1980s >> 1986 >> no-984-august-1986

Capitalism in the Peak District

The Peak District in Derbyshire is an area of great scenic beauty, extending from the 2.000ft high bleak, gritstone plateau of Kinder Scout in the north to the softer, mellow limestone hills of the south. The combination of wooded countryside, meandering rivers winding through beautiful dales, and picturesque stone-built cottages in the scattered villages makes the National Park a ramblers paradise.

The accessibility of the area (it is within 50 miles of Leeds. Manchester. Stoke-on-Trent and Nottingham, and less than 20 miles from Sheffield), the attraction of the “spa-towns” of Buxton and Matlock, and the quaint custom of well-dressing draw large numbers of tourists in the summer months and it may be possible to forget, momentarily, the impoverishment of our lives that capitalism causes. But capitalism is never far away: huge quarries scar the landscape in the search of fluospar and other minerals which are used for making products as diverse as cement and jewellery.

Bakewell, often considered the capital of the Peak District, contains a high proportion of retired people. This is a reminder that the commercial interests of the surrounding industrial areas have overridden environmental and social needs, causing migration from these areas when the 40-50 years stint of wage slavery which workers have to endure is finished.

The wealthiest man in the area is the Duke of Devonshire, who owns Chatsworth House, probably the most elegant property in Britain, which is regularly invaded by tourists who pay for the privilege of seeing the luxury enjoyed by those who profit from the workers’ labour. The present Duke of Devonshire has been in the news in the last two years for selling a small part of his art collection for £6 million and for giving money to prostitutes – a slight set-back for the “pillars of society” who “safeguard the nation’s morals”. But the power such people have over the lives of workers, because of their wealth and the protection the state gives to them under capitalism, was demonstrated by the moving of Edensor village in 1839 by the 6th Duke of Devonshire because it spoilt his view across the east ridge of Chatsworth Park.

The Peak District and neighbouring towns feature quite prominently in classical literature: Hathersage is the Morton of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. Bakewell is mentioned briefly as Lambton in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Hayfield became Clough End in Mrs. Humphrey Ward’s novel David Grieve; George Eliot had local connections, her father came from Roston. near Ashbourne, and the quaint town of Wirksworth, defaced by leadmining, is the Snowfield of Adam Bede while Ashbourne is Oakbourne in the same novel.

Edward Carpenter, social reformer, writer and poet lived in Millthorpe for many years, where he wrote Towards Democracy and My Days and Dreams. His love of the simple life profoundly influenced William Morris who modelled his utopian romance News from Nowhere on Carpenter’s cottage and the hospitality he received on his visits there.

The need to make a profit under capitalism has led to the cancellation of a number of bus services in the area. A number of villages have no bus services at all and others are threatened with the same fate. Some of the schools are also under threat of closure because they are too small to be run economically; the priorities of capitalism involve running an education service as cheaply as possible, particularly as trained workers are not needed in such large numbers during a recession.

The village shop is also under threat from the concentration of capital in the hands of the big chains of supermarkets and the attempts to extend trading hours, if successful, would probably be the final straw for small shopkeepers who would not be able to offer an out of hours service free from competition. Without schools, buses and shops the villages would be in danger of dying or become commuter villages, lived in by people whose work, and roots, remained in the industrial towns. The tourist trade manages to make substantial profits from the popularity of the area; Bakewell puddings, Ashbourne ginger bread, bottled spa water, postcards, books dealing with local walks, history, flora, wildlife, well-dressing and mining have all managed to separate the holiday makers from their money.

However much the Peak District manages (relatively) to be an oasis from the ugliness of industry it is never far away; Bolsover, a few miles outside of Chesterfield, has the largest smokeless fuel works in the world; Cromford had the earliest English cotton mill, established by Richard Arkwright in 1771; South Normanton, near Alfreton, was the birthplace in 1726 of Jedediah Strutt, inventor of the ribbed stocking machine.

The area has historical interest too; 1,500 Scottish soldiers were imprisoned in 1648 in St. Thomas’ church at Chapel-En-Le-Frith and many of them died from suffocation. The barbarity of the Black Hole of Calcutta incident perpetrated by Indians on British soldiers is well known but English barbarity has led to a more discreet spread of information. In 1817 the Pentrich Revolution (often incorrectly referred to as the Pentridge Revolution) was brutally put down by the state. Both incidents remind us of the cruelty that the state will resort to when protecting its interests.

Recently the area has had Liberal hearts fluttering because they were only 100 votes behind the Conservative candidate in West Derbyshire’s by-election. But when I get a day off from work and walk through the dales in my walking boots bought from a chain store, eat my sandwiches bought from a profitable bakery, or stop at a pub owned by a giant brewery, I realise that whichever capitalist party wins an election it is business as usual.

Carl Pinel