Situated midway between Derby and Burton, close to the A38 and new A50, it is hardly surprising that Willington is normally busy with traffic. It has been the hub of transport for many years.
Evidence has been found of habitation in the area long before the Transport Revolution. In 1970, traces of a settlement were found dating back to 2,000 BC, constructed by the Beaker People, who are named after their distinctive drinking vessels.
The River Trent passes to the south of the village, and Willington was an important inland port during the 17th and 18th centuries. The arrival of the Trent and Mersey Canal in 1777, replaced the river as the main form of transport. Later still, rail and then the road took over as the main transport providers.
An Act of Parliament of 1699 made the Trent navigable above Shardlow as far as Burton. As navigation was less reliable further up the river, Willington’s prosperity increased and a settlement grew up close to the Trent. Little remains of that era, except the offices behind the old village green; is where the cheese factory stood.
Before the Trent Bridge was built in 1839, the only means of crossing the river to Repton were by ford or ferry. The bridge is the only one over the River Trent between Swarkestone and Burton and was originally a toll-bridge. Walkers had to pay one old penny at the toll-house on the Willington side of the bridge.
Fifty nine years later the tolls were removed amidst much jubilation. The toll-board was moved to Repton Church, but the toll-house remained in existence until 1958, when it was partially demolished by an out of control motor vehicle. There is a viewing platform at the side of the bridge, built as part of the centenary celebrations for the removal of the tolls.
In its heyday the Trent and Mersey carried locally produced cheeses, pottery from Stoke and gritstone. In return, flint was imported for use in the pottery industry. A thriving wharf developed in the area between the river and the canal. Today, the wharf has been developed into a marina. In the summer, and during winter weekends, it looks a picture when busy with boats and people.
The village is well serviced with shops, a school, post office, doctor's surgery and sporting facilities. There are three pubs, the Green Man and the Green Dragon dating back to the canal era and the more recent Rising Sun to the arrival of the railway age. The railway station was closed by Dr Beeching in 1964 and reopened as part of the Ivanoe Line in 1996.
There are a number of interesting old properties on the River Trent side of the village. Trentside Cottage in Bargate Lane, formerly Wharf Lane, is probably the oldest house in the village, parts of which date back to the 15th century. On the corner of the lane, the premises now occupied by the garage repair business were formerly the village smithy. The two cottages that follow on down Bargate Lane are both Grade II listed.
Willington Hall is another Grade II listed building, and is thought to be on the site of an older manor house, when the grounds stretched down to the river. During the First World War it was used to hold prisoners of war. The columns to the entrance porch are still marked by the grooves cut by the barbed wire to prevent escape.
St Michael’s Church is of fairly modest size, but does have one of the largest and most prominent ‘Welcome’ signs in the county. It has a Norman tympanum over the south door, but most of the remainder of the building is from the early years of the 19th century.
The most prominent landmark in Willington came into being in the 1950s, with the erection of the power station. The five cooling towers of the power station could be seen for many miles, so much so that they were used as a "sighting point" by pilots approaching East Midlands Airport, 15 miles away. In 1999, the power station closed and is subject to gradual demolition.
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PLACES OF SPECIAL INTEREST IN THE LOCALITY
Coors Visitor Centre (Tel. 01283 511000) formerly the Bass Museum of Brewing, including the Coors Shire Horses. There are excellent restaurant facilities. Café facilities are also available. Open every day except Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day.
Sharpe’s Pottery Visitor Centre (Tel. 01283 222600) the exhibits tell the story of the South Derbyshire Pottery industry from the 16th to the 21st century. The centre is equipped with interactive technology, a Coffee Shop, Conference suite and range of goods for sale. Open Monday to Saturday throughout the year.
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. Please telephone for details or visit website.
The Green Dragon (Tel. 01283 702327) is a pleasant canal side pub, situated close to Willington Marina. Food served all day during the week and at lunchtime and in the evenings at the weekends. Large Beer Garden.
Brook Farm Tea Rooms (Tel 01283 704438) housed in an attractive old barn next to Brook Farm at Repton. 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.
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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This is a most enjoyable walk, which first takes you along the Trent and Mersey Canal, busy with boats at the weekends and during the summer, before visiting the pretty village of Findern.
The final stretch of the walk returns to the canal bank for a short stroll back to Willington Marina.
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