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A quick look at … Earl Sterndale & The Upper Dove Valley – part two

A quick look at … Earl Sterndale & The Upper Dove Valley – part two

Having adjourned to the Pack Horse Inn at Crowdecote, we felt duly refreshed, and continuing our journey took the turning north, back alongside the Dove, out of the hamlet heading for Earl Sterndale. The road soon leaves the river and climbs gradually, passing the diminutive settlement of Abbot’s Grove; until the 20th century Abbots Grove House was a farm of the Finney family, who also farmed Broadmeadow after the sale by the Batemans. The frequency of dwellings thereafter suddenly increased, and at once a greensward opened out in front of us, wide side furthest away and embowered with trees (and cluttered with parked motorcars): Earl Sterndale, the only really substantial settlement on our tour.

The village takes its name from Sterndale, a declivity (Barkdale) which ascends east from the Dove and (its trackway having crossed the old Roman Road, now the A515 on the ridge beyond) descending via Deepdale to the Wye. The name means ‘a valley with rocky ground’ and was first recorded as Stenridile in 1244, becoming Erlisstenerdale by 1330. The ‘Earl’ prefix represents its possession from 1086 until 1265 by the de Ferrers family, Earls of Derby. The eastern settlement, beyond the ridge, King Sterndale, lay in the Royal Forest of the Peak, and took its prefix from the monarch himself.       

The two most prominent buildings on the green are the stone built 17th century pub on the west side and the much more recent church of St. Michael and All Angels on the east (upward) side. The former, famously named The Quiet Woman, is recorded back into the 18th century, and claimed even greater age, although the building itself appears to have been formed from a row of about three early cottages. The sign depicts a headless woman and, misogynistic by today’s standards or not, was once fairly common, although few so-called survive to day – indeed apart from one on Houfton Road, Bolsover, others have long closed: that at Halstock, Dorset is now holiday accommodation and that on the corner of Brook Walk and Ford Street in Derby went as long ago as 1878. Tragically, the landlord of the inn at Earl Sterndale died in August 2020, causing it to close; it has yet – to the regret of many – to re-open.

Whilst the north of the settlement was expanded with 20th century housing (with the Regency and Victorian vicarage above), the rising ground to the east is embellished by the church and school, the church yard forming a visual extension to the green.

The Quiet Woman public house, Earl Sterndale, Now Closed.

There was a chapel-of-ease of Hartington here from the fourteenth century – perhaps longer, if the 12th century date for the font is correct – which was falling down in the 18th century and which was finally replaced to the designs of George Ernest Hamilton of Stone in 1828, a simple rectangular building in ‘carpenter’s Gothic’, of carboniferous limestone and gritstone dressings, with a square tower. In 1860 it became a parish church in its own right and, in 1877, R. R. Duke of Buxton added the rather inconsequential-looking chancel. The church had the dubious distinction, on the night of 9th June 1941, of having been gutted by a stick of incendiary bombs, jettisoned by a passing Heinkel 111 en route home from attempting to bomb Manchester, but was well restored by Naylor, Sale and Widdows of Derby in 1952.

To its north stands the absolutely delightful school (listed grade II), seemingly straight from the playbook of Sir Joseph Paxton, with its corniced end stacks, gothic traceried fenestration with hood moulds and rusticated quoins. The porch is dated 1895 however, but we were not convinced that this was its true date. After all, the money had been raised by farmer Thomas Lomas of Glutton Grange and the plot donated by the Bachelor Duke in 1853, which would sit much better with its exterior and accord well with a design sent over from Chatsworth by Paxton. We reckoned that the porch was a matching later addition of 1895. 

Apart from the not wholly successful replacement of the windows in uPVC, it makes a delightful ensemble with the church, all set off the magnificent granite Doric column erected in the church yard in 1919 as a truly heroic war memorial. There was also a flock of chest tombs in the church yard, two to the Finneys of Broadmeadow and Abbot’s Grove, including the unfortunately named Minnie Finney. 

Coming through the church yard’s iron gates, we turned south to see the miniscule Methodist Chapel of 1860 and the 17th century grade II listed hall beyond, sitting, with Regency-replaced fenestration, behind a fine gritstone pair of ball finialled gate piers and with a superb stable range beyond. Whilst we were unclear which family built it, we noted that in the later 19th century it was home to the splendidly named Prince Beresford, a junior member of a very distinguished Dove Valley family. Unfortunately, of the two rows of 18th century and later cottages opposite some had been disfigured by the insertion of uPVC windows.

Coming back to the car, a rather well-spoken villager asked us if we were thinking of buying a house there, to which I replied ‘too bally bleak for us!’ We must have aroused suspicion, snooping round the village; I recall Roy Christian telling me of similar incidents during his village tours in the 1960s!

Our last port of call was to leave Earl Sterndale northwards to the junction with the B5053 Brierlow Bar to Longnor road. This winds down towards the Dove again, by High Wheeldon (National Trust, but yet to be fingered with ‘problematic’ associations!) through a charming rocky defile, down to Glutton and then Glutton Bridge. The name, from Middle English gluton  (which originated as a surname and means exactly what you’d expect it to mean) reminded us that we had passed other gastronomic sounding names, if less straightforward, like Custard Field (Middle English costard = apple) and, of course, Parsleyhay. 

We also passed another mid-18th century semi-vernacular Devonshire estate farmhouse, but dated on the pediment 1675, which may refer to its original building but certainly not its present incarnation. This was Thomas Lomas’s Glutton Grange, later tenanted by the Garnetts into the last century.

Glutton Bridge, like that at Crowdecote, takes you across the Dove into Staffordshire, and once had a mill beside it, but this has been replaced by a large 20th century limestone replacement, in vernacular style, but a little too grand to look comfortable in its setting: Otherwise, only a scatter of buildings of indeterminate age mark Glutton itself, but the scenery, especially to the much-quarried hills immediately to the north, is spectacular in the extreme. 

All in all, a most cheering journey through wonderful countryside, made on a glorious early spring day, all tailored to banish the effects of seemingly endless dark days of winter, when going out can seem like an effort. Try it, but try it before (or after) the summer rush.


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