The Villages of Hopton & Carsington
For those who want to explore the ancient villages of Hopton and Carsington, the vast expanse of water to the south has not so much impacted on the villages themselves, rather it seems to have presaged a general and sympathetic rebuilding of the surrounding infrastructure, without detracting from their essential olde worlde charm and character.
A new mile and a half long by-pass takes the main Wirksworth to Ashbourne road out of both villages, leaving them traffic-free backwaters, which have mostly remained unchanged for at least two centuries.
The dwellings forming the nucleus of Carsington village cluster together at Townend, and huddle around the tiny triangular village green, directly opposite the hillside church of St. Margaret’s at the foot of Ivet Low. The church is shared by both villages and has a rare sundial on the south wall, with the inscription, `Reedified 1648 W I’ – which, after momentary bafflement I realised actually meant re-edified, and indeed, the church was re-edified, or restored, in 1648!
An old Saxon preaching cross on the village green stands opposite the mullioned windowed, seventeenth century Glebe House, one of several of similar date, including the former Rectory, Swiers Farm and the village’s only pub, the early eighteenth century Miner’s Arms, which is noted for its excellent fare.
The village school is just one of the many legacies endowed by the remarkable Gell family, Lords of the manor of Hopton since the fifteenth century, and owner occupiers long before that.
The family seat of Hopton Hall, which lies along the road between the two villages is basically Elizabethan and was built by Anthony Gell, who also famously endowed the grammar school at Wirksworth which still bears his name in 1576. The hall was `Georganised’ by his great grandson Philip Gell around 1780, who added the Venetian windows, central pediment, and was also responsible for the elegant brick crinkle-crankle wall which runs alongside the main road, completely obscuring the hall from view.
The Gells were rich lead and stone merchants, and it was this same Philip Gell who famously constructed the `via Gellia’ road between his quarries at Hopton and the canal wharf at Cromford. His father was responsible for the almshouses which flank the roadside beyond the hall; originally built as a hospital, as the legend carved in the stone lintel indicates:
`This hospital was begun in 1719 by Philip Gell in his lifetime and by him endowed for the use of 2 poor men and two poor women of Hopton & Carson. 1722′.
Sadly, there have been no Gells at Hopton Hall since 1989, the last of the long line was Mrs. Aileen Gell, widow of Lt.Col. P.V.W.Gell, former High Sheriff of Derbyshire. But happily, the current owners, Bill and Eddie Brogden have restored the gardens and grounds and open them to the public during the whole of February for the Snowdrop Garden display, and thoughout July and August for the spledid floral displays.
The blending of ancient and modern, of the artificial with the natural, seems to work remarkably well in the Henmore Valley, rejuvenating the infrastructure and enhancing the ambience of the twin villages, whilst maintaining their essential charm and character.
The villages are both within half an hour’s walking distance from the Carsington Visitor Centre and both are well worth a visit. Severn Trent have turned the area into a flagship attraction for recreation and leisure, and in so doing, they have created a thing of great beauty – which hopefully, along with the villages of Hopton & Carsington – will remain a joy forever.