An upland village of North Derbyshire. Bleak and bare in the winter, but with a quiet charm of its own in the summer sunshine. A village rich in history from the days of the pre-historic hunters, the Bronze Age communites, the Romano-British period, Saxon and Norman times, the Farming communities, the days of the Lead Mining industries and the Stone quarries, on to present day Brassington, modern in its outlook yet still proud of its associations with the past.
One mile north of the village is the area known as Brassington Moor. To the visitor it may seem bleak and uninteresting yet it has much to offer in past history. There can be seen the Tombs of Minninglow, the Barrows of Galley-Low, Slipper-Low and Blackstones-Low. During the excavations of these burial-mounds carried out by Mr. Bateman in 1843, some interesting and valuable objects were discovered.
Nearby is the Hoe Grange Quarry, where during the early workings a large number of prehistoric animal bones were found, including bones of the lion, elephant, bison, hyena, fallow deer and red deer.
This part of the moorland is now cultivated and during recent years two hammer-stones and numerous flint implements have been turned up by the plough. The present finds include small flake tools and an occasional microlith, miscellaneous scrapers, knives and borers, barbed and tanged arrow-heads, single barbed and leaf shaped arrow-heads, implements used by the Mesolithic, Neolithic and Bronze Age peoples.
Another more recent surface find is an Anglo-Saxon bead made of Blue glass similar in shape and design to the ones found in the burial-mound of Galley-Low.
Although no settlements have been located, there are certain parts of the Moor where accumulations of domestic implements have been unearthed. The largest area is between Rockhurst Farm and Greenlow Farm, Aldwark. Another smaller portion is near Minninglow. It was during the ploughing of a field on Slipperlow Farm that hundreds of waste flint flakes were found indicating that this was one of the places where those people had made the implements in those early days.
East of the Moor is the Dolomite Ridge known as Harborough Rocks. The special feature of the Rocks is the natural cave which, when excavated by W. Storrs Fox in 1907 produced evidence of Bronze Ago and Iron Age occupation.
Evidence of Iron Ago occupation has also been found at Moot Low near to Curzon Lodge Farm, Longcliffe. This consists of sherds and a decorated rim and side of Iron Age Pottery.
West of Longcliffe is Rains Cave which was excavated in 1889 by Mr. John Ward, Mr. Isaac Rains and Mr. Edmund Rains. This also produced evidence of occupation by early man.
It must be noted that the flint artifacts, pottery, etc., mentioned in this article have been found during recent years. The earlier finds from this area are in museums in Derbyshire and Yorkshire, and in private collections in the village.
In 1889 a piece of Roman pottery was found on “Rainster Rocks” Brassington by Mr. John Ward. Excavations carried out by Mr. Smithard in 1907 revealed that this area had been a settlement of considerable importance. It has been suggested that it was of Celtic origin and was occupied in Roman times. Four bronze coins, a bronze fibula, some ironwork and pottery were found.
Recent finds from Rainster include a small bronze ring and rims and sherds of Romano-British pottery mainly “Derbyshire Ware” probably made at the Hazelwood kilns which have been excavated. Sherds and rims of the same type of pottery have been found in Brassington village, and an interesting find from the Moor is the top portion of a Roman quern stone.
The search for implements, pottery etc., of the prehistoric and Roman communities in the district still continues, but enough evidence has been found to prove that the Brassington area played an important part in the lives of these early people.
The end of the Middle Ages signified the end of feudal rights and dues, a period when the authority of the Lord of the Manor was replaced by that of the King. In Brassington it is not easy to say when this change took place. The title, Lord of the Manor, lasted well into the 19th Century. Copyholders were still registering their transfers of land at the Court Leet in 1857, as a document in the possession of an old established Brassington family shows.
In Henry VIII’s reign according to a manuscript belonging in 1905 to Mr. G.E. Manes of Thornbridge Hall, Longstone, Robert Gell held land of the King for the fortieth part of a Knight’a fee, which worked out at 8s.9d. a year. This reckoning of feudal service in terms of cash is what illustrates ending of feudalism.
