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Chellaston was once mainly a farming community, but is now a rapidly expanding suburb, like so many more up and down the country, where houses proliferate close to busy road networks. In Chellaston’s case the expansion of Derby and the recent opening of the A50, giving it rapid access to fast roads and the M1 Motorway, have led to the growth of massive housing developments.
The story of Chellaston though is not just one of a once quiet village expanding rapidly because of its location. As from the Middle Ages, it became internationally famous as the centre of the English alabaster industry, a form of gypsum. It was at its peak between about 1360 and 1460, when a flourishing export trade developed. Great blocks of alabaster were taken to the River Trent and then transported by boat to Hull, for shipment across the North Sea.
The alabaster produced at the Woodlands Quarry in Chellaston, now an area where wildlife thrives, was particularly attractive and easy to carve. The purest white alabaster was originally found close to the surface and that made it easily accessible to work. Coloured deposits were found deeper down and used until new layers of white alabaster were located.
Over 3,000 alabaster carvings have been identified overseas, a large collection of which have been recovered and are now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, most of which probably started life in Chellaston. In the warmer, drier countries like Spain, alabaster could be preserved out of doors, but the wetter, colder climate experienced in this country forced its use inside.
Chellaston had its own sculptors, Robert Sutton and Thomas Prentys the most notable, but Nottingham was where most of the carving was done. Westminster Abbey and St George’s Chapel, Windsor and many other churches have fine alabaster monuments.
The Act of 1550, which banned mass books and images, but not tombstones, reduced the level of output in the industry. The trade died with the Reformation, but sprang up again briefly in the late Victorian era, when a pulpit was carved for Worcester Cathedral and monuments for Westminster Abbey and Eton College Chapel. Good quality alabaster was not found in large quantities after the Second World War, but gypsum was extracted until 1978, when the pit finally closed down.
For centuries, the extraction of alabaster and gypsum at the Woodlands Quarry had necessitated the removal of large quantities of clay from the earth. Little use had been made of the clay, until the latter part of the 19th century, when brick making commenced. Many of Derby’s council houses were built with Chellaston Bricks, as was the original Celanese factory at Spondon. Originally, facing bricks were hand made at an output of about 200 per day, but as demand grew more modern methods were employed and by 1953, production had increased to 120,000 common bricks per week. The brickworks finally closed in 1978.
Only about one third of the gypsum extracted was suitable for ornamental use, much of the remainder was called plaster as it was used for making plaster of Paris. Demand increased enormously with the introduction of pottery manufacture. In the region of five hundred tons was shipped annually from Chellaston to the Potteries, for use in production of tableware.
St Peter’s Church dates back to the medieval period, but radical alterations were carried out in the 19th century. It has a Norman font, but surprisingly, it did not have any alabaster ornamentation for many years, until the author of a book on the subject, gave the church a small carved replica of St Peter’s. The lack of ornamentation arose in 1817 when the church was restored, and a churchwarden used the alabaster slabs to pave his stable floor! Alabaster on the other hand at the Methodist Chapel is well represented.
Harold Gresley, who was born in 1892 and lived all his life in Chellaston, along with his brother Cuthbert, father Frank and grandfather James, was a landscape painter. After serving in the First World War, he studied at Nottingham School of Art and during 1925-26, he produced a series of Derby townscapes that later became part of the Goodey Collection. In addition, he produced many views of Derbyshire beauty spots and country houses.
There are four schools in Chellaston, the infants school on School Lane, the junior school on Maple Drive, Homefields Primary School on Parkway and the senior school on Swarkestone Road and several shops including a Co-op supermarket and a Post Office. In Station Road, Crocker Brothers established in the 1930s as wheelwrights and agricultural equipment manufactures are now involved in the manufacture and hire of marquees. Situated behind the Catholic Church is Chellaston Bowling Club, which celebrated its centenary in April 2004.
There are four pubs, although if you count the British Legion and The Lawns, with its thatched overhang at the bar, the count rises to six. The Corner Pin is an early 19th century inn, incorporating a restored cruck cottage. Next door is the Rose and Crown whose landlord in the 1930s, Tom Keetley, came from a well known football family, eight of whom played professional football, the Red Lion is also located on the same stretch of road. The Bonnie Prince is off the A50 roundabout, looking towards Swarkestone, the southern-most point reached by an advanced party of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s troops in 1745, before the order to retreat was given.
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A city of considerable character, surrounded by attractive countryside. With the Peak District National Park, the second most visited National Park in the world, only a few miles to the north and the National Forest only a short distance away to the south.
Located near the centre of the country, Derby has excellent communications and is well served by road, rail and air.
PLACES OF SPECIAL INTEREST IN THE AREA
Melbourne Hall: (Tel 01332 862502) was once the home of Victorian Prime Minister William Lamb (Lord Melbourne). Contact for opening details.
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
Rose and Crown: (Tel 01332 700269) a large comfortable modern pub, with an attractive beer garden at the rear. There are a number of interesting prints round the walls, some depicting local sports personalities. Bar meals are available Monday to Saturday from 12-9pm and on Sunday from 12-8pm. Open from 11am Monday to Saturday and from 12 noon on Sunday.
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 mid 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 on towns and villages with heritage trails and detailed countryside walks, through some of the most scenically attractive countryside in the UK.
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Discover Derby is a sub-section of the Discover Derbyshire and Peak District website and is based on the supplement published by the Derby Evening Telegraph, during March 2005. The contents include six walks and features covering the suburbs of:
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