Crafts that are truly Derbyshire’s heritage

Stained Glass

Never mind the days of mobile phones, fast fashion, speedy travel and supermarkets, Derbyshire provides a wonderful insight into a world all but left behind. Yes, the county today boasts all the modern conveniences along with all the olde-worlde charm of yesterday. Mica Bale takes a look at some of the heritage crafts being kept alive in our beautiful slice of the world.

IF you were to take a stroll down any high street in one of 18th century Derbyshire’s many beautiful towns or villages, the scene would be bustling with activity. The clang of the blacksmith shaping iron, a wainwright resetting a carriage, the noisy banter of tradesmen and women plying their wares.

History books well document how the introduction of machinery streamlined the workforce and how many trades and industries were all but swallowed up and yet, despite the modern conveniences we see today, there are still many heritage crafts still observed through the county.


Often confused with shoeing horses for riding or pulling waggons or carriers, a blacksmith’s repertoire expanded much further than creating iron shoes for equines, although a good blacksmith certainly could boast his handful of creating the best footwear for the horses in their village. Blacksmiths were in hot demand from as far back as mediaeval times when their abilities to bend hot metal into useful and practical shapes from cooking pots to building material was hailed by the local community. Everyone loved the blacksmith, especially in winter when his furnace provided a warm welcome for passers-by.  

Throughout the ages, Derbyshire always had a thriving community of blacksmiths including one Martha Strutt, who took over from her husband for a time at Chatsworth House when he died. With four young children to support, Martha continued her late husband’s legacy and was paid the sum of £27 for her work in 1839. Martha would go on to not only continue as a blacksmith but also take on apprentices and labourers before ultimately handing her tools to her son to continue the family business! 

Today there are still a handful of blacksmiths who produce high-quality ironwork throughout the county, including Mather of Tibshelf, who have more than 70 years of experience combined and operate – ironically – from a 17th century cottage in Alfreton. If you are interested in trying your own hand at smithying, why not seek out Mountain King Forge, in Ashbourne, which offers blacksmith training.

Stained Glass

No church or impressive country house would be complete without a colourful array of stained glass depicting a Biblical scene or casting an enchanting light display on a grand room. In fact, Derbyshire can boast the rare distinction of being home to what is generally believed to be the very oldest complete stained glass window in the county and among one of the oldest in England. Dalbury’s All Saints Church boasts a beautiful stained glass window thought to date back to the late 11th or early 12th century and depicts the so-called St. Michael. For context, this Derbyshire gem was being completed around the same time that Canterbury Cathedral was having its stained glass windows installed. 

Although demand for creating new stained glass is not as apparent as in the heyday of building churches, there is still an appetite for seeing these ‘art windows’ in all their glory and there are several tradespeople who maintain the county’s listed buildings and churches and the stained glass windows glistening within. 

One such company is Classic Glass who have been established since 1989. A member of its team said: “Stained glass window restoration is a four-step process that involves the removal, disassemble, reassemble, and installation of the window. During this process the stone mullions are checked for possible damage or need for repair.” Over the last few decades, Classic Glass has repaired more than 1,000 pieces of stained glass windows – a cracking statistic!


Did you know that Derbyshire has its very own dedicated weaving guild? Yes, the Derbyshire branch of the Weavers, Dyers and Spinners is a strong authority in the county. Based in Hazlewood, the local branch of the guild ensures that the heritage craft of weaving is kept alive.

In an era when next day delivery, factory floors and off-the-peg clothing is the norm, it is hard to remember that clothing and textiles – from curtains to bedsheets and carpets to coats – all once needed  an expert hand to create them, even with the introduction of the sewing machine in later centuries.

Penny Marsden, of the Derbyshire Weavers, Spinners and Dyers Guild, said: “Once, every community created their own cloth, and in doing so their identity was literally woven into the fabric. So many occupations that were once a common industry, have become categorised as artisanal.

“As modernisation transformed the manufacturing process of yarn and cloth, traditional methods of production slowly faded with each new generation. The National Association of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers, and our Derbyshire Guild, not only works to learn, apply, and maintain skills but also to promote a more sustainable alternative.  We support and encourage a viable future for textiles production. While ‘fast fashion’ drives mass production and unethical practices, and our capacity for consumerism is pushing the environment to the brink, we highlight the benefits of quality over quantity..

“We don’t exist simply as museum exhibits or quaint antiquities: we don’t see ourselves as ‘the guardians of a bygone century’. The guild is a lively organisation, with a diverse membership, offering so much more than demonstrations and preservation. We are here to educate, provide access to resources and offer support and encouragement.”

Of course, Derbyshire is home to many more expert craftspeople from thatchers to rocking horse makers. The county is a leading light in keeping these important crafts alive, not just so an important slice of history is not allowed be forgotten, but highlighting these trades as a real and sustainable option for young people and their future careers.

The Museum of Making, at Derby, tells the story of the area’s rich crafting history while also serving as a creative space to use these age-old skills.