Old Duffield Village, Church, and Castle,
With some Personal Reminiscences.

A Lecture given before the Duffield Branch of the Church of England Men's Society, Dec., 8th., 1921,

Duffield in the late 19th. Century


I wish I could give you a picture of Duffield when it was an unsophisticated, rural village, and not a mere residential suburb of Derby. Among its chief charms were the old thatched cottages, much admired by visitors. Illustrations show two groups of these cottages, one where the Church Hall now stands, and the other in Tamworth Street. Most of the cottages on Mill Green and in Tamworth Street, besides many on both sides of King Street and in other parts of the village, were once thatched; but all have disappeared - except, perhaps, one - during my recollection. Apart from the pictorial value of a thatched house, I can speak from several years' personal experience of the comfort of a roof that gives warmth in winter and delicious coolness in summer, and it is a great pity that the art of thatching, like mowing with a scythe and reaping with a sickle, is so fast dying out in the countryside.

Cottages on the site of the present Church Hall

Cottages on the site of the present Church Hall

The main occupation of the villagers was the making of silk-hose and gloves, and the most familiar sound one heard in going about the streets was the screech of the shuttles and the clang of the hand-looms, which were worked in all parts of the village. Many of the old "shops" remain, but, so far as I know, only one working frame can now be heard. These old framework knitters were great lovers of flowers, with which their workshops were always kept gay, and I have been told that the rivalry in flower culture was so keen that they would incur the expense of a journey to Chilwell and back solely to purchase some special plant from the famous nurseries there, that would outshine the neighbours'. So, when the Duffield Flower Show was started, as I mention later, there was congenial ground on which to work, and the "stockingers" (many will remember old Osbourne, Sam Swift, and the Scattergoods, father and son, and Samuel Marshall still in the flesh) invariably carried off the best prizes.

The stone quarries on Duffield Bank and Little Eaton Bank and Chevin, found work for many men, and men and girls were employed at Peckwash when it became a paper mill. The Post Office, kept by two ladies who might have belonged to "Cranford," was then the little brick cottage which faces the end of Wirksworth Road, and stands next to Mr. Abell's forge. (It is still known as Post Office cottage.) Here a single window pane had been made to open, and if one required stamps, he tapped on the window, and the stamps were handed through. More important business could be transacted at the door, but that was all there was in the shape of a post office.

In 1787, Duffield school for boys and girls stood where is now the Duffield Club; afterwards, the present Parish Room was built for a boys' school, and served until the property was bought by the Midland Railway Company.

Duffield was noted for its fairs for horses and cattle - one on the first Thursday after New Year's Day, and the other on the first of March. I remember the horse-fairs in Town Street; and older residents have told me that they formerly extended from the Baptist Chapel as far as Castle Orchard. The croft at the back (then the front) of the King's Head Inn was a sort of Market Place, where stalls and booths stood.

The White Hart was then a thatched cottage, and in front of it stood an ash tree, around which the village fathers took their "cakes and ale." Street amusements and performances played a much larger part in village life than now, and strolling musicians, tumblers, acrobats, dancing bears, and marionette shows wandered from place to place, and played in the streets. At Christmas-time the old Morris-dancers still came round, and the "guisers" with their fantastic dresses and traditional old-world play, helped to make a merry time. It was quite unusual in those days for country people to go into Derby for their amusements; indeed, Derby itself had little more to offer than an occasional play or concert.

Duffield was much more an agricultural centre at that time. The three mills on the Ecclesburn were all corn-mills. Peckwash was formerly a corn-mill. Three malt-houses were in full work in the village. A gimp mill, behind the house below Mr. Hodgkinson's shop, employed a number of girls; afterwards, the Girls' School was held in the old mill. Nails were made in forges near to the Baptist Chapel. The site of the old village pinfold, or pound, was the piece of land in front of the present Infants' school play-ground, and has since been, filled up. Here horses and cattle found straying were impounded until they were released by the village constable, after payment by the owner of a small fine. Boys used to think it quite an "event" when a horse or a few sheep were locked up in the pin-fold. Local names like "Goose Pasture" and "Flaxholmes" speak for themselves, and take us back to the time when the land at the back of the Church Hall site and Mill Green were open common land, on which was right of pasture for geese and fowl.

