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The village of Little Eaton, Derby

PUBLISHED: 16:14 30 April 2010 | UPDATED: 20:10 23 October 2015

The village of Little Eaton, Derby

The village of Little Eaton, Derby

Ashley Franklin fiinds an active community and a combination of industry and village tradition that really works.

I have a soft spot for Little Eaton. As the photographer for the annual carnival in neighbouring Duffield, I felt the awful disappointment of the villagers three summers ago when unprecedented floods forced the carnival’s cancellation. However, spirits were soon lifted: a few days later, organisers of Little Eaton’s forthcoming carnival invited all the Duffield floats to its own parade along with Duffield’s carnival princess – a wonderfully gracious gesture.


So it was highly pertinent that when I visited Little Eaton virtually every villager I encountered was quick to emphasise the strong community spirit in the place. Sue Carter, President of the thriving village Women’s Institute, also pointed to ‘a hard working community association.’ The same can be said of the Parish Council, Vice Chairman John Easter believes, ‘Everyone on the council is a roll-up-your-sleeves-let’s-get-things-done kind of person.’ Chairman Simon Downing concurs and says it’s this attitude that keeps Little Eaton so active and has given its carnival an enviable reputation. ‘In spite of having to adhere to stifling new rules and regulations, we still produce seven days of fun and frivolity,’ states Simon. ‘It has to be one of the best carnivals in Derbyshire.’


There will be fun and frivolity in the Little Eaton air in the month before the carnival. In April its first village hall is to open, further testament to the various village organisations, and not least to their patience: it’s taken 30 years to obtain funding and approval, with village community groups donating over £70,000 of the £727,000 it has cost.


One of the reasons for this determined spirit is Little Eaton’s location – administrative rather than geographical. According to John Easter, ‘We are officially in the Borough of Erewash but we have long been a pimple on its end. Matters have improved in recent years but for a long time our isolation from the two main centres of the borough – Long Eaton and Ilkeston – had the advantage of forcing the village to adopt an independent attitude. A lot of projects have been undertaken and driven from within the village. The Village Hall Project is one prime example of our inherited “get on with it” spirit.’


The fact that Little Eaton has seen so much community activity without having a village hall is impressive. Many groups have utilised the church hall, for example the 28-strong Friends of Harmony. This senior choir of 30 years now has the good fortune to have, as its conductor and vocal coach, villager Barbara who for 21 years was a singer at the Royal Opera House.


Nestled as it is between the River Derwent and Bottle Brook, four miles north of Derby, it’s no surprise to find that Eaton means a ‘town by the water’. It’s better known today as ‘a village by the by-pass’. The A38 carriageway, opened in the late 1970s, couldn’t have come quickly enough. Resident Anne Calladine told me that the noise of traffic flowing through Little Eaton on the Derby to Ripley road led to a serious attention problem at the local primary school: the teachers often couldn’t make themselves heard.


Little Eaton’s growth has included the arrival of the many businesses that occupy the small industrial estates where there were once mills and railway sidings. This makes it far from quiet and sleepy, but it is still a place valued by its residents as feeling like a village. It also retains important facilities such as pubs, a post office, general store, newsagents, butchers, a chemist and a doctor’s surgery and has the further advantage of a good location.


‘We’re only minutes away from easy access to road, rail and air,’ states resident Pauline Latham, a former Mayor of Derby and Conservative Parliamentary candidate for mid-Derbyshire. ‘That said, I can walk through a side gate and I’m in wonderful countryside. That’s the beauty of Little Eaton: it’s rural, but it’s not miles from anywhere.’ This combination of a town’s industry and a village’s pleasant rural aspect, leads local butcher Barry Fitch to refer to Little Eaton as a ‘garden city’.


Little Eaton was decidedly rural right up to the mid 1950s, with seven working farms – four of which occupied the heart of the village. Many of the old farm buildings have been tastefully converted into private dwellings. My eye was especially taken by The Poplars, a Georgian residence dated around 1760. Overall, though, Little Eaton reminds me of the neighbouring industrial village of Ambergate, with houses more suburban than rural, more brick than stone, more functional than fancy. Even a village booklet of 1956 admits that ‘little imagination’ was used in the many housing developments that took place in the last century, although it was found that Little Eaton’s residents deemed it ‘sufficiently charming’.


