PUBLISHED: 13:52 17 January 2013 | UPDATED: 22:38 20 February 2013
Ashley Franklin takes a snow-coated tour of Derby's spa suburb!
Photographing Quarndon in the snow, I stood at the villages highest point gazing down the long, hilly Church Road thinking what an exhilarating toboggan run this would make. In the snows of 1922, a young Arthur Heathcote thought the same. In a recollection of village life, Arthur recounts that there were only four cars in the entire village. So, when it snowed heavily that winter, Arthur and his pals, after checking that all four cars were snowed in, sledged the quarter of a mile down to Quarndon Turn at the bottom. This continued for a few days until they tobogganed down the hill and ended up under a policemans nose.
After that, they sledged in the fields, of which there are many in and around the village, notably Bunkers Hill which affords magnificent views. Ninety years on, Quarndon has defiantly retained its rurality, albeit with considerably more cars, in spite of its proximity to suburban Allestree and a substantial increase in housing. There can be few other Derbyshire villages where the phrases desirable and highly sought after have been so consistently trotted out by estate agents down the years, resulting in an inflow of professional and business residents, referred to by Roy Christian in a previous article for Derbyshire Life as prosperous fugitives from Derby.
Then & Now
I found Roys quote and Arthurs story in a book on the village Quarndon: Then & Now, published in 2008. In my eight years of writing about Derbyshire places, this is the finest, most comprehensive village book I have come across: over 230 pages packed with historical revelation, information and insight with an abundance of colour images and illustrations. Its a further delight to discover that the compiler is my old boss from Radio Derby, Bryan Harris, who this year will celebrate his 30th anniversary as a Quarndon resident. It took him 22 of those years to complete his magnum opus but it was worth the wait: 19 years into the task, a substantial National Lottery Heritage grant enabled Quarndon Parish Council not only to print the book but also to distribute a free copy to every household in the village.
The Malvern of Derbyshire
As the book reveals, Quarndon was much sought after as far back as the mid-17th century: as a spa village. The crenelated stone structure with pointed arches, which you may have noticed if you have ever patronised the village pub, The Joiners Arms, is the Chalybeate Well (from the Latin chalybeatus, meaning containing or tasting of iron). Visitors poured into the Malvern of Derbyshire as this spring was reckoned to be a remedy against coughs, asthma, consumption, spitting of blood and other ailments. One noted visitor was Daniel Defoe who described Quarndon as a little ragged but found the waters good and very physical. However, the attraction of Quarndons spring trickled away as Buxton and Matlock promoted their warmer spa waters, and the well ran dry in 1903.
Ellen Hampshire, a resident who died in 1972, aged 102, recalled that if the water was used to make tea it turned black, which gives credence to the story of a village servant sent to fetch a bottle of whisky for his master. Succumbing to the temptation of a tipple on the way home, he topped up the shortfall at the well. The golden nectar turned black and the servants fraud was exposed.
Ellen Hampshire was the last survivor of a family who kept the Joiners Arms in an unbroken line for a remarkable 300 years. So-called because it was frequented by joiners building Kedleston Hall, this mid-18th century pub has been run the last 15 years by Trevor Martin, an extraordinary example of a regular who, in true Victor Kiam style, liked the pub so much he took it over. Although completely inexperienced in the taverners trade, he turned the pub around, personally attending to the laying of 380 tons of stone to convert rough ground to a car park, and adding floral beds and a function room which is popularly used for wakes of funeral services held at nearby Markeaton Crematorium. Ironically, this village pub, although offering in Trevors words a pleasant ambience, comfortable surroundings and quality beer is frequented more by outsiders.
A Village to Raise a Child
Thats not to say Quarndon is an inactive, unsocial dormitory village. Far from it. Writing about it 20 years ago, Roy Christian applauded Quarndon for its comradely spirit of a kind not always found in places so conspicuously prosperous. Resident Garry McBride confirms this is still the case, citing Quarndon Events which he chairs, popularly bringing multifarious functions and evenings out for villagers.
Quarndon has, figuratively speaking, a leave your back door open community spirit, says Garry. There is another phrase which Garry also applies to Quarndon: It takes a village to raise a child.
The education of their children was a factor that influenced Garry and wife Mandys move to Quarndon nine years ago. One can add Ecclesbourne School catchment area to estate agent-speak here, though for the McBrides it was more the reputation of Quarndons primary school, the Curzon C of E, founded over 150 years ago.
The 137 pupils are in caring hands, with a school described by headteacher of six years Geraldine Lowden as a place of hard work and learning in which responsibility and care for others are encouraged, with the aim of preparing them for the future as confident, happy and caring young people.
Workers and Walkers
Writing in Quarndon: Then & Now, Geraldine refreshingly stresses the importance of also preparing pupils for a future where the average child can expect to experience seven to nine career changes before he or she retires. Ironically, the book highlights a character who had seven jobs all at the same time: Arthur Heathcote. Arthur was the village postman from 5 to 10.30 am, after which he worked until 10 pm as blacksmith, chimneysweep, haircutter and farm implement repairer who could also take horses to plough. He also possessed an elaborate extended ladder so that he could operate his one-man damson picking industry.
The work ethic, and walk ethic, was also strong in the Fowke family: an unnamed miner nicknamed Collier Fowke walked 20 miles daily from Quarndon to the pit at Eastwood and back. In winter he saw daylight only on Saturday afternoons and Sunday.
