Breaston, Draycott and Risley

Ashley Franklin travels to the east of Derbyshire and discovers 'Three Ribbons in a Green Bow'



Draycott may not have a proper centre like Breaston but it has a prominent focal point in Victoria Mills whose green cupola and clock tower can be seen for miles. Draycott became an important centre for lace when Nottingham’s manufacturers sought cheaper labour in neighbouring towns and villages. Workers in Nottingham had to be paid 22 shillings a week, in Draycott it was 12 shillings.

Although the mill was named to commemorate Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee in 1887, a devastating fire delayed construction and Edward VII had already been on the throne for six years when it was completed 19 years later. It was reputed to be the largest lace factory in the world. Residents told me it was designed to have the same proportions as Noah’s Ark. Interestingly, it is almost exactly twice the length and height though smaller in width. Another mystery is the reason the mill has one window for every day of the year. Less of a mystery is Draycott’s nickname ‘Neddytown’. It dates to when it was a changing point for coal-cart donkeys – and has nothing to do with big-eared residents!

The last lace manufacturer left Victoria Mills in 1970. The mill still looks resplendent but I was told that a scheme to refurbish the interior as an apartment complex with health club and pool has resulted in less than a dozen apartments, albeit very plush, with the rest of the mill lying dormant.

No parish church shares the Draycott skyline with the mill tower as it’s down a mile-long lane in Church Wilne. St Chad’s is all that remains of this 18th century village. Over the years Church Wilne’s inhabitants moved to Dry Cote (‘a dry place’) to avoid the incessant flooding. Ironically, in 1984 a former open gravel pit alongside the church was deliberately flooded to become St Chad’s Water, a 12-acre nature reserve.

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As for Draycott today, turn off the main road and you can still find parts with a quiet, traditional village feel. ‘Despite the urban encroachment, I still regard Draycott as a country location,’ says parish councillor Jeff Clare, ‘and it’s safe and friendly.’

For parish council chairman Mike Tudbury, a resident of 50 years, Draycott ‘has all that we want: good amenities and services, including a multi-use floodlit games area, a first rate playing area and two playgrounds; excellent shops; a first class school and, in spite of our ribbon-style development, a fairly close community.’


Last autumn the Derby & Sandiacre Canal Society won online planning permission to reinstate the canal which once ran through this area. Over 100 of its 1,000 members live locally and there is much important work to be done, especially in Draycott. Completion of the project may take ten years, but the towpaths in these parts will be coming to life much sooner. ‘The path is already used as a bridle way,’ points out Society Chairman Chris Madge, ‘and we are looking to buy land in Draycott and Breaston to enable the tow path to be used as a cycleway. Eventually anglers and canoeists will be able to use the water and wildlife will improve – we have already seen water voles in the Draycott stretch, and just think of the resurgence of kingfishers.’


Like Breaston, Draycott is distinguished by some individual niche outlets, notably inside the converted Grade II listed Draycott Mills. On entering you see straightaway a Unique Selling Point of Incite Interiors: a ground floor workshop where customers can watch their bespoke furniture being made. On the first floor, owner Lesley Bryant showed me an impressive range of wooden furniture – traditional and contemporary – for kitchen, dining, bedroom and lounge, with the emphasis on chunky pine and solid oak. Even this vast space can’t display every type of furniture made.

Lesley’s daughter Helen also works in the mill, running Avado which sells gifts and accessories alongside the work of around 25 local artists and craftspeople. She has just started workshops in photography, jewellery, textiles, glass making, stitching and card and scrapbook making, and now sells secondhand accessories and interiors.

For designer clothing and accessories, there is Frox, the East Midlands’ premier dress agency. ‘From casual to cocktail and everything in between, as well as glamorous dresses for weddings and race days, we sell all the accessories to complement the outfits,’ says owner Holly. Frox has doubled in size since moving into The Courtyard in this former lace mill. ‘We usually have just what our customers can’t find on the high-street because Frox carries every desirable brand all under one roof with nothing over two years old,’ she comments. Holly says that Frox’s success is simple, ‘We offer good old-fashioned service and sell what our customers want at great prices – in fact we say Frox is the shop you don’t want your friends to find.’

Also in Draycott Mills is Creations, opened three months ago by Emma Gelly who combines manicures, pedicures and nail enhancements with a ‘paint-a-pot’ workshop. ‘It means mums can have their nail treatment while the kids create a masterpiece,’ says Emma.

Opposite Victoria Mills, Baroque Brides is an exquisitely designed shop oozing elegance and finery. Owner Elaina Evans has built up an enviable reputation for her fervently artistic bridal dresses, creatively spun from lace, silk and fine beading with beautifully boned bodices a speciality. As well as bespoke dress design, Elaina can provide make-up, hair styling and hair pieces.

A few of Elaina’s creations can be seen on the website of Draycott House, which is quickly establishing itself as a wedding venue. This part of Draycott reminds you how expansive and rural the area is. Wedding ceremonies are held in a marquee beside a lake and the package offered by Lynne Hirons of Draycott House includes a wedding planner and high quality chefs, and the distinguished 18th century house in its 300-acre site provides a perfect backdrop for photographs. Draycott House is also renowned as a venue for equestrian events.


