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DERBY

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 LITTLE CHESTER/ CHESTER GREEN

 

THE FEATURE

 

Little Chester, or Chester Green as it is more commonly known, was once the site of a Roman town. It may well have been inhabited before the Romans arrived; fragments of Iron Age pottery have been found in the area. As Derby’s oldest suburb, some of its thoroughfares are also almost 2,000 years old.

 

Today, Little Chester continues to flourish and became a conservation area in 1993. It includes Derby Racecourse and all the land up to Beaufort Street and Old Mansfield Road in the east, Nottingham Road in the south, the Derwent on the west and Darley and Little Eaton in the north. Highly regarded as an excellent place to live, it is within easy walking distance of Derby City Centre and is well endowed with open spaces and leisure facilities.

 

 

Established in the latter part of the first century by the Romans, the military role of this vital river-crossing was diminished as a prosperous small town emerged.  By the beginning of the fifth century, commercial activity appears to have stopped. But it is unclear how long the walls remained, giving protection for the native Romano-British population. Eventually the settlement was probably abandoned for a time, but was refortified in 874 by the Norsemen.

 

The Romans set up a fort in AD50 at Strutt’s Park, to protect the river crossing on the western side of the Derwent. Originally it was thought they remained there for about 30 years before establishing a large new fortified settlement, across the river at Little Chester, which they called Derventio. In the light of recent finds, historians have revised their estimate and think the Romans probably remained at Strutt’s Park for a much longer period.

 

Little remains at Little Chester today, apart from two Roman wells, one on Marcus Street and the other in the garden of the vicarage of St Paul’s Church. However, a series of excavations in the last fifty years have established both its importance and prosperity, including the discovery of an underfloor heating system on Parker’s Piece and an abundance of coins.

 

The Roman occupation did not limit itself solely to the fort at Derventio and the area directly outside. Recent excavations have revealed the existence of an industrial site on the edge of the Old Derby Racecourse and other scattered finds, including a farm at Willington. 

 

William Woolley wrote his ‘History of Derbyshire’, in the early 1700s, but it was left unfinished and unpublished until recently. He gave only a brief account of Little Chester, remarking on the good quality of the land and estimated that there were about 20 houses in existence.

 

It was in the late eighteenth century that the pace of life really changed. A plot of land, by the Derwent, just north of St Mary’s Bridge, was sold to Sir Thomas Gisborne of St Helen’s House, who let it to his ex-footman, James Fox. He built a precision engineering works, and before long several other foundries like Cheetham & Hill, as well as a number of other industries established themselves at Little Chester.

 

The population of Little Chester was rising rapidly and in 1850, to meet a growing need, St Paul's Church was built. It was constructed mainly of Little Eaton Quarry Stone. Now officially a Grade II listed building along with the War Memorial which is classed as an ancient monument. Little Chester Heritage Centre, which opened in September 2001, is located at the church. For anyone interested in the local history of Derby and the Roman Empire, a visit to the centre is essential.

In 1868, Alfred Seale Haslam bought the ‘Union’ foundry on City Road. At first he employed only 20 men, but despite a fire in 1873, he was always looking to expand. After experimentation and expansion he started the production of dry-air refrigeration equipment. In 1880, the first refrigeration system was designed at the foundry, which made it possible to import frozen food from Australia and South America. It was not long after the first ground-breaking journeys that fruit and vegetables were being transported in refrigeration ships and cold storage plants installed at dockyards and major markets.

 

Haslam also built a large numbers of good houses for his workforce over a period of 40 years, some set around the medieval common, which was established as a public park in the 1880s. He became a very important figure locally. In 1890/1 he was elected Mayor of Derby and he also laid on an impressive reception for Queen Victoria, when she visited Derby to open the Derbyshire Infirmary.

 

The arrival of the railway had a considerable impact on Little Chester. On the eastern side of Mansfield Road and bounded by Fox Street, the Midland Railway erected a huge complex of sidings and warehouses at St Mary’s Wharf. The Great Northern Railway, Ilkeston to Derby (Friar Gate) line severed the north and western parts of the suburb. In 1968 the line and embankment were removed, but Andrew Handyside’s bridge over the Derwent remained.

 

Stone House Prebend stands at the eastern end of Parker’s Piece and was formerly a timber framed building. The income from the farm supported the canons of the College of All Saints until 1549. It is now constructed of brick with medieval chimneys. Derwent House is a 17th century brick building standing at the heart of Little Chester’s numerous sporting facilities.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

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PLACES OF INTEREST IN THE LOCALITY

Little Chester Heritage Centre (Tel. 01332 363354) is located in St Paul's Church, and contains much fascinating and well presented information (see picture below) about the remarkable history of this small community. The normal opening times are Sunday afternoons between 2pm and 4.30 pm from April to end of October. Admission is free, but donations towards running costs will be welcomed.

Also, why not combine the visit with a guided walk around the Local Heritage Trail? Group visits, including schools, outside normal opening times can be arranged for a small fee. For more information you may find it helpful to visit the centre's website before making telephone contact.

St Mary’s Bridge Chapel (Tel. 01332 381685) is not particularly impressive from the outside, nor is it blessed with a quiet location, sandwiched between the Derby Ring Road and the still busy road across St Mary's Bridge. Once inside all that changes, the noise vanishes and there is a feeling of peace and tranquillity. The white painted walls, the simple furniture and the lack of fussiness all add to the attraction of this wonderful place.

The Silk Mill – Derby’s Museum of Industry and History (Tel. 01332 255308) was the first factory in England where all the processes were carried out under one roof and utilising one source of power and is now a World Heritage site. It has now been converted into a museum where you can discover the facts about Rolls-Royce aero-engines, the history of railways and coal mines and much more. Open daily apart from during the Christmas and New Year Break.  

 


 

 


 

REFRESHMENTS

 

Bridge Inn (Tel. 01332 371360) established in a former private house, about 60 years after the property was built in the 1790s. Named after the bridge by which it stands, but it may well have been previously in use as a pub under another name. It was always popular on Derby Regatta Days and once had a boat house of its own. Open all Day. Food served Monday to Saturday 12am to 10pm and 12am to 9pm on Sunday. 

 

The Cathedral Coffee Shop (Tel. 01332 381685) located on the ground floor, serves light lunches, sandwiches, cakes and a wide range of teas and coffees.  Local farm producers are the source of many of the supplies, providing items such as home-made cakes, quiches, breads and ice cream. Open Monday to Saturday 9.30-4.30pm.

 


 

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ABOUT THIS SITE

This non-commercial website is based on Discover Derbyshire Supplements published by the Derby Evening Telegraph.

The site, my first, commenced  in December 2003, and is expanding quite rapidly. Every month an illustrated Newsletter is published giving details of:

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LITTLE CHESTER WALK

 

This short walk explores historic Little Chester, where the Romans built a fortified settlement. It starts at the Market Place, in the centre of Derby and is an easy walk along pavements and surfaced paths, but can be a little muddy in places after rain.

 

For those wanting a longer walk, it can easily be combined with one or all of the Derwent River Walks featured in this supplement.

 

 

Little Chester Walk

 

All details on this page were correct at the time of publication, but changes may be made without notification.