Old Duffield Village, Church, and Castle,
With some Personal Reminiscences.

A Lecture given before the Duffield Branch of the Church of England Men's Society, Dec., 8th., 1921,

Duffield Frith


In 1266, the manor and forest of Duffield, confiscated from the Ferrars, were conferred by Henry III. on his son, Edward Duke of Lancaster, and they came into the immediate hands of the Crown in 1399, when Henry Duke of Lancaster became king.

The royal forest called Duffield Frith extended from Duffield to Wirksworth and from Hulland to Heage. "Frith," of course, is a forest. We have the word still in Chapel-en-le-Frith, but in mediaeval times it did not signify a thickly-wooded district, but always meant a certain defined area, reserved in the main for the purposes of the chase. Duffield, however, was wooded almost everywhere when it first came into the hands of the Ferrars, the trees being mainly oaks. Doubtless some of the veterans in Kedleston Park are survivors of the old Frith. For hundreds of years this great Frith remained a royal hunting-ground. Here roamed the deer - mostly fallow - in great abundance, the wild boar, and the wolf. Wolves were troublesome in Duffield Frith even to the end of the 13th century. The chief royal hunting-seat was at Ravensdale Park, still so called. King Edward I., between 1290 and 1293, was frequently here for sport. Edward II sojourned nearly a month on one visit to Ravensdale.

Here may I digress for a moment. On the wall of the north aisle of the church there is a curious relic of this period, in a carved head which forms a corbel stone, supporting the roof timber. Dr. Cox says "From the style the hair, beard, and moustache, it is clearly of the time of Edward II - 1307 to 1326." Is it possible that a local and loyal artist carved this head as a representation of his king ? At any rate, the king's features and appearance would be well known in this parish, and this head bears a strong general resemblance to that of the figure of the king (murdered at Berkeley Castle in 1327) on his tomb in Gloucester Cathedral. It would be most interesting if this were found to be a contemporary portrait.

The early account-rolls of the Duchy of Lancaster are full of references to Duffield Frith, and have only partially been explored. We read that in 1314 there was a great larder at Belper, where the venison of the deer was salted down for winter use. A great cow-house stood in the lower part of Shottle, still called Cowhouse Lane (sometimes corrupted to "Cowers").

Cowhouse Lane has a post-office, and the official Post-Office Guide prints the name "Cowers Lane." My father, who deplored the loss of old associations. once asked the then post-master there how this came about. His answer was to this effect: "One day a letter came from the head office, asking me which was the correct name, 'Cowhouse,' or 'Cowers,' so I counted the letters which had come that morning, and as there were more addressed ' Cowers' than 'Cowhouse,' I replied that Cowers was correct." It therefore became and remains, officially, Cowers Lane; so carelessly are place-names distorted and historical connections lost.

Orders are recorded, in 1375 for the delivery of oaks to the Carmelite Friars of Nottingham, the Dominican Friars of Derby, and the Abbott of Darley for building purposes. In September, 1405, the king (Henry IV.) ordered the chief forester to supply twelve timber oaks towards the repair of Duffield church, and in 1411 to deliver to the tenants of Duffield enough wood for the rebuilding of the bridge over the Derwent. ("Not necessarily that this and other bridges were of wood; timber was required for piles and frames and supports during the repair of stone bridges.")

On 21st June, 1565, we read that "at a court of the Manor of Duffield Frith, William Gilbert surrendered a cottage and lands and closes for providing and sustaining an honest and learned man within Duffield Frith, to teach and instruct boys in honest and pious discipline and literature." The schoolmaster's wages were settled at 12d. a quarter for every scholar being a grammarian, and 8d. for everyone inferior to a grammarian; but he might take other private pupils. This was the origin of Duffield Boys' Endowed School, and the funds thus provided are still used for the education of boys living within the confines of the ancient Frith. Duffield Frith continued to be in the hands of the Crown until the time of Charles I. It had been reduced considerably in size, and in the reign of Elizabeth it is said to have been thirty miles in circumference.

In the 17th century many disputes arose as to the conflicting rights of the Crown and the commoners which culminated in 1643 in the inhabitants forcibly throwing open all the enclosures in Duffield - or Chevin Ward, including Shottle Park. All this part of the old forest so seized remained common until 1786, when 1,500 acres were enclosed by Act of George III., and, after careful and lengthy examination and hearing of evidence by commissioners appointed for the purpose, these commons and waste lands were divided, and allotted to all the persons, rich and poor, who had proved their right to the use of the said lands - not grabbed exclusively by the large landowners, as some persons would have us believe.

Most of this extent of land formerly covered by the Frith became the ancient parish of Duffield, which contained the townships of Hazelwood, Holbrook, Makeney, Milford, Shottle, and Windley, and the chapelries of Belper, Heage, and Turnditch. The chapelry of Belper at this period was, of course, the ancient chapel of St. John the Baptist, built by the Duke of Lancaster for the use of the foresters, and still used for divine worship.

Our church is the mother church of all this district, and the Vicar of Duffield still appoints the Vicars of Belper, Heage, and Turnditch. Duffield was for many centuries by far the largest centre of population in the parish. In the Parliamentary Commissioners' report of 1650 respecting Duffield and its chapelries, Belper is described as "a hamlet appertaining to Duffield."

First published 1922, Derby, Harpur and Son. Website copyright 2001 Jed Bland. 16.04.01