The first few years of the 20th century brings greater change to Brassington than the previous three or four.
Photographs from the turn of the 19th century show a village which looks remarkably like the Brassington of 1990 [and today]. Most of the houses shown in the old photographs are still here. There are some missing from Hillside and some from the south side of Church Street, near The Gate, but the main difference in the village is that the space between Town Street and Church Street, where the meadows used to be, has been filled by houses.
Ashbourne Rural District Council built six houses between the two world wars and thirty-four after the second, but Town Street, Miners’ Hill, Church Street, Maddock Lake, Kingshill would seem totally familiar to a nineteenth century lead miner. He would be disappointed, though, if he called at the Red Lion, Thorn Tree or George and Dragon for a drink after work - only the Miners Arms and The Gate are still pubs. The miner would find the paved streets a great improvement on the wet or dusty streets he knew, and he would be profoundly grateful for two other twentieth century improvements - electricity and tap water.
The electric mains came to the village in 1930, street lamps a year later, and mains water in 1939. In that year the villagers ended their centuries-old routine of taking their buckets to the well. These innovations, followed in 1951 by the installation of a sewage scheme, were revolutions in the villagers’ lives, making their everyday existences quite different from their ancestors’. The village looked the same, but there had been a bigger change in the experience of living there during a few years of this century than during the whole of the previous three or four.
Some changes were delayed. There was still work underground for a few until the 1950s. The mineral extracted from the old lead mines in the twentieth century was barytes, ignored until then but in demand as a source of barium in the modern chemical industry. It was taken from Great Rake and Nickalum until 1919, from Conway Knowl until the 1940s, and from Golconda until 1953. The compressed-air drills used in these latter days are still lying at the sides of the mine roads, over four hundred feet underground, at Golconda. Some of the men who used them are the last miners still living in Brassington.
Until the 1950s there was little change in the economics or method of Brassington’s beef and dairy farming and there are still sheep grazing the hilltop pastures of the former wastes of Carsington Pastures and Brassington Moor. There were still farms in the village itself. Kelly’s Directory of 1936 lists twelve farmers and four “cowkeepers” living in the village and cattle continued to be driven through the streets to and from their milking sheds. Haymaking was partly mechanised. The grass was cut by horse- or tractor-drawn mowing machines and drawn into rows by horse-drawn rakes. There were machines which turned over the rows of mown grass -“swathe turners”- and threw it about to air it -“tedders”. The hay was still, however, picked into carts, either drays or muck carts improved by “gormers” to raise the sides, and led to stacks or barns. Even more ancient methods were still used. At least one of the “cowkeepers”, with a smallholding on the steep slopes of Yearnstone, cut the sparse grass with a scythe, turned it with a pitchfork, and then loaded the hay on to a tarpaulin and dragged it down to the stack. On all the farms the hay, by then compacted, was cut in winter with a broad-bladed knife, and fed to stalled milk cattle or to stirks wintering in the fields.
In 1936 there were thirty-one farmers in the whole parish, six of whom farmed over one hundred and fifty acres. This was a drop of twenty-three from the 1881 census figure, and very many fewer men were needed to work their mowers, tedders, turners and horse-rakes than when lines of scythe-men cut the grass and the rows were turned and tedded by men and women with pitch forks. That there were still haybarns in the village and still cows driven along its streets and milked in sheds at West End, on Town Street and Nether Lane, meant that the sights, sounds and smells of farming still filled the village. But the farms employed only a minority of the people by the middle of the century. There has been fundamental change in the last forty years.
Haymaking has become a task for one man, his tractor and a bailer, or has been superseded altogether by silage making. Machine milking has replaced the man or woman on the milking stool and dairy farming has moved out of the village to the larger farms in the parish. The only farming operated from the village itself is cattle- and sheep-grazing on the moors.
As farming followed mining into history, as far as being a large-scale employer is concerned, the decline in the village’s population continued, to five hundred and thirty-two in 1961. This was a fall of ninety-one from the 1951 figure and was the steepest drop in any decade for which there are records. It has been stable since then, falling slightly to five hundred and twenty-seven in 1971 and rising again to five hundred and fifty-eight in 1981.
