6 reasons why you should move to Chesterfield
PUBLISHED: 00:00 22 November 2019
Neighbourhood know-how, people and places
Despite being Derbyshire's largest town - the population is around 104,400 and there's lots of new housing on the outskirts - at its heart Chesterfield still feels like a friendly, welcoming market town. It has a distinctive character with unique sites to explore and is an immensely satisfying place to shop. The words 'award-winning' seem to recur, whether you're talking about its park, shops, businesses, museum, market hall, four-star Casa Hotel or even ice cream. There are also plenty of superlatives linked to the town: largest parish church in the county (with twistiest spire), oldest civic theatre, oldest pub, biggest outdoor market, and so on.
Having its own railway station with excellent mainline services and great bus and road connections make it an easy place to get to and a popular stopping place for visitors to the Peak District, which is just 15 minutes away. We arrived via the less travelled but beautiful B6013 from Belper, which winds above the valley offering tantalising glimpses of stunning views before joining the A61. I always find the traffic islands on the outskirts of the town centre confusing, but that's probably me, and it's well worth persevering. Head for the centre and there are well-signposted car parks and two multi-storeys with reasonable charges.
Seeming to appear magically before you whichever way you turn, all 228ft of the Crooked Spire act like a fascinating magnet and St Mary and All Saints' Church is a good place to start and end your explorations. Cleverly placed in its shadow is the award-winning, purpose-built Visitor Information Centre which is manned by friendly, helpful and knowledgeable staff who are only too happy to point you in the right direction and offer an audio trail around 30 points of interest in the town centre. The church, with its coffee shop, tower tours, lunchtime concerts and memorials, is a lovely quiet place to complete your visit.
In the town
Chesterfield's mock-Tudor black-and-white buildings give it great character. Many were designed in the 1920s and 30s but tucked away in The Shambles is a real historic gem - the 12th-century Royal Oak, one of the oldest inns in England and 'a rest-house for the Knights Templar during the years of the Crusades'.
Other places not to miss are the Market Hall, the Pomegranate Theatre - refurbished but retaining a wonderful Victorian ambience - and the Grade II listed Winding Wheel (a former Odeon Cinema), which together offer a great and varied programme of plays, talks, concerts, comedy and films. Award-winning Chesterfield Museum and Art Gallery has fascinating items on permanent display and curates informative and inventive exhibitions.
Out to shop
Chesterfield's splendid Market Place must be one of the best spots in the country to experience a traditional open-air market. Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays are the days to look out for, with other special market events throughout the year. The impressive Victorian Market Hall - bright and airy since it was revamped - is an imposing and useful centrepiece. The town's pleasant and popular pedestrianised shopping area also includes a warren of alleyways known as The Shambles, The Yards which is full of independent shops and cafés, Vicar Lane and the Pavements, a modern shopping centre. There are national chains and unique independents but friendly is the watchword wherever you shop. To mention just a few of the many stand-out shops, we called at Ingmans (a cobblers that sells beautiful English-made shoes and classy contemporary men's tailoring with a slight Peaky Blinders feel), Jacksons Bakery, RP Davidson Cheese Factors (a cheese-lovers' paradise), Tallbird Records (if vinyl is your thing), and several of an amazing number of jewellers, which includes two branches of CW Sellors, long-established family-run John Stevenson, award-winning Adorn, and Green + Benz - to mention just a few!
For a coffee break, Peacock Coffee Lounge on the south side of the market place is one of the town's oldest buildings. You get a lovely cup of tea at Stephenson's Tea and Coffee House, and family-run No 10 The Tea Room offers a warm welcome and a good menu featuring local produce. Other eateries we made a note to return to - all along Knifesmithgate - were Bottle and Thyme, Odyssey Greek Restaurant and the family-run Japanese eatery, O-Tokuda.
Time to spare
Chesterfield has an amazing art trail. It includes a bronze statue of George Stephenson cradling a model of The Rocket at the railway station, works by Barbara Hepworth and Angela Connor, and ranges from the recent 'Growth', a 7-metre-tall steel flower at the centre of the Hornsbridge roundabout, to the poignant statue of the Lalla, the little flower girl, in Queen's Park. Lovely Queen's Park is another major asset, with Green Flag status, Victorian bandstand, miniature train, conservatory, boating lake, café, cricket ground and excellent recently extended sports centre. If you prefer to watch sport, Chesterfield FC's 10,500-seater Proact stadium and conference centre is another great recent development. Other places to visit are the museum at Revolution House, Old Whittington, which is always decorated for Christmas, and Barrow Hill Roundhouse Railway Museum and Engine Shed, a unique museum and events venue.
You could take a walk or boat trip along the Chesterfield Canal - there are Santa special cruises before Christmas - or enjoy the space to ramble and cycle at 180-acre Poolsbrook Country Park.
On to Chatsworth Road
Once known as the Brampton Mile (named for the local brewery) for its 21 or so pubs, an exciting range of independent retailers now stretches along the length of Chatsworth Road, with everything from major retailers (Lidl looked to be the most recent arrival) to tiny specialist independent shops. This is another place where you can get back to the delights of spending time talking to friendly, knowledgeable, enthusiastic and hard-working business men and women. Old-fashioned pubs are cheek-by-jowl with contemporary coffee shops and simple terraced houses contrast with multi-million pound developments. You can find everything from specialist tea, coffee and a café at the Northern Tea Merchants to excellent dining at Lamberelli's and Nonnas. JMJ pottery offers classes as well as bespoke pottery, elegant outfits are on sale at Blanc and Dotique, and Overtons specialise in repairing and restoring amazing clocks and watches. Meringue Bakery and Café provided a welcome respite with a great cup of tea, the most amazing lemon meringue pie, and a freshly baked loaf to take home. And finally, Brampton Brewery, which was demolished in 1984, was resurrected as a micro-brewery 12 years ago and is prospering.
A bit of history
Chesterfield dates back to the 1st century when it was the site of a Roman fort on Ryknild Street, along the route between forts at Derby and Templeborough near Rotherham.
The name Chesterfield stems from Anglo-Saxon 'caester' (a Roman fort) and 'feld' (grazing land). In 1204 King John granted a charter for two weekly markets (still going strong) and a fair, and in 1594 Queen Elizabeth I awarded its borough charter. The town developed rapidly as an industrial centre once coal deposits were found and once the great George Stephenson constructed the Chesterfield railway line around 1837.
A few notable connections
George Stephenson, Lady Baden-Powell, social reformer Violet Markham, actors Sir John Hurt and Steven Blakeley, photographer Francis Frith, footballers Bob Wilson and Gordon Banks and artist Paul Cummins are associated with the town while Sir Montague Burton opened his first store in Chesterfield in 1903.