Clay Cross is situated in attractive undulating countryside, between Alfreton to the south and Chesterfield to the north. It straddles what was formerly a Roman Road, known as Ryknield Street that later became part of the Derby to Sheffield turnpike road of 1756, and is now the A61. It is one of those places that many people consider of little interest, but if they would only stop and take the time to look around and delve into the town’s fascinating history, they would assuredly change their minds.
At the beginning of the 19th century, Clay Cross was little more than a scattered collection of stone houses, at the crossroads on the present A61, where it is joined by Thanet Street and Clay Lane. At this intersection, stood a cross from which the town is said to derive its name. The George and Dragon on the corner of Clay Lane pre-dates the railway era.
Clay Cross built its prosperity mainly on coal mining. There is evidence that coal has been dug in the area for centuries. But it was not until the arrival of the railway that coalmining in Clay Cross and surrounding districts really took off. When in 1837, at the time that the mile long tunnel under Clay Cross was being constructed, as part of the 72 mile stretch of the North Midland Railway link from Derby to Leeds, coal was discovered in commercial quantities together with iron. The railway line runs directly under the town and nine ventilator shafts were constructed from which smoke once wafted with the passing of every train. Now a Grade II listed building, the northern railway portal is of a magnificent Moorish design.
George Stephenson, who built the world's best known railway locomotive, the Rocket, was the consulting engineer. He was well aware of the potential of this find and also that valuable limestone resources were available nearby. In order to exploit the opportunities available, he set up a business, George Stephenson and Company, and moved home to Tapton Hall, near Chesterfield. On his death in 1848, the business was taken over by his son, Robert, who left the company four years later when it became known as the Clay Cross Company.
Houses of good quality were built for Stephenson’s workers, and as the company prospered the population of the town grew, so that by 1857, there were 2,278 inhabitants listed. Apart from over 400 houses for employees, a school, churches, shops and a Mechanics Institute were built. Most of the earliest workers’ houses were demolished in the mid 20th century, but Clay Cross Hall, Eldon House and ‘Gaffers’ Row’, where Stephenson’s foremen used to reside, still remain. The hall was built for Charles Binns, the General Manager of the company. It later became the home of the Jackson family who took over the Clay Cross Company from 1871 until 1974, the company finally closing in 2000. Eldon House was built in 1840 as the offices of George Stephenson and Company.
Although the company had been formed to mine coal and manufacture coke, other businesses were developed including a brickworks, gas works, iron furnaces and foundries. Limestone from nearby Crich, always highly regarded for its superior quality, was quarried. George Stephenson built the Crich Mineral Railway in 1837, to carry limestone from Cliff Quarry to a battery of limekilns at Ambergate. It was a distance of about two and a half miles. In 1925, the Clay Cross Company opened the Ashover Light Railway to carry mineral deposits from the Overton Hall Estate, seven and a half miles to their main works. The last of the railway’s four coaches is now used as a bowl’s clubhouse and the octagonal building behind the bowl’s green was once a cafe ‘Where the Rainbow Ends,’ which has been relocated from Ashover Butts.
The Parish Church of St Bartholomew was founded in 1851; it has a stained glass window by William Morris, the founder of the Arts and Crafts Movement, whose sister was the wife of the churches first vicar. The churchyard was closed for new graves in 1878, because of the heavy industrial death rate. Parkhouse Colliery was the scene of a disaster in 1882 when 45 men and boys lives were lost, and in the local cemetery a memorial was erected to the victims of that dreadful tragedy.
There are a number of large houses in close proximity of High Street that date back to the expansion era in Clay Cross. Springfield House was the residence of William Howe the Clay Cross Company engineer; Hill House was bought by the North Midland Railway as an office for its resident engineer and Alma House, on the corner of Holmgate Road was the home of colliery owner, Thomas Houldsworth. The house next to the former Victoria Hotel was once the Clay Cross Colliery Hospital, given by the workers as a wedding present to the daughter of Charles Binns, on her marriage to the company surgeon. Melbourne Lodge was named after the Australian city.
Kenning Park, on the western side of the town was once the site of colliery workings. It was donated to the town by George Kenning, a native of Clay Cross and a pioneer in the car distribution business, and is now a very pleasant park with an abundance of wildlife. On the opposite side of the Clay Cross, Sharley Park caters for a wide range of leisure pursuits. In the centre of the town, there are a variety of busy shops and a popular Saturday market.
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PLACES OF SPECIAL INTEREST IN THE AREA
Bolsover Castle, (Tel. 01246 822844) an award winning attraction that provides a romantic example of a Cavalier’s pleasure palace. Under the control of English Heritage, there is a shop a spacious café. For further information website: www.english-heritage.org.uk
Chesterfield Museum and Art Gallery, (Tel. 01246 345727) tells the fascinating ‘Story of Chesterfield.’ Here you can find out how the Parish Church was built and what went wrong to make the spire lean! Open all year on Mondays, Tuesdays and from Thursday to Saturday.
Hardwick Hall (Tel 01246 850430) is one of the greatest Elizabethan houses, which survives almost unchanged. It holds, in the impressive Long Gallery, one of the best collections of tapestries in Europe. Please telephone for opening details or visit website.
The Cannon (Tel. 01246 250078) is a large spacious pub with a number of small wooden and brass cannons on display in the lounge, plus lots of old photographs around the walls. Open all day. Food served Monday to Saturday, lunchtime and evenings and lunchtime only on Sundays.
Sharley Park Leisure Centre (Tel. 01246 217277) Open seven days a week. Indoor facilities include two swimming pools, one with a hoist for disabled people, sports hall, squash courts, fitness suite, sunbed rooms. Outdoor: two crown bowling greens, cricket, football, tennis; in addition there is a camping and caravan area. Cafeteria/restaurant and bar – open for food Monday, Tuesday and Friday 11am – 2pm and Monday to Friday from 4pm – 7pm. Saturday and Sunday from 10am – 4pm approximately.
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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CLAY CROSS WALK
To first time visitors to this part of Derbyshire, this walk may well come as a surprise, with its excellent views and variety of scenery. So much so that they may well be back again to explore the many inviting paths that lead off the Five Pits Trail.
Coal mining has taken place in the area since Roman times.
There is an abundance of wildlife to be seen on the walk, together with natural farmland with crops and grazing animals. Broomridding Wood is a particularly attractive area of woodland rich in wild flowers in season.
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