The name Hathersage comes from the Old English for ‘Haefer’s ridge’ – which probably a reference to the line of gritstone edges of which the moorland slopes of Stanage Edge, overlooking the town to the east, is the largest. The village is surrounded by spectacular ridges & tors, such as Higger Tor, & the ancient iron age fortress at Carl Wark. Many of the edges were quarried for the millstones for grinding corn & metals.
Charlotte Bronte stayed at Hathersage vicarage in 1845, and the village itself appears as ‘Morton’ in her novel Jane Eyre. The name Eyre was probably taken from monuments to local landowners with this surname, this can be seen in the village Church of St Michael and its churchyard.
The Eyre family has been associated with this area for over 800 years. Legend has it that the family were given their name by William the Conqueror. During the Battle of Hastings it is said that William was knocked off his horse, his helmet had become battered & it was difficult for William to breathe. A Norman, Truelove, saw the king & helped him to take off his helmet, allowing him to breathe & get back on his horse. The king nicknamed Truelove ‘Air’ for helping him to breathe.
Later the King learned that Air had lost most of his leg in the battle, and made arrangements that Air and his family were cared for & would be granted land in this part of Derbyshire. Over the years the name changed to Eyre & the families coat of arms shows a shield on top of which is a single armoured leg.
The 15th century head of the family, Robert Eyre, lived at Highlow Hall. He built 7 grand houses nearby for each of his 7 sons. North Lees was one, which Charlotte Bronte took as a model for Rochester’s House, Thornfield Hall. It is one of the finest Elizabethan buildings in the region – a tall square tower with a long wing adjoining & the grounds are open to the public. Another was Moorseats, where Charlotte Bronte stayed on holiday and used as inspiration for Moor House in Jane Eyre.
It is believed that in Hathersage churchyard lies the remains of Little John, Robin Hood’s renowned friend. You can see the grave in the churchyard. In 1780, the grave was opened & a 32-inch thighbone was discovered, which backs up the legend.
Until the 18th century Hathersage was a small agricultural village with cottage industries making brass buttons & wire. In the early 19th century it had become a centre for making needles & pins. The last mill closed in 1902, as needle making moved to Sheffield, although several of the mills still stand.