Flaxholmes is the place where flax was grown for home-woven linen. Golf-players especially are familiar with the names Court House, Gibbet Hill, and Firestone. I have not succeeded in finding any records of courts having been held where now stands the one-time farmhouse with that name, but these old names usually have a meaning, and it is quite possible that here was a building where trespassers, poachers, deer-slayers, and other offenders against the laws of the old Frith, who at times were numerous, were tried and sentenced; and Gibbet Hill lends a sinister connection - it was a serious matter to kill the king's deer!

Firestone is the traditional spot on which the beacon fires were lighted to rouse the country when peril of invasion or other dangers were imminent, and from its commanding position it blazed its message to all the countryside - as, when threatened by the Spanish Armada, "from swift to east and swift to west the warning radiance spread ... till the proud peak unfurled the flag o'er Derwent's rocky dales." The old tradition was maintained when bonfires on Firestone celebrated the Jubilee and Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria.

The main road from Derby formerly ran close to the front of Duffield Hall, and the road to Belper was the one passing between the King's Head and Mr. Kirkland's shop, and now stopped up. Because this road was so often impassable through floods, the other road (called until recently the New Road now Chapel Road), passing by Mr. Sloan's shop and leading to the footbridge over the Wirksworth line, was made - at a much higher level - under Act of Parliament in 1835. The Wirksworth railway stopped that, too, as a highway and instead was made the present road leading to Belper.

Castle Hill, Avenue Road, and several other parts of the village - now built upon - were then all fields. The footpath to the church ran through Parson's Meadow (which gets its name because it was once part of the parson's glebe) in a direct line to the church door - no ugly railway bridges to cross. The main road to the church was Church Street. A noble sweep of very fine elms of great age then formed a curve, reaching from near the church gates almost to the Derwent bridge. They gradually succumbed to old age and the forces of wind and weather, and quite recently the last of them, survivors of many centuries, were ruthlessly sacrificed - to the great regret of every old "Duffielder." I am told these elms were found to be 800 years old - fit companions for the ancient church and its venerable yew tree. Some six or seven tall poplars, planted by Peter Sowter, were also a conspicuous feature in the picture of Duffield church.

It is remarkable what a number of roads and old footpaths converge on Duffield bridge - a 13th century pack-horse bridge, widened last century. A still more ancient ford once existed here. The ancient track from Ashbourn to Nottingham crossed this spot, and continued over the hill by that very steep path, appropriately named "Steep Hill." There was then no bridge at Milford - only a ford for horses, mules and oxen - hence it is called in Domesday Book, "Muleford". It is a pity that the old name has become corrupted, for the mill is a thing of yesterday, but Muleford - the ford for mules - is picturesque in itself, and stimulates the imagination. Other fords, as we have mentioned, crossed the river in the village. The old lane leading down to these fords can still be seen at the Makeney end it is called "Save Penny Lane," because people who used it, and crossed the ford, saved the penny toll which Messrs. Strutt charged for crossing the bridge they had built. Afterwards, the Messrs. Strutt had the ford destroyed and the river deepened.

An ancient road, long disused, connecting with the ford at Milford, can still be traced, running north and south, at the 200 feet level in the fields between Duffield Bank House and Makeney House, and almost opposite to the site of the castle.

Save Penny Lane is a branch from this road. An examination of the now grass-grown road by Mr. Smithard, a well-known antiquarian, revealed that it was 17 feet wide and strongly constructed with layers over a foot deep of local gritstone and gravel. This is evidently a portion of the old Roman road I mentioned earlier, and it connected Derventio, the Roman station at Little Chester, with that at Buxton. Its course can still be followed by road or paths for the greater part of the distance, passing over the Chevin to Hulland Ward, Atlow, and on to Rainster Rocks and Brassington Moor.

