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NOTABLE EVENTS IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF NEW MILLS
THE TOWN HALL
The idea of building a public hall by subscription was first suggested in 1859, when the Mechanics’ Institute needed more space, but it was twelve years before enough money was raised to buy the land and start work. The hall was opened by the Duke of Devon shire on 9th September 1871 and cost 2,568 16s 10d. It was used for ‘public or private balls, dinners, concerts, entertainments, exhibitions, religious, social and political meetings, for county and sessional courts, library and reading rooms used by the Mechanics’ Institution, Savings Bank (open on Saturdays only), Local Board offices, and the branch offices of the clerk to the magistrates and registrar of the county court’. In 1875 the tower was added and the clock and chimes presented by Mrs Ingham of Watford Lodge. In 1895 the hall was transferred to the New Mills Urban District Council, and it was first described a the Town Hall in the minutes of 5 October 1898. In 1899 a free library was opened in an extension of the town hall. This soon proved too small and the present public library was built in 1909-10. The chimes were replaced in 1939 by a new set, the gift of Councillor G Broome-Coope.Throughout its life, besides carrying out the administrative functions of the town council, the town hall has served the purpose its providers intended. Recent uses include dances, quizzes, dog and flower shows, public meetings, blood transfusions, concerts, coronation and jubilee celebrations, exhibitions, receptions, bazaars and school fairs.
THE UNION ROAD HIGH LEVEL BRIDGE
The building of the ‘High Level’ bridge across The Torrs joining New Mills and Newtown was an event which caused both great excitement and concern locally. It was a contentious project as the money to erect the bridge was recouped on the rates. Prior to the opening of the bridge all traffic to and from Newtown which was then in Cheshire, had to travel over the Church Road Bridge and along Hyde Bank Road to the New Mills Bridge at the foot of High Street. The Local Board had been petitioned by ratepayers soon after its formation in 1876 for ‘the necessity of creating some direct means of communication between the portion of New Mills situated in the County of Derby and that rising locality known as Newtown in the County of Cheshire.’ So close was the councils debate that the decision to build the bridge rested on the chairman’s casting vote. The ‘new’ road built to cross the bridge was named Union Road signifying the new bond between New Mills and Newtown.
Speech delivered by the Chairman of the Board on the occasion of the
opening of the High Level Bridge
‘We have come a long way to get to this day. Our forefathers had such vision half a century ago when they built the Hayfield Newtown Turnpike Road bridging the River Goyt across to Cheshire Close to the Queens Arms Hotel. And yet, another bridge was needed to make the link between New Mills and Newtown complete
It has been talked about for all the years of my long association with this board. It has long been recognised that the low level route across the Torrs is both steep and dangerous and almost impassable for horses and carts. I recall plans a full twelve years ago for a three-arch bridge across the Torrs and then a mere two years ago, in June 1882, the local board was petitioned by a good number of owners and ratepayers of the town seeking the erection of a bridge to link us across the river to Cheshire.
A bridge committee was set up under the able chairmanship of Thomas Saxton which recommended in June of that year that a new road be made leading from the corner of the Railway Hotel, across the Torr Top Meadow, along a high level bridge over the Torrs and joining the Hayfield Newtown Road past the corner of the Queens Arms.
Mr. Story of Derby was charged with preparing a set of plans and in November of 1882 Thomas Saxton proposed and James Hibbert seconded that we should proceed at an estimated cost of three and a half thousand pounds. And yet, even on this Whit Saturday, with the town gaily decorated there are those who still think that this bridge should not have been erected, but many of those who doubted the wisdom of this enterprise have seen the errors of their ways since that meeting in November 1882 when I gave my casting vote that the erection of this bridge should go ahead.
The rightfulness of that momentous decision has grown ever more apparent with the passage of time - since April last year when Mr. Walmsley of Crumpsall, near Manchester was taken on at the tendered sum of three thousand two hundred pounds to erect the bridge - since the 30th of that month when I cut the first sod on the Derbyshire side of the Torrs and Samuel Lowe cut the first sod on the Cheshire side - and since James Hibbert laid the first foundation stone less than twelve months ago on June 21st 1883 - and since the laying of the last keystone in February this year by Miss Emily Saxton.
