Ashley Franklin stays local and finds familiarity breeds affection...

Great British Life: Town StreetTown Street (Image: Ashley Franklin Photography)

Duffield is close to me, both geographically and emotionally. As a large village only a mile from my Milford home, it’s my first port of call to pick up a newspaper in the morning, a frequent shopping destination during the day and a regular haunt in the evening to play racquetball at the squash club. It’s a great testament that I have published a Duffield calendar for 11 years and am never short of appealing images.

One of the latest is of a steam loco beside the handsome new ticket office/waiting room at the Ecclesbourne Valley Railway line’s Duffield station. Other iconic Duffield sights have included: Chevin Golf Club with its undulating tree-lined fairways; grandiose Duffield Hall, latterly the headquarters of Derbyshire Building Society and now a private residence; and Duffield Castle where, as the National Trust declares, all that remains are ‘the foundations, the view and its stories’ – although there are plans to raise funds to rebuild an outline of the walls.

Duffield also has Millennium Meadow, ‘a wonderful oasis of calm and beauty,’ says the Meadow’s Chair Di Hancock. This 40-acre nature reserve is ‘a destination of choice to walkers who enjoy the tranquil setting amongst flower meadows, copses of native trees and ponds in the wetland area – made accessible via a network of footpaths and carefully placed seats.’

Adjacent to this is Eyes Meadow, where walkers can enjoy watching the Derwent flow by or the sporting prowess of local teams. Duffield Dynamos Football Club, the second largest junior club in the country, has its home here, as does Duffield Cricket Club, whose First Eleven is an established force in the Derbyshire County Cricket League Division 1 and whose junior section is the biggest in the county. Crowdfunding has also brought the likelihood of a new pavilion nearer, which will be made available as a community resource.

Great British Life: Duffield Hall, with its striking Cedar of Lebanon treeDuffield Hall, with its striking Cedar of Lebanon tree (Image: Ashley Franklin Photography)

Another well-established sports facility in the heart of the village is Duffield Tennis, Squash & Racquetball Club. The five-court squash club recently celebrated its 80th anniversary and enjoys a healthy membership with a thriving junior academy. Both clubs share a gym, changing rooms with showers and sauna, and licensed bar, all recently refurbished. They also share the belief that they offer the best coaching facilities for all ages in the county. The tennis club – formed in 1882, making it the 12th oldest in the world – has seven all-weather courts and won Derbyshire Tennis Club of the Year in 2016 and 2017. ‘I love the fact that Duffield is a traditional tennis club with a community feel,’ says Head Coach James Grindell. ‘Because we’re in a village, it’s great that so many members are within walking distance of the club and it’s become an integral part of their lives. Better still, the club is nicely hidden away and is a very safe environment.’

Also hidden away, though quietly thriving, is the Duffield Club, which offers snooker and billiards to its 300-plus members in a building dated 1897. Sports and play are also catered for on the Gray Recreation Ground which is also home to a children’s playground.

As you’d expect in a village of over 5,000 residents, there are multifarious activity and leisure groups for all ages and a wide range of services and facilities, including five churches, a post office, library, fire station, medical centre and vet, day nursery, independent shops, salons, pubs and restaurants.

All this effectively makes Duffield a town rather than a village, though parish councillor Steven Evanson says, ‘its soul is still that of a village.’ According to Judy Clough, Duffield is ‘a small town with a village mentality.’ Judy should know as she has run Duffield News for 38 years, together with son Steve, who joined her 33 years ago. Their newsagent’s shop has the charm of a social hub with Judy popularly regarded as Duffield’s listening post, stress counsellor and agony aunt. Steve is a pillar of the community, too, having spent 20 years as a retained firefighter at Duffield Fire Station.

Great British Life: Sunset over eyes Meadow, looking from Duffield BankSunset over eyes Meadow, looking from Duffield Bank (Image: Ashley Franklin Photography)

‘Duffield is seen as a dormitory town,’ says Judy, ‘but it has a village heart in the sense that we still make time for people, look out for people – you still get to know who’s ill or lonely – say hello in the street, even to strangers, and we make newcomers very welcome.’ Much credit here goes to the Duffield Community Association (DCA) which provides a welcome pack for every new arrival and is also responsible for a superlative June carnival, complete with an impressive procession.