There was much diversion of highways and footpaths about the end of the 18th century in consequence of the Enclosure Award and later by the construction of the railway. The road which now forms a carriagedrive from near Derwent Bridge to Duffield Bank House, occupied by Mr. Titley, was a public road, and continued to Makeney. The stretch of road which runs past the front of the house where the late Sir Arthur Heywood lived was formerly part of the road from Little Eaton to Milford, and was enclosed and made a private road at the time of which we are speaking. What we know as the Wirksworth road then ended at the mission room (called in the Enclosure Award "Decenting (sic) Meeting Room"), and continued from there as a footpath only. The main road in this direction, called on the Enclosure map the Kedleston Road, ran from the Ecclesburn bridge along Tamworth Street as far as the first bend, and then across Duffield Park - again mainly in the direction of what is now a carriage-drive. The Cumber Hill road, from the bottom to the top of the hill, was made, probably many centuries ago, by an ancestor of Marquis Curzon, and he received a grant of land in return, the Marquis has to maintain the road.

The main road from Derby to Milford left the village by the front of the old cottages at Castle Orchard, and was called New Mills Road. It is easy to see how the making of the railway caused the raising of all the road in that district, and apparently reduced the height of the castle site. If we shut our eyes to the road, the houses, and the railway, and picture Castle Hill descending rather steeply to the level of the river, we shall see that the position was a much stronger one than it now appears, especially for a time when artillery was unknown.

Through the kind assistance of Mr. J. A. Woore, ARIBA, I am able to give a map of the old roads and fords, compiled by him from the Enclosure Award map of 1787.

I am not aware that Duffield was ever a more thirsty place than its neighbours, but certainly, when the population was very much smaller, they had the choice of a larger number of houses of refreshment. Where the house in Church Street, now occupied by Mr. Charles, stands, was formerly the White Lion. One remembers hearing the old gibe about the frequent proximity of the church and the inn - "Beer and the Bible,'' and so forth. But when we think of the great distances inhabitants of the ancient parish of Duffield had to travel to attend divine service, we see that a house conveniently situated, where horses could be put up and refreshments obtained, was an absolute necessity. The White Lion supplied the need here.

At the Derby Road entrance to the village was the Noah's Ark - a well-known old coaching inn. This was a favourite house of call for travellers, and some indignation was expressed when it was pulled down, together with several old cottages which stood near, the site of which still remains a waste. Then came, as we pass through the village, the White Hart - a thatched house; and a little further up, next to where Mrs. Ford now lives, was the Nag's Head. Next came the King's Head, which must, I think, have been the principal inn in the place. When the Commissioners appointed by Parliament to divide up the common and waste lands of Duffield Parish sat in 1787-8, they held their meetings at the King's Head.

Crown Street takes its name from the Crown Inn, which stood at the top of the street on the piece which is now garden ground. The New Inn was the house where funeral parties coming from Hazlewood and Shottle stopped for refreshment before completing their journey to the church. I have been told by an old man that he had often seen coffins resting on the flat stone coping of that garden wall while the mourners were refreshing within. At one time a Railway Inn stood opposite the stationmaster's house, and the Castle Inn, near the Parish Room, was closed quite recently. The Patten Makers' Arms is a genuine title. Pattens were actually made on the spot. Do people wear pattens now? They used to be worn whilst housecleaning and even in the street in muddy weather.

Speaking of the old churchyard, it was mentioned at a recent vestry meeting that there were still some graves surrounded by high palisades, and it was suggested that the railings should be removed. Has it ever occurred to you, "Why such high railings?" It is said that they were put there in those days by people who could afford them to protect the graves from body-snatchers, who were very active at one time. Although these defences have long since served their purpose, it would be nothing short of iconoclastic to destroy anything so typical of the period and so much part of history. I have speculated earlier as to the reason for the choice of the site of the church, for it has puzzled many that a position situated at the extreme southern end of the large parish, and so liable to inundations, should have been chosen. The old local explanation was that the building of the church was commenced near Castle Hill (where one might have expected it to be), but every morning it was found that the stones had been removed by his Satanic Majesty, and deposited where the church now stands and eventually he was allowed to have his own way! This legend, however, is not peculiar to Duffield.

Cottages in Tamworth Street, Duffield

Cottages in Tamworth Street, Duffield
First published 1922, Derby, Harpur and Son. Website copyright 2001 Jed Bland. 16.04.01