White walls: Middleton by Wirksorth
Over the White Peak south of the River Wye, woodland was largely cleared by farmers before 500BC, with overgrazed soils became heath and scrub. Villages developed on the lower plateau areas on sites with better soils and reliable water supplies. Saxon open fields, divided mainly into arable strips, developed around villages. In higher, more remote areas, monasteries established granges, large sheep ranches; there were about fifty around 1200AD.
The Black Death in 1349 caused a great shortage of labour and led to more concentration on stock rearing. Closer to villages, land enclosure with stone walls began before 1300 AD, separating animals and crops.
'Parliamentary Enclosures' (1760 -1820) completed the process, resulting in squarer fields further away from settlements. So the area's distinctive stone walls represent centuries of change.
Many villages show fossilised remnants of individual open field strips enclosed by curving walls. Until the 16 th century, stone for walls was largely gathered by clearing the fields; later, most stone was quarried nearby. The Middleton by Wirksworth open fields were enclosed in 1836; the broad pattern of strips, now enclosed by walls, is still evident today.
Most of the White Peak is now used for dairy farming (for which calcium soil is essential). In the past it supported a number of creameries and the famous Hartington cheese factory survives today.