The town of Melbourne, Derbyshire
Ashley Franklin looks around the twon with a church and hall of timeless charm, delightful shops and restaurants, a vibrant arts community and a great deal of potential...
If you have lived in Derbyshire for any length of time, you will surely have visited Melbourne, not least for the well known historical attractions, notably Melbourne Hall and its Pool and Gardens and the adjacent Norman parish church. However, as these delights are conveniently close together, they could represent the entire sum of many visitors’ experience of Melbourne. This would be a shame as wider exploration reveals further gems studded in this South Derbyshire jewel.
The town’s appeal is not confined to its heritage. In and around the Market Place is a flourishing assortment of independent, individual retail establishments including interior designers, fashion houses, wedding gown designers, a lingerie specialist, restaurants and caf�s. Melbourne is also home to one of the country’s leading crystal engravers, David Whyman, who has a studio in Melbourne Hall’s Craft Centre.
The number of talented local artists has led to another notable feature of the town: its vibrant arts community which has given rise to an annual Festival each September.
All of this points to a place with a lot going for it, though one can suggest that there is still enough unexplored potential in its historical, commercial and cultural worth to enable it to become even more of a destination town.
For instance, on a summer evening last year the photographic society of which I’m a member arranged a private tour of Melbourne conducted by historian Richard Heath. A comprehensive and fascinating tour, it struck me that given Melbourne’s multi-faceted history the introduction of regular official town tours would prove as popular as they are in Ashbourne and Belper. ‘I would certainly welcome further promotion of tourism in this proud historic town,’ says Richard.
For the time being, there is a town trail leaflet available from the newsagents Melbourne News. It was published back in 1995, although the local civic society tells me that it is working on an update. There is also a civic society booklet Walks Around Melbourne, 14 rambles taking in the many footpaths and canal towpaths of the surrounding area. The outlying pleasures of Swarkestone and Staunton await you.
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One of the purest pleasures of Melbourne is the magnificent parish church, reckoned by many to be the finest Norman village church in England. Its setting resembles a cathedral quarter. This is appropriate as although the 12th century building has a conventional church exterior, it has an awe-inspiring interior, which the church website rightly boasts as having the feel of a ‘miniature cathedral’. Particularly striking are the enormous round pillars, grandiose drums of stone each four foot in diameter, and the rare walkway around the upper level of the church which propounds the theory that this was a royal church built by Henry I as part of his manor at Melbourne, with this gallery being a ‘royal pew’ for the monarch to gaze down on his subjects.
One can feel aristocratic blood coursing through the veins of Melbourne Hall which, like the church, dates back to the 12th century. Famously the home of William Lamb, 2nd ViscountMelbourne, Queen Victoria’s first Prime Minister, since 1989 it has been home to Lord and Lady Ralph Kerr. Their incumbency would have pleased Lord Ralph’s grandfather, Captain Andrew Kerr, who reportedly said that he would ‘sell his last pair of bootlaces’ to maintain the Hall, and one can appreciate his zeal when gazing at the handsome antiquities in the various rooms. If you want to visit the Hall during your day out in Melbourne, you are restricted to the month of August. This is mainly because the Hall is very much a family home and this warm, intimate ‘lived in’ quality means that while you’re in the drawing room gazing up at a portrait of Charles I with Charles II at his knee, your foot may step on a soft toy belonging to one of his Lordship’s children. You may even have one of the Kerr offspring handing you a leaflet as you go in.
When I photographed the Inner Hall, Estate Manager Jill Weston was concerned about me snapping an image of the oval table merely for the fact that Lady Kerr was absent and had she known I was coming, would assuredly have decorated the table with flowers. It was no surprise to learn that Lady Kerr, herself a renowned painter, has had an artistic influence on the fine gardens, open now until September. Ever since she arrived 20 years ago, Lady Kerr has been helping restore and recreate some of the original landscape of a garden fashioned in the late 17th century along formal, French-inspired lines ‘to suit with Versailles’ – according to the designers, London and Wise, gardeners to Queen Anne.
The gardens aren’t extensive – one acre – but there is a pleasingly spacious, quiet and serene feeling to them and an eye-catching focal point in the exquisite, wrought-iron, birdcage-shaped pergola which was one of Robert Bakewell’s earliest works. As I beheld this arbour in front of a pond and the stretches of quietly sloping greenery, it struck me what a perfect amphitheatre this would be for an alfresco performance of one of The Bard’s comedies.
As the year springs into summer, other aspects of the garden come to the fore, including the rose tunnel, hellebore bed and vegetable garden. There was a riot of floral colour at the Melbourne Hall Garden Shop at the entrance to the Craft Centre, which also houses Townsend Picture Framers & Gallery and Manor House Kitchens whose website name, handmade2measure, emphasises the bespoke nature of its cabinet work.