However, just to illustrate that these traditional obligations died hard, from an article in the Reliquary for 1871—2, 19 Copyholders of the Duchy of Lancaster in Brassington, defendants in a suit in 1620, alleging that they had converted parts of the domesne and waste grounds to their own use, without the permission of the Crown, the Duchy. For this, fees were levied roughly from the 32s.0d. which German Buxton and his son John paid, to the 2d. which Richard Wilton and Robert Charlton each had to pay.
Also it was laid down then that a fee of 2s.6d. was to be paid by the next of kin on the death of the heir. About this time in 1633 a list which Mr.S.0.Addy, M.A. believed to be a jury list shows that six people were so liable, one of them none other than John Buxton referred to above.
It is interesting to note in this list that Bradbourne apparently only had 3 jurors, Wirksworth 4, Matlock 8 and Ashbourne 15. If these figures indicate relative wealth, then Brassington was quite prosperous compared with its neighbours.
Another feature of this period was the Reformation. It is interesting to note that at the Religious Census taken in 1676, there were 315 Conformists, 5 non-Conformists and no Papists.
One event of national importance was the Spanish Armada of 1588. Although Brassington is far from the sea, this event had its repercussions even there. A muster or call-up was arranged to meet the emergency and one man only, named Thomas Wallwing, was ordered to report to Chester with corslett (breastplate) and bow. This reminds us that bows were not displaced entirely by firearms until well into the 17th Century. Whether he actually went is not unfortunately, revealed.
Another national event of this period was the Civil War. The Gells of Hopton were deeply involved. The only certain fact so far unearthed is a record that in 1627 Brassington contributed to an aid (i.e. a gift) to Charles I, John Burton, George Buxton and Roland Allsop paid 20s.0d., Edward Lowe and George Willcock paid 11s.0d. and Vincent Greatrax paid 1s.0d.
These years, 1700-1800, were years in which the main charities were established, no doubt owing to the rising standard of living and partly owing to the disappearance of the monastic foundations which had frequently been the recipients of gifts in the Middle Ages.
The Modern Day Village
Many of the houses are huddled together while others have space around them. Only council-built homes have numbers. For the most part, the lanes are not signed and many houses have no nameplates; so visitors find us intriguing or frustrating according to whether they come for pleasure or on business, especially in inclement weather or on dark evenings.
Houses and cottages in which generations of families have lived are often called by the name of occupants former or present, their names known to few but the owners. Try asking for Rose Cottage or the whereabouts of a private business! Well, the postmistress may know. St James Church houses the oldest inhabitant.
Inside the wall of the Norman tower is a relief carving, probably Saxon, of a man with his hand on his heart. Of three chapels the largest is now the Village Hall, the smallest sold for a house. The Wesleyan Reform is a Smedley Chapel, its building in 1852 encouraged by the mill owner, Mr Smedley.
Noted for providing waterproof clothing and canteen facilities for his workers, he toured the district with a marquee, holding Revivalist meetings.
There are now only two public houses, Ye Olde Gate Inne and the Miners Arms; others are private houses - the Thorn Tree, George and Dragon, Red Lion, and the Royal Oak.
The turnpike from Derby and London ended at Brassington where the solid limestone made travel possible on the lanes to Buxton and Manchester. The inns served travellers and thirsty miners.
The village has changed from a self-sufficient community with butcher, baker, Co-op, cobbler, dressmaker, grocers, post office, undertaker etc to one of a post office/store and no shops.
Villagers still work at farms, quarries and local businesses but more travel out to work in such places as Derby, Matlock and Chesterfield or are self-employed.
The district does not lack ghosts; old and young claim to have seen them. An elderly water and mineral diviner was used to them. His first cottage was haunted, the lady seen by family and visitors unforewarned.
One moonlit November evening he heard one on Ballidon Way but saw no-one go over the hump of the road although the sound did!
Across the road the Sand Pit boggart was a traditional source of anxiety for nervous children in past generations.
The village is a lovely one in which to live. There are many societies active in the village. All the year round the views are breathtaking. The lead miners left an interesting hillside with humps and hollows where cowslips, harebells and orchids grow. Mushrooms appear alongside the paths. In the winter the snow makes a beautiful setting when skiers and tobogganists are colourful and full of fun.