One of the main reasons Duffield has grown to town-size is Ecclesbourne School, which has a roll of 1,461 pupils and is one of the most in-demand schools in the region. It’s been rated ‘Outstanding’ in four successive Ofsted reports and pass rates in GCSE English and Mathematics place it among the top 25 non-selective state schools in the country. There are also two highly regarded primary schools: Meadows and William Gilbert, the latter joining Ecclesbourne in the recent Sunday Times list of the top 250 schools in the UK.

Steven Evanson admits that living within the Ecclesbourne catchment was a determining factor in moving his family to Duffield 30 years ago. He’s not the only one and as a result, the last five years have seen the average house price in Duffield 71 per cent higher than the Belper average and 96 per cent higher than Derbyshire as a whole. In spite of the demand for housing, Steven also observed that Duffield’s situation in the Derwent Valley prevents expansion and will help keep its village feel: ‘If you consider the topographic restrictions here – the river, railway, flood plain and hills around – it means that our village will remain compact and retain its rurality. It also means that we can walk from the house and, in a few moments, be lost in the countryside, yet we are only a few minutes from the city.’

Duffield’s expansion has meant that the village has retained myriad shops and business services. If you are thinking of moving house to Duffield, the estate agents Fletcher & Co in the heart of the village have, in the words of Associate Director Steve Fletcher, ‘a tailored, intimate and unparalleled knowledge of property within the area.’ Their office is suitably plush and welcoming, too.

Great British Life: Ecclesbourne Valley Railway Steam loco at Duffield Station with its new ticket office/waiting room. It is hoped that there will be regular weekend steam locos running from Spring Bank Holiday through until August Bank HolidayEcclesbourne Valley Railway Steam loco at Duffield Station with its new ticket office/waiting room. It is hoped that there will be regular weekend steam locos running from Spring Bank Holiday through until August Bank Holiday (Image: Ashley Franklin Photography)

If building work is required, Duffield Building Services – run by Mick Heaps and Nigel Williams – has an enviable, long-established reputation in the area. ‘All our work comes from referrals,’ points out Nigel. ‘The fact that Duffield is a small community means that lots of people know you and everyone talks to each other, so you have to maintain a high standard of workmanship, which we always do! Also, we’re not just builders; we offer a complete service including help with a design and building programme.’

When it comes to interiors, Ruth Eley is a much sought after interior designer who has been a firm presence in the village, especially in the last eight years since setting up shop – and home – in a handsome townhouse on Town Street with a fabulous showroom and design studio. ‘The only disadvantage of living above the shop means that, occasionally, Sunday morning walkers peer through the windows and catch me sitting at my desk in my pjs,’ smiles Ruth.

Ruth has worked extensively around the area – clients have included Duffield Hall and Duffield Bank House – and has collated a large pattern library of fabrics, poles, lighting etc. She believes that ‘experience and an ability to listen’ have been vital to her success and has plans to get up to date with social media and rebuild her website – ‘so that the curious can see a little more of what I can do, rather than just see me in my pjs!’

For the first time, Duffield has a kitchen and bathroom showroom in the heart of the village. When Pete and Sarah Smith of the cleverly-named The Hub and The Tub first opened their doors on Wirksworth Road in 2015, they enjoyed so much success that they relocated to bigger premises on Town Street. Their kitchens and bathrooms are tailor-made. As Sarah states: ‘We start with mood boards and visuals and we offer a very full service from removal of the existing kitchen and bathroom through to the final decoration. We are constantly praised for our great work ethic and in being a very hands-on company whether the job is large or small.’

Great British Life: A colourful range of flora and insects to be found in Millennium MeadowA colourful range of flora and insects to be found in Millennium Meadow (Image: Ashley Franklin Photography)

When it comes to carpets, Ian Wilson at Duffield Carpets has over 35 years of experience in the trade, as has Phil Bonsall of Meadowvale Carpets which he runs with his nephew Dan. ‘I’ve modelled him into a mini-me,’ smiles Phil, ‘and being family-run means we’re on the ball the whole time; it also keeps everything close.’

