The North Derbyshire village of Barlow is geographically situated in a lightly wooded rural landscape of undulating rich meadows and rolling pastures, about four miles north west of Chesterfield along the B6051, and a similar distance due south of the county boundary with Yorkshire.
The approach from the south takes the main road through Newbold village, and once beyond the Cutthorpe – Whittington cross-roads this becomes the epitome of G.K.Chesterton’s `Rolling English road‘. But though it will not take you `to Birmingham by way of Beachy Head’ – it will take you along a rolling, twisting lane of high, thick hedges, and through a mile and a half of delightful countryside all the way to Barlow.
Geologically the village sits on the extreme western edge of the coal measures, and though the visitor will find no trace of this bygone local industry, the mining of coal has played a major role in it’s social history and has helped shape the village of today.
Almost a century ago there were fourteen pits and as many open-cast sites turning coal in Barlow, providing work for the growing population who, for countless preceding generations had relied almost exclusively on agriculture for their livelihood.
Indeed it was probably Anglo-Saxon farmers who first cultivated land hereabouts, but after the Norman Conquest, Barlow (or Barley) was held first by Hascoit Muscaard from Honfleur, and then after 1086 by Richard d’Abitot of Worcester who married Muscaard’s daughter.
It was probably Richard d’Abitot or an immediate descendant who supervised the building of the Norman church of St. Lawrence in 1142, and about the same time built Barlow Hall to the east of the church in the Sud Valley.
Sometime during the 13th century the d’Abitots became de Barley’s, and in 1340 a chantry chapel for the Barley family was added to the church.
The church was restored in 1867 when the chancel was completely rebuilt in the early Norman style and inside there is a fine alabaster tomb to Robert Barley and his wife dated 1467. There is also a memorial to a slightly later and more famous Robert Barley of Barlow Hall who died in 1532, shortly after his marriage to the teenaged Elizabeth Hardwick, later Countess of Shrewsbury and reputedly the richest woman in Tudor England. Robert Barley was Bess of Hardwick’s first husband, and following his early and untimely death the family fortunes fell into decline and by the early 1600’s the Barlow family had left forever and Barlow Hall had been demolished. Only Hall Farm remains almost opposite the church to give some indication of the location of the old hall.
It is possible that stone from the old hall was used in the building of Hall Farm – and the Peacock Hotel, whose stable block and smithy are parts of the original 17th century construction.
The Peacock stands proudly on the crown of the hill leading up from Brookside into the oldest part of the village. This popular old coaching inn has excellent modern en-suite facilities and is ably run these days by landlord David Burgess from New Zealand and partner Paula, a native of Barlow.
The sign of the Peacock, nearby Rutland Terrace, and the ancient pinfold up on Wilkin Hill – a gift to the parish council in the 1890’s from the Duke of Rutland – remain as clues to the fact that the Duke was a major landholder here until the recent years of the twentieth century.
North of the restored pinfold is Bole Hill, Barlow’s only officially designated `ancient monument’, and the highest point in the village.
At the junction of Hackney Lane and Wilkin Hill a ring-fenced tree inside a low protective circular wall planted at the Coronation of George V on June 22nd 1911 marks the centre of the original village. Opposite is the village pump of 1840 which is one of three wells dressed every August during the `Barlow Feast‘ – celebrated following the patronal festival of St.Lawrence on 10th August since at least 1572 when the earliest surviving church register was begun.
Hackney House Antiques and the delightful adjacent tea-rooms, plus Old Vicarage Interiors form an enterprising conglomeration of retail establishments on Hackney Lane at the bottom of Wilkin Hill between the Peacock and the church.
Previous generations will recall bygone days when petrol pumps stood here alongside the garage and village shop – and tea and refreshments were dispensed to travelling wayfarers from a primitive wooden hut.
These days owners Eddie Gorman and wife Janet run Hackney House, family owned since 1957, and dispense more than just excellent fare and friendly service; local historian Eddie who moved here from Newbold twenty years ago is a mine of local knowledge and has a fine collection of old village photographs. Evidently there was once a blacksmith’s forge at Hackney House, a cobblers shop in the nearby church alley, and a couple of thatched-roof cottages on Wilkin Hill near Elm Tree Farm.
Among the many changes during the last 100 years is the addition of the pretty lych-gate at the main entrance to the churchyard which was erected in memory of the Bland family in 1930. The sign beside the lych-gate describes St. Lawrence’s as the Parish Church of Great Barlow. This not only differentiates it from Lesser Barlow further down the Valley Road, but also encompasses the largely nineteenth century addition of Commonside, with it’s row of miner’s cottages and Hare & Hounds, which a local farmer assured me, is ` an ale-drinker’s pub’.
The Trout Inn on a bend at the bottom of Valley Road is the third of Barlow’s hostelries and is known for it’s excellent cuisine.
The northern end of the village is equally as pretty with the road twisting gently up the shallow dale towards the beautiful Cordwell Valley, passing Rex Ward’s Mill Farm with it’s holiday cottages and the three lakes of his Barlow Trout Fisheries along the way.
Eddie Gorman informed me that the distance between the `Coronation Tree’ and the elegant Yew tree in the quaintly named Crow Hole at the northern end of Barlow is almost exactly one mile. In between lies the village hall, the school, post-office and lots of modern development – and despite the urban sprawl of Sheffield from the north and Chesterfield from the south creeping inexorably closer, Barlow remains a remarkably rural and distinctly pretty village with some superb views over the rich arable pastures of the North Derbyshire countryside.
This article has been brought to you by our resident peak district writerTom Bates