There are more bespoke creations to be found in the cosy Aladdin’s cave that is Helen Burrell’s jewellery workshop. Amongst Helen’s unique services is the provision of ‘holistic jewellery’ whereby she endeavours to ‘reflect my customer’s character, or whatever they are trying to achieve, in the designs I am inspired to make’. Helen showed me some of her fascinating ‘Life Story’ necklaces whereby she transforms a family’s set of rings and other personal jewellery into a single piece of work.
Next door to Helen is the equally fine craftsmanship of crystal glass engraver David Whyman. I was especially taken by the artistry of his wildlife illustrations though David’s engraving pen can etch in the details of any commissioned subject, be it a portrait or a house. His glasswork sits in the homes of Royalty, Presidents, Sheiks and Sultans.
The old laundry house of Melbourne Hall was long since converted into the Craft Centre Tea Rooms, although it is currently undergoing refurbishment. Once re-opened, it would be good to see more made of this Craft Centre given its prime location.
It’s only a short stroll from here to other eye-gladdening sights including the Old National School on Penn Lane, the 16th century White Swan leading up to the five white thatched cottages in Potter Street and, a further thatched delight, the cruck cottage in High Street. Further up High Street is Quick Close, named in honour of the quickthorn grown in abundance which briefly made Melbourne a boom town when the first railway companies needed quick growing hedges to lay alongside their new tracks. This also led to Melbourne’s market gardening industry as fruit and vegetable cultivation took over when demand for quickthorn dwindled, the railways in turn opening up new markets.
A plaque in Quick Close commemorates the birthplace of Thomas Cook, with the Thomas Cook Memorial Cottages close by on High Street. It’s ironic that there aren’t any Blue Badge or similarly schemed guides taking tourists around here given that Thomas Cook pioneered the personally conducted tour. One remarkable story that could be told is how the War Office arranged for Cook’s to organise General Gordon’s expedition for the intended relief of Khartoum. The movement of 18,000 soldiers, 130,000 tons of stores, 700,000 tons of coal and 800 whaling boats was ‘completed punctually and without a hitch’.
My own tour of the town proceeded to take in the Market Place set off by its distinctive and handsome shelter with sloping tiled roof and coned top. Just over the road is Elle, a fashion house which sells a wide range of clothes and accessories and is noted for its special occasion wear particularly for women from their 30s upwards. ‘We have a popular reputation for dressing the mother of the bride,’ smiles manager Dorothy Halls, ‘and we pride ourselves on a customer service that is traditional, personal and private.’ Elle is one of many retail outlets to highlight the advantage of the town’s location, its friendly atmosphere and the steady influx of visitors.
Mary Goldstraw, who runs the chic fashion house Rebecca Henry – charmingly named after her two children – says that being in Melbourne frequently feels like going back in time as there are ‘gentlemen who still tilt their hats to the ladies’. They would be even more inclined to do so for ladies dressed by Rebecca Henry, which specialises in outfits for special occasions, including custom-made shoes to match dress colour, matching handbags and costume jewellery. ‘We are here for the discerning woman who wants to look elegant, feminine and individual,’ says Mary, adding that they also come into ‘a friendly atmosphere staffed by a very experienced team.’
For the discerning bride who seeks a gown set off by Victorian-style steel bone corsetry, Anna Doswell runs Honey Bee Corsets, one of a hive of cottage industries in Melbourne. During last year’s Melbourne Festival, Anna opened up her house to exhibit her corsets, keen to emphasise that her creations can be seen as works of art. Anna is hoping to soon move into shop premises.
Someone who has just done that is Sharon Hurd Designs who interestingly combines a service offering bespoke bridal gowns, evening gowns and tailored suitsalong with an ‘Emporium Gallery’ which itself has two strands: specially designed jewellery and ‘life style living art’ which extends to hand-painted silks, curtains and cushions as well as hand-painted gowns.
Sharon moved into Melbourne because she wanted her customers to ‘come into a beautiful village-style location full of businesses that reflect excellence and quality’. She had obviously noted the likes of Bare Necessities, another classy shop, this one selling high class lingerie and swimwear and offering ‘a personal and rewarding shopping and fitting experience.’ There is also Mimi Interiors which specialises in free standing and fitted kitchens for period properties and also has a brisk trade in bright, colourful accessories.
Ruth Malloy opened Cream Interiors in Melbourne because the area had ‘just the right demographics’. Here, too, the emphasis is on quality personal service – ‘whether it is the smallest blind or the grandest design’, states Ruth, adding ‘my ethos is to source unusual and individual items.’
