Updated 10 Dec 2003

WIRKSWORTH Parish Records 1600-1900

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The Villages today

Copied with permission of Denis Eardley from his fine booklet:
"Discover Derbyshire - Wirksworth and the surrounding area"
Published by Solar Press 1999
ISBN 0 9535752 0 9
This booklet also contains details of 6 walks in the area and makes excellent reading.

DENIS EARDLEY now runs a comprehensive website at: www.derbyshire-peakdistrict.co.uk which includes descriptions and walks for Wirksworth and many other places in Derbyshire.....

PLACES covered at present (many more to follow), Wirksworth Area underlined:
Ashford-in-the-Water, Ashover, Baslow, Belper, Buxton, Castleton, Cromford, Dale Abbey, Edensor, Hartington, Hathersage, Hayfield, Hognaston, Matlock, Melbourne, Monyash, Shardlow, Tissington, Wirksworth, Youlgreave.

The Villages:
Alderwasley.. Aldwark.. Ashley Hay/Alport Heights.. Bonsall.. Brassington.. Callow.. Carsington.. Cromford.. Grangemill.. Hognaston.. Hopton.. Ible.. Idridgehay.. Kirk Ireton.. Middleton.. Via Gellia
One of the most profusely wooded of all the parishes in Derbyshire, the village of Alderwasley lies in Duffield Frith which was once one of the county's two royal forests. The woodland is at its thickest and most beautiful in the two hundred acres of Shining Cliff Wood to the west of the River Derwent, which is leased to the Forestry Commission by the National Trust. There is no village centre and the inhabitants of the village are scattered around a fairly wide rural area.

Alderwasley Hall. the former home of the HURT family, which in recent years has been put to various educational uses, is situated in an attractive park. Within the gates of the park is Alderwasley Church; few churches in England can be in such a delightful setting. A cedar tree stands guard, while just below, a sparkling stream runs with little waterfalls and ornamental lakes. The HURTS were involved in lead smelting and one souvenir of charcoal burning still remains in the form of a fire damaged yew tree known as "Betty Kenny's Tree". Betty, or Kate to give her correct name, came with her husband and young family every year to burn charcoal. They lived in an improvised hut and in good weather the baby slept outside in a hollow, horizontal branch of a tree, which it is suggested gave rise to the nursery rhyme Rock-a-bye-baby.

The Bear is the only inn in the village and commands magnificent views eastwards from the car park. A popular calling place for walkers and more unusually for thirsty helicopter pilots - there is a helicopter pad outside!

Situated about one mile to the west of Grangemill close to the High Peak Trail and about two hundred yards inside the Peak Park boundary, Aldwark is one of the most unspoilt villages in Derbyshire. Many of the former farmhouses are now occupied for residential purposes only, the newcomers attracted by the peace and quiet of this lovely limestone area. According to tradition there used to be four pubs in Aldwark, but this seems a little unlikely as the population highest point appears to be in 1831 when there were 97 inhabitants!

Once a base for monastic sheep farming, there is evidence of habitation much earlier than that in the locality. A chambered tomb having been discovered at Green Low, just north of Aldwark, which contained pottery, flints and animal bones dated from 2000 BC. Little more than a mile away is Minning Low where important neolithic finds have been made.

Situated off the Wirksworth to Derby road, Ashley Hays a picturesque little hamlet comprised mainly of farms. At Alport Heights there is a pillar of gritstone rock, which provides a keen challenge to climbers and a magnificent view over a wide area. The nine acres in which it stands were presented to the National Trust in 1930, and represents the first acquisition by the Trust of a scenic nature in Derbyshire. In 1977 and again in 1981, bonfires were lit here as part of a national chain to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II's Silver Jubilee and the marriage of HRH the Prince of Wales.

The ancient former lead mining village of Bonsall was once described by the Daily Mail as "the healthiest village in England", because of the long life spans of its inhabitants who were kept fit by climbing its long steep streets. From The Pig of Lead to the upper end of the village it is a climb of four hundred and fifty feet. The Pig of Lead public house, at the junction of the A5012 through the Via Gellia valley, closed a few years ago and is now a private house.

Little groups of cottages huddled together on odd plots of land along winding streets add to the charm of this attractive,scattered village. The only well known architect to have contributed to Bonsall, was Sir Giles Gilbert Scott who designed Liverpool Cathedral, Battersea Power Station, Waterloo Bridge and the telephone kiosk outside the Barley Mow - now a listed building! At the centre of the village is an interesting group of old stone houses and a seventeenth century inn, which surround a picturesque market cross with a slender circular shaft topped by a ball, surmounted by thirteen steps.

