Winster lies within the Peak District National Park, just to the east of the B5056 Ashbourne to Bakewell road and about three miles as the crow flies due west of Matlock.
The village, on the fringe of the White Peak, is perhaps best approached from the A6 at Darley Dale where the B5057 leads first to Darley Bridge and then climbs up through Wensley before levelling out as it approaches Winster.
Upon entering the village it becomes the Main Street, the scene of the famous Shrove Tuesday Pancake Races which are run annually from the Dower House at one end of the street to the Market House at the other, a distance of about 100 yards.
Winster has a number of claims to fame and a fascinating history which includes murder, a double `lovers leap’ suicide, a hall and a former inn which are both reputedly haunted, – and the first National Trust owned property in Derbyshire.
Recorded in the Domesday survey as `Winsterne’, the village’s early history is rather obscure although it is recorded as being one of the 114 Derbyshire manors held by Henry de Ferrers at the time of the Conquest. Around this time a Norman chapel was built on the site of the present church of St.John the Baptist, but it wasn’t until 500 years later during the Elizabethan era that the present Winster began to take shape.
Today’s Winster is designated a conservation area with around 70 listed buildings, most of which were built in the 18th century when in the space of 50 years between 1720 – 1770 the small village of 600 inhabitants became a lead-mining `boom-town’. At it’s height there were more than 20 mines being worked in the area and the resident population swelled to over 2,000 people, – who quenched their collective thirst in 24 taverns or inns.
The most prominent building, not least because it sticks out almost into the centre of the street is the Market House which was given to the National Trust in 1906. The lower storey, built of solid gritstone blocks, was constructed during the latter half of the 16th century, it’s five arches being later filled-in when the market declined along with the lead mining in the early 19th century. The upper storey, originally timber – framed was added in the 18th century. The building is now a National Trust Information Centre, and recently refurbished, is still in regular use.
Most of the early building was around the Market House, and thus along Main Street towards the church, but with the population growth it quickly expanded outward, – and upward onto the higher and drier ground to the south and west.
A wall plaque records that Bank House on West Bank, built around 1580, has traditionally been the home of the village doctor for over 100 years. It was here on May 22nd 1821 that William Brittlebank of nearby Oddo House murdered Dr.William Cuddie. A reward of £100 was offered for the capture of 27 year old Brittlebank, – who promptly did a Lord Lucan and was never seen again!
Oddo House stands at the end of it’s curving tree-lined drive amidst landscaped parkland to the west of the church. It was first occupied by Hugh Brittlebank, a solicitor in 1700 and remained in that family for 200 years. The Brittlebank’s also owned most of the village, for when they left in 1891 they sold not only Oddo House but `3 farms, 68 lots of choice accommodation’, and `meadow and pasture land’ – a total of over 273 acres! A parcel of this land is now occupied by the new cemetery to the north of Oddo House, and the large Victorian Vicarage standing opposite.
Winster Hall is a three-storied structure of local gritstone built on Main Street by local lead magnate Francis Moore in 1628. It’s balustraded roof, Tuscan columns and Venetian windows were all added in the 18th century. Legend has it that around this time the daughter of the house fell in love with a servant, and their forbidden tryst was ended when together the lovers leapt from the parapet to their deaths. It is said that the forecourt is haunted by the ghost of a `White Lady’
In the 19th century Winster Hall was the home of historian and antiquary Llewelyn Jewitt, owner, editor and main author of `The Reliquary’.
The impressive Dower House stands back to back with the church at the western end of Main Street, and though much altered, dates from around 1600.
St Johns Parish Church sits snugly beside the graveyard almost at the foot of West Bank, with it’s squat grey tower hidden from view at the end of Main Street by the Dower House. The tower was added in 1721 and the church was extensively rebuilt and enlarged twice during the 19th century.
Winster has 3 chapels built between 1823 and 1852 and these are contemporary with many of the houses built higher on the western slopes of the village. The recently refurbished Burton Institute on West Bank doubles as the village hall, and of the 26 shops which existed a century ago, only two remain plus a hairdressing salon. G.B.Stores occupies the Old Bakery premises at the top of Pump Lane on Main Street and propritor Glyn Yates presides over a general store, off-licence and newsagent.
Unlike many of it’s neighbours Winster still has a post – office. This stands further along Main Street near the bottom of Wooley’s Yard and postmistress Carolyn Wood also sells local crafts and souvineers from her well stocked premises, which was once the village apothecary.
Leabrook Motors operate from the eastern end of Main Street, and an antique restorer occupies premises that once belonged to the Angel Inn.
Only two of the many inns remain, both renowned for their excellent fare; the Bowling Green on East Bank and the Miner’s Standard, built in 1653 which stands beside the B5056 on the fringe of the village. Close by is the Workhouse of 1744 and the unique Lead Ore House, almost on the route of the old Portway which forms a section of the Limestone Way as it passes above the village.
There is much development at the eastern end of the village, and Winster, despite the facade of it’s well manicured Georgian charm, is changing with the times. A modern estate which includes a new doctors surgery and a recreation area complete with an all weather floodlit games court and soccer pitch have been added towards the C. of E. Primary School on the Wensley road.
However, the village famous for it’s Morris Dancing retains the essential character and spirit of the small town it once was and this is epitomised annually during Wakes Week at the end of June when Main Street is garlanded with bunting and the whole of Winster celebrates it’s glorious heritage.