This small, quiet South Derbyshire village with a population of less than 200 is set on the banks of the River Trent. Only just over 250 years ago it was the scene of one of the most momentous incidents in English history.
From the time when James II, the last Stuart King of England went into exile in France in 1688, the Jacobites had attempted several times to regain the throne. All had failed and in 1745, it was the turn of Prince Charles Edward Stuart, frequently known as Bonnie Prince Charlie, to try to overthrow the English Monarch. Support for the cause was half-hearted, but enough clansmen were raised for the march south. The English though were unprepared for an invasion, most of the troops were abroad and King George, fearing the worst, was preparing to return to Germany.
On the 4 December 1745, Charles Edward Stuart and his army reached Derby and made arrangements for the capture of the strategically important Swarkestone Bridge. It was the only bridge on the River Trent, between Burton and Nottingham.
Unaware of the panic in London, and with no signs of help coming from France, or a revolt in support of Charles, the Jacobite generals decided to retreat, despite the protests of their leader. If the march had continued, it would probably have been successful and the whole course of British history changed. In memory of this important event, a cairn has been erected at Swarkestone Bridge, to mark the southern - most point reached by Bonnie Prince Charlie’s army.
Swarkestone Bridge and Causeway, at a length of three quarters of a mile, is the longest stone bridge in England and holds Grade I listed building status. There has been a bridge here for 800 years, and at one time a bridge chapel and toll house stood partway across the bridge. It is still today an important crossing place.
According to local legend, the building of Swarkestone Bridge in the 13th century is attributable to two sisters who saw their lovers drowned trying to cross the River Trent on horseback. They crossed the flooded meadows safely, but then either missed the ford altogether, or were swept off by the strong current. The horrified sisters saw all this happen through a hall window and vowed to ensure no else met the same fate. They spent the rest of their lives building the bridge and died penniless as a result.
The River Trent was a busy waterway before the Trent and Mersey Canal opened down its full length. Boats traded between Burton and Nottingham, reaching as far afield as Gainsborough, but the completion of the canal in 1777, slowly killed off the riverboat trade.
A few years after the Jacobites retreated, the Crewe and Harpur Arms was built. It is a fine old coaching inn, and at one time, a stable block completely encircled its present day car park. This was used to not only stable carriage horses, but racing horses as well. Derby then had a Racecourse based near Lowes Farm, on the northern side of the village.
It was at the Lowes, situated on a ridge overlooking the village, where archaeological excavations in 1955 and 1956 made some remarkable discoveries. The first was of a Bronze Age burial; a year later, archaeologists found even more striking evidence of structures by the Beaker People of about 2000 BC, along with a small amount of Neolithic pottery.
The most unusual building in the village is the Summer House, sometimes called ‘The Grandstand’. It has a grass covered rectangular enclosure in front. No one is quite sure what its use was; bull baiting and jousting are suggestions. More likely, the much gentler pursuit of bowling took place there. It is now in the hands of Landmark Trust and is let for holiday accommodation. Little remains of the hall, which stood just south of here, but the Old Hall Farm, built out of part of its remains still exists.
The tiny St James Church contains some superb carvings. Sir Richard Harpur, who was one of Queen Elizabeth’s judges, lies in his judge’s gown, on a fine alabaster tomb, with his wife Jane. They both lived at Swarkestone Hall.
James Brindley died before he could complete the final piece in his canal network that revolutionised trade in the country. Hugh Henshall, his brother-in-law, completed the work on the concluding section of the Trent and Mersey Canal. A milestone marks every mile along the route to Preston Brook. At Swarkestone Junction, the former lock house is now a private residence and the old toll bar cottage the home of Swarkestone Boat Club.
The village has a successful cricket club and to the south of the river Swarkestone Sailing Club headquarters are near to the Sand and Gravel Works. Market gardeners Samuel Jackson and Co., with their vast complex of greenhouses, provide some local employment.
www.derbyshire-peakdistrict.co.uk is an independent, not for profit website.
No recommendation of any establishment is implied by inclusion on this website.
PLACES OF SPECIAL INTEREST IN THE LOCALITY
Melbourne Hall (Tel. 01332 862502) was once the home of Victorian Prime Minister William Lamb (Lord Melbourne). Please telephone for details or visit website.
The Donington Grand Prix Collection (Tel. 01332 811027) the world’s largest collection of Grand Prix racing cars. Exhibits are on display from 1900 to today detailing the history of motor racing. Open daily.
Elvaston Castle Country Park (Tel. 01332 571342) Set in 200 acres of parkland with an ornamental lake, extensive gardens, stony grottoes, rock archways and other interesting features. Open daily.
Crewe and Harpur Arms (Tel. 01332 700641) a large attractive redbrick pub, standing on the banks of the River Trent. The gardens run down to the river and provide a pleasant place to relax. Bar meals are available every day from 12-6pm. Restaurant facilities also available.
Melbourne Hall Tea Rooms (Tel. 01332 864224) situated in what used to be the washrooms and bath 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 11-5pm, Tuesday to Sunday and Bank Holidays from early March to the end of October. Weekends only in winter from 11-4pm.
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.
1. To return to the main site click the link below.
2. To return to the contents page of the main website click the link below.
A special new sub-section has been added to this website, based on the Discover Derby Supplement, published by the Derby Evening Telegraph during March 2005. The most recent additions are:
Click below for details.
ON THIS SITE
Every month an illustrated Newsletter is published giving details of:
What's New, What's Coming and What's On.
This easy relaxing walk for the most part follows the banks of the River Trent and the Trent and Mersey Canal.
The ancient village of Swarkestone originated at a crossing point of the River Trent used for river transport before the building of the canal.
Swarkestone Bridge and Causeway had a very important part to play in history as recorded by the commemorative cairn in the gardens of the Crewe and Harpur Arms at the start of the walk.
All details on this page were correct at the time of publication, but changes may be made without notification.