The old centre of the village was close to the church where many pathways meet. An unusual feature of the church is the presence of a bullring, which was referred to in the following story from the Derbyshire Courier of 2 August 1834. In an article about bull baiting, it said "At the Bonsall Wakes on Monday last, thirty to forty men gathered with dogs and clubs .... the worthy clergyman remonstrated with the men in vain .... finally he purchased the release of the animal for one guinea!" Apart from saving the bull, presumably the vicar's purchase included the bullring itself, which if this story is correct accounts for its presence in the church.

The first Carnival and Well Dressing took place in 1927, although there have been some breaks notably during the Second World War. Wells are now regularly dressed usually on the last Saturday in July. Flowers are very plentiful at that time, "only things that grow" being the traditional rule for well dressing.

A map has been created by the people of Bonsall, highlighting the topography of the parish, its geology and natural history, architecture and its past as a lead mining village. Present day facilities are also listed, representing a good purchase for the visitor

An attractive limestone village set on a hillside with winding little streets which beg to be explored. A surprising number of the houses are over 300 years old and the Norman church seems to dominate the village. There were people living in the area in prehistoric times, remains of Bronze and Iron Age man having been found at Harborough Rocks. A Roman road known as The Street once ran through the village. There are many strange rock formations round the village at Rainster Rocks and Hipley Hill, the surrounding countryside being of considerable interest to the geologist, the botanist and the climber. Little more than two miles away is Minning Low, where on its summit Neolithic chambered tombs were found.

The oldest building in the village is St. James's Church, which dates back to the Norman era. But a carved figure on a stone inside the clock chamber indicates that worship may have been carried out here in Saxon times, or even earlier. There are some interesting gravestones in the churchyard one of which bears the inscription:

"Remember this as you pass by
As you are now, so once was I,
As I am now, so you will be,
Therefore prepare to follow me"

The Tudor House, built in 1615 is probably the oldest house in the village, the initials shown at the front are those of Thomas WESTERNE and his wife who had the house built. At one time in its history it served as a public house, but now only two remain, The Miners' Arms and The Gate. Built in 1616, The Gate was on a turnpike road and provided stabling for horses and refreshment for coachmen. On the opposite side of the road, where the post office is situated was believed to be the toll house. The gate across the road probably gave its name to the public house.

A small scattered hamlet comprising mainly of farms, one mile southwest of Wirksworth. Callow Hall is a Victorian farmhouse.

A picture postcard village lying in a wooded valley, with Carsington Pasture rising steeply to 1000 feet behind a row of attractive little cottages which line the roadside through the village. Here the characteristics of the more familiar limestone villages in the area change with hedges replacing walls and the fields are much greener and fertile.

The village has been in existence for hundreds of years and recent excavations made as part of the reservoir construction revealed that Romans were once present in the area. Many archeologists think that Carsington was Lutadarum, the centre of the Roman lead industry. In more recent years the village was an important lead mining centre and Carsington Pasture is still littered with disused lead mines. Miners' Lane situated on the corner of the main road as it bends away from the village, was the route the miners used to take to work well into the twentieth century.

The small church of St. Margaret's fits into the scenery perfectly - pretty but not dominating. There is evidence that a church existed as far back as the twelfth century and it is interesting to note that in 1971, a gravedigger dug up the skeletons of a man, woman and child, probably of Anglo-Saxon origin, giving rise to further speculation of the date of the first church. An unusual item in the church register records the life of Sarah TISSINGTON who was born in the village in 1664, without arms, but despite this severe handicap learned to knit with her feet.

A village of contrasts with the lower half resting by the gently flowing River Derwent, and the upper climbing steeply up Cromford Hill to Black Rocks, where there are outstanding views. Majestic as the scenery is, it is not that which attracts visitors from all over the world to Cromford, but to look round the area where Sir Richard ARKWRIGHT built the first water-powered cotton-mill in the world, thereby earning himself the accolade of "Father of the Factory system". Along with Cromford Canal, Cromford and High Peak Railway, the achievements of ARKWRIGHT have been featured elsewhere and it is the intention here to concentrate on some of the many attractions of the village.

Cromford station, a masterpiece of railway architecture, on the Derby to Matlock line, is considered to be one of the loveliest railway journeys in the country. The bridge over the Derwent is among the oldest in England; it has pointed arches on one side and rounded on the other which were built later when it was widened. The remains of a bridge chapel and a fishing temple, built to the same design as the one in Beresford Dale frequented by Charles COTTON and Isaac WALTON, stand close by the bridge.

