History and charm at Old Whittington and Barlow
PUBLISHED: 14:47 26 August 2014
Mike Smith visits Old Whittington and Barlow and finds history, allure and lovely places to dine
Wonderful things are often found in unlikely locations. Who would have thought that Whittington and Barlow, two settlements in the former coal-mining belt on the northern fringes of Chesterfield, would have evolved into two of the most charming villages in Derbyshire? As well as being visually attractive, both these places have unexpected historical associations and contain some delightful visitor attractions.
Brown tourist signs direct motorists from Chesterfield to a place with the intriguing name of ‘Revolution House’. First sight of this building comes as a complete surprise. Rather than looking like the birthplace of a revolution, the thatched house has the chocolate-box appearance of a northern version of Ann Hathaway’s Cottage.
In former years, the building was an alehouse called the Cock and Pynot – ‘pynot’ being a dialect term for a magpie. And it was here, in 1688, that the Earl of Danby, John d’Arcy and the Fourth Earl of Devonshire met to plan their part in the ‘Glorious Revolution’ that would lead to the overthrow of King James II and his replacement by his daughter Mary and her husband William of Orange.
The alehouse was converted into a cottage in 1790, but it now houses a fascinating museum that tells the story of the Glorious Revolution, alongside a display of seventeenth-century furniture. When the old alehouse closed, a new public house, called the Cock and Magpie, was erected behind Revolution House. In recent years, this well-known establishment was run by June Froggatt, who established its reputation as a very popular drinking venue and eating place.
The Cock and Magpie faces Whittington’s War Memorial, which stands at the intersection of the village’s two principal streets. Church Street North and the old High Street, now mercifully by-passed, form the two arms of the village’s conservation area, comprising buildings that make a harmonious whole, despite being mixed in terms of age, style and materials.
Church Street North takes a gentle climb until it reaches the foot of an unusual raised pavement, which runs in an arc towards the church of St Bartholomew. Rebuilt in the nineteenth century, the church has a tall broach spire. Like many residents, Ian Hayes helps to enhance the character of Church Street North by the imaginative planting and careful maintenance of his garden. He is proud of the fact that members of his family have lived in the same house since 1908.
Old Whittington and Barlow
Drawing by Joseph Syddall – 'the best draughtsman in England' (Chesterfield Museum Service)
Long Cottage on the old High Street
Harmonious architectural variety on the old High Street
House and garden on Church Street North
Hannah Sheepbridge serving lunch to Denise and Nigel Kilroy at The Old Pump
Yvonne Matthews of Hackney House Café and Gift Shop
Textile artist Diane Gilder, owner of The Art Room
View of the flower meadow from The Art Room
Betty Clayton is another local who is proud to have lived for very many years in Whittington, where she has been a long-serving churchwarden. Betty speaks highly of the various contributions made to the village by members of the Swanwick family, whose patriarch was Frederick Swanwick, the chief engineer to the railway pioneer George Stephenson. Mary Swanwick was a generous benefactor and a willing patron of local artist George Syddall, who became known as ‘the best draughtsman in England’. Fine examples of his work are on display in Chesterfield Museum and Art Gallery.
The Mary Swanwick Community Primary School occupies an extensive site on the north-eastern side of Church Street North. A recent Ofsted report indicates that the staff and governors have been successful in realising their aim ‘for the children to be safe, happy and for them to achieve their best’. The pupils are also fortunate in having a large facility for sports and creative arts on the site.
The Swanwick Memorial Hall, on the south side of the old High Street, was erected in 1915 in memory of Lieutenant Russell Swanwick, who was killed at the Battle of Aisne. This large black-and-white building now houses a community centre and a library. A medical centre stands next door. The north side of the street is lined by a succession of attractive buildings from different architectural periods. Like Church Street North, the old High Street is a perfect example of harmonious variety.
Situated four miles west of Whittington, Barlow is an ancient place that was listed in the Domesday Book as ‘Barlieie’, a village belonging to the d’Abitot family. Later members of the family became known as Barley or Barlow, in line with the mutation of the local place-name to its present form. To add to the confusion, some locals still refer to the village as Barley.
Robert Barlow (or Barley) married the 15-year-old Bess of Hardwick when he was just 14. Robert died the following year, leaving his young widow with a legal battle to secure the lands he had left to her. Bess found legacies much easier to come by in the ensuing years. She married on three further occasions, inheriting more and more wealth and property from her well-chosen husbands, ending up as the richest woman in England.
The Barleys and Barlows have left various legacies on the fabric of the ancient church of St Lawrence. The Barleys were responsible for the large entrance porch that was constructed in the fourteenth century. A chantry chapel, which was built as a burial place for the family, was restored in 1938 by Sir Montague Barlow. The church contains a fine alabaster slab, carved as a memorial to Robert Barley (not the Robert Barley who married Bess) and a set of outside steps designed to give access to a gallery. This tier was removed in 1908, leaving the steps as a stairway to nothing.
This month, the church will be the venue for the Annual Flower Festival, timed to coincide with Well Dressing Week, which culminates in the village’s carnival. Barlow’s wells have been dressed for at least 150 years, with the dressers restricted to ‘only using things that grow’. The aggregate and stones used in some other Derbyshire well dressings are banned by the purists of Barlow.
Although August is a good time to visit Barlow for people who enjoy Derbyshire customs, the village has plenty of attractions to lure visitors at any time of the year. At the time of my visit, Denise and Nigel Kilroy from neighbouring Whittington had stopped at the Old Pump for lunch after walking with their dog through the fine countryside that surrounds the village. The Old Pump is a large pub and restaurant, which also offers accommodation and is a very popular venue for special occasions.
Denise and Nigel punctuate some of their other walks by stopping off at the Hare and Hounds, located at the northern end of the linear village. Ron and Pauline Harris say that they bought the Hare and Hounds in ‘a moment of madness 30 years ago’ – they are still there. Barlow even has a third pub, called the Tickled Trout, temporarily closed for renovation at the time of my visit.
Back in the centre of the old settlement, there is another eating place to lure visitors to the village. Katherine Turner has converted two adjacent buildings into Hackney House, a wonderful café and gift shop. The café has both indoor and outdoor seating and serves up scrumptious food that is freshly-made on the premises from locally-sourced ingredients, while the shop has a wide selection of gifts which are beautifully displayed. Another of Hackney House’s plus points is the helpfulness and friendliness of the staff, including Yvonne Matthews, who was delighted to show me around.
Hackney House is located at the foot of Wilkin Hill, where an ancient pinfold stands a few yards from ‘The Art Room’, a new, purpose-built studio and gallery space created by textile artist Diane Gilder. White-walled and flooded with light, this is a perfect venue for creative workshops and exhibitions. For example, Rachael Rastrick will be running textile workshops during August and Anne Menary will be helping participants in a Summer Memories Day on 27th September to create personal memory books using paper collages.
Other than viewing an exhibition or participating in a creative workshop, there is a further reason to visit The Art Room. The building stands at the head of a colourful meadow and enjoys a panoramic view of the hills and woods beyond. Looking out from this viewpoint and from many other beauty spots around Barlow, it is hard to believe that, not so very long ago, the area was disfigured by over a dozen open-cast sites and pits.