December 2021

Elder Way in a not-too-distant Christmas past

Here’s a photograph to brighten up your Christmas and new year (particularly if you’re sat at home and don’t have to trudge through snow!).  It’s of a snow covered Elder Way in the 1980s.

Elder Way, Chesterfield, at night, in the 1980s.

At this time the two Chesterfield and District Co-operative Society buildings either side of Elder Way were linked by the bridge to the rear of the first bus. This was installed at first floor level when the society built a new supermarket and offices on what had latterly been bus stands on the corner of Elder Way and Saltergate. This new building opened in 1981. The offices were vacated some years ago, the supermarket closed within the last year or so. The building is now empty.

The bridge itself was removed when the former Co-operative store to the left was converted, at first and second floor levels, to a Premier Inn in 2019.

Chesterfield and District Co-operative Society was first formed in 1894. A familiar site in Chesterfield town centre, with branches across the district. The ‘Central Stores’ on Elder Way and Knifesmithgate were first opened in 1938. The building to the left was an extension opened in 1959. The society merged to become part of Midlands Co-operative Society in 2001.

Now the bridge has gone along with the once attractive Christmas decorations and a popular town centre department store, which sold everything from clothes, shoes, paint, electrical goods, furniture, toys, fancy goods, china, shoes, food and perfume.

After the First World War and especially after a comprehensive local Act of 1923 was obtained, some town centre streets were improved, created, lengthened and widened.

Large scale Ordnance Survey map from 1918, before Elder Way was created to run between a lengthened Knifesmithgate and Saltergate (to the top of the extract). The Unitarian Chapel and Wesleyan Methodist Church (now the Central Methodist Church) are survivors from these pre-improvement times.

As part of the same scheme, Elder Yard, a passageway leading from the top of Packers Row to Saltergate, was widened into a new road named Elder Way. Completion of the latter was accomplished in 1932. Around the same time the north side of Knifesmithgate was rebuilt with a particularly striking range of three-storey black and white buildings (the former Victoria Centre), in which the upper floors were jettied out over the entire width of the pavement to create a covered walkway. A smaller-scale building of the same kind was erected on the south side of the new section of Knifesmithgate near its junction with Packers Row.

Properties in Elder Yard mainly comprised cottages and houses of divided ownership, plus a mission chapel. The Unitarian Chapel dating from 1694 and a survivor of the new road, was once surrounded by properties of this type (incidentally, it’s still known as the Elder Yard Unitarian Chapel. But the yard has long-gone). Part of the old mission church property forms the forecourt of Elder Yard Unitarian Chapel.

Remember BT phone cards? When the Chesterfield and District Cooperative Society celebrated its centenary in 1994, it produced a limited number of the cards, presumably as a collector’s edition. They included the logo adopted for their centenary year.

We’ve used our Chesterfield Streets and Houses book for much of the history in this blog, along with TF Wright’s History of Chesterfield, volume IV and the Chesterfield and District Co-operative Society’s centenary publication of 1994.

As this will be our last scheduled post of 2021. We’d like to take this opportunity to thank all our members, supporters and the readers of our posts. We hope you have a merry Christmas and a happy new year.

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Full Circle? A short history of the Stephenson Memorial Hall, Chesterfield

Chesterfield’s museum and Pomegranate theatre are set for a major revamp following the award of a substantial grant to upgrade the facility. In this blog we briefly review the history of the building – still known as the Stephenson Memorial Hall.

As part of the Chesterfield and District Civic Society’s submission to the planning application to update the facility our county editor (who is also chairman of the society) has written a short review of the building’s history. Below is an edited version.


An Edwardian colourised postcard of the Stephenson Memorial Hall’s Corporation Street elevation. In the 1890s the corporation acquired the garden of Kilblean House, to the far left, using the land to build a stage, with a fly-tower and dressing rooms.

The Memorial Hall, opened in 1879, was built by the Chesterfield & Derbyshire Institute of Mining, Civil and Mechanical Engineers, founded eight years earlier, as their headquarters, although it was intended also to be used as a centre for technical education. The Chesterfield and Brampton Mechanics’ Institute also contributed.

Chesterfield Corporation made a contribution to the cost on condition that they could open a public library and reading room in the building. The Hall also became a centre for Cambridge University Extension Classes, which marks the beginning of non-vocational adult education in Chesterfield.

Rudimentary dressing rooms were provided for performers using the platform in the main lecture hall, but theatrical or musical entertainments were a very minor part of the plan. There was no bar or refreshment room in the original scheme.