The Beetroot Tree, a converted 17th century barn Alysn Midgelow-Marsden opened 12 years ago as a studio for her textile art is an internationally renowned contemporary art gallery with five exhibition spaces, a caf�, a venue for workshops and a shop for art materials. Over 1,000 artists have showcased their work here. Alysn also helps to coordinate the Draycott Festival of Arts and Gardens. This year’s event is on 6th and 7th May, just the time to see the origin of the gallery’s quirky name: a tree sprouting purple, red-veined leaves. Alysn has decided to put the gallery up for sale in order to pursue fresh challenges abroad, but it will continue in its present form until it is ‘in safe hands for its future.’



Much smaller than either Breaston or Draycott, Risley is essentially a village strung out along a mile-long road. Approach from Junction 25 of the M1 and you see a straightforward stretch of post-1930s housing. If you approach from Derby you will feel Risley’s history with its fine age-old buildings, notably the early 18th century Latin House, probably the most handsome domestic house in Derbyshire. Its elegance is all the more prepossessing for its situation, between All Saint’s Church – one of only six in the country built in the Elizabethan period – and a group of charming old school houses.

According to Roy Christian, it’s a ‘minor miracle’ the school buildings survived after a withering report by Charity"Commissioners early in the 19th century pointed to ‘incredible perversion of the funds’ and singled out schoolmaster Dr J.J. Jackson, stating that he ‘never had more than one scholar, and the school itself was made use of as a greenhouse.’

It’s here I discovered that Risley can claim to be a city as well as a village. Under the street sign The City are inscribed the words: ‘Site of the first settlement of Riselei, being from the Latin Civitas meaning citadel. Over time this became Cite in Old English. A citadel would have existed hereabouts to protect the village’s livestock.’

The school, Latin House and church were all built by the Willoughby family who acquired Risley in 1350 and, later, Risley Hall. Through fire and frequent changes in ownership, Risley Hall is a group of buildings representing every century from the 16th to the 20th. Amongst a succession of owners, the most colourful and certainly most notorious was financier Ernest Terah Hooley. Described as ‘my very particular friend’ by the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII), Long Eaton born Hooley was the Robert Maxwell of his time. In the 1890s he floated 26 companies including the Dunlop Tyre Co, Schweppes, Raleigh Cycles and Bovril, all of which still exist. Hooley was a generous benefactor, providing pulpit, lectern and organ to Risley Church. On the verge of receiving a baronetcy, he fell into bankruptcy and later into jail for fraud. He died in 1947, untitled and virtually a pauper.

Risley Hall opened in 1995 as an hotel complete with health spa and pool. The 10-acre grounds and 16th century baronial hall make it a popular wedding venue and its closeness to the M1 and A52 make it ideal for conferences.

For parish councillor, Pat Ancliff, moving to Risley 26 years ago gave her family ‘easy access to countryside by bicycle as well as good connections to the rest of the country by road and rail,’ and, Pat notes, ‘Risley is still small enough for residents to be able to have a nodding acquaintance with others, particularly dog walkers.’

Maywood Golf Club is further evidence of the rurality of Risley. Since taking over six years ago, co-owners Brian Tucker and Tory Moon have revitalised the club with new trees, drainage and bunkers. ‘We believe our greens are among the best in the county,’ states Tory, ‘and we are very friendly and welcoming.’


Many old Risley farmhouses were turned into livery yards, I was told by Peter and Sheila Matthews, who moved to Risley in 1967 when it was still very much a farming village – they had a 50 cow dairy herd which they milked until 1979. In 1983, they opened a saddlery business. ‘Farmers were being encouraged to diversify,’ recalls Sheila, ‘and as our pony-riding children were finding it difficult to get saddlery, we saw a niche in the market.’

Access to the saddlery is down a long country lane – which has a reassuring sign stating ‘Nearly There!’ The saddlery’s stock is impressively extensive. ‘Because we are quite a way from the road, we felt there should be a good choice for customers who make the effort,’ a smiling Sheila told me.


I noticed not one but two Treetops charity shops in Draycott. The hospice itself is in a building that was once part of Risley Hall. It’s a Day Care Unit where patients – around 100 a week – go for respite care which can include lunch, socialising, complementary therapy, bereavement support and art therapy. Around 100 people benefit from the Unit each week. There are no beds but for those who cannot leave their home, Treetops employs nurses and health care assistants who give about 2,000 hrs of home care a month.


A whole article could be devoted to the Risley Park Lanx, a Romano-British silver plate supposedly discovered locally in 1729. It subsequently vanished but reappeared in the 1990s as the heirloom of the Greenhalgh family in Bolton. Sold through Sotheby’s for �100,000, it was donated to the British Museum. End of story. Well, not quite. The Greenhalghs turned out to be fraudsters on a massive scale. Working from a garden shed, Shaun Greenhalgh faked paintings, sculptures and artefacts worth up to �10 million. The family were convicted in 2007. How did Shaun Greenhalgh fool the British Museum? He melted down Roman silver coins then soldered them into the plate.

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