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What’s In Your Parish? Ockbrook.

Updated: Oct 19, 2021

Welcome to the first of our new occasional blogs “What’s in your parish?” in which we’ll take a look at what archaeology can be, or has been found in parishes around our region. We’ll focus on Derbyshire initially as that’s where we’re based, but will spread our wings as time goes on. We floated the idea with schools in the county and asked for suggestions for parishes to include. The first parish to get in touch was Ockbrook, near Derby, so here goes with just some of the archaeology of that parish!

Alleyway or gitty in local dialect.

The parish lies about 5 miles east of Derby and sits just north of the A52. To the south of this road is Borrowash which is technically the other half of the civil parish. However, the village has had its own identity for over a thousand years, so who am I to quibble!

What’s In A Parish?

There are many aspects to parish life in the past, and archaeology can tap into this in many ways, some of which may be unexpected. For example, in the image on the right an alleyway is an ‘informal’ means of moving about the village that has become incorporated into the ‘formal’ fabric of the parish. So it pays to look more closely at the everyday things that surround you. To help you out, I’ve included some Ordnance Survey grid references should you wish to visit.

Prehistory In The Parish

Unlike many other parishes in Derbyshire, there isn’t much to report on prehistory in this small parish. Most of what has been found is from findspots, so we cannot infer too much from them. The oldest evidence we have is two small flint cores from the Mesolithic period (c10,000 – 4,000BC). Cores are, as it sounds, the core or centre of a nodule of flint that remains after all the useful material has been removed. Similarly, a small axe made from Greenstone and dated to the Neolithic period (c4,000 – 2,000BC), can only tell us that it must have been brought to the area as this is not local geology.

As part of the excavations looking for Romano-British evidence, which is in more detail below, an Iron Age (c800BC- 43AD) ditch system and some pottery was found, but no further signs of settlement were apparent.

All Saints Church SK 423 357

Parish church tower

The tower of All Saint’s church, Ockbrook.

Like many a parish church, All Saint’s shows its story in its fabric and if you know what to look for you can read it. In the image on the left you can see at least four phases of development. There are several elements to a church that can help with this, so among the things to look for are a tower, nave, chancel and windows.

The earliest remaining elements are the 12th century tower along with the font. One of the signs to look for is the size and shape of windows. In the lower part of the tower they are typically Norman – narrow on the outside and splayed on the inside. The tower itself is an interesting example of the transition from the Norman style to the Early English. Some of the changes occurred during the reign of Henry II (1154-1189).  The upper part of the tower dates to the 14th century and the broached octagon spire is of later date – probably of the time of Edward I (1272-1307). Staying with the tower, one of the bells is of historical significance. The 1653 bell cast by G Oldfield of Nottingham is a good example of the founder’s work and you can read more about him here.

Other windows also help to tell the story of the building. Records tell us “there was a two-light pointed Decorated window nearer the chancel and …on the south side of the nave there are two two-light square-headed windows of Perpendicular style which dates to them having been inserted between c1350-1540″. However, much of the remainder of church was rebuilt between 1800 and 1835. Luckily there is a tablet at the west end of the nave states that the church was enlarged in 1835! The chancel of the old church was rebuilt by a local beneficiary, Thomas Pares, in 1803. The nave was widened to the north in 1814-15 and to the south in 1835. It was also given a flat ceiling and a west gallery in two parts, on cast-iron columns.

Inside the church there is more evidence to help tell the story. The font at All Saints is a Norman one dating to c1100-1150. The tub-shaped font is decorated with interlaced arches and it resembles fonts in other Derbyshire churches. These include St Michael’s in Church Broughton and St Peter’s in Somersall Herbert. There is an early 16th century oak rood screen of fine workmanship. This was originally in Wigston’s (or Wyggeston’s) Hospital in Leicester. It was purchased in the early 19th century under somewhat mysterious circumstances. An article in the Transactions of the Leicestershire Archaeological and Historical Society suggests that somebody, either a trustee or the master acting on their own initiative or maybe the trustees acting in concert, sold off the screen and some stained glass in c.1805. No-one it seems realized what had happened until the early 1820s. Despite the subsequent hue and cry the windows and screen stayed put in Ockbrook. The incorrect installation of the screen has resulted in the best of the carved detail facing east, away from the congregation. Further detail on this part of the story of the parish can be found here.

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The Royal Oak

The Royal Oak – started life as a house in 1762.

