Temples of the Peak - Discovering Hassop’s architectural gems
PUBLISHED: 00:00 20 May 2020
Mike Smith unearths past tales and present trails around the intriguing village of Hassop - a perfect post-social distancing destination.
Motorists would be wise to take particular care when driving through Hassop on the bendy B6001, because they are likely to be distracted by the unexpected sight of some remarkable buildings, which appear, one at a time, at each twist and turn in the road as it passes through the village.
The first building to catch the eye of passing motorists is a large, 17th-century roadside house, comprising three gabled bays lit by an array of surprisingly small twin-light windows. Originally built as a Dower House, it was split into three properties many years ago, with one section being reserved for the chauffeur of Hassop Hall, a second unit being earmarked for the estate forester, whilst the third portion accommodated the village post office and shop. All three parts of this beautiful building are now private residences.
Although Hassop Hall is partially hidden behind the high perimeter wall of its estate, drivers could well be tempted to take their eyes off the road by some tantalising glimpses of the hall’s grand frontage, which was remodelled in the third decade of the 19th century. This large country house was the ancestral home of the Eyres, a powerful Catholic family that owned 20,000 acres of Derbyshire countryside. Legend has it that their surname originated when a soldier called Truelove removed William the Conqueror’s helmet to help him breathe after he had been knocked off his horse in battle, prompting the king to say, ‘I shall call you Air for you have given me air to breathe’.
Truelove, who became known as Air and then Eyre, lost his leg in the battle – an injury depicted by an image of a severed limb on the family’s coat of arms. After spending 354 years in the possession of the Eyres, the hall passed to the Leslies in 1852. In 1975, the building was acquired by Thomas Chapman, who turned it into a celebrated country hotel and restaurant, which closed in 2019, when the hall was bought as a private residence by John Hill.
As a result of this sale, there is no public access to the hall, but the gatehouse, which stands outside the gates to the estate, is very visible to passers-by. Topped by four pinnacles and lit on its upper floor by mullioned and transom windows, this gazebo-like building is an architectural gem, but its impact pales into insignificance when compared to the impression made by the adjacent Catholic Church of All Saints.
THE TEMPLE IN THE PEAKS
The church, dubbed the ‘Temple in the Peaks’, looks like no other building in Derbyshire. It features Tuscan pilasters, Grecian side windows and a portico that looks like the front of an Etruscan temple. Fr Hugh Davoren, who has served as the parish priest at this amazing place for 14 years, showed me around the interior, pointing out the coved ceiling, an altarpiece of Sicilian marble and a Crucifixion painting, which may have been the work of Lodovico Carracci or one of his school.
Commenting on the building of the church by the Eyres in 1816, Fr Davoren said: ‘The church is something of a rarity because it dates from the uncertain years between the Catholic Relief Act of 1791 and the final emancipation of Catholics in 1829.’
Despite suffering religious persecution, the Eyres remained steadfastly Catholic and staunchly Jacobean. During the Civil War, Rowland Eyre turned his home into a Royalist garrison and is said to have fought off Parliamentarian forces at the gates of his estate. When the Royalists were defeated, the Eyres had to surrender their house, but managed to recover it by paying £21,000 for its return.
The landlord of the Old Eyre Arms will tell you tales of a ghostly Cavalier who descends the stairs of his pub from time to time. He will also relate how accidents are said to have been caused by the sudden appearance on the road of a phantom horse-drawn coach. However, drivers are more likely to be distracted by the village’s wonderful set pieces, including the Virginia Creeper-clad façade of the pub, and by the thought of stopping to enjoy a drink and good food, including wood-fired pizza, light bites and traditional Sunday lunch, in a country pub with log fires and oak beams.
A RAILWAY STATION FIT FOR A DUKE
More good food is available at the Hassop Station Café, located 1.3 miles from the village. The long range of buildings at the former railway station was built in 1862, primarily to allow the Duke of Devonshire to board trains running between Derby and Manchester. The station, whose facilities included an elegant First-Class waiting room and an inn, closed in 1942 but was used as a goods yard for 20 years. Since the line’s closure for passenger trains in 1968, the route of the former railway has become the Monsal Trail, a popular 8.5 mile traffic-free route for walking, cycling and horse-riding.
Shane Townsend, the manager of the bike-hire and cycle shop facility established by the owners of the Station Café, said, ‘26,000 people per year hire our bikes. We have cycles suitable for adults and juniors, bikes suitable for wheelchair users, cycles with buggies or baby seats, as well as tandems and electric bikes (e-bikes). We can repair cycles in our workshop and we showcase a large selection of e-bikes that we offer for sale. E-bikes are becoming ever more popular, not least for people who use them on motor-home holidays.’
Lots of maps and guides for walkers and cyclists can be bought from the attached bookstore, which has a number of books about the Peak District, as well as a range of fiction and non-fiction titles, all displayed in a room beautifully decorated with flower arrangements. In addition, there are gifts and toys for children, who also have the use of an outdoor play area.
The bookshop provides access to a large café, which serves a delicious range of homemade food, all using locally-sourced products. Freshly-prepared hot and cold food is served at lunchtimes and full English breakfasts are served every morning from 9am. Café supervisor Hollie Shaw explained that the breakfasts are also made available for people who choose to stay in one of the seven rooms in the Station Farmhouse at the entrance to the complex.
GARDENS OF DELIGHT
The B & Bs at the old station are ideally situated for people who are keen to visit the many country houses in the immediate area, including Haddon Hall and Chatsworth House. Thornbridge Hall, located a mere two miles from Hassop, is a venue much favoured for weddings and other events.
This impressive hall is of ancient origin, but was remodelled in the 19th century after it was bought by George Marples.
The house is surrounded by 12 acres of quintessentially English gardens, commissioned by Mr Marples, who wanted to see ‘one thousand shades of green’ from his bedroom window.
The gardens are open on Wednesdays and Thursdays from April to September, and also on Tuesdays during June, July and August. Apart from seeing terraced gardens, herbaceous borders, water gardens and a lake, visitors will come across numerous statues, two grottoes, 46 urns and three temples. The current owners have added a kitchen-garden, a scented terrace, a long border, an orangery, a modern knot garden and a greenhouse. There is also a café and a plant nursery.
A VISUAL PUN
The countryside between Thornbridge Hall and Hassop Station is one of the