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Derbyshire’s Reservoir Villages - Hognaston and Kirk Ireton

PUBLISHED: 00:00 26 July 2016

Hognaston cottages

Hognaston cottages

Ashley Franklin Photography

Derbyshire Life visits Hognaston and Kirk Ireton

The four villages featured in the next issues – Hognaston and Kirk Ireton this month, Hopton and Carsington next – are linked by the Saxon suffix ‘ton’, meaning enclosure or settlement. They could also share the description ‘backwater’, both in its meaning of an ‘isolated or peaceful place’ and literally in their proximity to Carsington Water, which opened in 1992.

At the time the reservoir was being built, a disgruntled local told BBC Radio Derby that the development would ‘attract large numbers of people into what was previously a quiet and peaceful area... It’s a change for the worse.’ When Roy Christian visited Kirk Ireton in 1982, he encountered ‘Stop Carsington Water’ car stickers, reporting that ‘people I met could see little justification for the reservoir.’

Hognaston resident Sally Salisbury recalls a daily procession of heavy lorries thundering through the village, causing her house to vibrate and shudder. She shuddered at the thought of what Carsington would bring and says she can still hear the screams of the lapwings when their nests were destroyed by the clearing operation in her favourite wood.

As it turned out, Carsington Water resolved the rising demand for water, has become a hugely popular visitor attraction and half a million trees have been planted. The area also attracts abundant wildlife, notably over 200 species of birds, including lapwings who nest safely on Carsington Water’s islands.

Hognaston houseHognaston house

Hognaston

‘People have come to live in Hognaston because of Carsington,’ Sally points out, ‘and many residents belong to the sailing club there. And do you know what? After all the fuss and worry – plus the building of a bypass – Hognaston remains as much a sleepy backwater as it was pre-Carsington.’

As the complainant on BBC Radio Derby said: ‘You can no longer roam at will across the Henmore Valley’ yet there are still pleasing panoramas as I drive up into Hognaston before pausing in a dip of the valley to visit Peter and Jean Gardner, appropriately surnamed as they have created a beautiful, informal garden sanctuary at their home, Tilford House.

When their sons fled the Staffordshire family nest, the Gardners took the opportunity to both ‘seek out the peace and tranquillity of the countryside.’ They recreated their new house’s original garden and transformed an adjacent field into a woodland garden with winding paths, planting over 100 trees and creating three ponds to go with the existent two. There’s the added delight of the Henmore Brook streaming through the garden borders. They’re opening on 29th June as part of the National Gardens Scheme for the eighth year, having raised over £10,000 for charity. ‘Visitors often say this is a “proper English garden” with a constant backdrop of birdsong,’ says the couple.

The countryside around HognastonThe countryside around Hognaston

As you drive through Hognaston it also feels like a ‘proper’ English village, although it has lost its school, post office and shops. As Parish Council Chair David Hartland points out, Hognaston evolved as a self-contained agricultural community, completely encircled by farmland (the 1881 census listed 28 farmers), and with three bakers, three shoemakers, three tailors, two masons, a butcher, saddler and a blacksmith.

Hognaston is a limestone village, with older houses of local stone ‘closer to the honey colour of the Cotswolds than elsewhere in Derbyshire’, as Roy Christian observed, although many of the later houses are built of brick.

St Bartholomew’s Church – dating back to the 12th century – is an impressive sight at the heart of the village with its quaint, dumpy tower and avenue of striking lime trees. The five feet thick walls and narrow slits, similar to those of a castle keep, point to the time before the Reformation when the church and its precincts were a sanctuary. St Bartholomew’s houses Derbyshire’s oldest church bell (early 13th century), and three other bells and a clock were a gift from Derby clockmakers John Smith & Sons as a memorial to founder John Smith who lived here. Close by the church is a memorial to ‘the past, present and future of the village community’: a millennium plinth with a sundial and time capsule that is inscribed with the names of village residents in 2000.

Three inns in the village used to serve the packhorse trade, today just The Red Lion remains. In coaching days, Hognaston was on the London to Manchester road and may have been on the Roman road to Little Chester on the outskirts of Derby. In 1675, when John Ogilby compiled the first proper road map of England, the only road shown in Derbyshire runs through Hognaston.

