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Derbyshire


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Is a heart‐shaped county in the heart of England. It has been little altered by boundary changes, but since 1974 borders Greater Manchester.

The Romans, chiefly interested in its lead and the springs at Buxton, established a number of forts and roads. Christianity came with the first religious house in Mercia built at Repton in 656 (where the Saxon crypt survives).

Throughout the medieval period Derbyshire remained sparsely populated. The county suffered grievously from the plague, the final outbreak occurring famously in 1665 when six‐sevenths of the population of Eyam died. By the 17th cent., the Cavendishes had established themselves as the premier family, mostly due to Bess of Hardwick (countess of Shrewsbury) (1520–1608). In addition to the building of great country houses, such as Chatsworth, Kedleston, and Calke abbey, the 18th cent. saw the development of cotton‐mills in Derbyshire (notably by Arkwright at Cromford, 1771), impressive growth in coal‐mining and iron production around Bolsover and Chesterfield, and framework‐knitting at Belper, Ilkeston, and Heanor in the east. The railways profoundly changed Derbyshire. By the mid‐19th cent., Derby had become the railway centre of the midlands. Today, although coal has ceased to be of economic significance, quarrying (especially limestone) is still important, as are textiles and engineering, most famously at Rolls‐Royce's aero‐engine factory in Derby. In addition, the Peak District (Britain's first national park) attracts vast numbers of visitors.

Derby is by far the largest town in the county, with 235,000 inhabitants in 1999, but culturally it has suffered from its proximity to larger Nottingham. Additionally, the city's southern location reinforces the county's diffuse nature, with the north‐east looking to Sheffield, and the north‐west to Manchester. The county's administrative headquarters are at Matlock, a fine spa town, its first bath built in 1698, and its dramatic cliffs drawing visitors ever since. But it was Buxton, England's highest market town, that prospered most from its hot waters; its sumptuous Crescent, built by the Cavendishes 1780–6, is said to have cost £120,000 and the town retains a sense of Georgian elegance. In the east and north, where iron, cotton, and coal dominated, runs the M1 motorway, past Ilkeston and Alfreton. Above them is Chesterfield, with its celebrated twisted spire atop an exceptional Gothic church. The north‐west tip of Derbyshire is the least populated part and contains the Ladybower reservoir, opened in 1945; its largest town, Glossop, retains the appearance of a Victorian mill town.

Subjects: British History.


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