Church Broughton, Derby
PUBLISHED: 14:56 01 February 2010 | UPDATED: 23:21 16 February 2014
Ashley Franklin explores the welcoming village set amongst lovely winding lanes with connections to cavaliers and a great poet.
When I moved to Derbyshire 30 years ago, I became instantly familiar with Church Broughton - without ever visiting the place. I came to work at BBC Radio Derby at a time when it ran an annual County Quiz - with Church Broughton one of the leading village teams. They won the coveted trophy twice, quite a feat considering the Melbourne team fielded Ted Moult. However, Church Broughton had their own Brain of Britain. An announcer used to bark out the name of the quiz question respondent and, as someone who assisted on the quiz recordings several times, I recall thinking 'If I hear that announcer say "Church Broughton - Campbell Coutts" one more time, I'll be calling his name out in my sleep!' Because of Campbell, Church Broughton was always hard to beat.
Now that I have finally visited Church Broughton, the same could be said of the village itself, an archetypal idyll with a handsome ancient church, traditional local pub, reputable popular school, and several attractive centuries-old houses, all surrounded by lush, level green fields that seem to go on forever. Indeed, Church Broughton sits snugly in the midst of the vast rural triangle bounded by the River Dove and the roads linking Derby with Ashbourne and Uttoxeter. Before I discovered the dull easy way to Church Broughton, just off the A50 Hilton to Hatton road, my computer router took me through the lovely, narrow, winding, hedge-rowed, Devonian lanes skirting Radbourne, Trusley and Sutton-on-the-Hill, the kind of perfectly preserved countryside that time blessedly forgot. It seemed to take an age to get to Church Broughton, but I didn't mind one bit.
Janet Arthur tells me that when her family arrived in 1965, Church Broughton was 'a truly rural place with cottages on the corners and fields in between. There had been no development because there were no main drains. The electricity and water sometimes failed, so we got used to lamp and candles.' 'Even now there are power cuts and water leaks,' says villager Peter Shanks, 'but my wife Rita and I love the place, especially its out-of-the-wayness.'
What Peter and Rita also found in Church Broughton was a strong community spirit. Amongst its population of around 570, a dedicated core of villagers, including notably members of the VH&PFC - the Village Hall and Playing Field Charity - and the new proprietors of the Hollybush inn, has ensured that Church Broughton is, in the words of the VH&PFC Chair Martin Furness, 'an active, welcoming and socially engaging village.'
When the VH&PFC bought the playing field in 1936 for 65, the trust deed stated that the land was to be used 'for the purpose of physical and mental recreation, and social, moral and intellectual development.' In the mid-60s, Janet Arthur recalls 'a moribund playing field with nettles so high that the children made a maze in it.' However, it has gone on to become a proud enterprise with lots of well-maintained play equipment and a fine tennis court. Ironically, in spite of the words 'Village Hall' in its title, the VH&PFC has never managed to get a hall, but it makes use of both the Chapel schoolroom and the primary school and organises a wide and impressive range of annual events including Music in the Park - local musicians young and old gathering to play everything from rock, folk, the classics and big band jazz. There are also clubs catering for everything from rambling to gardening, painting to wine-tasting. Church Broughton's May Day is a properly traditional occasion with a May Queen and King, maypole dancing and a procession followed by numerous stalls lining the main village road. As a throwback to days of yore, you can even 'Bowl for a Pig'. Yvette Lydon, a former member of Church Broughton's County Quiz team, spoke with pride and passion about the way so many volunteers of all ages throw themselves into the writing, staging and performing of the Church Broughton Pantomime - 'a very professional effort complete with proper proscenium arch and electric curtains', beamed Yvette.
County Quiz has long been over but the Hollybush holds a weekly Curry Night and Quiz. Church Broughton also now excels in the pursuits of golf and tennis, and for smaller groups and less active residents, there is an opportunity to play everything from Catan to Croquet.
This is not just an active community but one with an engaging sense of humour: not only did the village organise a big celebration for the Queen's Jubilee, they also entitled it Betty's Broughton Bash; and I chuckled, too, on hearing of an annual charity event called Teddy's Parachute Day. Any teddy who has a pound to contribute earns the thrill of leaping from the tower of the church of St Michael and All Angels, strapped into a makeshift parachute usually made from an old umbrella. Up to 40 teddies have been known to show their daring, and amongst the prizes is a special award for 'Best Freefall'. It would also have been fun to have attended the last Church Broughton Ghost Walk: the organisers guaranteed a spookily entertaining night by secretly arranging actors to provide several apparitions, all based on genuine historical characters. Although some ghost stories were rather fanciful, there is one given some credence: more than one villager has heard the strangulated cries of horses on Boggy Lane where there was reportedly a terrible stagecoach crash.
