The History of Bakewell
Bakewell appears to have been founded by the Saxons , the very name of Saxon origin and meaning the well belonging to a person called Baedeca. What is now a quiet little market town may have had rather greater importance when it was part of the kingdom of Mercia in the Saxon era: the church was founded in about 920, a little after the Viking ruler of York Raegnald at least in theory submitted to Saxon King Edward the Elder in Bakewell, and the place merits mention in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle of 924 which noted the fort erected there according to the aforementioned Edward’s orders.
Though written knowledge of the town really begins in the 10th century, remains in the churchyard indicate earlier occupation. Two Saxon crosses found there, the Beeley Cross thought to be 9th century, and the Bakewell cross which may date back to the 7th century, evidence this.
We glean a further sign of Bakewell’s importance from its entry in the Domesday Book of 1086: it had not one but two priests.
During the 12th and 13th centuries All Saints’ Church was rebuilt, and the town would seem to have flourished then as in 1254 it was granted the right to a weekly market; and two fairs were held there, drawing merchants from far afield.
The most prominent symbol of Bakewell’s prosperity in the Middle Ages is the five-arch bridge built in the 13th century, which still stands as a reminder of those times. Is it too fanciful to see the rather less imposing packhorse bridge constructed in 1664 a little out of the centre as showing a decline in the settlement’s economic significance by that date?
In 1697 the Duke of Rutland, a great landowner in the area, attempted to open a new chapter in Bakewell’s history, using the warm chalybeate springs to feed a bath house, with the intention of making Bakewell a rival to Buxton . Whether the relatively colder water at Bakewell made the place less attractive as a resort, or Buxton’s attractions were too powerful, Bakewell never became a major spa.
The town did benefit from another economic stimulus a century later, when in 1777 Richard Arkwright built Lumford Mill there, using water-power from the River Wye. The cotton-spinning mill strangely had to bring in workers from Lancashire , either through local indifference to the sort of work offered, or possibly because of the influence of The Dukes of Rutland and Devonshire, both opposed to it – it spoiled the latter’s fishing among other things. Arkwright ended up in court for trespass because of his unauthorised mineral extraction and his civil engineering works locally.
In 1779, just after Lumford Mill was erected Bakewell saw one of its few historical dramas, a riot erupting over the perceived injustice of militia call-up papers affecting too many men in the district. The rioters stormed a magistrates’ meeting, and some went on to loot businesses. Six of their number were subsequently imprisoned.
Bakewell was no Bath , but Jane Austen was very taken with it during a visit in 1811, and legend has it this informs scenes in Pride and Prejudice.
In 1859 or 1860 another event related to the town’s attractiveness to tourists is said to have occurred, though there is good reason to doubt the story that Bakewell pudding was invented thanks to a happy accident at the Rutland Arms – food historians believe the dish had been made for centuries by then.
Tourism was further facilitated with the arrival of the railway in 1863. The railway has since closed, but the town remains a major tourist destination, the only town within the Peak District National Park opened in 1951, and the administrative centre for that park.