10 of the Best Historic Sites in Derbyshire | Historical Landmarks | History Hit

10 of the Best Historic Sites in Derbyshire

Discover the historic marvels of Derbyshire, from the magnificent Hardwick Hall and Chatsworth House to Cromford Mill, the cradle of the Industrial revolution.

Teet Ottin

25 May 2022

Home to much of the beautiful Peak District National Park, Derbyshire offers something for everybody. Hardwick Hall, Chatsworth House and Bolsover Castle, for example, allow you to experience the grandeur of the British aristocracy, while the ruins of Sutton Scarsdale Hall provide a scenic backdrop for any picnic.

Arbor Low Stone Circle and Gib Hill Barrow showcase the neolithic history of the region, while Peveril Castle awakes memories of past Medieval glory. More industrially minded people can pay Cromford Mills a visit, while the Devonshire Royal Hospital stuns onlookers with its once record breaking dome.

Here are 10 of the best historic sites in Derbyshire.

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1. Hardwick Hall

Built between 1590 and 1597 for Elizabeth, Dowager Countess of Shrewsbury, aka ‘Bess of Hardwick’, Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire is one of the UK’s finest examples of an Elizabethan ‘prodigy house’. The most striking elements of Hardwick Hall are the vast, multi-paned windows, a statement to Bess of Hardwick’s supreme wealth and power, particularly at a time when glass was considered luxurious.

After the 10th Duke of Devonshire died, the house was handed over to the Treasury in lieu of Estate Duty in 1956 and it was subsequently transferred to the National Trust in 1959. Today, Hardwick Hall is still managed by the National Trust and is open to the public. Inside, each of the three main storeys has a ceiling higher than the one below and the house includes one of the longest ‘long rooms’ in England.

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2. Cromford Mills

Cromford Mill is noteworthy for being the first water-powered cotton spinning mill in the world, built in 1771 by Sir Richard Arkwright. The site became one of the cradles of the Industrial Revolution.

To attract workers, Arkwright later added the first factory housing development in Derbyshire: Cromford village. The mill complex has become a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most significant historic sites in England.

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3. Eyam

A small, Anglo-Saxon village nestled in the hills of Derbyshire, Eyam has become known as ‘plague village’ due to an outbreak of the bubonic plague in 1665 and the village’s decision to endure a self-imposed quarantine during this time. In the 14 months the danger lasted, it claimed 260 lives out of a population of around 800.

Today, in the centre of the village is a row of ‘plague cottages’ with signs that commemorate some of the first victims. Every year on Plague Sunday (the last Sunday in August) a memorial service is held in the nearby hollow of Cucklett Delf, the site of the outdoor services held by Reverend Mompesson during the plague years.

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4. Peveril Castle

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 fell to ruin in the 16th and 17th centuries and was at times even used to house livestock.

Today, Peveril is managed by English Heritage and welcomes visitors to explore its imposing ruins. The remains of two round towers project from the southern curtain wall, on which the use of Roman tiles (likely sourced from the Navio fort nearby) can be viewed. A garderobe, or medieval toilet, can also be visited that protrudes from the southeast face of the keep.

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5. Thornbridge Hall Gardens

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.

Today, the hall is owned by Jim and Emma Harrison, owners of Thornbridge Brewery and A4e respectively. It is a private family home and event venue, however the extensive gardens are open to the public every Wednesday and Thursday from April to September.

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6. Bolsover Castle

The site where Bolsover Castle now stands once contained a small fortification, however this was dismantled in 1612 by the landowner Charles Cavendish, who began a fresh construction on the site. The main development was intended to reflect a small medieval fortress, and became known as the ‘Little Castle’. Though Charles himself did not live to see the completion of this project, it was continued by his son William, who also added additional buildings and an ornate riding house.

Today, visitors to Bolsover Castle can enjoy a number of interesting sites and activities, including the intricate decorations of the Little Castle and the fascinating riding house, where riding master William Cavendish would have trained his horses in the 17th century. The atmospheric shell of the Terrace Range may also be explored, where once the grand dining room, long gallery and basement kitchen bore witness to lavish parties.

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7. Chatsworth House

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. It boasts a wealth of interesting art, furniture and antiques as well as exceptional architecture throughout a number of its stunning rooms.

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. Little remains of the original structure except the Hunting Tower which still stands on the hill behind Chatsworth House. Most of what survives today was built in or after 1686.

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8. Arbor Low Stone Circle and Gib Hill Barrow

Built in the neolithic period, Arbor Low has held significance to those in the area for over 10,000 years. The site is a henge structure, built between 3000-6000 years ago, and is the most important of its kind in the East Midlands. Though it has never been excavated to its full extent, the site is thought to have been a major ceremonial centre for pagan communities in the area during the Neolithic and Bronze Age periods. 

The nearby Gib Hill is a further Neolithic burial mound actually consisting of two different mounds built atop one another. The first is a Long Barrow dating from the earlier part of the neolithic era, and was the first structure built on the entire site. The second mound was built up to 2000 years later during the Bronze Age. Here 19th-century excavations uncovered a cist, a small stone coffin-like box, that contained cremated bones and food vessels, offered by mourners to the dead.

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9. Sutton Scarsdale Hall

This grandiose Georgian mansion was built in 1724-1729, with its most striking feature being an immensely columned exterior. The site has been abandoned since 1919, when it was bought by by a group of local businessmen who asset-stripped the house. The roof was removed in 1920, while some parts of the building were shipped to the United States.

In 1946, the estate was bought by Sir Osbert Sitwell of Renishaw Hall, with the intention of preserving the remaining shell as a ruin. The hall is now in the care of English Heritage.

Image Credit: Davepape, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

10. Devonshire Royal Hospital

Built in 1779, the structure was originally known as ‘The Great Stables’, providing facilities for up to 120 horses and accommodation for the servants. In the 1850s William Cavendish, 7th Duke of Devonshire was persuaded by the Buxton Bath Charity to give over part of the building for a charity hospital. Couple of decades later the whole complex was given to the Charity. The stables on the ground floor were converted into hospital rooms by 1882.

The hospital closed down in 2000, while in 2005 it reopened as the home of the University of Derby‘s Buxton campus and Centre for Contemporary Hospitality & Tourism and as the new base of Buxton & Leek College.