When looking at the overall history of Church Broughton, one has to start at neighbouring Barton Blount which at one time was the biggest village in the area while Church Broughton was a mere hamlet. Although the Domesday Book of 1086 records the manors of Barton and Broughton - from the old English broc-tun simply meaning 'the settlement by the brook' - Broughton ironically had no church at this time while Barton had both a church and two water mills. The pillars and font in St Michael's remain to show that the church was eventually built in Broughton sometime in the 12th century with the 'Church' prefix adopted when the nearby hamlet of Pava Broughton - later West Broughton - sprang up in Sudbury Parish.
Barton acquired its Blount suffix through the acquisition of the estate in 1381 by Sir Walter Blount, who is famously mentioned in Shakespeare's Henry IV Part 1 when he is killed at the Battle of Shrewsbury after being mistaken for the King. Today, Barton Blount is but a few scattered farmhouses and cottages with a nearby field revealing the fossilised impression of village streets and house platforms. Roy Christian found this field 'an eerie, atmospheric place'. Maybe there are ghosts of slain Civil War soldiers here: as Roy discovered, one of the possible reasons Barton Blount was abandoned was that life became 'untenable' due to Civil War ructions. During this time Barton Blount Hall and the village were garrisoned by both Roundheads and Royalists in turn respectively besieging or attempting to relieve Tutbury Castle, which reportedly led to skirmishes in and around Barton. Church Broughton must have been similarly afflicted, especially when in 1644, two years into the Civil War, a major Parliamentarian commander, Sir John Gell, moved into Barton Blount's fortified manor house. Church Broughton fell under Gell's influence and his soldiers were said to be 'as dextrous at plunder as at fight. His regiment of foot were good stout fighting men, but the most licentious, ungovernable wretches. Without any remorse, he suffered his men indifferently to plunder both honest men and cavaliers.' A year later, in 1645, there was a small battle at Church Broughton when a party of Royalists, heading north after the Battle of Naseby, encountered 500 Roundhead horsemen from Barton, resulting in three to four deaths on both sides.
By this time, the manor of Church Broughton had passed into the ownership of the Duke of Devonshire's family, where it remained until 1918. After studying estate maps made up by the Duke in 1626, Janet Arthur saw the name of one Robert Gootherych as owning land and discovered that a descendant of his, Janet Timmons, still lives in the village. Interestingly, his will of 1571 mentions gold as well as 'all the wool of my ewes'. Like most villages hereabouts, life in Church Broughton over the centuries was dependent on farming. Indeed, in the 1821 census, 83 out of the village's 110 families were 'chiefly employed in agriculture'. Later in the 19th century, there is evidence of shoemaking in the village and a brickworks which manufactured a particularly hard type of brick from which many of the village's houses are made.
One building erected in 1855 points to a growing population - around 650 - suffering a growth in lawlessness: the Duke financed the erection of a police house, though it was thought the two cells (one downstairs for men, the other upstairs for women) were largely occupied by out-of-control drunks staggering out of the Hollybush and the Royal Oak. The police house still stands, a private residence bearing the appropriate name of Peel House.
It was drunkenness that saw the Royal Oak lose its licence in 1917, the victim of a movement which blamed food shortages caused by the U Boat blockades of World War I on drunken civilian war workers. The campaign to close the Royal Oak on these grounds was led by the vicar of Church Broughton, the Rev. Alfred Auden, a staunch Band of Hope supporter. Alfred was the second of two successive related Auden vicars of Church Broughton who between them were present in the parish for nearly 70 years. The stained glass window in St Michael's depicting the resurrection was installed in memory of Alfred's uncle William Auden. William and Alfred were respectively great uncle and cousin of the great poet W.H. Auden, whose Derbyshire connection also extends to the fact that his Christian name, Wystan, was derived from the patron saint of Repton, where his father once lived. Apparently, though, the poet visited Church Broughton on only a few occasions as a boy. One villager told me that on one of his visits, young Wystan took pot shots at the church weathercock and riddled it with bullet holes. I was later informed that the story is apocryphal, but only in that it wasn't the poet: the offenders were the Rev. Alfred Auden's two sons.
