Spending time in Old Brampton - ‘one of the most desirable places to live in Derbyshire’
PUBLISHED: 00:00 25 November 2016
Lying between Chesterfield and Baslow, Mike Smith visits a village he decides is ‘one of the most desirable places to live in the county’
Four visitors to the village of Old Brampton were standing at the foot of the ancient tower of the Church of St Peter and St Paul. Their eyes were trained onto the church clock as they tried to count the number of minutes marked along the circumference of the dial. After comparing their calculations, they concluded that one hour equals 63 minutes according to ‘Old Brampton Time’.
The four visitors were Margaret and Dennis Sargeant from Bromley in Kent, and Michael Standley and Eileen Kellard from West Kingsdown, also in Kent. They had included Old Brampton in their five-day tour of Derbyshire after reading about the unique timepiece in a guidebook to interesting villages that they always use when planning their trips around various regions of the country.
Old Brampton’s clock was installed in 1897 to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. According to local legend, the excessive number of minutes marked on the dial came about because the man who painted the clock completed his work after taking a long break in the George and Dragon pub.
Aside from the quirky clock, the church has many other interesting features. Although it was constructed in various architectural periods from the 12th century onwards, the building’s diverse elements combine to make a very satisfying whole, particularly when the church is viewed in silhouette. The solid base of the tower is clearly Norman in origin, the distinctive broach spire dates from the 14th century and the equally distinctive battlements were added a century later.
The church is no less interesting on the inside. Churchwarden Anne Farrow showed me effigies of St Peter and St Paul before pointing out a 13th-century memorial which depicts Matilda le Caus holding her heart in her hands. The Caus family were owners of the manor from Norman times until the 15th century. Anne also showed me a 17th-century memorial to the Clarke family, criticised by the architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner in one of his grumpier moods as being framed by ‘two horribly badly-carved angels’.
Taking me into the brightly illuminated chancel, Anne said, ‘On the day when the light from the rising sun shines straight through the east window, we hold a special Sunrise Service.’ Pointing to the choir stalls, she added: ‘They were installed in 1938 and dedicated to Thomas Linacre, who became the first President of the Royal College of Physicians and is Old Brampton’s most famous past resident. He is also remembered in the name of the reservoir in the valley below the village.’
When Roy Christian described Old Brampton in his 1978 book on Derbyshire, he said, ‘Judging from photographs in Derbyshire Life, the church has more fashionable weddings than any other church in the county’. Confirming that the building is still a popular venue for weddings, Anne said, ‘Fifteen weddings are already booked for next year.’ Turning her attention from matches to dispatches, Anne said, ‘Because so many people have been buried in the churchyard over the centuries, it is no longer possible for it to accommodate any more burials.’
After taking my leave of Anne and exiting from the crowded churchyard via one of its two thatched lych gates, I crossed over Main Road to Brampton Hall, an impressive twin-gabled building that has mullioned and transomed windows in one bay and Regency sash windows in the other bay. As is the case at the church, the juxtaposition of elements from different architectural periods enhances rather than detracts from the whole. The interior includes a large coat-of-arms believed to be that of the Caus family, two sets of cruck beams and an ornate plastered ceiling of 1670, possibly fashioned by a master craftsman during a period when he was carrying out similar work at Chatsworth.
The hall’s current owner, Jeremy Furness, told me that his grandfather had bought the hall in 1924 and had acquired the adjacent farmstead three years later. Jeremy was born and brought up in Old Brampton, but moved to County Durham to work as a land agent. Fifteen years ago, he returned to the hall, which he and his wife Brenda have restored and maintained with tender loving care.
Jeremy said: ‘As well as renovating the hall, we have reorganised the farm into a smallholding. I brought my bees from County Durham and I introduced a flock of Ryeland sheep. We obtain as much as possible of our own produce from the farm. We have honey from the bees, eggs from the chickens, fruit and vegetables from the kitchen garden and logs for our fires from the woodland.’
The couple have also converted one barn into a kitchen and dining area with an adjoining shower room. This facility is designed for the exclusive use of people staying in a ‘shepherd’s hut’ sited in the adjacent orchard. Available for rent (www.derbyshireshepherdshut.co.uk), this modern version of the traditional type of temporary shelter used in the remote parts of sheep farms has electric sockets, a wood-burning stove, a double-bed and chairs with deep feather cushions. Not surprisingly, Brenda is able to report that ‘the hut is popular throughout year with couples seeking a romantic break in beautiful countryside’.
And there is no question about the beauty of the countryside surrounding Old Brampton, which is criss-crossed by a network of footpaths. The linear village stretches for two miles alongside a road that meanders through a rolling landscape that extends from the heather-clad moors east of Baslow to the outskirts of Chesterfield. With its combination of substantial residences and picturesque country cottages, Old Brampton is one of the most desirable places to live in the county.
Brenda and Jeremy Furness of Brampton Hall
Decorated ceiling at Brampton Hall
The Shepherd's Hut at Brampton Hall
Main Road, Old Brampton
Countryside between Old Brampton and Linacre reservoir
Countryside between Old Brampton and Linacre reservoir
The Royal Oak
The former village school
Margaret Margereson with her archives
Eileen Kellard, Michael Standley and Margaret and Dennis Sargeant counting the minutes on the church clock
The clock-face on the tower of the Church of St Peter and St Paul
The Church of St Peter and St Paul with a sundial in the foreground
The Church of St Peter and St Paul
Anne Farrow, church warden
13th century tablet to Matilda Le Caus
The brightly illuminated chancel
One of the two thatched lych gates
There are two Caravan Club certified sites for a small number of touring caravans, but these are well hidden behind the main road through the village. There is no shop or post office in Old Brampton and the George and Dragon closed some time ago, although it did re-open as a restaurant for a short period, but the Royal Oak continues to thrive at the western end of the village and is particularly popular for traditional Sunday lunches.
The former village school, an attractive little building dating from 1830, is now used for various community events, including Christmas and summer fairs, the Harvest Supper and the St George’s Day Lunch. The old school is also the venue for a Pilates class, a pre-school group and a local history group.
A well-known local historian is 84-year-old Margaret Margereson, who lives in Rose Cottage, an attractive old dwelling fronted by a lovingly-tended and colourful garden. Margaret has amassed a wealth of historical material about the village and about her own family, which she can trace back to Richard Dixon, a 17th century glassmaker, who lived in Old Brampton when the manor was the property of the Earl of Shrewsbury. Old Brampton Hall became the seat of the Dixons.
Margaret tells a lovely story about one of her ancestors who had 24 children. According to Margaret, he was running out of possible Christian names for his offspring when his twenty-third child was born, so he decided to name her ‘Penultimate’, presumably in the expectation that his wife was destined to give birth to another child. I didn’t count exactly whether I was with Margaret Margereson for 60 or 63 minutes, but I estimate that I must have spent at least an hour listening to her enjoyable and fascinating tales of Old Brampton’s past.