I would not presume to say that construction has passed without incident. There were those who deplored the demolition of Torr Top Hall which had stood for almost 200 years. There was the threat of injunction by the Torr Mill Company during construction, although I wish to place on recorded that Mr. Schofield of Liverpool, the owner of Torr Mill and the land on which the pillars rest has behaved most handsomely.
And indeed, but for the co-operation of all, in particular Mr. John Knorr, agent for the Jodrell Estate, which gave all land on the Cheshire side and Mr. W.H. Turner J.P who gave all the land on the Derbyshire side, this magnificent bridge would not have come about. I have no doubt whatsoever that in one hundred years time from now, this bridge will stand proud as an edifice of the spirit of this time. Let us earnestly hope that its contribution to the prosperity of this town will have been invested wisely so that all townspeople men, and women, young and old alike, can take their rightful share of the wealth and well being that it will surely bring.
Citizens of New Mills - the last corner stone has been laid. I declare this high level bridge open.’
HIGH LEA PARK
High Lea Hall and grounds were put up for auction on the 14th of June 1937 at the Queens Head Hotel. Following much speculation, chief interest for the people of New Mills was whether or not the council would bid. In the event a decision to bid was made just half an hour before the auction. A resolution in favour of bidding on the estate for use as a public park was passed, at an hastily arranged meeting, by five votes to two. Councillor Broome-Cooper made the opening bid of two thousand pounds and it rose by hundreds to two thousand three hundred. The last bidder was a Mr Grimshaw, who it later transpired was acting on behalf of the council for he was accompanied to complete the formalities by councillors Heap and Boyle. Mr T. O. Arnfield the former owner expressed his delight that the property had been bought by the council.It was councillor J. W. Cochrane declared, ‘the greatest day in the civic life of New Mills since the opening of the ‘new’ bridge which spans the Goyt in Union Road. Many New Mills people of the past generation date New Mills history from the opening of the bridge. Future generations will date it from the opening of High Lea Park.’
A procession headed by councillor Harry Heap, chairman of New Mills Council left the Town Hall shortly before three o’clock and passed through the crowds on Market Street to St Marys Road and the gates of High Lea Estate. On arriving at the gates, councillor Cochrane handed councillor Heap a presentation key with which to open them. The key was inscribed ‘presented to councillor Heap J.P. Chairman of New Mills Urban District Council. Opening of High Lea Park August 7th 1937.
Immediately the gates were thrown open hundreds of people passed through them. A huge crowd gathered to see the formal opening on the terrace in front of High Lea Hall.
Councillor Cochrane called on councillor Heap to declare the park open. ‘I feel today’ said councillor Heap, ‘that New Mills is taking another step forward. There is no such thing as standing still, we are either going forward or slipping back. It is up to the council and those who may come after to see to it that New Mills keeps on the path to progress. High Lea Hall Estate has been looked upon with longing eyes for a long time by quite a large number of people as a place suitable for a public park. From this date it will be the town’s first public park. I have great pleasure in declaring the park open.’ Councillor Cochrane replied ‘New Mills people ought to be proud that the park was not a gift, but purchased with their own money. Mr Arnfield, the former owner had confided that he was heartily glad that the council had acquired it.’
Councillor Collins referring to the Union Road Bridge said that it was over 50 years since New Mills had such a red letter day and many who were children then could recall that day only because of the terrible rainstorm. The ceremony concluded with the singing of the national anthem.
The public were soon inspecting the amenities and the beauty of the park. Twenty new seats for the park were put into use and visitors had a good look round admiring the view along the valley to Whaley Bridge and Disley. The gardens behind High Lea Hall, the tennis court by the side of it and the delightful wooded area were all praised.
