Greetings! This entry comes to you at a rather uncertain time as the relative new 'normality' of the past few weeks may about to be reversed in an attempt to combat a potential second wave. The vagaries of the government response and, what happens next, remain to be seen. On the plus side, last week saw me venture out again, taking advantage of some unseasonably pleasant September weather, to once again travel further afield. The subject of my trip was a location I had intended much before now but because of *gestures at everything* it had to be put on hold. This would be the first trip outside of Nottingham since March and the first solo since December's visit to Oakham. It would also see me returning to one of my favourite counties as I hopped over the border into Derbyshire to visit the town of Dronfield.
Dronfield is a town in North East Derbyshire, which includes Dronfield Woodhouse and Coal Aston. It lies in the valley of the River Drone between Chesterfield and Sheffield. The Peak District National Park is three miles (4.8 km) to the west. The name means open land infested with drones (male bees).
The town existed before the 1086 Domesday Book, and has a 13th-century parish church. In 1662, Charles II granted the town a market, although this later ceased. The industrial history of the town includes coal mining, the wool trade, the production of soap and steel, and engineering. Today a range of manufacturing firms still operate in the town.
Dronfield's population increased dramatically in the post-war years from 6,500 in 1945 to its current size of just over 21,000.
The football ground to the north of the town is currently the home of Sheffield F.C., the world's oldest football club.
Dronfield was in existence before the 1086 Domesday Book, though little is known about its early history. It suffered after the Norman conquest when William the Conqueror sought to bring the north of England under control. Its name derives from the Old English drān and feld, meaning open land infested with drones (male bees).
The Church of St. John the Baptist was built by 1135 when Oscot was rector and the parish of Dronfield covered Little Barlow, Coal Aston, Povey, Holmesfield, Apperknowle, Dore and Totley. The Guild of the Blessed Virgin Mary was established in 1349 in the hall of the chantry priests. However, due to the Dissolution of the Monasteries and the subsequent suppression of the guilds and chantries in 1547, it became a local inn which still operates today as the Green Dragon Inn.
During the 16th century Dronfield with its sheep farmers had a significant number of families working in the wool trade, engaged in spinning and weaving and also the production and selling of cloth. Soaper Lane, being next to the river, was the centre of the soap-making and tanning industry in the town, with a dye works also situated there. In 1662 Dronfield was granted a market by Charles II, but in the 18th century, due to the proximity of Sheffield and Chesterfield, the market went into decline however it is still held every Thursday in the rear car park of the civic center on Farwater Lane.
Between the 16th and 19th centuries Dronfield grew around various industries, the most widespread of which was coal mining, with pits at Stubley being mentioned in the 16th century and a map of Hill Top in the 17th century showing some workings. Further mines were opened at Coal Aston in 1785 and Carr Lane in Dronfield Woodhouse in 1795. The town also benefited from trade with the lead mining and grindstone industries in the Peak District. The wealth of the Rotheram family, who became the Lords of the Manor of Dronfield, was based on the lead trade.
The Wilson-Cammell steelworks was built in the town in 1872-3, following the completion of the Midland Main Line through the town in April 1869. Bessemer steel was first blown at the site in March 1873 and the plant was soon capable of producing 700 tons - mostly as rails - every week. Dronfield became a boom town, but its prosperity was short-lived; although more efficient and profitable than other works in the Sheffield area, its site had limitations that couldn't compete with low-cost coastal locations, and in 1883 production moved from Dronfield to Workington in west Cumbria. Steelworkers and their families moved too. It is estimated that 1,500 townspeople made the trip to Workington. 'Dronnies', as the people of Workington called the newcomers, formed Workington AFC in 1888.
In 1993 Dronfield Henry Fanshawe School (formerly the 'Dronfield School' and previously 'Dronfield Grammar School') suffered major damage when its 1960s system-built blocks were completely gutted by fire, requiring all firefighting resources from all nearby towns and Sheffield to control the blaze. The historic Victorian quadrangle and library, as well as the sixth-form block, survived. The remains of the modern school were subsequently demolished and mobile cabins were used as classrooms until 1996 when the school was rebuilt.
As well as the above, Dronfield is notable for being the birthplace for several sporting figures, largely footballers, but also boasts a former Apprentice contestant and, best of all, Def Leppard drummer Rick Allen as former residents.
I arrived in Dronfield by train, just after 1pm, on a pleasantly warm Thursday afternoon and immediately set about trying to get my bearings. I did a Masters degree at University of Sheffield and used to commute there by train so, whilst I had passed through Dronfield many times, this was my first opportunity to explore the town up close. Leaving the station, I took a left and then a right, past The Forge shopping centre. This led slightly uphill towards the High Street and the area of my first few stops. My dive into the pubs of Dronfield began at the Manor House Hotel.
On site since 1678, the pub was closed for a considerable time before reopening in November 2018 following a major refurbishment. It was awarded Most Improved Pub by the local CAMRA branch for 2019. It occupies a split level position on a hill with an entrance facing the main road. Internally, the main bar area sits on the ground floor with a central bar serving a lounge to one side and another area to the other which includes TVs for showing live sport. There is a function room upstairs with it's own bar and a substantial outside drinking space to one side. There are old car parking spaces at the front but these are now out of use and cordoned off with a combination of chains and empty casks. Food sales were introduced to the pub in August 2019 in the form of Pieminister pies. I entered the pub through the main entrance where I was greeted by a sanitiser station and a sign on the bar telling me to wait. After around a minute, a female member of staff appeared, took my details and signed me in using a laptop on a high table set up by the door. I was also allowed to order my drink directly from her and pay before sitting down. Once again, no bar service is allowed here. I took a seat at a low table to my left, opposite the bar, in the part of the pub set up for showing sport. A number of tables were already reserved for later in the evening as Sheffield United were live on TV in a cup game. I noticed that a one way system was also in place with black and yellow arrows taped on the floor to show the way. In terms of beer, there was a choice of 2 from 3 handpulls. The options were Triple Point Gold and Pennine IPA. It was the latter of these that I had chosen and it soon arrived. Whilst it's weaker than a traditional IPA at 4.4%, it was certainly no less tasty. It pours a crisp, golden colour and features balanced fruitiness, mild liquorice notes and fruity undertones. This was an excellent thirst quencher after my walk from the north end of town and a nice place in which to enjoy it with a modern interior that does not detract from the character of what is clearly an old building. The lighting is soft and the decor minimal with nice little touches that add character. Once my beer was done, I made my way out, following the one way system out into the beer garden and then through a low gate out onto the main road.
