The South Derbyshire village of King's Newton
PUBLISHED: 15:13 29 September 2014 | UPDATED: 15:13 29 September 2014
Ashley Franklin explores the South Derbyshire village of King's Newton, which successfully combines history, charm and enterprise
It’s significant that an acclaimed motivational speaker currently completing a PhD on the science of happiness and well-being, was born and bred in King’s Newton.
Andy Cope, author of the popular Spy Dog children’s series and The Art of Being Brilliant – a book based on his successful workshops – says that King’s Newton has ‘all the ingredients for a happy life: beauty, tranquillity, safety and a strong sense of community… oh, and a very nice pub!’
Another respected writer – the great Sir Nikolaus Pevsner, author of The Buildings of England – declared that King’s Newton has ‘one of the most attractive main streets in Derbyshire.’ Digitally remove the aerials from its grandiose houses and timber-framed cottages and all manner of period dramas could be faithfully shot here.
Although Pevsner’s book on Derbyshire was published in 1953, his view still holds true. Furthermore, looking back on previous issues of Derbyshire Life where Frank Rodgers’ photographs of village streets included blessedly few vehicles, I was delighted to capture King’s Newton’s Main Street as if it has been preserved and pickled by Father Time.
However, although King’s Newton appears to be calm and peaceful – there is even a Sleepy Lane – long-time resident Butch assured me that it is ‘not as sleepy as it appears.’ There is a visibly thriving pub and – although admittedly more hidden away – a major development company, a leading storage facility, unique horse breeder, highly regarded farm shop, active social committee, and a busy bowls club which was built in 1982 wholly through the efforts of volunteers. ‘The only wage earner is the groundsman,’ says Chairman Neil Hill, ‘and he does a grand job as visiting teams tell us it’s one of the best bowling greens in the county.’
There is one distinctive industry that still remains in these rural parts: market gardening. Although both King’s Newton and adjoining Melbourne grew up over the last 150 or so years with a strong market gardening tradition, Melbourne has developed more substantively into a town of diverse industries, while King’s Newton by-passed the Industrial Revolution and largely maintained its agricultural base. As a Conservation Area Character Statement on King’s Newton declared: ‘The main character of the village is one of prosperous gentility and past grandeur’ with ‘a strong sense of antiquity’ and ‘a verdant and lush character’ due to the many trees interlaced with the Main Street buildings.
Before Main Street beguiles you with its charms, the entry into King’s Newton is a straight, flat, ordinary country lane off the Melbourne-bound Derby Road. Immediately to the right is the farm belonging to the Sharps, the village’s sole remaining market gardening family. The family elder, 75-year-old William, is a picture of ruddy health borne out of fresh air and hard grind. The Sharps have been market gardeners here since 1886 with William having worked the land for 60 of those 128 years. Fortunately, his sons Martin and Colin will continue to grow vegetables and salads when dad hangs up his hoe, one singular reason this family business continues, as Martin explains: ‘When market gardening in this area declined, too many farmers gave up without a fight, not helped by their offspring seeing no future in it. For Colin and myself, the soil was in our blood from the age of about 10 and, as such, our family had the drive and enthusiasm to keep going.’
In the 1950s there were over 70 market gardeners in Melbourne Parish, with about half of them in King’s Newton. When supermarkets sprang up in the 1970s, they shut down not only the small shops but also the shops’ market garden suppliers. The decline was devastating. However, William Sharp & Sons gritted their teeth… and diversified, growing ornamentals and bedding plants alongside the market gardening staples.
King's Newton - A village fit for a King
James Ottewell and Annabel Roberts of Alexander Bruce Estates
Kevin and Carolyn Baxter of The Hardinge Arms
Joy Hill and John Stanley of Chantry Farm Shop
Courtney Dolman of Jasco Miniatures
King's Newton Bowls Club
William Sharp and sons Colin and Martin, the one remaining market gardening business in Kings Newton
William Sharp and sons Colin and Martin, the one remaining market gardening business in King's Newton
James Macara of Kings Newton Self Storage
King's Newton Hall - the pond in the Italian Garden
King's Newton Hall
King's Newton Hall
King's Newton Hall
King's Newton Hall
King's Newton Hall
Cottages on Main Street
The Newton Wonder apple
A Newton Wonder apple tree in front of the Hardinge Arms guest houses
King's Newton House
King's Newton Cross and Cross House
The Holy Well
More recently, the popularity of farm shops has been a boon for the Sharps, so it’s appropriate that Chantry Farm Shop is sited almost directly opposite. Opened in 2000 by Helen Sread, Chantry trades with the delightful slogan ‘Heavenly food at down to earth prices.’ Helen is especially proud of Chantry’s locally sourced produce, though she doesn’t need to buy in lamb: the business rears its own. Gary Rhodes cooked their lamb on TV, fellow celebrity chef Rick Stein chose Chantry for his Food Heroes Directory, and on TV’s Saturday Kitchen, their sausage rolls were awarded second prize above the likes of Greggs and Harrods. ‘We like to feel our shop has a lovely “in the countryside” feel,’ says Helen, ‘and we have great support from the locals – and beyond.’
