England in miniature - the fascinating village of Lower Hartshay

From Main Road

From Main Road - Credit: Archant

Mike Smith explores one of Derbyshire’s secluded village gems – Lower Hartshay in the Amber Valley District

The George Inn

The George Inn - Credit: Archant

Standing alongside Main Road in the village of Lower Hartshay, there is a most unusual, and possibly unique, milestone with its destinations written sideways-on. The signpost declares that Ripley is a mile away, but this information was made meaningless to motorists when the road was made into a cul-de-sac after it was by-passed in the 1970s. In any case, the stated distance to Ripley is almost certainly inaccurate, as a result of the milestone being uprooted from its original position and abandoned in a field during construction work to lay some pipes. A local man rescued the sign and had it restored, before re-planting it in a new position where he could ‘keep an eye on it’.

This story, with its typically English combination of eccentricity and respect for heritage, sets the scene for a visit to Lower Hartshay, as does an understated beauty that is typical of the best of English villages. Ripley could well be 20 miles away, rather than the approximate one mile, because it is completely hidden beyond a range of low hills that frame the valley in which the village stands. The settlement is a pleasant mixture of red-brick and white-washed cottages, which sit easily and deferentially in the green and pleasant surroundings.

Situated next to Main Road, which retains its name even though it is now anything but a main road, there is a farm where hens run about freely. Although the village has neither church nor village hall, and its school closed many years ago, it does have a pub. Standing opposite the intersection of Main Road and Bridle Lane, The George has been managed as a free house for the last 15 years by Lynn and Phil Rawson. The hostelry’s much-appreciated regular beers are Marston’s Pedigree and, rather surprisingly, Sharp’s Doom Bar, a beer produced in a microbrewery in faraway Cornwall.

Until recent years, the village had a second pub called The Gate. According to retired teacher Heather Howard, the name of this hostelry referred to one of the gates that gave access to Lower Hartshay when it was little more than a large enclosed deer park in a royal hunting forest. Heather was the coordinator of a community-based project to record the history of the area, which resulted in a well-researched booklet called ’Hartshay Historical’, edited by Heather with contributions and reminiscences by local people.

Houses in Bridle Lane

Houses in Bridle Lane - Credit: Archant

Expanding on the eventful past life of the village, Heather said, ‘Hartshay was a hive of activity during the Industrial Revolution. A tramway was built to carry iron from local furnaces and a canal was constructed to carry coal from the Hartshay colliery to Cromford. The colliery closed in 1935, but there was a short period of open-cast mining in the late 1950s. Even after all this activity ceased and all traces of industry were removed, Main Road remained a busy thoroughfare until the seventies, when the by-pass converted the village into the sleepy rural backwater that it is today.’

The meetings of the local history group took place at Heather’s home in the former School House. Describing the history of the school, Heather said: ‘It was founded in 1884, with 28 pupils on roll, but the number of pupils had risen to 152 by 1905. In 1947, senior pupils were transferred to Ripley, leaving a roll of 25, with this number dropping to a mere nine when the school closed in 1978.’

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Since taking up residence at the school, Heather has made very few alterations to the building, even retaining the original washbasins and cloakroom pegs. The school hall is now her wonderfully spacious living room and features scores of pictures, including many by Heather, who trained as an art and pottery teacher and went on to take an MA in the history of 20th-century art. In addition to being a showcase for these works of art, the school hall houses two enormous wooden wheels, salvaged from a retractable ladder of an old fire engine and now suspended in dramatic fashion from the ceiling. As with the rescue of the old village milestone, a combination of respect for heritage and endearing eccentricity has produced a startling effect!

Yet another huge wheel has pride of place in a house at the corner of Main Road and Bridle Lane, where Anne and Glyn Bailey have their home. Like Heather, the couple have a deep affection for the village and a strong respect for its heritage. It seems that the wheel was part of a mechanism for winching up casks of tobacco when the upper floor of the property was used by ‘Thomas Peters, Tobacco and Cigar Manufacturers’. Much later, the upper rooms were used as the village dance hall, causing the floor to give way from time to time.

The Old School House

The Old School House - Credit: Archant

The ground floor of the house is not short of restored artefacts either. It features a renovated sign from the old Gate Inn and a framed set of order books for the tobacco factory dating from 1855 to 1881. And one room has ceiling hooks dating from the time when the building was a corner shop that sold meat, prior to its becoming a general store and post office. Mr and Mrs Dunning ran the store for many years, with Mrs Dunning serving there for a total of 32 years and continuing to live in the premises until she died aged 100. With the help of a highly skilled local joiner called Alan Jones, Glyn and Anne have converted the entirety of this historic building into a beautiful home.

Glyn is a highly talented musician, performer and composer. He has toured with the Black and White Minstrels, done summer seasons with Mike Yarwood and spent three years performing in ‘Evita’ at the Prince Edward Theatre. Together with Anne, he runs a talent production company specialising in entertainment for high-end cruises, but he has been heavily preoccupied over the last decade with the creation of his own musical based on the life of DH Lawrence (covered in Derbyshire Life, March 2014). The musical has been staged at the Nottingham Playhouse and the Jefferson Performing Arts Theatre in the USA and it was given a five-day run at London’s Bridewell Theatre in October 2013.

Stewart Field is another resident of Lower Hartshay who has been preoccupied for much of his life with making music. For the past 23 years, he has been offering high-class recording facilities at his Meadow Farm studio to a wide variety of individuals, groups and bands, both amateur and professional. He helped Danny Jones of the rock band McFly to create his debut single ‘Silence in the City’ and he has produced CDs with local groups such as Dale Diva, the Dalesmen and the Rolls Royce Ladies’ Choir.

Stewart had the honour of working with the Derbyshire Youth Band and the late Murray Slater to record original music to celebrate the tercentenary of the Devonshire Dukedom at Chatsworth. More recently, he has enabled a very talented up-and-coming young singer called Grace Radford to make her first CD. His own musical talents have given him the chance to play as a bass player with various bands and to accompany well-known singers such as Frankie Vaughan and the Nolan Sisters.

With its talented musicians, respect for heritage, endearing eccentricity and understated beauty, the little village of Lower Hartshay certainly embraces many of the qualities that make England special.

‘Hartshay Historical’ can be purchased from Old School Studio, Main Road, Lower Hartshay, DE5 3RP, by sending a cheque for £2.50 to Miss I.H. McKeurtan.

For details of Grace Radford’s record ‘Kaleidoscope’, see www.graceradford.co.uk

For details of ‘Lawrence – the Musical’, see: www.lawrencethemusical.com

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