Church Broughton has another claim to fame: on a stretch of land adjacent to the A50 once stood Church Broughton Airfield whose three runways were home to Wellington bombers during World War II. More notably, the airfield was used by Rolls-Royce during the War to test the Trent, the first jet engine, and further provided the maiden flight in August 1944 of The Gloster Meteor, the first jet-powered aircraft to enter operational service for any air force in history.
Janet Arthur uncovered two other notable war-time incidents to make one smile. Firstly, the blast at the Fauld ammunition dump of 1944, the world's biggest non-nuclear explosion, occurred six miles from Church Broughton but was still powerful enough to cause Mrs Stephenson of Etchells Farm to fall out of bed. Secondly, a Broughton Airfield pilot crashed in the field below Heath Top and was 'revived by the Miss Bradshaws with home-made wine'.
Pre- and post-War Church Broughton saw a fall in population owing to lean years for agriculture. In 1965 there were only 17 children in the school but this number increased with the closure of the schools at Boylestone and Sutton-on-the-Hill. After a main sewer was laid, followed by the sale of three of the four inner-village farms and the erection of executive housing, a new school was built in 1974 and that in turn attracted more houses and young families. Church Broughton had been saved but it also signalled an erosion in traditional village ways, as Janet Arthur recalls: 'In 1965, our family was welcomed into what was still a largely agricultural community. The Parkins' cows walked through the village, and Etchells' bull sometimes poked over our garden hedge. It was a village where you got to know most residents. Social activities, like whist drives, were for all ages and did not include alcohol, so that everyone would feel comfortable coming. When the school had a trip to the seaside, we all went, whether we had children at the school or not. The Church and Chapel had more importance then. The school was seen as part of the Church, when it was across the road, whereas now it serves a wider area and has greater needs.'Brenda Robotham, who arrived in the 1960s, has seen the importance of her beloved Methodist Chapel slowly diminish - 'We struggle a bit, but we carry on,' she affirms. Times have changed at St Michael's, too: the current rector, Michael Bishop, has seven other parishes to look after but manages to maintain weekly services through the help of retired ministers and lay readers. Sunday attendances at St Michael's are in their teens and Parochial Church Council member Rita Shanks is concerned: 'St Michael's struggles with fund-raising and the upkeep of the church and with so few communicants these days, one wonders what the future holds for these beautiful buildings? I am sure we are not alone, though.'
Maybe the collective term for bats - colony - should change to congregation: every dusk, a cloud of pipistrelles can be seen flying in and out of St Michael's. 'They cause problems for the church cleaner,' points out the Rev. Bishop, 'especially during the summer when there is a bat maternity unit there! It is, however, a joy to have their help in controlling the various beetles which threaten the woodwork in the church.'
There is plenty of wildlife to be seen outside the belfry in the village's verdant surroundings, especially around its numerous footpaths and bridleways. There is an abundant array of hedgehogs in these parts, according to one villager - 'and too many messy wood pigeons,' he added. While driving to nearby Sapperton Farm to visit Parish Council Chairman Colin Prince, I glimpsed a hare scurrying into the hedge and later eyed a buzzard, an increasingly common sight hereabouts. On his 400 acres of arable land and grass lets, Colin has taken part in the Countryside Stewardship scheme involving the creation of five miles of permissive paths for walkers, cyclists and horse riders, and ten acres of winter stubble which has encouraged a wild bird habitat bringing, notably, lapwings and corn buntings.
As Parish Council Chairman, Colin says he's pleased to live 11/2 miles from Church Broughton. 'It means there are few occasions when I get cornered in the village over some council issue,' he smiles. The only pressing issue, according to more than one resident, is one shared by many villages: the sight of foreign lorries rumbling down rural roads, 'driven' to distraction by their errant Sat Navs. By quiet contrast, there was the pleasing sight of Paula Dewsbury riding her horse 'Raffles' while her young son Thomas pedalled alongside on his bicycle. Paula's father, Derek, moved from suburbia to Church Broughton partly so that he could give his daughter the space she needed to train her horse for one-day eventing. Two weeks after our meeting, 'Raffles' won his first event. 'His eventing career has just taken off,' said a delighted Paula, 'and I don't think this would have happened if we hadn't moved to Church Broughton.'