The press reported ‘through the wood runs a stream and there is a small pool with an island in the centre which conjures up a vision of a bathing pool in the future. Few people have had the opportunity of going over the grounds which had been in private hands, but the more New Mills folk saw of it the more they were convinced of the wisdom of purchasing the estate for two thousand three hundred pounds. The possibilities of developing it into one of the finest little parks in the country were seen by many to be limitless for there is everything in High Lea Park that nature can give for the enjoyment of the people. ’
Reverend Robert Noble of Mount Pleasant Methodist Church suggested that New Mills could congratulate itself on adding a third jewel to its crown ’ a very good Secondary School , an excellent Public Library and now a Public Park.’
GARDEN OF REMEMBRANCE
The Garden of Remembrance, also known as the Memorial Garden has been an accepted part of High lea Park for almost 60 years. So long in fact that for most people its origin is obscure. The following report of the opening ceremony comes from the High Peak Reporter of July 18th 1947 and expresses something of the feeling of the time.
‘The people of New Mills honoured their war dead on Saturday, when, standing on the grassy slope of High Lea Hall Park, hundreds of them joined in a simple yet impressive service at the end of which the garden of remembrance was opened. The garden, in memory of the 39 who went to war and paid the supreme sacrifice and the civilians who lost their lives when a German bomber brought death to New Mills, and also to commemorate the services rendered by townspeople during the war, was opened by Major-General G. W. Richards C.B., C.B.E., D.S.O., M.C.
Though not yet completed, the crazy-paved garden, with small fir trees, neatly laid out rockeries, colourful flowers, well trimmed patch of greensward, and a 150 year old sundial, presented a picturesque appearance-a fitting tribute to those who gave their lives. On the platform, decorated with national colours, were Major-General and Mrs Richards, Councillor F. S. Kitchen (chairman of the War Memorial Committee) and Mrs Kitchen. Mr Hugh Molson M.P. Councillor J. W. Etchells, J. P. (chairman of the council) and Mrs Etchells, Councillor Fred Bonsell (chairman of the Parks Committee) Mr W. Larkum (secretary of the War Memorial Committee), Mr F. Brocklehurst, J.P. (treasurer of the War Memorial Committee), Mr D. H. Nicholson (clerk to the Council) and two clergyman- Rev. G. T. Perry (vicar) and the Rev. Peter Rock (Methodist minister). With the slate grey uniformed members of Thornsett Price Band providing the music, all in the park and those looking down from St. Marys road joined in the National Anthem and the hymn ‘Now thank we all our God.’
The vicar read the opening sentence and introduction beginning with the well known words, ‘Greater love hath no man than this ….’Followed by that familiar hymn without which no remembrance service would seem complete - ‘O God in Ages Past.’ Prayers of remembrance and dedication were offered by Mr Rock and to Lawrence Binyon’s immortal words - ‘They shall not grow old ….’ and all repeated the vow ‘we shall remember them.’
Two minutes silence was followed by prayer, led by Mr Rock and after the responses the vicar an RAF chaplain in the war, dedicated the garden ‘in the faith of Jesus Christ, to the glory of God and in memory of all who laid down their lives in the services of their fellow men, and also to commemorate the services that were rendered by the citizens of New Mills during the war years.’ He offered prayers for the blessing of the garden, and for all who suffered as a result of the war, and everyone joined in the Lords Prayer. Mr H. E. Holland sounded the Last Post and Reveille, the hymn ‘These Things Shall be-a Loftier Race’ was sung and the vicar pronounced the final blessing.
Councillor Kitchen himself a soldier in the recent war, presided at the opening, welcoming Major-General and Mrs Richards. Major-General Richards now General Officer Commanding North Midlands District had a marvellous record and Councillor Kitchen wanted to express the town’s appreciation of his fine services.
The garden of remembrance had been possible through the excellent response which the people had given to the war memorial fund. All the paths had not yet been finished, but it had been felt better to have the opening ceremony whilst there was a chance of decent weather. Four seats, donations by local societies, were on order and as a centre piece the committee had accepted the offer of a stone that which would be suitably inscribed. Until completed the garden would remain first priority in the war memorial scheme.
Councillor Kitchen gave figures of the part which New Mills played in the war. Out of a population of 8,000 some 1,371 people - Army 887, Navy 172, R.A.F 229, Woman’s Services 83 - had served in the forces.