You can find unusual and individual blooms in The Blossom Tree, a boutique florist which has a fine reputation for ‘bespoke and beautiful designs’, and further fragrance and colour in Isobel the Florist which sells everything from ‘understated seasonal bunches to dramatic “wow factor” designs in contemporary and classic styles’.
With such a strong foundation, there’s a feeling of untapped potential in the retail scene. Some feel that additional independent retail outlets would improve choice – ‘And how about a regular French or Farmers Market in the centre?’ asks Sharon Hurd. A more pressing problem is that come Saturday afternoon you’ll find several shops closed as the town seems to go unusually quiet.
After all this retail therapy, you might care to reward your palate at one of two excellent centrally-located restaurants. The Bay Tree, established for over 20 years, serves ‘new world cuisine’. As chef Rex Howell explains: ‘We take British classics and use influences from around the world to add our own unique touch. We are also relaxed, informal and passionate about food.’
The Mileburne (Melbourne’s Domesday name) was opened by Andrew and Rebecca Dann less than two years ago but has already gained an enviable reputation for its ‘modern British’ cuisine – ‘traditional recipes using local produce served with a modern twist,’ states Andrew. The five-table dining area is cosy and intimate which means exclusive service and individual attention. ‘All our customers are guests,’ Rebecca points out.
For a more economic snack or just a cuppa, there are two caf�s in the town’s centre: the appropriately-named Welcome Caf� and the smart Pumpkins, which has been tastefully refurbished with canvases of swirling colour by local artist Elizabeth O’Connor – an internationally selling artist with an open studio in her garden. You will most likely see Elizabeth’s work during September’s Melbourne Festival. This began five years ago following a discussion about using the parish church and surrounding area to showcase the significant burgeoning presence of Melbourne-based artists. ‘It has grown in popularity and significance ever since,’ states Festival Director Sharon Brown. It now offers a Wirksworth Festival-styled weekend Art & Architecture Trail when homes and businesses throw open their premises to exhibit the work of over 90 artists selected from more than 150. There’s also lots of live music along the way. ‘The Festival is fantastic,’ says Ruth Malloy of Cream Interiors, one of many retail outlets to give Festival space to an artist. ‘I started walking the Trail in the morning expecting to see a few houses open exhibiting a handful of artists. I was amazed to still be walking around at 6 pm!’
The Festival also includes up to 20 concerts and performances and its success has led to the formation of Arts Melbourne Ltd. This organises creative workshops, concerts and performances – notably the Arts Melbourne Comedy Club – outside the Festival. ‘Our long term plan is to find a permanent home for Arts Melbourne where we can run regular exhibitions and workshops,’ says Sharon. ‘We hope in the long term, Melbourne will be seen as a year round destination for the arts.’
If Melbourne needs further encouragement to develop its rich potential, it can take heart from the words of Mary Goldstraw, owner of Rebecca Henry: ‘Every time I come into work in this lovely town, it feels like being on holiday. The special atmosphere here ought to be bottled.’
3 same name another country
Melbourne, Australia. In May and June 1835 John Batman negotiated a transaction for 600,000 acres of land from eight Wurundjeri elders. Before the arrival of a settlement party, another group led by John Pascoe Fawkner aboard the Enterprize landed. The two groups ultimately agreed to share the settlement. Batman’s Treaty with the Aborigines was later annulled by the New South Wales government, who reluctantly allowed the town (known by various names, including ‘Batmania’) to remain. In 1837 the settlement was called Melbourne after the Prime Minister William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne. Hartington, we may know it as the village 7 miles SW of Bakewell with a name, according to the English Place-Name Society, derived from the Old English for either ‘Stags’ hill' or ‘hill connected with Heorta’. However, Lord Hartington (title of the oldest son of the Dukes of Devonshire) gave his name to Hartington in Nebraska, USA. Located in Cedar County, it forms part of Northeast Nebraska’s border with the state of South Dakota. The Missouri River forms its northern boundary. Its municipal airport has a 3,960ft runway with a state-of-the-art lighting system. Population approx. 1,700.Av. temp.: January 20�F; July 77�F.The USA – Cheshire County, New Hampshire – is also home to another Chesterfield, named after Philip Stanhope, 4th"Earl of Chesterfield. Population 3,542 in 2000. Home to the Chesterfield Gorge Natural Area, and parts of Pisgah State Park and Wantastiquet Mountain State Forest. In 1735, this town was the site of ‘Fort Number 1’, first in a line of forts bordering the Connecticut River. In 1752 it was named Chesterfield by Governor Benning Wentworth. The town contains some of the finest farmland in Cheshire County, yet once was home to small manufacturing, notably spinning-wheel parts and handtools.