Unsurprisingly for such a picturesque area of Britain, there are lots of literary places to visit in Derbyshire. This largely rural county in the heart of England is full of atmospheric landscapes ranging from brooding moorlands to sweeping country estates, many of which sit within the Peak District National Park.
We’ve listed some of the most famous authors who’ve been inspired by this dramatic area, as well as popular locations which have been used as film sets for movie adaptations of classic novels. We don’t mind admitting that we’re completely biased when we recommend a bookish trip to our beautiful and haunting part of Britain.
All photos taken by and copyright of The Book Family Rogerson unless credited otherwise.
Chatsworth House, owned by the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, is one of the most striking stately homes in the UK. It has had many literary visitors over the years, but is perhaps most closely associated with Mr Darcy’s estate, Pemberley, in Jane Austen’s classic book – Pride and Prejudice.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
In reality there’s no concrete evidence that Jane Austen ever visited Chatsworth although she would’ve most likely been aware of its appearance via engravings and paintings. This hasn’t stopped film directors using it as a template for Pemberley though. The 2005 movie adaptation of Price and Prejudice starring Kiera Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen was shot here as was the TV series Death Comes to Pemberley in 2013.
Deborah Mitford and Patrick Leigh Fermor
Past duchesses of Chatsworth have also enjoyed their time in the literary limelight. The late dowager duchess of Devonshire, Deborah or Debo, was one of the Mitford sisters and wrote a number of non-fiction books. One of her favourite house guests was the acclaimed travel writer, Patrick Leigh Fermor. If you enjoy a cheeky peep into the lives of the upper classes, I highly recommend reading their collection of letters to one another In Tearing Haste: Letters between Deborah Devonshire and Patrick Leigh Fermor.
Georgiana Cavendish (The Duchess)
Georgiana Cavendish (nee Spencer) was another spirited ancestor who courted infamy as an author, activist and style icon during the 1700s. Another Kiera Knightley film, The Duchess, was based upon her life and this feminist rebel has also inspired a book and an opera.
Chatsworth House Information
Chatsworth house, garden, farmyard and car parks are open but must be pre-booked online. Same day tickets are available. The estate has a number of restaurants, cafes and kiosks where you can order food and drink.
The spiritual home of Jane Eyre, Hathersage is one of the most atmospheric literary places to visit in Derbyshire. Nestled in a valley, the village is close to Stanage Edge, a spectacular ridge that overlooks the Peak District National Park.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
Charlotte Brontë visited Hathersage in 1845 and stayed with her childhood friend, Ellen Nussey. While there, she was so fired up by the dramatic local landscape that she included the scenery and landmarks in her classic novel. Perhaps the most striking of these is North Lees Hall which provided the model for Mr Rochester’s Thornfield Hall.
The best way to see all the sights is to follow the Jane Eyre Trail which we wrote about in detail on this blog. It’s an absolutely brilliant walk and a perfect way to see the sights of the Peak District. Again, you might also recognise some of the locations from the 2005 Pride and Prejudice movie.
The outlaw Robin Hood
Unexpectedly, the outlaw Robin Hood of Loxley also stakes a claim to Hathersage even though Sherwood Forest is miles away in Nottinghamshire. Not only can Loxley village can be found nearby (on the edge of Sheffield), but it is also said that Little John, Robin Hood’s giant right-hand man is buried in the graveyard of Saint Michael’s Church, Hathersage. You can see his 8 ft (2.44 metres) long grave today.
You can find car parks and varied dining options in Hathersage, but the village gets busy during holidays and weekends. We recommend arriving early to find a parking space and if you are planning to eat out then book ahead.
Wirksworth is slightly off the tourist trail but this historic town has a rich industrial heritage and although not obvious, is one of the influencial literary places to visit in Derbyshire. If you visit, you’ll notice that many local businesses are named Adam Bede as it’s thought that George Eliot was inspired to write the novel after staying in the town.
The George Eliot Connection
It is said that George Eliot created Snowfield (the town in the novel Adam Bede) after visiting her aunt and uncle, Samuel and Elizabeth Evans who lived in Wirksworth. Many believe that the character Dinah Morris was based on her aunt. Richard Arkwright’s Haarlem Mill is reputed to be the location in the The Mill on the Floss.
The novelist, D.H. Lawrence lived with his wife Frieda in Middleton-by-Wirksworth in the winter of 1918–19. He wrote the short story A Wintry Peacock during his stay.
Wirksworth is easy to reach from Derby, Ashbourne and Nottingham and has good transport links. The Wirksworth Heritage Centre, although closed at present, is a great resource for a visit to the town.
This beautiful medieval manor house dates back to the 11th century and is situated in the heart of the Peak District. As far as we know, it hasn’t given birth to any novels but it has provided the setting for lots of movie adaptations. Although not as well known as it’s much larger neighbour Chatsworth House, audiences all over the world will have most probably seen images of Haddon Hall without realising.
Literary Classics Filmed at Haddon Hall
Here are just a few films of classic novels that have been shot at Haddon Hall.