It was regretted that 39 had paid the supreme sacrifice, while others had been disabled. ‘We are very proud of their service and are glad that many of the returned members have come to the opening’ he added. In addition New Mills had a well organised Civil Defence Service ready for any emergency. Unfortunately, as a result of one raid there was loss of life. ‘One could say by the services given from New Mills we endeavoured to give our quota’ concluded Councillor Kitchen.
Major-General Richards congratulating the committee and particularly Councillor Kitchen, on the fine achievement of collecting almost two thousand pounds - equal to five shillings a head of population - described the garden of remembrance as a practical and sensible memorial. After his address Major-General Richards accompanied by the platform party, went to the entrance to the garden where he cut a length of white silk, officially opening the garden.
Thanks to Major-General Richards were expressed by Mr Molson who thought that the memorial, useful and beautiful was something which those who had fallen would themselves have chosen. Councillor Etchells seconded the vote of thanks and placed in the garden a wreath of red, white and blue flowers on behalf of the townspeople. And as the band accompanied the singing of ‘Land of Hope and Glory,’ four women walked forward with bunches of flowers placing them beside the town’s wreath in memory of their loved ones.’
RESTORATION OF THE TORRS
The Torrs is a natural gorge through which the old highway from Newtown crossed the River Sett to New Mills close to the Setts confluence with the River Goyt. In the late eighteenth century, this was an ideal site for water powered cotton mills. Weirs and leats were constructed to control the water and large mills stood on the rocky terrace above the water. Sandstone from the cliff faces was cut for building material further widening the gorge.
The Torrs was home to three large cotton mills from around 1785. Workers and water bailiffs cottages were build in the gorge and the Torrs was for a long time the industrial heart of New Mills. In 1882 fire claimed Rock Mill and in 1912 Torr Mill suffered the same fate. The industry gradually fell into recession during the 20th century and large parts of the Torrs fell into decay. Only Torr Vale Mill continued to operate. From 1930 onward clearance orders forced the demolition of dwellings many of whom backed onto the rock faces. For a time the Torrs was neglected and closed to the public, nature reclaimed it its ruins and its history. But a scheme to reclaim it began in the 1960s.
The scheme was initially suggested by the New Mills Civic Amenity Society on whose behalf Dr. L. Millward J.P. wrote:
“The history of the Torrs reclamation began with the formation of the Society whose aim was to tidy up the New Mills district in general, one of the first priorities being the Torrs.
The first opportunity cam in 1969 when British Army commitments in the Far East were being abandoned and the Ministry of Defence agreed to allow the Royal Engineers returning to this country to undertake conservation schemes approved by them. Through the good offices of Mr. Peter M. Jackson, approval of the Ministry was obtained from the Federation of Civil Engineering Contractors and the appropriate Trades Unions organisations. However, these approvals were not given and that scheme had to be abandoned.
The second opportunity was when the Department of the Environment offered 75% grant towards the cost of specified and approved conservation schemes, and the Society contacted the Derbyshire County Council, whose Deputy Planning Officer, at great inconvenience to himself, attended a meeting of the Society. He recommended the engagement of a consultant landscape architect to prepare a plan for submission to the County Council, and on the recommendation of the Director of the Civic Trust for the North West, an approach was made to Derek Lovejay and Partners. Mr. John Warley visited the site and his enthusiasm for the project was boundless, and after an intense investigation of the area as it was, a proposed scheme was very soon produced. On being approached by the Society, the New Mills Urban District Council readily agreed to take the financial responsibility for the cost of the scheme. The first proposals were somewhat elaborate and were not considered appropriate both on the grounds of cost and the consideration that as much as possible of the natural flora and fauna in the Torrs should be retained and preserved. A modified plan was then produced and approved, and submitted to the Department of the Environment where it was also approved for the 75% Government grant towards the cost. A public appeal was made by the Society to cover the remaining 25% of the cost already incurred in preparing the plans, and the people of New Mills responded enabling the Society to hand over the money to the Council.
