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The pretty village of Elvaston, dominated by its castle and gardens, together with Thulston and Ambaston make up the parish of Elvaston. Despite its close proximity to the southern fringes of Derby, the area remains rural in character with several working farms in the neighbourhood. Thulston the largest of the three, has the only pub, Elvaston has the church, the village hall and the castle and grounds. Ambaston is tucked away close to the River Trent.
The first recorded settlers in the parish were the Saxons, but they were not the first to live in the area. Gravel workings at the neighbouring village of Shardlow, have revealed Iron Age artefacts. At the time of the Domesday Survey, Elvaston was just a church, corn mill, blacksmith and 52 acres of land.
Following the Norman Conquest, the estate passed through the hands of several families. In the early 16th century, however, it was acquired by the Stanhopes, in whose hands it remained for nearly 400 years. During the Civil War, the Stanhopes, a staunch Royalist family, found themselves sandwiched between Derby and Nottingham who both supported the Parliamentarians. The house and gardens were ransacked by soldiers searching for arms.
The present day gothic-style castle was designed in the early 19th century by the architect James Wyatt, for the 3rd Earl of Harrington. The Earl also wanted ‘Capability’ Brown to landscape his 200 acre estate. But Brown declined saying, ‘The place is so flat and there is such a want of capability in it.’ Following the death of the 3rd Earl, his son gave the task to William Barron, a 25 year old Scot who had trained at the Botanical Gardens in Edinburgh and was looking to establish a reputation as a landscape gardener.
The first problem Barron had to deal with was the waterlogged ground, which he solved by having drainage ditches. It was only after five years that the soil was finally ready for planting. The Earl was becoming impatient to see results and Barron planted fully grown trees, keeping them alive and healthy by transporting them vertically with their branches outstretched and their rootballs intact.
To the north of the castle, Barron created an ornamental lake with islands and rockwork. On the southern side, he developed half a dozen formal gardens. In order to compensate for the lack of an interesting view, he enclosed the gardens with high hedges to create a view within the gardens themselves. For contrast he designed two striking open avenues 50 feet wide and 400 yards in length.
By 1850 Barron had planted examples of every species of European conifer then known, 11 miles of yews, a yew tunnel, a pinetum, a kitchen garden and a lime avenue leading from London Road to the Golden Gates. The elaborate blue and gold, cast-iron gates were acquired by the Earl as a ‘spoil of war’ having reputedly been taken from the Royal Palace at Madrid to Versailles then to Elvaston.
Until after the death of the 4th Earl, the gardens remained a private place, but his brother who succeeded him in 1851, opened the gardens to the public. Despite having to pay a high admission price for those days, thousands of people visited, often travelling considerable distances.
The estate remained under the control of the Harrington family until 1939, after which the house was used for a short period of time as a teacher training college. It was then left vacant until 1969, when it was established as the first country park in England.
Repair costs to the castle and rising running expenditure have led Derbyshire County Council to say they can no longer fund all the requirements. Currently they are looking to lease the castle and some of the areas presently open to the public. This has led to strong opposition and still remains unresolved at the time of writing.
Close to the castle is St Bartholomew’s Church with its fine perpendicular west tower. Marks can still be seen on Sir John Stanhope’s tomb, made by the Roundheads’ swords. Only a short distance from the church is Elvaston Cricket Club’s impressive tree-lined ground and new pavilion. The club played at Lords for the first time in 1994, when they won the National Village Cup. They have made rapid strides in recent years and are now one of the leading teams in the county.
There a number of other interesting buildings in the village, including the Village Hall, which was built in 1852, and previously used as a Church of England School. The Clockhouse, a three storeyed building built as a ‘Refuge for the aged Poor’ is now a retirement home. The former vicarage, Thurlaston Grange, is an attractive listed building dating from the Georgian period.
The Country Park has over 200 acres of woodland, parkland and formal gardens and is the home of the Elvaston Local Nature Reserve..There is a caravan site close to the entrance of the park and the land to the north is used to stage events including the County Show and Elvaston Steam Rally.
The film "Women in Love" created a lot of local interest at the time of its production. Elvaston Castle was used for interior (fight) and exterior (drowning) scenes.
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PLACES OF SPECIAL INTEREST IN THE LOCALITY
Elvaston Castle Country Park (Tel. 01332 571342) was the first Country Park to be opened in Britain. Set in 200 acres of parkland with an ornamental lake, extensive gardens, stoney grottoes, rock archways and many other interesting features. Open daily.
Shardlow is one of the best-preserved inland canal ports in the country. It is a fascinating place to explore, still busy with boats, now used for leisure and not for commerce. The boats range from traditional narrow boats with brightly painted liveries, to pleasure craft of all shapes and sizes. A walk along the canal towpath brings you into contact with many of the old buildings of the Canal Age. An interesting place to visit is Shardlow Heritage Centre (Tel. 01332 793368/792334) which is housed in the old Salt Warehouse, the centre features displays of canal and village life of this historic inland port.
The Donington Grand Prix Collection (Tel. 01332 811027) is the world’s largest collection of Grand Prix racing cars. The exhibits detail the history of motor racing date from 1900 to the present day. Open daily.
The Harrington Arms (Tel. 01332 571798) is situated at Thulston, a short distance to the south of Elvaston. It is a traditional village pub, serving fresh home-cooked food from A La Carte (please telephone for details) to bar meals. Open Tuesday to Friday lunchtime and evenings, Monday evenings only and all day at weekends. Bar meals are served lunchtime and evenings, Tuesday to Friday and all day Saturdays. No bar meals are available Sunday and Monday evenings.
Harrington Tea Rooms (Tel. 01332 7525922) located in Elvaston Castle, sitting is available both inside and in the courtyard. The tea rooms are open everyday during school holidays and from Tuesday to Sunday in school term time. When Elvaston Castle changes ownership the current arrangements are likely to be discontinued.
ABOUT THIS SITE
This non-commercial website is based on Discover Derbyshire Supplements published by the Derby Evening Telegraph.
The site, my first, commenced in December 2003, and is expanding quite rapidly. Every month an illustrated Newsletter is published giving details of:
What's New, What's Coming and What's On.
THE DISCOVER DERBYSHIRE AND THE PEAK DISTRICT GUIDE
Provides a wide range of features on towns and villages with heritage trails and detailed countryside walks, through some of the most scenically attractive countryside in the UK.
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After passing round the perimeter of the gardens at Elvaston Castle, this level, easy walk takes you out to the River Derwent and back. The starting point of this three and a half mile walk is the car park at the castle.
All details on this page were correct at the time of publication, but changes may be made without notification