Back Dane, a former farmhouse, is currently managed as a holiday cottage by the Beasley Back Dane Trust (Registered Charity No. 1014796).
It was purchased in 1977 primarily so that children from inner-city areas could enjoy weekend breaks in the countryside. At present, it is used for children's outings organised by both the Beasley Back Dane Trust and other groups/charities with similar objectives.
It is also visited once a month by volunteers from the Trust to carry out any necessary maintenance and to continue with various construction projects.
Back Dane itself was abandoned as a home in 1962 (see memories from a former resident below). After standing empty for some years it was rented, from the Swythamley Estate, by the 147th Derby (Ockbrook) Rover Crew, as an outdoor centre for the Scouts. In addition to clearing up the mess left by years of neglect and mindless vandalism, they also dug the water well and laid a pipeline from it to the cottage. A few years later, they made the cottage available to other interested groups during any unused periods. One of these early (and enthusiastic) groups was the newly formed Derby branch of International Voluntary Service. Its members had recently started organising outings for children from socially deprived areas. To them Back Dane was an ideal venue for weekend trips. So when in 1974, the Scouts were no longer able to manage Back Dane, Derby IVS were only too happy to take over this function. The Scouts arranged favourable terms for the transfer, and it meant that Derby IVS were able to run children's weekends here at a frequency of once a month. Like the Scouts, they continued to sublet it to other organizations. One of their first acts, as the new management, was to install gas lamps fed from a single large canister. These lights were both easier to operate and maintain than the paraffin lamps that had been in use up until then. Being fixed to the walls they were also safer to use.
Unfortunately the tenancy of Derby IVS was short lived, as the cottage was burnt to ground less than two years after they took it over. Towards the end of November 1976, a party of teenagers was left in charge of the cottage. Deciding to go for a night walk, they first banked up the fire so that the cottage would be warm on their return. They then propped the fireguard in place with a full coal hod. Unfortunately, of the two hods in use at that time, one was made of plastic and the other from wood. Shortly before they got back, the heat from the fire, possibly aided by some coals falling out of the grate and continuing to smoulder, set fire to the hod. This, in turn, ignited the coal it contained. It appears that the children returned just before the situation was irretrievable but, in their anxiety to extinguish the fire, they rushed around opening doors, which had the unfortunate effect of fanning the flames. They were not helped by the fact, that some previous visitors had found an alternative use for sand and, had emptied all the fire buckets. The fire service was summoned, but the time taken for someone to reach the nearest telephone at Danebridge to call them, coupled with that required to get an engine from the nearest fire station was too long to save the cottage. The fire service arrived just as the roof fell in. They did, however, manage to save both the kitchen and the small bedroom at the top of the stairs. In both cases these rooms had doors that slammed shut in a breeze - vindication of the advice to keep doors firmly closed when a fire breaks out. Fortunately, no one was hurt, but it illustrates the vigilance needed in places like this, which are both far from, and of difficult access for the emergency services.
The one positive outcome of this accident was that it enabled Derby IVS to buy Back Dane. The year following the conflagration, Swythamley Estate was hit by crippling death duties, leaving the grandson with no option but to sell most of it. Because no one was prepared to make an acceptable bid for the estate as a whole, it was sold by lots. The shell of Back Dane together with four acres (1.62 hectares) of land went for £5,500. It would have fetched considerably more had the cottage still been intact, and it is unlikely that Derby IVS could then have successfully bid for it.
Buying Back Dane was one tribulation, rebuilding it was another - especially as strict Peak Park regulations have to be adhered to. As well as rebuilding the cottage, many improvements were also made to it over the next dozen, or so, years. These included the installation of a telephone and the laying down of a track to the front door, making year round access by car feasible. This last made getting materials to the site far easier. For many years an ancient dumper truck had been used for this purpose. It was not particularly reliable and, of course, everything brought out for Back Dane had to be transferred into this dumper for the last stage of the journey.