For the first half of the century Brassington, while declining as a working village, kept its old character. In 1936, in addition to the farms, there were still a butcher and eleven other shops. Three of them sold clothes, including Brindley’s, on Church Street, in the building which had been the George Inn in the eighteenth century. In 1936 Thomas Brindley was described in Kelly’s as “grocer, draper, clothier and patent medicine vendor”. Even more like a great universal store was Ernest Taylor’s shop. He was a “grocer, confectioner, tobacconist, ironmonger, wireless apparatus, cycle agent and battery charging”. In the village Ernest Taylor’s wirelesses would be plugged into the mains by 1936, but most of the outlying farmers would still need to bring their batteries in for charging. Another draper, Joseph Brown, sold and repaired shoes, and there were still two shoe makers - John Melior on Kingshill and George Walker, carrying on his grandfather’s old business. Stanley Allsop sold sweets, Frank Stevenson vegetables and fruit and Mrs Hall carried on a small trade in drapery from her home at Stile House. There were a newsagent, Mrs Yates, and a branch of the Wirksworth and District Coop. At Maddock Lake, in the middle of the village, Oulsnam and Fearn’s “steam saw mill and timber yard” added the sounds and smells of sawing wood to the village’s working atmosphere.
In 1936 the men of the village had two main jobs to chose from, in addition to farming. There was the Swan, Ratcliffe brickworks at Hopton, and quarries at Hoe Grange, Longcliffe and Grange Mill, all served by the Cromford and High Peak Railway. By 1962 there were still twenty-three working in the quarries and sixteen at the brickworks, though much of the railway’s trade had been transferred to road - nineteen of the villagers were lorry drivers. There were still forty-eight working on farms in 1962. By 1980 there were twenty-four working the farms, about thirty lorry drivers and twenty quarrymen. The brickworks had closed in 1971, the railway in 1976. In place of Oulsnam’s timber yard was Robinson’s steel fabrication works, employing twelve people.
While the post-mediaeval pattern lasted, while there was work in or near the village, while there were still men farming a few acres and while most of the necessities of life could still be bought in village shops, many of the old institutions survived. For more than half of the 20th century Brassington had cricket and football teams, a brass band, three chapels, the Oddfellows and the Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes. After the shock of the war of 1914-1918, during which Brassington suffered along with the rest of the country, with fifteen of its men killed, the villagers resumed a vigorous social life. For forty years, between 1919 and 1959, the Brassington Reading and Recreation Society met in the 1832 school building on Hillside, run by an elected committee, usually chaired by the vicar. There were secretary and treasurer and proper minutes were kept of the committee’s decisions. Subscriptions were 2/6d a quarter, soon rising to 3/- … The subscriptions paid for repairs, decoration and glazing “the windows in the top room”. There were times when the room was closed for lack of funds, but they were few and this was a strong and popular social club for the men of the village.
There were dances and whist drives in the school, which had the large room divided by a hinged screen which was common in 19th century schools. With the screen pulled back the village had a hall where they could dance to the music of the Tudor Band, the Windsor Band, John Spencer’s band, Tim Wray’s band. In a typical year there were dances on Easter Monday, April 23rd, Whit Monday, June 18th, July 16th, August 2nd, on September lst and 2nd in Wakes Week, and on December 27th and New Year’s Eve. These events, and the annual carnival and Wakes Week, were being organised after the Second World War by the Village Hall Committee, with the intention of raising money to buy enough land to build a new village hall. In 1948 they had reached agreement with Ashbourne Council to buy a piece of ground at the north of the Council estate for£100. The village in fact had to wait for its hall until 1982. The postwar effort raised about £1000, and a new committee, formed in 1972, had raised another £5000 in time to profit from the closure of the Congregational chapel in 1977. With the help of a local authority grant the old chapel was transmogrified and became the village hall five years later .