One particular food item is on my mind as I drive further on and park at the Hardinge Arms, where a Newton Wonder apple tree stands beside the pub. Newton Wonders are sold the world over – and this pub is where the seedling grew. Lovers of this apple might think the name relates to Sir Isaac Newton and the tale of his discovery of the Universal Law of Gravitation. In fact, in the 1860s the Hardinge’s landlord William Taylor spotted a sapling growing through the thatch of the inn and planted it in his garden. It grew so well that by 1887 grafted trees were being sold commercially and the Royal Horticultural Society gave it a First Class award. Today, the Newton Wonder is regarded as a high quality cooking apple, not as sharp as a Bramley and sweet enough to eat.
I suggested to the new incumbents of the pub that Newton Wonder Pie would make an attractive addition to their menu, not that the menu needs boosting as the hearty home-made pub meals cooked up by chef Alex Lambert are already a big draw. There’s variety, too: you can tuck into pie and mash or dine on swordfish fillet.
Kevin and Carolyn Baxter, who have been at the Hardinge Arms for six months, owe a debt to previous incumbents Tom and Kat Keogh for turning the fortunes of the pub around. In just a year they established a reputable modern restaurant while retaining the traditional feel of a village inn. This is Kevin and Carolyn’s first pub, although they come from the world of catering and corporate entertainment, and they are enjoying the experience – in spite of ‘little sleep and lots of work.’ As the Hardinge is also a guest house – with accommodation for six in the adjacent converted stable block – the couple are on the go all day, serving breakfast, morning coffee and even afternoon tea.‘This is one of the prettiest villages in Derbyshire,’ says Carolyn, ‘and one morning, if I’m not busy, I might get the chance to take a walk round and see it for myself!’
Along Main Street, there are buildings variously grand, elegant and handsome. Chantry House is an imposing and stately four-bay, three-storey Victorian Gothic building, and my eye is also taken by the continental look of King’s Newton House with its golden lime-washed walls. The building stands at the corner of Jawbones Lane, so named as whales’ jawbones formerly formed an archway at this home’s rear entrance. Why they appeared in a place so distant from the sea isn’t recorded. Eventually the bones disintegrated and were replaced by smaller jawbones, though sadly the view of these is rather obscured by greenery. With King’s Newton being a hamlet, it’s also curious to see the name Church House, though this building was fleetingly used in the 1850s as a chapel of ease.
Another religious connection can be found at the other end of the village: a ‘holy well’ which had an arch built over it in the 17th century. This was vandalised in 1948 but restored in 1985 by the Melbourne Civic Society.
A prominent landmark at the end of Main Street is King’s Newton Cross. It was erected in 1936 to mark the accession to the throne of King Edward VIII. However, 325 days later, he abdicated, so this cross could be the only memorial in the country built to commemorate the reign of ‘The King who was never crowned.’
The most notable house in the village is King’s Newton Hall. With the grandeur of an Elizabethan manor house, it is a sensitive replica of a hall originally built around 1600 which was destroyed by a fire in 1859. For two centuries it was the home of the famous Harding family – one member became Governor General of India, another Viceroy of India. After the fire, the Hall stayed as a picturesque ruin for over 50 years until it was rebuilt by Cecil Walter Paget, a brilliant engineer who rose to the position of Chairman of the Midland Railway Company.
The Hall is now the family home of the Ottewells. James Ottewell, whose parents Ernest and Elizabeth bought the house from the Paget estate in 1979, kindly showed me round the grounds and explained why he believes the Hall to be special: ‘This house remains complete, structurally sound and in single ownership for 35 years with no barns or outbuildings sold off, which is increasingly rare for a village home of this size. It’s also special because it stands at the heart of King’s Newton – almost foot to pavement – yet benefits from opening up to countryside to the rear.’
