[dropcaps]Despite the steady growth of Derby, there is still plenty of delightful countryside just outside its boundaries. Most of the surrounding villages manage to retain much of their original character, even when almost lost beneath the growth of modern development.[/dropcaps]
Two villages in particular have been completely taken over by Derby, if only like Mackworth where a completely new village has been built across the road from its namesake. True Mackworth has changed little since the switch-back lane off the Ashbourne road was lined with interesting cottages and farmsteads that once sheltered in the protection of a 14th century castle. Only the impressive gatehouse survived the Civil War, but the thatch roofed cottages and their pretty gardens were left for time to simply make its mark. All Saints Church is at the far end of the village. Set back from an immaculately mown graveyard, it is a popular venue for weddings.
Here is where many of the Mundy family were left to rest with their Derbyshire marble effigies piously facing the high altar. Alabaster quarried in nearby Chellaston has been used extensively within the church; the elaborate lectern was carved from a single block of the stone. The Great Northern Railway once passed through Mickleover and it even had its own station, but since the line’s final closure in 1990 all that remains is in the name of the station hotel and a track-bed that is now a popular walking and cycling way. To find the original village which was once so tiny that it had to share Mackworth’s church, it will be necessary to hunt around the side streets off the Uttoxeter road beyond the traffic island. Here amidst the shading trees are terraces of simple yet attractive cottages, some still residential, but others used by small businesses.
The Mason’s Arms makes an ideal resting place, just as it did when mail coaches stopped on their way between Derby and Uttoxeter. Littleover is prevented from merging with its big brother by a golf course and the A38. There has been a church here since at least Saxon times, but it was the Normans who built the doorway and installed the huge stone font. Both villages are first mentioned in 1011 when Mercian King Aethelred granted his subjects lands along the Trent. The ‘Over’ part of both names comes from the Anglo Saxon word ‘Oufra’, meaning ‘land along a flat-topped ridge’. Old English ‘Micel’ in Mickleover became ‘Magna’, or ‘Great’ in the Conqueror’s survey of 1086, but modern spelling puts its closer to the original.
Although there is a planning application to build a huge estate and shops to the north of Mickleover, the old railway and Derby city boundary mark the current division between truly rural and urban conurbations. Bonnie Prince Charlie is supposed to have stayed at Radbourne Hall on his soon to be aborted march south. It is hard to describe the handful of houses, church and a hall that make up Radbourne as more than a hamlet, but down the centuries it has been home to persons of rank who if only indirectly influenced English history.
Inside the parish church of St Andrew’s, stands the 14th century tomb of Sir John Chandos who was a close friend of Edward, the Black Prince. The Poles, a famous Derbyshire family in and around the 15th century are buried here and Erasmus Darwin, father of Charles lived at Radbourne in 1781. No doubt many of the executives from the nearby Toyota car plant live at Etwall. The village whose name comes from the Saxon ‘Eteweller’ (Etta’s Water), is squeezed between the A516 and A50, well away from the Trent flood plain, among the gently undulating lands of South Derbyshire.
Its church sits high above the road, shaded by a venerable yew and overlooking an attractive group of almshouses. If memorials within the church are anything to go by, Etwall was the home of the Ports, a successful merchant family in Tudor times. Burnaston is nearby across the fields, giving its postal address to Toyota, but still remaining very much a rural village where time is counted in decades. Over and beyond the thrumming traffic on the A38, Findern keeps itself aloof from industry on either side of it – it is close to the Derby to Birmingham line but never had a station.
The village takes its name from Sir Geoffrey de Fyndern, a crusader who brought back the pretty narcissus (narcissus poeticus), the village emblem still blooms every spring. Beyond the A50 and the Trent & Mersey Canal Willington whose name comes from the Old English description of the homestead or farm (‘tun’) belonging to Wille; it was called ‘Willetun’ in the Domesday Book. The village once based its economy on farming and the fact of being on the highest navigable section of the River Trent which together with the Trent & Mersey Canal added to its fortunes.
The canal is still very much in use, albeit mainly with pleasure craft. A good spot to watch boats is where they move in and out of the lock at Stenson, the highest point on the canal and where there is a pub and canalside café. In later times Willington’s two huge coal-fired power stations generated electricity here but all that is left are the five cooling towers that provide nesting places for peregrine falcons. Roman Ryknild Street is submerged beneath the A38 and Egginton keeps well away from the noise. It is still if only partly, a farming community where terraced cottages on Fishpond Lane still have bricked-up windows evading the unpopular eighteenth century Window Tax .
Until as recently as 1963 it was possible to cross the Trent at Twyford by a chain ferry but it was washed away in a flood that year and never replaced. As a result anyone wanting to cross the river must use the bridges at Willington or Swarkestone, but until the former was built in 1839, the choice was either Burton-on-Trent ten miles upstream or Swarkestone, four miles downstream.
Twyford means ‘double ford’ and was an important river crossing on the way between Derby and Repton in times past. Today’s village is little changed from the prosperous eighteen century farming community, part of Calke Abbey Estates, that built the solid brick houses around its cul-de-sac road end. The church though apparently dating from 1739 can trace its ancestry to the Norman settlers who built the decorated chancel arch. The village is frequently cut off by floods, but cannily placed the houses generally manage to keep dry. Barrow upon Trent is mentioned in the Domesday Book as part of lands given to Henry de Ferrers. Following the Norman ethnic cleansing following 1066, with their ‘Harrowing of the North’, William’s scribes could only record Barrow with telling phrase ‘wasta’, or waste where all the people had fled or been slaughtered. The Row is a Grade II listed group of brick cottages and the village pinfold is where stray cattle were penned in pre-Enclosure Act days.
Bonnie Prince Charlie’s forward troops only got as far as Swarkestone before the false rumour of an approaching English army made them turn tail, thus ending the Jacobean ill-fated attempt to regain the crown. The one mile Swarkestone Bridge the longest bridge in England was built in the thirteenth century as the only dry crossing of the Trent between Burton and Nottingham. Strictly a causeway, it is a series of fifteen graceful arches spaced in groups along the raised way, but it was designed to carry traffic that was more leisurely than now.
Twisting and turning without warning between low parapets and pedestrian hiding places, the bridge is notoriously dangerous and is the scene of many accidents. Even in its early days it was prophesied that it would claim three lives a year. To the south of the bridge and standing on a breezy hilltop with fine views over the Trent valley, Stanton-by-Bridge dates back to Saxon times and despite the slaughter that followed the Conquest, King William’s scribes were able to record its joint value with Swarkestone as being worth twenty shillings.
There is a sailing club that uses the flooded remains of an old gravel pit upstream of the bridge and the road to it cuts back from below the Crewe and Harpur Inn at the northern end. The above is a small potted history of the villages surrounding Derby City but I hope encourages you to explore and discover more about this fascinating part of our local area.