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Barlborough - an interesting village with two excellent schools

PUBLISHED: 00:00 26 May 2015 | UPDATED: 16:24 21 January 2016

Barlborough village sign (photo: Tony Bak)

Barlborough village sign (photo: Tony Bak)

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The ancient and charming parish of Barlborough, north-east of Chesterfield, is home both to a renowned preparatory school and an excellent primary school

Pupils in the grounds of Barlborough HallPupils in the grounds of Barlborough Hall

Barlborough Hall dates from 1584 and is thought to have been designed by the great Robert Smythson. With its square configuration, symmetrical façade, tall turrets and large windows, the building certainly seems to anticipate the architect’s celebrated designs at Wollaton and Hardwick. Although built in brick, the hall is covered in stucco and has dressings in the distinctive magnesium limestone found in this corner of Derbyshire. When Henry Thorold wrote about the building in the Shell Guide to Derbyshire, published in 1972, he abandoned his usual restrained prose style by describing the hall as ‘tall and grey, turreted, romantic and beautiful at the end of its lime avenue’.

This stunning house was built for Francis de Rodes, a leading lawyer, and it remained in the Rodes family for 350 years. In 1938, the hall was sold to the Jesuits and is now a preparatory school for Mount St Mary’s College, an independent Catholic school based two miles away in Spinkhill.

Vicky McAllister, who is Director of Marketing, Admissions, Development and Communications for both institutions, told me that the two schools maintain their Catholic ethos but are open to children from all faiths, as well as to those with no faith. She said: ‘In the best Jesuit tradition, we tailor our education to the individual and help all pupils to do the best for themselves. Entry is non-selective, but the school is dedicated to the pursuit of excellence, whether academic, music or sporting, and scholarships are given to children who have demonstrated their prowess in any of these areas.’

Teaching methods are designed to ensure that the children are well placed to think for themselves. In a range of after-school clubs, the pupils are given every opportunity to pursue and develop their individual interests and hobbies, whatever they may be. However, there is another important dimension to their education. As the preparatory school Headteacher Nic Boys explains, ‘Our aim is to instil a sense of compassion and concern for the less fortunate, in pursuit of the Jesuit ideal of developing men and women who are aware of themselves and others.’

Barlborough HallBarlborough Hall

The parents help the school to add to its facilities by organising a variety of money-raising activities, including a Santa Dash involving no fewer than 60 dashing Santas. Much of the teaching is delivered in specialist subject areas, as it would be in a secondary school. My tour of the building took in an indoor swimming pool, a theatre and a science laboratory crammed with exciting experiments.

After leaving the hall and retracing my steps along that fine lime avenue, I exchanged ‘gown’ for ‘town’, by entering the village of Barlborough along Park Street, where I came across another fine old hall that was commissioned in the sixteenth century by Francis de Rodes. Largely rebuilt in the seventeenth century, it is roofed in bright red pantiles, a roofing material that becomes increasingly commonplace in towns and villages to the east of Barlborough.

Park Street ends at the intersection of High Street and Church Street, where an old market cross and a black-and-white inn called the Rose and Crown make up a composition that is a picturesque cameo of ‘Old England’. A plaque on the base of the cross boasts: ‘This plaque was erected to commemorate the successful campaign to keep Barlborough in Derbyshire (1969–1971)’.

Church Street runs above a sloping green flanked by buildings that make a harmonious whole, despite being fashioned in a variety of architectural styles. The composition comprises the former home of the 25th and last Lord Grey de Ruthyn, a coach house surmounted by a clock tower, a red-brick cottage with projecting eaves and, on slightly higher ground, a plain and neat stone house.

St James’s ChurchSt James’s Church

This charming green is overlooked by St James’ Church, whose white tower is topped by battlements and pinnacles. The arches of the north arcade are Norman, but the building has been extended over the centuries without losing its unity. Beyond the church, there is a former alms house, endowed in 1792 by Margaret and Mary Pole, sisters who died within three months of each other.

After returning to the market cross, I entered High Street, where I came across ‘The Little School’, founded in 1796 and now the venue for a club for young children. Across the road, there is a garden of remembrance entered through a ‘Golden Gate’ with inscriptions in Greek, Hebrew and Latin. The street then opens out onto a large green overlooked by the Village Hall and the various buildings of Barlborough Primary School. All these buildings are wonderfully consistent in style, material and roof decoration, even though they were constructed in four distinct phases from 1870 to 2008.

The primary school has grown as Barlborough has expanded. Clearly recognised by Ofsted as a ‘good school’, it now provides a stimulating environment for 238 children under the leadership of Kerry Towndrow. On meeting three members of her staff, I was immediately struck by their enthusiasm.

Deputy Head Amanda Gee, who has particular responsibility for physical education, told me that the school recently purchased new play and physical education equipment with assistance from the PTA. She said, ‘The aim is for all the children to be involved in healthy activities, whatever their physical ability. We also encourage pupils to show enterprise and to take on leadership roles. We gave £20 to each class so they could design and make their own stalls at the PTA’s Christmas Fair, where they marketed their products. We have also trained pupils to be ‘mini-leaders’, who set out games and activities for the children during the lunchtime break.’

Deborah Findley and June Armstrong share responsibility for the school’s involvement in the ‘Forest School’ initiative, which encourages exploration and self-development in a very hands-on way. Their job is not only to prompt and set up activities but also to let children’s imaginations run free. Clearly getting as much enjoyment as the pupils from the project, they told me how the children have built a castle to protect fairies from aliens and made a new wing for a wooden owl called Oaky Dokie after he had fallen out of a tree. They even made a ladder to enable him to get back to his nest.

While pupils at the school are being prepared for their future lives in lots of creative ways, the past life of the village is being recreated in the Heritage Centre, housed in the former Headmaster’s house alongside the school grounds. Tony Bak runs the centre with the help of a team of volunteers, who are clearly delighted to show visitors an impressive collection of old photographs, postcards, documents and artefacts which trace the history of the village through its farming and coalmining past and illustrate the impact of the two world wars of the twentieth century.

The centre’s collection of marriage and burial records allows local people to research their family history, and Tony Bak has made a detailed study of the lives of the people who lived in Barber’s Row, a group of 42 houses, two shops and a pub, all built in 1863. Tony said, ‘Barber’s Row was virtually a self-contained community, with the residents keeping pigs and chickens, as well as growing fruit and vegetables. Although the houses have been demolished, with only the pub remaining, the community spirit of Barber’s Row has been kept alive by a thriving reminiscence group.

Tony instigated the erection on the green of an illustrated village sign, which was unveiled recently. Norma Machen, one of the volunteers at the centre, worked with the local gardening club to arrange for the creation of a sculpture of a bear from the trunk of a dead chestnut tree on the green. Norma also walked alongside Denis Skinner MP at the head of a march to Westminster to raise objections to the proposed annexation of Barlborough by Yorkshire. The marchers are proud to have won their battle and we should be proud that this fascinating village and its excellent schools are still part of Derbyshire.

The Barlborough Heritage Visitor Centre is open from 9am to 2pm on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and from 10am to 1pm on Saturday (01246 810100) www.barlborough.btck.co.uk.

Anyone wishing to look around Barlborough Hall School should contact the School Office 01246 810511.

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