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Heage & Nether Heage

Posted Sunday, May 13, 2007

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Heage & Nether Heage:

The villages of Heage and Nether Heage are set high in the hills to the east of the lower Derwent Valley between Ripley and Ambergate, and a couple of miles to the north east of Belper.

The surrounding countryside is an area riven with deep valleys running north-south, and both villages sprawl along adjacent ridges, Heage standing almost due east of it’s sister village with the Nether prefix, and both – along with nearby Ridgeway - taking their names from the surrounding terrain.

From the Norman Conquest and through the Middle Ages this area was part of Duffield Frith, an area of Royal Hunting Forest administered from Duffield Castle, a few miles southward down the Derwent Valley, and the deep, undulating wooded valleys from the Derwent to the Amber and beyond provided an ideal habitat for all kinds of wildlife including roe deer, fallow deer and wild boar. Clearings were made at certain vantage points on the high ridges overlooking the frith, and early medieval hunting lodges sprang up, gradually growing into the settlements we see today.

Heage is thought to be a corruption of High Edge, although the first recorded mention and spelling of Heege is contemporary with Duffield Frith, coming from a document of 1471. The name is recorded as both Highedge (one word) and High Edge in eighteenth century official documents, and it was not until the nineteenth century, when the burgeoning new parish of Ambergate was carved out of it in 1892, that public opinion finally decreed that the local dialect should triumph and thus, whichever way you spelled it, High Edge became Heage!

After first the Tudor’s and then the Civil War had decimated the great tracts of forest in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the eighteenth century brought the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution – and new life to the sparseley populated and largely agricultural settlements of Heage.

The building of the nearby Erewash and Cromford Canals and the newly laid turnpike roads brought the first signs of industry to the area, along with the attendant growth in prosperity and population.

Two or three dwellings survive from the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, and were built using the honey coloured local stone which provided the building material for Crowtrees Farm at Heage, which with three pairs of massive wooden cruck beams - one dated 1450 - is probably at least a century couple of centuries earlier than the 1712 datestone over the door. Similarly the 1755 date on the massive lintel above the door of Yew Tree Cottage on Church Street probably refers to the re-building of an earlier dwelling. Fifty yars ago the building was a shop owned by the Spendloves, who were also former licensees of the Old White Hart across the road,- and in late Victorian times it was a butcher’s shop and bakery. However, according to historian Roy Christian, “The earliest recorded building here was a small medieval chapel, which local tradition has it, stood outside the village in Greaves Wood, to save foresters’ families a six-mile walk to the parish church at Duffield”. This building was destroyed when a violent gale swept the country in 1545, and according to a contemporary letter quoted by Lysons, the noted antiquary, `the devil personified pull’d down the chappyl’....

This ancient chapel building was contemporary with the gabled Heage Hall, perhaps the oldest dwelling in the area and the former home of the Argiles, Shores and most famously, the Poles. The Hall is a mixture of seventeenth and sixteenth century architecture, some parts perhaps even earlier, and was the home of local squire George Pole who famously distinguished himself by serving both sides in the Civil War! In 1646 the Vicar of Duffield evidently persuaded Pole to atone for his sins by building a place of worship for the people of Heage and the present parish church of St.Luke is the result. A commemorative stone set in the south wall of the chancel bears the completion date of 1661, along with the initials G.P. The porch was added in 1742, and the church much enlarged when a new extension together with the strangely bird-cage shaped bell-tower was added in 1836. The quaint lych-gate on Church Street commemorates the Rev.Henry Moore Mosse, the incumbent here for 33 years between 1855 and 1888; the legend carved into the wood above the entrance informs the reader that the structure was Erected by his grateful parishioners.

St. Luke’s stands surrounded by yew trees on the hilltop along Church Street, and near the three-way road junction at the Old White Hart of 1760, where the signpost points along School Lane to Nether Heage, down Tenter Lane to Belper, and along Eagle Street towards Ripley on the B6374.

Heage stands geologically on the western fringe of the coal measures and coal was mined here from the eighteenth and throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in shallow workings known as Footrills – which is from where Tenter Lane gets its name – a tenter was a coal miner who worked the footrills. The coal was taken along cinder tracks through the village in horse-drawn carts – the cinders coming from the Morley Park Ironworks waste tip alongside the A38. Morley Park Ironworks, along with the larger Ironworks complex at Butterley consumed most of the coal that was produced here and also provided employment for the men of Heage for almost two hundred years. A large malthouse once stood at the top of Spanker Hill to the west. It was demolished around 1880, and only the name of Malthouse Lane remains as a reminder of its existence.

There was a watermill in the valley between the villages operating from the early eighteenth century on the site now occupied by Brook Farm, beside the brook that gives both the farm and Brook Street it’s name, and a Tower windmill was built in the 1790’s on the west-facing hilltop above.

These industries are long since gone but modern ones have taken their place. The large and attractively set L.B.Plastics factory is part of the Litchfield Group of Companies and stands above Broadholme on a fourteen acre site - once a prisoner-of-war camp housing 1400 men!

The other is the Heage-founded Bowmer and Kirkland complex, which began life in 1898 in a small builders yard behind the Old White Hart on Church Street. It's still there, but has expanded from those small beginnings into an extensive purpose-built factory and office complex with its H.Q. at the recently completed High Edge Court.

The tower windmill is still there too, overlooking Nether Heage as it has done for over two hundred years. Its working life ended around 1920 and following many years of dereliction, when it was twice struck by lightning, it was purchased in 1966 by Derbyshire County Council for £350. Now lovingly restored to full working order, the six sailed, fan-tailed, Grade Two listed tower windmill was finally opened to the public on June 1st 2002 thanks to a joint project by Derbyshire County Council and Heage Windmill Society, with financial support from the Heritage Lottery Fund, English Heritage and Amber Valley Borough Council.

The Heage windmill is a familiar landmark to todays population of around five thousand inhabitants and attracts many visitors who, like the locals, justifiably regard it as the jewel in the crown of this landscape - standing proudly with arms outspread, like a silent sentinel on the high edge.

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