The villages of Hilton, Marston upon Dove and Foston

Ashley Franklin visits three settlements in the Dove Valley south-west of Derby

West of Derby lies a considerable weight of ‘tons’. Close to the River Dove, for instance, you’ll find Foston, Scropton, Marston, Hatton, Egginton and Rolleston. This is no surprise as ‘ton’ indicates a settlement. However, the surprise about Hilton, which lies amidst these villages, is that the name indicates ‘a settlement on a hill.’ No Hilton villager could point me to a hill, and unusually it has a parish church that sits some six feet lower than its village, further down the Dove valley in Marston.


A pub long gone is Cynthia Warren, now in her late 70s, remembers a Main Road which housed three farms and experienced more cow than combustion engine traffic. She also recalls walking every day to the farm with a can that was then filled with milk still warm from the cow. ‘Hilton was a more tranquil and communal village then,’ recalls Cynthia.

Cynthia will be a rich source of reminiscences for the recently-formed Hilton and Marston History Group which is eagerly awaiting its first ever open day at the Wesleyan Chapel on 15th September. This will include multifarious displays including a report on a local archaeological dig last summer, and Hilton during the two World Wars. The event will also see the launch of the group’s first ever publication, a booklet by Ann Owen on George C. Lucas, a local ‘schoolmaster, musician, public speaker and community leader.’

Perhaps the history group might consider publishing the highlights of the old school log books, one of which contains a note from a mother who apologised for keeping her child at home for the day ‘with a touch of typhoid’.


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There is some fascinating reading in the record books of St Mary’s, dating back to the year 1200. I learnt of a 17th century practice whereby helpers were paid as ‘sluggard wakers’. If anyone in the congregation appeared to be falling asleep, they were tapped on the head with a stout stick, tipped with a fox’s tail should any woman nod off and a brass knob or fork for any man caught napping.

Of further interest is the very late inclusion – in 1827 – of an organ. Up till then, music was provided by a small orchestra of brass, woodwind and string instruments. Would this have been unique to Derbyshire?

To show that crass modernisation of buildings isn’t restricted to our times, there was outrage at the alterations to St Mary’s in 1816 which included the plastering of the nave and chancel and the replacement of a stone porch with one of brick. ‘Much havoc was made with this once-fine Church,’ declared

Churches of Derbyshire author Dr Charles Cox. One can be thankful they left the bells alone as one of them, cast in 1366, is the oldest in the Diocese of Derby. Along with the church in Marston, two mills in Hilton were recorded in the Domesday book. The legacy of one mill has been beautifully preserved through the splendid house conversion by Neil Saxon and Lis Kolkman of a mill renowned as the first factory in England, possibly the world, to produce dog biscuits. Lis recalls, as a seven year-old, sitting on a bank while her father fished on the brook, ‘thinking what a big, dark building that mill was. Little did I know I would come to live in it and love it so much.’ Since moving in, Lis has learnt that over time the Old Mill employed half of Hilton as it was also a factory for badges, wall plate rack holders and under-wires for women’s bras.


The Old Mill chimney’s unusual shape captivated Hilton model maker David Wright who copied it for a commission from the Midland Railway Model exhibit housed in Derby’s Silk Mill. This led to Neil and Lis commissioning their own scale size model of the Old Mill. As Dovedale Models, David works from home, creating strikingly authentic models for both private and commercial customers, including model railway enthusiasts, corporate companies, museums and owners of heritage buildings.

Behind the curtains of many Hilton homes numerous small businesses operate, greatly helped by Openreach enabling superfast broadband. I found two other skilled craftspeople living next door to each other. JM Instruments is unique in Derbyshire: owner James Marriage makes lutes, a craft he began perfecting as an Etwall schoolboy. ‘I was captivated by the lute’s delicate and deep sound that seemed to transport you to another time,’ recalls James. In the workshop adjoining his house, James brings consummate skill to the meticulous task of thinning, bending, carving and joining along a three dimensional curve. ‘Patience is paramount,’ adds James, who is pleased to see renewed interest in the lute through its popularisation by rock musician Sting.