The market place is an interesting place to explore with a wide variety of shops: from a chemist to a butcher and from an antique shop to a craftsman selling original handmade contemporary furniture. Next to the Greyhound Hotel in a block of shops built by ARKWRIGHT, is the intriguingly named Mystical Crystals - the leading supplier of natural crystals and minerals in the area. The Greyhound Hotel has recently been extensively renovated to a high standard. Early closing day is Thursday.

Overlooking Cromford Pool along a narrow one-way road is what is left of the old lead miners settlement of Scarthin. The sign above the bookshop is particularly eye-catching, designed and made in recent times by a local blacksmith. Leaving the village towards the Via Gellia, the Cromford Venture centre is housed in part of an old cornmill. The centre offers self-catering facilities and has been designed with the needs of the physically challenged in mind.

Set in peaceful hillside country Grangemill was once a staging post on the Old Portway. Only a tiny hamlet with five private houses, it still manages to boast a pub which serves the need of passing trade at what is an important road intersection. The Old Cheese Factory has been restored for commercial purposes, but evidence of its former use still remains in the form of a massive cheese press outside the door. Two extinct volcanoes have been discovered at the top end of the Griffe Grange Valley close to Grangemill.

The picturesque village of Hognaston standing on a hillside overlooked by Hognaston Winn has been in existence for at least 1000 years. Aerial photographs have shown evidence of medieval field structures and where properties long since demolished once stood. It used to be a busy place in coaching days when the London to Manchester coaches passed through the village. Much further back than that it may even have been on the Roman road to Little Chester.

St. Bartholomew's Church dates back to the twelfth century, the doorway and the font being early Norman in origin. Two of the bells are in remarkably good condition considering they date back to the turn of the thirteenth century. The clock and three of the other bells were a gift from John SMITH and Sons, the famous Derby clock-makers as a memorial to John SMITH who lived in the village.

At the beginning of the 1900's, Hognaston was a village of bakers with three bakery businesses serving the needs of the local communities. It was also well known for transport, the WEBSTER family having been involved in the haulage business as far back as 1666, when trains of packhorses were used. The coach operation that succeeded it finally being sold in the early 1990's.

According to some of the old village records Hognaston was not always as smart as it is today. One court order read: "Every person who has a Dunghill or Dunghills in Town Street to remove it out of town". While another order required a villager to remove his "Necessary House", to stop the fouling of a neighbour's water.

A delightful little village sheltered by Carsington Pasture which climbs up behind green fields and woods to the rear of a line of attractive stone cottages. The village shares its church and school with Carsington where they are located. But it is the GELL family who lived at Hopton for nearly 500 years who were the dominating influence in the area.

Hopton Hall where the GELL family lived, before it was finally sold in 1989, hides behind a red brick crinkle-crankle wall on the eastern side. The wall traps the rays of the sun to assist fruit growing. The GELLs built the school and had a considerable influence on the development of the church. Sir Philip GELL organised the building of the almshouses in Hopton, above which a stone tablet declares that the buildings were for "2 poor men and 2 poor women of Hopton and Carson", the latter being the old name for Carsington. The GELLs also built the almshouses and the Grammar School in Wirksworth.

Across the road close to the corner to the crinkle-crankle wall is an ice-house, which has been listed for protection. This is where food was kept in pre-refrigerator days. Only a short distance away is a country land, which climbs up the hillside out of Hopton and on the way provides magnificent views of the soft green countryside which soon gives way to the grey less fertile limestone uplands.

A small hamlet, Ible stands high above the road not far from Middleton by Wirksworth where D H LAWRENCE once lived and wrote Wintry Peacock. It comprises a few scattered farms reached by a single-track road, where you are more likely to meet poultry coming the other way than vehicles, which is rather fortunate considering the narrowness of the road. Although seemingly isolated and "far from the madding crowd", Ible is less than one mile from the A5012 road.

A small pleasant village on the Wirksworth to Derby road in the Ecclesbourne Valley where, in spring and summer, the woods around are thick with wild flowers. In recent years the daffodils which adorn the roadside in spring have become a very popular sight with passing motorists. The minor roads past St. James's Church, built in 1885-6 by Henry Isaac STEVENS of Derby, loops round the village before rejoining the main road.

