Breaston, Draycott and Sawley, Derbyshire

PUBLISHED: 20:48 01 February 2010 | UPDATED: 15:15 20 February 2013

Sawley Marina

Sawley Marina

Mike Smith takes a closer look at these neighbouring settlements with very different personalities: a village centre unchanged since Victorian times, Europe's largest lace mill and the most extensive marina on the inland waterways.

Church Wilne Reservoir is a large sheet of water near Derbyshire's border with Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire. Located within two miles of its shores there are the three large villages of Breaston, Draycott and Sawley. Even though these settlements are near neighbours, they have very different personalities.
With its ancient church and enormous village green, Breaston is a most attractive place. However, much of its beauty could so easily have been lost if the parish council had not stood firm in the face of an ever increasing demand for houses in pleasant rural locations. In fact, there are plenty of new housing developments in the area, but not one of them has been allowed to intrude on that wonderful green space at the core of the village.
Alan Beadling, who has been a member of the parish council for 37 years, told me how he had instigated the purchase of the green during his time as chairman in the 1980s. He said, 'Miss Watson, who owned the green, donated one corner as a war memorial garden, but we needed to buy the rest of the land in order to keep Breaston as a traditional village.' To prove his point, Alan produced a photograph of the village centre in Victorian times. The scene looks much the same to this day.
Since purchasing the land, the Parish council has worked with various agencies to create both a butterfly garden and a sensory garden, but most of the green is simply preserved as an open space to be enjoyed by local people, their dogs and a wide variety of wildlife. An interpretation panel claims that the area is home to nine species of butterfly, 18 species of wild flowers and eight different grasses.
Breaston also possesses a large park with a children's playground. Some years ago this recreation area had a paddling pool serviced by a windmill, which pumped water along a mini-canal. The paddling pool has gone now, but the windmill remains and Alan hopes that the council will be able to find the funds to restore it. The parish council is also responsible for organising village walks, as well as the annual May Day celebrations which take place on the village green. Each year, parish clerk Sam Cheshire eagerly volunteers for the task of visiting the village's three pubs to raise teams for the tug of war competition.
Sam carries out her council duties in the parish office, which was created in 1999 by converting an old horticultural shed on the edge of the village green. She showed me a panoramic painting of the main street produced by Michael George to celebrate the opening of the new facility and she proudly produced certificates to mark Breaston's numerous successes in Village of the Year competitions.
Megan Donoghue, a pupil at Firfield Primary School, has also achieved success in a recent competition, which has won her a ride in a helicopter. She will be joined on her flight by her mum Jan, who is the school bursar, and will end it by landing on the school grounds, where the pupils will line up in the shape of a tree, which will be captured in an aerial photograph taken from the helicopter.
The raffle for the helicopter ride, which has raised funds for a school trip to Melton Mowbray, was organised by Sara Kenyon, who is chair of the school's parent-teacher association. Although Sara lives in Long Eaton, she sends her children to Breaston's school because she wants them to be educated in a school that is part of a village community.
At the time of my visit much of headteacher Wayne Norrie's office was occupied by a pirate ship that had been used to support one of the themes in the school's integrated curriculum. One of the dads, who is a set designer, helped to make the boat and another dad, who does pirate re-enactments, was involved in the project. Yet another dad, who is a pilot, will be helping in the next cross-curricular theme, which will focus on transport in all its forms. Wayne, who is full of enthusiasm and clearly has the support of staff and children as well as parents, has many other projects up his sleeve, including the creation of an allotment in the school grounds and the conversion of an area for reception class children into a pirate zone.
Chris Smedley, the rector of Breaston's parish church, also enjoys plenty of support. On the day of my visit churchwarden Jan Wilkinson was doing her weekly voluntary stint as a cleaner. She suspended her duties to give me a guided tour of the beautiful building, which was founded as a chapel-of-ease in the reign of King John. A chancel was added to the nave in 1250 and a broached spire was erected on the rather squat tower in the same century. Jan introduced me to the 'Breaston Boy', a sculptured face, which supports the northernmost bay of the nave and is said to be that of the stonemason who carried out alterations in the fourteenth century.
Jan's voluntary work does not end with her church activities, for she is also a fund-raiser for the Tree Tops Hospice which has over 400 volunteer workers and a remarkable network of hospice shops, including two in the centre of neighbouring Draycott, a village dominated by Victoria Mill, a four-storey building topped by a clock-tower with a green onion-shaped dome. Once the largest lace-manufacturing plant in Europe, it has now been converted to 104 luxury apartments, with a selection of retail outlets known as The Courtyard on Market Street.
