New heritage centre and café share fascinating history of Peak District village

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With tourist season just around the corner, a new visitor centre has opened in the Hope Valley to share one village’s unique heritage with the rest of the world, accompanied by food, drink and overnight accommodation which are worth the trip in their own right.

Proposals for the Cupola in Stoney Middleton were first floated more than a decade ago, and final planning approval secured in 2017, but after some further Covid-related delays the centre finally welcomed the community through the doors for a special launch event in January.

A few weeks on and the licensed café is now fully operational and open seven days a week, along with 49 holiday apartments, a gift shop and a heritage exhibition space which will continue to evolve over the coming years.

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Colin Hall, who owns the centre and led the development together with his brother David, said: “It is a very exciting time for Stoney Middleton, tourism, and local people, we are proud and look forward to welcoming and sharing our heritage, food and beverages with all those who will visit.

The Cupola visitor centre is intended to attract a bigger slice of Peak District tourism to the storied village of Stoney Middleton. (Photo: Contributed)The Cupola visitor centre is intended to attract a bigger slice of Peak District tourism to the storied village of Stoney Middleton. (Photo: Contributed)
The Cupola visitor centre is intended to attract a bigger slice of Peak District tourism to the storied village of Stoney Middleton. (Photo: Contributed)

“This is probably the biggest tourist infrastructure development that’s ever been done in the Peak District, with about £8million invested in it.”

The former ‘Lords Cupola’ once stood on the exact spot, built in 1709 providing a means for local miners to smelt and extract lead from stone mined underground, using fire drawn by huge chimneys – an architectural feature central to the new building.

Though the original plan included a hotel, economic conditions made an apartment complex more viable, with investors able to buy into the Rock Mill development and own individual units for rent.

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Otherwise, Colin says they have achieved what they set out to, and believe the centre is well placed to drive tourism and job creation, as well as a providing a new place for local people to get together.

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Opening the centre has been a long-held ambition for Colin Hall. (Photo: Contributed)Opening the centre has been a long-held ambition for Colin Hall. (Photo: Contributed)
Opening the centre has been a long-held ambition for Colin Hall. (Photo: Contributed)

He said: “In terms of the vision we had, a centre that could tell the story of the village and its industries with a nice café to finance it, I think we’ve pretty much nailed it.”

The history of Stoney is personal as much as social for Colin, given his family have been connected to the village stretching back six or seven generations.

That legacy is also embodied in the centre, with Colin’s wife Alison doing much of the interior design – “an industrial aesthetic with a modern twist,” Colin says – and nieces Olivia Hall and Stephanie Gowens staffing the café and shop.

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While there were obvious commercial motivations for the project, which has regenerated former industrial premises owned by the Halls, they wanted to be sure that whatever occupied the site would give something back to the community too.

The new building is inspired by the 18th century smelting facility which once stood on the site. (Image: Contributed)The new building is inspired by the 18th century smelting facility which once stood on the site. (Image: Contributed)
The new building is inspired by the 18th century smelting facility which once stood on the site. (Image: Contributed)

Colin said: “The story of the village is incredible and vast. The Romans had industry here and that continued right up until the closure of Cavendish Mill. It was all based on limestone, whether that was digging simple holes, lead smelting or lime burning, and the dale has taken on so many appearances as those industries changed over time.

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“The whole village grew up because of those industries. This wasn’t like Baslow, Curbar and Peak District villages which were for wealthy people with business in Sheffield.

“The steel toe-cap boot was invented here and there were 14 or 15 factories and whole family dynasties just making boots for industry and the army. There were 15 pubs to quench the workers’ thirst, and on the back all kinds of myths and legends arose around them, from Black Harry the highwayman to the tales of Lovers Leap.”

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Many of these narrative threads were first tied together by a heritage project funded via a £30,000 National Lottery grant awarded in 2013, which Colin led with Alison and other members of the community.

The heritage exhibition documents thousands of years of local history. (Photo: Contributed)The heritage exhibition documents thousands of years of local history. (Photo: Contributed)
The heritage exhibition documents thousands of years of local history. (Photo: Contributed)

Now that the heritage centre is up and running, they hope to attract more funding to develop its exhibits and events programme into a fully-realised museum experience.

Colin said: “Ideally we will try again for a second lottery grant. Lots of the information and images are already on display on boards and video screens, you can walk around and walk out understanding much more about the village but its a temporary exhibition.

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“You could easily spend another £200,000 on it for the kind of technical exhibition we aspire to. We also have lots of ideas for themed events, but for now we’re just concentrating on getting the core elements running smoothly.”

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The results so far have already met with significant approval among local residents, who came out in droves for the grand opening with free food fresh from the cafés wood-fired oven and flame grill and a poignant speech by Colin’s aunt Lois Bekeris, who lived in a cottage on the site for 25 years.

Colin said: “We’ve been delighted and amazed by the reactions so far, from residents and the general public. There have been lots of complimentary reviews about the look of the building inside and out, the food and the service.

“It felt like the whole village had turned out for the opening, and it was a day of recognition for the support they have always showed. It’s on the main road so people have watched it being built and we wanted them to feel it’s theirs. We think the national park and all the people living in it can be proud of this, but especially those in the village.”

Stoney residents turned out in force to celebrate the opening. (Photo: Contributed)Stoney residents turned out in force to celebrate the opening. (Photo: Contributed)
Stoney residents turned out in force to celebrate the opening. (Photo: Contributed)

The centre is currently operating on off-season hours, opening at 9am each day then closing at 5pm Sunday to Thursday and 10pm on Friday and Saturday.

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Throughout the day, the kitchen will be serving up cooked breakfasts, burgers, grills and pizzas as well as speciality coffee and cakes, and a wide selection of wines, ales and beers – many of them brewed locally and on sale in the gift shop.

For more information on visiting the centre, see thecupola.uk.

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