Of great charm is St Peter’s Park, a wide expanse of green where children run, dogs are walked and willow connects with leather in front of a pavilion built as a result of local fund-raising, another reminder of community spirit. Overlooking the park is the quietly imposing church of St Paul’s with a lych gate erected as a memorial to the fallen of World War I. One of the names inscribed on the plaque is that of a little known war poet,T.P.C. Wilson. Wilson was killed in action just short of his 30th birthday. According to one commentator, Theodore Percival Cameron Wilson was a ‘brave and good-natured’ soldier – hours before he was struck by an enemy bullet he rescued one of his men who was wounded and caught on barbed wire – yet he had complete revulsion for the ‘great dirty tragedy’ of war. Wilson’s upbringing as the son of a Little Eaton vicar is reflected in the poem found in his pocket on the day he died:


Suddenly one day
The last ill shall fall away
The last little beastliness that is in our blood
Shall drop from us as the sheath drops from the bud,
And the great spirit of man shall struggle through
And spread huge branches underneath the blue.
In any mirror, be it bright or dim,
Man will see God, staring back at him.


St Paul’s has geological as well as spiritual significance. According to Roy Christian when he wrote about Little Eaton, ‘that great belt of gritstone stretching away into Scotland, that we know as the Pennines, ends by this church.’ Quarrying gritstone was one of Little Eaton’s earliest industries. The quarries supplied stone for Birmingham Town Hall and Derby Cathedral as well as many other local buildings. The quarry at Blue Mountains, so-called because of the bluebells that carpet the woodlands of Eaton Bank, was owned by another noted local figure, T.H. Barton, who eventually founded the bus company that still bears his name.


Little Eaton was built on more than mere quarry stone though. It has a long history of mills, malt houses, collieries, stocking-frame houses, and considerable industry that grew with the arrival of the canal, tramway and railway.


The tall chimney dominating the eastern bank of the Derwent marks the location of Peckwash Mill. This began as a corn mill but became in the mid-19th century the only paper mill in the world with four paper-making machines in operation. Ironically, the erection of the chimney led to the toppling of that industry. There was great rejoicing when the chimney was completed in 1895: the mill owner Thomas Tempest arranged for his family to be hoisted up to the top of the chimney for a celebratory tea. However, five years later there was an angry letter from the wealthy new incumbent of a house to the east of the mill pointing out that the prevailing westerly wind was blowing huge clouds of smoke and fumes across his estate. In 1906, the complainant won a permanent injunction preventing Tempests from using the chimney. It was a death sentence: the firm went into liquidation shortly afterwards.


The mill was later utilised for lace and glove making. In 1991, having lain derelict for over 40 years, Peckwash Mill was bought by industrialist Bernard Cooper. Such was the state of ruination that trees were growing up inside and up through the roof of the building. Little wonder that it took seven years to convert the mill to a private residence. The new owner is corporate lawyer David Boucher whose father John kindly showed me round this splendid domicile. Two years ago, David moved John and his wife into the adjacent lodge. ‘I still can’t believe I’m here,’ beamed John, pointing to the privileged views he commands from this scenic bank of the Derwent. As we sat drinking coffee, we gazed up at the chimney and wondered about the aerial views the Tempest family would have enjoyed whilst taking tea.


They would surely have noted the busy workings around the canal, tramway and railway. The noted Butterley Company engineer Benjamin Outram brought the canal from Derby to Little Eaton in 1793. Two years later the tramway line arrived. Known as The Gangway, it connected the canal to the collieries at Kilburn and Denby. Outram utilised what is regarded as the grandfather of the container system now in use worldwide whereby the crane at the wharf lifted the loaded body off a wagon and deposited it on a barge. In its prime in the later 19th century, the canal carried some 40,000 tons of coal and stone a year.


Two stories from this industry came to my notice. One tells of a man called Blind Stephen who, in spite of his handicap, was known to be very adept at moving coal from the horse-drawn trams as they moved down the gang line. However, as noted in the booklet Little Eaton – A Village Surveyed, Stephen’s pilfering was ‘accepted by the drivers of the gangs at least as a fair toll in view of his afflictions.’


The other story – from the booklet The Little Eaton Gangway and Derby Canal by David Ripley – also concerns the theft of coal, again with extenuating circumstances. One bargee set off with his load of coal from Little Eaton to London during bitterly cold weather and took so long on his journey that he arrived with an empty barge. He’d burned the complete load to keep himself warm.


