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Logo: Tom Bates, Derbyshire Local Histrory writer  
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Posted Sunday, May 13, 2007

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The village of Heath is yet another of the counties `hidden gems’, and must rank as one of Derbyshire’s best kept secrets.

It is one of those places that one often passes by but rarely - if ever – visits. In fact thousands of people pass within two hundred metres of the village every day of the year, and wouldn’t know it existed at all but for the signs which proclaim it’s national fame as Junction 29 of the M1 motorway!

Heath lies about four and a half miles to the south-east of Chesterfield and a similar distance from both Clay Cross and Bolsover in the North East of the county, and enjoys panoramic views over the verdant vale of Scarsdale – and the incessant traffic on the motorway - to the east.

The blemish of this six-lane highway which forms the biggest blot on the local landscape and runs like an evil snake along the length of the Vale of Scarsdale, is turned to advantage and utilised to describe Heath in estate-agent jargon as `a desirable commuter village’.

Yet for those unacquainted with the rural charms of it’s leafy environs, a visit to Heath will prove surprisingly pleasant – and pleasantly surprising, for the busy motorway hardly intrudes upon it’s peaceful atmosphere, and in complete contrast to it’s neighbours and quite unique in this part of Derbyshire, it has the appearance of a quaint country village.

The original dwellings are constructed mainly of the pale wheat-coloured local sand-stone, whilst the more modern constructions, and the numerous barn and farm conversions have all been blended sympathetically together in a mix of ancient and modern that well merits the villages official designation as a Conservation Area.

Hemmed in by this triangular hell of continuous traffic, with the motorway to the east, and two dual-carriageways to north and south, Heath stands like a last bastion of rural civilisation on the edge of the formerly tranquil vale of Scarsdale, and is perhaps best approached from the west.

The B6039 from Chesterfield runs alongside the old A617 Mansfield road almost as far as Temple Normanton. Just beyond is a left turn which leads directly past the old Williamthorpe Colliery site, now a pleasantly regenerated landscape with new plantations covering the old scars of the coal mining industry. Just beyond a left turn to Sutton Scarsdale the road passes the entrance to the Five Pits Trail and Williamthorpe Ponds Nature Reserve, popular with anglers, before continuing in undulating fashion over a mixture of wooded, arable and pastureland, to Heath.

The Danes were the first settlers recorded here, and established two small settlements called Lunt (or Lound) about a mile apart; one stood in a wooded area in the valley bottom and the other stood on the lip of the heathland above. By the time of the Norman Conquest the lower settlement of Lunt was the larger, and the only one named in the Domesday Survey of 1085/6, but following the building of the first Norman church between the two hamlets in 1162, the higher settlement, now known as Heath thrived, whilst the lower one, Lunt, became depopulated and abandoned.

From the twelfth century, the Premonstratensian monks of Croxton Abbey near Melton Mowbray held the patronage of the church at Heath until the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry V111 in 1538, by which time it had become a thriving agricultural community. In the late sixteenth century the manor passed to the Earl of Devonshire, and Heath remained a ducal estate village owned by the Cavendish family for another four hundred years.

Christian, Countess of Devonshire, founded the first school here in 1685, and it still stands on the High Street, but like a number of other former public buildings in the village, it has been very tastefully converted into a private dwelling house. Across the High Street, the former Reading Rooms have become a private house, whilst directly opposite stands Dragon Cottage, formerly the old George & Dragon Inn. Alongside on the roadside verge, stands another relic from a past age, an old stone horse-trough bearing the inscription `George & Dragon 1894’ – which is presumably the date when `last orders’ were finally called!

The Old Forge, now a private dwelling standing next to the Post Office in the centre of the village, is another converted reminder from the past, and is one of two forges that once operated here, thus giving a clue to the area’s agricultural heritage.

The area has always been rich in woodland, and Heath has become noted for the wonderful avenue of Lime Trees which stand proudly flanking the High Street and add much beauty to the village. Indeed, many of the properties bear testimony to this verdant heritage with names like Lime Tree House, Hawthorn House, The Hollies, The Orchard, and a string of cottages prefixed with names like Fern, Chestnut, Beech, Hazel, Oak Tree and Laurel. Even the two largest buildings in Heath, which stand at opposite ends of the village, one on the way in from Temple Normanton and one on the way out via the A6175 to Clay Cross continue the trend; the Hazelwood House care home for the elderly is a brick built modern complex to the south of the village, whilst the excellent Elm Tree Inn occupies a large plot near the church, overlooking the Vale of Scarsdale to the north and east.

The Elm Tree was built in 1855 and is well served with superb views, extensive rear gardens and a large children’s play area, and serves excellent food and good ale at lunch times and evenings, seven days a week.

Despite some modern brick developments, old and new seem to blend in perfect harmony and the new brick amongst the mellow old stone does not seem at all incongruous. A typical example lies at the northern end of the High Street where a new stone development at Manor Cottage next to the redeveloped Church Farm stands opposite the recently brick built complex of The Hollies – which in turn stands next door to Heath’s one remaining thatched cottage. Appropriately named, `The Thatched Cottage’ it is the only one left of a row of a dozen which stood here almost four hundred years ago, and the ancient cruck beams can still be seen beneath the thatch, facing the High Street.

The splendid All Saints Church, designed by Stevens of Derby and built between 1852/53, was consecrated on July 18th 1853 by the Bishop of Lichfield and stands at the north-east corner of the village, at the top of Church Lane. It has a wonderfully kept and large four-acre graveyard which sweeps down the hillside to the north east and overlooks the Scarsdale Valley, with the evocative ruins of Sutton Scarsdale Hall visible a mile away, and the magnificent Bolsover Castle standing stately atop the magnesian-limestone crest on the opposite range of hills.

The present church replaced the original Norman church, whose tumbled and abandoned ruins can still be found further east along a road which originally led down into the valley to the long vanished hamlet of Lunt.

This road continued across the Scarsdale valley to Palterton, and traces of it can still be seen stretching away into the distance, but both old ruins and old road are these days cut off and inaccessible from the village owing to the intrusion of the motorway.

Although the Duke of Devonshire still owns land and property here, most of the houses were sold into private ownership during the latter half of the twentieth century following the demise of the coal industry and the closure of the surrounding collieries. Most of the agriculture has gone too, with much of the former farming land in the Scarsdale Valley being eaten up by concrete and tarmac for the new road systems. Consequently there are now only two working farms in Heath, most of the remainder having been successfully converted into extensive and expensive modern dwellings, as at Yew Tree Farm, Church Farm, Corner Farm and the large Wilson Lane Farm complex.

The close proximity and excellent access to the motorway allows one to be at work in Leicester, Leeds, Nottingham or Sheffield in under an hour, yet despite this social fragmentation, Heath has a thriving community spirit and residents enjoy the benefits of a number of vibrant organisations including a Heritage Society, which all lends credence to the estate agent’s claims that these days Heath has become a highly desirable commuter village!

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