The villages of Aston on Trent and Walton upon Trent, Derbyshire
PUBLISHED: 10:46 19 May 2011 | UPDATED: 19:24 20 February 2013
In the second of a two-part feature Ashley Franklin discovers what's special about Aston on Trent and Walton upon Trent
ASTON ON TRENT Although Aston is situated some distance from the Trent, an archaeological discovery 12 years ago showed that the river was important to the settlement. In 1998, a log boat a hollowed out oak tree was uncovered in the nearby gravel works and is thought to date back 3,500 years. Although log boats have been found in other parts of Britain, this was the first one to be found with what seemed to be its cargo: Bromsgrove sandstone. The boat is on display at Derby Museum. Another excavation in the 1960s indicated a settlement in Aston as far back as 2,500 BC.
THE COUNTY GRANARY
Although a busy, developed village, the ancient church, lych-gate, two taverns and historical hall still give Aston a rural feel. Older residents recall an even more rustic place with several farms along the village streets, mainly producing corn, leading to the villages title as the bread basket of Derbyshire. However, the land wasnt as fertile as that epithet suggests: the names of village fields such as Bloody Land, Breakback and Thirsty Cliffs point to difficulties with the soil.
FROM SMALL ACORNS...
Every quarter, an acorn is deposited in every Aston household. Acorn stands for Aston Community Organisations Reviews & News.
There is a saying in Aston that if two villagers meet in the street, they form a conversation; if three meet, they form a society. Amidst the population of about 1,800, there are over 30 active groups. Has any Derbyshire village of comparable size more than this? The Neighbourhood Watch group alone has a remarkable 520 participating households. At the annual Village Walk the day after Boxing Day, over 500 residents walk out, with huge funds raised for charity.
So well orchestrated are Astons activities with so many villagers involved in many and various groups that a committee convenes every quarter to ensure there will be no clash of dates amongst the various groups.
It may not be the prettiest village in Derbyshire, says resident Chris Sellek, but we twice won the Derbyshire Large Village of the year Award (2002 and 2004) for our great community spirit.
All Saints Church Heritage Centre is due to open this month, six years on from the time the idea was first mooted for a new building to replace the dilapidated vestry and serve as both a heritage centre and a first class meeting venue.
The required funds 170,000 were raised through grants, private donations and villagers fundraising. This centre is a real, living testament to the power of a close community, says Bob Read, who chaired the Project Committee, adding It was a great collaboration between our local history group and All Saints Parochial Church Council. The formal opening is on 21st May.
Another tribute to Aston folk is the 430,000 raised in only two years to renovate the War Memorial Hall. As Management Committee chairman Andrew Shakich points out, his committee met every week for 18 months to examine and seek funding opportunities. Over 100 households donated 25 each in a Pledge a Brick scheme. We were then faced with additional costs, explains Andrew, but we were undaunted and simply went on another round of fundraising. The whole project was a marvellous team effort by the people who live in and love this village.
ASTONS ROYAL REPRESENTATIVE In 2005, when Aston resident Willie Tucker retired from his job as chief executive of the Midlands Co-operative Society, he was looking forward to spending more time in his home in Rectory Gardens alongside his wife Jill. However, two years ago, Willie was appointed Her Majestys Lord Lieutenant of Derbyshire, making him the Queens personal representative in the county.
Retirement is now on hold until his duties officially cease on his 75th birthday ten years away. The duties of the Lord Lieutenancy, along with Willies position as either a patron or president of 26 organisations, takes the Tuckers to an average of 15 functions a month, and sometimes they can be out every day or night for a week. However, Willie is loving every moment: It is a delight and honour to have this role, he says, adding that it couldnt have happened at a better time: the Duke of Gloucesters day in Derbyshire last month was the tenth Royal visit to the county in Willies opening two years.
One of the positives of the Lieutenancy is that all these official duties have made home life more precious and valued. Furthermore, Aston is perfectly placed, with the Tuckers having to travel regularly to all corners of the county. They came to Aston 22 years ago, falling for the charms of the village and Acacia House which had been erected on the site of the Old Rectory, which was a massive property, given that Acacia House is one of seven houses occupying the Rectory gardens alone.
When they have the time, Willie and Jill enjoy their gardening and the many and various walks around Aston. Theyre also very active supporters of Astons Church of All Saints though ironically our duties mean we spend more time at other peoples churches, smiles Willie. Its a very active church, too, with the Tuckers emphasising the fine ministrations of Rev. Tony Luke who arrived eight years ago an enthusiastic and charismatic vicar, they concur.
Likewise, there is much local pride in Derbyshires Lord Lieutenant being an Aston resident, and Willie enjoys the fact that Aston people have a nice habit of bringing you down to earth.
WALTON"UPON TRENT If you traverse the bridge over the Trent to enter Walton, you cross between the two counties of Derbyshire and Staffordshire. You also enter The National Forest and a pleasing rural spot comprising an ancient church, an early Georgian stately home, age-old school, pub, village hall and cricket club, and overall, a quite charming riverside village of mellow red brick or colour-washed houses. I love Walton for its attractive, peaceful and unspoilt antiquity, says resident Neil Adams.
