, or level, where a boat conveys the explorer over a very broad stream, bounded by an immense gulf, the depth of which has never been accurately ascertained, though sounded by a line of 350 feet; above, the roof of the cavern is invisible, even with the aid of rockets and Bengal lights. The rushing of the superfluous water through an artificial gate into this profound chasm, which has already swallowed more than 40,000 tons of rubbish, arising from the blasting of the rocks, without the least apparent diminution of its depth, produces an appalling effect. A little further west is the Odin leadmine, said to have been worked by the Saxons, who honoured it with the name of one of their deities, and than which, although it has been in operation for so many centuries, few mines in the county are more productive. At some distance beyond this, raising its majestic head 1300 feet above the vale of Castleton, is the Mam Tor, or Mother-hill, also named the Shivering Mountain from the fragments of shale and gritstone almost continually falling from its south side, and which have formed an elevated mount in the valley, called Little Mam Tor. On its summit are the remains of a camp, supposed to be Saxon, with the greater part of the rampart entire; and on the south-west side are two barrows, in one of which, when opened some years since, were found a brass celt and fragments of an unbaked urn. Near this mountain is the Water Hull Mine, where is procured the beautiful and peculiar fluor-spar, the most esteemed kinds of which are the violet-blue and rose-coloured, which are worked into elegant vases, urns, &c. Here is also found, between the schistus and limestone, a species of elastic bitumen, that burns with a bright flame; another variety, less elastic, is formed of filaments, and is called wood bitumen. About half a mile midway in this mountainous ravine, which exhibits in many places proofs of volcanic origin, is a place called the Cove, where large masses of basaltic rocks are conspicuous, in which are imbedded quartz, crystals, &c. Such an assemblage of natural curiosities renders the neighbourhood of Castleton one of the most interesting districts in the kingdom.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, 7th edition, published in 1848.