Hol­brook’s where the heart is

Derbyshire Life - - Village - WORDS AND PHO­TOS: Ash­ley Franklin

Com­mu­nity spirit is alive and well in this charm­ing, char­ac­ter­ful vil­lage five miles north of Derby where res­i­dents pulled to­gether to res­cue their 400-year-old inn

If vil­lage com­mu­nity spirit could be bot­tled, that bot­tle should have Hol­brook on the la­bel. I caught that spirit when writ­ing about the vil­lage over ten years ago and on hear­ing re­cently that one of its pubs, The Spot­ted Cow, had re-opened as a com­mu­nity pub with com­mu­nity-run café next door – The Spot­ted Calf – re­alised it must be as strong.

As long-time res­i­dent Julie Mar­shall points out: ‘How many vil­lages with a mod­est pop­u­la­tion (around 1,500) can boast three pubs, two schools, two churches, two foot­ball clubs, a café, post of­fice, vil­lage store, vil­lage hall and a min­ers’ wel­fare? We’ve even got our own flag now.’

‘All of us on the Parish Coun­cil think Hol­brook is a spe­cial place,’ says Chair­man Richard Massey. ‘We have a fan­tas­tic com­mu­nity spirit here, great fa­cil­i­ties, a wide va­ri­ety of ac­tiv­i­ties in­clud­ing a mag­nif­i­cent vil­lage fête, a thriv­ing school, fas­ci­nat­ing his­tory and a great ru­ral lo­ca­tion of­fer­ing won­der­ful walks and beau­ti­ful coun­try­side. It’s a lovely vil­lage to live in and bring chil­dren up in.’

Such is the num­ber and va­ri­ety of go­ings-on in Hol­brook that last year the Parish Coun­cil hit upon the idea of hold­ing an open day for lo­cal clubs and groups to show­case what they did. Over 40 groups, clubs and busi­nesses were listed at the event. Although, as Richard adds: ‘There is a lot go­ing on and plenty to take part in but one of Hol­brook’s other fine qual­i­ties is that it’s a peace­ful vil­lage.’

The grow­ing list of events now in­cludes Dam­son Sun­day, which Stephanie Limb – one of the lead­ing lights be­hind the pur­chase of the Spot­ted Cow and a mem­ber of the com­mit­tee that runs the café – was in­spired to re­vive af­ter read­ing my 2007 ar­ti­cle. The tra­di­tion is linked to Hol­brook’s his­tory as a cen­tre of frame­work knit­ting: the lo­cal trees are a spe­cial va­ri­ety brought from abroad be­cause its large, juicy fruit was per­fect for pur­ple and blue dyes for the cloth.

So, a spe­cial visit was in or­der to raise a glass of dam­son gin, of course, to Hol­brook on Dam­son Sun­day, the first Sun­day af­ter St Michael’s Day, and ad­mire the com­pe­ti­tion en­tries of bakes, bev­er­ages and pre­serves, all made with damsons. Lisa Pil­ley, Ke­van Tom­lin­son and fam­ily were even per­suaded to pose for a pho­to­graph, proudly hold­ing a plate of dam­son scones in the midst of their own or­chard. Ke­van could even point to one of the wash houses used for dye­ing.

The long win­dows that al­lowed in more light for those work­ing on the large knit­ting frames are also still in ev­i­dence in some houses. In fact, by the mid-19th cen­tury nearly a third of Hol­brook’s

1,000 pop­u­la­tion was in­volved in mak­ing cot­ton stock­ings, silk gloves, un­der­wear and ties of a qual­ity that brought or­ders from roy­alty, in­clud­ing Queen Vic­to­ria and the King of Siam.

Hol­brook’s his­tory can be traced even fur­ther back: in

1962 ev­i­dence was un­earthed of a Ro­man set­tle­ment through the ex­ca­va­tion of two kilns, one ca­pa­ble of bak­ing 200-250 jars at one fir­ing, mak­ing it the largest kiln ever dis­cov­ered in the Bri­tish Isles.

With work at lo­cal quar­ries and nearby mines, Hol­brook evolved into an in­dus­trial, work­ing class vil­lage, fol­lowed at the turn of the 20th cen­tury by a growth of large ‘dor­mi­tory’ houses, lead­ing one res­i­dent to state that to­day, ‘Hol­brook is like a mi­cro­cosm of Eng­land in that we’ve a broad church of peo­ple in a wide spec­trum of prop­er­ties.’

With its im­pres­sive fa­cil­i­ties and ro­bust com­mu­nity spirit, Hol­brook is not so much a mi­cro­cosm, more a model that other English vil­lages should as­pire to. For ex­am­ple, there is an ex­cel­lent C of E Pri­mary School. In 2007, I de­clared that the school was run ‘with ev­i­dent pas­sion’ by head­teacher An­drew Davies. He’s still at the helm and steer­ing the school on­ward with that same ar­dour.

In the in­ter­ven­ing years, Hol­brook Pri­mary has opened a new kitchen and a hall that is ex­ten­sively used by the wider

the Poets is The Wheel, run for the last 18 months by young land­lady Dee Ainsworth. She knew she wanted to run the pub as soon as she walked in: ‘It was quaint, quirky, with dif­fer­ent rooms, lots of space, a cosy bar, two open fires, a wel­com­ing at­mos­phere and, best of all, a su­perb pub gar­den.’

