A Taste of the
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White Peak village of Elton, recorded in the Domesday
Book as Eltune, suggesting
Saxon origins, stands 950 feet above sea-level on an east-west plateau three
quarters of the way up a bleak north facing hillside. Elton is essentially
a farming settlement but lead mining has also shaped this hardy community.
This stone-built peakland village bears testimony to a geological feature which can be plainly seen in the architecture of its old buildings, many of them built in the 17th & 18th centuries. The village lies on the boundary between the limestone and gritstone rocks that underly the bulk of the peak district. The buildings on the north side of Main Street are constructed mainly of gritstone, whilst those on the opposite south-side of the street are built mainly of limestone!
There is a good variety of holiday accommodation near the Elton area which is ideal countryside for walking or as a base for sightseeing.
For a visitor stepping off a bus outside the only pub in the village, the Duke of York, it is like stepping back into the past for the village seems almost untouched by time. Directly opposite on the other side of Main Street stands the square tower of All Saints Parish Church, surrounded and seemingly submerged by the tall elms and stately yews around the perimeter of the churchyard. The current building was erected in 1812, the much older St. Margaret’s Church having been demolished in 1800 when illegal lead-mining beneath the church, (as also at Brassington) weakened the structure and caused the spire to fall and crush the building.
A celebrated former resident is Alf Gregory, a member of the team led by Sir Edmund Hilary who conquered Mount Everest in 1953; he said simply that Elton is ‘a cold place’. Most residents of this ‘cold place’ would deem that description something of an understatement!
The village has a unique atmosphere of its own, and is a regular haunt of hikers and cyclists, who on summer week-ends congregate at the quaint old-fashioned Elton Café on Moor Lane.
A visiting hiker was once overheard lamenting to her companion as they passed through the village, “I don’t know why I come here, there’s nowt here, and t’place allus smells o’ cow muck”. The rich aroma of the countryside which permeates the atmosphere can indeed be quite pungent at times, and I have heard it said that a blind man could find his way to Elton, simply by following his nose. The village stands within the boundaries of the Peak National Park and today is basically a farming community, with no less than 5 working farms around the village, hence the rich aromatic ambience of the place, especially when all the farmers are muck spreading at the same time!
One of the oldest buildings is Elton Hall, built in 1668, and for many years a well known and popular Youth Hostel, standing with its back to the main road near the east end of the village. It was probably on this site that Henry de Ferrers built his Manor in the Middle Ages, which was later occupied by the Foljambes up to the time of Edward 3rd.
Many of the dwellings bear the date of construction carved into the stonework, and perhaps the most picturesque example is the limestone built Greengates Farm of 1747 which stands on the south side of the Main Street. Homestead Farm is also late 17th century, whilst Elton House at the end of Moor Lane bears the date 1710. At the bottom of Ivy Lane stands the quaint Lavender Cottage with a carved lintel above the door bearing the date 1672.
The school stands on the south side of Main Street just a few yards east of the church and was built in 1862 when Elton’s population was at its highest, and was enlarged in 1890. Beyond the church and opposite the Duke of York is Well Street, so named because of the well which still stands with its beautiful syphon-pump at the bottom of the sloping street.
The surrounding countryside is dotted with capped-off remains of old mine shafts, and whilst the last of the lead-miners are long since departed, their legacy stands etched into the local landscape like industrial scar tissue.
There has never been an easy living to be earned in this area. The land is too dry and the soil too thin for arable farming, so for hundreds of years right up to the end of the 19th century most farmers were forced to supplement their meagre income by doubling up as lead miners, and mined the very land that they farmed.
The area is rich in pre-history and late Neolithic and early Bronze-Age relics have been found on Elton Common suggesting extensive human occupation of the site some two thousand years ago. The most significant finds however come from a later age - probably during the time of the Roman occupation of Britain, and are possibly of Celtic origin; in 1765 at White Low two Anglian globular urns & two glass pouch bottles were found along with a silver bracelet studded with human heads, a circular gold brooch set with garnets and rivetted to a silver plate and a beautifully decorated solid gold cross. This hoard was thought to mark the burial place of an ancient British Chieftain.
Arbor Low is only a few miles to the west of Elton and there are a number of stone circles, standing stones, and numerous ‘barrows’ or burial mounds within easy walking distance of the village. Dozens of ancient footpaths criss-cross the Parish, and the increasingly popular Limestone Way passes through the outskirts of Elton from south-east to north-west following the old pack-mule trading route of The Portway, which pre-dates the Roman occupation. There are tremendous views to the north, the most striking overlooking the rocky fortress of Mock Beggar Hall, or Robin Hood’s Stride as it is more commonly known, with the Portway climbing like a white snake up towards Cratcliffe Rocks. This is the site of a Romano-British settlement, whilst half a mile to the west following the old Portway are the four remaining standing stones of the stone circle known as Nine Stones Close. The Portway continues over Harthill Moor north of Elton to Castle Ring, a Hill Fort and stockade of the ancient Britons.
One modern day event sums up the spirit of Elton and Elton folk. The school had no playing field, the village had no recreational area or facilities, and so in 1977 the residents formed a village committee and together raised the money to purchase an area of land to the south of Main Street at the east end of the village. This is the only level area for miles around. It is now known as the ‘Jubilee Field’ and has a distinctive white-painted cricket pavillion which is home to Elton Cricket Club. It also has an excellent soccer pitch, and boasts tennis courts and a children’s play area.
The former home of Everest photographer Alfred Gregory.
Condensed and adapted from Tom Bates Peak District Villages Insider's guides, available from libraries and local shops.