There is nothing which has yet been contrived by man, by which so much happiness is produced, as by a good tavern or inn... So said Dr Samuel Johnson, the 18th century essayist born in Lichfield and a frequent visitor to Derbyshire’s many fine public houses.
From grand coaching hotels to humble roadside cottages, bustling town centre taverns to the village inn, nowhere is the county’s rich variety of pubs more evident today than in the Peak District. Bound up in these intriguing, handsome and sometimes quirky places are stories every bit as tasty as the stuff that foams out of their pumps.
Take, for instance, the Barley Mow at Kirk Ireton, south of Wirksworth, a striking 300-yearold listed building whose sense of timeliness is due to a succession of long-serving publicans who liked to keep things just the way they were. A previous landlady spent her entire life at the pub, all 90 years of it, and in 1971 resisted decimalisation by insisting that customers pay in ‘old money’ and using a biscuit tin for a cash till. Even until quite recently the barrels of beer were racked behind the bar in the traditional fashion.
Barley Mow was the name given to a rick of barley from which ale used to be brewed and, like common local pub names Wheatsheaf, Plough and Bull’s Head, reflects the important role of farming. However, sometimes these pubs ended up catering for man and beast alike. During especially rough winter weather on the exposed Dark Peak moorland, it was not uncommon for straw to be strewn on the floor of the taproom of the Fox House Inn, near Longshaw, so that sheep could take overnight shelter as well as shepherds. Another time, a local shepherd fell asleep in front of the pub fire, exhausted from a day spent branding sheep, but with the pitch still wet on his breeches he woke up later with his crossed legs stuck together!
The Peak District’s lead mining heritage is also reflected in traditional village pubs like the Miners Standard at Winster, named after the so-called standard dish used by miners to measure their ore, as well as the ubiquitous Miners’ Arms in Brassington, Carsington and Eyam. A few, like the Bull’s Head at Monyash, hosted the miners’ Barmoot Court which adjudicated on mining disputes. Miners were no doubt fond of slaking their thirst and there were plenty of publicans who were eager to take their money. At one time Wirksworth had as many as 50 pubs and alehouses, and even a village like Winster boasted over 20, although allowing miners to store explosives on the premises was not always a good idea. A Winster alehouse called the Derbyshire Sally was blown up by accident in 1785.
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