Golden Valley, Derbyshire, plays a big part in my family history. My mother’s family had lived in this tiny Derbyshire hamlet – between Codnor and Riddings - for generations. Indeed, my great-grandfather had worked on the Cromford Canal, on whose banks the little community had grown up. The Cromford Canal was carried in the famous Butterley Tunnel, which when opened in 1794 was the longest in Britain at 2,966 yards, and had one of its terminals at Golden Valley; it is said that the thirst of the labourers who constructed the canal – the ‘navvies’ – caused the Newlands Inn to be built.
The ‘Newlands’ didn’t just cater for canal workers, however. Like many in Golden Valley, some of my family worked at Butterley Company’s forge at nearby Codnor Park, but most were colliers. Both of these occupations generated a fair thirst, too. Given that the Inn also stood near a crossroads between a ‘coach road’ which ran from Ripley to Ironville and the Codnor to Alfreton road, it had sufficient passing trade to thrive. There was an old-fashioned bowling alley close to the canal, where hard-fought games of skittles were played, but the most intense ‘sporting’ activity which took place at the Inn involved homing pigeons, an activity which became popular in Britain in the 1880s, after King Leopold II of Belgium gave Queen Victoria some high-class Belgian racing pigeons! There were quite a number of pigeon lofts in and around Golden Valley, and when the individual birds returned to their home loft at the end of a gruelling race (they were all released simultaneously at some distant point) a special ring was removed from their leg and inserted into a ‘time clock’, which recorded each arrival. These clocks were then taken by the loft owners to the Inn, where officials of the local ‘Homing Club’ would adjudicate which bird was the fastest. My uncles bred fast birds, even winning international races over hundreds of miles.
As an aside, the Royal Pigeon Loft on the Queen's Norfolk estate of Sandringham still contains around 250 birds, and she takes an active interest in the sport. Just in case you think that racing pigeons don't earn their keep, birds from the Royal Loft were used to carry messages during both the First and Second World Wars (in WW2, it is likely that some of these messages might very well have been from British secret agents working with the Resistance in various European countries; pigeons would have been utilized when radio communications would have been compromised, for example).
The Newlands Inn was a good example of a 19th century country inn (admittedly, with 20th century extensions), so good, in fact, that on 25th May, 1988, English Heritage declared it a Listed Building, Grade II (Building ID: 79099). Unfortunately, as the local employment situation worsened – the coal mines closed, as did other industries – the hamlet lost much of its population, and the Inn closed in 2007. It quickly fell into disrepair after being boarded up, and suffered roof damage (possibly during the harsh winter conditions).
Around 7.40pm on the 6th August, 2011, the Derbyshire Fire and Rescue Service were called to attend a blaze at the Newlands Inn. It was so severe that the main road through Golden Valley had to be closed. Although the Derbyshire Police will not speculate, arson has not been ruled out, and a joint investigation with the Fire Service is in progress. A point of interest is the fact that the owner of ANY Listed Building is not allowed to demolish it unless consent is given through the relevant Planning Authority (the Planning Charter from English Heritage is used as a guide). Similarly, any substantial changes (interior or exterior) must be given appropriate consent. To quote English Heritage, ‘Carrying out unauthorised works to a listed building is a criminal offence and perpetrators can be prosecuted’. The Inn had recently changed hands. It had been bought by a London-based company, who had applied to convert it to a 20-room hotel - this was to be achieved by completely gutting the interior, plus massive conversion work to the fabric of this Listed Building. Needless to say, the local Planning Authority turned this scheme down instantly. Strangely enough, the fire which destroyed the building broke out within a few weeks of this legal judgement being handed down.
Obviously, if the building has been destroyed by fire – or other means - the owner (either individual or corporation) is allowed to clear the site and use it for something else. I am not going to speculate (just as the Derbyshire Police did not), but the circumstances regarding the loss of this Listed Building are worthy of investigation.
I shall miss the Newlands Inn. Prior to 2007, I had always called in during my trips back to the U.K. and ordered a tonic water or two (don’t drink and drive, folks!) and examined the many old photographs on the walls of the Public Bar. As well as scenes involving the canal, old coal mines, the forge, and the local branch of the Midland Railway, these had included photographs of two of my uncles, Sam and Jack, and my cousin Peter, plus many other people I knew. A sad loss.