The Peak District: A Cultural History by John Bull is unlike most other books about the Peak District. It focuses on the cultural history and explores the two landscapes of the Dark and White Peak. The Peak District attract millions of visitors each year, most are drawn to the areas spectacular landscapes to the wide open spaces for rambling and other outdoor activities. The Peak District also has a rich cultural history, and in this sense John Bull’s new book differs from conventional guides in exploring its literary as well as its social and political heritage.
How long did the book take to write considering all the research involved?
It took about eighteen months – but I started from a base of knowing the Peak pretty well, having lived there for thirty years.
What made you decide to write a book about the Peak District now?
There are plenty of books about the ecology and geology of the Peak but not many about its history, especially cultural history. I wanted to show that from this point of view the Peak is as interesting as other, better-known areas, such as the Lake District.
Can you describe what it is you love about the area?
It’s in places as wild and remote as anywhere in Britain but in easy travel of several conurbations. For them it is a vital ‘breathing space’.
You worked for the National Park Authority – what did this entail?
I was a Member of the Authority, as a lay person tasked with conserving the landscape for its natural beauty and distinctive wildlife but also with promoting it as an area for recreation and enjoyment.
When researching for the book did you find any myths that you particularly enjoyed?
The stories about Lud’s Church, the strange rock chasm in the Cheshire Peak.
What can first-time tourists expect?
A hugely varied landscape, villages and towns with distinctive stone-built architecture, some ‘great houses’ such as Chatsworth and also some traces of the industrial past.
There is a lot of history concerning the Peaks, what interested you the most?
What is little known is the history of the Wye valley mills and their treatment of the orphans who were employed there.
Buxton and Bath were rival ‘spas’ in the 18th Century. Why do you think Bath managed to beat off its competition?
Climate and poor accessibility, plus the lower temperature of the Buxton warm spring.
Buxton’s bottled water is now known worldwide, how did this come to be?
It was taken for health reasons from at least the Tudor period but after the Spa went into decline in the twentieth century a determined marketing operation by a globally known company established the water as a powerful brand. You can still fill up for free though from St Ann’s Well!
Access to the peaks has always been an issue. Was there a particular event that changed this?
Most people think that The 1932 Mass Trespass on Kinder was the turning point – others think it actually set the cause back. But in any case it was only one step in a laborious process which began early in the nineteenth century and ended in 2000 with the Countryside and Rights of Way Act which established access areas all over the country. However we have many campaigners to thank for this progress, not least the National Park Authority which negotiated many access areas with landowners, well before 2000.
The culture appears so different in the District (especially Royal Shrovetide!), what was your favourite custom whilst living there?
I lived in Hayfield and enjoyed their May Queen Festival – although a revival in the 1930s it goes right back to the May Fairs of previous centuries.
Can we expect another book from you soon?
I’d like to write something about Manchester in the Inner Cities series – a city that at one time led the world and has a fascinating cultural history.
John Bull’s The Peak District can be bought from Amazon