An Introduction to Bolsover
Unlike larger centres of population, Bolsover and its’ surrounding villages have perhaps changed less than most. The town’s early development during the Middle Ages followed the building of William Peveril’s 12th century castle,making it along with Castleton one of only two planned towns in Derbyshire.
Eight centuries later this may still be seen in the linear grid street pattern of Castle Street – Middle Street – Church Street, with the parallel streets, Nether Street (Town End) stretching towards the Hockley valley and Upper Street (High Street) leading from the main castle gates to the Langwith Road.
This early period of growth of Bolsover as a prestigious settlement built around its castle stronghold was brought about by its’ strategically important position. Standing on the spur of an escarpment at the head of the deep Hockley valley it commanded far distant views toward the Peakland hills, thus making the north and west sides virtually unassailable.
The town’s first market charter was granted by Henry III in 1225, followed by a period of little growth and change. Predominantly agricultural in character some industrial activity did however take place through stone quarrying, pottery and the manufacture of buckles and spurs.
The building by Charles and later by William Cavendish, of their exotic mansion, the present castle we see today, did not really involve significant change to the town. The 17th and early 18th centuries did however see the building of substantial farm houses, particularly on High Street, Market Place and Church Street. Very few of these remain today and where they do their farmland has long since been built on but their handsome stone features contribute much to the general townscape scene.
By the early 19th century however, Bolsover had become a ‘decayed market town’. Indeed, the market was discontinued towards the end of the 18th century. The population remained fairly static at around 1,300 people until the 1890s when the 6th Duke of Portland granted leases to the newly formed Bolsover Colliery Company Limited to sink its’ network of pits in north Derbyshire and north Nottinghamshire.
The first coal mining in modern terms started in Bolsover in 1890 and so began the growth of the town from an agricultural backwater to the mining town it was until colliery closures in1992. The population increased rapidly to around the 10,000 mark, where it has stayed with minor adjustments ever since. The area surrounding Bolsover grew with its’ main centre. New Bolsover, that superb example of a colliery village in its’ valley setting was followed by smaller and less well planned developments at New Palterton, eventually called Hillstown, Bentinck at Shuttlewood and Carr Vale. The latter was built as a village for both colliery and brickworks. Even the surrounding villages of Scarcliffe, Palterton and Upper Langwith, were not untouched by the red brick and Welsh slate of miner’s terraces, providing a mixture of agriculture and industry, still seen today in the productive allotments.
The physical appearance of the town centre remained intact until the 1960s with only minor changes, mainly reflecting change of use rather than demolition and rebuilding. What followed was paralleled in most every town and large village in the country. The central area bounded by Cotton Street, High Street, Market Place and Castle Street comprised a network of cottages, small shops, courtyards and ginnels.
In the days before conservation grants and preservation orders many of these were demolished because there was little choice, although an enlightened Urban District Council did ensure that their replacement buildings were on the whole sympathetic in style and harmonious in character to what remained. The outskirts of Bolsover have been given over to housing estates, private and council. The cut off point to the east is obvious and that high grade agricultural land prevents too much urban development, while to the west Carr Vale and New Bolsover are now linked to Bolsover with housing which continues to increase, at the same time leaving a wide and deep tract of land known as ‘Castle Fields’. As early as 1939 Bolsover Urban District Council was stressing that this area should be kept free from development, to provide uninterrupted approach to William Cavenish’s ‘Folie de grandeur’.
It has been written that “by no stretch of even local imagination can Bolsover be called beautiful”. Roy Christian has described the approach from the west as “like some lovely hill town in Tuscany,” and a Sunday Observer travel writer as “a gem of landscape and composition”.
No self respecting Bozerite ever sees his town in such wildly romantic terms, but we should not ignore the clues and indeed intrinsic truths of such statements. Outsiders see the possibilities and potential of Bolsover when many of us who are close to the place do not. This is also true of New Bolsover, Scarcliffe, Palterton and Upper Langwith, although in the latter three villages the rural charm is more apparent.
When, in 1891 Emerson Bainbridge asked Winifred, Duchess of Portland to open the winding gear of Bolsover Colliery for the first time no-one really knew how the village would change as a result of such industrial development, or indeed that one hundred years later this same colliery would be closed.
With the closure of the colliery in 1992 Bolsover lost the mainstream of its’ industrial base. It is now renewing itself and it’s image by establishing a new identity as a shopping, community and tourist town. (copyright) Bernard Haigh.