Review of ‘The Wirksworth Saga’, by Frank Priestley

This review is by Julie Bunting, and was published originally in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 24th March 2003, and is reproduced with Julie's kind permission.

by Frank Priestley
Published Locally (2003)

It's a funny thing about Wirksworth but people who 'end up' here, as this author puts it, can feel that this is exactly where they are meant to be. Wirksworth has a history as varied and 'hands-on' as anywhere in the Peak, so it would be hard for anyone not to become fascinated by some aspect of its past.

When Frank Priestley moved here some years ago, he knew nothing about his new home town but over the years he has pieced together this compilation which he describes as 'A short history over the last 300 million years'. It provides a chronological and continuous outline of anything and everything which relates to the Wirksworth of today. It really does start at The Beginning, when the area lay beside a tropical lagoon with small active volcanoes and water teeming with sea-life - the very birth of the limestone quarrying industry. Quarrying warrants its own chapter later in the book.

The Wirksworth Saga takes us past Early Man, through all the waves of invaders up to the Normans, then slots neatly into 500 years of historical entries, beginning with the granting of a market charter in 1306 and ending with the drilling of local volunteers in their scarlet and blue uniforms, preparing to defend England in the event of an invasion by Napoleon.

No mention of Wirksworth is complete without references to lead mining, other industries and the railways, not just the Cromford and High Peak Railway but the Midland, which had an interesting official use for the local station. Literary connections span the years from Daniel Defoe to D.H. Lawrence, and a tour of the town takes in events and building uses from 1800. There is a special chapter on the Wirksworth Project, which went such a long way to halting the decline of a town almost brought to its knees. The final chapter and conclusion praise a town to be proud of.

Review by Julie Bunting

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