Derbyshire 22 - Clay Cross - not all of Derbyshire looks like the Peak District

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August 2nd 2015
Published: August 2nd 2015
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Suzy has been pampered. She had a well deserved addition and modification last week. For some while we have pondered on whether it would be worth upgrading her suspension to give us a better ride, better handling in the wind and not so much rocking and rolling going round roundabouts. Having parted with the best part of £600 on the upgrade we hoped it would be better and not another white elephant . Ok Woolly Sion knows that mammoths are not white. He has told us so and we have to believe the sheep who knows everything. We took Suzy out for a short trip - a sort of road to nowhere type of trip to test her out. 20 miles down the road to Derby to pick up some building materials that would not fit in the car and then back again. Did she feel any different ? Hard to say, I guess the proof of the pudding will be on a longer run on good European roads buffetted by the wind and the lorries racing past us. Driving through the chicanes of french villages with their road furniture stopping us travelling at more than 10 miles per hour. She did feel better or was that in our imagination? She seemed to handle better. At 70 she didnt rock and roll quite as much as we were used to so perhaps it has been £600 well spent.

So what else has happened? We are only 39 days away from our holidays and all hell has let loose in Calais. Illegal immigrants, economic migrants - refugees - call them what you will have descended in great numbers in the town. We saw this first hand as we returned back to Calais in May. Make shift, ramshackle camps set up alongside the tunnel access routes, dirty disheveled men sitting on the grass or the fences. Young men trying to gain access to trucks waiting to enter the tunnel complex. It was frightening then. Three months later things have gone from bad to worse as more and more young men, women and children have found their ways across Europe after entering via Greece which itself is in a financial mess and through the poor south of Italy. Each and every night brings on more attempts to break down the security fences as hundreds try their luck in coming to what they perceive as the golden land. A land with streets paved with gold where employment is abundant and they will prosper. The french police sometimes choose to ignore the migrants as the numbers are too great to control. At other times they make a token effort to police the border . All this has been made worse by the french farmers who block the road with their tractors and spray the tourists with cut straw . Dock strikers close the roads with barriers of burning tyres. The British Prime Minister and the Home Secretary have met with their french counterparts to discuss options and money is being made available to renew and strengthen the fences and put in much better protection. Kent and the M20 have become the biggest car park in Britain as Operation Stack has been in force for almost two weeks. British truck companies are losing business and the by roads of Kent are no go zones. Talk on the street seems to be that more British police need to be sent to FRance to protect our borders, the army needs to be drafted in and migrants rounded up. It seems pointless to turn them away from the fences and then allow them back night after night. It does not bode well for our trip as we have read of long delays even to holidaymakers. Perhaps things will improve - looking on the bright side there are another 39 days to improve things. Britain is a small country. We are bulging at the seams, not enough housing to go round so we need to sort out the problem . And perhaps being selfish I have 28 days holidays and I want to get to FRance and not be stuck queuing for hours on the motorway.

So what about the Peak District. Derbyshire is a beautiful county but there is a dark side to it. To the west of the A61 are vast swathes of green fields, wonderful views, dry stone walls and mellow stone houses . To the east - industry. Or perhaps the remnants of industry. Clay Cross to the east is a former industrial mining town which lies six miles from Chesterfield. It lies on the old Roman road Ryknield Street. Until the early nineteenth century, Clay Cross was a small village known as Clay Lane. Clay Lane still exists as it meanders its way from the town centre into the countryside that surrounds Clay Cross . The growth of the town came about because of increasing demand for coal and other minerals as the population trebled 1840. While driving the tunnel for the North Midland Railway (a railway line which runs beneath the town of Clay Cross) George Stephenson discovered great quantities of both coal and iron which together with the demand for limestone, caused him to move into Tapton Hall, near Chesterfield, and set up business as George Stephenson and Co. When he died his son Robert took over the business. Such was the demand that 11 coal pits sprung up in and around the small core that is Clay Cross. None remain today. The Clay Cross works of Stephenson have long gone and are now empty derelict fields which have needed much land reclaimation and decontamination of the soil. The demise has left a dark side to Clay Cross. One main street runs through full of empty shops and those still functioning are down market, charity shops or tattoo artists.

