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The village of Edensor, Derbyshire

PUBLISHED: 16:21 30 April 2010 | UPDATED: 15:39 20 February 2013

An architectural pattern book of styles and a peaceful place to live.

Thanks to the carefree use of a bewildering array of architectural features, including Tudor chimneys, Jacobean gables, Georgian pediments, castellated towers, Italian Renaissance windows and Swiss-style roofs, no two houses are alike in the village of Edensor, which is superbly located in a gated and walled enclosure in the beautiful parkland of the Chatsworth Estate.

The original village straggled across both banks of the river Derwent and was clearly visible from Chatsworth House, much to the displeasure of the Fourth Duke of Devonshire, who began demolishing those cottages that were closest to the house in 1762. His work was completed by the Sixth Duke in the 1830s, when he asked his head gardener Joseph Paxton and the Derby architect John Robertson to design a new village in a location where it would not obscure his view of the park.

Legend has it that Robertson arrived at Chatsworth with a portfolio containing drawings of all his house plans and asked the Duke to select the design he preferred. As he was too busy at the time to make a carefully considered choice, the Duke flicked through the drawings and simply ordered one of each.

Although Robertson designed most of the houses, which are more like villas than cottages, it was Paxton who arranged them so that the collection of apparently discordant styles would make a harmonious whole. Immediately beyond the entrance gate, there is a large green, flanked on the right by a castellated tower house and on the left by a house that features a balcony and an Alpine-style overhanging roof. A large mound at the back of the green forms an elevated base for St Peter's Church, which rises to a height of 166 feet and towers above the village.

Echoing the view of the architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner, who thought that the church's spire 'spoils the scale of the village', the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire believes that the whole church is 'several sizes too big, altogether out of scale, dwarfing and almost threatening the cottages below'. However, it could be argued that it is the pretentious villas which would be altogether too big for the small village, but for the presence of the spire, which acts as a yardstick and so effectively reduces their scale.

In fact, the church is a replacement for a much smaller building and was added by Sir George Gilbert Scott a quarter of a century after Paxton and Robertson created their 'model village'. The green is also far bigger than planned, because part of it was originally occupied by a school, which was demolished in 1948. Its wide expanse not only prevents both the villas and the church from being too overbearing, but also manages to make the carefully planned village look like a charming hamlet that has grown in an uncontrived way around a traditional English green.

A range of buildings behind the 'Swiss chalet' has long housed the village shop, post office and newsagents, as well as a tea room that is popular with tourists. Four years ago, Dave and Julia Houghton left their jobs and their house in Edinburgh in order to take over the business. Although the post office has now closed and newspapers are no longer sold from the premises, the tea rooms have been greatly expanded and now include an additional room that is often booked for wedding parties who come to enjoy the hearty breakfasts that are a speciality of the tea rooms.

The lane to the right of the church mound is called Edensor Lane and that to the left is known as Jap Lane, which is where I began my walking tour by calling at the home of David and Diane Naylor. Diane, who works as the Photo Librarian at Chatsworth House, is the author of a well-illustrated book that traces the history of Edensor, as well as the estate villages of Beeley and Pilsley. The book, which was published in 2005, has attracted letters and emails from many former residents, including those now living in France, Australia and New Zealand.

Recalling the months that she spent compiling the book in her summer house, Diane said, 'As the deadline for submission of the manuscript approached, I became so hermit-like that my husband David found himself in charge of the kitchen. He was never a keen cook, but he is now an inspired one.' David, who runs the Exhibit Art Gallery at Rowsley and is a fine artist in his own right, also had a further moment of inspiration when he decided to buy a landscape sculpture by Falmouth artist Ben Barrell for Diane's birthday. He even arranged for it to be secretly installed in the garden while the couple were away on a celebratory holiday in Cornwall.

With the book completed and with the sculpture for company, Diane has turned her attention back to her garden and her allotment, which stretches behind the nearby vicarage, which has been occupied for the past twelve months by Susanne Garnett and her husband the Venerable David Garnett, who is Archdeacon of Chesterfield as well as Vicar of Edensor.

As a newcomer, Susanne has found that 'the villagers are naturally friendly to strangers, perhaps because they are so accustomed to the presence of tourists'. While she is delighted to be living in a village that she describes as 'a slice of old England', she works tirelessly as a director of Village Aid, a charity that gives sustainable support to poor people who live in remote African villages.

Although Edensor is a small place, the vicar has a large congregation, which is drawn from far and wide. One 102-year-old gentleman regularly travels to services by taxi from Sheffield, and Vilna Kembery began attending the church 22 years ago, after she heard an inspired address at a church in Brimington by the Revd Beddoes, who was vicar of Edensor at that time. Six years ago, she was lucky enough to acquire a flat in the village, which enabled her to fulfil her long-held wish to live in Edensor.

