Spirit of Place

Unit Overview - The aim of this unit is to provide the learner with a knowledge and understanding of the concept of Genius Loci, and how to undertake a 'Genius Loci Audit' as practiced at RMT.


1.1 Explain the concept of Genius Loci as employed at RMT


Genius Loci means spirit of place.  As a new site is acquired by the Ruskin Mill Trust, so its spirit of place is explored in detail through a specific process known as a Genius Loci Audit.  This seven stage process is about taking a conscious approach to the nature and characteristics of 'places' and 'spaces' and has informed the way that the organisation has developed. (Practitioner Guide p38).  The term Genius Loci is part of a rich tradition going back in time.  For example DH Lawrence wrote in 1923:


 'Different places on the face of the earth have a different vital effluence, different vibration, different chemical exhalation, different polarity with different stars: call it what you like.  But the spirit of place is a great reality'


Goethe said the following about beholding the spirit of place:


'A way of engaging... that includes looking at, gazing, contemplating, seeing beyond, perceiving the core, intuitive appreciation, establishing an intuitive bond


At Ruskin Mill the study of 'spirit of place' informs the curriculum.  At Eyam, the development of the curriculum is informed by the mineral, plant, animal and human. In the 'Projects' section there are numerous examples of how the developing curriculum is rooted in the landscape.


The Eyam Outdoor Classroom


I made the following video in early 2017 when I first arrived at the Eyam site and following a five week induction at the various agricultural sites of the Ruskin Mill Trust.  It gives some context of the site.
























Stage One: Collecting the information: mineral, plant, animal, human.

(Much of this information is taken and adapted  from the original Eyam Genius Loci document produced by Ruskin Mill Trust)



The site is at the top of a gritstone escarpment called Eyam Edge which marks the transition between the White Peak, which is under laid by carboniferous limestone, and the Dark Peak where there is a gritstone layer over the limestone.  The limestone was formed by a sedimentary process when the land was covered by a warm shallow sea.  The limestone is full of fossil remains from this time.



Carboniferous rocks are sedimentary and were laid down 330 million years ago during the carboniferous period.  For a visual of this see.  Limestone is soluble and narrow valleys and cave systems were formed in it.



Millstone grit is porous which results in springs.


The carboniferous limestone has rich mineral veins which have been mined since prehistoric times. In the Peak District the veins are particularly rich in lead ore, but also small amounts of silver and other precious metals and minerals. Below a vein of galena ore from Ladywash mine 500 metres from the site.  The white crystals occuring with it are fluorite.




The Hucklow Edge Vein was a particularly rich vein running in an east/west direction parallel to the Eyam Edge at the south of the site.  This passes under the gritstone edge at Great Hucklow.


The landscape is divided by drystone walls made of gritstone.  In the valley below the drystone walls are made of limestone.  Many of the chunks of limestone contain multiple fossils of shells and plant life from the time when this limestone area was a shallow sea located near to the equator.


The soils on the moors in the peak district are light sandy soils over gritstone.  They are thin and low in nutrients.  In the past (Bronze Age) when the weather was warmer and drier, the soils were more fertile.  Climatic changes since the Bronze Age, with higher rainfall and lower temperatures have resulted in the formation of peat.


After the last ice age the moors were colonised with dwarf birch, juniper, thift and buttercup.




Some upper areas had wet and acidic soils which supported hazel, birch and willow. The stone circle on Eyam Moor is called 'Wet Withens', which means the wet land where the willows grew. The chair stone of Wet Withens is apparently shaped to reflect the shape of Man Torr in the background.



During the Bronze Age woodland was cleared and as the climate was warmer initially used for growing grains.  However the soil soon lost its fertitility and encroachment by peat resulted in the upland areas being used for summer pasture.


During the Iron Age woodland was further reduced and all large moors had been formed by the end of this era.


During the later mesolithic times until the end of the Iron Age, colder wetter weather resulted in the formation of blanket peat bogs.  These would have formed in the upland moors without any human intervention.  However on the lower moors, such as Eyam Moor, the peat spread more quickly after the trees were cleared.  These moors would have been recolonised by secondary birch woodland but this was prevented by sheep and cattle grazing.  During the 19th and 20th Century management to create heather moor for grouse has also prevented recolonisation by woodland.


The moors now support bilberry and heather with areas of rough grazing.


The gritstone edge has poor soil and supports woodland and rough pasture.  Fescue bent grass, bracken, hawthorne and gorse.


The lead rakes (spoil heaps from ancient mines) form distinct and rare habitats in the White Peak.  These include rare metalliferous plants which can tolerate high levels of metals such as leadwort.  The area on the site that contains mining spoil has been planted with trees.


During the 16th and 18th C coppices were planted to supply wood, known as white coal, for use in the lead smelting industry


Prior to grassland improvement (application of fertiliser) the pasture would have been traditional hay meadows and would have included Spring sandwort, Mountain Pansy, Alpine Pennycress and Pyrenean scurvy grass.


Plants observed on site: beech, alder, hazel, oak and sycamore, rosebay willowherb, foxgloves, wild orchids, mushrooms, fungus, nettles and cleavers.


