Alport – peaceful and clean Derbyshire village with a toxic history.
Situated close to Youlgrave, this former lead mining village was once highly polluted as it was an important lead mining center in the Peak District.
Most of Alport village is tucked away out of sight of the traffic between the A6 and Youlgrave. So, since 19th century writer James Croston described Alport as a ‘hidden gem’ in 1868, nothing much has changed. The village is part of the Haddon estate which is probably why it has stayed pretty much the same over the last century and a half.
Alport is one of three such named places in Derbyshire, the others being Alport Heights between Wirksworth and Ambergate, and Alport Moor in the High Peak – which is also the source of the River Alport. What connects the three Alports and is responsible for the place name, is the ancient track known as the Portway. This ancient way pre-dates the Roman occupation and runs roughly south-east to north-west through the county. The Anglo-Saxons called it ‘Port-weg’ – ‘port’ meaning a market town, so the Portway was ‘the road to the market’. Sections of it were used by pack-horse teams right up to the end of the eighteenth century, and Alport (Auld-Port) was a significant staging post along this ancient trading route. The old pack horse bridge marks part of the original route of the Portway.
The village lies at the confluence of the rivers Lathkill and Bradford and that is perhaps the reason for its existence. Water power was a requirement for most early industry and there was a corn mill recorded at Alport in the 12th century.
From the 17th to late 19th centuries, Alport was a very different place to today. For a period of nigh on 300 years, this area was an important lead mining centre. The Alport Mining Company used no less than 6 water pressure engines (as invented by the great engineer Richard Trevithick) to prevent flooding in its mines. Today this clean and peaceful village is very different to how it was in the 19th century. The Cupola lead smelting works that was operating at that time produced large volumes of unfiltered toxic gases and other pollution. Cupolas superseded the original bole hill type of smelters in the 16th and 17th centuries. They had well developed flue systems leading to their chimneys. In the flues, lead condensed from the waste gases and could be collected by hand, maximising the output from the smelter. A grim job indeed and possibly more dangerous than the lead mining! The Alport Cupola is reputed to have been one of the best developed flue systems in the Peak District. Lead mining ceased in the area in the mid 1800s and smelting followed suite in the 1890s.
Traces of Alport’s heritage remain as testimony to its industrial past; the magnificent 18th century corn mill, which featured in the film version of DH Lawrence’s ‘The Virgin & the Gypsy’, still stands in its beautiful setting on the east bank of the river by the weir. Also on this side are ‘Bank House’ and the pretty ‘Brook Cottage’. Close by, relics of the lead-smelter still survive, though the crumbling chimneys flues are overgrown with dense vegetation.
If you are a walker and wish to follow one of the footpaths from Alport, there is a little parking on the Youlgrave road in two roughly surfaced bays either side. Please park sensibly. From the Bridge, you can take the footpath north and explore Lathkill Dale. From the other side of the bridge, the track takes you up Bradford Dale, bringing you out at Youlgrave.
The village’s oldest dwelling is the ancient twin-gabled ‘Monks Hall’, with east and west wings and a central pediment.