The village of Egginton, South Derbyshire

The Everys have been in the Derbyshire village of Egginton for almost four centuries, during which time they have suffered many changes of fortune and, at times, exhibited some highly eccentric behaviour.

The Everys have been in the Derbyshire village of Egginton for almost four centuries, during which time they have suffered many changes of fortune and, at times, exhibited some highly eccentric behaviour. Legends about their doings are rife, but for an authoritative version I turned to Sir Henry Every, 13th Bt and his wife, Susie, who live at Cothay, a beautiful seventeenth-century house in the heart of the village.When I called on the couple, they showed me a painting of Sir Simon Every, 1st Bt, who came to Egginton in 1623, when he married Anne Leigh, the daughter of Sir HenryLeigh, the major landowner in the area during the reign of Elizabeth I. His portrait dominates a wood-panelled wall in an extension added to the Everys' sitting room for the sole purpose of housing the painting. The annexe was even given a dropped floor to accommodate the immense height of the picture.Simon was made a Baronet by Charles I and put in charge of munitions for the defence of Tutbury and other local castles during the Civil War. However, the largest battle fought on Derbyshire soil during the conflict took place right on his own doorstep, when a Royalist army returning victorious from Newark was routed on Egginton Heath by a much smaller Parliamentary force commanded by Sir John Gell.

When the Parliamentarians finally deposed the king, Sir Simon was served with a hefty fine as punishment for his Royalist allegiances. The Every family managed to put off paying the forfeit until well after the restoration of the monarchy, but they were eventually forced to settle for apayment of �2,000 by a government that treated the sum as a long overdue tax bill.The family suffered a further blow in 1736, when their Tudor hall was destroyed by fire. As fashion demanded, its grand replacement was set in extensive parkland, created by the demolition of all the village houses that stood close to the hall. Among the new dwellings provided for the villagers in the ensuing years, none is more bizarre than Cherry Tree Cottages, a white-walled terrace built with all its doors at the back.The row was built in this manner on the orders of Sir Henry Every, 9th Bt, who had been challenged to a duel by Squire Osbaldeson after a hunting dispute, but had refused the challenge on the perfectly reasonable grounds that duelling had been made illegal. However, he was so concerned that he might be thought a coward that he had the new cottages designed without front doors so that he would not see the occupants gossiping about him as he drove past in his carriage.Chuckling at the prospect of topping this story, Sir Henry showed me a picture painted by his great-great-aunt Eleanor. It depicts an attic room crammed with boxes and packets of postage stamps and is a reminder of a bizarre episode in the years following the introduction of the Penny Post in 1840. A rumour circulated that an austere father would not allow his daughter to marry until she had collected one million postage stamps. When this story(wrongly) became associated with Penelope Every, crates of stamps began arriving from all over the country. They were stored in the attic, where the children had great fun throwing them around like confetti, much to the annoyance of the maids, who eventually persuaded the Everys to have them taken out and burned by the gardener. As a result, thousands of potentially valuable Penny Blacks went up in smoke.The revenue from their sale would have come in useful during the 1930s, when the family hit such hard times that they had to rent out their grand house and move into Cothay. In 1954, the hall was demolished after falling into decay. Forty years later, the grounds were bought by Kevin Ellis, a property developer, who built a new hall featuring architectural echoes of the original. He now lives there with his wife Sharon, while Sir Henry and Lady Every live intheir cottage in the village.When I remarked on the candour shown by the Everys in revealing their family history, Sir Henry said, 'One thing that makes this village tick is that people have an ability to laugh at themselves; another is that so many people make a contribution to village life.' Henry and Susie set an excellent example in this respect: when Susie was chair of the local Women's Institute, she organised several memorable trips, including a charabanc ride to BuckinghamPalace and a back-stage visit to Sadler's Wells, while Henry is known throughout the village as a great organiser who has the knack of making people respond to his promptings.One such is Jim Gardner, who took up the challenge to construct the village website. A Londoner by birth, Jim moved with his family into a quiet, well-manicured cul-desac in Egginton in 1995. He said, 'I love it here; this is the kind of village that has become a rarity in England: the kind of place where you collect your eggs from the local farm and feel that you can leave your door unlocked - even if you don't.'

Comments powered by Disqus