The Chatsworth Villages: Edensor, Beeley, Pilsley and Calton Lees
PUBLISHED: 09:56 15 November 2013 | UPDATED: 20:12 23 October 2015
Mike Smith visits four of the county’s prettiest villages: Edensor, Beeley, Pilsley and Calton Lees
The estate of 12,000 acres surrounding Chatsworth House is one of Derbyshire’s most precious landscapes. Fashioned by Capability Brown and the fourth Duke of Devonshire from a glorious natural landscape, it is the perfect parkland setting for the jewel at its heart and is studded with large gems in the shape of four unspoilt villages, as well as several smaller gems in the form of scattered individual cottages.
Many of the cottages are now available as holiday lets. Sandra Elliott, Chatsworth’s Holiday Cottage Administrator, points out that they offer perfect getaway breaks because they occupy secluded locations away from the villages. Diane Naylor, Chatsworth’s Photo Librarian, who has written a comprehensive guide to the estate’s settlements, makes an important point about the location of the villages themselves. Because they are all positioned slightly away from the main driving routes through the estate, visitors have to make a conscious effort to enter them, but that effort is very worthwhile as they are some of the most attractive villages in England.
In the eighteenth century, most of Edensor was clearly visible from the west front of Chatsworth House. When the fourth Duke remodelled the estate, he decided to clear away all the village houses that interrupted his view over the park but he died before finishing his plan, leaving the fifth Duke to complete the work. Although the sixth Duke destroyed yet more of Edensor’s buildings, in order to create a new route through the estate, he asked his head gardener Joseph Paxton and the Derby architect John Robertson to create a brand new village that would be out of sight of the house.
For his part, Paxton planned the new Edensor as a village that would be enclosed, rather like a walled garden. According to legend, Robertson arrived at Chatsworth with a portfolio containing various house plans. As the Duke was too busy to choose his preferred design, he simply flicked through the drawings and ordered one of each. Whatever the truth of the matter, the new Edensor emerged as a village where every dwelling is different. Most of the houses are rather grand villas, ranging in style from an alpine chalet fashioned in stone to a castellated tower house.
A quarter of a century after Paxton and Robertson created their model village, the seventh Duke decided that Edensor’s old squat-towered church wasn’t grand enough and he asked George Gilbert Scott to design a new one. The architect came up with a church that is very grand indeed. Although its 166ft-high spire has been criticised as being far too tall for the small village, it could be argued that the soaring structure acts as a useful yardstick that helps to reduce the apparent scale of those grand villas, with the result that they are made to look charming rather than pretentious.
Edensor’s good looks have been augmented by the costly removal of intrusive overhead power lines and the charm of the village is enhanced by the presence of the Edensor Tea Cottage, which serves delicious food, and by the revival, thanks to Diane Naylor and Clive Williams, of Edensor Day, an annual jamboree involving bands, Morris Men, Punch and Judy, stalls, open gardens and cream teas.
In a hollow outside Edensor, there is an isolated house called Park Cottage. It is commonly thought that this was saved during the demolition of the old village as it could not be seen from Chatsworth House, but Diane Naylor believes it was spared because the Duke did not want to disturb the occupant, who was suffering from typhoid. Sandra Elliott reports that the house will become a holiday let as soon as the Duchess of Devonshire has completed its internal make-over.
Viewed from the entrance to the popular Chatsworth Farm Shop, Pilsley looks like a village that has been neatly planned as a small grid pattern of streets. In fact, the original settlement stood on a pack-horse route and was little more than a single-street, which extended from High Street into Duck Row, one of Derbyshire’s most picturesque small lanes.
In the first instance, the village was expanded to accommodate people displaced by the demolition of old Edensor, but further development has taken place since the Second World War. In 1950, a pair of bungalows was built alongside the B6048 – the crest of the Coldstream Guards in one of their gables is a memorial to the tenth Duke’s son, William Hartington, who was killed in the war. Two decades later, another matching pair of bungalows was added. In 1959, a row of houses was built alongside the village green as accommodation for office workers who came when the estate office was moved from Chesterfield. The terrace was named Mary Devonshire Cottages after the tenth Duke’s wife.
