Spanning six counties in England, the Peak District is home to some of the country’s most fascinating historical sites. While known for its natural beauty, it has also seen thousands of years of human activity and has much to show for it! From eminent stately homes to neolithic stone circles, the Peak District’s many treasures leave history fans spoilt for choice, while also allowing them to delve into some of England’s lesser-known stories.
For this stunning district, we have compiled a list of 10 of the best historical sites to visit, including a mysterious ravine said to have witnessed the secret meetings of the Lollards, the ruins of an eminent medieval castle, and the wreckage of a World War Two plane with a remarkable past.
Chatsworth House in Derbyshire is a historic English country estate that has served as the home of the Dukes of Devonshire and their ancestors since the mid-16th century. It is one of the finest country houses in the Peak District, drawing countless visitors into its opulent halls every year.
The first house to be built on the Chatsworth House site was constructed in 1549 by Bess of Hardwick and her husband Sir William Cavendish. This original estate was notable for its use as a prison for Mary Queen of Scots, who was kept here on several occasions between 1569 and 1584.
Peveril Castle is a ruined 11th century fortress overlooking Castleton, Derbyshire. It was one of the first castles to be built following the Norman Conquest, and today provides breathtaking views over the Hope valley.
The exact date of Peveril’s construction is largely unknown, however it must have been at least under construction by the time of the Domesday Book in 1086, as it featured as Derbyshire’s only castle. It soon became the administrative centre of its founder, William Peveril, whose power and wealth in the area grew under Henry I.
The B-29 Superfortress, now dubbed the ‘Bleaklow Bomber’, was a US Airforce aircraft whose wreckage is situated in Bleaklow in the Peak District. While the plane saw some of history’s most world-altering events first-hand, its wreckage is now one of the area’s more eerie sites, with much of its debris still scattered in the vicinity.
The B-29 Superfortress was originally part of the 16th Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron of the US Airforce, having been adapted for reconnaissance use rather than for bombing.
Haddon Hall is a medieval manor house located just south of Bakewell in the Peak District, Derbyshire. Its history spans the 12th to the 17th centuries and is today one of the seats of the Duke of Rutland, with a wealth of beautiful rooms and architecture to explore.
The first owner of Haddon Hall was William Peveril the Elder in 1087, as is recorded in the Domesday Book. Following the fall from grace of his son William Peveril the Younger in 1153, the manor was repossessed by the Crown and distributed to the Avenell family. In 1170, Avice Avenell married Richard de Vernon and Haddon passed to their family, who constructed much of the house that stands today. Most was completed by the 13th century, with the magnificent Long Room added later in the 16th century.
Arbor Low Stone Circle and Gib Hill Barrow are two Neolithic sites that sit side-by-side in the Peak District. Arbor Low is one of the best preserved henge circles in the country, while nearby Gib Hill Barrow served as a burial mound in the Early Bronze Age.
Built in the neolithic period, the site has held significance to those in the area for over 10,000 years. Arbor Low is a henge structure, built between 3000-6000 years ago, and is the most important of its kind in the East Midlands.
The Lyme Park estate served as the seat of the Legh family for 600 years, with their striking family home its focal point. Its stunning architecture and vast historical collections draw visitors from far and wide, while its immense grounds epitomise the beauty of the Peak District.
The Legh family first came into possession of Lyme Park in the 14th century when it was given to Margaret Legh by her father Sir Thomas Danyers. Danyers was rewarded for his exploits during the Battle of Crecy, in which he served alongside the Black Prince. However, it was not until the 16th century that significant development of the house took place under Sir Piers Legh VII, with the original seat of the Legh family a rather more modest affair.
Often dubbed ‘The Cathedral of the Peaks’, the Church of St John the Baptist in Tideswell is one of the most impressive parish churches in the area. At 700 years old, St John the Baptist transports visitors back to medieval England, with a fascinating history to match.
As Tideswell appears in the 1068 Domesday Book, it is likely that the first wooden church was built on the site following the Norman Conquest – the first priest in the village was not recorded until 1194 however. In the mid-13th century, St John the Baptist found itself caught in the midst of a vicious dispute between Lincoln Cathedral and Lenton Priory in Nottinghamshire, with the feud lasting 3 whole centuries!
Treak Cliff Cavern is a cave system in Castleton that has attracted visitors to view its dramatic stalagmites and stalactites for nearly 100 years. Alongside these striking rock formations, Treak Cliff is also home to the incredibly rare Blue John mineral, only found in one other cave in the world, the nearby Blue John Cavern.
Mining operations were thought to have begun in the 18th century on Treak Cliff hill, with the extraction of lead the key focus. Though the then-named Millers Mine was likely the first to see Blue John in the world, there are no records of their mining it.
By the late 18th century however, Blue John was in high demand for ornamental purposes. Chatsworth House, seat of the Dukes of Devonshire, and even Buckingham Palace sought the mineral for use in vases and columns.
Lud’s Church is a deep ravine in Black Forest, located in Dark Peak in Derbyshire that is said to have witnessed the secret meetings of the Lollards, a persecuted religious group of the 15th century. Today it provides an atmospheric walk, engulfed by the cool greenery of the surrounding woods.
The ravine of Lud’s Church was likely formed in the post-glacial period by a large slip of Roaches Grit, a corse form of sandstone, creating the rift seen today.
In the 15th century, a group of religious dissenters called the Lollards were said to have held religious meetings at the site to escape the persecution of the Catholic Church.
Thornbridge Hall is a large manor house in the Peak District that was once the ancestral home of the Longsdon family, and later housed a line of wealthy businessmen with savvy design ideas. Its 12-acre grounds provide guests with the quintessential English garden experience, with a hint of eccentricity.
Thornbridge Hall was the seat of the Longsdons from the 12th to the late 18th century, before in 1790 being purchased by up-and-coming businessman John Morewood. The Morewood family, whose profits in the Industrial Revolution made them very wealthy, enlarged the house substantially, before it was rebuilt in 1859 by Frederick Craven in the Jacobean style.