The other stalwart of village life is the pub and so nearly every village has one (and sometimes more!). The Royal Oak is like many others in that it started life as a house. It was built in 1762 and was converted to a public house before 1821. Later in the same century it was substantially extended to the rear. The building is faced with roughcast render beneath a gabled plain tile roof. It is two-and-a-half storeys tall. There is an off-centre entrance door with a segmental head. To the left is a two-storey range built of painted brick.

Giant’s Hill          SK 430 359

The name Giant’s Hill is first recorded in 1826 and is depicted as an irregular earthwork on the 1st ed. 6″ Ordnance Survey map of 1887. A mound suggestive of a tumulus on Giant’s Hill is shown on maps as ‘Giant’s Grave’ and lies on a steep slope of the hill to the east of the parish of Ockbrook, in what was an old enclosure before the 1773 Parliamentary Enclosure Award. The field to the south is called ‘Castle Field’ and is also an old enclosure.

The existing mound, or rather combination of three mounds, measures about 100 feet east and west, by about 80 feet north and south. To the west there is a mound or rampart that looks like a portion of defensive earthwork, but it tails off suddenly both north and south. To the north-north-east of this is another mound but with vague continuations, it is suggestive of a once circular embankment. The third mound lies to the north of the second and is higher than the others and again is irregular in shape.

It has been suggested that this was some form of defensive earthwork from which most of the material (a red marl) was taken by the local inhabitants to fertilize the communal town field to the south. The old name of Castle or Castle Hill Field seems to corroborate this theory. On the other hand, the name ‘Giant’s Grave’ suggests a tumulus or an aggregation of barrows; but probably this popular name is a comparatively late invention. There is now no trace of the hillock; it has almost certainly been ploughed out. Recent examination of the furrows revealed nothing of interest. No recorded excavation has taken place on the site.

Church Farm House SK 423 357

Church Farm House, Ockbrook

Upper floor of Church Farm House. Notice the changes in brickwork.

The house began as two separate small timber-framed small houses/large cottages of similar size, about 5.5m long and the same distance apart. They are both probably dateable to the 17th century. They had square panels set on stone plinths with wattle and daub infill between the timbers. Later, this was replaced by brick ‘nogging’ or filling. Both buildings were two storeys high with a single or partitioned room on each floor and with a garret in the roofspace. Internal features such as the ceiling heights suggest that they are of slightly different dates, with the southern building being slightly later. It was probably somewhere between 1750 and 1775 when the two buildings were brought together by the infilling of the central area, to create a 3-bay long building. A short west wing was added, together with a cellar.

We know more of the history of the people associated with the farm. In the years around 1700, the farm and its land had been bought by Dane Mary Lake from Robert Piggen, a descendant of one of ten yeomen who had between themselves bought the manor in 1583. The farm may well have existed at that time. By 1773 Church Farm is referred to as ‘The Homestead’ although it is unclear who changed the name. It continued to be farmed until about the Second World War, after which it became part of a dairy and later a riding school. Various farm buildings were sold off, and the farmhouse was disused for over 30 years.

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Little London SK 433 372

Little London – originally a barn.

The grandly named Little London, on Far Lane, is a timber-framed house and was originally a corn barn on the site of a grange which belonged to Dale Abbey in the adjoining parish. It was probably constructed in the late 17th century with the brick infilling between the timbers being original. It is not clear when the farmhouse to which it belonged decayed or was demolished, but it appears that the barn was converted into cottages by 1909.

The barn, and a court of brick farm buildings to the south, were restored in the 1980s. In the centre of the building, the windows have replaced the barn doors, but the timbers that supported the doors are still in-situ.

Ockbrook Corn Mill  SK 429 357

Extant remains of parish windmill

The base of the old windmill. The scale is 1m.

Many villages had a mill in the past and at Windmill Farm, just east of the village, there’s the stump of a brick-built windmill tower. It is named on the Enclosure Award map of 1773, although it is not shown on the earlier (1767) map by Burdett. The Ordnance Survey map of 1880 shows the mill to be disused.

Not only do sources give us a good description of what the windmill looked like there is a painting of it too. Although only two sails are shown, it would have originally had four. So this image dates to a point in its decline. It was four storeys high, with a loading door on the first floor. The walls were pretty thick at 14-inch deep. The top,or cap, was ‘boat-shaped’ which was a little unusual.  Most of the mill has now disappeared and only the base of the tower survives. Currently the mill has been reduced to a brick annulus, a little over 2m high with no roof or covering such that rainwater can get into the walls.

The Ockbrook & Borrowash Historical Society have been researching the mill and requested that the windmill be listed, and collected various documentary references to the mill. These included a letter written in 1810, deploring the fact that the miller was working on Sundays, a report on the execution of two men in 1812 who had robbed the dwelling house at Ockbrook Mill, and a survey of 1826.

