Chellaston, Derby

PUBLISHED: 14:49 01 February 2010 | UPDATED: 15:39 20 February 2013

Chellaston 1

Chellaston 1

A traditional village at the heart of a modern suburb.

There is only one Chellaston, and yet there are two. The first is an archetypal English village with an ancient church, a village school, a little row of shops and a meandering high street with a working farm at its head. The second is a sprawling modern suburb with hundreds of smart new houses arranged around quiet cul-de-sacs, which fan out like tributaries of the various streets that stream away from the main road, where there is a constant flow of traffic to and from the centre of Derby.
Although the two Chellastons make a whole, because their communities are firmly united by common membership of organisations, clubs, schools and churches, the old village at the centre has managed to retain its traditional appearance in spite of new Chellaston growing all around it. Its high street runs away at right angles from the main road, as if it is determined to turn its back on the hustle and bustle of the commuter highway and head for a quieter life.
From the foot of the village street, there is a fine streetscape view, with the tower of the parish church as its focal point. Even though the tower is a 19th-century addition to a building that dates from the 14th and 15th centuries, it is not out of place, because its three-part structure seems to mirror the distinctive overall geometry of the church, which is defined by a step-by-step drop in height from tower to nave to chancel.
I was shown around the building by Rachel Harrison, who works in the church office. Rachel was born locally and still regards St Peter's as her church, even though she moved out of Chellaston 15 years ago - 'when it was still a village'. The church is unusual in having a main door that is half-way down the nave, which, as Rachel pointed out, makes for an unusual entry by the bride during wedding ceremonies. It also appears to be double-aisled, because the south aisle, which is headed by a Lady Chapel, is almost as wide as the nave.
When the building was re-pewed in 1813, a number of ancient alabaster slabs were removed, with several being given to the churchwarden, so that he could use them to pave the floor of his stable. This is a great pity, because Chellaston's early wealth was founded on its rich deposits of alabaster, which was prized as a material for effigies, tombs and altarpieces.
Chellaston alabaster is found in churches at Swarkestone, Aston-on-Trent, Radbourne and Breedon, and in Derby Cathedral, where it was used for Bess of Hardwick's tomb. When supplies started to run low, gypsum from the quarries was sold as material for paths, roads and floors. The local factories then turned their attention to brick-making, particularly during the Second World War, when Chellaston supplied bricks for the huge Ministry of Supply factory at Spondon and, at the Government's request, built up a huge stockpile of bricks for use in the event of the Rolls-Royce factory being bombed. The last brickworks closed in 1978.
Rachel Harrison's office is located in an annexe of St Peter's Church Hall, a modern brick building used for a variety of functions. Next month it will be the venue for performances by the Chellaston Players of Once a Knight, a pantomime billed as 'Medieval Madness for the Young, Old and Middle Ages'.
The secretary of the drama group, which was formed in 1975 by Edna Ford, is Becky Seysall, who first appeared in Chellaston's pantomimes at the age of seven. Her most recent appearance was in last month's free performance at the Bridge Inn of three short plays by Alan Ayckbourn. When I suggested to her that the choice of play for this year's pantomime was rather unusual, she told me that last year's was Frankenstein!
Chellaston's claim to fame in a different branch of the arts is commemorated by a plaque on a red-brick house in School Lane, a narrow road that branches off High Street directly opposite the church. Between 1893 and 1967, the house was occupied by members of the remarkably talented Gresley family. James Stephen Gresley, his son Frank and his grandsons, Cuthbert and Harold, were all renowned for their watercolour landscape paintings, many of which depict Derbyshire beauty spots. Some of the works now fetch four-figure sums on eBay.
The nearby school was founded in 1878 and originally catered for all ages. It is now dedicated to the education of infants and was paid the best possible compliment by Ofsted inspectors, who observed that 'children run through the gates in the morning, looking forward to the exciting activities that await them.'
After parents have left their children at the school gates, they can pop around the corner to High Street's parade of shops and call in for a relaxing drink at Bevande, a stylish new coffee shop founded by Catherine Rowan, who has three young children of her own. Before opening for business, Catherine re-vamped the premises by stone-flagging the floor, re-styling the interior and inserting a striking all-glass faade.
In the adjacent shop, Catherine's husband Jason runs Wizard Windows, which supplies double-glazing and provides a home improvement service. The rest of the parade comprises: an outlet called Far Below, which has bargain goods galore; a newsagent's and off-licence, which also sells milk and groceries; a Cantonese and English takeaway, a hairdressing salon, and an estate and letting agency.
Whelan's ladies' and gents' hairdressing salon has been a popular Chellaston fixture for the past eight years. On Saturdays, as many as one hundred men are coiffured in the salon (fewer ladies, simply because their coiffuring takes rather longer). Sue Whelan is one of three family members involved in the business, which has the laudable aim of 'taking good care of everyone'.