New Mills Urban District Council already owned a certain amount of land involved, but then the difficulty of obtaining the other plots included in the proposals. Following a report he had seen in the High Peak Reporter, Mr. Slack of Whaley Bridge contacted the Council to say that he and his cousins owned the land left to them by their grandfather, Mr. Sidebottom, on which the Torr Mill formerly stood, and willingly offered to convey the land to the Council for a nominal sum. The greatest difficulty was encountered in tracing the owners of land in and around the derelict fustian mill (Rock Mill) of which the deeds were destroyed during the blitz in Liverpool in 1942, but by the painstaking efforts of Mr. John A. Pearson, all the legal procedures were taken to acquire the land and after many long and weary months, negotiations were successfully concluded.
The contract for the work was awarded to Easter and Beswick of Hayfield, and through the enthusiasm of Mr. John Easter and of his very able and willing site foreman, Mr. Fred Barnes, a start was made in October last year with the result we are able to see and appreciate.
It is a heritage of which New Mills people may be justly proud, and there are now outstanding only the question of the old Chain-horse House and the right of way from the Torrs to Church Road to be settled, to finally complete the project first suggested by the Society to the Council in February 1967”.
The Chain-horse House was partially demolished and now acts as a viewing area. The pathway out of the Torrs onto Hyde Bank Road and so to Church Road was converted to a series of steps. The Torrs was officially re-opened by Professor Graham Ashworth on the 21st of September 1974. It now forms the central part of The Park under the Town an area unique to New Mills.
THE MILLWARD BRIDGE
In the early 1980’s the Town Council purchased from British Rail a section of land beside the River Goyt known locally as Goytside. Recognising the centenary of the Union Road Bridge was at hand, Councillor Martin Doughty suggested that a fitting project to mark the event would be to install a foot-bridge in the Torrs, spanning the River Sett and joining the lands at Goytside to the Torrs. The scheme moved a step closer when Mrs Margery Millward agreed that this would be a fitting memorial to her late husband Dr. Leslie Millward, who had been the driving force behind the reopening of the Torrs some ten years before.
The scheme proved a great success and on the 7th of June 1984 following a ceremonial reopening of the Union Road Bridge the Millward Bridge was officially opened by Mrs Millward.
Speech delivered by councillor Martin Doughty on the occasion of the official opening of the Millward Memorial Bridge
The Victorians bequeathed the town of New Mills, this unique area which we know as “The Torrs”, and it is perhaps an irony that the building of the high level bridge one hundred years ago was, in part, responsible for accelerating the decline of the industry which had located here deep in the gorge.
With the decline of industrial activity here, the whole area fell into disrepair, became overgrown and virtually impassable. It was the efforts and foresight above all of Doctor Millward which led to the re-opening to the public of the Torrs some ten years ago.
If the Doctor was here with us now, I hope that he would similarly consider that the enhancement work which has been carried out in the Torrs in the last twelve months centred around this footbridge and new access and the plans and proposals which we have for the next year or two in and around the Torrs are effort and enterprise being put in to effect.
We live in times of difficulty, particularly for young people, with high levels of unemployment, making greater demands for leisure facilities. It is fitting therefore that the bulk of the enhancement work in the Torrs including the construction and erection of this footbridge has been carried out by a team mainly of young people, all of whom have been unemployed for at least six months and in some cases, twelve months before they came to work on the scheme.
They are trainees with Peak Community Programmes, most of them are from New Mills and have done an absolutely marvellous job for the Town Council for the townspeople and visitors alike.
On behalf of everyone then, a big Thank You and of course we have lots more work and projects for you to keep Peak Community Programmes active in New Mills for many months to come.
The bridge is, of course the centre piece of the work that has been carried out in the last twelve months down here and thanks must go to Peter Pilsbury form the surveyor’s department at Derbyshire County Council for this tremendous design of an oak beamed bridge. It was re-designed at least five times as the Water Authority kept moving the river when they put a new sever through here less than twelve months ago, and to Gregory’s of Matlock who fabricated this most unusual bridge and went to considerable trouble, not the least being the search for a large enough oak tree which was eventually located in Clumber Park in Nottinghamshire and the delivery of the ton and a quarter beams which gave Kevin Howard of Peak Community Programmes some headaches, but in the end dropped very smoothly indeed 80 odd feet from off the Queens Bridge.