If you like to know more about windmills in Derbyshire there’s Alan Gifford’s handily titled ‘Derbyshire Windmills: Past and Present’ Published by Heage Windmill Society (2003) and you can buy it here.

Romano-British Ockbrook 

In 1729 in fields near the Little Hay Grange Farm a local man found an antiquity from Roman times – a silver tray or lanx. It was not until the last century however, that any modern, systematic archaeological work looking for evidence of Roman activity in the parish took place. In the 1990s a number of fields in the parish were investigated by Ockbrook and Borrowash Historical & Archaeological Society through fieldwalking.

This investigation yielded a general spread of Romano-British finds, mostly pottery, with large concentrations in a field 250m south of Spondonwood Farm (SK 415 370) and another one 100m southeast (SK 416 371). There was also a spread of artifacts near Little Hay Grange Farm and Little London. The pottery finds gave a range of dates from the 1st-3rd centuries AD, and included everyday and quite high status material. One example was a piece of Samian ware which was shown to be made by a potter called Germanus i who worked at the La Graufesenque factory in South Gaul in the first century AD.

The site of the Romano-British building.

The outcome of this successful fieldwalking was an excavation in Thack Meadow, about 400m away from Little London. Carried out by the Ockbrook and Borrowash Historical Society along with the Derbyshire Archaeological Society, the Ilkeston and District Local History Society and the Trent & Peak Archaeological Trust,  the excavations revealed an Iron Age ditch system and the remains of a Romano-British, stone-built aisled building. So far, this is the oldest building found in the parish as it was dated by artefacts to being used between the 2nd-3rd centuries AD. It was quite a large structure with dimensions of 29m x 12m. It was a dual purpose building, housing both people and animals, as well as grain storage etc.

If you’d like to read more about the excavation, here is the reference:

Palfreyman, A. 2001. ‘Report on the Excavation of a Romano-British Aisled Building at Little Hay Grange Farm, Ockbrook, Derbyshire 1994-7’. Derbyshire Archaeological Journal 121: 70-161.

The Moravian Settlement

The 18th century saw the beginnings of what has come to be known as ‘The Moravian Settlement’ at Ockbrook. The story of the Settlement can be found here. Today it covers an area of approximately 6 acres and includes the Moravian Church, Manse, school, private residences and a lecture hall. This enclave of central European origin is of both historical and architectural interest. Benjamin Ingham and Jacob Rogers introduced Moravian tenets by 1739 and Rogers was the first preacher. Religious services first took place in a barn lent by local man Isaac Frearson on whose land the settlement was subsequently built. The society was formed into a regular congregation in 1750 and the chapel was built in 1751-2.

The Chapel.

The chapel, which is a Grade II* listed building, is at the heart of the settlement and the other buildings respect it, and form an inward facing plan. The chapel itself has been described as “a neat commodious chapel of brick”. The building has five bays and three arched windows, with two arched entrances to the left and right. There is a pediment and white timber cupola above. It was enlarged to the rear, heightened and refitted in 1875-6 including a wide pediment and bell-cote. The latter probably replacing a similar feature on the original, more steeply pitched roof.

The growing community need houses of course, and houses for single brethren and single sisters were opened in 1759 and buildings for boys, and girls, day and boarding schools were subsequently provided. In 1867 the brethren’s house was replaced by a Sunday school. The main buildings of the settlement, of brick with slate roofs, are aligned on sloping ground facing south-east with the chapel near the centre, houses of two and three storeys, to the right which include the former single sisters’ house, and to the left the minister’s house of three storeys, dating from the mid 18th century.

The War Memorial

The village War Memorial.

This quick tour of some of the archaeology of the parish would not be complete without the War Memorial. Sited near the A52 in the south of the parish, it is as you can see, a fairly plain, modest monument to the men who fought and died in WWI. The use of an obelisk was quite common, as was the cordon of chains to demarcate the area. It may be worth comparing the names on this with those on the memorial in the church. Sometimes names were added or missed accidentally. There is grave to a victim of the war in the graveyard who is on neither. Can you find it?

In conclusion

So there we have it, just some of the archaeology that can be seen in the parish of Ockbrook. There is more of course, and you can walk around the village to see if you can work out how the village grew by looking at the style of houses for example. How does it compare to where you live?

We hope you’ve found this useful, and don’t forget, if you’re a Derbyshire teacher let us know if there’s a parish you’d like featured in our blog!



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