The White Peak village of Elton, recorded in the Domesday Book as Eltune, and thus signifying its Saxon origins, stands 950 feet above sea-level on an east-west plateau three quarters of the way up a bleak north facing hillside.
This stone-built peakland village bears testimony to an unusual geological feature which can be plainly seen in the architecture of its old buildings, many of them built in the 17th & 18th centuries, – for Elton stands on what geologists call a ‘strata boundary’; and remarkably the buildings on the north side of Main Street are constructed of gritstone, whilst those on the opposite south-side of the street are built of limestone!
Unlike many of its neighbours Elton has not fallen prey to the tourist trade and remains completely unspoiled by the modern trappings of rampant commercialism. The only souvenirs that tourists are likely to take away with them are chilblains and sore feet, for Elton is walking country,- and there is no tourist or souvenir shop, in fact there are no shops at all!
The Duke of York pub is an award winning CAMRA pub – one of only 5 in Derbyshire and 248 nationally – on the CAMRA National Register of Historic Interest. It is open daily from 8pm and midday on weekends. For a visitor stepping off a Hulley’s bus outside the Duke of York today it is like stepping back into the past for the village seems almost untouched by time.
Directly opposite on the other side of Main Street stands the square tower of All Saints Parish Church, surrounded and almost submerged by the tall elms and stately yews which stand sentinel guard around the perimeter of the churchyard. The current building was erected in 1812, the much older St.Margaret’s Church having been demolished in 1800 when illegal lead-mining beneath the church, (as also at Brassington) – weakened the structure and caused the spire to fall and crush the building.
‘Ella’s Farmstead’ as the early Anglo-Saxon settlers called it stands on the moor’s edge west of Winster, with Matlock five miles to the east and Bakewell about the same distance to the north. Those of a conservative nature would perhaps describe it as being ‘a little off the beaten track’, whilst in more rustic terminology the village is regularly referred to as ‘t’ back o’ beyond’.
A celebrated former resident who should know about such things is Alf Gregory, a member of the team led by Sir Edmund Hilary who conquered Mount Everest in 1953; he says simply that Elton is ‘a cold place’. Most residents of this ‘cold place’ would deem that description something of an understatement! Indeed, Elsie Bateman writing in the winter of 1933 describes 18′ snow-drifts which cut the village off completely and almost forced starvation on the 400 inhabitants;- “most people ran out of coal and there was no bread and very little water in the village…….every available unemployed man was out with a shovel, and at last after three days, a narrow channel two or three feet wide was cut through to Winster, and salvation was to hand…..”.
These days, though it remains a somewhat remote and rather desolate Peakland village it is a little more accessible, with the main Bakewell to Ashbourne road running by at the bottom of Chadwick Hill half a mile away at the Winster cross-roads.
The village has a unique atmosphere of its own, – described by its resident bard Rev.Neil Lee, known as the ‘Poet of the White Peak’ as ” a mixture of yuppies & yokels”; – it is also the haunt of hikers and cyclists, who on summer week-ends congregate at the quaint old-fashioned Elton Cafe on Moor Lane. A visiting hiker was recently overheard lamenting to her companion as they passed through the village, ” I don’t know why I come here,- there’s nowt here,- and t’ place allus smells o’ cow muck”?.
The rich aroma of the countryside which permeates the atmosphere can indeed be quite pungent at times, and I have heard it said that a blind man could find his way to Elton, simply by following his nose.
The village stands within the boundaries of the Peak National Park and today is essentially a farming community, with no less than 8 working farms in and around the village,-hence the rich aromatic ambience of the place,- especially when all the farmers are muck spreading at the same time!
One of the oldest buildings is Elton Old Hall built in 1668, has been sympathetically restored by local craftsmen and is available as a luxury holiday home. It was probably on this site that Henry de Ferrers built his Manor in the Middle Ages, which was later occupied by the Foljambes up to the time of Edward 3rd.
Many of the dwellings bear the date of construction carved into the stonework, and perhaps the most picturesque example is the limestone built Greengates Farm of 1747 which stands on the south side of the Main Street. Homestead Farm is also late 17th century, whilst Elton House at the end of Moor Lane bears the date 1710. At the bottom of Ivy Lane stands Lavender Cottage with a carved lintel above the door bearing the date 1672.
The school stands on the south side of Main Street just a few yards east of the church and was built in 1862 when Elton`s population was at its highest, and was enlarged in 1890. Beyond the church and opposite the Duke of York is Well Street, so named because of the well which still stands with its beautiful syphon-pump at the bottom of the sloping street.