Around the town are remnants of the industrial history. Plaques show the bringing of the railway to Clay Cross, the industrialisation of the town, information on the disaster from a local coal pit. I doubt that many locals even pass a nod towards these signs but to the visitor they might prove interesting. So what do we have in Clay Cross . A tunnel beneath the town. This is an impressive 1,784-yard (1,631 m) in length. The tunnel begins at the former Derbyshire summit of the line, also the highest point of the whole line, just after the old long since closed by Beeching Stretton railway station . Completed in 1839 it has ventilation shafts in Market Street and scattered through the town. The tunnel lies 150 feet below ground. The tunnel ost £140,000 when built a huge amount of money and 15 lives were lost during the building of the tunnel. The portal of the tunnel is Moorish in design and oddly is grade 2 listed building.

Clay Cross also has another claim to fame . 40 years ago it became the centre of attention because of the Clay Cross Rent Rebellion. Following the surprise 1970 General Election victory of the Conservatives Ted Heath replaced Harold Wilson as Prime Minister. At the time Clay Cross was and still is politically a Labour stronghold. Although I never lived here in the 1970's Clay Cross reminds me of my home in Wales, Staunchly Labour, most of our village worked in the local mine and there was rampant unemployment after the pits and the steelworks closed. We all read the Daily Herald and were members of the Labour party. Apparently at the time there was much council house building and in Clay Cross many of the councillors who were Labour supporters lived in those houses and felt a close affinity with the electorate on whom they depended to get them back into council jobs and into parliament . The catalyst for the rent riot was the Housing Finance Act which received its assent in the summer of 1972. There was going to be trouble ahead . No doubt about that. Reduction to subsidies on rents was going to end which meant that householders had to pay more for their accomodation. Council rents would incread in October 1972 by £1 a week. If the council refused to implement this then the Housing Commissioner woudl be sent in to the Cross to operate the act . The councillors took the step to stand their ground and refused to implement the act. Clay Cross by 1973 was one of three councils still refusing to implement the act. Eventually Clay Cross was the only council still holding out. Eventually Clay Cross gave in but the bill for the debacle fell upon the rate payers particularly the home owners whose rates shot up to cover the shortfall.

A walk round Clay Cross shows a fascinating history based around heavy industry and industrial dispute . The coal mines and industry long gone but it has a legacy firmly rooted in the past . Sometimes it is interesting to walk amongst the dark satanic mills type of industrial landscape . Britain has so much of this all over the country and I enjoyed my walk around the town looking back at some of its history.


3rd August 2015

Have you thought of other crossings...
to Cherbourg or all the way to Santander?
3rd August 2015

Hi Bob , Glenn hates the sea and isnt keen on travelling by boat unless absolutely necessary. The cost is high compared to the tunnel and at the moment we are in a catch 22. We cannot get a refund on our tickets through Eurotunnel. We can move the booking to next year but I don't know what dates I will get off holiday at work yet and wont know until the new year when it will be too late. The cost is high for the boat and it is getting increasingly difficult to find spaces as many are cancelling their train to go by boat . I hope that by the time we go it will be sorted. The thing I don't get is if I went to the tunnel fence ripped it down I would be carted off by the gendarmerie and put in prison , fined and refused access again to France . If I did it twice they would throw away the key. What we seem to have got here are some true refugees and some others who clearly are not. They seem to be getting away with almost murder on a daily basis and everyone is too frightened to go in and sort it . The EU seems toothless to sort it. We are quite happy here to take refugees and have done for years but this has become a joke. I think next year we will try something different. Great news on the family. You must be a proud father and grand dad .

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