A moment in time
Derbyshire Life|August 2020
Richard Bradley looks back at the very first editions of this publication - all the way back to the 1930s
Richard Bradley

Whilst the Coronavirus lockdown has been tough for the majority of us, the enforced slowing down has not been totally without benefits.

For me personally it has offered time to work my way through some of the books I have amassed over the years which have ended up crammed onto the bookshelves unread, awaiting a rainy day (or in this case, a few months).

One such example is a bound volume of the earliest editions of Derbyshire Life dating from 1931 – 1934, a lucky find I picked up a couple of years ago for the bargain price of 50p in a book sale at Chesterfield Library (having worked in libraries, I know how many books end up discarded to make way for new titles, as every library faces the same recurring problem – a finite amount of shelf space).

The glossy magazine you are now reading began life in January 1931 under the title The Derbyshire Countryside - a quarterly magazine published by the Derbyshire Rural Community Council. The journal’s cover in the early days featured a woodcut of a farmer enthusiastically sowing seeds from a basket.

The first editor was the magnificently named Lawrence du Garde Peach, who also wrote radio plays for the BBC and educational children’s books for the publisher Ladybird. Peach founded an amateur dramatic troupe, the Village Players, at Great Hucklow, who converted a building formerly used as a lead-smelting cupola into a small theatre. Peach often devotes space in the early magazines to his passion for amateur drama, with features like ‘Some Practical Notes on Play Production’.

These early editions offer a fascinating glimpse into life between the two World Wars when many of the modern comforts we now take for granted were beginning to be introduced to Derbyshire.

Several of the early volumes report on the progress made in bringing electricity to rural districts. ‘The advantages offered by the use of electricity are many and varied’, the magazine enthused, ‘It is adding to the pleasures and comforts of home life; easing the drudgery of housework and cooking; helping shops and factories do better work under better conditions – bringing health, happiness, and prosperity wherever it is used.’ Electrification was seen as a way of keeping jobs (and therefore people) in rural areas and helping to establish businesses which could compete with those in towns and cities, as well as streamlining many jobs on the farm.

Electricity also meant Lawrence du Garde Peach’s theatre troupe out at Great Hucklow could expand their operations – in the days before electric street lighting, they had originally only performed in the winter months on nights with a full moon, so the audience could see well enough to safely find their way to the venue.

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