In 1837, Nanny Fowke, a gardener at Allestree Hall, achieved local fame at the age of 90 when she walked from Quarndon to London to attend the trial of her son at the Old Bailey on an assault charge. Remarkably, she completed the journey in five days, just in time to plead in court on her sons behalf and see him acquitted. Nanny Fowke set out on her return journey but this time didnt walk: the Hall owner, Samuel Evans, was so touched by her resolution that he sent the fare for her to return by coach. Nanny Fowke retired from her garden duties aged 98 and lived until 103.
Royce, Clough and Cricket
There are other notable locals like Bertie Banks who was Lawrence of Arabias driver during World War I and, currently, University of Derby Emeritus Professor Jonathan Powers who bought the house which included the villages former Mens Reading Room. Although now named as the Music Room with six keyboard instruments there is reading aplenty with a library of 12,000 books.
However, Quarndons two most notable residents are, arguably, the two names most visitors to Derby and Derbeians would associate with the city: Rolls-Royce and Brian Clough. Only last month a plaque was erected on the gate pillar of Quarndon House to commemorate Sir Henry Royces residency in the village from 1908 to 1911, a time when Rolls-Royces Nightingale Road factory had just opened. Maybe there should be a similar plaque at The Elms to mark Brian Cloughs 15 years in Quarndon. A noted cricket lover, it was probably more than mere coincidence that Cloughies house overlooked Quarndons ground. Arriving in 1982, Brian would have presided over the cricket clubs centenary in 1984 which would have been massively celebrated as, the year before, Quarndon became the first Derbyshire club to win the National Village Cricket Trophy.
The cricket club thrives , as chairman Garry McBride confirms: The club is a tremendous asset to the village and is becoming more inclusive to the residents, having staged the majority of the Jubilee celebrations and our Firework Display and Auction of Promises which was a joint venture between the club and Quarndon Events. The club supports nine teams and a Kwik Cricket section of which in excess of 40 youngsters from the age of seven receive comprehensive, first class training from our coaches. Some of those players came to play for the County. We also regularly train children from the Curzon School as part of the Physical Education curriculum.
Social and Spiritual
There are several other leisure and interest groups in Quarndon, though as Parish Council Chairman John Cunningham told me, the village is typical of many in that the church and some of the social clubs no longer have the place they once had. The Parish Council also has a pressing struggle with the police to control speeding traffic which uses Quarndon as a rat run.
The village is also without a post office and a store, a social hub that was sorely missed when it closed in 1997. It was one of the reasons Brian Cloughs family moved. As Quarndon: Then and Now reveals, Brian would call in every week. Not only that, he would always hand over 20 sometimes 30 to pay for food parcels for the residents of the Old Peoples Bungalows.
The church, St Pauls, dates back to 1871 and was built largely by villagers donations. Its a handsome edifice, though Pevsner curiously referred to it as tasteless and restless. St Pauls stands prominently at the highest point of the village conveniently close to the school and village hall, a hive of numerous activities, not least two productions every year from the still flourishing QUADS Quarndon Amateur Dramatic Society. The 23-strong, 92-year old Womens Institute also uses the village hall where its presence is felt on the wall: a Millennium tapestry celebrating the life of the village.
WI member Shirley Banham told me a story which confirms Bryan Harriss view of Quarndon as a friendly and convivial village: The mother of a friend of mine came to stay and went for a walk one day. When she returned, she told her daughter that she had enjoyed a lovely visit to Quarndon Park. Her daughter told her there was no such park. There must be, said the mother. One of the gardeners gave me a tour of the wonderful gardens. It turned out that she had walked through the open gates of Quarndon Hall, Nancy Birds private residence.
Nancy smiled on hearing this. In fact, the seven acres of her park have been open many times for the annual church fte, concerts with Derwent Brass, and for the National Gardens Scheme. She has raised over 100,000 for charity over the years. Nancys late husband Paul, of Birds (Derby) Ltd, bought Quarndon Hall in 1979 and immediately set about converting the fields to a garden which was described in Derbyshire Life by Frank Constable as one to compete with the best in the Midlands. Pauls enthusiasm as a plant collector took us to every garden in the country, recalls Nancy. The garden has around 100 species of magnolias, and even more species of rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias and acers.
Nancy reveals that there is a flower for every day of the year, which arose from her husbands romantic spirit: Every morning, he would rise early to pick me a flower. He even bought a Davy lamp for the dark mornings so he could always locate one because he wanted me to wake up with a fresh flower on my bedside table.
Nancy continues to work on the garden with head gardener Lucien Emmerson the one who conducts impromptu tours! along with Christopher Wade. I spend as much on petrol for the mower as I do my Bentley, smiles Nancy.
Now & Then
Bryan Harris and wife Liz had to make major alterations to both house and garden when they moved in to Park Nook House 30 years ago this month. We love Quarndons winding, hilly roads and the breathtaking scenery, says Bryan. Were surrounded by fields, yet within easy reach of Belper or Derby.
Bryans love of Quarndon flows through his book, though he admits that euphoria was mixed with relief when he finished it after 22 years. Not being a professional local historian, there were weeks or months when I lost my way and the will to carry on with it. I was always busy for six of those years I had a radio station to run and all too often Quarndon: Then & Now was relegated to the role of Quarndon: Now & Then!
The tide turned in 2005 when we received a grant of 22,000. Once Id accepted that, there was no turning back! So I set up a team of villagers from a variety of professions to help me. They proved invaluable!
Any advice for a village thinking of producing a similar book? Amongst your volunteers who need skills, knowledge and expertise should be a friendly, helpful, articulate expert in local history who can point you to, and explain, the significance of that fading, fusty source material and help you interpret/translate it into reader-friendly English! Also, get yourself a good business manager Liz was mine and tell him/her to apply for a grant. And good luck with it! n
Ashley Franklin is indebted to Bryan Harris for his invaluable help with this article.