The White Peak is rich in minerals, and the extraction of stone and lead have been the areas main industry for centuries. Elton, along with the other local villages of Winster, Wensley and Bonsall grew and prospered as a result of the lead mining industry, lead having been mined here since Roman times. The population has fluctuated accordingly and records show that between 1650 and 1700 there was a population of 250, rising in 1801 to 400, and in 1831 to around 600.
Significantly the 1980 census recorded a population in Elton of almost 400, and today it remains not much more than that. In the second half of the twentieth century a number of modern dwellings have sprung up along Back Lane which runs parallel with Main Street to its junction with Moor Lane, and there have been six properties built at either end of the Main Street; beyond Well Street at the West End there are six bungalows, and at the east end a row of stone built homes called ‘Alice’s Cottages’.
Much of the surrounding countryside is riddled with old workings and dotted with capped-off remains of old mine shafts, and whilst the last of the lead-miners have long since departed, their legacy stands etched into the local landscape like the scar tissue of permanent wounds.
Hill farmers are traditionally hardy folk and there has never been an easy living to be earned in this area of the South Pennine foothills. The land is too dry and the soil too thin for arable farming, and for hundreds of years right up to the end of the 19th century most farmers were forced to supplement their meagre income by doubling up as lead miners, and mined the very land that they farmed.
The area is rich in pre-history and late Neolithic and early Bronze-Age relics have been found on Elton Village Common suggesting extensive human occupation of the site some two thousand years ago.The most significant finds however come from a later age, – probably during the time of the Roman occupation of Britain, and are possibly of Celtic origin; in 1765 at White Low two Anglian globular urns & two glass pouch bottles were found along with a silver bracelet studded with human heads, a circular gold brooch set with garnets and rivetted to a silver plate,- and a beautifully decorated solid gold cross. This hoard was thought to mark the burial place of an ancient British Chieftain.
Arbor Low is only a handful of miles to the west of Elton and there are a number of stone circles, standing stones, and numerous ‘barrows’ or burial mounds within easy walking distance of the village.
Dozens of ancient footpaths criss-cross through the Parish, and the increasingly popular Limestone Way passes through the outskirts of Elton Village from south-east to north-west following the old pack-mule trading route of The Portway, which pre-dates the Roman occupation. There are tremendous views to the north, the most striking overlooking the rocky fortress of Mock Beggar Hall, or Robin Hood`s Stride as it is more commonly known, with the Portway climbing like a white snake up towards Cratcliffe Rocks and winding beside the old yew tree, one of two that mark the entrance to the ‘Hermits Cave’.
The ‘Cratcliffe Hermitage’ has a crucifix carved into the rock and a small niche for a lamp or candle and probably dates from around 1300. In those days, ‘Hermits’ were appointed by Bishops to safeguard and offer hospitality to travellers. The earliest record comes from a Haddon Hall stewards account of 1550 where it is noted that ‘Ye Cratcliffe Hermitte was paid fourpence for guidance of people to Haddon’.
This is also the site of a Romano-British settlement, whilst half a mile to the west following the old Portway are the four remaining standing stones of the stone circle known as Nine Stones Close. The Portway continues over Harthill Moor north of Elton to Castle Ring, a Hill Fort and stockade of the ancient Britons.
Stanton Moor stands two miles away across the valley to the east and is well known as a massive Bronze-Age Cemetery with over 70 Bronze-Age burial mounds, – most excavated last century and early this century by local archeologists Bateman and Heathcote and their many finds are currently housed in the Sheffield City Museum.
One modern day event sums up the spirit of Elton Village and Elton folk. The school had no playing field, the village had no recreational area or facilities, and so in 1977 the residents formed a village committee and together raised the money to purchase an area of land to the south of Main Street at the east end of the village. This is the only level area for miles around. It is now known as the ‘Jubilee Field’ and has a distinctive white-painted cricket pavillion which is ‘home’ to Elton Cricket Club. It also has an excellent soccer pitch, and boasts tennis courts and a childrens play area. Owned by the village and administered by it’s elected committee, it is the jewel in Elton’s crown, a triumph over the elements, and a tribute to the fiercely independent nature and indomitable spirit of the village and it’s stoical inhabitants!
Alf Gregory was right, Elton Village is a ‘cold place’; it`s saving grace is its folk who imbue the village with a warm heart!