The village of Littleover
PUBLISHED: 09:00 17 February 2014 | UPDATED: 10:17 03 March 2014
Ashley Franklin + others
Ashley Franklin visits the village of Littleover on the outskirts of Derby
Littleover is a name of Saxon origin – Parva Ufre – meaning ‘the little place at the slope or ridge.’ Its neighbouring suburb Mickleover – ‘the larger place at the slope or ridge’ – included Littleover in its parish until 1866 when the village broke away and formed its own authority.
It was still a little place and very much a village – an 1851 census revealed 500 residents – though even then there were fears that the place would be absorbed by Derby, leading to a large number of letters to local weeklies. A local clergyman wrote that if Littleover was swallowed up by the town ‘then no village is safe, for Littleover is as rural a village as you could find anywhere in England’.
By 1901 the population was nearly one thousand, with directories pointing to many ‘handsome gentlemen’s houses’ springing up along Burton Road and spilling over into Littleover but a century of spillover and relentless suburban spread has increased its population to the extent that it is now, ironically, larger than ‘the larger place’. However, as I found with Mickleover, most residents I encountered still speak of their ‘village’.
‘Up in the village’
When Neville and Margaret Ditchfield moved to Littleover in 1962, it was ‘very rural’, to the extent that farmer Albert Lane was still walking his cows up The Hollow to his farm at the Littleover Tree. ‘There were fields in abundance,’ adds Neville, ‘with footpaths, kissing gates, natural springs and streams. We still have many footpaths and some lovely green spaces including King George V Playing Fields and a newly landscaped Sunnydale Park. We also have a very active Friends of Littleover Parks, a Littleover in Bloom group and an Allotments Society.’
As resident Jan Jackson points out, Littleover has a history of horticultural shows to match any Derbyshire village, the first one dating back to 1870. Furthermore, the show goes on: this year’s event will mark its 44th year at Grange Hall Community Centre.
What also maintains the village feel is a central shopping area on the main Burton Road, still referred to by locals as ‘up in the village’ as it slopes away on each side. Richard Petrie, whose optometry practice has been on the shopping street since 1978, recalls that when the A38 by-pass was opened, Littleover became more of a village again: ‘It was unbelievably quiet. All the lorries were gone and you could stand in the middle of the road to watch for cars.’
With increased housing and school traffic, Burton Road is a busy thoroughfare again, especially since the nearby Derby Royal Hospital expanded, though a walk down Shepherd Street and the adjoining Church Street is a strong reminder of Littleover’s rural past. The White Swan retains the look of an 18th century pub – it could even date back to the late 16th century – while St Peter’s Church sits grandly but quietly in spacious grounds. Handsome houses are dotted here and there including notably the picturesque timber-framed Old Cottage in Littleover Hollow. Although dated 16th century, a rebuilding in 1914 revealed that Littleover’s oldest house could have been built well before, as its walls were found to be a mixture of plaited willow, mud and broken boulders, a primitive form of construction.
‘I have always thought of Derby as a city of villages,’ states resident Chris Ward-Brown, ‘and Littleover is one of the better kept ones. It’s a very liveable, walkable and sociable village.’ When Revd Alicia Dring became the vicar of St Peter’s last September, she and husband Steve straightaway found the locals ‘friendly, welcoming and helpful.’ Alicia also found Littleover to be ‘a suburb with a strong village identity.’
Gareth Higgs, minister at Littleover Methodist Church and, coincidentally, another new arrival last September, initially saw Littleover as a suburb. ‘That’s because I came from two very close-knit Lancashire villages,’ explains Gareth. ‘Littleover felt bigger, more diverse and less intimate. However, I then saw a place with a distinctive identity and, to my surprise and delight, I found out just how much people knew one another, so my first impression has been destroyed!’
Health and Safety
Next door to Derby Grammar is Nuffield Health Derby Hospital, whose private, quality health care provision of over 30 years is another pointer to Littleover’s growth. Set back from the main road, Nuffield has the feel more of a hotel than hospital though, unlike most hotels – and most hospitals for that matter – everything is neatly laid out in a single floor, with all patients’ rooms having en suite facilities. ‘Cleanliness is paramount,’ says hospital director Barbara Baker, ‘demonstrated by our consistently low hospital infection statistics.’
Littleover resident and staff nurse Hilary Law, who has worked at Nuffield for eight years, confirms what I felt on my visit: ‘This is a ‘quiet, relaxing environment and very conducive to patients’ well-being. The feedback I get from patients is that the quality of care here is second to none.’ It surprised me to learn that Nuffield Health is a charity. ‘We make money not for shareholders but to improve patient services,’ says Barbara Baker.
Since 1971 Littleover Old Hall (built in 1898) has been the headquarters of Derbyshire Fire & Rescue Service. The Hall even has a health and safety past: during World War II stables and kennels were converted into a de-contamination plant in anticipation of gas attacks. An attack of a different and freakish kind brought the fire service out to Littleover itself in 2009: a mini-tornado ripped through the village. Houses and garages were damaged, around 50 tiles were swept off roofs and dustbins flew in the air for a few frightening minutes. A motorist caught up in the twister said it felt like he was ‘driving into a washing machine.’
Littleover in Boom
A drive around Littleover reveals a more colourful and cared-for community thanks to Littleover in Bloom which is now into its sixth year. Bloom Chairman Jan Jackson reveals: ‘During a community centre discussion, I asked the question “why do we have no hanging baskets and flower tubs in the village?” I was told they would only be vandalised and I wouldn’t get support anyway, so that stirred me on to give it a go!’