I saw two other sets of small boys happily riding their bikes through the village. As Doreen Towne confirms: 'Our three children grew up happily in a safe environment, and they fit easily back into the community when they visit, as this is such a caring place.' Kate Furness, who I found working in the Hollybush in between her university terms, spoke similarly: 'I grew up in a house behind the playing fields. Being in a solitary village like this, it's quite a sheltered upbringing - you're in your own little bubble - but at the same time you feel such enormous freedom and safety, and if I ever have children, I would want them to have the same. The air is cleaner, too.'
Jim Tunstall, who has lived all of his 84 years in the village, remembers growing up at the turn of the 1930s when you could go a whole week without seeing a vehicle on the road: the village possessed only one car, a Ford Standard, and only one tractor - all the other farmers used horses. He enjoyed a childhood 'freely roaming the fields and scrumping apples and pears - no-one seemed bothered by that, either.' After the War, Jim became known as the Church Broughton painter and decorator. He didn't have a telephone but was never short of work in all of his 25 years on the job. 'I got work by word-of-mouth,' recalls Jim, 'and people called on me. In those days, you knew everyone in the village. You were either friendly with them or related.'
'Church Broughton used to be far more communal,' says Brenda Robotham. She particularly regrets the loss of the post office/store at the turn of the millennium as it was 'a gathering point and a social centre of the village.' Ironically, in this age of compulsory closures, Church Broughton's post office shut down simply because no-one could be found to take it over. Opposite what is now Post Office Cottage is the Hollybush, a pleasingly traditional beamed-ceiling-and-brasses inn which, by contrast, has undergone a new lease of life through proprietors Matt and Jannine Clarke, who moved in just under four years ago. Their first visit to Church Broughton had a touch of destiny about it. 'The sun was out, the hanging baskets were in bloom, and sports day was on,' recalls Jannine. 'We also thought it fateful that our daughter's name is Holly.' Prospects didn't seem quite so sunny when they encountered a pub that clearly needed refurbishing and redecorating. 'We re-equipped the kitchen and then gradually went from one room to another,' points out Jannine. As a former chef at the Cavendish Hotel, Baslow, amongst other eating establishments, Matt was keen to promote 'traditional pub classics alongside modern cuisine - with a focus on fresh, seasonal, quality ingredients served in a relaxed, informal environment.' Regional produce is gaining prominence, so you can be greeted by a Specials board that incorporates local wild rabbit and their own pork and nettle sausages alongside New Zealand green-lipped mussels and Wild Alaskan salmon. 'It's the best and most consistently good pub food you'll find in Derbyshire,' affirms resident Janet Riley before reminding me that early booking on Fridays and Saturdays is advisable, as regulars come from far and wide as well as the village.
'We really feel our hard work is coming to fruition,' believes Matt, a statement confirmed by the pub being shortlisted for the second successive year in the Derbyshire Food and Drink Awards. I can certainly vouch for its delicious lunchtime panini snack of chicken and tikka mayonnaise and, as I looked round, I was also pleased to see the provision of a proper bar area for drinkers where one can play darts, dominoes and cribbage or put your name down for the pub football team. I also saw a framed photo of the winner of last year's Giant Pumpkin Competition which attracted a massive 67 entrants. The pub supplies the pumpkin plants, the winner gets his or her body weight in beer and, on prize- giving night, Matt serves up pumpkin soup for all.
Each day, after a busy lunch, Matt looks forward to striding out of the door with his dog Billy ('the pub's resident meeter and greeter') and 'walking in the beautiful, unspoilt countryside to clear my head.' The 'school run' is a pleasure too: a short walk around the corner. Church Broughton Primary is a Church of England school of around 100 pupils, with a proud head teacher in Margot Davison who has enjoyed 'a hugely enjoyable two years' amongst 'wonderful staff' and children who 'work hard and play hard'. The last Ofsted report stated that the school was a place where 'pupils flourish'. There was praise, too, for its 'strong Christian ethos' and 'skilled and hard working staff and governors' as well as for being 'at the heart of its community' and 'well supported by parents', borne out by an active Friends of Church Broughton Primary School.
