Mike Smith goes in search of apples and ancient monuments in a stunning South Derbyshire village

One day in the late 1870s, William Taylor, the landlord of the Hardinge Arms, in the small south Derbyshire village of King’s Newton, spotted a seedling growing in the gutter of his pub.

After planting the seedling in his garden, he monitored its development into a tree that produced green apples with an attractive red tinge.

By 1887, grafted trees were doing so well that the fruits they produced were being sold commercially as the ‘Newton Wonder’, a new species of British apple with a slightly sweeter taste than the Bramley.

The Royal Horticulture Society, which has given the Newton Wonder a first-class award, describes it as ‘a dessert and culinary apple with less acidity than some cultivars, which is produced by a vigorous tree that crops heavily, typically with a larger crop every other year’.

Great British Life: Paul Bowes with a Newton Wonder apple treePaul Bowes with a Newton Wonder apple tree (Image: Mike Smith)

The society adds that the ‘apples store well for eating from November through March, and sometimes longer’.

Paul Bowes, whose wife Tracey became the new landlady of the Hardinge Arms last September, showed me a fine specimen of a Newton Wonder tree growing in the garden of the pub.

It is a type of bush described by the RHS as ‘small to medium sized, with shiny flowers in spring and ornamental or edible fruit in the autumn’.

Paul told me: ‘Some people use its fruit to make apple pie, while others use it to make cider. More traditionally, it was used in mincemeat and for stuffing in turkeys at Christmas.’

The Hardinge Arms, established in the 18th century in a building that dates from the 16th century, is named after the family who lived across the road in King’s Newton Hall.

The pub is conveniently sited just three miles from the Donnington Park motorsport circuit, 4.6 miles from East Midlands Airport and 4.7 miles from Calke Abbey. It has six letting rooms in an adjoining converted stable block.

Great British Life: Tracey Bowes, Landlady of the Hardinge ArmsTracey Bowes, Landlady of the Hardinge Arms (Image: Mike Smith)

Tracey says: ‘As well as providing accommodation for visitors to these local venues, we have made an effort to become involved in local events, such as the King’s Newton Christmas tree lighting and the St George’s Day celebrations. We are also known for serving generous portions of food, including delicious Sunday roast and homemade burgers.’

A rare dedication

As well as being the place where the Newton Wonder was first cultivated, the village has a second claim to fame.

The Market Cross, located at the junction between Trent Lane and Main Street, was erected in 1936 on a much older stepped base.

The dedication on the podium that supports the shaft reads; ‘Here stood the ancient cross of King’s Newton. This one was erected to mark the accession to the throne of His Majesty King Edward VIII.’

Great British Life: The Cross and Kng's Newton HouseThe Cross and Kng's Newton House (Image: Mike Smith)

Just a few months after these words had been so carefully etched, Edward abdicated in order to marry Wallis Simpson, a divorcee who would not have been acceptable as a suitable Queen.

The King’s Newton Cross was left as a rare monument to an accession that never resulted in a coronation.

Architectural Newton Wonders

The cross marks the western entrance to a village street that is flanked by charming buildings fashioned in various styles and materials, which manage to combine to make a very satisfying whole.

In fact, this little street of harmonious variety, which was named by Nicholas Pevsner as ‘one of the most attractive main streets in Derbyshire’, could be called a street of ‘Architectural Newton Wonders’.

Great British Life: Cofton House on Trent LaneCofton House on Trent Lane (Image: Mike Smith)

Main Street is approached from the south along Trent Lane, which terminates in a very handsome, brick-built, Georgian-style residence called Cofton House.

Standing across the road on Main Street, immediately beyond The Cross, there is another Georgian-style residence.

Known as King’s Newton House, this building is particularly striking because it is coated in golden-yellow render and the plain styling of its five-storey frontage is counterbalanced by the surprising presence of a central bay window.

Former owner Mick Fowler, the award-winning mountaineer and author, spent more than nine years restoring this outstanding seven-bedroom mansion to its former glory, enabling the house to take its place as a fine introduction to a wonderful street.

By way of contrast, the next building on the same side of Main Street is faced in rubble stone, rather than render, and is much smaller in scale, even though it is topped, rather incongruously, by a steeply-pitched roof.

When you notice that the residence is called Church House, you will look in vain for a church in the vicinity. There isn’t one.

Great British Life: Church HouseChurch House (Image: Mike Smith)

The likely explanation for the name of the property, which was constructed in 1708, is that it was in use for a short period in the 1850s as a chapel-of-ease to Melbourne Parish Church.

Church House is followed by several picturesque half-timbered cottages, including one with a cruck-beam exposed on the gable-end, almost as if this end of the building has been stripped of its outer skin and reduced to a skeleton.

Another half-timbered building on this side of the street marks the beginning of a long terrace of gabled cottages that terminates in the Hardinge Arms.

The two most attractive buildings on the other side of Main Street are The Chantry House and King’s Newton Hall.

The Chantry House is an imposing stone-built residence with four gables and an array of mullioned and transomed windows.

Its elaborate Gothic styling is in marked contrast to the Classical simplicity of Newton House at the beginning of the street.

It was christened Chantry House by a Victorian owner, Henry Orton, who took the name from a field on his farm called Chantry Close, without possessing any evidence that his residence might have originated as a medieval chantry.

Great British Life: King's Newton Hall partially hidden behiind its garden wallKing's Newton Hall partially hidden behiind its garden wall (Image: Mike Smith)

King’s Newton Hall, which dates back to the early 17th century, was the home of Henry Hardinge, a British Army officer and politician, who assumed the title of 1st Viscount Hardinge of Lahore and King’s Newton.

The hall would later serve, for 25 years, as the residence of Sir Cecil Walter Paget, a locomotive engineer and railway administrator, who designed and built the ‘Paget Locomotive’, which possessed many novel features.

The ever-inventive Paget also introduced a number of innovative traffic management ideas for the railways, including a centralised control system.

When Paget acquired King’s Newton Hall, it still bore the scars of a devastating fire that had taken place in 1859.

Undaunted, he fully restored the building, which resembles a Cotswold manor house in some respects.

Given Paget’s love of the remarkable little village and his great interest in its history, it is not surprising to find that he was also responsible for restoring the village cross and paying for the dedication on its podium that commemorated the accession of Edward VIII.

Tori and Ben’s Farm Shop

Great British Life: Tori of Tori and Ben's Farm ShopTori of Tori and Ben's Farm Shop (Image: Mike Smith)

This rare dedication, together with the story of the Newton Wonder and the wondrous architecture of the main street, makes King’s Newton a very special place. But there is one other attraction to add to its assets.

Tori and Ben’s Farm Shop has been named by the Daily Telegraph as one of the top 20 farm shops in the country.

Speaking with great enthusiasm and pride, Tori said: ‘The meat comes from our own farm, where we have a herd of pedigree Longhorn cattle. We believe our livestock produces the best beef and lamb in the world from the best grass growing country on earth’.