The charming little south-facing village of Hognaston lies about four miles north east of Ashbourne along the B5035 Ashbourne to Wirksworth road, and is sheltered from the north wind by the towering protection of Hognaston Wynn, which rises above the village to almost 1000 feet.
This relatively quiet and sleepy backwater, with wide grass verges and old limestone cottages - and around 300 inhabitants - sits snugly in the hills overlooking Carsington Water from the west, and has a history which can be traced back at least a thousand years; this is verified by it’s entry in the Domesday Book of 1085/6, where it is recorded that `Ochenauestun’ had a manor house and was the `King’s land’.
Almost a thousand years prior to the Norman Conquest, the Romans were here - as evidenced by the numerous coins and artefacts found in the area, and some experts believe that `The Street’, the Roman road from Derby to Buxton passed through, or very close to the present-day village.
It is likely that a settlement existed here even before the Romans arrived, with a series of natural springs surfacing along the ridge, (which today forms the village’s main street), and providing a necessary supply of fresh water to early settlers in this relatively dry-surfaced landscape of porous limestone. The earliest physical evidence of settlement here comes from the church of St. Bartholomew, which stands on a raised site in the centre of the village and boasts the oldest fabric. The `Official Derbyshire Guide’ describes the church as `partly 13th and partly 15th century’, but parts of it are at least a century earlier with some of the main fabric being of 12th century origin, with an early Norman porch, doorway, tympanum and font.
For many centuries Hognaston was essentially a small community of scattered farms with a parish church and a manor house at it’s hub; the Norman-founded monastic sheep granges to the north and west provided wool and mutton for the packhorse trains which regularly passed through the village. These were later laden with lead and stone from the Wirksworth and Brassington lead-field and the Hopton quarries, but with the advent of wheeled transport into what Daniel Defoe considered a `howling wilderness’, and the London to Manchester main road being driven through in the early years of the 17th century, Hognaston prospered.
Hognaston manor house, which is known today as the Old Hall, was built around 1600 and probably replaced a fortified manor house which once stood on the site, and the Red Lion which stands almost opposite is the only survivor of three pubs which served the village in it’s early Georgian hey-day, the others being the Packhorse and The Bull.
With the building of the new turnpike roads during the early years of the 18th century, main through traffic became a thing of the past in Hognaston and the village was returned once more to peaceful tranquility.
Some of the limestone cottages in the village centre date from as early as the 16th century, others from the 17th & 18th centuries; one noteable example being Knowle House, with it’s ancient water-pump, which stands by the roadside between the church and the pub.
Originally built in 1694, Knowle House was one of three former bakeries which flourished in the village from Victorian times up until the later years of the 20th century – sadly the last of these closed in 1972. Further down the Main Street stands the Village Hall, erected in 1982 and paid for by the villagers themselves, a sure sign of the community spirit which is evident in this close-knit rural community.
Hognaston has it’s `famous son’ in the shape of famous clockmaker John Smith, who lived in the village and endowed the church with three of it’s bells and provided it with it’s clock, which is still maintained today by the craftsmen of John Smith & Sons, Clockmakers of Derby.
The burgeoning of the tourist industry from the middle years of the 20th century saw an increasing volume of traffic through the village, but life here changed dramatically with the building of Carsington Water Reservoir in the nearby Henmore Valley, which was opened by HM the Queen in 1992. A new by-pass was constructed which took traffic away from the villages surrounding the new reservoir, and once more, like it’s neighbouring villages of Hopton and Carsington, Hognaston was once more returned to it’s peaceful tranquility.
Today Carsington Water has become one of the East Midland’s major tourist attractions boasting over a million visitors a year; the nearby walker’s paradise of Dovedale, and the ancient market town of Ashbourne are all within walking distance of Hognaston which makes this pretty village an exceedingly popular and ideal centre for exploring the delights of the Derbyshire Peak District.
This article has been brought to you by our resident peak district writer Tom Bates