Although Pilsley has no church, being part of the parish of Edensor, and has lost a thatched cottage that stood at the entrance to Duck Row, it has managed to retain many of the elements associated with old English villages: a 300-year-old inn offering en-suite accommodation, local cask ales and freshly-cooked food; a post office-cum-gift shop, which is attached to Holly Cottage B&B; a thriving village school, designed by Paxton and extended in recent years; a large village green; and a red telephone box, picturesquely located on a smaller village green opposite Duck Row.
To complete the picture of a traditional village, Pilsley has an annual village fair, which includes music from a brass band, Punch and Judy, various stalls and the crowning of the village queen. The villagers also dress four wells annually. Two surprise attractions, which are housed in converted buildings on the edge of the village, are Penrose Interiors, stocked with quality upholstery and furnishings, and Richard Whittlestone’s gallery, packed with fine paintings of wildlife.
The tiny hamlet of Calton Lees is the estate’s hidden gem. Located just beyond the ever-popular Chatsworth Garden Centre, at a point where the public road ends, it consists of picturesque cottages set about a deep hollow in beautiful rolling countryside.
Just outside the hamlet, there are two distinctive houses. Calton House is thought to have been one of the ‘birdcages’ where the sixth Duke of Devonshire, otherwise known as the Bachelor Duke, entertained his lady friends. The Russian House is based on a model of a Russian farmhouse sent to the sixth Duke by the brother of Tsar Nicholas I, who became friendly with the Duke when he was an ambassador to Russia. Now in use as a holiday let, it is the perfect getaway.
Beeley is a beautiful village in a stunning setting at the foot of the moors. It has the look of a place that has evolved over many centuries. Although its oldest dwelling looks ancient and is called the Norman House, it was actually built in the seventeenth century and is named after a family that occupied it. Beeley Old Hall also dates from the seventeenth century and once hosted Charles Dickens as a guest of the author Augustus Mayhew, whose wife painted a watercolour which shows Dickens in the garden alongside three ladies – the picture is now part of the collection at Hardwick Hall.
The village stages an annual Beeley in Bloom event, involving open gardens as well as the Beeley Brook Duck Race. The village’s wonderful gardens include a superb cottage garden in Chapel Terrace. It is lovingly maintained by John Grindey, a retired estate worker, who was initially employed as an electrician and then as a cashier. Each year, John embellishes the garden, originally created by his father, with a variety of stones brought back from his annual holiday in Scotland.
The Methodist chapel across the road dates from 1806 but was rebuilt in 1891 with funds donated by the sponsors whose names are inscribed on the wall. The chapel is now a private house and the nearby smithy is now a tearoom with a friendly welcome and locally-sourced food. Three highly distinctive Y-shaped cottages at the foot of the village are known as the Paxton Cottages, even though they were designed by G H Stokes, who married one of Paxton’s daughters.
The Paxton Cottages now provide additional accommodation for the Devonshire Arms, a charming former coaching inn created from three cottages in 1726. Soon to be named as County Dining Pub of the Year in the 2014 Good Pub Guide, it has bedrooms with interior décor chosen by the Duchess of Devonshire. Guests staying in these stunning rooms might wish to ponder on the rumour that Edward VII is said to have met his mistress Alice Keppel in the inn on a number of occasions.
For details of Edensor Village Day (21st June 2014) Pilsley Village Fair (July) and Beeley in Bloom (also July) consult Bakewell Information Centre (01629 816558). See www.chatsworth.org/stay-with-us for details of holiday lets on the Chatsworth Estate. ‘The Chatsworth Villages’ by Diane Naylor is published by Landmark Publishing (ISBN: 1-84306-198-8)