Heanor is a small hilltop town clustered around its attractive parish church of St Lawrence, high above the Erewash Valley. It sits face to face across the valley with Eastwood the Nottinghamshire town made famous by the writing of D H Lawrence.
The location of the site, which would have given early warning of unwelcome visitors, probably attracted ancient Britons, and there is evidence of the Romans visiting the area. However, the Anglo Saxons were the first major settlers in the area. In Norman times, Heanor was an important village and had a church recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086. It remained very much an agricultural village until the Industrial Revolution, when coal and iron ore deposits in the area began to be worked. The availability of employment brought more people into the area and consequently more houses were built to house the incomers.
In the mid 1900s, almost 45% of the working population of Heanor worked in the collieries and about 15% in the textile trade. The rapid decline of the coal mining industry in the latter part of the century and the steady reduction in the textile trade, led to the urgent need for diversification to avoid mass long term employment. In order to achieve this, the Heanor Gate Industrial Estate was extended in 1967 and now contains a number of large well-established companies and a small business section.
Heanor Gate is the home of Matthew Walker the world’s oldest and largest manufacturer of Christmas puddings which are exported all over the world. Matthew Walker, a Derbyshire farmer’s son, set up the business in the 1890’s, producing a range of preserves and Christmas puddings from his mother’s recipes. As local demand built up, he managed to persuade a friend to sell them in his shop and sales increased sufficiently for him to open a small factory in Derby. Demand continued to grow and the present modern factory in Heanor was opened and is now one of the town’s leading employers.
Between 1913 and 1932, anyone standing in Heanor Market Place would be able to hop on board the ‘Ripley Rattler’ for a ride on what was considered the most dangerous tramway in Britain. It ran for 11 miles, from Upper Parliament Street in Nottingham to Ripley, with several stopping points on the way and was the longest tramway in the world. It was so notorious that D H Lawrence, who lived only a few yards from the line, was moved to write an amusing short story ‘Tickets Please’. The single track had 316 passing places, all on the left hand side of the main track, so that when riding from Nottingham passengers had to endure a succession of swinging movements, the more violent the faster the tramcar travelled. Accidents happened regularly; trams reportedly got jammed under bridges, came off the track and on one occasion, a double-decker tram crashed into the church wall and threw the passengers travelling on the top into the graveyard. A woman was killed saving a child from being run over and a man named Harry Parkin was honoured for bringing a runaway tram to a halt.
Visitors to the area are surprised to find attractive Shipley Park sandwiched between Heanor and Ilkeston - even more so when approaching the main entrance through the sprawling Heanor Gate Industrial Estate. Suddenly Shipley Park is entered, the noise of industry is silenced and an area of wooded parkland, hills, lakes, trails and an abundance of wildlife stretches out in front of you. The park covers an area of 600 acres of varied landscape and has 18 miles of footpaths.
The Miller-Mundy family developed Shipley in the 18th century as a country estate and a coal mining area. In the latter half of the 1900s, the area once despoiled by mining activities was restored. The old railway lines have now been converted into trails, the reservoirs into lakes full of wildlife and bare patches of land reseeded. Over half a million trees have been planted since Derbyshire County Council opened the area as a park in 1976.
Further development has been carried out in the last 25 years, including the creation of wetland habitats, the design of a wildlife garden, the erection of a Visitor Centre and even a secure toddlers’ playground. The Visitor Centre provides a well stocked gift shop, an exhibition area and a spacious coffee shop with seating inside and out. A model of Shipley Hall is on display at the centre.
One of Derbyshire’s prettiest cricket grounds, the home of Shipley Park Cricket Club can be found in the park. Sadly the American Adventure Theme Park, announced it was closing down in January 2007, and put up for sale all the rides and equipment.
William Howitt, the son of a Quaker was born in Heanor in 1792, the third of six sons, and both he and his wife Mary were prolific writers. Between them, they produced about 200 books, including poetry, travel, novels, biographies and translations. In addition, they contributed regularly to magazines and annuals and even started their own weekly called ‘Howitt’s Journal’. They had a wide circle of literary friends but their journal failed and they lost money on the venture. Charles Dickens wrote to them sympathising and offering them the opportunity to contribute to his own publication ‘Household Words’, which they did for many years.
