Hopton is a small hamlet linked to Carsington which occupies a sheltered position beside Carsington Water. A small roadside boundary stone divides the two villages, which can still be found close to Hopton Hall.
Hopton Hall was a fine Elizabethan house much altered in the 18th century. It was the seat of the Gell family for over 600 years until it was sold at the end of the 20th century. Over the years Hopton Hall passed by marriage into the hands of the Eyre’s of Highlow who assumed the surname Gell and the family arms and then in the 19th century William Pole Thornhill of Stanton Hall acquired the house through his marriage to Isabella Gell, but he also changed his name to William Chandos-Pole-Gell to preserve the Gell tradition. It is therefore rather sad that after such a long lineage Hopton Hall was sold in 1989 following the death of the widow of P.V.W. Gell who had died in 1970.
The construction of Carsington Water was well underway by 1989, and shortly before her death Mrs Gell was said to have commented “the park never did have a good lake”!
Hopton Hall is famous not only for its superb display of snowdrops when the grounds are temporarily open to the public, but also for its unusually shaped boundary wall which is often described as ‘crinkle crankle’ in design and appearance. The 30ft high building which divides the wall was in fact built as a windowless, floorless summerhouse. During its construction it is said that the resident Gell of Hopton at that time instructed builders to continue upwards until he told them to stop. However, a business trip to London took longer than expected and resulted in this folly of a tower! Hopton Hall at one time contained a table whose 6ft top of pure Blue John was originally a mantel shelf before being removed during renovation work.
The Gell family have held estates at Hopton since 1327, their wealth acquired from the inevitable lead reserves in the surrounding area. Around 1642 Sir John Gell sought a commission from Parliament and was made a Colonel of Dragoons. His guns and that of his army did considerable damage to Wingfield Manor to the east of Derbyshire and destroyed Eastwood Old Hall at Ashover. Around 1800 Philip Gell was responsible for the construction of the Via Gellia road which linked his lead mines at Carsington with the Cromford Canal. A mill in the valley produced a woollen fabric called Viyella which was an adaptation of the road name. Another of the Gell family claimed his ancestry to descend from the Romans, basing his theory on the discovery in the grounds of Hopton Hall of a piece of pottery inscribed with the name of a Roman soldier named Gellius – fact or fiction could not be proved.
Just along the lane from Hopton Hall is a former toll bar cottage, whilst just around the corner from this is a property whose gable extends over the road. Here there is a most unusual stone carving on the roadside wall which is reputed to depict George and the Dragon as it was thought at one time to have been an inn of that name.
The almshouses at Hopton were founded in 1719 by Sir Philip Gell. It is possible to read a detailed inscription on the front of the properties which states that the dwellings were a ‘hospital’ for 2 poor men and 2 poor women.
The High Peak Trail follows an elevated course above Hopton. This former railway line had several steep inclines including the Hopton Incline with a gradient of 1 in 14 where trains were hauled up a stretch of the line by using a cable attached to a stationary engine which was located at the top. It was generally safe but in 1937 there was in fact a fatal accident on the Hopton Incline. With the onset of more powerful rolling stock however, trains eventually managed this particular climb unassisted.
Between Middleton-by-Wirksworth and Wirksworth are the Hopton Wood Quarries which were described by Pevsner as being amongst the most exciting pieces of rock-scenery in the county. Sheer walls of great height rose quite close to the road but sadly now are mostly quarried away.