The Village of Spondon in Derbyshire
The strongest feelings of attachment to a place are those which develop in childhood. For me the place is Spondon in Derbyshire. This ancient village, two thousand years old, formed my cradle and gave me my roots. For this I am most thankful. In the northern parts of England, along the chain of the Pennine hills, and where the village of Spondon came to exist, the barbarian tribes known as the Coritani and the Brigantes held sway. There could well have been a small settlement there on the Spondon hill among the oaks and beeches, where there were springs bubbling to the surface, and several hollows favouring a campsite.
A sense of geography has stayed with me all my life, and explains why I am always fascinated by maps. The Pennines, a range of low mountains, form the backbone of England and their southern foothills blend into the valley of the Trent. This great river rises in west Staffordshire, flows south, then curls around in a north easterly direction through Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire to the Humber, and thence to the North Sea. Together with names of places and features came a sense of a village history whose roots stretched back to Roman times; to the time when the tramping legions of Julius Caesar had penetrated most of the island of Albion off the northwestern coasts of Europe. Forests then covered the British islands and the Roman legions were guarding and expanding the mines and other resources they had come to conquer. A Roman road runs within a mile of the village, leading east and south to Leicester about thirty miles away. Another straight road heads north-east from the village toward Ilkeston and Mansfield in Nottinghamshire. To protect the ore traffic coming from the lead mines and the travelers going to the warm baths at Buxton in the Pennine chain of hills, the Romans founded a camp on the Derwent river where it flows out of the hills and broadens into a flood plain. The ancient site of the Roman camp, then called Derventio, is now known as Chester Green. The Derwent then meanders eastwards past the hills of Spondon and Ockbrook, gathering up streams along the way, and then slowly merging into the greater river of the Trent, about eight miles away at Wilne.
My sister Janet gave me a treasured print of Saxton's 1577 map of Derbyshire which shows all the villages and rivers. Spondon is bounded by two minor streams; one of them, known as the Leas brook, rises from the lake at Locko Park and goes south-westerly through 'leas' or meadows to Ceddes Dene, the small valley now called Chaddesden. In the spring, in olden times, this could be a raging torrent, separating the two villages. The other stream, further to the east, emerges from the slopes south of Dale Abbey, becoming Occes Brook, running through the village of Ockbrook as it is now called, then descending to the Burgh Wash or Borrowash. Other small springs rose on the Spondon hill and trickled down to the meadows and pastures that I could see from our bedroom windows on the hill where we lived. This hill was known as Willowcroft, so-called after the willow trees that lay beneath the hill and flanking the brook that ran south towards the Derwent.
The waters of Spondon were its precious asset and the foundation of its ancient agricultural economy. Brooks, streams and springs. Wells and ponds. Hand pumps in side streets. Just around the corner from our house, within a short stroll was Sitwell Street, featuring a drinking-water trough for cattle and horses. The water came from the spring-fed pond behind the high brick wall of Soller's house and little shrimp-like creatures lived among the trailing deep green mosses that lined the iron tank. For that reason we only drank directly the water flowing from the feed pipe and splashing down into the trough. How good it tasted on a hot summer's day! Cool, refreshing, and clear, yet nearly a source of tragedy. My brother Stan, aged three years, toddling away from home with his six-year old sister Marjorie, somehow fell into it and nearly drowned. Some morning shift workers, returning up the street from the Celanese factory, rescued him.
On market day mornings, herds of sheep or groups of cattle would be driven down Sitwell Street to the railway cattle pens and to Derby Market, three miles away. Similar herds would return in the afternoon. The lowing and bleating, and the yelping of sheep dogs trying to get the animals past the inviting water trough, would bring me to the garden gate to watch and wonder at all the commotion.