1. Home
  2. Featured
  3. Places Pevsner Forgot – Hilcote

Places Pevsner Forgot – Hilcote

Places Pevsner Forgot – Hilcote

It seemed incredible to us that a settlement containing perhaps the finest miners’ cottages in the Midlands should have been missed by Sir Nikolaus Pevsner in his travels. Possibly, in 1953, when compiling the first edition of his guide to Derbyshire in his historic series The Buildings of England and having visited Blackwell, of which Hilcote is historically a part, he steered clear of what then was the off-putting sight of the B. Winning pit of the Blackwell colliery as he passed along the B6406 (Berristow Lane) en route to Pinxton. After all, there was then no M1 (from which he would have had a view of most of Hilcote, at least in winter) nor an improved A38, nor a MacArthur Park shopping experience encroaching on the flanks of Pinxton Castle. Who could blame him?

Mind you, Hilcote infrequently gets mentioned in the usual sources for the history of local settlements. All the usually informative Bulmer could say in 1895 was 

‘Hilcote is a long scattered village a quarter of a mile south of Blackwell.’

No mention here of coal mining, although it was then in full swing! Indeed, the first mention we could discover about the place was one of 1323 when Joan de Somerville, a considerable co-heiress of the Chaworths of Alfreton, married a Welsh grandee called Rhys ap Gruffydd, better known at the English court (in which he served under three monarchs) as Syr Rhys, having been knighted by Edward III in the field for his efforts against the Scots in 1346. 

Hilcote was a minor portion of the very considerable estates she brought to this illustrious Welsh family, descended from Ednyved Fychan, seneschal to the Kings of Gwynedd and Princes of All Wales. Henry VII was a direct descendant, although the manor of Blackwell (including Hilcote) was sold by Rhys’s posterity to the Babingtons, by whom it was divided into two manors bearing impenetrable names Sulney and Trussebut, the latter including Hilcote.

The tiny hamlet was acquired in 1586 on the downfall of Anthony Babington, by the Holles family of Nottinghamshire and descended from them to the Cavendish Dukes of Newcastle, whose heirs sold them in 1742 to their cousins the Dukes of Devonshire. At that time, it consisted of a scatter of houses due south of Old Blackwell Church on Hilcote Lane but, even then, there were coal workings in the north part of the hamlet. They seem to have waned in the later 18th century, though, the directory for 1846 claims that Hilcote was ‘noted for its collieries, at present not worked.’

In 1857 Nathan Mellor a coal master is listed as resident there, so something must have been stirring below ground, and in 1864 there was a family of colliers resident. But in 1870 the big firms moved in, the Blackwell Colliery opening the B Winning pit at the south end of Hilcote in 1873-1874.  Adjacent to the site, which lay on the east side of Berristow Lane and south of Pasture Lane, straddling the Normanton Brook, was a mass of railway lines coming in from the west, smithy, coke oven, brickworks with four kilns, an old shaft (presumably that worked previously) and a row of cottages on Berristow Lane, along with a pub, the Hilcote Arms. In 1964 the site closed as loss-making,d and over the following decades the land was reclaimed, in this case fairly successfully.

We chose to enter Hilcote from the A38 junction, and by so doing soon found the brick terraced cottages of the first phase of mining flanking the road, the Hilcote Arms occupying a corner position at the junction with Hilcote Lane. It is a sturdy and attractive piece of brick building, entirely en suite with the surrounding cottages, which also appear superior, in constructional terms at least, to many we have seen in the area, with cambered stone lintels and gauged brick arches to the entrances; we thought Pevsner might have appreciated it. Further up the lane the houses are later, mainly terraced but less well designed on the west side, whilst on the east side there is nothing but post-1964 bungaloid growth, presumably on what had been slag heaps or other manifestations of a large colliery, although in 1898 there were still two open fields on this side of the Lane. As the colliers’ cottages fizzle out at the north end of the village, the round bulges out to the east (now called New Road) only to rejoin the same alignment half a mile further on, leaving a straight vestige of the previous alignment visible in a line of hedgerows. Quite what the road had to be diverted to avoid, we were not sure.

We chose to return south along Berristow Lane and turn left into Pasture Lane, entirely rural on the north but to the south, bungalows, until the road is almost about to turn into a track to a farm, when we encountered a terrace of twelve Edwardian miners’ cottages, facing south and only accessible from their gabled rear extensions. The looked pretty substantial, though.

Retreating a few hundred yards and we turned left into New Street, to encounter the true glory of the settlement, for the Blackwell Colliery Company, clearly an enlightened employer, had built this road to run all the way down to the Normanton Brook, positioning a miners’ welfare hall at the lower end opposite a primitive Methodist Chapel and school. 

