Old Duffield Village, Church, and Castle,
Sometimes I hear people question if Duffield is a healthy place to live in. The parish registers show that people used to manage to live here to a good old age, and there are many records of centenarians being buried in Duffield churchyard. Here is one extract I have copied: "In 1750 there was buried in Duffield churchyard Jane Booth, aged 105, and on the following day, Peter Alsop, aged 103. At the same time there was living in the same village, Alice Cooper, older than either of these two."
Remember that these were days when there was no drainage system, no sanitary authority, and no other public water supply than the pumps and wells which have been condemned wholesale as unfit for drinking from! Perhaps in those days water was not a popular beverage. If centenarians are not as numerous now as formerly, let us remember how constitutions are enfeebled by the artificial conditions and complex character of existence today, and not blame the place in which we live.
One would not consider Mill Green exactly the healthiest part of Duffield, especially when seen, as all old Duffield people have seen it many times, completely flooded and cut off, houses half submerged, and the occupants living in the bedrooms. But some of the oldest veterans of the village have spent almost the whole of their long lives on Mill Green. Quite recently Martha Garton, who, I believe, had lived there all her life, died well over 90 years of age. No one knew exactly how old she was, for I am told that the family Bible, in which the births had been recorded, had once been left at night on the kitchen table, and before morning a flood had washed it away.
Floods were formerly frequent, and the Ecclesburn was the chief offender; often the water rose so high and so quickly that it could not pass under the bridges, and so had to run down the main street. Deep holes have been washed in the street and carts upset by falling into them. I have seen former occupants of Duffield Park House boating round Tamworth Street, and a flood which tore across the park and washed down the wall opposite the Women's Institute in Wirksworth Road.
The church was often inaccessible through floods. In 1673, a levy was made on the parish to defray the cost of repairs to the church "it being much decay'd by reason of a violent flood". In the last century it is recorded that two gentlemen passing through Duffield found the floor of the church nearly two feet deep in water. I remember when Mr. Surgey was here as curate, and went down to celebrate, I believe, his first wedding, that he found the church surrounded by a flood, and he told me that he carried the bride into church on his back! (Where was the "gallant" bridegroom?)
The floods, of course, were the real difficulty we always had to contend with when trying to heat the church, for a high Derwent invariably caused the water to back up through the subsoil and flood the boiler-house, and often the trenches containing the hot-water pipes. One old woman hit the nail on the head, after we had been having, as usual, a meeting about how to improve the heating, when she said, in the vernacular, "It bain't no use, they mun get summat to boil t'Darrand!" ("Darrand," or "Darrent," is rural "Derbyshire" for Derwent.) The difficulty has since been surmounted by encasing the boiler-house with iron plates, so that it is now a water-tight tank.
Sir Arthur Heywood, in his usual public-spirited manner, had plans prepared, at his own cost, for the prevention of floods. Some of the improvements then suggested have been carried out by the land-owners concerned; the Midland Railway Company now keep the brook-course about the bridges in the middle of the village properly clear, and there has not since been a flood of any consequence. The height of the weir at Peckwash Mill is an important factor affecting Duffield floods, and in 1854 the then owners of the mill, after much pressure from the vestry, agreed that the height of the weir should be regulated by a brass plate, to he affixed to the pier of Duffield Bridge, the bottom of which plate should show the height of the top of the weir. Inhabitants of Duffield should watch that no addition to the height of the weir at Peckwash is allowed to raise the level of the river above the stipulated height indicated by this plate. A free course for the river is naturally the best safeguard against floods.
First published 1922, Derby, Harpur and Son. Website copyright 2001 Jed Bland. 16.04.01