It can feel bitterly cold in Little Eaton. A Village Surveyed notes that cold air from the north is frequently funnelled down Alfreton Road through the village – to such notable effect that a street was named Wind Arse Lane. To ease the embarrassment of the residents, it was eventually changed to Windy Lane. One wonders how Alice Grace coped with the cold, as Windy Lane was, for some time, the location of a bacon box she lived in for about 20 years (as referred to in Peter Seddon’s article in the November issue). Alice used to sleep sitting upright and survived largely through the kindness of neighbours and coins dropped for her by visitors anxious to clap eyes on the hermit with the clay pipe.


Alice Grace unwittingly became one of the attractions of Little Eaton’s annual Tittlecock Fair, said to have developed from Sunday and Bank Holiday outings by Derbeians to a village referred to as ‘Little Matlock’, due to the hills and many quarries. At its height just after the War, the Trent Bus Company claimed to have shuttled 12,000 people to the Easter fair, which came to an end in the mid-60s owing to building development on the site.


There has been a lot of business development on Little Eaton’s two industrial estates which residents have largely welcomed. ‘It’s not heavy in-your-face industry, they employ local people and they support local shops,’ states Pauline Latham. One of the more fascinating companies is Live Steam Models, run for nearly 20 years by Andrew Jeffery, which supplies drawings, castings and materials for large scale steam traction engines. I was surprised to discover from Andrew that this trade is worldwide, although there is plenty of business in the UK alone with around half a dozen steam fairs taking place every weekend throughout the spring and summer. Many enthusiasts are more than happy to spend the £30,000 it usually costs to have a model steam engine built.


I was also thrilled to discover a company which designs, manufactures, decorates and exports fine bone china. Lynton Pottery, so named because the original factory was in Derby’s Lynton street, moved from its city premises, as director Ian Graham explains, ‘because our three floors there weren’t ideal for carrying bone china up and down stairs.’ Although the Little Eaton site has also given them ‘a better environment to show clients around’, Lynton has been a well-kept secret because most of their clients, including Royal families and heads of state, are abroad. One commissioned plate I was shown depicted an eminent sheikh. Lynton’s designs are largely inspired by 19th century English bone china and are especially noted for being hand-painted and richly embellished with hand raised gilding in 23.5 carat gold. ‘If a client is looking for a bespoke tableware selection or a statement vase, we are one of a handful of international companies who can deliver,’ says Ian, ‘and we are one of the last few UK companies using traditional skills.’


A much more visible and visited business in Little Eaton is the Derby Garden Centre. As manager Tim Bell confirms, its location close to Abbey Hill roundabout has enabled the site to grow into a ‘destination home and garden centre’ with its vast horticultural produce augmented by long aisles heaving with home ware, giftware, fashion, furniture, pets/aquatics and a restaurant. One could quite easily spend the day there.


With so many of our villages losing amenities, it’s heartening to see village facilities have actually expanded in Little Eaton. The Co-op, for instance, has doubled in size recently. The classy, spacious modern butcher’s shop run by Barry Fitch and his family for 36 years was once, as Barry recalls, ‘a small room lit by a single light bulb which you couldn’t see for the flies.’ Nowadays, his customers come from all over the county and beyond. And the reason? ‘Quality, traceability – all our lamb and beef is from our own farm – and looking after your customer,’ states Barry. ‘I am always spoilt for choice here,’ remarked one customer. ‘I come in for one thing and walk out with others.’


Is there a threat of Little Eaton expanding to become a suburb of Derby? Sue Carter thinks not: ‘I think we’ll remain a village, not least because we have the physical barrier of the A38 and the River Derwent and its flood plain to prevent building near to our boundaries.’ However, Parish Council Chairman Simon Downing has concerns: ‘We are too close to Derby for comfort and Oakwood is testament to development swallowing vast swathes of green belt land, so our semi-rural existence is likely to come under threat with greater housing needs. Our village envelope within the green belt has protected us in the past; it remains to be seen how long that protection lasts. For the moment, though, we are looking forward to the spring when all our flowerbeds are refreshed and hosts of daffodils bloom, and we can burst out the bubbly with the opening of our village hall, a marvellous tribute to a wonderful village.’


With grateful thanks to John Easter for his invaluable help with this article.

Little Eaton was decidedly rural right up to the mid 1950s, with seven working farms – four of which occupied the heart of the village. Many of the old farm buildings have been tastefully converted into private dwellings. My eye was especially taken by The Poplars, a Georgian residence dated around 1760. Overall, though, Little Eaton reminds me of the neighbouring industrial village of Ambergate, with houses more suburban than rural, more brick than stone, more functional than fancy. Even a village booklet of 1956 admits that ‘little imagination’ was used in the many housing developments that took place in the last century, although it was found that Little Eaton’s residents deemed it ‘sufficiently charming’.