It thereupon lined the street with no less than twenty pairs of well built, excellently designed brick houses – one could hardly call them cottages – three storeys, with blue brick banding, side entrances through small arched and gabled porches from a small easy-to-manage garden, stone lintels to what had been sash windows (but are now largely disfigured with a motley variety of uPVC substitutes) and substantial gabled attic dormers. They appear to date from the late 1880s to the early 1890s; they certainly appear on the 1898 OS map. Who, we wondered, was the Company’s architect, responsible for these humane dwellings? We chatted to some of the residents, who were working in their gardens enjoying early October sunshine, and apparently the houses are a delight to inhabit and are keenly sought after. 

Between Berristow Lane and New Road, the land is all infilled, as we had noted earlier, with several closes of 1970s bungalows and a small group of white brick municipal 1960s houses at the south end. At the southern limit of New Street, the miners’ welfare was unfortunately consumed by fire in the 1990s and was replaced by the present rather bland single storey building; a pity the architect could not have produced something a little less formulaic to compliment the houses.

Opposite the Miners’ Welfare/village hall stands the school, currently disused, and which in 1924 subsumed the Primitive Methodist Chapel when the various Methodist factions re-united, causing the chapel to close. It was constructed not long after the colliery opened in 1873 and is a simple brick building with a steep gabled roof lit by four bays of ‘cardboard cut-out Gothic’ windows. The school is a more substantial building in much the same style, added on a little later we guessed, and the whole at some later stage harled, which has not aided its appearance. We found it a group of some charm, especially when seen from New Street, as it curves away to the west to join the B6406, and hope it would find a sympathetic purchaser who would restore the complex into two or three decent houses whilst retaining its character, rather than demolish the entire complex and build noddy-houses.

It struck us that New Street and the Pasture Lane cottages ought to be declared a conservation area by the Bolsover District Council, for its general preservation would be an ornament to what is now a delightful area, especially as the Hilcote Environmental and Leisure Project (HELP) have made herculean efforts to embellish with planting, paths and a pergola the banks of the brook beside the miners’ welfare, which fifty years ago had been a polluted industrial nightmare. From there runs the pleasant Hilcote Trail, managed by the County, which meanders through the reclaimed territory to cross the railway and end up in Park Mill Drive, Westhouses.

After enjoying this unexpectedly pleasing enclave, we returned to Berristow Lane and turned west into Hilcote Lane to see the remainder of the hamlet. This once sleepy thoroughfare has, unfortunately, had its slumber rudely shattered by the imposition of the M1, which roars overhead a few hundred yards from the last cottages on an ugly concrete viaduct. Yet, from the west side of this, one emerges into an area of bucolic peace, although the farm buildings on the immediate left, have been converted into a convivial establishment boasting the style and title of the Hilcote Country Club. In the car park we found a mysterious ruined building which we assumed was a former barn belonging to the hall, which is hidden in the bocage just beyond.

We arrived too early in the autumn to see the house from the road, however, for it stands in a sequestered position well back from the thoroughfare and well shielded by trees. However, it is Hilcote’s only listed building, and is a house of some interest, which we felt sure Pevsner would have remarked upon had it not passed him by

The hall, oddly, faces north and was originally a modest dwelling taxed on three hearths in 1670 and built by ‘Mr. John Wilkinson’ the ‘Mr.’ confirming him as a man reckoned as a gentleman. He is said to have come from Potterton Yorkshire, and built up an estate at Hilcote by degrees, and enlarged the house considerably by the time of his son’s death in 1706, mainly on the profits of leasing coal pits in the area, which then were small-scale operations worked by members of a single family. The original Mr. Wilkinson even appeared at the Heralds’ Visitation of 1634 claiming arms, although he was a no-show at the 1662 Visitation, he clearly thought that he’d arrived socially and the arms were later confirmed.

In the 18th century, probably late in it, the original L-plan house was rebuilt with sash windows and the east cross wing opened out and lit with a Venetian window superimposed over a large round-headed one with Gothicky astragals, and the reception rooms to the right equipped with ground floor canted windows. The interior seems to have undergone modifications into the 20th century, the cross wing ending up as a sort of great hall with a re-constituted (and probably re-positioned) late 17th century style stair rising from it to a mezzanine forming a sort of gallery.

All the alterations up until the turn of the last century were carried out by the Wilkinsons, the last of whom, John Slater Wilkinson (1851-1915) moved in 1877 to Paskeston, Pembrokeshire; possibly the flourishing B Winning Colliery had made living at the hall less pleasant, and their own involvement with coal mining seems to have been long past by then. Later, the whole family removed to Canada. The house by then had been sold and has passed through several ownerships since and indeed, was a B & B not so long ago, although that is no longer the case.

As we found with some of the other places Pevsner omitted, we realised that Hilcote was another little gem, although it was undoubtedly perceived as much less so back when Sir Nikolaus first stepped out in Derbyshire!


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *