10 reasons to visit Tutbury, Staffordshire

PUBLISHED: 16:12 03 December 2010 | UPDATED: 17:39 20 February 2013

10 reasons to visit Tutbury, Staffordshire

10 reasons to visit Tutbury, Staffordshire

Discovering Tutbury - A combination of style and energy with history and charm


Driving into Tutbury I was met by a cheerful flurry of English and Union flags that would leave no visitor in any doubt that this was a town proud of its heritage. The Union flags were left over from an annual 1940s weekend; the English flags could be put down to the World Cup. Theres something special about a place with a castle whether ruined or not. In addition to being picturesque it gives a special sense of importance and of the past. Tutbury, Tottas Burgh, was a fortified place at the time of Aethelfleda, the daughter of Alfred the Great and had a market long before market charters were granted. A snapshot of Tutburys history can be found in the Charity House on Duke Street, built as a soup kitchen in 1844. The lower rooms form a local museum that in addition to various artefacts, photographs and records, is a mine of local information and the first port of call for anyone intent on researching their roots. It is manned by curator Robert Minchin and his wife Jeanne, who, when I visited, told me her favourite item was a set of five crystal wine glasses in different stages of being decorated. Visiting children, though, prefer the piece of rope that once drove a piece of machinery at the mill before it broke and someone was killed!


After just a quick glance round you wont be surprised to learn that there are at least 32 listed buildings in Tutbury and thats not counting the Priory Church and the Castle. The furthest out are the old mill on Cornmill Lane to the east and three fine farmhouses to the south. Two late 18th-century town houses on Castle and Duke Streets are immediately striking, while on High Street there are more splendid Georgian and Regency houses. The Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, now an antiques centre where its well worth rummaging, dates from 1899, as does the Tutbury Institute just down the street, with its distinctive clock. Probably the first building you notice, though, is one of Tutburys oldest buildings, the half-timbered Dog and Partridge.


Dating from the mid 15th century, The Dog and Partridge was the town house of the Curzons of Kedleston, most of what we see now dating from the 16th and 17th centuries, with 18th-century additions. It was a coaching stop on the fast route from London to Liverpool and the Red Rover would stop here at 4am on its way south, the reverse coach calling in at 8am. It forms the picturesque backdrop for the annual New Years Day meet of the Meynell and South Staffs Hunt. Part of the Chef and Brewer chain, it offers modern comforts with en suite rooms, restaurant and bar and hasnt lost its charming character. The Vine, the New Inn and the Leopard are other popular town centre inns.


In 1086 there were 42 men living by their merchandise alone in the area round the castle. Today theres a fascinating variety of individual traders who make shopping a delight. David Walker of River Graphic Design, the family-owned design practice and gallery based in Tutbury Mill Mews commented, Tutburys uniqueness is what is great about it. Tutbury is distinctive in that were all independent traders, which gives the town its character. There are family owned niche businesses offering a personal service and goods that you dont find on other high streets where the shops are part of a chain. Here goods have been carefully chosen for our customers. Indeed on Tutburys High Street you can find an exclusive clock shop, a treasure-trove of old fashioned sweets, lead crystal, exclusive jewellery and ladies fashions as well as beauty and hairdressing salons. Then there are the new developments: 12 is a stylish courtyard with eight businesses fronted by a florist and including a coffee lounge, boutique and photographic studio with gallery space displaying iconic black and white photographs. A new dress agency had just moved into Farmer Court, which leads through to the Tutbury Mews development. The shops here range from an opticians to a model-makers heaven, The Tutbury Jinny (named after the old steam pushand- pull train to Burton on Trent), and sell anything from knitting wool to ceramics and potatoes to the ideal present. Tucked back at the lower end of the High Street is the showroom of oak furniture maker and designer Thomas Hotchkiss a familiar figure at Bakewell and Ashbourne Shows. Traders have even launched a group website, DiscoverTutbury.com, to give a flavour of the variety of goods and services of offer.


Linking in to Shopping is one of the three Cs Tutbury is probably most noted for full-lead English crystal. The glass factory, built by Henry Jackson in the early 19th century and acquired by Thomas Webb & Corbett Ltd in 1906, closed in 1981. Two groups of workers then set up Tutbury Crystal in the old factory and Georgian Crystal in an old silk mill off Duke Street. In 2007 Tutbury Crystal relocated and the old factory has now been replaced by a residential development. Crystal remains part of the town, with a shop on the High Street stocking a wide range of handmade hand-cut English full-lead crystal products such as tumblers, decanters, vases, bowls, lamps and paperweights. Around the corner in Silk Mill Lane Georgian Crystal is still going strong. Visitors can watch the glassware being made, cut and polished and make purchases from the factory shop. At the lower end of High Street the Crystal Studio also offers a range of glassware as well as engraving and repairs.


The second C has been called, somewhat prosiacally for such a lovely and atmospheric place, the oldest usable building in Staffordshire. It was originally the church of a Benedictine priory founded in 1089 (although its believed there was a church here much earlier). The priory was an extensive property apparently there was even a vineyard towards the castle side of the church but it was surrendered to Henry VIIIs commissioners in 1538 and destroyed. Approaching from the castle your first view is of the magnificent west door flanked by Norman windows. The present tower was built in the reign of Elizabeth I and the chancel and sanctuary added in 1867-8. The south porch with village stocks to one side is also Norman, although above the door a piece of weathered carved stone is thought to be Saxon. Inside, Norman arches and a barrel roof give a tremendous impression of light, space and strength. The carving of a head of Christ in a pillar over the pulpit is just one of its treasures. You might also be lucky and, as I did, meet the peacock that seems to haunt the graveyard.


Overlooking the town, the Castle ruins will have been a constant presence during your visit. The manor of Tutbury was one of those ceded by William the Conqueror to Henry de Ferrers, who built the castle. After various disputes down the centuries it passed to the Crown, becoming part of the Duchy of Lancaster, as it still is today. The 1st Earl William de Ferrers fought with Richard the Lionheart in the Holy Lands, dying at the Siege of Acre. During its golden age (from about 1361), Tutbury Castle was the property of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster who held court here with his second wife Constantia, daughter of the King of Castile and Leon. The castle was besieged in the Civil War and in 1647 Parliament enlisted local men to break down the walls to prevent its being used in any future rebellions. This has left a mixture of ruined walls and towers. Walking up past steep grass banks through the 14th-century John of Gaunts gateway and on to the Tilting Ground, you are surrounded by spectacular views and a wonderful atmosphere. Theres even a choice of tower or folly-topped mound (erected in 1780 by Lord Vernon of Sudbury Hall to improve his view) to climb for even better views. The castle achieved a certain notoriety as one of the places Mary Queen of Scots was held in captivity complaining of being kept in a walled enclosure, exposed to all the winds and inclemencies of heaven, the greater part of it rather a dungeon for base and abject criminals than for a person of my quality. The connection with Mary Queen of Scots first inspired its curator and lessee, Lesley Smith, to devise what is now a fascinating schedule of events. Any weekend you can find yourself amongst guests attending a wedding or people in pursuit of a haunted happening. In addition to all-night ghost hunts, you can book to have supper with King Henry VIII or afternoon tea with one of the Castle Queens Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth I, Mary Queen of Scots and, most recently and I understand frighteningly, Boudicca. There are also numerous living history displays from Vikings and medieval music to Victorian Redcoats the 80th Regiment of Foot. (For information telephone 01283 812129.)


A Royal court was held at the castle with markets, fair and Court of Minstrels until the end of the Stuart era. Minstrels from Staffordshire, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire and Warwickshire would assemble on a date in August to elect a new King and provide a continuous feast of music until the end of August. During the festival bull running would take place a bull with horns sawn off, ears cropped, tail cut off, flanks greased and nostrils filled with pepper would be chased through town then baited. It was banned in 1778. Today Tutury has three main festivals. In May the 1940s weekend brings fun, colour and pzazz, to the town. On 11th July Tutbury Music Festival keeps alive the minstrel tradition with a mixture of every type of music. At the end of November a Christmas Festival closes the main street to traffic and includes a lantern procession from the church. Another weekend to watch out for is Tutbury Open Gardens (on 27th and 28th June, 12-6pm).


Approached over the sturdy fivearched bridge over the River Dove from Hatton, a playground and picnic area has been created on the site of an old cotton mill with an impressive range of equipment for different age groups. There are plans to reinstate the mill fleam for a Hydro electric project similar to that at New Mills. Visit tutburyecopower.co.uk to find out more. On the far side of the bridge not far from where thousands of silver coins known as the Tutbury Hoard were found in 1831 (tossed in the river by Thomas Earl of Lancaster when he was being pursued by the King in 1322) the river bank has been made into Thistley Place Meadow Nature Reserve with a wildflower meadow, bird and bat boxes.


An interesting 4km circular walk has been devised by Tutbury Civic Society. The result of a project made possible by National Lottery Funding, it follows the ancient earthworks known as the Park Pale a scheduled Ancient Monument. A downloadable leaflet is available on www.tutbury.org

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