3 things that make the quaint village of Winster stand out from the crowd
- Credit: Archant
Mike Smith explores the quaint and timeless Peak District village of Winster
Protruding into the road from the south side of Main Street, Winster’s 17th Century Market House consists of a brick-built, gabled upper storey and a stone-built ground floor, whose arches are now blocked-in but were almost certainly open in former times. This ‘stand-out’ structure was acquired by the National Trust in 1906 as their first property in Derbyshire. It contains an information centre and a model of the village made by members of the local history society.
In the decades following the granting of a market charter, Winster grew rich on proceeds from lead-mining and also became an important stopping place on the turnpike road running from Nottingham to Newhaven. The resulting building boom saw the erection on both sides of Main Street of town houses designed in the 18th Century’s most fashionable architectural styles.
Amongst scores of listed buildings in this superb street, there is an unusual pair of terrace houses where Palladian-style windows located on the ground and first floors look as if they are shared in some unfathomable way by the two properties. The small doorway of a much more modest house at the other end of the street is covered, rather ostentatiously, by a large semi-circular hood.
But the most eye-catching building is Winster Hall. Described by the late architectural historian John Tarn as a ‘five-bay building of moderate size but with considerably greater pretension’, the hall features a bewildering array of architectural elements, including rusticated quoins, an elliptical window set above a grand central doorway, and giant pilasters supporting a balustraded parapet. According to legend, the daughter of one incumbent of the hall and her lover leapt to their deaths from the parapet because her father had refused to give permission for them to marry.
Once the home of Llewellyn Jewitt, the distinguished engraver, scientist and author, the hall served as a public house from the 1970s to the early 1990s. It has now been converted into luxury holiday accommodation for up to sixteen people. Winster’s two remaining pubs are located to the south of Main Street where two picturesque streets, known as West Bank and East Bank, wind their way up a steep hillside.
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The Miners Standard pub, named after a special bowl traditionally used to measure lead ore, stands just above the point where West Bank and East Bank merge into one high-level rural road. As well as commenting favourably on the friendly atmosphere and the delicious food and drink available in this beautifully-sited pub, many visitors report on the enjoyment of staying at the camping and caravan site run by the owners on an adjacent field, from where there are spectacular views.
The Old Bowling Green pub stands much closer to the village, on the lower slopes of East Bank. The owners, David and Marilyn, have gone to the trouble of responding in detail to all the 271 comments they have received on Trip Advisor. These reviews are full of praise for the great beers and fine homecooked food on offer. One satisfied visitor wrote: ‘David and Marilyn are fantastic hosts. Lovely staff in a beautiful village that’s great for a weekend away.’
However, there is much more to Winster than destination pubs and fine architecture. The monthly Winster Village Magazine contains over twenty pages of interesting features and carries contact details of sixteen local organisations and clubs, including: a group which puts on regular entertainment at the village hall, known as the Burton Institute; a committee that organises the annual carnival; a thriving local history society and a group dedicated to cultivating a community orchard. The magazine is delivered free of charge to all households in the village.
Winster Village Shop is another excellent example of a successful community venture. As Katrina Prosser, who co-manages the busy store with Jayne Hufton, explains, ‘The shop, which opens every day, is entirely owned by people in the village and is run by a small number of paid staff, assisted by 40 willing volunteers. We sell all the necessities found on everyone’s shopping list, as well as some tempting treats. The shop is also a newsagents and an off-license, and it accommodates the village Post Office, which is run independently.’
The Winster Village Magazine, which can be purchased in the shop for 40p, gives notification of upcoming appearances by Winster’s famous Morris Dancers, who have performed in Germany, Italy and France, as well as in various Peak District venues. Unfortunately, their programme has been curtailed this year by restrictions imposed in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The group’s repertoire includes several dances unique to Winster. These were documented by Cecil Sharp, a well-known collector of English folk music, when he paid a visit to the village in 1908. The Winster Reel is always a great favourite on Wakes Day and a polka known as the Winster Gallop has been known to encourage at least thirty spectators to lose their inhibitions and take part in the dance.
Another popular activity which has fallen victim to the pandemic this year is the annual Secret Garden Weekend, normally scheduled for July, when over twenty private gardens in the village are open to members of the public, who are likely to find themselves welcomed with cream teas and glasses of bubbly. During the weekend, visitors always include locals keen to explore their neighbours’ gardens, because so many of these are normally hidden from view behind houses that face onto the road without leaving any room for front gardens. One of the few houses on Main Street which does have a front garden is Doe Lea House, where a brilliant floral display forms a colourful introduction to the village for anyone entering Winster from the east.
SPLIT DOWN THE MIDDLE
The western exit from Main Street is almost completely closed off by a former Dower House. The tall gabled building obstructs all views from the street of the parish church, which features a plain square tower stylistically at odds with the more decorated style of the rest of the building. As the vicar, Rev. Stephen Monk, points out: ‘The interior of the church is even more unusual, because it consists of two naves joined by an arcade that runs all the way down the middle of the central aisle. When weddings take place, there is always a decision to be made about which side of the arcade the bridal party should take as they walk down the aisle. The carrying of the coffin in funeral processions poses an even bigger problem.’
Other notable features in the church include a pre-Raphaelite stained-glass window designed by Sir Edward Burne-Jones and a modern, semi-abstract stained-glass window where you might possibly be able to interpret some parts of the design as being representations of the eye of a dove and the feathered wings of the bird. The Church of St John the Baptist is Grade II listed, as are more than 60 other buildings in Winster. The Market House where our survey of this fine village began has the added distinction of being II* listed.