The Congregational chapel’s failure in 1977 was followed by the closure of the Primitive Methodist chapel in 1985. Both had flourished for the first half of the century. Until the 1950s the Primitive Methodists had a Sunday School with about twenty children on the register and four regular teachers. For the whole of the inter-war period the collection at the Sunday evening service was around 15/-, rising to £1 during the war, implying a regular congregation of twenty to thirty. By the time the Hillside chapel celebrated its one hundred and fiftieth anniversary in 1984, the congregation had almost disappeared, the evangelical force of methodism spent. A similar decline has affected the third chapel in the village, the Wesleyan Reform at West End, still functioning, though with a very small congregation [it has since closed].
The decline in chapel-going has been part of a general retreat of organised religion from the centre of the villagers’ lives and the older church, too, is much contracted from the days when it was vigorous enough for Brassington to be made a separate parish after centuries of being part of Bradbourne. The villagers still get married in the old church, still take their babies to be christened there and, until recently, were still buried in the churchyard -a new burial ground has now been opened at West End. The congregation, however, is too small to require the undivided attention of the vicar, who ministers to Bradbourne and Ballidon, as well as Brassington.
The cricket team, playing on barely-suitable pitches at Wash Hills, Harborough and Longcliffe, had existed at least as early as 1862. A newspaper report on a match played between Brassington and Alderwasley in that year is reprinted in the 1967 village history, which goes on to give the results of matches played between 1919 and 1938. The team’s scores were usually low, especially on their own rough pitches, making the 114 for 5 reached in 1927 against Youlgreave a triumph - the wicket cannot have been any better than usual as Youlgreave managed only five runs. That the village had good players in the inter-war years is apparent from such scores as the 129 on the Rolls Royce ground in 1934 (W. Brindley 59, E. Brittain 52 not out).
Ted Brittain was an all-rounder at cricket (5 for 15 against Mayfield in 1939), a fine footballer, and gave a start of twenty points to the next-best player in the billiard handicaps. The cricket club was more than a team of cricketers. They organised the Carnival in 1935 and made a profit of £30-9-6d, seventy-five percent of which was given to the Derbyshire Royal Infirmary. This carnival included a dance at which the music was played by the Night Hawks band at a fee of £2-15-0d and which raised £20-3-6d, plus £5-4-5d from the sale of refreshments - most of the village must have been there.
There are photographs of the cricket teams and of several 20th century football sides. The footballers played on fields at Bradbourne Lane, Kilcroft, near the Hall, the Green and at Wash Hills. They won the Ashbourne Cottage Hospital Medals by beating Ashbourne Town reserves in 1900, and the history lists a string of local honours up to 1953. The team won the Cavendish Cup in 1952, though it has to be said that the village players had some help from local stars brought into the side, and in 1953 they won the Derbyshire Medals.
The village had had a band at least since the celebrations for George III’s coronation in 1761, and probably for very much longer. Inter-war photographs show the bandsmen, sometimes in uniform, with peaked caps, sometimes not, leading parades through the village. They played at all the outdoor events. The Village Hall committee’s accounts, for instance, show a payment to “Brassington S[ilver] Band” of £3-10-0 d for playing at the Wakes in August 1946. They appear regularly thereafter for similar fees - by 1950 it had risen to £5 for the Wakes parade. The band, however, was short of bodies. It found it hard to find enough players to lead a parade or take on a concert and in 1964 amalgamated with the Wirksworth and Middleton bands to form the BMW band, practicing at Wirksworth.
Rapid rises in house prices throughout the country in the late 1900s, coupled with a fashion for country living which pushed up the prices of village houses to levels which put them outside the reach of most villagers, have produced the same effects in Brassington as in most country places. The village has its share of weekend cottages and most of its people now work outside. There is a truly rural calm during weekdays. The working village of 1881 changed slowly but change it did. As the jobs went, so did many of the families who depended on them, and this smaller village is no longer the self-sufficient community it was up to forty years ago. It has recently lost its petrol station and one of its two remaining shops [both now closed]. There is now only the post office [since closed].
Of all the transformations through which the village has passed in its fourteen hundred years, the twentieth century’s was the most complete. In changing from a place of work to one which is valued as a pleasant place to visit or to settle in, Brassington has simply changed with the times.