I merely had to cross the road to reach both the penultimate and final destinations on this trip, situated as they are, right next door to each other. The first of these is the Dronfield Arms.
Formerly known as both The Sidings and The Midland due to its proximity to the railway line, the Dronfield Arms became the town's first brewpub when a brewery kit was installed downstairs in the former restaurant in 2015. Known as Hopjacker, the brewery has since been disbanded but the kit is still in situ and can be viewed through glass panelling in the floor of the bar, whilst the name is still visible throughout the premises including on the front window. The kit is being rented for use by Gravity Brewing Co., who are brewing without a tie to the pub. The pub itself features a very long bar to one side with a small step leading up to a rear raised area which features plenty of seating, as well as access to outside. When I arrived, I signed in on a clipboard on the bar and made my way to the top end where the real ale handpulls are located, 7 of them in total, though only 4 of them were in use at the time. The range available was mostly Abbeydale, featuring Serenity, Hop Back Citra & Hibiscus and Moonshine again although there was also Silver Brewhouse Grey Ghost on the remaining pump. It was to this last choice that I turned. Silver Brewhouse brew a range of beers with different themes, including some from the portfolio of the now sadly defunct Raw Brewery, formerly of Chesterfield. Grey Ghost is one of these. This is a heavy hitting IPA that weighs in at 5.9%. It's bitter, well hopped and very easy to drink. I'd recommend not having too many in quick succession! I enjoyed it whilst sat on a high table near the bar, with the brewery vessels visible through a panel beneath my feet. Every table here is equipped with a bottle of hand sanitiser to make it as accessible as possible, something which I thought was a very sensible approach. The decor here is modern, light and quirky with a combination of local photos, posters and a cartoon strip dedicated to Henderson's Relish. I still have no idea what this particular condiment is but it appears to have near god-like status in parts of North Derbyshire and South Yorkshire.
I had one more venue to explore before my short walk back to the station for the train ride home. The venue in question was the Underdog.
The Underdog opened its doors in September 2019, following an extensive refurbishment of Smiffy's Real Ale bar. Operated under the principles of a micropub but a little bit larger than some, it is known for a wide and varied beer choice in cask, keg, can and bottle. When I arrived, the door was propped open and the large windows at the front had been fully opened to provide as much ventilation and light as possible. I was greeted by a member of staff, wearing a face shield, who took my details, asked me to sanitise and, for the first time all day, checked my temperature. With checks complete, I was pointed to an available table with the instruction that it would be needed in about 3 hours time. No issues as far as that was concerned! Here again, each table was equipped with its own bottle of sanitiser, although these ones were automatic and motion activated, thereby reducing contact. There was also an interesting procedure in place with regards to the toilets, which I will go into in more detail shortly. But first, the pub and the beer! The Underdog is basically a large, single room with a high ceiling, wood flooring and contemporary design features including some industrial style ducting and an emphasis on canine theming. The bar is long and sits at the back of the room and features 5 hand pumps and a bank of keg lines on the rear wall, including 1 or 2 national brands. My choice of beer from the 5 pumps was between the 2 available, namely Fyne Ales Jarl and Abbeydale Moonshine. It made perfect sense to bookend my day with one of my favourite beers so Moonshine it was! Once this had been safely dropped off at the table, the member of staff from before instructed me in the ins and outs of the toilet system. In a nutshell, each table is equipped with 2 wooden blocks with a hole in the middle, with the table number written on. When using the toilet, the customer hooks one of the blocks onto a hook on the outside of the toilet door (themed as dog tails - a nice touch). This enforces a 'one in one out' system without being intrusive, ensures that customers know when the toilet is occupied and allows staff to prepare to clean it as and when it has been used. Simple and efficient and, actually, quite a stroke of genius. The Underdog is a cracking little place and I was glad that I'd stopped in before I had to go home. As tempting as it was to sneak another beer in here, I instead made my way out and headed the short distance back to the station.
I'll freely admit that I hadn't quite known what to expect from Dronfield. As much as I make an effort to research pubs and locations and plan a route, there's only so much that can be gleaned without physically being at a place. And I have to say, that I was impressed. Stand out pubs were definitely the Underdog and the Blue Stoops but each pub was making a huge effort to welcome people and to increase confidence and comfort. Whilst each pub was very different and all had different interpretations of the new safety measures that best suited them, they all felt safe and welcoming and, best of all there were customers in each one. Sometimes it was just one or 2 but it was mid afternoon on a Thursday. Any customers in any pub should be celebrated, especially in the face of the uncertainty that the country and, in particular, the hospitality industry is still facing. Particularly in smaller, close knit communities, it's important that pubs are not left to fall by the wayside. Supporting pubs in any way I can is my own contribution in trying to keep everyone's heads above water. It truly was a great experience exploring somewhere that no doubt has been easily overlooked for beer, sitting as it does in the shadow of one of the great British beer cities. I hope that I've done something at least to put this corner of Derbyshire on beer maps. It certainly deserves to be.