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Places Pevsner Forgot by Maxwell & Carole Craven

Places Pevsner Forgot by Maxwell & Carole Craven

We supposed that Sir Nikolaus Pevsner missed Horsley Woodhouse because he probably travelled north along the Derby to Heanor road, and was thus able to enjoy Smalley, and on another occasion doubtless journeyed south west from Denby towards Coxbench (neither of which he missed) passing by Horsley Woodhouse at Four Lane Ends where that road crosses the Smalley to Kilburn Road (A609), upon which, straggling along a ridge, Horsley Woodhouse lies. Indeed, the ridge is relatively high and gives a superb view north towards Denby and indeed Ripley, and a less spectacular but more charming one into the shallow valley of Gipsy Brook running parallel to the south, in a vale called locally Golden Valley.

One hundred and fifty years or so ago, it would have looked a lot different however, for Horsley Woodhouse was then a small mining settlement, coal mines, many of them adits, driven horizontally into the hillside rather than vertically downwards. Indeed, coal extraction probably accounts for the original settlement, first recorded as Wudehus in a fine of 1225 and as Horselewodehus in the patent roll for 1303. ‘Woodhouse’, essentially means the ‘house in a wood belonging to [the manor of] Horsley’ in which parish it lay until 1878.

This house was probably later the residence of William de Stainsby, who settled there by inheritance at the east end of Golden Valley in around 1328. His house later became Stainsby House, the occupants of which, latterly the Wilmot-Sitwells, were local coal owners until the first part of the twentieth century. Indeed, the coat-of-arms of their predecessors the Fletchers, were adorned with miner’s dials, to advertise the source of their rise in status into the landed gentry!

Driving along Main Street, one might be forgiven for dismissing the place as a rather dreary collection of 19th century miners’ cottages. Whilst this is to some extent true, there is much to enjoy in them and more so scattered amongst them.

The Old Knife & Steel Pub

It is not easy to find a safe place to park, so we chose the car park of the Old Oak, situated about half way along on the north side, a pleasant stuccoed early 19th century building built in two phases, and recorded as a pub only from the later 19th century. Being reasonably responsible people, we called to refresh ourselves and asked the landlord if he would mind if we had a wander before returning for the car, to which he raised no objection; after all, it was a quiet day in mid-January.

Thus fortified, we turned west, toward Four Lane Ends. Noting the stunning views to the north from a lane beside the pub. Here the houses gradually become early twentieth century although there are a few older ones, including an oddity, No. 121 (south side) a Victorian three bay villa turned into a bungalow with its first floor removed (perhaps after a fire?) but still displaying Flemish bond brickwork and a fine stone front doorcase. The semi-detached former council houses on the north side are well designed and matured well.

The only interesting aspect of the village here is the Roman Road, Rynkneild Street, about the course of which we wrote in Country Images some years ago. This runs north-south here and is marked by a hedgerow to the north, but from the road only by the oddly off-line western boundary of No. 216. To the south, a track called Golden Valley (worth exploring if only for the glorious countryside) runs off parallel but it is otherwise not readily apparent, although also parallel to it to the west is a once fine terrace of cottages called Horestan Place, much marred by later alterations and ‘improvements’ but probably a lot easier to live in for all that.

The tanyard and well head (left foreground) behind No. 110 in 2007

Returning eastwards, past the very useful Co-op, back past the pub, we noted No, 94 (south side), another cut-down former three storey dwelling, probably of around 1790 with posh lintels and keyblocks but again, reduced by a storey and even then, the surviving first floor has been further diminished in height. It suggested to us that the emphasis of the village economy had changed from a preponderance of agriculture and framework knitting to an increased mining population from c. 1800, causing houses to be reduced and in one or two instances subdivided into smaller cottages.

Yet the age of this house did suggest that we were entering the original core of the village and immediately, on both sides the cottages are terraced with doors opening onto the street. Just beyond these on the left is a pretty impressive Arts-and-Craft house, 1920s rather than Edwardian, representing another of the settlement’s pubs, this time, long closed. This began as a beerhouse, the Knife & Steel, in the 19th century, but this ambitious rebuilding must have marked an attempt to go up-market – but to no avail, for it had closed for ever by the outbreak of war, to be converted into two houses called – inevitably Knife and Steel.