‘There is now more pride in the place,’ she says. ‘The residents are grateful, the businesses are helpful – many shops now put up their own baskets – our two pubs the White Swan and the Half Moon are more picturesque, we have great support from the Littleover Neighbourhood Board. We have got the schools, Rainbows, Scouts and W.I. involved in planting and litter-picking, and if we can get more volunteers, we have the chance to turn our consecutive run of Silver medals at East Midlands in Bloom into Gold.’
‘Spiritually, Littleover is a very vibrant community,’ declares Revd Alicia Dring, noting the set-up called Littleover & Blagreaves Churches Together, a series of social events and worship comprising all six churches in the village, and pointing out that the churches have ‘growing congregations’.
Another refreshing development in Littleover is the way the Methodist Church – whose renovated centre opened in 2008 – has become, in the words of church administrator Annie Winkler, ‘a focal point for much of the community.’ Over £600,000 in gifts and promises was raised for the centre within six weeks. Now around 2,000 people pour through the doors each week to use the facilities: four meeting rooms, two function rooms, sports hall and café; and weekly attendance for services averages 180.
New minister Gareth Higgs feels he has come to a special place: ‘There is so much energy and drive here. It feels a great responsibility to lead a group of people who have invested so much spiritually, emotionally and financially in this endeavour, and we look forward to connect in increasing ways with the people of Littleover.’
Big Steps in Education
A thriving aspect of the centre is the pre-school group Littlesteps. ‘It’s great to be here in the heart of the village,’ says Business and Finance Director Sue Pocock ‘and all our staff have a passion to give the children in our care the best start to their education.’
When it comes to bigger steps, Littleover is endowed with well-regarded schools. Ivy House, an £8 million development which opened in 2008, is one of the first special schools in the country to share a site with a mainstream school, Derby Moor Community Sports College; and the website of the Millennium Centre, the sixth form college for Littleover Community School, boasts of ‘students consistently performing well above national averages.’ Academic achievements are high at the Community School, too, which last year came in the top 10 schools in the country for pupil attendance figures.
Littleover’s location has resulted in the presence of both the Derby High School and Derby Grammar School. The girls’ High School has been at Hillsway for over 60 years, with pupils from age 3 to 18 on the same site. ‘It’s large enough to accommodate us all, yet small enough to give the feeling of a community,’ says Headteacher Denise Gould. ‘It also allows us to have an extremely wide catchment area.’
The High School has unquestionably encouraged Littleover’s growth as a cosmopolitan suburb and enhanced its reputation as a desirable place to live. Likewise Derby Grammar – the county’s leading independent day school for boys aged 7-18 and girls aged 16-18 founded in 1995 – largely owes its location to its proximity to Derby High, though another reason also explains the more general appeal of Littleover, namely the ease of access to and from arterial roads.
Since her appointment as Derby High’s Headteacher last summer, Denise Gould has promoted an ethos around the words: Children are born with wings; teachers help them to fly. ‘Nurturing individuals to achieve their personal best is key to all we do here,’ a process enhanced by an extensive extra-curricular programme. Nine different sports are represented at regional, county or national level by pupils and, amidst its charity work, a remarkable £25,000 was raised for a school in Kenya. Academically, the five-year average of A* and A grades awarded at GCSE is an impressive 68 per cent while the overall pass rate for all main A-level subjects was 100 per cent for the ninth time in the last ten years.
Similarly at Derby Grammar, Headteacher Richard Paine looks to an ethos ‘very much centred on the individual where pupils develop a passion for learning.’ The school also promotes its ‘family atmosphere’ in being a small school with just under 300 pupils in an intimate setting in extensive private grounds. The school’s academic performance puts it at, or very near, the top of Derbyshire’s league tables and within the top three per cent nationally, while extra-curricular activities have included an ‘unforgettable’ cricket tour of Sri Lanka, Formula 24 racing, continuing charity work with a community in Tanzania, and there are plans to introduce Mandarin this year.
How could this ‘great village community’ develop? Resident Chris Ward-Brown has a suggestion: ‘Between the White Swan and the steps leading up into St Peter’s Churchyard is the old Littleover Market Place. As we all naturally refer to Littleover as a village, wouldn’t it be a step forward if the Neighbourhood Board together with the Allotments Society and a few farmers could set up a few stalls there once a month? This sort of initiative would make Littleover feel even more like a village and I’m sure other “villagers” would support it wholeheartedly.’
On a more practical transport note, Neville and Margaret Ditchfield see a pressing need for improved parking and the easing of traffic congestion. ‘We would also be delighted to see the Hollow restored,’ they add, and Jan Jackson strikes a similar note in hoping that the village’s heritage survives. ‘I would very much like to see some sort of conservation area in Littleover,’ she states, ‘and if Littleover in Bloom continues to grow, we will have a cleaner, healthier and more colourful environment.’
Chris Ward-Brown also feels the retail heart of the village could better reflect this thriving community’s status: ‘So many people miss the deli and other independent shops that closed years ago and, let’s face it, this is a relatively affluent area where overall I feel the facilities lack the quality Littleover both deserves and could sustain. We have two good restaurants in the Cantonese Zing Va and the Asian Red Chilli but we don’t have a European or British Michelin aspirant eaterie. We don’t even have a quality independent coffee shop. Littleover is long overdue a bit of confidence and style. That said, this is still a satisfying place in which to live, work and play.’