With four children, Parish Council member Harry Fowler says the school was 'a major factor' in his family's decision to move to Church Broughton. Also, in running a satellite office for his print management company Handprint & Design, he finds another plus point is the road network - Church Broughton is only five minutes away from the A50 and he can be on the M1 or M6 within three-quarters of an hour. Villagers also don't need to travel far for excellent leisure facilities. Adjacent to the A50 are Broughton Heath Golf Club and Church Broughton Tennis Club. The golf club came about when village farmer Brian Sessions took up golf but found it was a long drive, so to speak, to his club at Morley Hayes. 'They were really long days,' he recalls, 'because when I got back, I had to go and milk the cows. I then thought that if I built my own golf club, I could play more regularly, create a course for others to enjoy and, if I made it a success, I could maybe hire someone else to milk the cows.' Now celebrating its tenth anniversary, Broughton Heath has one of the longest 18-hole, 3-par courses in the country - 'and it's as well looked after as any course you could name,' adds Brian. It's clearly popular, too, as the club boasts over 500 members, largely from Derbyshire with, remarkably, one member based in Plymouth and another in Cyprus - 'They don't come every week,' says Brian.
It looks a pleasurable course in a further sense: the attractive curlew logo on the club's smart blazer derives from the presence of this rare bird in the adjoining wetlands. Along with other birds, there are trees and hedgerows bursting with crab apples and blackberries, and if your ball drops in the pond, you can stop and admire the fish or feed the ducks.
Another plus at the club is that it caters for all ages, with a healthy ladies membership - 'Up to 40 play every Wednesday,' Lady Captain Lesley Bennett points out. The club encourages younger members by going out to schools and offering summer holiday lessons with Tri-Golf (using plastic clubs and foam balls) for 5 to 11 year olds.
Church Broughton Primary and other surrounding schools have strong connections with the Tennis Club which for many years was restricted to the single court in the village but, through lottery funding and a Sport England grant of 60,000, a club of over 150 members now thrives on three state-of-the-art courts next to the golf course. There are ten league teams with the club providing four of the six players in Derbyshire's senior squad and one at both junior and under-18s level, with a busy, highly reputable coaching facility spearheaded by England senior national player Jane Rushby.
If Church Broughton sounds too good to be true, it has to be pointed out that when resident Doreen Towne put a bid together for the next UK Calor Village of the Year competition, the occasional villager did express concerns about encroaching industrialisation on its southern boundaries, A50 noise, pig and chicken farm smells and the need for improved broadband. However, as the Calor competition is looking for 'well-balanced, active and caring communities' which 'maintain and enhance the quality of life for all inhabitants', Church Broughton must surely fancy its chances.
On my first visit to Church Broughton, I smiled at the sheet of useful contacts passed to me by Janet Arthur. After first listing 'Long-standing people', a second list was entitled 'New people' which included villagers who had come to Church Broughton 'in the last 40 years'. This seemed to suggest that it takes half a lifetime for new arrivals to be accepted by ingrained incumbents! That feeling might actually have been present at the time Church Broughton experienced its wave of newcomers at the turn of the 1970s but I sensed only harmony. 'There was a feeling of them and us when the new houses went up,' says Yvette Lydon. 'Older residents felt overwhelmed. However, it's got better as the years have rolled on and although we are a typical village with an influx of dormitory dwellers hardly anyone gets to know, there are enough active and friendly residents to make Church Broughton a pleasure to live in.'
One of the villagers canvassed for their view of Church Broughton for the Calor competition went so far as to say, 'I look at the village as an extended family for my children: protecting, encouraging, educating.' One of the latest arrivals, Janet Riley, deserves the last word as she goes even further, expressing her love for Church Broughton in the most poignant terms: 'I lived with my estate agent husband in Mickleover and he used to drive all around South Derbyshire. One day, he came home and said "I have found our dream place". It was Church Broughton. He had an instinct that it was "a village with a heart". Not long after this, he died, aged only 44. On the first anniversary of his death, I drove out to Church Broughton. Somehow I felt I could get closer to him this way. Something happened, because as soon as I got home, I searched my computer for properties in Church Broughton and saw one that looked ideal - one of ten houses in a farmhouse and barn conversion on the heath. I was a bit out of my comfort zone with all this but felt I had to follow my late husband's instinct. I made a big decision to move and, after some anxiety, realised I had done the right thing. This is a lovely, welcoming village where I have made many friends and where old friends love to visit for coffee. I work as a lawyer and every time I drive down Sutton Lane approaching the village, I find myself smiling. And when I get here, it feels as if I'm on holiday all the time. I love to sit out in the garden, view the surrounding countryside and savour the changing seasons. I can feel my late husband out there. I feel so happy that it was always his dream to live here, and I am now living the dream.'