Thornbridge Outdoors is an outdoor education centre set in the most stunning Peak District location. From this spectacular spot they’ve been promoting the benefits of outdoor adventures for nearly 50 years. In this article they tell us the history of their beautiful building and its unusual link to what is now the Monsal Trail.
“Visitors to Thornbridge Outdoors, as they arrive up our driveway and pass under the grand archway where our reception is housed, may wonder as to the history of this peculiar place.
Well, it all starts in the 12th Century, when Thornbridge Hall (over the road from us) first came to be. Back in time, our side of the road was nothing more than grounds for this great Hall. In the year of 1896, that’s when we join the picture…
How old is the big archway building, really?
Back in 1896, George Marples bought Thornbridge Hall. He would go on to live there for the next 30 years. Over that time, as well as making significant modifications and enlargements to the house, he built gatehouses and glasshouses, water gardens and a stable block, and he installed central heating and electricity throughout.
One other thing that George Marples did was to build his very own private waiting rooms for the local railway station. These are the archway and adjoining buildings that you see today at the top of our driveway.
The buildings provided waiting rooms for Marples and his guests, recreation facilities for his servants, and the end two cottages housed some of his staff too. The driveway leading up to our archway continues directly across the road to Thornbridge Hall – funny, eh?
George Marples’ coat of arms can still be seen today; it is carved in stone over the archway. You can also still see tying rings for the carriage horses underneath and an ‘M’ for Marples on the chimney stacks.
When you pass beneath the archway today, a gate directly before you leads down onto the Monsal Trail, a leisurely walking route that passes between Bakewell and Buxton. In times gone by though, this was no walkers’ trail! It was the route of the Midland Railway Line and you would have been stepping down onto a train platform, in fact, for the station there at Great Longstone.
And what about the funny round house?
Visitors to Thornbridge Outdoors may also have wondered about our Farm House building, with its peculiar round house, ornate fireplaces, and gun cabinet at the bottom of the stairs (don’t worry – it’s empty nowadays!).
The Farm House was in fact built by (… you guessed it!) George Marples, to house his gamekeeper who travelled down from Scotland to Derbyshire with Marples at the time when he acquired the Hall. Dog kennels and pheasant hatcheries would once have been attached to its round house. Interestingly, there is a replica of the Farm House’s roundhouse as a dovecote in the grounds of the Riverside Hotel near to us in Ashford-in-the-Water, where Marples’ lady friend Dorothy Green lived. Later his fiancée, he would go on to leave her his estate on his death in 1929.
The Hall was then bought by Charles Boot, an entrepreneur who built several estates in Sheffield, many with local Derbyshire names. Boot’s contributions to the Hall and the gardens include fireplaces, chandeliers, columns and statuary, most of which were bought from stately homes soon to be demolished, such as Derwent Hall (which is now beneath Ladybower Reservoir), Harlaxton Hall, Clumber, and from Pinewood Studios, where Boot was a director.
Into the present day
In 1945, following Boot’s death, Sheffield City Council bought Thornbridge Hall for £25,000 with the intention of setting up a new teacher training college for women. Building alterations commenced in order to put this into effect and three redbrick classroom blocks were put up on the site of old farm buildings, as part of the UK government’s ‘HORSA’ initiative – that’s the ‘Hutting Operation for the Raising of the School-Leaving Age’. Though these huts were meant to be temporary with an expected lifespan of only ten years, ours are still standing!
The first 60 student teachers began their studies in 1948, and the Lodge was built in 1965 as an addition to the buildings on-site, in order to provide much needed extra space as student numbers increased to a peak in 1968/69 with 24 academic staff and 240 students.
Since 1975, still owned by Sheffield City Council, our site has once again transformed itself to become an outdoor learning centre, providing residential experiences for the school children of Sheffield. The Lodge and the Farm House have been converted into accommodation buildings, and the science room has been converted into a kitchen and dining room for campers to use, when they pitch up their tents or stay overnight in our teepee village.
But whatever became of the Hall?
In 1997, Sheffield City Council sold the Hall and gardens over the road, so our centre now exists apart from those. You can still visit though – Thornbridge Hall is surrounded by a vision of ‘1,000 shades of green’. The formal gardens still encapsulate their late 19th Century design; they’re an impressive example of Victorian drive, engineering and determination to manipulate the landscape into a pleasant garden scene. If our guests are interested in taking a look, they can pop over the road to catch the gardens on an Open Day during their stay.
Bringing outdoor adventures to all
As for us here at Thornbridge Outdoors it’s our belief that the power of the outdoors can transform lives. Less in a formal gardens kind of way though, and more in the spirit of adventure. During the week we host residentials and day visits for schools in and around Sheffield, affording young people an opportunity to access high quality outdoor experiences, which will inspire their learning, discovery and development. Widening the horizons of young people through real outdoor adventures in the Peak District.
It’s our pleasure to open up our centre over the weekends to enable guests from afar to come and stay, utilising our excellent site and fantastic location, in order to enjoy a true special adventure while they visit the Peak District.