The village of Beeley sits snugly amongst the gently undulating wooded hills which rise on the east bank of the River Derwent about a mile and a half due south of Chatsworth House, the home of the Duke & Duchess of Devonshire – and about a mile along the B6012 from its junction with the A6 at the former rail-head village of Rowsley. The village stands to the east of this road, whilst to the west Lindup Wood rises above the Derwent Valley and there are magnificent views northward to Chatsworth Park.
The proximity of Chatsworth with it’s magnificent open parkland has had a major influence on the character of Beeley and it’s surrounding landscape ever since Sir William Cavendish bought the Chatsworth Estate on December 31st 1549 – though the village itself remained independent of any Ducal control for another two hundred years until the third Duke of Devonshire purchased Beeley Hill Top in 1747.
Thus, Beeley has enjoyed the benefits of two centuries as an estate village under the control of successive Dukes of Devonshire, and though this is no longer the case with many of the properties having been sold off in recent times, the evidence of Ducal influence can still be plainly seen throughout the village today.
The bleak and mysterious Beeley Moor, famed for its grouse-shooting as well as the notorious`carbon-copy’ murders of thirty years ago, rises to 1200 feet above Fallinge Edge to the east.
On Bunker’s Hill about a mile north east of the village stands the prehistoric burial mound known as Hob Hurst’s House, whilst two hundred yards south the remains of a neolithic stone circle stand close by a derelict tumulus on the barren hillside.
The Beeley Brook collects drainage water from the moors above, and fortified by a stream which drains Fallinge Edge, cascades over several small waterfalls on its way down the hillside, adding charm and character and its sweet natural music to the tranquil and peaceful atmosphere as it runs delightfully through the village to empty into the nearby River Derwent.
It was in these idyllic surroundings that an Anglo-Saxon named Godric cultivated a tiny royal manor at the time of the Norman Conquest, and in 1086 `Begelie’ was first recorded in the Domesday Survey, having ninety acres of taxable land – which would have supported a small agricultural community.
Beeley seems to have retained its `small agricultural community’ status for almost 500 years until early in the sixteenth century when Lord Vaux of Harrowden sold the manor to John Greaves (1539 – 1621) – just ten years after Bess of Hardwick and her husband had acquired Chatsworth.
It is likely that Beeley Old Hall, which still stands opposite Norman House in the village, was the original manor house until John Greaves purchased the manor in 1559. The family lived in a house called `The Greaves’ – from which they took their surname – and this then became the manor house.
Following Greaves’ death in 1621 the Old Hall and the manor house were both rebuilt and the latter, where the arms of King James 1st can still be seen above a bedroom mantelpiece, was renamed Beeley Hill Top. Both reverted to farmhouse status late in the 17th century, and in 1747 Beeley Hill Top was purchased by the 3rd Duke of Devonshire.
Standing proudly adjacent to the road and directly opposite the Old Hall in the centre of the village, Norman House is of roughly the same date and was the home of the Norman family who also owned farms at Fallinge and Doewood. Small industry had come to Beeley by 1650, also courtesy of the Norman family. These early entrepreneurial industrial farmers had a lead-smelting mill on Smelting Mill Brook between Beeley and Rowsley, and a tanning yard on Beeley Brook in the village.
Three hundred years ago coal pits on Beeley Moor fuelled both the domestic hearths and the lead-smelting furnaces of Norman’s mill, whilst the good quality gritstone mined up on the moor was used for building Chatsworth.
The building programmes undertaken during the 18th & 19th centuries saw the final shaping of the village. The 4th Duke of Devonshire set about improving and enlarging Chatsworth Park and began buying up land and houses in Beeley as they became available. This process was not completed until the 6th Duke’s time and the village benefitted from the addition of the Methodist Chapel, built in 1800 and the school, built in 1841.
A new vicarage was added in 1856 and a reading room for estate workers was built shortly before the Parish Church was almost entirely rebuilt in 1882-84. The school, schoolhouse, post office and reading room have all been converted into private dwellings in recent years, but the square crenellated tower of the picturesque St. Anne’s church still rises on the western edge of the village, and the southern doorway which stands in the shade of a churchyard yew shows evidence of early Norman work which survived the late Victorian rebuilding.
Duke’s Barn is another noteable building which stands along a lane leading from the tiny village green. Built under one large roof in 1791, the Barn has been completely restored and transformed into a residential study centre owned by the Derby-based Royal School for the Deaf, but available for use by any educational group.
Modern Beeley, with a population of under 500 remains much as it was two centuries ago, save for the addition of the houses at the bottom of Chesterfield Road, which sweeps up past the Devonshire Arms – a 17th century hostelry, recently refurbished and with a magnificent restaurant -these are the only residents to encounter any through traffic.
At the junction directly opposite the pub stand three cottages built in a triangular pattern with very unusual Dutch-gabled roofs, the style is reminiscent of Paxton who designed the nearby estate – village of Edensor. For the rest, this small agricultural community once farmed by a thane named Godric, sleeps timelessly on in the bossom of it’s peaceful country setting, oblivious to the traffic that passes noiselessly to and from Chatsworth on the nearby B6012.
This article has been brought to you by Tom Bates