South Wingfield is better known for the hauntingly beautiful romantic ruins of it’s superb fifteenth century Manor House than it is as a village, and appropriately village and manor seem almost completely detached. The Manor, with it’s gaunt towers and empty turrets stands proudly isolated on it’s own hilltop overlooking Wingfield Park to the south, and across a narrow valley separating it from the village, which lies along a ridge of land a quarter of a mile away to the north.
Unusually, the village is also uniquely detached from it’s parish church, which lies half a mile away across the valley on the west bank of the River Amber - in the neighbouring village of Oakerthorpe!
The centre of the settlement lies mainly along a ridge of higher ground about three miles west of Alfreton, and straddles the undulating road which winds it’s way from the church in the valley, over the hill and along the ridge to the crossroads at the old market place. This is the hub of the present village, with post office, shop, and two ancient hostelries, one of which, the once thatched Horse & Jockey was an old staging post on the Nottingham to Newhaven turnpike in the bygone days of horse-drawn transport.
The road continues over the ridge past the Old Yew Tree Inn and down the hill past the entrance to Wingfield Manor and south-westward over the hills to Crich, two miles distant. The Market Place is also the centre of the old village, but over the past two centuries South Wingfield has spread eastward towards Oakerthorpe, with new housing developments on both sides of Church Lane as it sweeps downhill past the South Wingfield Infants School, and runs along the valley floor beside the Amber towards the picturesque, but somewhat isolated parish church of All Saints.
The reason for the gradual move eastward was presaged in the eighteenth century by coal and iron workings which sprang up on the west bank of the Amber on the Oakerthorpe side of the valley – and in the nineteenth century by the coming of the railway. The London to Sheffield main-line ran close by and South Wingfield Station, now a private house, and was also situated in Oakerthorpe!
The Danes were settled at Oakerthorpe at the time of the Norman Conquest, but the manor of `Winefeld’ as it is named in the Domesday Book, was given to William Peveril - the illigitimate son of William the Conqueror - who owned vast tracts of land in North Derbyshire, and was based at Peveril Castle – from which Castleton (Castle – town) gets it’s name.
When Peveril’s great grandson was dispossessed of all his lands in 1153 for allegedly poisoning the Earl of Chester, the manor of South Wingfield, along with nineteen others, reverted to the Crown.
From the earliest times this had been an agricultural community, but William the Conqueror sequestered large tracts of land which became Royal Forests and South Wingfield was surrounded by three of them; Sherwood Forest to the east, Duffield Frith to the south, and the Royal Forest of the Peak to the north and west.
The Steward of Sherwood Forest in 1440 was Ralph, Lord Cromwell, and it was he who began the building of South Wingfield Manor in 1441 – and also around this time, added the battlemented tower to All Saints church. One of England’s richest and most powerful men, Cromwell was also Treasurer of the Exchequer to King Henry V1, Master of the Royal Hunt, and Constable of Nottingham Castle. He spent lavishly on the construction of his magnificent hilltop palace at `Winefeld’, but it was still unfinished fifteen years later when he sold it to John Talbot, 2nd Earl of Shrewsbury just prior to his death in 1455.
The Manor, complete with grand state rooms, banqueting hall, and double-courtyard was equipped with every luxury and was completed in 1458. The 4th Earl had arranged to entertain King Henry V111 here, and hunt with him in Duffield Frith during a northern Royal Progress in 1541, but died suddenly at the Manor and the royal visit was cancelled. However the Manor is best known historically as the place where Mary Queen of Scots was held captive in 1569/70 and again in 1584 on behalf of the Crown by the 6th Earl and his wife Elizabeth, known famously as Bess of Hardwick. It was a Royalist stronghold during the Civil War, but took a severe pounding in 1644 from the heavy cannon of Sir John Gell’s troops until it finally fell after two lengthy sieges.
The building itself finally fell, or rather was partially dismantled in 1774 by new owner Immanuel Halton who stripped off the timber and lead from the roof, and removed the whole north range to use the materials for building his new Wingfield Hall across the valley to the south.
According to some commentaries, the Manor has been a ruin and has remained unoccupied for two hundred and thirty years. But this is contradicted by an inscription carved ornately into the lych gate at the entrance to All Saints immaculately kept and yew-tree lined churchyard. It reads, “Erected by her brothers and sisters in memory of Margaret Hermine Markham who lived at South Wingfield Manor in the parish for eleven years and died there on 9th October 1936”.
The church of All Saints is mainly thirteenth century, the tower a century later, and the chancel was added in 1877. One possible reason for it’s seemingly strange location so far from the village, is suggested by historian Roy Christian to be because the original Saxon church was built to serve both the settlements of South Wingfield and Oakerthorpe, and was thus sited half way between the two. If this is so, then the reasoning behind the decision remains a mystery when considering the fact that the church was built on the flood plain of the River Amber - and has consequently been flooded on numerous occasions during its long history!
At the bottom of the hill, Taylors Corn Stores and the Old Mill stand beside the Amber at the junction of Holme Lane and Church Lane. There were two or three very early mills in Wingfield Park, but these were dismantled long ago and only a weir remains as testimony to their former existence.
Taylor’s tall water-powered mill, which replaced earlier mills on the same site, was built in the early nineteenth century and plays an integral role in the social and industrial heritage of the village.
Part of that heritage is recorded by historians as the `Pentrich Revolt’ – when a gang of Luddite factory machine-breakers made the mill their first target. The Pentrich Parish Register records the event thus: “On the evening of 9th June an insurrection broke out in Pentrich, South Wingfield, Swanwick and Ripley, which was quelled the next day”.
The Pentrich Revolt was a rising of poor stocking-frame knitters led by Jeremiah Brandreth, in which thirteen men from South Wingfield were amongst the fifty or so `Pentrich Rebels’ who `unlawfully, maliciously, and traitorously assembled’ to begin a march on Nottingham, which ended for the ringleaders on the gallows at Derby in 1817.
Although Sam Critchlow still farms up at Manor Farm, most of the farms have either gone or have been converted into very desirable private dwellings, as at `Amberside’ opposite the Corn Mill.
The iron workings and the railway have gone too, along with Wingfield Manor Colliery which closed half a century ago, and these days South Wingfield is a pleasant commuter village with an agricultural and industrial heritage – and the populace are no longer revolting!