Wirksworth Archaeological Society

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History

A little history of Wirksworth: Ancient Capital of the Peak District
Wirksworth is the oldest recorded Peak District town, with a charter dating from 835AD, where land around the township of Wirksworth was granted by Abbess Cynewaru to Duke Humbert of the Kingdom of Mercia, in return for a payment of lead. Lead had been mined since Roman times, and lead mining remained the major industry until the early 1800s. Wirksworth was the ancient administrative capital, home of the Barmote Court and the chief market town of the Peak District throughout Saxon times, and is later recorded in Domesday Book as having the largest population of any town in Derbyshire except Derby. Wirksworth was a major mediaeval town and second only to Derby in importance throughout the early Middle Ages, due to the prosperity which the lead industry brought to the town. By the late 1600s and early 1700s Wirksworth had reached a high point of its development. Gradually, however, the lead veins began to be exhausted and lead could be imported more cheaply from Spain and Italy by the middle of the 1800s. Limestone quarrying took over as the town’s major industry. Eventually the limestone quarries near the town also became exhausted and Wirksworth settled into its modern guise as a pleasant market town, attractive to walkers and ramblers and worth exploring for its interesting past. Pendleton’s History of Derbyshire says of Wirksworth: “Even more picturesque than Ashbourne is Wirksworth, with its irregular streets, odd nooks and corners, and houses dusky with age. Lying in a quiet fertile valley, edged about with great limestone rocks... in comfortable contented serenity.”

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