Phil opened his shop in the heart of the Ecclesbourne Meadows Estate after taking advice from a retailer to: ‘surround yourself with chimney pots.’ Duffield itself, Phil adds, is an excellent base for work all over Derbyshire. For Phil, whose corporate clients include JCB, Sudbury Hall, Calke Abbey, the Kedleston Estate and Ashmere Care Group, customer service is paramount. ‘Many customers have become friends and their children become customers,’ he points out. ‘We’re also competitively priced and offer internet price matching. We’re obviously doing something right because we’ve come through four recessions.’

As you drive into Duffield from Derby, you can’t help but notice the fine lines of a Ferrari or the finer points of a Porsche on display at Benz Bavarian, founded by Felix Frixou 18 years ago. Felix is keen to stress that it’s Benz Bavarian of Duffield – ‘like Stokes of Kensington’ he states. ‘Our location befits the style of car we sell,’ adds Felix. Amidst the sports, high performance, luxury and 4x4 motors in the showroom, Felix points to a Honda NSX – regarded as an ‘everyday supercar’ – a Ferrari bought from Chris Evans, and a Nissan GTR Nismo, one of only 24 produced for the UK. Felix also deals in classic cars and is relishing the acquisition of a rare Porsche 930 Speedster. Felix is celebrating 30 years of his Tamworth Street Services Centre in the village and five years of Velo Bavarian, which offers a wide range of bikes. He recently launched the Titan Children’s Trust to provide access to activities, recreation and support for disadvantaged children in the East Midlands; and his wife Sharon is opening a Titan charity shop on the first floor, selling high quality pre-loved clothing.

Duffield is actually bookended by car showrooms: on the Belper side of the A6 sits Carwise which sells quality used motors. As you enter the middle of the village from this side, a fond, familiar sight of these last four decades is Duffield Art Gallery. Created initially to showcase work by the talented artist brothers Rex and James Preston, James came in towards the end of last year to rescue the gallery from closure and brought in his partner Jill Underwood to run it. Together, they’ve given the gallery a new lease of life. Alongside James’ masterful landscapes bursting with light, colour and supreme composition, the gallery is promoting the likes of Spondon’s Tolkien-inspired fantasy painter Paul Raymond Gregory, the expressive, abstracted landscapes of Duffield’s own Colin Halliday, the Turneresque landscapes of Steve Slim and the Pollockesque nature paintings of Lynn Smith.

Great British Life: Scenes at Duffield Carnival 2017Scenes at Duffield Carnival 2017 (Image: Ashley Franklin Photography)

I asked James what Jill has brought to the gallery. ‘Glamour,’ smiles James, ‘alongside 30 years of sales experience and a lovely, relaxed way with customers.’ Plans for this year include one-artist shows, extra exhibition space and a new website.

This is a good place to highlight the Duffield Arts Festival which was created in 2016 by resident Jonathan Leach with a simple but heartfelt aim: ‘I just love seeing people express themselves through art.’ For Jonathan, the festival has been a success, if only for the fact that ‘people from three to 93 have tried new things from Djembe drumming to quilling.’

Amidst all the concerts, talks, plays, workshops, exhibitions, craft stalls, and a photo, art and short story competition, a key factor in the festival’s success has been the Scarecrow Trail, with its 70-plus entries galvanising and binding the community. An award winner of the first Trail was a superbly-made scarecrow of Edward Scissorhands, displayed appropriately by barber’s David James, which ‘bridges the gap between traditional barbering and a contemporary male hair salon’. David James has an impressive set-up: a classy, dark grey and white interior with contemporary music, sports action on a big TV screen, hot and cold drinks and trained professional stylists, with customers ‘aged three to 83’ and one mother tweeting the fact that a haircut ‘even pleased my grumpy teenager’.

Other hairdressers in the village centre on Town Street include Phil’s Barber Shop, Sally Montague, Holland & Fuertado and Katie Weeds Hair Design & Studio. A former Ecclesbourne pupil and Duffield Carnival Queen, Katie showed great entrepreneurial spirit in establishing her first salon in Belper two years ago at the age of 19. The Duffield salon that soon followed has done ‘exceptional’ business.