At the other end of the village is a large brick building that houses the Draycott Table Tennis Centre. Jack Winder told me that more than 80 members play regularly at the centre, which is home to seven teams that compete across three leagues. Twenty youngsters come for coaching each week and there is a link with the local school.
Various extensions and the spacious new sports hall, which is subdivided into five table-tennis arenas, have been financed by a Sport England grant obtained five years ago by the Long Eaton and Draycott Club, which first acquired the building a decade ago. These excellent facilities have been used for an England Ladies' international match and for an exhibition by top European veterans. As Jack pointed out, the centre has put Draycott on the map of the table-tennis world.
The building was initially used as a boxing club, founded for the benefit of youngsters in the town by regulars at the Travellers' Rest, which stands across the road. Landlord Kevin Bayley is helping to put Draycott on the map in a different way. As a keen music fan he has persuaded some top musicians to play at the pub. Among the international performers booked for this year's live entertainment programme are Gwyn Ashton, an Australian blues guitarist, Denise Marie, a New Orleans acoustic blues and jazz player, and Adrian Burns, an American who has played with the likes of BB King and Bill Wyman.
As well as featuring on the maps of the table tennis and music worlds, Draycott has also established a niche in the art world. The Beetroot Tree Gallery, which was founded nine years ago by textile artist Alysn Midgelow-Marsden, stages a series of changing exhibitions in two superb first-floor gallery spaces. A special annual show features textiles collected from many parts of the world by John Gillow.
Exhibitions and marketing officer, Khyati Koria-Green, showed me the studio spaces, the caf, a delightful garden designed by Julian Robinson, and the shop, where there is a selection of books written by Alysn and designed by Khyati. As well as staging interactive arts events, the gallery has wine-tasting evenings hosted by Pierre Hourlier, and takes students on placements - 19-year-old Tiffany Greenwood, from Castle College, was working there at the time of my visit.
The Beetroot Tree is a hidden gem, because it stands on South Street, which is tucked away in a quiet corner of the village. Another hidden gem is to be found on the road to Sawley, where a grass bank completely hides the view of Church Milne Reservoir from passing motorists. However, a short gap in the bank provides access to the shores of the lake where there is a large club house belonging to the Church Wilne Water Sports Club, which uses the reservoir for water-skiing.
Don Cameron, who has been a ski-boat driver for over 20 years, told me that the club has over 300 members, many of whom come from far afield to use what is acknowledged to be one of the best water-skiing facilities in the country. Children's activities are organised in the school holidays and members of the public are always welcome to enjoy the lakeside scenery and refreshments at the club house. The water-skiers are equally accommodating to the lake's wildlife, which includes a pair of kingfishers, a couple of herons and dozens of moorhens. Don says that the birds have learnt to co-exist with the club members, who take care of the birds and maintain a good link with the RSPB.
This tranquil lake is only a short distance from the centre of Sawley where a never-ending stream of traffic flows along the village street from Harrington Bridge, an important crossing over the River Trent. Fortunately a large churchyard forms a cordon sanitaire between the busy road and All Saints' Church, a magnificent building with a fine fifteenth-century tower and spire. The interior has a very wide nave, a thirteenth-century chancel, a solid stone screen behind the altar and a Jacobean-style pulpit with a canopy.
It is not only the building that impresses at All Saints', but also the liveliness of the church community. Events include: car boot sales in the church grounds; a Tuesday luncheon club; a curry night with food provided by Judy Henderson-Smith, wife of the local doctor; a garden party and a flower festival each August. Last year dozens of members put on army uniforms for a 1940s street party.
My informant on these matters was Keith Hickton, a member of All Saints' Social Committee. Keith's family has a long association with the church: his father was a member of the choir and his grandfather was captain of the bell-ringers. Keith has something of an aversion to bells, but he is happy to stay close to the church because it brings him near his wife, who died 12 years ago and is buried in the churchyard.
The church grounds are skirted by the main road, which is flanked by three pubs, all of which provide good food, and a restaurant called the Whitehouse, which has just celebrated its tenth anniversary and was established by Ashley and Tabitha Matthews. Their niece, Talia Henman, who is a student at Derby University, was working there at the time of my visit.
The neighbouring Harrington Arms stands close to the river crossing that marks the border between Derbyshire and Leicestershire. On the Leicestershire side of the Trent, there is a marina, founded by Derrick, Keith and Raymond Davidson, who started a boat building company on the site in 1959. Over the years their business evolved into a marina for 600 boats, which have ready access to three different waterways. Other facilities on site include a restaurant, a well-stocked shop, a chandlery, a caravan site, sales and repair facilities, and even a doll's house cottage workshop.
My three-village tour, which began on one of the biggest village greens in the country and took me past Europe's largest lace factory, had ended in the largest marina on Britain's inland waterways. Superlative!

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