Of great charm is St Peter’s Park, a wide expanse of green where children run, dogs are walked and willow connects with leather in front of a pavilion built as a result of local fund-raising, another reminder of community spirit. Overlooking the park is the quietly imposing church of St Paul’s with a lych gate erected as a memorial to the fallen of World War I. One of the names inscribed on the plaque is that of a little known war poet,T.P.C. Wilson. Wilson was killed in action just short of his 30th birthday. According to one commentator, Theodore Percival Cameron Wilson was a ‘brave and good-natured’ soldier – hours before he was struck by an enemy bullet he rescued one of his men who was wounded and caught on barbed wire – yet he had complete revulsion for the ‘great dirty tragedy’ of war. Wilson’s upbringing as the son of a Little Eaton vicar is reflected in the poem found in his pocket on the day he died:


Suddenly one day
The last ill shall fall away
The last little beastliness that is in our blood
Shall drop from us as the sheath drops from the bud,
And the great spirit of man shall struggle through
And spread huge branches underneath the blue.
In any mirror, be it bright or dim,
Man will see God, staring back at him.


St Paul’s has geological as well as spiritual significance. According to Roy Christian when he wrote about Little Eaton, ‘that great belt of gritstone stretching away into Scotland, that we know as the Pennines, ends by this church.’ Quarrying gritstone was one of Little Eaton’s earliest industries. The quarries supplied stone for Birmingham Town Hall and Derby Cathedral as well as many other local buildings. The quarry at Blue Mountains, so-called because of the bluebells that carpet the woodlands of Eaton Bank, was owned by another noted local figure, T.H. Barton, who eventually founded the bus company that still bears his name.


Little Eaton was built on more than mere quarry stone though. It has a long history of mills, malt houses, collieries, stocking-frame houses, and considerable industry that grew with the arrival of the canal, tramway and railway.


The tall chimney dominating the eastern bank of the Derwent marks the location of Peckwash Mill. This began as a corn mill but became in the mid-19th century the only paper mill in the world with four paper-making machines in operation. Ironically, the erection of the chimney led to the toppling of that industry. There was great rejoicing when the chimney was completed in 1895: the mill owner Thomas Tempest arranged for his family to be hoisted up to the top of the chimney for a celebratory tea. However, five years later there was an angry letter from the wealthy new incumbent of a house to the east of the mill pointing out that the prevailing westerly wind was blowing huge clouds of smoke and fumes across his estate. In 1906, the complainant won a permanent injunction preventing Tempests from using the chimney. It was a death sentence: the firm went into liquidation shortly afterwards.


The mill was later utilised for lace and glove making. In 1991, having lain derelict for over 40 years, Peckwash Mill was bought by industrialist Bernard Cooper. Such was the state of ruination that trees were growing up inside and up through the roof of the building. Little wonder that it took seven years to convert the mill to a private residence. The new owner is corporate lawyer David Boucher whose father John kindly showed me round this splendid domicile. Two years ago, David moved John and his wife into the adjacent lodge. ‘I still can’t believe I’m here,’ beamed John, pointing to the privileged views he commands from this scenic bank of the Derwent. As we sat drinking coffee, we gazed up at the chimney and wondered about the aerial views the Tempest family would have enjoyed whilst taking tea.


They would surely have noted the busy workings around the canal, tramway and railway. The noted Butterley Company engineer Benjamin Outram brought the canal from Derby to Little Eaton in 1793. Two years later the tramway line arrived. Known as The Gangway, it connected the canal to the collieries at Kilburn and Denby. Outram utilised what is regarded as the grandfather of the container system now in use worldwide whereby the crane at the wharf lifted the loaded body off a wagon and deposited it on a barge. In its prime in the later 19th century, the canal carried some 40,000 tons of coal and stone a year.


Two stories from this industry came to my notice. One tells of a man called Blind Stephen who, in spite of his handicap, was known to be very adept at moving coal from the horse-drawn trams as they moved down the gang line. However, as noted in the booklet Little Eaton – A Village Surveyed, Stephen’s pilfering was ‘accepted by the drivers of the gangs at least as a fair toll in view of his afflictions.’