The highlight of 1984 was the installation of mains electricity. This was both a costly project and one that the electricity board managed to spin out for an inordinate length of time. Its eventual arrival meant that the petrol motor which pumped water from the well could be replaced by an electric one. Given that the petrol pump seemed to spend more time being repaired than pumping water, this was a godsend. The next project was to install flushing toilets. This also took far longer than anticipated, but eventually the day arrived in June 1991 when a WC was flushed at Back Dane for the first time. Emptying smelly chemical toilets suddenly became a thing of the past!
A development that occurred around this time was the formation of the Beasley Back Dane Trust. While the Derby Branch had continued to operate with the original IVS ideals, the national body had evolved new strategies. As a result they became a little fretful about some of Derby's operations, especially as, legally, the national organization was ultimately responsible for the local group's activities. After some discussion between the two sides, it was agreed that a new independent body should take responsibility for Back Dane activities. Derby IVS undertook to arrange this and named this new organization after Mary Beasley who, for many years ran a charity shop in Derby. Without the income she generated from it, the local group could not have achieved some of its objectives. After much delay, the transfer of activities finally took place in April 1997 (the details for transferring the assets are still being negotiated with the national committee). It practical terms, all this means is that the same people are still doing the same jobs, but under a different banner.
Back Dane Potted History
1962 Rented by the 147th Derby (Ockbrook) Rover Scout Crew from Christmas Day for 10/- (50p) a week and the upkeep of the premises.
1963 Restoration work started to repair several years of neglect and vandalism.
The water well dug and a pipeline laid to it.
1966 Derby Branch of International Voluntary Service formed.
1970 First involvement of Derby IVS with Back Dane. In all they held three children's weekends here during the year.
1974 Derby IVS took over the management of Back Dane from the Derby Scouts East District Service Team in order to ensure the cottage's continued operation.
Derby IVS used it once a month; remaining weekends fully booked by other organizations.
Paraffin lamps replaced by bottled gas lights supplied from a central source.
1975 An IVS work camp, with several overseas volunteers, held at Back Dane for the first time.
1976 The cottage burnt down on 27 November.
1977 Derby IVS purchased Lot 14 - Back Dane with 4 acres (1.62 hectares) of land - for £5,500.
Back Dane Appeal launched.
1978 Rebuilding work started in March.
1981 The telephone installed.
A second IVS work camp, supported by a £500 grant from the BBC Children in Need Appeal, held here.
1983 The track down to Back Dane laid, giving year round vehicular access.
1984 Mains electricity installed.
1985 The water supply petrol pump replaced by a more reliable electric one. (No more trekking down to the well to switch the pump on/off or to fill it with petrol!)
1987 A hot water shower installed for the first time.
1989 The septic tank installed.
1991 First flushing toilet installed.
The Beasley Trust (Registered Charity No. 1014796) set up by Derby IVS.
1993 Part (0.47 hectare) of the four-acre field fenced off for tree planting.
1995 A new (1,000 litre) water tank installed.
1997 Derby IVS transferred all its activities to the Beasley Trust, which then became the new manager of Back Dane.
1999 Planted 1,200 trees paid for by a Forestry Commission grant.
2003 National IVS agreed the final transfer of Back Dane to the Beasley Trust on a 999-year lease.
2014 The freehold for Back Dane was obtained by the Beasley back Dane Trust.
Memories of Eunice Mitchell who lived at Back Dane from 1957 - 1962.
In 1956, Ken and I had been married seven years and were living in a council house, with all mod cons, in Moss Lane, Macclesfield. We had four children: Christine was six, Tony five, Kath three, and Nigel just one year old. Ken was unable to find work; he had been disabled by polio as an infant, and although he was a very determined man, and was strong in his upper body, he had a paralysed leg and suffered much back and hip pain, and several times fell and broke his hip. He had retrained in agriculture but still couldn’t find work. We were surviving on my earnings from odd cleaning jobs, Family Allowance, and National Assistance. We were completely on our uppers. One day, Ken came home with a big smirk on his face. He had been offered a job, dry-stone walling for a farmer in a village called Wincle. The job came with a rent-free, three-bedroomed cottage. Ken had no idea about dry-stone walling, but with his usual determination, he had talked his way into this job, and I couldn’t talk him out of it. The truth was, we could not carry on like this, so I agreed we would give it a try.
