The town’s name comes from Badecanwylla, mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon chronicle, which can be translated as Badeca’s Well after the town’s springs and an Anglo-Saxon chieftain.
Traces of Mesolithic activity (around 6,000-5,000 BCE) have been found in the area around Bakewell. A largely intact Bronze Age round barrow at Haddon Fields a few miles south of Bakewell dates from around 2,000 BC and is now a Scheduled Ancient Monument. The first real evidence of settlement is the hill fort at Ball Cross on Bakewell Edge to the east, dating from around 1,000 BC
There is no evidence that the Romans settled in Bakewell, or used the warm spring, though they were engaged in lead mining in the Peak District.
Bakewell was the ancient capital of the royal Peacland estate in the early Middle Ages and a church was probably built here soon after Christianity came to the Anglo Saxons of Mercia in the middle of the 7th century. The best collection in the country of early sculptured stonework, including carved heads, can be seen at the church. There are two Viking – Age crosses in the churchyard, the larger of which is said to have come from near Hassop roundabout to the north east and the smaller from Beeley Moor.
In 920 Edward the Elder continued the campaign of his father Alfred the Great against the Danes and built a fort near Bakewell. Here he was accepted as overlord by the Danes and other northern rulers, leading to the unification of England under King Athelston, his son.
By the time of the Domesday Book in 1086, Bakewell, then known as Badequella, was the centre of a very large parish, much larger than the present civil parish of Bakewell .There were several smaller settlements (most of which have grown become villages), a mill and a lead smelting works. Two priests were listed which indicates the importance of the town and church – the only other Derbyshire town with two was Repton. The church was rebuilt by about 1135 and some of the Norman work can still be seen. At Castle Hill to the east is the remains of a small Norman motte and baiiey fortification.
In 1330 Bakewell was claimed to have had a market from time immemorial.
The town expanded from the hillside round the church to the valley floor.
Medieval agriculture was based on the extensive open fields west of Bakewell on which subsistence crops were grown by a large number of feudal peasant farmers. It was supported by the water meadows in the valley which produced plenty of hay to keep oxen and other livestock over winter. The communal open fields and meadows were enclosed in 1810 and livestock farming became dominant. Dairy cattle produced butter and cheese and the coming of the railway opened a new market for milk.
Lead mining remained an important industry in the area around Bakewell and limestone and gritstone was quarried for local use. During the 18th and 19th centuries other industries grew up.
In 1772 Josiah Wedgwood recommended the use of large blocks of chert from Bakewell to grind flints for making fine pottery. Chert is a silica rock formed in the upper parts of the Carboniferous limestone. Until the Cromford Canal was built, chert was taken over the hills to the Potteries in Staffordshire. The chert mines continued well into the 20th century.
In 1778 Richard Arkwright, the founder of the factory system, built Lumford Mill, his third cotton spinning mill and the first to be powered by a river (rather than a stream).This new industry brought an increase in population (it employed 350 workers in 1780), new houses (eg Arkwright Square) and old ones converted (the Old House Museum).
The mill itself burnt down in 1868 but ancillary buildings and the water courses can still be seen.
A significant 19th century industry was the production of inlaid marble ornaments as an expansion of the black marble industry of Ashford. Black marble is Carboniferous limestone which has been darkened by a bitumen-like material from the overlying shale. When polished, it turns a deep glossy black. Examples can be seen in the Old House Museum, which also has displays on the other industries of Bakewell.
With the decline in dairy farming, many farmers have diversified into tourism-related activities. Tourism, retail, agriculture and light industry are the main sources of income for local people.
An estimated two million people visit Bakewell every year, especially in the summer, on market days and for the Bakewell Show. A visitor survey in 2005 found that Bakewell was one of the most popular destinations for Peak District visitors.
Bakewell’s livestock market was redeveloped on a new site in the last years of the 20th century and is now has one of the most successful in the country. A farmers market is held there on the last Saturday of the month and has become one of the most popular in the country. It complements the large stall market held every Monday in the town centre.
An ancient route, the Portway, passed Bakewell on the west. During medieval times, it was an important link between Nottingham Castle and Castleton in the royal hunting forest of the Peak. A network of tracks were used by trains of packhorses carrying salt from Cheshire, cheese, wool and many other goods across the Pennines and to market towns like Bakewell. Bakewell’s five-arched bridge was built around 1300 and is now a Scheduled Ancient Monument. It was widened in the 19th century. Upstream at Holme, a packhorse bridge was re-built in 1664. Roads were improved by turnpike trusts which charged tolls. What is now the A6 along the valley was built in 1759 and extended to Buxton in 1810. These improved roads enabled stage coaches to offer scheduled services. The Rutland Arms was a coaching inn with stables opposite for the change of horses. By 1829 several stage coaches travelled in and out of Bakewell every day, going to and from Sheffield, Manchester, Nottingham, Derby and London.
With the building of the railways in the 19th century there was a long debate as to whether the railway from Derby should continue beyond Rowsley up the Derwent Valley through Chatsworth Park or along the Wye Valley past Haddon Hall and Bakewell. Eventually, in 1862, the latter route was built. A shallow tunnel was built so that the railway did not affect Haddon Park. The line closed in 1968. It was bought by the Peak District National Park Authority in 1981 and opened to walkers and others as the Monsal Trail. Four major tunnels in the limestone dales were re-opened in 2012 and the Monsal Trail is now very popular with cyclists.
Houses in Bakewell are mostly built from gritstone or from limestone with gritstone window and door surrounds and quoins.
A number of buildings in the town date originally from the Tudor and Stuart periods. These include the Old House Museum (see below), the Market Hall (now the Visitor Centre), Bagshaw Hall, the Old Town Hall, St John’s Almshouses and the Bath House.
The latter was built in 1697 by the Duke of Rutland who aimed to establish a spa. However, at 15°C, Bakewell’s spring water was colder than that at nearby Buxton and the spa was not a success. Sadly the Bath House was sold by the council and the owner has allowed it to deteriorate so that it is a listed building at risk.
The elegant late Georgian buildings include the Rutland Arms Hotel, Rutland terrace, Queen’s arms hotel, Peacock hotel and Victoria corn Mill.
Victorian buildings include the present town hall, old Post Office, Royal Bank of Scotland, Trustee Savings Bank and Burton Closes. All Saints Church was substantially rebuilt in the 1840s and many other buildings were rebuilt or improved.
Since 1951, when the Peak District became Britain’s first National Park, any new development has been strictly controlled. The historic core of the town became a conservation area in 1980 to maintain its character.
OLD HOUSE MUSEUM In 1534 the church passed to Ralf Gell the rights to collect church tithes and the rents from the extensive church lands. He built the Parsonage House as the base for his steward. In 1778 Richard Arkwright converted it to cottages for workers at his cotton mill at Lumford, close to Bakewell. In the 1950s it was condemned as a slum. The Bakewell & District Historical Society was formed to save it and made it into the Old House Museum with a variety of displays,