This small village is down one of two lanes off the A52 between Derby and Ashbourne in Derbyshire. The village has a population of only about two hundred and fifty people.
WHAT A STRANGE NAME
It is thought that the village name comes from the Saxon word for ‘bright clearing’ (sirelei) .The first recording of the use of the name Shirley was around 1250 when the Saxon lord Siwallis who lived in Shirley added de Shirley to his name. This family were crusaders and this is where the village pub takes its name ( Saracen’s Head) . The Shirley family were granted the title Lord Ferrers and Viscount Tamworth in 1711 after many distinguished years of serving the country. They did live just outside the village in a lovely white house known as the Old Vicarage for years but the house has now been sold out of the family.
The village centre focuses on the pub, ‘The Saracen’s Head’ built in 1971 and now a very popular gastro pub. When I first came to the village the pub was very different and still had the original farm buildings behind it including a pig sty and stables that my friend and I made into a meeting place for the other young teens in the village. These have now been converted into very nice self catering accommodation.
Opposite the pub is a row of terraced houses which were apparently originally a barn but they look like Victorian terraces to me. You can tell they were originally a bar by the blocked ‘breather’ bricks which were used to ventilate barns in the past. They date from the 1800s I believe two are only one bedroom while a third is a two bedroom house but they are very pretty and are within the conservation area of the village.
THE OLD RECTORY
Behind these houses on the left as you look at them is the old Rectory which is a stone built house dating from the 1300s which was lovingly restored and looked after for many years by the same couple, it has since changed hands twice. It looks quite big from the outside but the ceilings and door ways are very low so if you are tall you do have to be very aware of this when visiting. Unless you know this house is there from the village it is really just seen as a high stone wall and hedge and cannot be seen unless you go down the driveway.
ST MICHAEL’S CHURCH
Continuing onwards to the left and next to the Old Rectory is not surprisingly the church of St Michael. The entrance to the church is through thick chunky wooden gates and passed an ancient yew tree and the grave yard which surrounds the church. For those interested in history there are some very old graves on which you can just still read the inscriptions. Both my parents are buried in the church yard; sadly my Dad is not with my Mum as step brother decided to put his mother in with my Dad. So he is with someone he was married to for five years rather than the person who gave him four daughters and was married to him for over thirty years but that is a long story! Things like this will be fascinating to historians in years to come.
The church is a pretty building with a long history and many fascinating features inside as well. It was first mentioned in the Doomsday book in 1086 though not much of that building remains. The oldest part is the chancel arch and the oldest bell tower dates around the 1500s. I might be inspired to write a review on this at some time in the future.
THE OLD SCHOOL AND TOWARDS PARK LANE
Next to the church is the Old School which closed to pupils in around 1967 and is now two houses. One part was the former school master’s home and the other part the original primary school. Almost opposite the school is another set of old terraced cottages which are just outside the conservation area. They are possibly farm workers cottages and I know for a fact that one of them is a tiny three bedroomed cottage as I lived there for a while with my two children. Upstairs the rooms all have sloping ceilings and the windows are at the height of your knees.
Rushmore house was a former farmhouse but is now a family home with a very large garden and vegetable garden as well. Next door along the lane you come to the Old Stables which were pretty obviously once stables for this farmhouse.
If you continued up Park lane you would go past a farm house then at the end of a very long drive near the lane is a semi detached house once the gardener ‘s and the groom’s homes when the large house at the end of the drive was owned by the first the Lees of Lees Foundry in Derby and then Thorntons of chocolate fame. If you continue along this lane you come to the village cricket and football pitch where matches take place from time time to time against other villages.
At the end of this lane you come to a gate which leads into Shirley Woods owned by the Walker Okeover Estate. There was a beautiful manor house at the Osmaston village end of the woods but sadly it was demolished in the late 60s. Our house has a beam from the manor in the sitting room. The site is now used for weddings in the summer and a huge marquee is erected every year. It is a perfect site for a wedding reception with stunning views but I suspect it is not a cheap option.
The woods are lovely to walk through with footpaths through different areas. An old water mill sits at the edge of the lake and looks very picturesque. It makes a great walk to go from Shirley Village through to Osmaston and if you are still full of energy you can walk on to Ashbourne but that is all along roads.
BACK IN THE VILLAGE
Returning to the village and on the right hand side of the pub is a little lane and if you look along the lane or driveway you will see a small barn which was the original village butcher’s shop. The village also used to have a little Post Office which was in one room of the first house on the corner of derby Lane just near the old Telephone box. Sadly when the old lady who ran the PO retired the PO closed it and we now have no shop at all in the village. You can see where the old post box was bricked up in the wall and we now have a free standing box next to the telephone box.
The telephone box is one of the original red boxes and our village has converted it into a lending library which is overseen by one of the residents.
There is a bit of a controversy about the bakehouse of the village as some say it is a small building on Mill Lane whereas others tell that it was in the small building which is part of Rose Barn which has the village well next to it which would have been handy.
The Old Farmhouse on Derby Lane was originally three small two story cottages which were built in the 1500s and a third story was added in 1793 . The entire building is now one family home although there are still two sets of stairs and one cellar, the other has been filled in to ground level.
This farmhouse had an orchard surrounding it and a really lovely proper farm yard with barns, pig sty and cow sheds but these were demolished apart from part of the barn next to the house. The 60s houses around to the back of this house were built when the buildings were demolished and using the orchard. I am sure planning permission would not be granted these days.
There are many other interesting buildings and a lot of history in this small village which was once the property of the Walker Okeover family though now most of the houses are privately owned there are still a few owned by the estate.
Once again it is rumoured that Bonnie Prince Charlie spent a night in the pub but he seems to have stayed in rather too many places so who knows?
John Cowper Powys who was born in 1872 spent the first seven years of his life in the village when his father was the local vicar. If you read his life story the first chapter is entitled ‘Shirley’.