CHAPTER 2 – A Brief History of the Peak District

HIGH PEAK (between Hayfield and Chinley) from Wikipedia

          Excerpts from Wikipedia with some of my comments interspersed

The Peak District is an upland area in central and northern England, lying mainly in northern Derbyshire, but also covering parts of Cheshire, Greater Manchester, Staffordshire, and South and West Yorkshire. Most of the area falls within the Peak District National Park, whose designation on April 17th, 1951 made it the earliest national park in the British Isles. The Peak District is about 160 miles from London.

An area of great diversity, it is conventionally split into the northern Dark Peak, where most of the moorland is found and whose geology is gritstone, and the southern White Peak, where most of the population lives and where the geology is mainly limestone-based. With an estimated twenty two million visitors per year, the Peak District is thought to be the second most visited national park in the world, after the Mount Fuji National Park in Japan. (Wikipedia.)


This an example of the Gritstone edges that  dot the landscape of Kinder Scout.


The Peak District forms the southern end of the Pennines and much of the area is uplands above three hundred meters, with the high point on Kinder Scout of six hundred and thirty six meters. Despite its name, the landscape lacks sharp peaks; more so being characterized by rounded hills and gritstone escarpments (edges).

In the 1100’s to the 1400’s, the Peak Forest (a Royal Forest not to be confused with a regular forest) was a wilderness tract of land that was home to wildlife such as deer and wolves. We need to remember that the word “forest” used in this context of a “Royal Forest” must not be thought of in the strict modern sense of the word forest as applies to for instance, Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada or Riding Mountain National Park in Manitoba, Canada. These forests are mostly trees with some small meadows and bodies of water. Under the Normans, the word began to have a legal significance. It implied a waste and was historically used for an open district reserved by the King for the purpose of hunting. The country was probably not all wooded, but would have heather and bogs in the poorer parts as there were in the wastes in the parish well into the eighteenth century. As the population increased, encroachments or “squatting” as we would call it today happened, and many of the old farms that are still in existence today were shaped during this early period.

The reigning royalty’s of the times and their entourage’s made trips up to this forest to hunt venison and spend holidays in this wilderness. The Royal family also interacted with the locals in many ways, including fathering illegitimate children. The land was all crown land and henceforth, anyone caught hunting deer or wolves in this area, were caught and quite often beheaded, as life was lightly regarded in that era.

About this time, some of the inhabitants of Derbyshire were found to be in the court inquiries concerning unlicensed buildings and encroachments on Royal Forest Lands and assarts (an assart is a piece of land cleared of brush and shrubs and fitted for cultivation in the Royal Forest), it would seem that just as the traffic of hunting and venison was customary, so it had become the fashion to clear the forest and erect houses all over it. Probably under the early Norman Kings and the first Kings of the house of Plantagenet there were but few, if any, assarts made in this Forest for every settler at this latter date seems to have been called upon to explain whether he cleared his assart or erected his building with or without the consent of the King’s Bailiff. And they seemed to have been fined in both cases, but not excluded from the occupation of the land.

And it is from this practice that most of the farms, such as Lydgate, Silkhill, Roeside, Alstonlee, Lightbirch, Shireoaks, to name a few arose and are still in existence today. Little has changed in the positioning of these properties today, other than in the Enclosures Acts periods of 1600 -1800, where smaller farming properties were founded within the existing estates and common lands to which these are well documented.

It is to this geographical area and epoch that we must look to begin our search for the ancient ancestors of the GEE and the ANDREW families. The terrain, the isolation of the era, the uniqueness of the culture, religion, civil wars, invasions, plagues and pestilence all formed and shaped their attitudes and living behaviors.

Frith is an old Saxon word for forest. A church was erected here by the Foresters from the Royal Forest of the Peak in 1225. The Foresters took some pieces of land rendered for services within the role of the Foresters working on behalf of the crown and some built houses with or without permission from the crown. It is from these dwellings that some of the current farms and estates of the parish were formed.

It’s been proven that the current farms within the parish are the very estates to which the Foresters carved out for themselves. They have all been mentioned in William Braylesford Buntings book on Chapel en le Frith, Derbyshire Archaeological Journals and The Feudal History of Derbyshire amongst other publications. (Marchington Journals)

The Ancient Parish contained 9752 statute acres and was divided into three Townships: Bowden Edge, Bradshaw Edge and Combs Edge.

Chapel-en-le-Frith (hereafter known as Chapel) is the settlement that grew up around the little chapel in the forest, henceforth its name. Almost all of the early buildings erected in Chapel were made of gritstone.

The church came to be known as St. Thomas A. Becket Church, named after Thomas Becket who was murdered in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170. The site is on a ridge of land overlooking the Blackbrook valley. The church has been upgraded several times over the ensuing centuries.

The centre grew rapidly, becoming the centre of government of the Royal Forest of the Peak.

The most notable incident in the history of the church occurred in 1648 when 1500 Scottish soldiers were taken prisoner by Cromwell’s troops after the battle of Ribbleton Moor. The Scottish soldiers were imprisoned in the church. When the doors were opened two weeks later, forty four soldiers had died. This gruesome episode earned the church the title “Derbyshire’s Black Hole”.

Slightly to the west of Chapel lies Eccles Pike and just below it is Bradshaw Hall, a manor house erected in the 16th century by Francis Bradshaw, a relative of Judge John Bradshaw, just before the plague broke out in Eyam. They, in order to escape the fury of the disease, moved to either Brampton or Treeton, in the county of York and never returned. Owing to this circumstance it is believed the building was never completed.

A little further west and north, about one and one half miles, we happen upon the village of Chinley which plays a major part in the history of the GEE-ANDREW family. It is around Chapel and Chinley that the Lydgate, Roeside, Silkhill and Lightbirch farms exist. This area I believe is called Bradshaw Edge. Throughout the narrative, I will refer to the LYDGATE GEES or the Chinley Gees, as opposed to the ASHES GEES or Kinder Gees, although they are all kinsmen. It needs to be noted here that the Peak District was sparsely populated between the1400’s, and the 1700’s.

Now a note on how the land and the voting was carried out prior to the reforms of 1832. Later in our story, it will be noticeable during the poll taken in 1734, when some members of the GEE family had one vote and some had 27.

Burgage is a medieval land term used in England and Scotland, well established by the 13th century. A burgage was a town (borough) rental property (to use modern terms), owned by a king or lord. The property (“burgage tenement”) usually, and distinctly, consisted of a house on a long and narrow plot of land, with the narrow end facing the street. Rental payment (“tenure”) was usually in the form of money, but each “burgage tenure” arrangement was unique, and could include services. As populations grew, “burgage plots” could be split into smaller additional units. Burgage tenures were usually monetary based, in contrast to rural tenures which were usually services based. In Saxon times the rent was called a landgable or hawgable.

Burgage was used as the basis of the franchise in many boroughs sending member to the Unreformed House of Commons before 1832. In these boroughs the right to vote was attached to the occupation of particular burgage tenements. Since these could be freely bought and sold, and since the owner of the tenement was perfectly entitled to convey it for the election period to a reliable nominee, who could then vote, it was possible to purchase the majority of the burgages and thereby the absolute power to nominate the members of Parliament. Most of the burgage boroughs became pocket boroughs in this way. The practice was abolished by the Great Reform Act of 1832 which applied a uniform franchise to all boroughs. (Wikipedia.)


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