Set among pleasant rolling countryside in South Derbyshire is the fascinating little town of Melbourne. It has a wealth of historic buildings, a famous country house with formal gardens, one of the finest Norman churches in the country, a lovely 20 acre Pool where you can feed the ducks, or just rest awhile and admire the scenery.
Market gardening is an important feature of the area, with its good loamy soil and relatively frost-free north facing slopes. Melbourne became a centre for the supply of fruit and vegetables several centuries ago. Increased competition has reduced its importance, but there is still plenty of evidence of its existence in the area.
The town, or as some call it the village - it has only a parish council - has a wide variety of small industries. It is well stocked with shops that meet the needs of local people and visitors alike, and there is a wide selection of places to eat and drink.
A prominent landmark in the town is Melbourne Hall with its fine furniture and paintings. It is the birthplace of Lord Melbourne, Queen Victoria’s first Prime Minister, who gave his name to a small settlement on the River Yarra - Yarra, which is now Australia’s second city.
The design of the hall gardens was undertaken by William III’s gardeners, London and Wise, who have succeeded in a comparatively small area in creating deceptively spacious gardens.
Focal points are Robert Bakewell’s great wrought iron domed cage, known as ‘The Birdcage’ and an elaborate monument by Van Nost, which illustrates the Four Seasons. The yew tunnel is reputedly the longest in Europe.
It comes of something of a surprise to most visitors to find one of the largest Norman churches in England in such a small town. The parish church of St Michael’s with St Mary goes back to 1133, when Henry I gave the royal manor of Melbourne to the first Bishop of Carlisle.
At that time Carlisle was on the edge of the heathen north and the Bishop needed somewhere to retreat when the Scots over ran Carlisle. The roof was raised and the windows enlarged in the 19th century, the old roof marks being clearly visible from the south east. In the north aisle hang the flags of Melbourne and Australia.
Opposite the great west door of the church is what is believed to have been a tithe barn, to which a brick built upper storey has been added. Beyond that is Dark Entry, a narrow passageway once used by priests on their way to and from the church to the chantry. Across the road from the church, in the estate buildings of Melbourne Hall, is a craft centre and tea rooms.
There was once a substantial castle in the town, but it fell into disrepair in the 17th century, and enterprising local builders were not slow to take advantage of such a good supply of stone. All that remains above ground is a wall made up of infillings of the castle wall, the facing stones having been removed. On private land at Castle Farm, following excavation work, some of the former castle rooms have been revealed.
In a small cottage in Quick Close, in 1808, Thomas Cook was born - his name is now known throughout the world for the travel company he founded. At the age of 28, he moved to Leicester to work for the Baptist Church. His first organised trip was to transport, by rail, passengers from Leicester to Loughborough and back again. The 570 passengers attended a temperance rally at the cost of one shilling each. This was successful, as were other trips and the railway company asked him to organise excursions.
He went into business on a full time basis, which was the beginning of what is today an internationally renowned business. The cottage he was born in has been demolished, but the almshouses he built in Melbourne remain as a memorial.
Castle Square was the site of the medieval market place, where on the north side stands the White Swan with the inn sign clasping the corner of the building.
At the bottom of Potter Street, the principal street in medieval times, is a large thatched cottage - divided into seven cottages in 1824, but now restored to one. Further up the street The Athenaeum and Mechanic’s Institute had its foundation stone laid in 1853 by Lord Palmerston, one of Queen Victoria’s Prime Ministers, whose wife inherited Melbourne Hall.
To the north of the recently refurbished Market Place is Blanch Croft where former framework knitters’ cottages can be seen with their long low windows.
In High Street is a well preserved cruck beam cottage and in Penn Lane look out for the distinctive cast iron windows of the former National School.
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PLACES OF SPECIAL INTEREST IN THE LOCALITY
Melbourne Hall and Gardens (Tel. 01332 862502) once the home of Victorian Prime Minister, William Lamb. For full opening details please ring or visit website.
Calke Abbey and Grounds (Tel. 01332 863822) ‘The place where time stood still,’ was the phrase used to describe this property when The National Trust opened it to the public in 1989. One of the most unusual of English country houses with large collections of birds, ornaments, paintings and photographs. For further information website: www.nationaltrust.org.uk
Foremark Reservoir a 230 acre reservoir provides footpaths, picnic facilities, sailing and good trout fishing. A recent addition is an area of woodland planted with 10,000 trees. Visitor Centre and children’s play area.
The Blue Bell Inn (Tel. 01332 865764) is owned by the Morgan family who brew their own beer at Shardlow. The walls are adorned by an interesting collection of old sporting pictures. Meals served at lunch times all week and in the evenings, Thursday Friday and Saturday. Seating outside.
Melbourne Hall Tea Rooms (Tel. 01332 864224) situated in what used to be the washrooms and bake house of the hall. One of the old baking ovens still remains in these delightful old tea rooms that have built up an enviable reputation for light meals and teas. Open from Easter Tuesday to Sunday and Bank Holidays. Reduced winter opening.
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 relaxing walk through rolling South Derbyshire countryside, starting from Melbourne’s medieval market place. Two of the county’s gems, Melbourne Hall and the Parish Church of St Michael’s, are passed in the early part of the walk.
But it is Melbourne Pool in its beautiful setting, with its abundance of wildlife that attracts most visitors. Originally a medieval mill pond it was enlarged in the 1840s. The old mill stands in a deep hollow, now a private house along Pool Road.
After leaving Melbourne behind, the walk passes through good farming country, partially wooded in places, which provides excellent cover for wildlife.
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