There are thick mosses and beautiful lichens growing on the drystone walls.  Symbiosis in lichens is the mutually helpful symbiotic relationship of algae living amonst the filaments of a fungus.




During the Mesolithic period what is now bare moorland was well wooded and provided habitat for red and roe deer, wild cattle known as aurochs, wild boar, wolves, bear, fox, badger and wild cat.  Otter and beaver lived in the river valleys.


All the moors had been formed by the Iron Age, the poor soils and exposed location did not support arable crops and were used for summer grazing of sheep and cattle.


Wolves lived in the area until the Tudor Times (1485 - 1603).


There was an annual fair at Bretton with donkey races, sheep roast and a game chasing a ram covered in soap along the road to Grindleford.


Horses were used to power gins, which pumped water from the mines and machinery that raise the ore.


There was an ancient pack horse route to the north of Eyam.


During the medieval period the area was within The Royal Forest of the Peak (it wasn't a forest, the name refers to the laws that governed it) and it was used for deer and wild boar hunting.


After the enclosure act, Eyam Moor was managed for raising grouse, pheasants, partridges, woodcocks and hares for hunting.


Birds of prey have been observed from the site and there is possibly a badger set.  Deer live in the area.  Ravens have returned to areas of the Dark Peak.


Rosebay Willow Herb grows on the site which is the food plant for the Elephant Hawk Moth.


Mountain Hares used to live on Eyam Moor but the population died out in 1927.




During the Mesolithic period the Peak District was well wooded and stocked with game and people lived as hunters and gatherers.


During the Neolithic period people started to settle as farmers and lived in timber framed houses and ate hazel nuts, crab apples and cereals in addition to hunting animals.


Woodland clearance continued into the Bronze Age, during this time the weather was warmer and supported cereal crops, the land was divided with low stone walls.


During the early Bronze period a large embanked stone circle called 'Wet Withins' (Old English for 'the wet land where the willows grew') and two smaller stone circles were constructed on Eyam Moor which is to the North East of the site.  There was a Middle Bronze Age urn buried in the centre of the circle.


The climate became wetter and colder (two degrees colder than today) during the first millennium BC and the shallow soils over gritstone began to deteriorate and peat began to spread.  The arable farming was abandoned and replaced with summer sheep grazing.


The Roman presence was sparse in the Peak District, they exploited mineral veins in the white Peak but were not interested in the moors.


During the Middle Ages the area was on the edge of The Forest of the Peak.  This was a private area for hunting deer, hares and wild boar and had different laws to common land.  The Forest of the Peak extended from the River Derwent (east) to the river Goyt (west) River Wye (south) and River Etherow (North).


The Gough Map 1360s shows no roads in the area.  Until the 2nd half of the 18th Century it was very difficult for people to travel through the Peak DIstrict.  It was described as 'the very centre of desolation'.  During the Tudor and Stuart periods (1550 - 1750) the area was regarded as a waste and howling wilderness'


Eyam is well known for its collective altruistic response to the plague which arrived in the village in 1665 when a flea infested bundle of cloth from London was delivered to the local tailor.  As the disease spread, the villagers turned for leadership to their rector, the Reverend William Mompesson, and the Puritan Minister Thomas Stanley.  They decided to quarantine the enrite village to prevent further spread of the disease.  The plague ran its course over 14 months and one account states that it killed at least 260 villagers, with only 83 surviving out of a population of 350.


The commons and wastes of The Forest of the Peak were enclosed around Eyam between 1630 and 1702, with large stretches being brought into cultivation. There is a small area around Bretton with a medieval origin for farming.  Some of the buildings at Bretton have a medieval origin, gritsone wall with slate roofs.  The area around Bretton was subject to parliamentary enclosure during the 19th C


In 1758 a turnpike road was constructed on an earlier hollow way road, known as Sir William Hill Road between Buxton and Grindleford.


There was a packhorse route from Eyam to Bradwell which descends at Stoke Ford.


Historically only the veins within the White Peak, which were closer to the surface were mined.  Technological progress that helped with ventilation and drainage allowed the veins found at depth below the gritstone to be mined.  The Eyam Edge contains the richest lead mines in the ore field and were developed from the 18th C onwards, following the veins eastwards at depth.  There are remains of lead mines to the north east, north and north west of the site.  The New Engine Mine had the deepest deposits in Derbyshire, this is listed in the 'Inventory of Regionally and Naionally Important Lead Mining Sites and Landscapes.


The enclosures of the moors enabled great landowners to form compact moorland estates devoted to grouse shooting.  The habitat was kept optimal for grouse through controlled fire clearance.  The owners of the grouse moors prevented ramblers from walking across the Peak District and societies and ramblers associations were started up to campaign to keep the footpaths open.  The campaign became known as The Right to Roam, and after many years of demonstrations, failed parliamentary acts and a mass tresspass the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act (1949) was passed and the Peak National Park was the first National Park to be created in 1951.


Waste heaps were reworked for fluorspar during the 20th C


There is currently underground fluorospar mining at Eyam 'INdustrially fluorite is used as a flux for smelting, and in the production of certain glasses and enamels'












© Brantwood Specialist School

Created by Jim Hildyard