Just beyond, we found Fairfield Road running downhill to the north, a chance to discover what delights might lie behind the main drag. We were not disappointed, for beyond further mid-19th century and later miners’ cottages and a post-war estate, we encountered The Crescent. Situated at virtually the lowest point we found what is surely the oldest surviving building in ‘’Ossly Woodus’: a stone-built cottage with much altered fenestration – amazingly un-listed. This was built, presumably in the 17th century (or earlier) and was for many years the Old Knife and Steel, prior to being re-named the New Inn, when its name migrated to the pub on Main Street. The building is dated 1672 on a chimneypiece, the front door and upper windows have been neatly blocked and an extension added: a very attractive ensemble, again with wonderful views from the rear.   

Further along Main Street, a plethora of new walling and gate-piers marks Willow Grove, an early Victorian villa recently rebuilt almost out of recognition, but the local doctor’s house for many decades from the 19th to the 20th centuries. Beyond, we saw a much more striking piece of architecture: the Wesleyan Chapel, founded 1799 but the façade rebuilt in severe pedimented classical style in the 1840s (at a guess) with a Gothic school room beside it dated 1904, the only down-side being the near universal imposition of uPVC windows everywhere in the village – no surprise, as there is not a single listed building in the whole settlement, bar some surviving walls of long-lost Stainsby House.

Opposite the chapel is a small enclave with rescued stone Gothic windows (from where?) and some simple decorated iron work marking the village war memorial, the iron commemorating the Battle of Britain. When I was last here in 2007, whilst researching a book about the Richardson family’s well-known tannery, No. 110 stood here, a white stuccoed three bay three storey house with a 17th century core, occupied for much of the 18th century by successive Henry Richardsons and latterly a working farm house. Behind, even then, remained the tanning sheds and the large well. The whole ensemble richly deserved listing but, alas, was wantonly demolished by an opportunistic developer who built a small group of modern houses toward the rear of the site: a great loss.

We resumed our walk east, noting another good stuccoed late 18th century house behind some trees with a later west extension now a separate freehold. Opposite, a neat Edwardian building right on the street, with first floor small gables, harled above ground floor brick which was built as a replacement Jolly Colliers inn during the landlord-ship of Henry Wilton, but again inevitably has been subsequently de-pubbed.

Beyond a pleasing variety of dwellings, including two quite decent early Victorian villas, both with stucco gaily rendered in pastel shades, before we reached the former school. This is well set, stone built, on the corner of Wood Lane. The lane leads down south and eastward to the hamlet of Woodside (too far for our legs) where one encounters the agreeable Sitwell Arms. The school was built 1869 to the designs of Henry Isaac Stevens of Derby and paid for by the Revd. Henry Wilmot-Sitwell of the Stainsby House family. It has since been replaced by an attractive, typical early 20th century Country Council school from the office of their architect G. H. Widdows, which lies a little further along.         

The final delight, as we walked further east past another line of neat brick ex-miners’ cottages, was the sight of the church, dedicated for some quirky reason to St. Susannah, an odd choice: she was an aristocratic Roman girl, martyred for allegedly refusing to marry a pagan kinsman of the emperor Diocletian around AD295. It was designed by Henry Steven’s former partner (who succeeded to his practice in Derby in 1873) Frederick Josias Robinson in 1880 and dedicated in 1882. R. Sacheverell Wilmot-Sitwell of Stainsby House paid for the church and was first patron, and in whose memory a particularly fine stained glass window by the well-regarded firm of Burlisson and Grylls was later installed. Beyond, stands a modest brick parsonage embellished with Robinson’s characteristic yellow brick banding.

The church, parsonage, former school, Wesleyan Chapel, the former New Inn and at least one late Georgian house richly deserve being added to the statutory list; their omission is almost as inexplicable as Sir Nikolaus’ failure to call and enjoy it all. As for us, we made our way back to the Old Oak for a well-deserved (we felt) drink and a packet of crisps, well refreshed by village, the brisk winter air, sunshine and the entire experience.


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