Dad was an innate teacher and story teller. He loved to teach us the history of England through stories. We would do plays to retell important events in history. My favourite was General Wolf retaking Quebec in Canada in 1759. I loved the bit about “muffling the oars” to sail up the river and win the day. Perhaps not quite how it went but the essence of the story worked out.
We are in Derby now to look at the hero of another of these plays. It is only a few months ago that we learned that this character was actually a real person. We believed dad had invented Mr. Arkwright in his play about industrialisation. So we are in Derby to look at where Mr. Arkwright built his fortune at the start of the industrial revolution.
We began our visit looking at the mining industry here in Derby. On a wet rainy day we visited the Heights of Abraham in Matlock Bath.
Lead mining began here with the Romans. It finished about 200 years ago when lead became cheaper from other deposits. About 200 years ago the tourist industry took over. Wealthy folk from London could now catch a train north to Derby and enjoy the local spa towns. They could also visit displays of how mining works. This display began at the Heights of Abraham all that time ago.
Back then tourism was not easy. You explored the caves with a candle that you bought from the tour guide. When it went out of course you had to buy another one… more expensive than the first. But the tourists flocked here and it became a brand new industry.
Today the Heights of Abraham is a wonderful place to explore. There are 2 mines to visit and guides to explain the details of the industry. Children could not work the mines, till they were six. Mining was a whole of family affair.
I asked the guide about life expectancy of the miners. Records show that the men below ground had amazing life expectancy. The tough work made them strong and fit. Many men lived into their 90s. The women worked above ground. They extracted the lead and they died young. Often in their 30s.
Cavers, who our guides assure us are totally mad love this area too. They will occasionally appear in the middle of a tour… on the wrong side of the fence, underground. We saw some cavers emerge from a hole as we drove away from the town. I don't ever wanna be that filthy.
So if you are ever Derby way… this is an interesting corner to visit. But as has been the case so so often in our visit to our birth land. There was another surprise to discover.
Here we are in the middle of the UK. Derby is the most central city in UK. And we are exploring the Heights of Abraham. Why would a tourist attraction that began in 1787 be called the Heights of Abraham?
And so we discovered the reason. The Simpson family developed tourism here. They wanted the resort to remember a hero of old man Simpson. And that hero was:
Yes the General Wolf who stormed the mountain in Quebec in 1759.
The General Wolf who was the hero in my favourite childhood play.
The General Wolf who won the battle on the Plains of Abraham.
The name enshrines that battle for all time.
How can 2 plays, done by a little family in Middlesborough in the early 1960s, come together and startle those children, now in their 60s?
The world turns in weird ways.
Ahhh but the ways of the world were not finished. In 1962 a cousin of mine gave me a children’s science encyclopaedia. I remember it to this day. The first page of this encyclopaedia showed a Palaeontologist uncovering the bones of an underwater monster. This was an Ichthyosaurus. I stepped into the final room of the Heights of Abraham to find the Ichthyosaurus bones laid out just as I remember them from my cousin’s book.
The cousin I will meet tomorrow.
The cousin I last saw in 1965.
What a world!