The morning of the move was a spring day in 1957. I hadn’t seen the new house or the village, Ken had made all the arrangements. He knew a lorry driver who agreed to move us. I heard a great rattling outside in the street and looked out of the window to see a cattle wagon pulling up at our gate. The driver said there was no other vehicle available that day, so they had sent the next best thing. The children thought this was exciting; I was mortified. We loaded all our furniture into the wagon, along with our pets, a goldfish and a duck. I sat in the back with the furniture and the children, jostled about as the road got bumpier and bendier, sliding forward every time the driver braked. It seemed like hours before we stopped and the gate came down. I climbed out and looked around. We were in the middle of a field, with nothing in sight except a cottage, down a steep hill a couple of hundred yards away. There was no road to it, just a rough cart track. We all took an armful of belongings and started down the track. A tractor approached us and the driver introduced himself as Mr Belfield. He helped us to move the furniture with his trailer, and became our first friend here. When we’d finished, I offered Mr Belfield a cup of tea and found the kettle and the teapot; but where was the tap? There was no water and no plumbing in the house at all. If Ken had known this, he had failed to mention it; I certainly would not have come if I’d known. We got all the jugs and bottles we could find and trooped down the hill where Mr Belfield told us we would find a river.
One of the children asked for the toilet and I looked all over the house, trying every door. Ken called, ‘It’s in the garden’. I joined him outside where he pointed to a small shed. Inside was a bench seat with two holes, one large, one small. The last thing I’d expected was to give up the modern bathroom at Moss Lane, for this. The children thought it good fun to have their own, small toilet seat, and they queued up to use it whether they needed it or not. The toilet wasn’t the last shock of that unforgettable day. As it was going dark, I went to put the light on. No light switches. No electricity! Luckily, I’d packed a few candles. I made sandwiches and tea and we all tumbled in to bed, exhausted. It was too much to come to terms with.
Despite the disappointment, we decided to make the best of it; the children were happy and life took on a kind of routine. We had a lovely range with a hot water boiler and an oven in the kitchen/living room. There was always plenty of firewood from the woods, so the fire burned bright, for free, and we were always warm. I emptied the ashes down the toilet pit to try to mask the smell, which wasn’t totally successful. We brought water from the river and bought lamps to light the house.
One day, a man came into the yard, and introduced himself as our nearest neighbour, Freddie Bottoms, who lived a bit further along the cart track. Freddie took us to a field and said, ‘There’s a well down there, you could dig it out’. He couldn’t tell us why it had been filled in. We got digging and were excited to find a set of steps that went deep into the ground. We dug and dug, until we got to the bottom of the steps and found… nothing.
We were all in the yard the day a gentleman on a magnificent horse came over the hill and rode towards us. He stopped in the yard, looking down on the children as they all gathered around his horse. He looked at Ken and said, ‘I am Sir Phillip Brocklehurst. What are you doing in my house?’ It turned out the farmer who said we could live there had no right to do so. I thought we were about to be homeless. But Sir Phillip could not have been more generous. He said we could stay there, Ken would work for him, doing the same job but he would pay Ken £4 a month to do what Ken had been doing for nothing. This man was heaven sent.
Gradually, we became accustomed to the life at Back Dane. I bought a yoke to carry water up from the river, and a second-hand washing machine that stood on four legs, and worked with a handle. We made jam, and bread, and stocked up with wood and coal ready for winter, when we were cut off for weeks on end. We made many friends, locally: the Bottoms family, Mr Heath, the Goodwins, the Sherwins, Mrs Buchanan at the Post Office, and many more; all of them kind, helpful people. The village postman brought a couple of paraffin lamps as a gift from his mother. We bought milk and eggs from our neighbours at Hanging Stone Farm. George Mason’s grocer in Leek, sent a delivery van every week and Ken made a truck that we would pull up the cart track to Hanging Stone where we met the delivery van, collected our groceries and gave him an order for the following week.