For a relatively isolated village of modest size, the presence of a pub is always welcome. Walton used to have two taverns until the Shoulder of Mutton closed recently, taking away the village store at the same time. However, what is heartening about the White Swan, according to current manager Melanie Stones, is that it is sustained by the support of the villagers. Although weekend visitors from near and far keep the pub busy, especially for the popular Sunday carvery, its the locals who get behind the food theme nights on weekdays including a Tuesday Pudding Club. Im Walton born and bred, reveals Melanie, so Im proud and delighted that our villagers keep this pub alive.
THE BAILEY BRIDGE
White swans can still be seen on this stretch of the Trent where there is also coarse fishing and canoeing. The dominant presence, though, is the narrow, single-file Bailey Bridge, controlled by traffic lights. This is the third such bridge, the previous one opening in 1948 after its predecessor had been swept away by flood water.
What remains curious is why the current bridge, opened in 1974, was another Bailey with a span of only 7ft 6ins. A Bailey Bridge is usually a military-based construction providing temporary access across rivers, canals, railway lines, etc, so why wasnt Walton given a permanent stone bridge 37 years ago?
However, this is not a question that troubles the villagers of Walton. We like it, says resident Neil Adams. It keeps heavy traffic out.
THE OLDEST PLACE IN DERBYSHIRE?
Walton historian Neil Adams, who has written a book on the history of the village, claims there is evidence to support the fact that Walton is the oldest inhabited site in Derbyshire due to Neolithic flints found recently at the church. Furthermore, a survey of an Iron Age fort in the area indicated settlement by Celts in the pre-Roman era. Also, the name Walton breaks down as Wal, a Saxon word for a Celt or foreigner, with Ton being a Saxon suffix.
Neil has also written a book on the age-old village school, stating that he felt a need to preserve the record of education in Walton. Admirably, every pupil is presented with a copy of Neils book to encourage an interest in local history.
Walton Primary School is a thriving institution which received an outstanding OFSTED report in 2009, praising the school for the way its teachers make learning interesting.
AN EVOLVING VILLAGE
Waltons last newsletter ran to a remarkable 44 pages, a testament to a community-spirited village and to its editor Jayne Hall. It was daunting taking it on, says Jayne, but its pleasing to share information and enable people to get involved in what is an evolving village. The newsletter celebrates the opening of a play area for Walton young villager Daniel particularly liked the spinny thing that spins right round (nearly forever).
A history of the early Georgian red-brick, three-storey Walton Hall reveals that a previous owner, John Desborough, was Oliver Cromwells Major General in the west of England, fighting in all the major Civil War battles. He married Cromwells sister.
The latest chatelaine in the family line, Liza Goodson has, with husband Peter, been diligently restoring and maintaining this Grade II* listed country house since 2003. Its challenging work that Liza compares with painting the Forth Bridge.
It was difficult enough occupying a house that had been mothballed for 18 years and had suffered burglaries, losing antique clocks, furniture and vases. The garden was a wilderness, the roof leaked and much decorating needed to be done, adds Liza, so life at the Hall is very busy, hard work and expensive being Grade II means only approved materials may be used but its still a privilege to enjoy this house and share in the history of this family.
Although a few miles out of Walton, Catton Hall Derbyshires southernmost country house has a Walton postal address. It was built in 1745 for Georgian squire Christopher Horton whose young widow had, according to MP and man of letters Horace Walpole, the most amorous eyes in the world and eye-lashes a yard long.
Another Horton beauty, Anne Beatrix, caught the eye of Byron at a ball and inspired one of his most famous opening lines of poetry:
She walks in beauty, like the night,
Of cloudless climes and starry skies ..
A guided tour is one of numerous goings-on at a very busy 1600-acre estate run by Robin and Katie Neilson. Alongside a commercial farming enterprise, private fishing and a long-established pheasant and partridge shoot, the Hall is run as a hotel and is available for weddings, private dining and corporate events, with the grounds used for golf, equestrian events, caravan rallies, ballooning and dog trials.
THE OLD RECTORY 28 years ago, Henry and Elizabeth Timms decided to move nearer to their family and found the perfect house in the Old Rectory in Walton. They also fell in love with the village, with Henry eventually becoming a District Councillor and Chairman of Walton Parish Council. Its such a desirable place to live, says Henry. We have such pleasant scenery here and are well tucked away from the hustle and bustle of modern life yet we are also close to main roads, large towns and airports.
We also have a mixed village comprising young families drawn to the excellent primary school, middle-aged commuters and retired folk. When we came in 1983, Walton was much more active but our thriving school and cricket club and newly-managed pub are helping revive the village spirit.
We love the unspoilt Main Street, and the sight of cricketers in white against the backdrop of the ancient church. We would love to see the former Walton and Barton railway station resurrected, and our attractive-looking village hall badly needs updating, but we still wouldnt want to live anywhere else. Walton is a friendly pastoral backwater.