Spondon - Once a Village, Always a Village

PUBLISHED: 16:23 16 August 2013 | UPDATED: 16:24 16 August 2013

Volunteers setting up the Summer Fayre at St Werburgh'’s Church

Volunteers setting up the Summer Fayre at St Werburgh'’s Church

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Mike Smith spends a day in Spondon, where life is lived to the full

Spondon is located just four miles from the centre of Derby, but don’t ever let it be said that it is a mere suburb. Established as a village well before the Norman Conquest, it has stubbornly remained a village to this day. Although officially swallowed up by Derby in 1968, Spondon has never been digested by the city because it has a bewildering number of community associations, all of which are determined to guard its independence and its distinct identity. The village has a proud record in the Britain in Bloom contest and it has a surprisingly comprehensive shopping area. Spondon boasts its own magazine, its own flag and, on one very special day of the year, even its own currency.

A stump of a Saxon cross in the grounds of St Werburgh’s Church is testimony to the ancient origins of the place, which has a history punctuated by episodes of mayhem and murder. The mayhem came in 1340, when a huge fire swept through the village from a malt house that stood on the site of the present Malt Shovel Inn. Driven from building to building by a strong wind, the Great Fire of Spondon destroyed the church and most of the houses, but a year-long exemption from parish taxes granted by the King allowed the villagers to rebuild their settlement and construct a new church.

Murder came to Spondon in 1856, when a 49-year-old framework knitter and musician called Enoch Stone was robbed and attacked on Nottingham Road. Dr Thomas Cade came to the aid of the unfortunate victim and even took him to his own residence, The Homestead, for overnight medical attention, but to no avail. By daybreak, the doctor’s patient was dead. Appropriately enough, the place where Enoch Stone was attacked is marked by a small boulder known as the Enoch Stone.

Several generations of the Cade family lived at The Homestead, now Grade I-listed and one of Derbyshire’s finest Georgian buildings. James Cade married Anna Wright, the daughter of Joseph Wright of Derby, the county’s greatest painter. Their great grand-daughter, Rowena Cade, spent her childhood in The Homestead but moved in later life to Cornwall, where she founded the famous Minack Open-air Theatre, spectacularly sited on the side of granite cliff four miles from Land’s End.

The oldest buildings in Spondon are located in the area occupied by the original village. As well as The Homestead, grand but partially hidden behind tall trees and a high perimeter wall, they include The Grange, a half-timbered house dating from the sixteenth-century, and, of course, the church, which was given a particularly fine tower and spire when it was rebuilt in the fourteenth century.

On the day of my visit, preparations were underway at the church for the annual Summer Fayre. Although the event was not due to start until 2pm, two dozen people had already arrived at the church by 10am to set out stalls and displays. One of the volunteer helpers, Keith Eaglesfield, who was due to blow his trumpet with the Derby Serenaders at the fayre, broke off from his preparations to show me the Queen Anne coat-of-arms over the north door, dark and almost indecipherable but significant because it pre-dates the union with Scotland.

Keith also told me the story of a much clearer presence in Spondon: the large factory that still stands on the far side of the A52 (now known as Brian Clough Way). British Celanese was established in 1916 by Henri and Camille Dreyfus, who had been lured to Britain from Switzerland to produce their recently-developed Cellulose Acetate dope for use on the skins of warplanes. The plant continued to produce artificial fibres until 2012, when it closed with the loss of a considerable number of jobs.

Industry may have declined in Spondon, but trade continues to thrive, even in these difficult times. Well-presented and well-stocked independent shops flank Sitwell Street and Chapel Street to form an L-shaped shopping centre that must be the envy of most villages. As well as retailers of almost every description, there are some fine suppliers of food. I enjoyed a fortifying breakfast at the delightful Green Olive Café and, later in the day, I popped into Sally and Vagelis Giakalis’ bakery. Sally married her husband after a Shirley Valentine-style romance while she was working as a holiday rep in Greece. He comes from a long line of bakers and his Spondon shop has already appeared on the television show Britain’s Best Bakery, even though it was established only a few months ago.

On June 22nd, designated as Spondon Day, the shops and cafés of the village extended their trading onto the pavement, the streets came alive with entertainers, morris dancers and children’s rides, and the clubs and pubs held a beer festival. A special currency known as Spondon Bucks was available from Mark Davis’ opticians, which became the Spondon Bank for the day. It entitled all those who used it to a ten per cent discount.

The special day was organised by the Spondon Rejuvenation Team, just one of the many thriving organisations in this community-conscious village. A good number of these groups are offshoots of, or work in conjunction with, the Spondon Community Association (SCA), which was formed in 1977 to campaign for the erection of a new village hall. The members achieved their initial objective within four years and now manage the hall, which has no shortage of users.

I met up with Peter Green, the current chairman of SCA, Jennifer Slatcher, a member of its executive committee, and Margaret Kelley, chair of the Village Improvement Committee, which is a sub-group of SCA. The association’s mission was articulated by the enthusiastic trio, who chorused: ‘Spondon is a village and we are determined that it should remain so.’ To emphasize their point, they showed me the monthly Community and Communication Magazine, delivered free to every household and packed with information about meetings and activities. This publication is one of several excellent booklets produced by SCA, some in conjunction with the Spondon Historical Society.

I was told of Spondon’s victory in the 2005 Britain in Bloom contest, the many first prizes in the East Midlands competition in other years and the awards given annually by SCA to owners of houses, pubs and shops for the best hanging baskets, flower tubs and window boxes. I heard about recent developments in the public gardens of the village, including the erection of a toposcope in Dale Road Park and the carving of a yew tree by Andrew Frost in a sensory garden created in a former cemetery. Private gardens are thrown open during the Spondon Social Safari, when residents invite people to come through their gates in order to enjoy refreshments, share the beauty of the floral displays, no matter how modest, and perhaps share an interest or hobby.

After our meeting in Peter’s house, Jennifer invited me to visit her own garden, where she proudly displays the Spondon Flag, which was the winning design in a competition organised by the Traders’ Association and is a potent symbol of the little settlement’s independence. Finally, Jennifer took me along to the nearby cricket field, where members of the second team were practising fielding in preparation for their match that afternoon on a cricket field which is flanked on one side by a splendid new pavilion and on the other side by a green expanse of fields and moorland. This bucolic scene was my final reminder that Spondon is a village. Never let it be said that it is a mere suburb.

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