Bradbourne - a First World War Thankful Village

The Church of All Saints and the Saxon Cross

The Church of All Saints and the Saxon Cross - Credit: Archant

Mike Smith explores the village of Bradbourne, which has a particularly poignant tale to tell

The view from the churchyard

The view from the churchyard - Credit: Archant

Services of Remembrance held this month in towns and villages throughout the country are a poignant reminder of the terrible toll in human lives resulting from the two world wars of the 20th century.

More than one million British military personnel died in the conflicts, with the First World War alone accounting for 886,000 fatalities. Bradbourne, located four miles north-east of Ashbourne, is the only village in Derbyshire, and one of only 51 so-called ‘Thankful Villages’ in the country, where all the local men who fought in the First World War returned home safely.

Working with Canon Martin Hulbert, churchwarden Jean Castledene spent many hours searching war records and census returns, as well as gathering local information about the 18 men who fought in the war. Jean says, ‘Our task was made difficult because more than half the service records of the men and women who served in the First World War were destroyed in a bombing raid on the War Office Depository in September 1940 and the records that survive rarely contain birthplace details.’

Despite these problems, Jean and Martin managed to unearth some fascinating biographical information about the men who served, not least the story of Lesley Greenleaf, who lived in the schoolhouse in Bradbourne. Lesley left for Australia at the age of sixteen and immediately signed up for the Australian forces. During his service career, he found himself in trouble on a number of occasions for misdemeanours such as being late or absent for parade, but he was sent to England for medical care after being wounded twice and was awarded the Military Cross for his bravery.

The Victorian lamp-post in the square

The Victorian lamp-post in the square - Credit: Archant

When Jean and Martin, with the assistance of Sally Mullins, turned their attention to the biographies of the 11 men who served in the Second World War, they were able to prove that Bradbourne is one of only 15 ‘Doubly Thankful Villages’ in the country where all the local men who served in the two world wars returned home safely. The official designation of Bradbourne as a Doubly Thankful Village is highlighted on two road signs and on a plaque attached to the stone podium at the base of an elaborate lamp post erected in the village square in 1897 to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. A ceremony involving representatives of the armed forces was held in the square in 2018 to celebrate the double accolade.

A wall on one side of the square marks the boundary of the Old Parsonage, a building whose long façade manages to look highly attractive and harmonious despite being composed of four sections constructed in different centuries and in various styles and materials. Surprisingly, the Tudor-style projecting bay at the centre of the façade is the most recent addition, having been grafted onto the building in the early twentieth century.

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The square where the Victorian lamp post is located evolves into a track leading to the gates of the churchyard of All Saints’ Church, where the first object to meet the eye is the tall shaft of a Saxon cross. This striking monument was re-assembled in the 1880s from two fragments that had been in use as a squeeze-stile and from a third stone that had been found in the church. Although the carving on the lowest part of the ancient shaft probably dates from 800 AD, it is still clearly decipherable as a depiction of the Crucifixion.

Beyond a high stone wall on one side of the churchyard there are tantalising glimpses of Bradbourne Hall, a beautiful three-gabled, grey-stone mansion built in 1631 for the Buckston family. The much lower perimeter wall on the other side of the churchyard allows an uninterrupted view over a great swathe of lush-green Peak District countryside. Despite being located in a village close to a plentiful supply of limestone, the churchyard contains some headstones in the form of simple slabs of dark-grey slate. In the summer months, the churchyard in which they stand is speckled in vivid red created by a profusion of poppies.

The Old Post Office on Brackendale Lane

The Old Post Office on Brackendale Lane - Credit: Archant

The backdrop to this sublime combination of countryside, graveyard and Elizabethan hall is the battlemented church of All Saints’. The unbuttressed tower of the church is entered through a sumptuously-carved Norman doorway adorned with three semi-circular belts of carvings. The outer rim has deeply-incised beak-head moulding and the two inner rims contain carvings of mythical animals and birds which give the impression of being in motion. This magnificent doorway is generally regarded as one of the best of its type in Derbyshire.

The church, which originated as a priory but was adopted as the village church after the dissolution of the monasteries, is described by Jean Castledene as ‘a building that takes your heart’. It is also a building that sets a puzzle. On the wall of the south aisle, there is a mural featuring a black-lettered quotation from Ecclesiastes. The inscription is surrounded, for some unfathomable reason, by a grey and red painted frame depicting an arcaded structure, topped by three domed polygonal towers, that bears more than a passing resemblance to the Amber Fort in Jaipur!

As Jean reports, ‘The villagers are immensely proud of their ancient church and, although they live in a settlement with fewer than 120 inhabitants, they are responsible for creating a fine community spirit.’ Fittingly, the villagers were provided with a new community hall in 1992. The well-built village houses, both large and small, are scattered alongside three lanes, with one particularly picturesque group being located at the head of Brackendale Lane, where one cottage once served as the village post office. Bradbourne Mill, located to the south of the village and now superbly converted into self-catering luxury holiday accommodation for up to 16 guests, is thought to be the oldest surviving watermill in Derbyshire. The water wheel and the mechanism of the mill have been fully restored.

Manchester-born Nat Gould, who was the most widely-read novelist in the world in the later years of Queen Victoria’s reign, returned to England in 1895 after spending many years living and working in Australia. His ancestors were Derbyshire yeoman farmers and he chose Bradbourne as his final resting place after declaring ‘I have travelled in many lands but never have I seen a more beautiful place’. His grave is marked by a stone cross near the churchyard gates of All Saints’.

The Old Parsonage (Large photo for top of RHS of second double page)

The Old Parsonage (Large photo for top of RHS of second double page) - Credit: Archant

The distinguished actor Sir Alan Bates, who was born in the Derby suburb of Allestree, made his name after appearing in Bryan Forbes’ production of ‘Whistle Down the Wind’ and went on to star in many critically acclaimed plays and films, including Ken Russell’s version of DH Lawrence’s ‘Sons and Lovers’, where he famously performed a nude wrestling scene with Oliver Reed. During his high-profile film career, Alan always yearned for the tranquil surroundings of his home in Bradbourne, particularly after being profoundly affected by the deaths of his wife Veronica and his son Tristan. He is buried in the churchyard of All Saints’ alongside his wife and son.

Similarly, the safe return of the local men who served in the two world wars to one of the most peaceful and calming villages in Derbyshire must have contributed greatly to the healing process they required after suffering psychological damage as result of their wartime experiences.

Bradbourne Hall seen from the churchyard (Photo at top of LHS of second double page)

Bradbourne Hall seen from the churchyard (Photo at top of LHS of second double page) - Credit: Archant

The Norman doorway of All Saints’ Church

The Norman doorway of All Saints’ Church - Credit: Archant