Ken’s motor bike, with his home-made sidecar, was our only transport. He left it at the farm at the other end of the woods and walked along the footpath. Getting over the exposed tree roots was hard work for him. It was also difficult with the pram. Tony and Christine pulled it along with a rope. I would shout, ‘Pull’, and they heaved over each tree trunk. It was a long walk to the village shop, and to school, through the woods. One day, Christine, then about seven or eight years old, went to the shop in Wincle village and was a long time coming back. She told me she’d met a man but couldn’t tell me any more as it was a secret. I tried and tried to make her tell me, but she wouldn’t say a word more. A couple of weeks later, a man arrived at the door, introduced himself as Mr Heath who used to live there, and produced a photograph of Christine that he had taken in the woods. I was so relieved. He became a good friend. The photograph is very special as we didn’t have a camera and now, only have the photographs other people took during that time.
We decided to make a bridge across the river. With help, we chopped down one of the tallest trees that grew beside the river and dropped it across the River Dane. We put a chain from a tree on one side to a tree on the other and walked across the log, holding the chain. We repeated the method to cross the Clough Stream. This was a great boost for getting to school, and Ken could get to Mr Sherwin’s where he had some work. I was now working at the Rose and Crown and was able to cross the bridge and walk up through the fields. Unfortunately, we lost the bridges time and time again, whenever there was a storm, and had to rebuild them.
In 1960, my brother Bill came to stay with his family. It had been raining heavily for weeks when Bill and I set off to cross the river, to a neighbour’s house, where our bread order had been delivered. We got to the river to find the log bridge had been carried away on the flood. Only the chain still hung there. Bill prided himself on being an ex-para and went commando style, wrapping his arms and feet around the chain and making his way across. I was not to be outdone and copied him. It was very exciting, going hand over hand, with the water pounding just a foot or so below me. We walked up to the neighbour’s farm, put the bread in haversacks and bags, and walked back down the fields, to the bridge. Bill went first, hand over hand with two bags of bread slung over his arms and one on his back. I sat on the bank watching him, and then… he vanished. Just his battered old red paratrooper beret was visible, bobbing along down the river. It felt a long time before he appeared, coughing and spluttering, swimming to the opposite bank. The bags of bread still hung from his arms and he was holding one end of the broken chain. He set off up the hill to the house, while I had to make the three mile trip round to Wincle and through the wood. When I got home, Bill had put the bread around the range and in the oven, to dry, and a row of pound and ten shilling notes was pegged along the beam above the range. I was very put out, because he’d been telling me how hard up he was.
In 1961, Mr Sherwin, together with two neighbours, cut one huge, strong pine tree down which they dropped straight across the River Dane, where the banks were highest. The tree was placed well above the river, so that even when the storms came, the water did not reach it. They stretched some very strong wire across and at last we had a strong, safe bridge.
The children had been at Wincle Primary School for a year, when we got a letter saying they were going to the wrong school because Back Dane was on the Staffordshire side of the river. They then went to Gun End Primary School in Swythamley, which was a much easier journey until the children were cheeky to Sir Phillip’s butler and he stopped them from taking the short cut across the Hall grounds.
Shaun was born at Back Dane in 1961. It was a challenge, getting across the log bridge, up to the road where we kept the car, when I was in labour. Shaun was almost born in the field, but we made it in the nick of time. When Shaun was about four weeks old, we had a fire in the kitchen, when a clothes maiden fell onto the fire, and I thought we’d lost Shaun, but he recovered. This was the latest in a number of incidents and accidents which, along with Ken’s struggle to get to and from the house without transport, made us realise just how remote we were when we needed help. We decided to take up the opportunity of a rented farm with a road to the house and closer to the school, and left Back Dane some months later.