Grindleford Gems

When my wife and I were courting our favourite outings were motorbike rides from Chesterfield, where we both lived, to the Hope Valley area. One of our regular stops was off the Froggatt Edge Road, where we spent many a beautiful summer evenings admiring the view of an enchanting valley with a river and railway line running through it. At that time, the early 1930’s roads were poorly signposted and there were not many nameplates for the villages. Little did my wife-to-be and I realise at that time that we were to live, work and raise our family in the little village in that valley, whose name we only later discovered was Grindleford.

I came to Grindleford from Renishaw in November 1933 to be Branch Manager for Messrs. A. F. Hancock and Sons Ltd., whose shop in the village was part of a group throughout the district. It was a time when everyone there knew each other and there was a very strong community spirit. Village clubs and societies were thriving. Everyone made their own entertainment and there was a wealth of local characters in Grindleford whose mutual interplay enriched their own lives and afforded amusement to their neighbours.

There was a young man living in Grindleford then, still single and living with his parents. He and his father both worked at Stoke Hall, one of the local “Big Houses”, doing a variety of jobs including gardening, forestry work and so on. I will call the young fellow Fred, as good an alias as any to protect the innocent!

Young Fred had a running battle with the gamekeeper at Stoke. Fred loved to do abit of poaching, rabbitting with his snikles (snarls) and ferrets and fetching the odd pheasant now and again. Always suspected by the gamekeeper but never caught, one day Fred discovered something which he thought he could turn to his advantage: the gamekeeper was stealing eggs from the hen-house every morning, hiding them in an outbuilding during the day and taking them home at night. So when Fred was accused of taking two pheasants (which in truth he had) and was threatened with dismissal he decided to have his revenge. He smashed all the eggs as they lay in their hiding place, on two days running. The gamekeeper put two and two together and came up with Fred as the answer. He vowed that he would get even with the young varmint and he did not have long to wait.

Fred was sweet on a young parlour-maid at the Hall and, whenever they could they would sneak away to their secret love-nest for a spot of courting. This was in the loft of a barn, which Fred had made comfortable with a bed of straw covered with old sacks. The only drawback to the boudoir was that the gamekeeper got to know about it.

Not long after, the chimney sweep came to the Hall for the annual cleaning of the many chimneys. This gave the gamekeeper an idea. He got a couple of bags of soot from the sweep and took them up to Fred’s love nest. He lifted the sacks and liberally sprinkled soot underneath. He then put a thick layer of soot between the sacks and carefully replaced the uppermost ones. Later, the lovers climbed up into the dimly lit loft. Fred himself told me, many years later, what happened then.

The two youngsters got very passionate on the soft bed of straw; after all, they were both young, healthy and unmarried. Eventually they emerged from the barn in the evening light, straightening their clothes, when the young maid saw Fred’s face and howled with laughter. Young Fred collapsed with mirth too, when he saw the state of his sweetheart. As he told me, “we both had to go down to the river and try and wash it all off. By gum, there were some soot an’ all, it were all over us! She had soot in her hair, soot in her eyes, soot in her clothes and soot up her arse!”

And the young lovers of today think they’ve got problems!

Photo of Elsie on a motorbike.
Elsie tries out the ‘front end’ of the bike – 1934
The yard at the back of the shop nearly always had a motorbike in it in some stage of repair. Tom Jacques in 1935.

Two hotels served the village in the 1930’s, although in the not too distant past there had been a number of alehouses. The Maynard Arms, built in 1908, was the larger and main hotel. The other, The Sir William Hotel, was known locally as the “Comic”. It had originally been called the Commercial Hotel and a sign could still be seen stating this, but Comic was good enough for the locals, and it was very apt indeed as far as some of them were concerned!

Of the earlier inns, one was the Old Red Lion which was on the Main Road, next to what is now the Butchers Shop. The name has been restored and can be seen quite clearly on the front wall. The Blue Bell was at the bottom of School Lane, it is now Lane Ends Cottage and the home of Mr. and Mrs. Baggaley. It was formerly a coaching inn and was also famed for its skittle alley. One of the stones which formed the base of the skittle alley was until recently on the river bank behind the Post Office.

The Maynard Arms was much more of a village local in those days. Mr. and Mrs. Mayger were the hosts there. They were always encouraging the various village clubs and societies to hold functions there. They were tremendously helpful to the social life of the village. The Annual Carnival was centered there and the Carnival Queen was crowed on the lawns. Dances were held in the ballroom and many other “dos” went off there.

A quartet of characters frequented the Maynard Tap Room at this time. They were Jim Gibbs, Billy Hallam, George Manchester and Albert Hewitt. They all earned a living in a variety of ways, mostly by working on the farms, cattle droving to and from market, collecting and disposing of household rubbish, dry walling, lime-washing and any other jobs that were going. They all lived rough in various barns or shacks scattered about the village. Their standards of hygiene were not very high; in fact by today’s standards it was non existent.

Monday evening, after a day’s droving to and from Bakewell, always saw them gathered in the Maynard jawing over a few pints of Arthur Magyars best bitter. I used to call in just to listen to them tell their tales on my way back home after I had been out taking orders for the shop. It was an education to listen to their dialects and rich expressions, but on many occasions I could never fathom out the subject under discussion!