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Logo: Tom Bates, Derbyshire Local Histrory writer  
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Chesterfield Guide

Posted Thursday, May 17, 2007

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The Changing Face of Chesterfield:

Chesterfield is Derbyshire's second town, and ideally situated for use as a centre for visiting the magnificent countryside of the Peak District and the nearby wonderful historic houses of Chatsworth, Haddon and Hardwick - convenient also for visiting Bolsover Castle, and the romantic ruins of both Sutton Scarsdale Hall and Wingfield Manor.


The town lies just five miles west of junction 29 of the M1 motorway and is easily acessible from all directions by both road and rail, with the Midland Railway Station just a short distance from the centre, and lots of parking spaces in and around the town.

Chesterfield is a wonderful town!

Topographically Chesterfield lies almost in the centre of a vast bowl of land, with the original town built on a spur overlooking the valley of the Rother to the east and the Hipper to the south, a position chosen by the Romans to build a fort in the first century AD for it's commanding views over both road and river approaches.

Today that spur of land is crowned by the Crooked Spire of St. Mary & All Saints parish church, the town's most famous landmark which has dominated the surrounding landscape for over six hundred years - and which now presides over a modernised and award-winning town centre, whilst the rest of Chesterfield has spread out in all directions! In fact, it is one of the fastest growing urban connurbations in the UK with the population rising rapidly from 60,000 and almost doubling in the last fifty years; when you examine the town's location and facilities, it is easy to see why!

With Sheffield City centre a dozen miles to the north and both Derby & Nottingham 26 miles away to the south and south east respectively, Chesterfield, just 45 miles from the large cities of Manchester, Leeds and Bradford is ideally situated as a centre for commerce, industry and tourism, and also makes an ideal residential location, being almost in the centre of England.

Chesterfield's commercial and business community has developed tremendously over the last few years. Indeed, until a few years ago the signs which greeted the travelling wayfarer at the town boundaries read, `Chesterfield - The Centre of Industrial England'; these days that has been changed to read, `Chesterfield - Historic Market Town'. These really are `signs of the times' and signify the changing face of Chesterfield.

The History of Chesterfield:

It is recorded in the Domesday Book as Cestrefeld and was then merely a baliwick of the Royal Manor of Newbold, now a parish within the Chesterfield Borough.
Chesterfield was given Free Borough status in a charter granted by King John in 1204, which also allowed a twice weekly market and an annual fair each September.

There has been a market ever since and apart from being one of the oldest, it is also the largest open-air market in the land, holding regular markets on Friday, Saturday and Monday, and a massive flea-market every Thursday.


During the Industrial Revolution, Chesterfield developed rapidly as an industrial centre, especially during the nineteenth century with an explosion of potteries, iron-foundries and collieries. This period saw the construction of the Chesterfield Canal and later, the coming of the railways which brought a massive influx of workers into the town, swelling the early Victorian population and causing a building boom of terraced rows of houses down the slopes away from the town to the south and east, and westward through heavily industrialised Brampton.

Railway pioneer George Stephenson brought the Midland Railway to Chesterfield and left his mark upon the town. The Stephenson Memorial Hall on the corner of Stephenson's Place was erected in his memory by public subsciption and opened in 1879. Stephenson spent the last years of his life at Tapton House, where he died in August 1848, and was buried in Holy Trinity church. The Stephenson Memorial Hall is now the home of the Chesterfield Museum and Art Gallery, which is open to the public and has some fascinating artefacts on display from Roman and medieval times to Victoriana, and admission is free.

Wherever you are in Chesterfield, your eye is drawn to the Crooked Spire, one of the best-known architectural curiosities in the country. The spire soars to 228 ft high, is octagonal in plan, but also has an alarming twist and leans more than 9ft 6ins from the perpendicular to the south-west!

The church itself is a magnificent cruciform building, 173 feet long and 100 feet across the transepts, which contain thirteenth century work, although most of the fabric is fourteenth century. It has an early Saxon font, four side-chapels and some lovely screen work, and amongst its treasures is a superb canopied alabaster altar tomb with memorials to the Foljambe Family.

On a south facing hillside to the west of the town centre stands the magnificent classical red brick frontage of the Town Hall, built in 1935 and overlooking the Queens Park, the jewel in Chesterfield's crown.

The Queens Park was opened in 1897 to mark Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee and has recently undergone a £5m lottery-funded restoration. A footbridge leads from West Bars into the park which boasts a boating lake, arboretum, cafe and children's play area, numerous specimen trees, tennis courts, band-stands, a first-class cricket ground where both County and International matches have been played, and an annexe with sports stadium and running track. The Queens park also boasts an ultra-modern fully equipped Sports Centre, which is open to the public seven days a week, with tennis, badminton and squash courts, gymnasiums and swimming pools. There are excellent golf courses in and around the town, with a municipal course at Tapton, and Chesterfield Golf Club at Walton, and a wonderful short-course nearby at Stanedge, a couple of miles south west of the town.

Chesterfield FC, nicknamed the Spireites currently play in Division Two of the football league, and the area is well-known as a centre for sporting activities.

The Winding Wheel, a former cinema and ballroom provides a wonderful concert and conference centre in the middle of town. It is administered by the Borough Council and available for public hire and regularly provides an ideal venue seating up to 900 people for concerts, dances, lectures and exhibitions. It also has a licensed bar.


The Victorian Market Hall in the Market Place has recently undergone a major refit and provides a range of modern shopping emporiums, and one of a dozen cafes in the town. The nearby narrow cobbled streets of The Shambles have pavement eateries, a host of ancient shops selling modern fare, and the half-timbered Elizabethan, Royal Oak, reputedly the oldest inn in town.

The nightlife is vibrant with numerous popular venues for music, dancing and drinking, from old fashioned pub to futuristic nightclub, and the town centre is thronged by revellers on Friday & Saturday nights!

Chesterfield is an excellent centre for shopping as well as for recreation and leisure activities; the town has everything, from multi-plex cinemas to a ten-pin bowling alley, first-class international restaurants with almost every national cuisine available, and some of the best hotels in the County.

The old rows of Victorian terraces were swept away by redevelopment a quarter of a century ago, and the town centre underwent a major award-winning face-lift during the seventies and eighties, when the new Court House and the Pavements Shopping Centre and arcades were built.

At the beginning of the new Millennium, with the major engineering works all gone, and the burgeoning growth of Chesterfield as a major centre of trade, commerce and tourism firmly established and continuing apace, the final piece of the town-centre redevelopment jig-saw was put into place with the creation of Spiregate, a fabulously conceived and wonderfully executed shopping mall with boulevard and square, housing all the major high street brands and catering for the visitors every want or need.
Having reviewed almost every town and village in the county, taking account of history, location, public buildings and general appearance, public facilities, including recreation and leisure, hotels, eating houses etc - and for the sheer pleasure of being there, the historic market town of Chesterfield comes top of the list!

 
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