Holy Trinity ChurchHoly Trinity Church

Tony and Jenny Waterall and their chef son Jason gave up 16 years of life on the Med – they owned a restaurant in the Algarve – to run The Red Lion. They fell in love with the ‘traditional feel of the décor and the picturesque situation,’ and are proud to be the local community hub, with a solid reputation for producing quality food using local produce and engaging with the locals – especially through a boules team and quiz nights – while retaining the pub’s ambience with its oak beams and open fireplace. Chef Jason applies modern techniques to traditional pub food and is especially proud of a dessert menu which includes Chocolate Brownie with Cherry Curd and Chocolate Crumb. The Red Lion also offers guest rooms – the Kennedy Suite commemorates an overnight stay by John F Kennedy Jnr and his wife who were attending a wedding locally.

For a village with a population of around 250, Hognaston is remarkably active, for which Carsington may have been a catalyst. In 1978, residents bought the stone of some houses due to be submerged by the reservoir and used them to replace a tin and asbestos hut with a new village hall. In more recent years, a donation from Severn Trent helped with the development of the village play area.

Resident David Hartland attends user group meetings at Severn Trent and the reservoir and its facilities have become a local attraction. Also, it would appear the new, younger residents attracted by Carsington have whisked up a whirl of activities, under the prefix Hog, which are well supported by residents young and old. These began with Hogwalks, a group that maintains and repairs local footpaths, and now include HogLit (book club), Hogweed (garden club), Hogyog (yoga) and Hogfoot (5 to 6-a-side football). There is a call for the formation of a singing group (Hogchorus?) and there has even been a music festival called Hogstock. More immediately, on 9th July there’s Hogfest, a day and night of musical entertainment. And, all this can be read about in Hognews!

Kirk Ireton

A country lane in Kirk IretonA country lane in Kirk Ireton

I discovered a Carsington connection as soon as I drove into Kirk Ireton and popped into the community shop, opened in 2011 after the village lost its post office. Edward Watson, one of the paid students who works at the shop on weekends (most of the 30 helpers are unpaid volunteers), is also employed at Carsington Sport & Leisure which, for Edward, is a pleasant cycle ride away.

Although Kirk Ireton Parish Council fought against the Carsington development, long-time resident Cynthia Pollard says ‘it’s now been there so long we don’t notice it’ and the only reminder of the reservoir is when she spots ramblers and campsite customers in the shop.

Cynthia, who is company secretary of the shop’s organising committee (her husband Malcolm is the Chair), told me that the owners of the Barley Mow Inn allowed the volunteers to take over their former stable, hence the name Stable Shop – the restored hay racks along one wall are a lovely touch.

What became, in Cynthia’s words, ‘the only financially possible option’, is now a vital resource and social hub. ‘It’s great for community cohesion,’ says young Edward, who started work there only recently and is ‘looking forward to getting to know the residents better.’

Houses in Kirk IretonHouses in Kirk Ireton

There is an impressive range of goods and services on sale. Alongside fresh produce (all locally or regionally sourced), groceries and household items, there are newspapers, magazines, stamps, a book swap service, dry cleaning, shoe repairs and a coffee-making machine plus a microwave should you fancy buying a pie and eating it straightaway. You can then shake off the calories by buying and trying out 15+ Walks Around Kirk Ireton.

If any village without a store is inspired by Kirk Ireton’s example – especially as all profits go to the community – Cynthia is keen to point out the considerable organisational skills required, especially with regard to orders, operating costs, VAT, sales charts and rotas.

In having a shop, a school judged ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted, and an ancient church and pub, Kirk Ireton is pretty much a template for the perfect village, all the more so for the handsome, mellow stone of most of its houses. Like Hognaston, it’s a limestone village on high ground – 700 ft above sea level compared with Hognaston’s 600 ft – which helps give it immunity from frosts and fog, though its distance from main roads can be a problem if it snows. In the notorious snows of 1947, local dairy farmers had to store milk in dolly tubs, washing machines or anything else of a similar capacity, for up to nine days.

