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D.H. Lawrence and Crich

Why would you think of Oliver Reed, full frontal nude, and think of Crich? Because in Ken Russell�s 1969 film of D.H.Lawrence�s �Women in Love� Reed wrestled with local boy Alan Bates in front of the fireplace at Elvaston Castle and played a character called Gerald Crich. Almost certainly Lawrence named his hero after one of his favourite villages. In his writing he often thinly disguised local place names, so his native Eastwood appears as neighbouring Bestwood, for instance. But he never disguises Crich.

Picture of D. H. Lawrence aged 21

Lawrence paints the scene at the beginning of his autobiographical �Sons and Lovers� and once more in �Return to Bestwood� (1926) where he describes the �amphitheatre of hills which I still find beautiful� Crich is still on the sky line to the west�And there is still a certain glamour about the countryside.� This despite the �new patches of reddish houses, and a darkening of smoke�. Elsewhere he even speculates that the hills remind him of Tuscany where they would be terraced into vineyards. With global warming that could well happen! Again in �Nottingham and the Mining Country� (1929) he writes about the Breach where he lived and the �sordid and hideous Squares�. But in contrast from there he could see �hilly country, looking west towards Crich and towards Matlock, sixteen miles away�.To me it seemed, and still seems, an extremely beautiful countryside�. And in his poem �End of Another Home Holiday� he hears the call of a corncrake in the valley.

But he doesn�t just contemplate Crich from a distance. In a letter to a friend he recommends a hike from Nottingham: �do Langley Mill to Ripley � Ripley to Wingfield Manor (one of my favourite ruins) � Crich � and then down to Whatstandwell and up again to Alderwasley and so to Bole Hill and Wirksworth and over Via Gellia � or keep to the high ground from Crich and round Tansley Moor round to Matlock Bridge � or where you like. But it�s real England � the hard pith of England. I�ll walk with you one day.�

One Easter Monday in �Sons and Lovers� Paul Morel (a thinly veiled Lawrence himself), Miriam and some friends take the train to Alfreton where the streets were full of colliers and their dogs. By midday they were climbing up to Wingfield Manor where they paid sixpence admission. Lawrence�s delight in the ruin gleams through the two or three pages of description in the chapter called �Lad-and-Girl Love�. It is a scene of romance. �They continued to mount the winding staircase. A high wind, blowing through the loopholes, went rushing up the shaft, and filled the girls� skirts like a balloon, so that she was ashamed, until he took the hem of her dress and held it down for her�. One suspects a modern teenage lad would have just gawped. Then they crossed �bare country of stone walls� and on over a large meadow �that sloped away from the sun, along a path embedded with innumerable tiny glittering points�and the place was golden as a vision�.

So they came to �the straggling grey village of Crich� with its Stand that Paul could see from his garden at home. Lawrence described the rush to the top of the knoll and the ancient monument �sturdy and squat�. Inevitably it was windy and they sheltered by the tower. �At their feet fell the precipice where the limestone was quarried away. Below was a jumble of hills and tiny villages � Matlock, Ambergate, Stoney Middleton.�

Next they walked on to Whatstandwell where they arrived very hungry. So they sat on the wall near the bridge, ate a currant loaf and watched �the bright Derwent rushing by, and the brakes from Matlock pulling up at the inn�. They waited for a train at Ambergate Station which was crowded with �excurtionists returning to Manchester, Birmingham and London�.

In 1918 Lawrence took his wife to Mountain Cottage, Middleton by Wirksworth which looked down a steep valley to the Via Gellia. He called it �exactly the Navel of England�. It took Eastwood and environs a long time to come to terms with their most infamous son � a pornographer, adulterer and traitor, to name but a few accusations levelled at him. He didn�t think much of Eastwood either. But when he refers to Crich it is always with affection. Years after leaving the area and when in distant parts of the world he would still write to a friend:

"Go to Walker Street and stand in front of the third house. Look across at Crich on the left, Underwood in front, High Park Woods and Annesley on the right. I know that view better than any in the world. That is the country of my heart."

View towards Crich from Walker Street


So, accepting Lawrence�s invitation I went to Walker Street to look across at Crich. High on the wall of the third house, Number 10, the good burghers of Eastwood have placed a plaque in a convenient position for visitors on stilts. The viewing position has a sign that the younger burghers of Eastwood have spray-painted for extra effect. A high hedge rather blocks the view but peering round it you can get your bearings from the crane depot on the A38, move left and there on the high horizon, across derelict land and modern housing developments is the Stand.

Martyn Offord