“Ten thousand a year and he owns half of Derbyshire!”
So said Charlotte Lucas to Elizabeth Bennet in the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice. To be fair, this statement is not in the original novel by Jane Austen, nor do the descriptions of Pemberley give any details of the estates acreage. No question the plot of land would need to be substantial to generate the vast income claimed to belong to Mr. Darcy, but is “half of Derbyshire” a possibility? Was Charlotte exaggerating for effect? As a born and bred American, the concept of any one person owning half of a state or county is unfathomable, so I assumed it had to be a humorous quip. Then, as I examined England geography further, I was struck by how small England is in comparison. Divided further into over forty smaller counties, well, perhaps it was possible for one person to own half of one!
Derbyshire is located in the east Midlands of England. Nestled between five other Shires smack in the middle of the island kingdom, Derbyshire is roughly 1016 sq. miles (2631 sq. km) in area. It measures 52 miles from north to south, and 85 miles at the widest east to west point with an average of 20 miles. It does not compare to California or Texas, but is a hefty section of land!
In the Regency Era, Derbyshire was largely pastoral with immense spaces of emptiness between tiny hamlets. According to Bartholomew’s Gazetteer of the British Isles from 1887:
“DERBYSHIRE, midland county of England…. pop. 461,914. The surface in the south is either flat or undulating, irregular in the middle and NE., and picturesquely mountainous in the NW. or Peak district. The principal rivers are the Trent, Derwent, Dove, and Wye; river communication is supplemented by the Erewash and Grand Trunk Canals….
The soil in the Vale of the Trent is alluvial and very productive. In the hilly districts the land is mostly in pasture; much of it is rocky and unproductive. Oats, barley, potatoes, and wheat are cultivated; and there are many excellent dairy-farms. Warm mineral springs are numerous, the most popular being those at Buxton, Matlock, and Bakewell. Coal is abundant; iron ore and lead are worked; among the other mineral products are zinc, manganese, and barytes (barium). There are numerous and extensive quarries of limestone and marble; fluor-spar (fluorite) is found in the caverns, and is manufactured into a great variety of ornamental articles. Silk, cotton, and lace are the chief manufactures, but malting and brewing are also carried on, and there are some extensive iron foundries.”
As Bartholomew’s quote suggests, all but the far north region of the Peaks are fertile and primarily agriculture. The numerous rivers flowing through provided irrigation, teeming quantities of fish, as well as cargo travel routes and energy for a pre-industrial age. Even the moor and heath of the High Peak are excellent for grazing sheep. The vast coal, mineral, and iron mines are located in the Chesterfield area and the extensive cave systems of the Peak.
Speaking of the High Peak, this 555 sq. mile (1438 sq. km) area of land lies mostly in the northern reaches of Derbyshire and was designated in 1951 as the first UK National Park. Contrary to the vision the name “Peak” conjures, the geography lacks sharp peaks of any kind, being more rounded with stone escarpments.
Geologically formed by limestone, shale, and sandstone, the region is riddled with caverns and caves, while providing a wealth of minerals and ores. Another interesting oddity, considering the name, is that the highest point in the entire Peak District is Kinder Scout rising to a whooping 2088 feet. The gorgeous scene from the movie where Lizzy is standing on a cliff was filmed at Stanage Edge in Hathersage Moor (elevation 1503 feet). Amazing what camera angles and excellent cinematography can do!
Originally founded by the Romans in the first century, Derbyshire later became a part of the medieval Saxon kingdom of Mercia. According to the Domesday Book commissioned by William the Norman Conqueror in 1066, Derbyshire existed by that name, as also did a majority of the present day townships. The town Derby, first built as a Roman fort named Derventio, was called Northworthy by the Saxons, but somewhere in the 9th century it was renamed Derby. There is some debate as to the origin of the name, but the general consensus is that it is a derivation of the Dutch and Gaelic name Djura-by, or Deoraby in the Anglo-Saxon, which translated as “Village of the Deer.” For most of its history it was the largest town in the shire, and remains so to this day.
The Derbyshire Crest, established in 1937, incorporates many elements of Derbyshire history: The abundant wild red deer from whence the name came, the sheep that formed the basis for the economy, stag heads from the Cavendish coat of arms of the Duke of Devonshire, the Tudor rose that was an emblem of the county for centuries, the ram that is to this day the mascot of the regimental army, and the dragon with pick that symbolizes the founding by Danes as well as the shire’s long history in mining.
There are over forty manor homes of historic significance located throughout the country, the grandest of which are Chatsworth, Calke Abbey, Bolsover Castle, Renishaw Hall, and Hardwick Hall, names that are very familiar to my long time readers. There are over two-hundred villages and towns, the vast majority of which have existed for hundreds of years, tracing their heritage to medieval roots. The largest has always been Derby, followed by Chesterfield, Alfreton, Ilkeston, Ashbourne, and Buxton. One of the facts I failed to accurately pin down was the average size of an agricultural estate in the Regency Era. I presume it varied widely, as do farms today.
The Chatsworth Estate is listed as over 12,300 acres just in the immediate area surrounding the manor, an exceptionally large estate to be sure. Standard calculations make that about 19 square miles, a sizable plot of land but a mere sliver of the 1019 square miles total for Derbyshire.
The conclusion, therefore, is that Mr. Darcy’s ten-thousand a year estate may well have been equivalent to Chatsworth, so nothing to sneeze at! However, we can clearly see that Charlotte Lucas was a wee bit off the mark.