Kirk Ireton also developed as a result of agriculture, with over 30 working farms up to World War II and cattle driven through the main street up until the late 1980s. Many former farm buildings have now been converted to houses, although one local in the shop was quick to point out that there are only about a dozen second homes or holiday lets hereabouts. ‘This is a lived-in village,’ he affirmed.

Those who live in Kirk Ireton join in a lot of activities, thanks to the village’s Community Association and a thriving village hall. There is a popular open gardens event, which has raised £12,000 in its first three years, as well as other, more hidden, signs of a strong community, such as the installation of a defibrillator in the redundant telephone box. A big annual event in Kirk Ireton is Wakes Week which you might catch if you read this article in the first few days of its release. According to the Chair of Kirk Ireton Community Association, Kayleigh Cecil, the weekday events attract crowds of up to 100 with the Wakes Day itself drawing in over 500, which aptly equates with Kirk Ireton’s population.

Kayleigh and her partner Henry, who own a house with to-die-for views of the verdant countryside, are soon to tie the knot at Holy Trinity Church. It’s an apt phrase as they will encounter an ancient custom at the church known as ‘roping for weddings’, when the village children put a rope across the road and the bride and groom are not allowed to leave the church until a toll has been paid in silver by the groom. My internet search indicated that this is the last church in Britain to retain this custom.

Although the 14th century additions to the church are prominent, Holy Trinity dates back to the Norman Conquest and is nestled snugly in trees on high ground above the village green.

As I ventured down a lane below the church with a charming, painterly cottage, I was reminded of ‘Derbyshire’s John Constable’, George Turner, who lived in Kirk Ireton long enough to paint several bucolic canvases of the landscape hereabouts. Wandering further into the landscape, a surprise awaited me: Derbyshire’s tallest standing stones. They are a feature of Jeremy and Anita Butt’s huge sloping garden, a horticultural wonder as it was just a field dotted with a few trees when the Butts arrived in 1968.

I walked back into Kirk Ireton, and where better to conclude my visit than the Barley Mow, arguably Derbyshire’s most traditional pub? This handsome, lofty, tall-gabled 17th century Jacobean building seems locked in time, inside as well as out. Owner Mary Short and her husband Tom are both in their 80s and celebrating their 40th year at the inn, which is two years more than the previous owner, Lillian Ford, who maintained traditional furnishings and the age-old custom of serving beer straight from the barrel. So firm in her rejection of ‘all things modern’, Lillian refused to deal in decimal coinage for the final five years of her occupancy. When she died in 1976, aged 89, all the pub’s contents were sold save for a poker and a galvanised bucket, but Tony and Mary bought furnishings to suit the surroundings. As we sat by the open fire (clearly another traditional touch as it was a warm summer’s day), Tony affirmed that Mary ran the place. ‘What do you do, then?’ I enquired. ‘I do the drinking,’ he replied, with a broad smile. Adding, ‘No, I’m the dogsbody.’

‘What keeps you going, Mary?’ I asked. ‘They asked Lillian that,’ said Mary, ‘and my reply is the same. If I gave it up, I would have to go and live in a cottage somewhere where I wouldn’t see anyone. Here, the whole world could come and visit you. So, I get on with it and I love it.’

Resident Nick Delves first visited Kirk Ireton due to the Barley Mow. Nick is a prime mover as Kirk Ireton looks to its future with a Neighbourhood Plan – largely to address ‘uncontrolled and unwanted development in the village,’ states Nick, and it’s refreshing that Kirk Ireton folk have embraced Nick, considering he is co-opted on the Parish Council as an Official Monster Raving Loony. He is one of five elected representatives from the Loony Party in the country and Kirk Ireton also has the honour of housing its official headquarters: Nick’s farmhouse. How does that phrase go? ‘You don’t need to be mad to work here…’

Clearly, Nick’s involvement with the Monster Raving Loonies is mainly for fun, summed up by his recollection of cornering Derbyshire MP Patrick McLoughlin, the transport secretary, at an election count to tell him the Loony policy on HS2: Banning gravy trains. ‘I think he was too tired to laugh,’ comments Nick.

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