It is difficult to realise when visiting Repton that in the 7th century it was the capital of the Kingdom of Mercia. In 653, King Penda’s son returning to Repton from Northumbria, with a Christian bride and four priests, set about establishing a monastery as a base to spread Christianity across the Midlands. The Danes destroyed the monastery over 200 years later.
The parish church of St Wystan has existed, in some form or other, since the 8th century. Underneath the chancel is the Saxon mausoleum and crypt that was the burial place of Mercian kings. Although comparatively small, the crypt is one of the most important pieces of Saxon architecture in this country. The date the crypt was built is uncertain, but experts believe the central part was constructed in time for King Aethelbald’s burial, in 757. Following the burial of St Wystan, it became a place of pilgrimage until the bones were moved away in the 11th century. For many years after that, the crypt lay forgotten, until in 1779 a worker, making a grave below the chancel fell through the floor into the space below and it was re-discovered.
The Priory founded about 1172, was dissolved at the time of the Reformation. Repton School occupies part of what remains of it, the headmaster’s house and its library and museum, but most of the premises are 19th and 20th century. Many of the other stones that were discarded at the time came in very handy when other properties were being built in the village. In particular, it is thought, that the Old Stone House in High Street has been constructed from dressed stone taken from the priory.
At the entrance to the school is the Priory Arch, a survivor from the old Priory Gatehouse that dates back to the mid 13th century. Visitors are normally allowed to go through into the School Yard as far as the (east) crypt end of the Parish Church, but should ask if in any doubt. From here, a vast array of architectural styles can be seen covering most centuries from the eighth upwards. Down the slope is the cricket ground where county cricket has been played in the recent past. The late Guy Willatt who was a master here, captained Derbyshire in the 1950s and later became the Chairman of the Cricket Committee, during a relatively peaceful and successful period in the club’s history.
One of the most notable sportsmen in this country’s history, C B Fry, went to school at Repton and is buried in the churchyard. Repton can also claim three Primates, Dr William Temple and Dr. Geoffrey Fisher who were both former headmasters and Dr Michael Ramsey who was a pupil at the school.
The classic film ‘Goodbye Mr Chips’ was made at the school in 1938 by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. It is recorded that during a break in shooting, the boys playing cricket at the school, were somewhat surprised to find themselves watched and applauded by a large band of costumed spectators. A current day reminder of the film is provided by the village fish and chip shop, whose establishment was strongly opposed at the time that it was set up, which goes under the name of ‘Goodbuy Mr Chips’.
Many of the buildings in the village are used by the school, the medieval Tithe Barn, the School Chapel and the Bursar’s House being the most prominent on the northern side of the ancient cross. It was round the cross that markets and fairs were once held and it is claimed that a Burton man actually sold his wife at the market for a shilling in 1848.
High Street contains many fine old listed buildings, but it is on the Burton Road where the oldest dwelling house in the village is to be found; with a building date of around 1325, that makes it about the most ancient in the county. Near the top of High Street, the Post Office, Village Shop and St Wystan’s Independent Day School and Nursery follow in quick succession; opposite is the Art Department of Repton School with its interesting window displays.
The timber-framed Tudor Lodge dates back 400 years and almost certainly contains stone from the dismantled Priory. A more recent property, a mere 230 odd years old, is the Brook House named after the Repton Brook that flows behind the house. This impressive looking house is a boarding house for the school.
On the outskirts of the village is The Grange, an imposing residence, a three-storey Queen Anne house built in 1703 for Joseph Holbrook, a former lord mayor of London.
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PLACES OF SPECIAL INTEREST IN THE AREA
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. Good parking.
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
Swadlincote Ski Centre (Tel. 01283 217200) facilities include a nursery slope for those who have not skied before and a Toboggan run, which winds its way, round the ski slope. Alpine Restaurant and fully stocked ski shop. Open daily.
The Bull’s Head (Tel 01283 703297) is a large distinguished looking pub, that was once a posting Inn with stables. The restaurant area was once the stables, the flagstones date back to the 16th century and the displays of memorabilia round the walls help to set the atmosphere. Please telephone for details or visit website.
Brook Farm Tea Rooms (Tel 01283 704438) housed in an attractive old barn next to Brook Farm. There is seating both inside and out with a brook side location. A wide range of hot and cold food is available all year apart from two weeks over Christmas. Farm House accommodation.
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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An easy, level walk across the Trent Valley to the pretty village of Newton Solney, returning through fields and along a quiet lane to the historic village of Repton.
After passing Repton School Playing Fields, the walk continues along a slightly elevated path above the River Trent where there are good views across the river valley.
The main street through Newton Solney is particularly attractive in the summer, with its pretty cottages, hanging baskets and tubs of flowers making it one of the most attractive villages in South Derbyshire.
On the southwestern edge of the village, the mansion of Newton Park has been taken over by an hotel chain. It was the first Italianate house to be built in Derbyshire, at the end of the 1790s.
Follow the Bretby Road for a short distance before taking to the fields again and heading towards Repton, eventually joining a rough track that leads you back to the village.
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