After showing me a pedestal and a table that had been made for the church by her late husband, Vilna took me into the Cavendish Chapel at the head of the south aisle, where there is a huge monument to Bess of Hardwick's two sons: Henry, who died in 1616, and William, who became the first Earl of Devonshire and died in 1625. The chapel also contains a wreath of everlasting flowers sent by Queen Victoria as a tribute to Lord Frederick Cavendish, who was murdered in Dublin in 1882.

Another tragic death is remembered in the churchyard, where there is the grave of Kathleen Kennedy, the sister of President John F Kennedy and the wife of Billy, Marquis of Hartington and heir to the Dukedom. Kathleen died in an air crash just four years after her husband had been killed in action in the Second World War. Five months before his assassination in 1963, President Kennedy dropped into the Chatsworth estate by helicopter in order to visit the grave. When asked for his response to the President's surprise arrival, one local resident said, 'The wind from that machine blew my chickens away and I haven't seen them since.'

Andrew, the highly respected eleventh Duke of Devonshire, who died in 2003, is also buried in the churchyard alongside his parents and earlier generations of the family. Local photographer Bridget Flemming recorded the moving scene when estate workers and tenants lined the route as the Duke's funeral cortege made its way from Chatsworth House to Edensor. Bridget, who lives in part of the former vicarage on Jap Lane, also took all the photographs for the Dowager Duchess's book, Round About Chatsworth.

Since her husband's death, the Dowager Duchess has lived in the other part of the Old Vicarage, which she has renovated and furnished in the tasteful manner that one would expect from a person who did so much to save Chatsworth House and revive its fortunes. She has even added a new architectural feature to the village in the form of a delightful octagonal gazebo, which has floor segments paved with eight different stones indigenous to Derbyshire.

Jap Lane terminates at the Old Vicarage after its short climb on the eastern side of the village, but Edensor Lane, which follows the western perimeter of the churchyard, continues beyond Edensor and journeys over the hills to Bakewell. Within the village boundary, the lane is lined with picturesque villas, mainly constructed during the rebuilding of 1839. However, one of the cottages on this lane has survived from the earlier village and even features in Constable's pen and wash drawing of Edensor, which was executed in 1801 and now hangs in the Victoria and Albert Museum.

This house, which is known as Barbrook Cottage, is the home of Derek Neave, Chatsworth's recently retired head gamekeeper, and his wife, Barbara, who spent many years helping to look after the late Duke's mother and sister. With 50 years experience as an estate worker, initially in the woodlands and then as a gamekeeper, Derek can look back on the time when pheasants were reared on the estate and poachers were a persistent problem.

Barbara's father was the head keeper for many years and Derek and Barbara's daughter is the wife of the current head keeper. On his retirement, Derek was presented with a fine painting by the wildlife artist Richard Whittlestone. The picture depicts a Hobby Falcon, which is Derek's favourite bird, and has Chatsworth House as its backdrop. When Derek and Barbara are not bird-watching in Norfolk, they love their life in the peaceful, self-contained village. Barbara even does her shopping on line to avoid battling through the traffic that plagues other towns and villages.

After walking back down Edensor Lane to the village green, I scanned the handful of buildings that stand outside the enclosed part of the village. In one hollow, there is the one and only cottage that was saved when Edensor was moved in 1839. Although it was previously thought that the Sixth Duke spared its elderly tenant from the upheaval of moving, recent research by Lindsey Porter suggests that the house may have been allowed to remain in its isolated location because its occupant had typhoid.

Cavendish Hall, a red-brick Georgian mansion that stands alongside the main estate road, was originally designed as an inn, but it became the village institute and is now the Chatsworth Estate Office. However, it retains many facilities for the benefit of tenants and workers, including a bar and restaurant, a swimming pool, a beauty salon and a gymnasium. The grounds even contain a golf course and a bowling green.

Tudor Cottage, which stands on the opposite side of the road, is the most picturesque building on the Chatsworth estate. Designed by Jeffry Wyatville, it features decorative bargeboards and half-timbering with brick infilling. The couple who are fortunate enough to live in this chocolate-box cottage are Jim and Eileen Link.

Jim worked on the estate for 50 years and ended up, like his father before him, as head gardener. Although he recalls the damage caused by gales of 1962, as well as the disastrous effects of foot and mouth outbreaks and Dutch elm disease, almost all his memories are happy ones. He says, 'I always loved carrying out new planting and I was lucky enough to work closely with the Dowager Duchess and the late Duke.'

Jim's memorable retirement party was even filmed by television cameras when the BBC came to make a documentary about life on the estate.

Eileen summed up the joy of living in the village of Edensor, and Tudor Cottage in particular, when she told me that one of her best friends likes to be seen entering the house by passing motorists whenever she pays a visit, because she hopes that they will think that she is the person who lives in the cottage.

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