Idridgehay station used to be an important meeting place for farmers who brought their milk to the station for transportation to London and Sheffield. The hilly nature of the local countryside did not lend itself easily to arable farming and most of the farms in the area concentrated on milk production. The railway line through the village opened in 1867, but closed for passenger service in 1948; milk by that time was transported by road.

The unusually named South Sitch, which probably originated as an open hall-house, is built of timber with lath and plaster in-filling and a thatched roof. This form of construction is not common in Derbyshire and the timber-framed lathe and plaster chimney even more uncommon. A small stream runs through the pretty garden, another name for stream being "sitch" which is no doubt where the house gets its name.

A charming old world village which climbs steeply out of the Ecclesbourne Valley rising to about 850 feet at the upper end, and looking down over miles of lovely countryside. Kirk Ireton's wide main street used to be flanked by large farmhouses, but many of these have now been converted for residential use only. Several interesting little roads lead off to the left as you climb the main street, with houses seemingly perched on every level bit of ground.

There is only one pub left in the village, The Barley Mow, a handsome, Jacobean-style house dating back to 1683. It is one of the few remaining old English pubs to have retained the traditional image of what a public house used to look like in times past. Tradition at the Barley Mow was so strong that when decimal coinage was introduced in 1971, the owner, Mrs FORD refused to accept the new currency. This caused regulars a great deal of amusement to watch the faces of visitors when asked for "five shillings and eleven pence". Customers had to pay in "old money"up to the time of Mrs FORD's death in 1977.

The oldest building in the village is the twelfth century Holy Trinity Church, which is entered through an interesting eighteenth century pillared gateway believed to have come from the Old Manor House. The font came to a tragic end last century when, after being used as a water butt for a time - a plumber decided to melt some lead in it and lit a fire underneath, only to split it into many pieces.

A rugged village full of character, once a lead-mining stronghold which turned to quarrying towards the end of the nineteenth century. It is bigger than it first appears with streets leading off the main road to houses that seem to hide away in "nooks and crannies" on the steeply rising hillside. The views at the top end of Middleton over the Via Gellia are outstanding and were described by D H LAWRENCE who lived in the village for a short time and wrote "From the height it is very beautiful."

The small quarry in the middle of Middleton, before it was converted into a mine, was nationally famous for its uniquely beautiful Hopton-Wood stone which is over 99% pure limestone. The stone is hard and dense like a foreign marble, and capable of taking a high polish and could be quarried in very large blocks. Many eminent sculptors have used the stone for sculptures that are to be found in galleries and public places all over the world. The list of buildings supplied with Hopton-wood stone is impressive: Houses of parliament, Law Courts, Tower of London, Baliol and Keble Colleges and numerous others. After the First World War an order was received for the supply of thousands of headstones for graves in France and Belgium which required skilled labour being brought into the Middleton area.

Middleton mine was reputedly the only limestone mine in Europe in 1959 when it opened. Quarrying had become uneconomic because of a layer of rock protecting the limestone underneath - mining made it possible to go much deeper underground. By 1983 the mine stretched for one and a half miles to Hopton Quarry on the other side of the hill. It is the leading limestone mine in the UK for industrial minerals.

In the mid 1900's, Middleton had a cricket team with two very menacing fast bowlers, or so their names implied: they were KILLER and DEATH. KILLER is an old Middleton name and at one time KILLER Brothers owned Hopton-wood quarry. One of the founders of the Do-It-Yourself giant B & Q which stands for BLOCK and QUAYLE lives in the village. There are two pubs The Nelson and The Rising Sun, the latter at the southern end of the village is popular with walkers on the High Peak Trail and has a special access footpath.

The road from Grangemill to Cromford was constructed through the Griffe Grange Valley in the eighteenth century by Philip GELL and given the name Via Gellia, as a consequence of the "GELLs" alleged Roman descent. The purpose was to improve access between the family lead mines at Carsington and the Cromford smelter. Now the valley, as well as the road, is more commonly known as Via Gellia. Whatever name is used, it is one of the most beautiful valleys in the county and Lord BYRON could have had it in his mind when he wrote "I assure you there are things in Derbyshire as noble as in Greece or Switzerland"

Early in the nineteenth century there were seven mills set at different levels up a two mile stretch of the Via Gellia from Cromford. The trade name Vyella originated from the fabric that was once produced at one of the textile mills in the valley. On the steep hillside, where the Bonsall road meets the Via Gellia, a skull, thought to be that of a mammoth, was discovered at the entrance to a cave. Further up the valley the Tufa Cottage is most unusual, being constructed of tufa rock formed from dissolved limestone which has been re-deposited in water.