Chelmorton is a unique and fascinating village with a number of claims to fame. Known internationally for its historic and ancient field system, it is also the highest village in Derbyshire and possibly the highest parish in the whole of England, with the Parish Church of St.John the Baptist standing at 1,209 ft above sea-level.
This `mountain village’ – as it is described in the Derbyshire Guide book stands four and a half miles to the south east of Buxton, just over a mile from the A515 Buxton to Ashbourne road, and at the foot of Chelmorton Low which rises to 1,440 ft and dominates the skyline to the north and east.
Bronze Age tumuli on the summit of Chelmorton Low and the nearby Nether Low attest to early human habitation in the area and there is no doubt that the earliest settlers made their homes on the banks of the stream which is known by the delightful if improbable name of Illy Willy Water, – supplied by a spring rising on the hill and providing a constant source of pure water, scarce in these limestone uplands.
The stream dictated the shape of the village for it ran for about a quarter of a mile and then disappeared underground, and Chelmorton was built on it’s banks, the original village street being exactly the same length as the stream. Nowadays the water is piped underground.
Another curious feature is the earthwork mound and ditch which almost encircles the village, and the ancient field system which not only pre-dates the enclosures act, but also the Norman invasion, in fact the most ancient crofts were probably laid out by our early Celtic ancestors long before the Saxons arrived.
This is a `street’ or `linear’ village with a mixture of farms and cottages, most of them with long narrow crofts, built on either side of the gently sloping main street which runs downhill in a south westerly direction from the parish church to the Flagg Lane crossroads.
Beyond the church the road ends abruptly on the slopes of Chelmorton Low and only an ancient trackway, now a footpath, climbs the hillside and joins the Limestone Way beyond Five Wells Farm on route to Taddington.
In marked contrast to the rest of the buildings, which are mainly of white limestone with gritstone features, the parish church of St.John the Baptist has a darker gritstone
chancel, tower and spire, all mid 18th century additions to the original limestone church built by the Normans 500 years earlier.
Opposite the church stands the appropriately named Church Inn, a delightful hostelry dating originally from the 1700’s and formerly known as the Blacksmiths Arms. The old Smithy of 1746 stood at the rear of the pub and village lore has it that the blacksmith, also the landlord, was his own best customer in those days.
Attractively festooned with ivy, the Church Inn sits snugly in the shade of the oak and ash at the foot of Chelmorton Low, with the sound of the crystal spring of Illy Willy Water tinkling musically nearby. Very popular in the summer months, the Inn has recently been refurbished by new owners Justin Satur and Julie Hadfield and serves excellent home cooked meals 7 days a week in an atmosphere which is both warm and welcoming.
One of Derbyshire’s most remarkable residents was born at nearby Shepley Farm almost 93 years ago. Harry Swindell’s record of public service and private devotion to his family and staunch Methodist faith have served Chelmorton well for almost a century. Harry’s first appointment was as Methodist Chapel Steward at Chelmorton, and from 1960 he was appointed Circuit Steward for the Buxton Circuit.
In the war years when the Ministry of Agriculture set up its Agricultural Executive Harry was appointed Deputy Chairman of the local District Council Committee. He was also appointed to the Board of Managers of Chelmorton School where he served as Chairman until the age of 75, and during his 35 years on the Parish Council he served both as Chairman and Parish Clerk. A member of Buxton Rotary Club for 34 years, Harry was President in 1959/60, and was also a founder member and Chairman of Buxton Probus Club. In 1991 he was made an honorary life member of the Bakewell Show, and is the only survivor of the 1914 pre-Great War Show.
Harry’s involvement with the Buxton Young Farmers Club began more than 30 years ago and today at 92 years of age this young farmer still occupies the Presidential chair! Amazingly since his `retirement’ at 75 Harry has swapped his plough for his pen and is the author of a dozen best selling books of poetry and biography, – some of which can be seen at the Church Inn where an innovative village theme is permanently displayed.
At the opposite end of the village stands its oldest dwelling, the elegant and stately Townend Farm, built originally by Isaiah Buxton in 1634. With its four excellent Venetian windows and pedimented doorway it is also known locally as Chelmorton Hall. This ancestral home of the Marsden family has an atmosphere redolent with age, an enclosed courtyard with elaborate outbuildings, – and a ferocious flock of geese!
Cliff House and Cliff Cottage stand resplendent with ivy covered walls on the corner of Church Lane and Cliff Farm is one of half a dozen farms which still survive from the 20 or so smaller farms which flourished here a century ago. Harry Swindell’s son John still farms at Shepley Farm, and John Gould at Cliff Farm, but these days Chelmorton seems to have more B.M.W.’s and Mercedes than tractors, and many of the ancient crofts which line the main street have been transformed into expensive modern luxury dwellings.
The Primitive Hall of 1874 stands opposite the 1922 War Memorial Institute, and near the post office is Restoration House with a datestone of 1672. A beautiful terraced row of limestone cottages beyond the old school building seems to epitomise the ruggedly handsome character of this ancient upland village where the old and the new blend harmoniously together into the Derbyshire countryside on the banks of Illy Willy Water.