I should have been prepared for it. The bus journey to the start of our walk had given us plenty of warning. Weaving through the steep-sided Matlock Bath, we could make out big new houses being constructed on the surrounding hilltops so that rich folks could look out onto the Peak District and down on the strange old resort village.
To be honest, it is easy to look down on Matlock Bath – thanks to a comment by Byron, it was once known as ‘little Switzerland’ and was later dubbed ‘the Venice of the North’, when in reality it is more like the Paignton of the North on a rainy out-of-season weekday when most everything is shut – but at least I feel no urge to transmute my metaphorical disdain into architectural form. (Technically, this is the moral high ground, but it is not very high at all. Or particularly moral.)
It was only when we got onto the open moorland that it became clear how far this gentrification had advanced. Everywhere you look, noble dignified proletarian grasses and ferns and gorse are being swept away by a tide of purple sprouting broccoli, advancing inexorably like the Martian red weed.
Our long looping walk brought us onto the Chatsworth estate, home to the Dukes of Devonshire. In the 18th century, the 4th Duke reoriented the house and decided he wanted a clear prospect – to provide a startling first view of the house for approaching visitors, and to give himself a nice view of the grounds. In order to achieve this, he demolished the village of Edensor, where estate workers and others lived, and relocated them to a newly built village hidden from his view.
There are several striking things about his new Edensor. First, it is dominated by the Estate’s massive church – just to remind the residents who exactly is in charge. Just because they are out of his sight now, they have not escaped his power.
Second, no two buildings are alike. The Duke is said to have gone through a book of architectural pictures and picked out the ones he liked. The buildings are all rather sturdy and may well have been a significant improvement in some respects for the workers who moved into them.
I really wanted to hate the place, but it is so fucking picturesque that at first it is quite difficult.
But the picturesqueness is part of the reason to be really angry at this obscene display of wealth. Fucking furious at the arrogance of the man.
It is not just the social cleansing – people seeing their homes demolished and being forcibly relocated just so someone could have a pretty view – but also that, having removed these workers from his prospect, the Duke then turned them into some kind of entertainment spectacle for his family and household and guests on their way to the Estate church. And no way did he not at other times just take his chums along to marvel at the absurd village he built and the amusing people who lived there. To him, they were no more people than the plants and trees in his garden.
I guess I should calm down. After all, my sole remaining career goal is to retire and be hired by one of these hereditary parasites as an ornamental hermit. And at least the struggle goes on, as the good people of nearby Bakewell demonstrate with their proletarian commitment to not ‘fusion’ but ‘portmanteau’ cuisine.