Alstonefield is an unspoilt upland village standing at an altitude of 900 feet, just over the Derbyshire border in Staffordshire. It was built on an ancient site where several trackways once crossed, later to become packhorse routes. Today, it is a village of attractive houses and gardens with plenty of open space, often covered with a triangle of grass rather than a square. The number of awards received in the Best Kept Village Competition endorses the pride shown by local inhabitants in the village
It used to be a large parish, covering an area of nearly 24,000 acres and had a population in excess of 4,500. However, its importance diminished whilst that of neighbouring Hartington and Ashbourne grew.
As packhorse trade declined and transportation by canal and then rail predominated, so Alstonefield’s location came to be more of a hindrance than an asset. For obvious geographical reasons, canal and railway engineers ignored the village, leaving it somewhat isolated.
In 1308, Alstonefield was granted a market charter, but there is no record of markets being held regularly and it is believed they were discontinued before 1500. The George, a popular coaching inn, was the centre of activity in the village. A wool market was held in the yard and up until about 100 years ago an annual livestock sale.
There was a button factory in Church Street, which made silk covered buttons and a cheese factory at nearby Hopedale, but both long since went out of production. The village now provides very little employment apart from a few skilled crafts people.
There has been a church at Alstonefield since at least 892, when a pastoral visit is on record, by the Archbishop of York, to dedicate the church. Fragments of the present building date back to about 1100, but most of the church was re-built in 1590 and restored nearly 300 years later.
The single benches in the church were presumably for the poor people and contrast strikingly with the much grander Cotton family pew, with the Cotton coat of arms on the back. This was made for Charles Cotton senior, the owner of Beresford Hall. He was the father of Charles Cotton junior, a friend of Izaak Walton, a devout Christian who no doubt worshipped at the church. Walton wrote the best selling book the ‘Compleat Angler’; both he and Cotton were well known for their love of fishing and the River Dove.
In 1989 four bells were rescued from a church in Stoke on Trent, which was being demolished. These together with three of the original bells, which had not been heard for eighty years, were re-hung. Now the church has a peal of six bells – one of the original bells remaining ‘dead’.
The churchyard contains two particularly interesting gravestones situated a few yards from the south wall, in line with the porch. Weathered with age, the round topped tombstone commemorates Anne Green, who died in 1518, which make it about the oldest memorial to be seen in a graveyard in this country. The other tombstone, rectangular in shape, records the death in 1731 of Mary Barclay, aged 107!
A workhouse was built in the village in 1790, where about 50 paupers were housed in accordance with their age, sex, physical and mental ability. It was a hard life. The Rising Bell tolled at 5 am in the morning but, thankfully, two hours later in the winter. The able-bodied men polished limestone and many of the houses in the locality have fireplaces built of this material. Women did housework and helped look after the young. After a day taken up with work, prayers were said at 8 pm and they all retired to tightly packed beds. No fixed lights were allowed after 9 pm. Following the dissolution of the workhouse in 1868, the premises have changed quite radically and now consist of three private dwellings.
Alstonefield Hall, with its tall chimneys, used to be the rectory and behind it is a tithe barn with an exposed wattle and daub wall. The former café and post office are now closed, but the ‘J. Hambleton… Mercer and Grocer’ sign remains, as does the long established Cottage Studio next door. A limited post office service is now available in the village hall.
The village pump at one time had a thatched roof, but is now exposed to the elements! Across the road next to Rose Cottage, is the former reading room, which apparently used to be very much of a male preserve not just for reading, but also for playing games. Along the Hartington Road on a triangle of grass, a tree has been planted to commemorate winning the Best Kept Village Competition in 1966. A few yards further on at the back of a cottage is a sign indicating where the Crewe and Harpur Inn used to stand, the village having being part of that estate for many years.
Standing at the top of Lode Lane, is the former Wesleyan Chapel, where Michael Griffin now operates a hand made furniture business, in what was once the Sunday school room. A short distance away is Fynderne House, now a private residence. It was at one time the Red Lion public house, in stark contrast it later became a Temperance
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PLACES OF SPECIAL INTEREST IN THE LOCALITY
Hartington, a picturesque village with a spacious market place, village green, delightful duck pond and limestone houses which sparkle in the bright sun-light, make it one of the major tourist centres in the Peak District.
Thor’s Cave, rises 350 feet above the Manifold Valley, its 60-foot entrance is imposing but the cave inside is comparatively small. The railway track that once ran through the valley has been converted for the use of walkers and cyclists.
The Manifold Valley Visitor Centre, Hulme End (Tel. 01298 84679) is housed in the old station, displays outline the railway history, the industries and local community. An extension is being added. Normally open at weekends and during school holidays. Leek Tourist Information Office (Tel. 01538 483741) will be able to supply further details.
The George (Tel. 01335 310205) is a lovely country pub with a log fire in the bar and interesting pictures of events old and new in the area. Food is available lunchtimes and in the evenings every day .
Beresford Tea Rooms, Hartington (Tel. 01298 84418) Open seven days a week from Easter, this busy little café provides a good selection of light meals and teas. It also houses the village Post Office.
THE DISCOVER DERBYSHIRE AND THE PEAK DISTRICT GUIDE
Provides a wide range of features with heritage trails and detailed countryside walks, through some of the most scenically attractive countryside in the UK.
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A lovely walk down quiet Hall Dale, with superb views of the River Dove before crossing the river from Staffordshire into Derbyshire and walking along the dale to picturesque Milldale.
From Alstonefield the path drops steeply before climbing up to the tiny hamlet of Stanshope, little more than a cluster of farms and Stanshope Hall standing on a bend on the road to Ilam. The hall dates back to the 1500s but it has not always been as well kept as it is today. William Manley a money lender, with two mistresses who lived nearby, went bankrupt in 1799. Over the next 50 years, the house fell into disrepair before being rescued from dereliction in the 1850s.
Hall Dale is a delightful dry dale leading down to Dovedale, covered with beds of snowdrops in the spring. Dovedale and the pretty hamlet of Milldale, swarming with visitors at weekends on a sunny, summer days’, are the highlights of the walk. Milldale is reached by crossing Viator’s Bridge, a packhorse bridge named after a character in the best selling book The Compleat Angler.
The walk is completed by a long steady climb up Millway Lane back to Alstonefield.
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