It is a village that retains its 18th century character, with over 60 listed buildings in its Conservation Area. The brightly painted houses, often with fascinating names, are set on the gently rising hillside alongside winding lanes and pathways. Little seems to have changed since the houses were built and in keeping with the village’s traditional appearance many of its old customs have been retained.
Winster is an ancient settlement mentioned in the Domesday Survey. But it was only when lead mining commenced in earnest, that it came to prominence. At the height of the mining boom in the mid 18th century, it was considered to be the fourth largest town in the county. Near to the Miner’s Standard public house on the western side of the village along Islington Lane, a shanty town of miner’s huts sprung up, close to the Portway Mine, one of the richest mines in the county. The boom only lasted for about a century as the cost of draining the mines and competition from abroad reduced profitability - mines began to close and the population of the village declined. With little work in the village many of the men from Winster worked at the Mill Close Mine, near to Stanton-in-Peak, until disastrous flooding in 1938, ended mining.
In the centre of the village, almost blocking the roadway, is the ancient Market House, now in the care of the National Trust. It was the first property acquired by the Trust in Derbyshire in 1906, and it is now open to the public as an Information Centre. The base of the property is stone and the upper part brick built, but it was probably in the beginning timber framed. Originally, the whole of the ground floor between the arches would have been open to allow trading to take place and only blocked up when business declined.
Morris Dancing has long been a tradition in Winster, but not without some gaps notably in wartime. The great folk music pioneer, Cecil Sharp, first documented it early in the 20th century. It is one of the most colourful forms of Morris Dancing in the country, enjoyed not only by local people but also visitors from all over the world.
Any new comer to the area trying to make their way through the village on Shrove Tuesday might be rather surprised and possibly a little startled to see people young and old charging towards them, frying pan in hand, tossing pancakes. The Annual Shrove Tuesday Pancake Race has been in existence for over 100 years in the village.
Wakes Week, held in June every year is another tradition still followed in the village and gave rise to the amusing rhyme:
‘At Winster Wakes there’s ale and cakes,
At Elton Wakes there’s quencher’s,
At Bircher Wakes there’s knives and forks,
At Wensley Wakes there’s wenches’
Only Winster of the villages mentioned retains so many of its old customs.
The former prosperity of Winster is evidenced by the fine three-storey houses that line the main street. Private houses have replaced most of the shops and businesses, but a shop and a post office remain. The grandest of the houses is Winster Hall. It was built for Francis Moore, who was a local solicitor and mine owner. Unfortunately, it has a sad tale to tell of the tragic love affair of the daughter of the house and the coachman. Her parents did not approve and arranged what they believed to be a more suitable match. However, before the wedding could take place the young couple climbed to the top of the parapets and jumped hand in hand to their deaths.
A short distance from the Miner’s Standard public house is the Ore House. Here lead miners deposited ore down a chute for safekeeping overnight, in a somewhat similar manner to the present bank night safe system. Nevertheless, despite its prosperity, Winster did have a Parish Poor House on Banktop, now offering accommodation of a different kind, to those seeking bed and breakfast.
The Dower House, currently used as a hotel, was probably built on the site of the original Manor House. It stands at the side of the Parish Church of St John the Baptist, where the nave and the chancel have been enlarged twice, the last time in 1883. Further up West Bank is the Burton Institute, refurbished a century ago by Joseph Burton as a Reading Room for the residents and is now used as the village hall. Visitors to The Millennium Tapestry at Winster Village Hall MUST book via Cynthia/Wendy on 01629 650497.
The Oddo House came into the possession of the Brittlebank family, in about 1700, but it was a later member of the family who brought notoriety to the name. When a fatal duel, was fought on the lawn of the Bank House, in 1821 between William Cuddie, the village doctor and the victor William Brittlebank, who fled abroad to escape the consequences. East Bank, where a cattle market was once held opposite the Bowling Green public house, rises gently passing the Wesleyan Reform Chapel. The Primitive Methodist Chapel is situated near to the top of the village and is approached by flights of steps on both sides.
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Ancient Britons and lead miners were once very much in evidence on this fascinating walk, and at one time you could even meet a hermit anxious to guide you on your way and keep you safe from harm.
The Portway, a very ancient highway that may date back before Roman times, is followed for the first part of the walk. By the side of the track, the remains of miners’ huts – many miners used to supplement their income by keeping cows – are much in evidence.
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