Next door to James, Judith Wilson, a long-time industrial sewing machinist and designer, applies her own craftsmanship to the creation of large, colourful children’s bean bags. When Judith made presents of bean bags for a few young relatives, husband Jim was so impressed by the quality that he encouraged her to start up a business – Bright Eyes Bean Bags – and has now given up his job to help her run it. Judith busies herself creating variously coloured bean bags in five animal designs – dog, ladybird, mouse, owl and snail – while Jim administrates, runs the website and travels the craft fair circuit where he reports ‘feedback has been fantastic’. Their two daughters have proved invaluable guinea pigs. ‘Mummy’s bean bags are brilliant,’ says five-year-old Beth. ‘They’re beautiful,’ echoes two-year-old Emmeline.

Both James Marriage and the Wilsons live in the newer part of Hilton which has been a boon for estate agent Rebecca Scoffield. Since opening Scoffield Stone over two years ago, she has sold every property in this postcode area. ‘The beauty of this area is that there are debut apartments through to executive five-bedroom houses in what is an attractive, convenient and friendly semi-rural location,’ says Rebecca, adding that ‘once people move here, they don’t want to leave. If they do move, it’s within the village.’

Rebecca is also proud of the personal service Scoffield Stone offers, which extends to the flamboyant rococo furniture in her office. ‘Whether you love it or loathe it, it’s a way of ensuring you never forget us,’ she smiles.

Close to Scoffield Stone is Hilton Business Park, and the huge premises of both Hilton Garage car supermarket, which houses around 1,000 cars, and Don Amott Leisure Kingdom which next year will celebrate 50 years of trade in caravans and motorhomes.

Another big local employer is John Bowler’s Eggs, one of the largest producers of Free Range Eggs in the UK. In seeking to reduce its energy bills, the Bowler Group has hatched a new business: Bowler Energy, spearheaded by John’s daughter Lucie.

Through PV (Photovoltaic) solar panels and wind turbines, Bowler Energy offers to slash client company’s daytime electricity bills and help to protect against future increases. As Lucie explains, the Bowler name and the company’s longevity gave her business a great advantage: ‘We have been fortunate that our 30 years of experience has given us a solid understanding of areas relevant to renewable energy such as planning, building, electrics etc, and coupled with our enviable reputation for honesty, reliability and quality, we’ve been able to do business with customers who feel reassured working with a long-established and reputable company.’ Lucie also points out that ‘as a central county, Derbyshire is good for PV solar production and has good sites for wind production.’

Finally, the wind blows me down the Derby Road towards neighbouring Foston to visit two other thriving businesses, pausing first at Walls 4 Paws where Sarah Wall offers to board dogs, though in a unique way: not by kennelling them but allowing them to live in the family home alongside her friendly labradors. ‘We had a few friends’ dogs to stay and when we saw how happy they were, I thought I would start a business where that kind of care would continue,’ says Sarah. ‘So all our dog guests run freely all day in our secure five-acre field, socialise with our own dogs and sleep in the house.’ There are glowing testimonials on Sarah’s website, with many satisfied customers applauding the ‘home from home’ atmosphere.

Philip and Leah Evans’ attractive cottage in Foston, a former 18th century coaching inn, appears like any normal home until you enter and see that the front two rooms form the Roundhouse, a Crafts Council listed, Own Art Scheme gallery that sells some of the finest contemporary pottery and ceramics in the country, including Philip’s own. Although they moved 13 years ago from a high street location in Tutbury – owing to a need for more space – to a quiet country cottage where Philip admits ‘we have zero foot fall’, the high quality of the exhibited works, all personally selected by Philip and Leah, brings in clients from far and wide. ‘Our recent exhibition by acclaimed ceramics artist John Maltby brought a queue at the door two hours before opening,’ reveals Philip, ‘and every piece was sold out on the opening day.'’

The Bull’s Head which has now returned to being Wakelyn Old Hall, an attractive black and white half-timbered house. As I walked past this idyllic sight and strolled across the bridge over a gently babbling Hilton Brook, it was difficult to reconcile this with the main road I often drove along on my way from Derby to Stoke. With the building of the new A50 in the mid-90s, Hilton is now quieter.

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