Dronfield Interest

Dronfield acquired its name when the first settlers noticed the number of drones (male bees) infesting the area, and named it Dranfield.

This changed through familiarity of use to Dronfield.  The small river running through Dronfield is the River Drone – obviously the pesky bees were everywhere.

Although mentioned in the Doomsday Survey of 1086, the town was deemed a place of little consequence.

Bees have been in existence for 50-60 million years and are one of the most important links in the chain of life.  They work with industrious fervour solely for the good of their hive, their organisation and work ethics are unrivalled.  Dronfield should be proud to have acquired its name from such industrious creatures.

The honey produced by bees has far more uses than simply spreading on toast, no matter how delicious.  The medicinal properties have been proved to alleviate many ailments, and the owner of Troway Hall, Gloria Havenhand, has created a very special environment for her bees.  She acquired her first hives via a legacy from a dear friend and has developed a respect for the bees which has grown over the years.  As a biologist she has researched the properties of the honey and built a business which helps people worldwide.

The benefits of the products of bees were recognised by races around the world as far back as the ancient Egyptians and Greeks and were used for curing ailments and preserving.  The Egyptians had their own floating hives on the Nile, a ‘bee trail’ on water.  Now, Troway Hall offers the opportunity for visitors to follow their own bee trail and enjoy the gardens, meadows, trees and the continuous hum of bees going about their work.

The first recorded date for the Church of St.John the Baptist is 1135 the rector being named Oscot.  Remnants of Dronfield’s past remain in buildings like the Green Dragon Inn, once the headquarters for The Guild of the Blessed May.  Its use as an inn probably came about from the dissolution of the monasteries and suppression of guilds and chantries in 1547.

During the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, Dronfield became home to a number of prosperous merchants who were able to establish themselves, as Lord of the Manor.  They were drawn to Dronfield because the transport links by road and water made the trading with the lead mining and grit stone industries much easier.

There was a significant wool trade using the local farmers flocks.  Many families were employed in the spinning, weaving and making of the cloth.  There were also dye works, soap making and tanning trades, all taking place beside the river.  Coal mining also became part of the early Dronfield life.  Stubbley Pit was first mentioned in the 16th century.  Subsequently, mines were worked all around the district, but there is little trace of them today.

Samuel Lucas, a steel refiner, set up a foundry in 1811.  Legend has it that the foundry manufactured cannonballs for use in the Napoleonic wars.  After the war, he moved into the manufacture of scythes, shovels and railway parts.  The business passed into his brother Edward’s hands in 1822 and remained in the family for a further 160 years.

Dronfield enjoyed something of a boom time in the 1870’s with the establishment of a steel rail making business which brought employment to the area, resulting in the influx of people and the building of houses and shops.

The unexpected decision to relocate the business to Cumberland was like a nail in Dronfield’s coffin and just as people had moved in quickly they moved out at the sae speed.  It took many years before Dronfield attracted new residents.

The grit stone Peel Monument in the High Street was erected in 1854 as a tribute to Robert Peel commemorating his part in the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846.  The monument has become recognised as the focal point of Dronfield’s image.  Close to the monument is ‘The Cottage’ a 16th century house once owned by Lord Byron.

The construction of the Midland Railway through Dronfield in 1865 brought a huge influx of workers of ‘navvies’ to the area.  These uncouth navvies were thought to be in need of spiritual guidance by their railway employers, who duly recruited a scripture reader.

A short time later, a Mr Arnett f Cliff College at Calver and a few local men formed a mission in Cowley Lane at Dronfield.  At first, services took place in Schoolwood Cottage, which was owned by the Jackson family.

Students from the college walked the nine miles to Cowley to conduct services and would enjoy the hospitality of the Jackson family before making the long trip back.

As the popularity of the mission grew, it became necessary to build more suitable premises and the chapel was built in 1893.

During the Second World War, bombs falling on Cowley Lane damaged the chapel causing its closure.  It wasn’t until after the end of the war that materials could be obtained to repair the damage to allow the chapel to re-open.

The war was also responsible for ending the era of student preachers visiting Cowley.  It would be thirty three years before student preachers returned to the mission.

By  Diane Russell 

The Bishop’s Walks – The First Ten Years