Brassington is an ancient village of traditional limestone dwellings which huddle together on a steep south-facing hillside on the south eastern edge of the White Peak. The old town of Wirksworth lies three miles to the east and the market town of Ashbourne seven miles away to the south-west.
The travelling wayfarer's first impression of the village is dependent upon the direction of approach for Brassington is situated on a geological divide with the underlying rock strata being a mixture of dolomite, shale and limestone.
The road from Wirksworth in the east passes through a lunar landscape beyond Carsington Pasture and is pitted with old mineworkings, lead-mine spoil-heaps and deserted crumbling field-barns, with the occasional quarry adding to the impression of a heavily industrially exploited area. In fact there are large quarries all around Brassington, with Hopton and Middleton to the east, Longcliffe to the north and the large Tilcon quarry at Ballidon to the west.
The men of `Brass'on', as it is still known locally, have earned their daily bread for centuries by working either on the land or under it; in the lead mines or the limestone quarries, whilst the farmers hereabouts raise only cattle and sheep for want of good arable land. This is especially so north of the village where the road to Aldwark and Grangemill leads onto the limestone uplands.
There is evidence of prehistoric settlement all around the area with finds from the Stone Age, Iron Age and the Roman era in the caves at Harborough Rocks half a mile to the north east of the village.
The High Peak Trail passes just north of Brassington running parallel with `The Street', the old Roman road from Derby to Buxton, and leads within a mile to the neolithic chambered tombs at Minninglow, close by Roystone Grange.
The presence of water was a pre-requisite for settlement on these limestone uplands and Brassington provided that commodity in abundance with numerous springs emerging at the junction of limestone and shale. For many centuries the folk of Brassington carried their water through the steep streets and alleyways of the village in pails and buckets, and a number of the older farming community here can still recall pre-dawn trips to favoured springs to fill up their milk churns with enough water for the day ahead. It was not until 1939 that piped water was available on tap.
According to the Oxford Dictionary of English Place-Names, Brassington derives from Old English and is said to mean `the farm by the steep path', - although expert opinion is divided with Dr. Kenneth Cameron's assertion that the name is of Anglo Saxon origin and means `Brandsige's Farm'.
At the time of the Domesday Survey, the Manor of `Branzincton' belonged to Henry de Ferrers and had a population of around 100, who were mostly farmworkers.
Like most of the White Peak villages, Brassington's fortunes fluctuated along with the lead mining industry and in 1846 when lead mining was in full swing the population reached almost 800 and there were 14 ale houses to slake the local thirst!
Today's population numbers around 500, and there are two pubs left in the village, The Gate Inn and The Miner's Arms, - and the legacy of the lead mining `glory days' is reflected in the names of some of the splendid limestone cottages which recall old mines such as `Nickalum', `Bees Nest' and `Golconda'. Most ceased production during the 19th century but one or two were re-worked for barytes and fluorspar and the last of these, `Golconda', finally closed in 1953.
Access to this somewhat remote village has played a major role in it's fluctuating fortunes over the years with both road and rail links changing with the times. John Ogilby's prototype road atlas of 1675 shows Brassington on the main road between London and Manchester, and until the Derby to Brassington section was turnpiked in 1738, with the last toll-gate standing nearby and giving it's name to the Gate Inn, passing traffic brought minor prosperity to the village. But another and more direct route between between Buxton and Ashbourne was opened as a result of the 1738 turnpike act, and later the present B5056 which runs from Haddon to Fenny Bentley was turnpiked in 1827. The `new' roads merely skirted the parish and did not pass through the village, and thus any `passing trade' was lost.
However, the opening of the Cromford and High Peak Railway in 1830 brought with it a new link to the outside world via Longcliffe Station, a mile away to the north. To Longcliffe came coal and supplies for the local shops, and the railway carried milk to the large towns from the local farms as well as lead ore, minerals and stone from the mines and quarries, and brief prosperity returned once more to Brassington.
The railway also carried passengers between 1833 and 1877 -in a single carriage attached to the rear of a goods train, but only during the summer months, and only between Middleton Top and Parsley Hay, and even then the passengers had to get out and walk up Hopton Incline! Sadly the railway finally closed during the 1960's and Brassington once again returned to it's relative isolation.
It is a charming village with some remarkable buildings; Tudor House which stands opposite the school on Town Street is an architectural gem built in 1615. Originally an inn, it became the local workhouse housing some 130 souls early in the 19th century. Brassington Hall was built later in the 17th century, whilst Sundial Cottage rivals Tudor House as the oldest dwelling in the village.
The Gate Inn also bears a date-stone of 1616 and is built mainly of dolomite, possibly from nearby Harborough Rocks, whilst the Miner's Arms was built in 1734, and extended in 1882. The oldest building of all is the beautifully situated St.James Parish Church which stands dominating the village high on the south facing hillside above Church Street.The church is mostly Norman and Pevsner states that `it can hardly be later than 1200, although the porch was added a century later and the pillars in the north aisle were added during a 19th century restoration.
Television cameras were on location in the village recently filming an episode of Peak Practice for Central T.V. and Brassington is one of a growing number of Derbyshire villages to be featured in the popular series. But this was not a `first', - for a sequence in the film, `The Virgin & The Gipsy' starring Alan Bates was also shot in Brassington some years ago.
Today's commerce in this once thriving village is reduced to one shop, the village post office and the two pubs, although conversion of an old chapel into the new village hall at the top of Town Street is almost complete and will provide the village with a much needed social centre for today's thriving population and hopefully, for future generations to come.
This article has been brought to you by our resident peak district writer Tom Bates
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