Castleton - History
The village of Castleton has a long and captivating history, dating right back to before the place was even named. It is a fascinating story that not only reveals a great deal about the heritage and tradition of Castleton, but also goes a long way to explaining when the area’s great landmarks were first built and the circumstances in which they were built, how they came to pass and why they have such an enduring quality that means to this day Castleton still attracts such great interest amongst tourists.
The village of Castleton was laid out in a grid pattern at the base of the slopes that surround it. From approximately the 1100’s, Castleton was the centre of the Royal Forest of the Peak, becoming a market town around 100 years later. It was also part of the packhorse route that transported salt from Cheshire to Sheffield.
The surroundings of the village of Castleton are dominated by the commanding presence of ruins belonging to an ancient rooftop fortress, but it is actually the subterranean arrangement of caverns and mines which has drawn people to the area for hundreds and hundreds of years, and the tale of how modern Castleton evolved is important in order to fully appreciate both its beauty and significance.
There is evidence to suggest that before it became known as Castleton, the land was home to settlers from the Ice Age, as traces of Ice Age mammoths have been discovered in the magnificent caves of the village, though it is difficult to ascertain to what extent this occurred.
The earliest, historically recorded settlers were actually the Celts during the Iron Age, who built an imposing fort at the top of Mam Tor, which is also known locally as the shivering mountain. To this day, the remains of a Celtic hill fort are situated on the summit of Mam Tor, a huge enclosure nearly 16 acres vast, standing at an altitude of 17,000ft, towering above Castleton.
Although the Celts were the first to leave structural evidence of their period at Castleton, it is widely believed that the there was also settlement in approximately 1400 BC during the Bronze Age. Even earlier traces of Stone Age man have also been discovered in some caves on Treak Cliff, which is less than a mile from the centre of Castleton village. Despite this, it was the settlement of the Celts that began the evolution of Castleton.
But the Celts were eventually expatriated by the Romans, who, no doubt aware of the rich lead mines, immediately transformed Castleton into a mining area. Due to the vast amounts of lead available, Castleton quickly became a prosperous area, with Odin Mine in particular a great source of lead. Odin Mine is the oldest documented mine in Castleton and is thought to be one of the oldest lead mines in England, its worth meaning it was subsequently worked by the Danes and the Saxons as it Castleton continued to prosper from its goods. Odin Mine is still a prevalent at Castleton today.
The sustained commitment to mining in Castleton throughout the ages resulted in the enlargement - and in some cases, creation - of mines and other underground caverns, leading to the formation of, amongst others, the four celebrated ‘show caves’ in Castleton. Peak Cavern, Blue John Cavern, Speedwell Cavern and Treak Cliff Cavern were all formed as a result of the mining culture, with later medieval tinkers and generations of rope makers setting up their homes in the yawning mouth of Peak Cavern (now renamed the Devil’s Arse). The four show caves remain extremely popular tourist attractions in Castleton.
However, the Castleton village that is recognisable in modern times only truly began to come into fruition in the 11th century during the Norman period. Whilst continuing with the mining traditions that had been serving Castleton so well, the Norman settlers were to leave their distinctive mark on the village for generations to come.
After the infamous Battle of Hastings in 1066, William the Conqueror began to build castles the length and breadth of the country and eventually had one built in Castleton for his (allegedly illegitimate) son, William Peveril, in 1080. The castle was named Peveril Castle, the name Castleton was derived and the castle quickly became central to the Castleton’s outlook.
Peveril Castle was built for the purpose of overseeing the King’s Royal Forest of the Peak, and although very little of that forest now remains, the castle is still a prominent fixture of the village of Castleton. It was initially made out of wood, but was re-built out of stone in 1175, with a Keep added just a year later. The castle has a distinctive Norman arch across the Nave, which was constructed between 1190 and 1250. The tower was added later, believed to have been built between 1450 and 1500. Further additions were made during the 19th century, preserving the castle’s body and allowing it to become a much admired historical document that maintains the interest of the Castleton tourists.
The Norman’s also constructed other landmarks that are still Castleton tourist attractions. Other signs of the Norman era include the original structure for St. Edmund’s Church, built approximately around the same time Peveril Castle was re-built. Across the main road by the Bull's Head Inn you can see a section of the Town Ditch, a defensive earthwork built around Castleton. This was once a feature of many of the villages of the region.
Since the Norman era finished, Castleton has continued to develop. Castleton Hall, which is now used as a Youth Hostel, was originally a considerable 17th century house, whereas a series of pubs still open today, including the Castle Hotel, were also built in the 1600’s.