Stapleford and Kimberley

The 13th/14th century church of St Helen, Stapleford.
The 13th/14th century church of St Helen, Stapleford. (A. Nicholson, 2002)

The mining enterprise in this locality has wholly transformed the scenery in the valley of the Erewash. Smoking furnaces and densely populated towns and villages, with a network of railways, now occupy what once was a quiet rural district, little affected by the throb of manufacturing and commercial activity in other parts of the country. A visitor to Stapleford after an absence of twenty years would scarcely recognise in the mass of buildings and places of business the small hosiery village that he once knew; but among all that is modern, near to the gates of the churchyard, standing on a strong pedestal, is the shaft of an ancient cross that deserves the closest attention. The transverse arms are gone, and modern hands have surmounted it with a cap and ball; but a careful survey shows that it is a work of great and undoubted antiquity, and that it must date back to the time when the district first heard the glad tidings of the Christian faith. The shaft is about ten feet high, roughly rounded at the lower part, and gradually working into a square shape towards the top. It is elaborately ornamented with interlaced and knotted ribbon work, arranged in geometrical devices; and on one of its faces, near the top, is a curious and indistinct carving that looks somewhat like the outline of an enormous bird. The shaft has fortunately been the subject of special and careful study on the part of a very competent authority.

The Rev. G. F. Browne (Disney Professor of Archaeology in the University of Cambridge), referring to the evidences of early Christian work in this county, says: ‘At Stapleford you have a sculptured pillar of quite unique beauty of ornament, and interest of ecclesiastical tradition. It has cost me three days in three successive years to make out the intricate interlacements of its ornamentation, and it stands now revealed as a work of art as remarkable as any page of the best Hibernian MSS. of .the eighth century, the Book of Kells, or the Gospel of Lindisfarne. And it is unique in this respect, that it has on it the symbol of the Evangelist St. Luke—a great winged figure treading on a serpent, with the head and ears and horns of a calf. The church is an early dedication to St Helen. The pillar is earlier than that, for if you ask when the village feast is, you find it is fixed by a complicated rule of thumb, which determines that Old St Luke’s Day comes always in the wake week. The pillar takes us to a time before there was a church there at all. It records for us the first taking possession by the first Christian missionaries in the name of Christ and His Evangelist, St. Luke.’

Pevsner regards the cross as being "by far the most important pre-Conquest monument in Notts." The shaft is 10ft high, and the decoration consists mostly of interlacings but with one doll-like figure at the top. The cross has been dated to c.1050. (A. Nicholson, 2002)

Domesday Book records that before the Norman invasion there were here four manors, which Ulcicilt, Godwin, Staplewin, and Gladwin had, and that thereafter the famous William Peverel held land in demesne. ‘There were then a priest and a church, and 58 acres of meadow,’ valued in the Confessor’s time at 6os., and in the Conqueror’s at 40s. only. Peverel was a man of great influence, and held large possessions, which had been granted to him by the Conqueror. It is said that he was a natural son of that fortunate warrior, but Mr. Freeman scouts the suggestion as an utterly uncertified and almost impossible scandal

His vassal or feudary at Stapleford was Robert de Heriz, and from his grandson it passed to Avicia, wife of Richard Cazmera. One of their descendants took the surname of the village, and the estate was carried with the heiress of the Staplefords by marriage to the Teverys, a Derbyshire family resident at Long Eaton. Memorials of the Teverys are still in a good state of preservation in Stapleford Church. The last member of the family, Geoffrey, settled his possessions upon Tevery Palmes, his grandson, from whom it passed to William Palmes, and he sold it to Arthur Warren of Toton. Admiral Sir John Borlase Warren rebuilt the hall in 1797, and after the Peace of Amiens went as Ambassador to Russia. He subsequently took part in the American War, and was made a K.G.B., returning to Stapleford to spend his last days. He represented Nottingham in Parliament, and died in 1822. His only daughter married the Hon. George Vernon, and by their successor it was sold to Colonel I. C. Wright, the present owner of the Hall.

The church is an Early English edifice, to which alterations and repairs were made in 1878 at a cost of £2000. On the shoulder of the ridge which separates Bramcote and Stapleford Valley is a huge giant in the shape of an enormous mass of red sandstone, known as the Hemlock Stone, forty or fifty feet high, and fifty feet round the base. There it has stood for centuries ‘a petrified enigma,’ and there we doubt not it will continue to stand for ages, one of the oldest and most curious relics in this part of the county.

Kimberley Chapel in the late 18th century Kimberley Chapel in the late 18th century (Throsby, 1790). The chapel was described by Throsby as "bending towards the earth like decrepit old age" and had completely disappeared by 1832.

Very happily named is another pleasant stretch of country which forms a picturesque part of the Erewash Valley, and is known by the familiar appellation given to it not less than six centuries ago. Beauvale has been partly invaded by houses—it has given its name to a populous locality containing a large Board School—but it is a beautiful vale still, and, looking across the valley to the Derbyshire border, the eyes rest upon as pretty a panorama as can be seen in any part of the county. The district is well wooded, and there are diversified views of hill and dale—of busy, thriving towns on the one side, and of quiet rural hamlets on the other, with the handsome residences of the gentry nestling amid the trees. Throsby, in his wanderings, seems to have been struck with the varied scenes hereabouts, for, speaking of Kimberley, which almost touches Beauvale, he writes thus quaintly and enthusiastically: ‘The village is one of the most romantic I have seen in these parts. Its site is extraordinarily diversified; some of the dwellings perch upon an eminence, others sit snugly on the side, some on the base. Comparing little things with great, the travelling of an insect over a succession of ant-hills is like that of a man over the lanes or passages of this village.’ Could the venerable antiquary revisit the locality to-day, he would find a large part of it covered with houses, alike at summit, side, and base. But the vale itself, which runs at the foot of a thickly wooded slope down to the broad Erewash Valley, has not been greatly built upon.