- 1986 The Princess Bride featuring Cary Elwes and Mandy Patinkin
- Jane Eyre directed by Franco Zefferelli; featuring Charlotte Gainsbourg and William Hurt
- 1998 Elizabeth featuring Cate Blanchett, Geoffrey Rush and Joseph Fiennes
- 2006 The Other Boleyn Girl featuring Scarlett Johansson and Natalie Portman
- 2010 Jane Eyre featuring Dame Judi Dench, Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender, directed by Cary Fukunaga
- 2018 Mary Queen of Scots featuring Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie
- 2019 The King featuring Timothée Chalamet, Robert Pattinson, Joel Edgerton
Haddon Hall is usually open to the public but is temporarily closed due to Covid-19. Keep an eye on their website for special opening times. This gorgeous family home is straight out of a fairytale and worth seeing if you’re in Derbyshire.
I grew up at the foot of a hill near to this ruined manor house which you can see fleetingly as you travel on the Alfreton to Chesterfield train route. Construction of Wingfield Manor began in 1441 for Sir Ralph Cromwell, and was later bought by John Talbot, the second Earl of Shrewsbury. This crumbling pile has appeared in two classic novels.
Wingfield Manor Image copyright English Heritage
Alison Uttley – A Traveller in Time
Alison Uttley based her children’s book, A Traveller in Time at the manor. This supernatural story transports a young girl, Penelope, back to the Babington Plot of 1586 when local landowner Anthony Babington tried to free Mary, Queen of Scots from imprisonment in the manor. The stories of the plot have been embellished over the years (including a legend that escape tunnels still run under the hill – I used to look for them!) but it is true that Mary, Queen of Scots was incarcerated here in 1569, 1584 and 1585. Babington was also executed for committing treason against Elizabeth I so Uttley’s reworking has a solid basis in history.
D.H. Lawrence – Sons and Lovers
D.H. Lawrence also loved this spot and writes about a visit to Wingfield Manor in his novel Sons and Lovers. I often wondered if he included the lane that we lived on in the book.
It was past midday when they climbed the steep path to the manor. All things shone softly in the sun, which was wonderfully warm and enlivening. Celandines and violets were out. Everybody was tip-top full with happiness. The glitter of the ivy, the soft, atmospheric grey of the castle walls, the gentleness of everything near the ruin, was perfect.
Wingfield Manor Information
Nowadays the manor is conserved by English Heritage but it’s rarely open to the public as the farming family who live among ruins are very private (I’ve visited once and remember the crypt vividly). Occasionally there are guided tours so keep checking the official page. This is top of my Derbyshire literary wishlist.
Other Literary Destinations to Visit in Derbyshire
I’ve listed the main literary destinations above, but as you can imagine, there are lots more bookish locations to see in Derbyshire. Here are some of the other spots to look out for if you’re visiting the area:
The village of Eyam is famous for quarantining when the plague struck the inhabitants 1665-1666 in order to restrict the spread to the local area. The numbers are still under dispute, but it’s thought that 260 villagers died during lockdown. Today this pretty Peak District location is a much-visited destination for people wanting to find out more about its brave and macabre history.
The village has also inspired authors to write about Eyan’s dark past. The most famous title is possibly Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks, a literary historical novel which follows the tale of healer, Anna Frith as she takes on role of both saviour and witch. Other books include The Kill Call by Stephen Booth, The Kiss of Death by Malcolm Rose and A Parcel of Patterns by Jill Paton Walsh (the last two are middle-grade).
Blink and you’ll miss the passage, but in Frankenstein by Mary Shelley Dr Frankenstein visits Matlock Bath (named Matlock) on his way to Scotland.
‘We left Oxford with regret, and proceeded to Matlock, which was our next place of rest. The country in the neighbourhood of this village resembled, to a greater degree, the Scenery of Switzerland; but every thing is on a lower scale, and the green hills want the crown of distant white Alps, which always attends on the piny mountains of my native country. We visited the wondrous cave, and the cabinets of natural history, where the curiosities are disposed in the same manner as in the collections at Servox and Chamounix.’
Lord Byron and John Ruskin also spent time in this spa town known as Little Switzerland. It’s still as picturesque today but can get very busy during peak times.
Darley Dale (near Matlock)
Richmal Crompton wrote the children’s book series featuring William, a mischievious 11 year old, over a period of four decades. The series includes 39 titles and has been adapted for the screen many times. Crompton attended St Elphin’s School in the early 1900s and later taught there. The school is now a retirement complex and you can see the building (an ex spa resort) on the A6 stretch between Matlock and Bakewell.
Before Covid-19 struck, it was possible to book a table in The Orangery restaurant and have a look at the impressive main hallway but the building is closed to the public at the moment.
Vera Brittain, author of Testament of Youth, spent some of her early days in Buxton but hated it! The town doesn’t bear a grudge though and has displayed a plaque outside her former house. Brittain’s daughter and ex-MP Shirley Williams is also a supporter of Buxton International Festival, an annual arts festival celebrating opera, music and books.
Living Authors and Poets inspired by Derbyshire Landscapes
Current authors and poets who’ve been inspired by Derbyshire and the Peak District include:
- Berlie Doherty
- Jon McGregor
- Stephen Booth
- Sarah Ward (and Rhiannon Ward)
- Helen Mort
- Sophie Draper
- Hilary Mantel
Many of these are crime writers which makes you wonder what secrets are hiding in the area!
If you enjoyed this post, you might also like these other blog posts:
- A Guide to Beautiful Bookshops in the Peak District
- Lud’s Church Walk: A Peak District Secret
- Walking the Jane Eyre Trail