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Allestree – From Norman Doors to Arts & Crafts

Allestree – From Norman Doors to Arts & Crafts
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Allestree’s ancient village – the only part of what is now a huge amorphous suburb really worth dawdling round – is remarkably compact, which makes a tour that much less complicated. It is also high enough above the city to the south, to ensure clear, breathable fresh air. Not to be sneezed at, as one might say. The reason for its compactness is that it was always a subordinate settlement. At Domesday Book (1086) it was an outlier of the manorial estate of Markeaton, for instance. Ironically, while the ancient village of Markeaton virtually disappeared in the re-landscaping of William Emes in the 1760s, Allestree ultimately flourished.

Given to the Abbey of Darley by one of the Touchet family, then lords of Markeaton, it remained Abbey property until the Dissolution in 1538. Interestingly, during that period the Abbot granted freedom to his villein Elias de Allestrey [sic] ‘and all his brood.’ He is thought to have been a member of a family of free tenants fallen into debt or through some other problem, which resulted in servitude, and his gentry descendants can be traced (some still in the area) to the present day. 

In 1538 the Mundys of Markeaton re-united the place with Markeaton, and it remained with them until Francis Noel Clarke Mundy sold the estate in 1786 to Bache Thornhill of Stanton-in-Peak, who a decade later began to build the hall. It was not until the inter-war period when the estate was finally broken up, that the village ceased to be a small, compact estate village. From then on housing development filled in the areas closest to the village with standard semis, but after the war, in the 1960s, new building westward to Kedleston Road virtually created a new suburb, served by Park Farm and Woodlands shopping centres.

Cornhill, the late 17th century former farm house

To take in the core of the settlement, park up near the pub, the Red Cow (known locally by a less complimentary name which we cannot be repeated here!), a seventeenth century building a pub by 1753, re-fronted c. 1800, and clunkily extended in the 1930s, complete with stained leaded lights incorporating ‘cigarette packet’ heraldry. Stocks once stood outside, and a mortuary behind, we are told. Inside, a stuffed dog once graced the bar, with a bone ring round its neck. 

From the pub walk to King’s Croft (take a brief glimpse en route at the steeply gabled pretty stone parsonage, by H I Stevens 1867, just east of the church hall) and then turn right into Robin Croft Road, so as to enjoy the architecture of the old Victorian school and the adjacent school house, the latter really rather nicely done and tactfully extended. As the church was rebuilt in 1866-67 by Derby’s Henry Isaac Stevens, the chances are that his handiwork is on display here too.

It is a delight to walk onwards from there past the recreation ground, the gift of the last lord of the manor, Col. Lionel Guy Gisborne CMG and his son Capt. Guy Gisborne MC (had they been reading too much Robin Hood, one wonders?) as a memorial to the casualties of the great War. Given some re-landscaping, this could be a delight. Beyond and on the opposite side of the road, lie a run of exceedingly pretty brick cottages, in groups of four, each with a small coped gable – mid-19th century estate workers’ cottages built for Alderman Sir Thomas William Evans, Bt. MP of the hall (and of Darley Abbey mills). Some have been disfigured by render before designation as a conservation area, but the houses directly opposite the recreation ground, private infills of the early 1930s, were designed somewhat to echo the rhythm of the old cottages.

Red Cow Inn, looking down St. Edmunds Close

At the place where Cornhill joins, one is faced with a pair of much older cottages and if you look just a little further down the road you can see the early 18th century Hollies Farm, now converted into separate homes. 

However, it is best to turn right into Cornhill, where you will pass another row of 18th century cottages sporting a substantial chimney-stack, the end part with an arched vehicular entry, marking the whole as the house, forge and yard of the village smithy, although they are today three separate freeholds, the ancient brickwork anaesthetised under a coat of render and the windows replaced by thick uPVC casements. One delight, are the ancient stone walls lining the streets almost everywhere, some original, others reconstructed from stone reclaimed from demolished barns and other estate buildings.

Cornhill thereafter turns east again with a raised pathway from which one descends to one of Allestree’s little gems, the group of three delightful buildings: Yew Tree Cottage, 17th century (or earlier) white painted brick and timber with thatched roof, a Victorian school house – almost too pretty to be by Stevens, although of that period – and a substantial late 17th century three storey brick farmhouse, like the cottage, end-on to the road. The downside is that someone  sold off part of Yew Tree Cottage’s garden on which development has been allowed. Diagonally opposite, beyond the unlovely Evergreen Hall, is another ancient brick cottage (listed) with what looks like a former Regency shop window lighting the ground floor room. Beyond, a further row, but a bit too primped up to have been listed. At their east end is the village pump, upon reaching which one should turn and look south along St. Edmund’s Close, where the cottages on the right make a fine vernacular show undulating away from you.  They, with a row of three opposite and a bit beyond them, with the church and pub beyond, make a really charming sight. On the SE corner the Memorial Hall by that distinguished Arts-and-Crafts architect Percy Currey, rewardingly detailed, and set on an elevated bank.

However, resist the temptation to go that way; instead continue along Park Lane, past another two groups of estate cottages, some in early brick and set upon a massive boulder plinth. It is at this point you must decide whether you want a pleasant walk or exercise. If the former, cross the road a little further down into Siddals Lane and thence into the church yard. If the latter, pick up the pace and continue to the A6 at the bottom.

We, being gluttons for punishment, took the latter option. Although part of the old village can be found on the A6, there is little there now to detain one, and the thing is to turn left into Main Avenue, from which one can get a terrific trompe l’oeil glimpse of the hall set against a background of trees. Thereafter, one may descend Main Avenue until it ends in bollards and then take the truly delightful walk past the lake and up to the hall, rebuilt from Bache Thornhill’s unfinished villa (with several changes of plan) by James Wyatt in 1802. Currently it is an excessively sad site, boarded up, decaying and a building at risk, due to forty years municipal vandalism and neglect. Yet, take heart! – it has recently acquired a saviour in the shape of the proprietors of the Darley Abbey Mills who have obtained a long lease and aim to restore the house as a location for weddings, funerals and bar-mitzvahs.

From the hall (a restorative ice cream is usually available from the golf professional’s shop) retrace your steps to Park Lane and make for the church yard via that sequestered nook, Siddal’s Lane. This is truly a delight, and the church, although largely a confection of Stevens’s done 1866-67, is one of his best. It retains its spectacular Norman door with recessed chevroned arches, wonderful beak heads, strange carved beings and the door which fills it, which is equally fine: stout oak with curly strap hinges and furniture by William Haslam. The porch is also very pretty, perhaps Percy Currey again.

If the church is open, make sure to visit, for the interior is spacious and still retains its high Victorian ambiance, lines of trendy modern service books on shelves at the back notwithstanding. The font is magnificent, of Chellaston Alabaster, carved by Joseph Hall of King Street, essentially a deep basin set within a Gothic arcade supported on stumpy serpentine columns. The neat iron screen could be by Edwin Haslam (son of William) but is a little thin to be sure, whilst there is a good array of mainly Mundy monuments going back to the 17th century. One I had never previously noticed, on the North wall, was of poor George Evans, who drowned aged 16 in 1804, in Carrara marble, topped by a Neo-classical urn with snaky handles, without doubt the work of Joseph Pickford’s colleague, George Moneypenny, who specialized in snaky handled urns: superb.

Having steeped one’s fingers in the coolness of Gothic things (to quote Wilde) we made our way out into St. Edmund’s Close (named after the dedicatee of the church) and went for a glass of ‘tea’ in the welcoming pub. All in all, a most rewarding afternoon’s work!

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