The other story – from the booklet The Little Eaton Gangway and Derby Canal by David Ripley – also concerns the theft of coal, again with extenuating circumstances. One bargee set off with his load of coal from Little Eaton to London during bitterly cold weather and took so long on his journey that he arrived with an empty barge. He’d burned the complete load to keep himself warm.


It can feel bitterly cold in Little Eaton. A Village Surveyed notes that cold air from the north is frequently funnelled down Alfreton Road through the village – to such notable effect that a street was named Wind Arse Lane. To ease the embarrassment of the residents, it was eventually changed to Windy Lane. One wonders how Alice Grace coped with the cold, as Windy Lane was, for some time, the location of a bacon box she lived in for about 20 years (as referred to in Peter Seddon’s article in the November issue). Alice used to sleep sitting upright and survived largely through the kindness of neighbours and coins dropped for her by visitors anxious to clap eyes on the hermit with the clay pipe.


Alice Grace unwittingly became one of the attractions of Little Eaton’s annual Tittlecock Fair, said to have developed from Sunday and Bank Holiday outings by Derbeians to a village referred to as ‘Little Matlock’, due to the hills and many quarries. At its height just after the War, the Trent Bus Company claimed to have shuttled 12,000 people to the Easter fair, which came to an end in the mid-60s owing to building development on the site.


There has been a lot of business development on Little Eaton’s two industrial estates which residents have largely welcomed. ‘It’s not heavy in-your-face industry, they employ local people and they support local shops,’ states Pauline Latham. One of the more fascinating companies is Live Steam Models, run for nearly 20 years by Andrew Jeffery, which supplies drawings, castings and materials for large scale steam traction engines. I was surprised to discover from Andrew that this trade is worldwide, although there is plenty of business in the UK alone with around half a dozen steam fairs taking place every weekend throughout the spring and summer. Many enthusiasts are more than happy to spend the £30,000 it usually costs to have a model steam engine built.


I was also thrilled to discover a company which designs, manufactures, decorates and exports fine bone china. Lynton Pottery, so named because the original factory was in Derby’s Lynton street, moved from its city premises, as director Ian Graham explains, ‘because our three floors there weren’t ideal for carrying bone china up and down stairs.’ Although the Little Eaton site has also given them ‘a better environment to show clients around’, Lynton has been a well-kept secret because most of their clients, including Royal families and heads of state, are abroad. One commissioned plate I was shown depicted an eminent sheikh. Lynton’s designs are largely inspired by 19th century English bone china and are especially noted for being hand-painted and richly embellished with hand raised gilding in 23.5 carat gold. ‘If a client is looking for a bespoke tableware selection or a statement vase, we are one of a handful of international companies who can deliver,’ says Ian, ‘and we are one of the last few UK companies using traditional skills.’


A much more visible and visited business in Little Eaton is the Derby Garden Centre. As manager Tim Bell confirms, its location close to Abbey Hill roundabout has enabled the site to grow into a ‘destination home and garden centre’ with its vast horticultural produce augmented by long aisles heaving with home ware, giftware, fashion, furniture, pets/aquatics and a restaurant. One could quite easily spend the day there.


With so many of our villages losing amenities, it’s heartening to see village facilities have actually expanded in Little Eaton. The Co-op, for instance, has doubled in size recently. The classy, spacious modern butcher’s shop run by Barry Fitch and his family for 36 years was once, as Barry recalls, ‘a small room lit by a single light bulb which you couldn’t see for the flies.’ Nowadays, his customers come from all over the county and beyond. And the reason? ‘Quality, traceability – all our lamb and beef is from our own farm – and looking after your customer,’ states Barry. ‘I am always spoilt for choice here,’ remarked one customer. ‘I come in for one thing and walk out with others.’


Is there a threat of Little Eaton expanding to become a suburb of Derby? Sue Carter thinks not: ‘I think we’ll remain a village, not least because we have the physical barrier of the A38 and the River Derwent and its flood plain to prevent building near to our boundaries.’ However, Parish Council Chairman Simon Downing has concerns: ‘We are too close to Derby for comfort and Oakwood is testament to development swallowing vast swathes of green belt land, so our semi-rural existence is likely to come under threat with greater housing needs. Our village envelope within the green belt has protected us in the past; it remains to be seen how long that protection lasts. For the moment, though, we are looking forward to the spring when all our flowerbeds are refreshed and hosts of daffodils bloom, and we can burst out the bubbly with the opening of our village hall, a marvellous tribute to a wonderful village.’


With grateful thanks to John Easter for his invaluable help with this article.

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