10 reasons to visit Chesterfield, Derbyshire
One of the country's most up-and-coming towns. There's plenty to enjoy 'where the Peak District meets Robin Hood country'. Mike Smith explores
The famous crooked spire of the Church of St Mary and All Saints is clearly visible from all approach roads to Chesterfield. Motorists would do well to interpret this iconic landmark as a giant bent finger beckoning them to a town where the ancient church with the distorted spire is but one attraction among many others, including a famous market, a great range of shops, streets flanked by mock-medieval buildings, a fine museum, two thriving theatres, a restored Victorian park and stadia for County Cricket and Football League matches. There are three historic visitor attractions immediately north of the town centre and no fewer than five stately homes within a ten-mile radius.
GOLDEN GUIDANCEVisitors to Chesterfield are assured of first-class advice, because the Tourist Information Centre has twice received a Gold Award in the Enjoy England Excellence Awards, based on customer care, range of services, accessibility, environmental standards and customer feedback. The centre has the shape of a regular polygon, designed to match the cross-section at the base of the spire before it rises to become very irregular indeed. Apart from the helpful staff and their clutch of informative leaflets, facilities include a Town Centre Audio Trail and a tourist map which can be read by partially-sighted visitors because it has Braille captions and raised blocks in the shape of buildings of interest.
CURIOUS AND CURIOUSERThe spire of the Church of Saint Mary and All Saints has a 45 per cent twist and a 9ft 5in lean from the vertical. Despite his considerable height, verger Paul Wilson is more than ready to mould his body to the low and narrow spiral staircase of the 110ft church tower, in order to guide visitors to the base of the spire for a close-up view of the tangle of internal timbers that make up its internal structure, as well as a long-range view over the town and its surroundings. Aside from the gravity-defying spire, the church has superb stained-glass windows, a Lady Chapel with elaborate memorials and yet another geometric curiosity in the form of a Lesser Lady Chapel in the shape of an irregular hexagon.
ON THE TREADMILLThe star attraction of the Chesterfield Museum is a 20ft-diameter windlass used by the builders who constructed the medieval church. The device was rotated by men pushing on treading boards in the manner of mice on a treadmill. The windlass is a spectacular introduction to splendid displays that illustrate the history of the town from its foundation as a Roman fort through its days as a centre of the coal and iron industries to its current role in specialist manufacture, from cricket balls used in Test matches to parts for the Space Shuttle. The art gallery features changing exhibitions, as well as pictures by local artist Joseph Sydall (1864-1942), reputed to be the ‘finest draughtsman in England’.
TREADING THE BOARDSThe 546-seater Pomegranate is a Grade II-listed Victorian theatre, described as a ‘cracking little venue’. With professional and amateur productions throughout the year, the theatre aims to make ‘audiences laugh, cry and debate’. Highlights of this season include the well-known 42nd Street and work by new playwrights. The nearby Winding Wheel Concert Hall, also Grade II-listed, has its own full programme of shows and events, from stand-up comedy to September’s Spirefest.
GOING TO MARKETHousing a range of indoor specialist shops, Chesterfield’s Victorian Market Hall is open on Monday, Tuesday, Friday and Saturday, plus half-day on Wednesday. The hall, with its stately facade and prominent clock-tower, overlooks a vast market place where 250 stalls are arranged in colourful rows. The hugely popular stall market operates on Monday, Friday and
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Saturday. There is a flea market on Thursday and a farmers’ market on the second Thursday of each month. The Arts and Market Festival, held from 27th to 29th October, includes concerts, a beer festival, a Continental market, ghost walks and a lantern parade from the church to a ‘Garden of Light’ in Queen’s Park.
DERBYSHIRE’S CHESTERIn addition to its market, Chesterfield has an enormous range of independent retail outlets and national chain stores. Many of these are located in streets that look like a stage-set for a medieval play, because numerous black-and-white timbered buildings were erected in the 1930s in an effort to convert Chesterfield into Derbyshire’s version of Chester. The town-centre shops are supplemented by a large Tesco store on the northern side of the town, an extensive commercial area on the southern perimeter of the centre and a wide range of retail outlets along Chatsworth Road, which points a long finger towards the Peak District.
THE GLORIOUS REVOLUTIONA picturesque thatched building in Old Whittington, three miles north of Chesterfield’s town centre, was once an ale house known as the Cock and Pynot. It was here that the Earl of Devonshire, the Earl of Danby and John d’Arcy met in 1688 to plot the overthrow of King James II and his replacement by William of Orange. The ground floor of the building, now known as Revolution House, houses 17th century furniture and the first floor has exhibitions and a film about the ‘Glorious Revolution’. The building is open between April and September, on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Bank Holidays.
SPORT FOR ALLQueen’s Park, opened in 1887 to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, has a boating lake, miniature railway and play area. In true Victorian tradition, a brass band often plays in the bandstand on Sundays. The park is also home to a cricket ground which has witnessed heroics from WG Grace and Don Bradman. A County match between Derbyshire and Northamptonshire will be held there in August. Chesterfield FC, known as the ‘Spireites’ and riding high at the top of League Two at the time of writing, now play at the b2net Stadium, a state-of-the-art football ground, which is also a great venue for events, exhibitions and conferences.
TRANSPORTED BACK IN TIMEThe Tapton Lock Visitor Centre, situated near the Tesco roundabout and open daily, is a reminder of the great age of canals. Stretching for 46 miles and including a 2,880ft tunnel, the Chesterfield Canal, surveyed by the great canal-builder James Brindley, was built in 1777 to link Chesterfield with the Trent at West Stockwith. The Barrow Hill Round House Railway Centre, situated at nearby Staveley and open on Saturdays and Sundays, is a reminder of the great age of the railways. Two days before it was due for demolition, it was saved by the Deltic Preservation Society as the only surviving working roundhouse in the country.
THE STATELY HOMES OF ENGLANDFive of the finest stately homes in England are located within ten miles of Chesterfield: Chatsworth House, the magnificent seat of the Dukes of Devonshire; Haddon Hall, quite possibly the finest medieval manor house in the country, Renishaw Hall, home to the Sitwells and celebrated in a famous painting by John Piper; Sutton Scarsdale, now gauntly and romantically ruined; and Bolsover Castle, looking more like a French chateau than an English country house. Chesterfield also stands on the border between the Peak District and Robin Hood Country. Tourists, as well as business people, now have the option of staying at Casa, Chesterfield’s first four-star hotel.
MAIN CAR PARKSThere are multi-storey car parks at Saltergate (529 places) in the town centre, where there is free parking from 7-10am and 3-7pm on Mondays and Tuesdays, and New Beetwell Street (465 places), close to the southern by-pass. Pay-and-display car parks include Holywell Cross (255 places), on the north side of the centre, where the ticket includes a tear-off voucher for use at selected shops, plus Rose Hill (242 places) and Soresby Street (208 places), both on the western side of the town. All these car parks give easy on-foot access to the main shopping centre.
On the water front The latest news from developers of Chesterfield’s pioneering urban waterside development was that they were ‘poised and raring to go’. More architect’s images of the key commercial character zones in the 60 acre mixed-use landmark project have been released. Station Place will be ‘an informal space enclosed by shops and caf�s. The buildings will comprise a hotel, offices and car parks in a thriving business environment.’