Just like the high level bridge 100 years ago provided an important new link for industry, so this new low level bridge provides for leisure, a new bank side walk to link not only the Sett Valley Trail via the Torrs with the upstream section of the River Goyt, but the possibility of linking on downstream along the Goyt to the work currently programmed by Greater Manchester and Stockport Councils from Vernon Park in Stockport via the Ethero Country Park and Marple on to the Derbyshire boundary.
Over the next twelve months, besides flood lighting the area where we are all standing and providing some footpath lighting on the important link from Torr Top car Park, and providing much needed signing in and around the Torrs, we shall be looking to develop the routes in and out of the Torrs on the Goyt to make that long distance leisure route a real possibility.
None of this, of course, could have been achieved without that essential commodity, finance. Less than 40% of the cost of the work has actually been funded by the Town Council from the rates. Most of the work, in fact, has enjoyed the maximum grant available from the Countryside Commission - 50% - and it is pleasing to note that the commission, with its role in promoting recreation should think so highly of enhancement work in and around the Torrs.
A modest contribution too was received from North West Water Authority in recognition of the disruption of their sewage work in the Torrs, but I think you will agree that what the water authority can best give New Mills is not financial, is not money, it is a couple of clean unpolluted rivers so we can get maximum enjoyment from this unique area.
Last of all, in making up the total of eight thousand pounds for the programme of work to date, are of course the contributions from the townspeople to the Millward Memorial Fund.
Twelve months ago, the Town Council set a target for the fund of one thousand pounds. With the money that we know is already in the bank in the Town Hall and what we expect to find in the many collecting tins around the town, I am pleased to report that that target has probably already been exceeded.
That, I am sure, Mrs. Millward demonstrates the fondness and respect with which people of New Mills remember the Doctor.
I hope and trust, Mrs. Millward, that you find this bridge a fitting memorial from the people of New Mills.
The Torrs Riverside Park, deep below the town was until the opening of the aerial walkway divided by an impasse between the historic Torr Vale Mill and the equally imposing railway retaining wall. Dramatically described by The Guardian as the last inaccessible place in England. The aerial Walkway provided an innovative and futuristic solution to this age old problem of access. Described as ‘a steel spider’s web’, the walkway clings to the vertical gritstone rock face and spans the enormous railway retaining wall, cantilevered out over the River Goyt.
Completed in 1999, the walkway provides a link in Europe’s premier walking route, E2 which passes through New Mills on its way from Stranraer in Scotland, via Dover, to Nice in France.
The story of how New Mills came to be the home of such an innovative structure is best told in the words of the man who conceived it, Councillor Martin Doughty, at the time both a town and county councillor.
‘As the end of the century approached, my thoughts returned to the same question which had been in my mind on and off for over 20 years. How to access the Goyt’s riverside path network going west from the Torrs gorge without climbing out of the valley onto the towns roads. The Millward Memorial Bridge and the Town Council’s purchase of the Goytside land from the British Railways Board had solved the problem going south on the upstream Goyt in 1984 but the challenge to find a western link down river remained.
Back in the late 80s, we had looked at bringing a path round Torr Vale Mill on the inside of the bend in the river. Although, on the face of it, the more obvious route through, there were severe difficulties in trying to create a wheelchair friendly path by the mill. Additionally unless a path could be squeezed between the Rock Tavern Garage and the steep cliff face down to the river the route would still bring users back onto the same roads they then had to use. Oh, and the mill owner on whose land the path would lie was not at all keen.
So, in 1996 I started to think the unthinkable. Could e bridge the gap by a route on the outside of the river bend, perhaps attached to the giant Victorian railway retaining wall below central station for part of its length? Did the forthcoming millennium offer the opportunity to match the vision with an opportunity? Certainly, the possibility of up to 50% grant aid from the Millennium Commission for projects of a unique nature was a significant opportunity. The County Council got to work.
The local authorities, Derbyshire County Council, High Peak Borough Council and New Mills Town Council together pledged a total of 80,000 toward the then estimated 450,000 costs. We asked the Millennium Commission for 215,000 and sought the rest mainly from the private sector. Then we needed planning commission and listed building consent because one of the columns is within the weir which is part of the grade two star listed Torr Vale Mill. Trials needed to be done, particularly on the railway retaining wall and the cliff face below the Heritage Centre. It was impossible to do those on the retaining wall from below so engineers had to abseil down from the railway line when it was closed to trains for repair work. The cliff face proved too unstable to use, hence the decision to have pillars located on the river bed. The retaining wall proved to be just as solid as it looks. Its owner, Railtrack, proved even harder to move, however, insisting, despite all the experience and knowledge of Derbyshire’s engineers, that a simple cantilever design could destabilise the wall. We did point out that 400 tonne trains transverse the top of the wall daily. After over 2 years of negotiation, we finally got Railtrack’s consent to attach the walkway to the retaining wall.
The design of the Walkway was, of course, critical. It had to be completely accessible to wheelchair users. It had to fit into a very sensitive Conservation Area in the middle of Victorian and earlier structures. It had to be a bold statement because Millennium projects were not intended to be hidden away. And the construction would be extremely difficult because of the inaccessibility of the site. Within Derbyshire County Council’s Environmental Services department are both civil engineers and conservation architects and planners. By working closely together, the in house team designed the walkway and project managed its construction. At one point early on I was asked if we should bring in bridge design experts Ove Arup. I said there was no need. They later became closely associated with the Thames millennium footbridge in London which closed down shortly after its initial opening because of excessive bounce.
With all the permissions in place, the County Council went out to tender for the contract to construct the walkway. Unfortunately, the lowest price was around 80,000 higher than we expected, at 525,000. I rang around potential backers and, in a couple of hours, had secured enough promises to cover the extra. I remain extremely grateful to everyone who so generously backed the project. Besides the Millennium Commission and the local authorities, funding came from Global Environmental Community Trust, WREN, Tilcon South, Haul Waste, Bowmer and Kirkland and the Environmental Agency. The contractors, Thyssen, planned to complete the work in 6 months starting in June, 1999. They laid a temporary track in the river bed and scaffolded up the retaining wall. Only once did the river rise sufficiently to wash away the track. The job was completed on time and the walkway opened to users just before Christmas, 1999. In retrospect, we were extremely lucky with the weather. Imagine if the contract had covered the same 6 months in the year 2000 when September to November was the wettest since records began.
Shortly after it opened in January 2000, the Royal Mail featured the walkway on the 44p stamp of its first Millennium series. About the same time, a colour picture appeared in the Guardian newspaper. The next day the Granada TV weatherman gave his forecast from the walkway. Then the Times newspaper ran another photograph. Then BBC North West ran a piece. Then the Daily Telegraph included, with another photograph and story, the Heritage Centre telephone number and gave the Centre’s volunteers an even more busy few days. Then the big one. The walkway was chosen to be featured on the Carol Smilie’s network BBC TV Lottery show as an example of the good things the lottery was helping to fund. And at the end of the year, it appeared on Radio 4’s You and Yours programme as an example of a successful millennium project.
All this positive publicity bought thousands of visitors to the town and they were rarely disappointed. Shops reported increasing numbers of customers. The Heritage Centre volunteers were becoming exhausted with the sheer number in the centre, particularly at weekends. Over the year visitor numbers more than doubled and we estimated that nearly 200,000 people used the walkway in the year 2000.
Local people seemed to like it too. The 2000 New Mills Festival finished with a wonderful torchlight procession with huge illuminated fish being carried across the walkway following a salsa band.
In July 2000 a helicopter landed at Newtown recreation ground and its passengers paid a brief visit to the walkway. They were judges in the British Construction Industries Awards Scheme, the most prestigious awards in the country. In October it was announced that against very stiff competition in the Millennium year the walkway had taken the top prize in the small projects (below two million pounds) category. The Millennium Dome had won the large project category. The team who designed and built the walkway had a wonderful night at the award ceremony in London. They deserved it. Altogether, the walkway chalked up six awards from various competitions.’