Stoney Middleton is an interesting and pretty village, much of which might be missed by those who drive swiftly through it on the A623. Those who take the time to detour away from the main road with its dark, overhanging cliffs will be rewarded with a wealth of beautiful buildings, little lanes lined with stone cottages, a very unusual octagonal church, and even a little brook running through the streets.
Stoney Middleton has a long history, and it is thought likely to be a Roman settlement. The origins of the name date back to Saxo-Norman times, literally meaning ‘stony middle farm’. A semi-circular earth platform known as Castle Hill overlooks the village, although there is little archaeological evidence to identify the exact nature of the structure. Stoney Middleton is mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086 as being an area where the King had land. In the centre of the village is a building known locally as the Roman Baths, although this is in fact a 19th Century bath house built over a hot spring.
In the 17th Century the residents of Stoney Middleton were instrumental in helping their neighbours in the village of Eyam, which was affected by the Great Plague in 1665-1666. The villagers of Eyam relied on those in Stoney Middleton to bring them food and essential supplies every day, in exchange for money soaked in vinegar left at the Boundary Stone between the two villages.
In the 15th Century a stone chapel was constructed at the crossroads of tracks between Stoney Middleton, Eyam and Grindleford. The tower still survives and is now part of St Martin’s Church. The church has a very unusual octagonal nave dating back to 1759, the oldest of only two in Britain.
In the centre of the village is the beautiful Middleton Hall, a private 17th Century manor house. This was once the home of Thomas Denman, Britain’s Lord Chief Justice in 1832. Thomas Denman built the Bath House opposite, taking advantage of the natural thermal springs that rise there, heating the water to a constant 18 degrees Celsius. The Bath House provided two baths – one for ladies and one for gentleman – separated by a wall. Each bath measures 3m x 4m and is 1.5m deep. The waters were believed to have healing powers.
Another notable building in Stoney Middleton, also octagonal, is the small toll house on the main road, currently used as a fish and a chip shop – the only Grade II listed fish and chip shop in Britain! The toll house was constructed to collect tolls on the road that was blasted through the rock of Middleton Dale in 1830, now the A623.
Stoney Middleton today has a number of eateries and a wonderful pub, The Moon Inn, which serves great food, local ales and welcomes walkers. The Moon Inn is reputedly haunted by the ghost of a local pedlar who was murdered after reporting fellow unlicensed traders. It was once featured on the TV series Most Haunted.
Industry and Recreation
The area around Stoney Middleton is riddled with old quarries and mines, and this part of the Peak District has been renowned for its lead and mineral mining since Roman times. Quarrying and mining were once the main sources of industry for the village.
A handful of the quarries are still operational, although the dramatic limestone crags that overlook the village are now mostly used for more enjoyable leisure pursuits, and are popular with rock climbers, cavers, walkers and bird watchers. Stoney Middleton is well known for the quality of its rock climbing, and in the 1960s and 1970s it was famed for having some of the most challenging climbs in the world, and in the past attracted such climbing greats as Chris Bonington, mountaineer and conqueror of Everest.
Just outside the village is Coombs Dale, a beautiful limestone valley, now designated a Special Area of Conservation. This 230 acre site contains a range of nationally important wildlife habitats, and is home to numerous species of rare flowers, butterflies and birds.