Their philosophy is shared by the staff of Hannells estate and letting agency. Founded five years ago by Michael and Alison Brain, who named their business after Alison's mother's maiden name, the firm now has 11 branches. Managing director Steve Collins told me that the agency tries to take the stress out of moving house by providing local shops where people can receive independent mortgage advice and even get expert information on family law. Steve talked of the recent boom in buy-to-let, the fall in house prices, the need for people to take out affordable mortgages and the value of part-exchange schemes in getting the housing market moving.
This talk of houses reminded me that I should now leave the old village and begin my exploration of suburban Chellaston. On my way to the main road, I passed another long-established hairdressing salon, before noticing an intriguing sign outside a brand-new flower shop. It offered 15 per cent off orders over 20 for members of the Armed Forces and the NHS, as well as workers at the Rolls-Royce factory. Florist Frey Alexander regards the first of these as under-valued, the second as under-paid and the third as a deserving cause because they work for a major local employer.
A much older business is to be found across the road at The Lawns. Once the villa of a Victorian corn merchant, it has been greatly expanded over the years by Opposite: (l-r) Florist Frey Alexander and her assistant Donna Taylor; Sue Whelan of Whelan's Hairdressing Salon; Catherine Rowan of Bevande coffee shop; Chellaston Players (front row) Mat Shepherd and Clare Hale, (second row) Ben Woodcock, Andrew Gallie and Greg Lunnway,
(at the back) Louisa Ballard and Jerry GregsonSharon Hubbard and her late husband Stuart. Now a modern pub, restaurant and a hotel with 21 en suite rooms, it retains two traditional touches: a thatched L-shaped bar and a resident ghost. The previous owners had an exorcism carried out in the cellar and both Sharon and long-term employee Margaret Flower say that they have witnessed a 'presence' in one of the rooms in the oldest part of the building.
On arriving at the T-junction between High Street and the main road I spotted another traditional touch in the form of exposed timber frames on the gable-end of the Corner Pin pub. Although this fragment of old England seems out-of-place in the midst of Chellaston's busy main-road shopping area, it is not quite as incongruous as the Cantonese takeaway that is housed in a former petrol station!
Avoiding the temptation to shop, I headed for Chellaston Foundation School and Technology College. As soon as I met headteacher Ray Ruszcynski, he invited me to join him on one of his twice-daily whirlwind tours of the school. We called in scores of classrooms, where we invariably found pupils involved in productive learning. Computers were in use in every subject area and those being employed for computer-aided design were even using industry-standard software.
The aim of this dynamic school is to ensure that 'every pupil maximises their potential'. With outstanding 'value-added' results, over 70 per cent of pupils achieving five or more higher grade GCSEs, as well as lots of innovative courses such as Music Technology and 'Salon Studies', which is taught by a local beautician, it is not surprising that the high standard of education is one of the reasons why so many people want to move into the area. Since the school opened in 1977, pupil numbers have risen from 450 to almost 1,700, and the great swathe of countryside that once formed a backcloth to the school's sports fields is now covered by 1,100 new houses on a residential development known locally as the Bonnie Prince estate.
I was taken on a tour of the smart new estate by John Bowden, the long-serving and hard-working chair of Chellaston Residents' Association, who pointed to a site where a dozen retail units are planned. He said, 'This development is long overdue in a large residential area that has had no eating, drinking, shopping or community facilities anywhere within its bounds, other than the Bonnie Prince pub.'
John's remarks reflect the aims of his members, who are drawn from the whole of Chellaston and are determined to lobby for an expansion of facilities to match the population explosion. For example, whilst welcoming the promise of a library to replace the current mobile one, they believe the proposed site is too small, particularly if the building is to include an alabaster museum. Knowing there is a need for a new medical centre, they would like to see both buildings erected on a large main-road site that has become available since the closure of the Red Lion.
Traffic is another major concern. Having successfully campaigned for a weight limit on the main road, the association is now engaged in a battle to re-route a projected access road from the A50 to a proposed new business park, because current plans would involve heavy goods vehicles running alongside some of the new houses. Aware that they have the ear of local councillors on this and other matters, John and his committee members are drawing up a Supplementary Planning Document, which will set out residents' views on 'what Chellaston does and doesn't need'.
With Chellaston changing rapidly, retired lecturer Mick Appleby and his wife Carol, a former teacher, have set out to record the village of old through an oral history project involving 30 residents aged between 67 and 94. Many respondents told the couple that the cottages that look so romantic on old picture postcards were often cold, damp and dark. For example, Jean Bailey recalled that her house had gas lights downstairs and candles upstairs. When her middle son was born in the 1940s, a long flex had to be run from an adjacent building so that he could be born in electric light.
However, Winnie Faircloth has a more positive and poetic take on the past: 'Chellaston before the war, 100 kids at school, no more. We played at marbles in the street. No fear of cars to meet. Most goods were brought by horse and dray, with gas lamps lighting up the way. No numbers then upon the door, yet all were known, both rich and poor.'

Chellaston Voices, an illustrated oral history researched by Mick and Carol Appleby is published by the Chellaston History Group at 7.95, as is the group's publication on Chellaston alabaster.
Ring 01332 701210

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