The gardens are pretty special, too. They were remodelled by James’ mother in 1979 and still today, at the age of 81, she tends to the nine-acre plot which includes a beautiful Italian Garden and formal pond. Also in the grounds is the biggest monument I have ever seen to a dog. The inscription reads ‘Ici repose Sultan, la chien fidele de Sir Robert Adair Hodson.’
The Hall requires constant restoration, repair and maintenance – ‘it’s like painting the Forth Bridge’ says James. Fortunately, James knows a great deal about property development: it’s his business. From a converted barn in the grounds of the Hall, he runs Alexander Bruce Estates which develops ‘prestigious high quality’ residential and business properties with a focus on each property blending in with its location. James’s office is a living example, the converted barn received a commendation from Derbyshire County Council for ‘outstanding work in the restoration of a listed building,’ one that he shares with insurance and financial planners MLi Advice. ‘It looks like a barn from the outside yet provides excellent working space internally. It reflects on our business very well as all our visitors love it.’
Another village business that is perfectly placed for its customers due to its location and access is Newton Self Storage at the end of Trent Lane. On the site of an old military depot, it is run by James Macara, son of the feted Derbyshire painter Andrew Macara, Newton Self Storage grew out of the family’s caravan dealership, moving five years ago from a simple caravan storage site to a streamlined public storage facility that includes motorhomes, boats and trailers plus business and domestic stock – everything from office files to student sofas.
‘Think inside the box’ is the company’s clever slogan and what has clearly been thought through is safety and security. ‘All our storage units are new shipping containers which are clean, dry and well ventilated,’ states James. ‘We also have a Storage Site Gold Award for our 24-hour security with CCTV cameras and there is always someone patrolling this area. What’s more, we’re at the end of a road, so there is only one way in and out.’
It’s central position in the country and proximity to major road networks is an added advantage, although – as with the whales’ jawbones – it seems curious that Balfour Beatty chose to store its heavy equipment for work on the Channel Tunnel here.
Another hidden business on Trent Lane that is also well secured is Jasco Miniature. Courtney Dolman and partner Jason fell in love with miniature horses four years ago. Having bought one, they then acquired others for shows, winning top titles all over the UK and even qualifying for The Horse of The Year Show. Now, they concentrate on breeding and building their stud, the only one of its kind in Derbyshire. All their horses are true miniatures – standing under 34 inches fully grown – and Courtney tells me that interest in them is growing annually.
Courtney was brought up on Trent Lane – her family were market gardeners – and says that owning a horse stud is ‘living a childhood dream.’ She also says that King’s Newton is very much the same rural village where she grew up. Keen to encourage wildlife, she has planted trees and shrubs and even reinstated a pond she played near as a child.
Another resident of Trent Lane, Jessica Long, makes a special point of the wealth of wildlife here. ‘Domestic animals, too, are everywhere,’ she says. ‘I don’t mean just cats and dogs. Close at hand, I can see Courtney’s horses and also goats, chickens, quail, beef cattle, sheep and ferrets.’ Harold and Annabelle Soar have achieved admirable success with breeding kestrels in nest boxes in King’s Newton. Eight chicks were reared one year and little owls have used a box to rear a chick for the first time this year. They also see tawny and barn owls, hobbies, buzzards, sparrow hawks ‘zooming through the garden like fighter pilots’ and even red kites.
All in all, King’s Newton sounds almost too good to be true. ‘It is true how good it is,’ confirms Jessica Long. ‘We’re in proper working countryside with a sense of space and beautiful walks. We have beautiful buildings steeped in history and it’s a lovely place to bring up children as there’s a proper sense of community. It’s a mixed-age village with some really friendly and interesting people – and that includes the walkers and cyclists who pass through. We’ve also got a great social committee with a regular calendar of events.’
As a member of the Residents Association, Jessica is also aware of the threat of housing development. ‘Property developers are naturally keen to build hereabouts,’ she comments. ‘However, when you cherish the place you live in, it makes you more determined to fight. Being in a conservation area helps and we get firm support from South Derbyshire District Council and elected representatives. With their help, I will do everything I can to retain our rurality and help preserve this lovely, little corner of England.’