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

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Surrounded by a panoramic landscape of high meadows and glorious limestone dales set deep in the heart of Derbyshire’s `sheep country’, Litton is a village with a reminder of bygone days at it’s centre, - an olde worlde village green complete with ancient wooden stocks, - and a lovely country pub.

For mad dogs and Englishmen this is the place to be out in the mid-day sun for there is more summer shade in the centre of Litton than in any other village centre in the entire county. Up here on the central limestone plateau at almost 1000 feet above sea-level the contrast between the seasons is very evident, and whilst the scene on the village green outside the Red Lion seems the epitome of the English country village in summer, the inhabitants will readily tell you that life in Litton can be very hard indeed during the harsh winter months.

Life was hard and conditions extremely harsh both summer and winter alike at the infamous Litton Mill on the north bank of the River Wye during the early years of the nineteenth century. Cotton Mill owner Ellis Needham epitomised the unacceptable face of capitalism at this `den of ignorance and crime’ by his cruel treatment of a workforce consisting of 80% women and children, some as young as 8 or 9 who suffered `one continuous round of cruelty and arbitrary punishment’.

The mill was completely destroyed by fire in 1874 and a new mill took its place, producing cotton fabric for a further sixty years.

The mill was converted to produce artificial silk and from the mid 1930’s was responsible for the manufacture of parachutes for the war effort until the second world war ended, and then man made fibres until its eventual closure some 20 years later.

Nowadays the mill has undergone a successful transformation into a block of luxury apartments and the excellent riverside location is much sought after.

Mill work, lead mining, quarrying and farming have been the main occupations of Litton folk down the years, and a century ago stocking weaving and shoe making were domestic industries practiced here.

The lead mines are long since gone, leaving only the spoil-heap legacies of a bygone era, and just farming and quarrying remain.

The basalt quarry in Tideswell Dale closed just before the second world war, but limestone is quarried on an ever-increasing scale just outside the parish and along with the cement works in the Hope Valley, this provides some employment for the men of Litton.

Farming remains the main occupation with a number of farms in and around the village, mainly raising livestock on the surrounding ancient field-system which bears similarity to the `inner and outer’ medieval field system employed more famously at nearby Chelmorton.

Like all villages in the White Peak , Litton has made full use of the natural materials available locally and is built predominantly of limestone, - though all have this in common, each individual village is distinguished by its own unique character and Litton and its folk are no exception.

Again, like most Derbyshire villages Litton is first mentioned in the Domesday Book, when, after the Conquest the manor belonged to William Peveril. Following the Peveril’s downfall the manor was held by the Litton family for 400 years until it was sold in 1597 to another famous Derbyshire family, the Bagshawe’s. The `Apostle of the Peak’, William Bagshawe was born at Litton Hall in 1628, and the manor house changed hands frequently during the next century until, along with most of the village, it was eventually purchased by the Curzon family in the 18th century. Sadly the Hall was demolished over 100 years ago and a farm now stands on the site.

Litton was an `outlier’, sheltering beneath the benevolent ecclesiastical wings of the mother church at Tideswell for centuries, the village and it’s folk fought long and hard for their own independence, and to their great credit they succeeded.

Canon Samuel Andrew, vicar of Tideswell built the rather grandiose edifice which dominates the centre of the village with its twin-gabled façade facing the main street.

This triple purpose building with its bell tower, ornate clock, arched windows and statuary was built to serve as a mission church, village school and library in 1865.

Independence came in 1929 when Miss Penfold gave the newly constructed Christ Church to the village, and this pleasant but rather isolated building which stands some 400 yards west of the village green along the Tideswell road was consecrated for use as an Anglican Church.

The village well-dressing festival takes place at the weekend nearest June 24th which is the patronal Festival of St.John the Baptist, patron saint of the mother church at Tidewell.

Litton probably owes its existence to the five springs which once flowed down the village street after emerging in what later became Well Yard. The spring water formed a small mere on the village green at which cattle used to drink, but during the 19th century volunteers built a reservoir for the Tideswell & Litton Water Board and the mere disappeared forever. The reservoir still exists but the springs dried up 60 or 70 years ago.

The oldest building in the village is a pretty limestone cottage which has a datestone bearing the legend `W. IV. 1639’, and stands adjacent to the main street.

The later prosperity brought by the lead-mining boom years of the 18th century is evident in the building of Clergy House (1723) and Hammerton House (1768) which stand almost directly facing each other across the green, and later still is the 19th century Sterndale House which stands sedately behind the Red Lion.

The village also boasts a Working Men’s Club built by voluntary labour in 1907 on land given for the purpose by Lord Scarsdale, and a surprising number of social organisations for such a small and relatively isolated settlement.

Modern day Litton exhibits an atmosphere of enterprising endeavour as witnessed in Millennium Year when the village produced a resoundingly successful Festival of Music, - and by a series of fund-raising events, kept the local shop, (once the village smithy) operating.

That fierce community spirit engendered by Litton’s hard won independence is characteristic of the folk here and augers well for the future of this charming White Peak village.

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