Howitt had his first work, a poem, published at the age of thirteen – soon after that he went on a walking tour of the Peak District and wrote about his experiences under the name of William Wender.
He even took his new wife on a walking tour of Scotland, something almost unheard of that time, and when they returned an account of their adventures was published. William’s love of the countryside and his descriptions of rural life led to him being regarded as the successor to William Cobbett. Mary became the most popular living poet in the United States and when residing briefly in Heidelburg, she took an interest in Swedish literature and translated many of the works of Hans Andersen.
Heanor Memorial Park is an oasis of peace and calm, tucked away behind busy road junctions; the visitor can easily miss it. Alongside the park is Shanakiel House, one of the few classical Edwardian style buildings left in the town. Built for Dr E V Eaves in the early 1900s, no expense was spared on its construction. Later it was used for many years as the Amber Valley Borough Council’s Finance Department, before being given over to business use. The Heritage Centre was opened in 1991, in what was previously a Chapel of Rest.
Heanor Antiques Centre is described as a ‘Hunters’ Delight’ and with over 200 independent dealers exhibiting, it certainly does its best to live up to the claim. For those who tire of searching for a bargain the D H Lawrence Café, with rooftop seating, offers a resting place.
A church has been in existence in the town since before the Norman Conquest, but apart from the 15th century tower, the remainder of the church was rebuilt in 1982 following subsidence. A twenty feet long mural created by people of all ages, based on the theme of the church in the community, enhances the newly built church.
The Georgian red brick chapel dates back to 1839. Methodism first came to the town in 1797, introduced by a minister who had walked from Nottingham. After that it became a ‘preaching place’, before a chapel was built on Tag Hill.
The Town Hall was erected in 1867, and about 33 years later, it served as a cinema, which is thought to have been the first in Derbyshire. It cost a penny to go in and two pence for a seat on the balcony. In 1995, it was saved from possible demolition, when it re-opened as a Town Hall. Across the road, Friday and Saturday brings a busy market to the town, with people coming from outlying villages and the major settlement of Loscoe to the North West, Marlpool, and Langley to the south and east respectively.
On the corner of the market place where the Cosy Cinema used to operate, the Cosy Market, with a snooker centre above, now takes up the space. The old Fire Station of 1923 is now closed and there are plans to develop the site for heritage purposes. Further down the road is the South East Derbyshire College and at the northern end of Market Street, Red Lion Square used to be an important meeting point.
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PLACES OF SPECIAL INTEREST IN THE AREA
Shipley Country Park (Tel 01773 719961) contains over 600 acres of attractive parkland with lakes, woodlands and miles of footpaths and bridleways. There is a Visitor Centre with a countryside gift shop and café.
Crich Tramway Village (Tel. 01773 852565) boasts a large array of vintage trams from all over the world. Unlimited rides through a period street to stunning views over the Derwent Valley. For further information see the special feature
Great Northern Basin, Langley Mill (Tel 0115 9328042) was originally built over 200 years ago. The basin has been restored and extended during the last few years, linking the area with the southern canal system. Open all year.
The Country Park Tavern (Tel 01773 762856) large pleasant pub just outside Shipley Park, on Thorpe Hill Drive, 200 yards to the east of the Visitor Centre. Bar snacks are served and restaurant meals, there is also seating outside.
D. H. Lawrence Café (Tel 01773 531181) (tel 01773 531181)at Heanor Antiques Centre, where hot and cold light meals are served on the third floor. You can sit outside in the summer and enjoy a rooftop view of Eastwood D. H. Lawrence’s birthplace. Open daily.
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Do not be put off by the approach to Shipley Park through Heanor Gate Industrial Estate: the park offers 600 acres of attractive and varied parkland and 18 miles of footpaths and bridleways.
From the Visitor Centre the walk takes you past Osborne’s Pond and follows a former railway embankment for a short distance, before passing Shipley Hall Cricket Ground. It is difficult to see the cricket ground at this point because of the trees, but if you look round at the top of the hill, you will be able to review the state of play, if your visit coincides with match day.
After walking round Mapperley Reservoir, and through John Wood, you return along Bell Lane and by Flatmeadow Farm to the Visitor Centre.
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