On the other side of Katie’s salon is Duffield Clinic, essentially an optometrists though they advertise their services for eyes, ears and skin, offering hearing tests and non-surgical cosmetic procedures. They are also expanding to include podiatry, osteopathy and acupuncture. ‘We pride ourselves on clinical excellence and exemplary levels of customer care,’ says director Anita Hingorani who has been an eye care specialist in Duffield for 18 years and is a popular figure in the village.

The finest location I have ever seen for a dentist is on King Street. Duffield Dental Practice has occupied its striking half-timbered Tudor-style building for almost 25 years. A former restaurant, it has been beautifully refurbished inside and is a predominantly private practice headed by Andrew and Juliet Marshall and their son Tristan. Juliet said: ‘As family members we all have the same ethics and standards and can rely totally on one another. It also means we can ensure complete continuity of care for patients, many of whom we have been treating since we started our practice 30 years ago and who have become our friends. Our staff are like family, too – receptionist Jackie and nurse Tracey have been with us for 21 years.’

Duffield also houses two luxurious bridal shops: Ivory White whose ‘exquisite’ gowns include designs by Essence, Stella York and Mon Cheri; and the long-established Mimi Toko, taken over six months ago by Rosanna Meehan. As an experienced wedding planner, Rosanna is aware of the importance of the bride’s dress: ‘It’s the centrepiece of the wedding,’ she observes. ‘All eyes are on the bride, so she needs to feel special.’ Rosanna, who has linked up with the school to organise a Design a Wedding Dress competition, stocks dresses by Enzoani, Wendy Makin and Edith & Grey from Chester Green.

There is plenty of opportunity to dine and drink out in Duffield, too, with two long-established Indian restaurants, Viceroy and Andaz, plus the Duffield Balti takeaway; three long-established pubs, the Bridge Inn, White Hart and the Pattenmakers Arms, which won Derby CAMRA Country Pub of the Year 2014; and a recent arrival, the micropub Town Street Tap. Godfrey’s Café Bistro is a popular draw, not least for the continental-style seating outside – even in winter! Also on Town Street is Movie Shakes where you can get coffee, cake and a shake while also hiring a DVD.

When it comes to buying food, Birds Bakery has been a ‘godsend’ to Town Street while on King Street, the butchers Anthony Andrews has made its mark, succeeding the popular and long-established Andrew Coates. ‘It’s been an honour to take over,’ says Anthony, who has introduced a deli and offers a texting service, delivery service and Facebook page. Key to success, says Anthony – who already has an established shop in Turnditch – is ‘consistency – supplying high quality, locally-sourced meat with qualified staff and good knowledge of food and hygiene, plus lots of banter with customers.’ Exciting plans for this year include extensive renovation, artisan breads, a new coffee machine, and even wines and beers, plus more of his amusing A-board quotes which customers now anticipate with relish. Anthony’s favourite so far is: ‘No Hipsters! Don’t be coming in here with your vegan diets, fluffy faces and sawdust bedding. No… wait… hamsters. NO HAMSTERS!’

Also in Duffield, along the road to Wirksworth, the award-winning Croots Farm Shop is about to celebrate ten years of success. It is extraordinary to think that this capacious shop grew out of owner Steve Croots’ small business selling home-grown herbs and home-made herb and fruit-flavoured oils and vinegars. The hillside location has been a real positive, with the resident Shire horses an added attraction, though the main keys to their success, according to Steve’s wife and co-MD Kay, are: ‘The passion to seek out, produce and serve only the best quality foods; all 30 of our loyal staff; and our locally-produced ranges – we have 30 suppliers within a 50-mile radius.’

It’s clear from all the aforementioned success stories that Duffield is a great place to work. And it looks as if it could get even better. It’s believed that the long-closed King’s Head on Town Street could re-open as a Michelin-starred restaurant and that the old NatWest Bank building will become a wine shop. This all helps make Duffield a great place to live. ‘It’s wonderful to live in the countryside and yet have all these amenities,’ says Juliet Marshall. ‘Who would want to live anywhere else?’