Dee has clearly given The Wheel fresh life, in­tro­duc­ing tra­di­tional pub food, a quiz, a pool team and – soon – a skit­tles team. There are six ales avail­able and plenty of reg­u­lars to en­joy them, one telling me that The Wheel had re­turned to be­ing ‘a proper pub.’ It’s also dog-friendly, has a talk­ing par­rot, and a res­i­dent ghost – a lit­tle red-haired girl whose pres­ence was noted by a para­nor­mal in­ves­ti­ga­tor.

The sight of a re-opened

Spot­ted Cow can al­most be seen as a mirac­u­lous man­i­fes­ta­tion. In 2016, faced with an ap­pli­ca­tion from a prop­erty de­vel­oper to con­vert the 400-year-old pub and car park into res­i­den­tial prop­er­ties, a few res­i­dents came to­gether and dared to dream, not just of op­pos­ing this move but of club­bing to­gether to raise the £¼ mil­lion plus needed to buy it. The vil­lagers found they could list the Cow as an

As­set of Com­mu­nity Value and their cam­paign be­gan. There were leaflet drops, meet­ings, a Face­book page, a film ap­peal, and a life-size plas­tic cow dis­played in a suc­ces­sion of front gar­dens for passers-by to won­der at.

As lead­ing cam­paigner Stephanie Limb re­counts: ‘We saw the Spot­ted Cow as em­blem­atic of this com­mu­nity and we couldn’t face Hol­brook’s heart be­ing ripped apart.’

Hap­pily, much of the lo­cal com­mu­nity felt the same and so, af­ter ask­ing for a min­i­mum in­vest­ment of £250, 260 peo­ple – mainly res­i­dents – chipped in to raise the nec­es­sary £296,000.

Then came a fur­ther rush of com­mu­nity spirit as res­i­dents vol­un­teered their skills – dec­o­rat­ing, car­pen­try, gar­den­ing etc – to help with the ren­o­va­tion, with all the in­vestors hav­ing a say in the fin­ished pub.

One of the vol­un­teer labour­ers, Brian Sin­gle­ton, says: ‘It’s been a labour of love where I’ve gained skills – and friends, too. It’s brought Hol­brook closer to­gether.’

El­iz­a­beth Swift, a café vol­un­teer who also works in the Post Of­fice which has now been in­stalled in the café, was house-hunt­ing in Hol­brook when the cam­paign started and she was so taken by the ap­peal that she bought shares be­fore she bought a house. Now a res­i­dent, she says that liv­ing in Hol­brook ‘feels like one long hol­i­day.’

As­tutely, the Spot­ted Cow com­mit­tee brought in two ex­pe­ri­enced pub­li­cans – the aptly named Paul and Ch­eryl Brew – to run the pub which opened in July of last year. ‘It’s a joy to work in a gem of a pub and vil­lage,’ says Ch­eryl. Paul’s at­ten­tion to the beer – there are six ales on ev­ery three or four days, all sourced from lo­cal mi­cro­brew­eries – has al­ready earnt the pub a place in the Good Beer Guide. Once a foo­dled pub with a Sun­day carvery, the Spot­ted Cow of­fers hearty, tra­di­tional pub food. The Spot­ted Calf café is also win­ning plau­dits for its de­li­cious fare.

There is so much more that needs to be high­lighted in Hol­brook, in­clud­ing the School

for Autism which has grown in rep­u­ta­tion and size from the time it opened in 1997 with ten pupils – there are now over 120. A lit­tle fur­ther up the road is St Michael’s Church, a strik­ing look­ing build­ing de­scribed by wor­ship­per David Mel­lor as ‘a hid­den ar­chi­tec­tural gem.’

An­other in­di­vid­ual build­ing is the quaint house bear­ing the ti­tle Gaslight Gallery where Linda Forster keeps alive the legacy of her late hus­band Charles who be­tween 1976 and his death in 2004, sold 11,500 pieces of his sculpted pe­riod fig­ures, build­ings and ve­hi­cles, pot­tery of a hu­mor­ous and idio­syn­cratic na­ture that should have seen Charles her­alded as the LS Lowry of ce­ram­ics. Fur­ther up the road is artist Julie Mar­shall who has con­trib­uted to many lo­cal art projects, though her lat­est is an ini­tia­tive called The Green Team, ‘a plat­form to sur­vey, dis­cuss and pro­tect the vil­lage en­vi­ron­ment.’ For ex­am­ple, Julie aims to put up bird boxes, cul­ti­vate wild flow­ers along the verges and record wildlife – al­ready a pink grasshop­per and com­mon lizard have been mon­i­tored. Julie is keen to in­volve the schools and ‘cre­ate en­thu­si­asm for na­ture so that we be­gin to care about and take re­spon­si­bil­ity for our en­vi­ron­ment.’

Given the zest for vil­lage life I’ve seen in Hol­brook, some­thing tells me Julie’s project will be warmly em­braced!

View of Kil­burn from Moor­side Road

Hol­brook Pri­mary School head­teacher An­drew Davies with se­nior teacher Jean Matthews and pupils from each of the school classes

Craig and Tracey Barker and daugh­ter Holly of the Hol­brook Vil­lage Store

Stephanie and Chris­tian Limb of the Spot­ted Calf café

Hol­brook’s School for Autism

Paul and Ch­eryl Brew of The Spot­ted Cow

Dee Ainsworth, land­lady of The Wheel

Pot­tery fig­ures by Charles Forster

Houses on Church Street

Hol­brook Parish Coun­cil flag with frame­work loom, damsons and a wood­cock for Coxbench, part of which is in Hol­brook’s parish

Ja­son Holmes, Land­lord of the Dead Poets pub with cook and ‘chief bot­tle washer’ Chris Brown

The Spot­ted Cow sign

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