The Stephenson connection

The building was named in memory of George Stephenson (1781–1848). For the last ten years of his life Stephenson leased Tapton House, just outside the town, and chose to be buried at Holy Trinity church on Newbold Road, rather than in his native North East. (Incidentally, Stephenson’s connection with Chesterfield, then as now, tends to be exaggerated somewhat).

George’s son Robert did not really maintain the connection with Chesterfield, nor with the coal and iron company his father founded at Clay Cross. Several of the leading members of the Chesterfield & Derbyshire Institute were also members of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, founded by Stephenson in 1847, and obviously saw him as their hero, which is presumably why the Hall was dedicated to his memory.


The Hall was far too ambitious a venture for a small provincial engineering institute, especially in the slump which affected their industry in the 1880s. In 1889 the institute sold the building to Chesterfield Corporation for a sum equal to the debt left over from its construction.

In the 1890s the corporation acquired the garden of Kilblean House, which adjoins the Hall to the east, and used the land to build a stage, with a fly-tower and dressing rooms, to replace the platform in the main lecture hall. It was probably at this date that raked seating was introduced on the ground floor and an attempt made to remodel the gallery as a ‘circle’. These changes were not entirely successful and to this day the Pomegranate retains the character of a converted lecture hall, not a purpose-built theatre. The caretaker’s house on Station Back Lane also dates from this period.

A further change took place after 1901, when a new dual-purpose building was erected at the Grammar School on Sheffield Road, to be used during the day by the school and in the evening by technical classes previously accommodated in the Memorial Hall. This enabled the corporation to take over more rooms at the Hall, alongside the library. The main auditorium became the Corporation Theatre in 1904, although until just after the Second World War it functioned mainly as a cinema and was let to a commercial operator.

The council staff moved to the new Town Hall in 1938, allowing the library to expand into the whole of the western end of the building. (The council had offices and a council chamber in the Memorial Hall).

Full circle?

After the war the corporation resumed control of the theatre and reopened it in 1949 as England’s first local authority Civic Theatre, with a resident repertory company. The cost later became unsustainable and, after a period in which it was threatened with closure, the Borough Council refurbished the interior, renamed the theatre the Pomegranate, and from 1982 operated it as a receiving house and later a venue for live screenings. It is occasionally used for other events, notably the very successful annual Derbyshire Archaeology Day. This was originally a Sheffield University extramural day-school and so in that respect the Hall has come full circle to be used once again for adult education.

Finally, in 1984 the county council, which replaced the borough council as the library authority in Chesterfield in 1974, opened a new branch library on New Beetwell Street and the rooms at the Memorial Hall formerly occupied by the library became a museum, opened in 1994, which Chesterfield had previously lacked.

We previously posted about the missing statue of George Stephenson at the Memorial Hall in a previous blog.

The Chesterfield and District Civic Society’s full response to the planning application will be posted on their website. They have, incidentally, strongly objected to the museum’s proposed display reorganisation. This seems to adopt a ‘Character Drivenapproach, instead of telling the chronological story of Chesterfield’s history by using objects, text and audio-visual displays.

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Derbyshire Musters of 1638-9 published

Our sister organisation – the Derbyshire Record Society – has now fully published the Derbyshire Musters of 1638-9. All are fully indexed by person and place and prefaced by a detailed introduction. For case of handling, the introduction and indexes form one volume (part 1) and the texts another (part 2). The musters were edited by the late Victor Rosewarne.

Part 2 of the Derbyshire Musters of 1638-9 has just been published. Part 1 was published earlier in 2021.

Between the early sixteenth century and the mid seventeenth the Privy Council instructed local officials in each county to hold regular musters of able-bodied men who could be called upon to defend the kingdom in time of war. Men from every town and village had to assemble, usually in the early autumn, at a specified meeting place and show that they possessed suitable arms and armour. Gentry families had to provide horse­men. The musters were ordered by the lord lieutenant, summoned by the deputy lieutenants, and organised locally by the high constable of each hundred.

In 1638 the young 3rd earl of Devon­shire had just become lord lieutenant of Derbyshire. Keen to impress the Council, the earl ordered the constables to compile lists of all men aged between 16 and 60 in each town and village, which he had copied into a volume to be sent up to London. The book, containing some 17,300 names, survives among the records of the State Paper Office. It provides a uniquely full record of the inhabitants of every community in Derbyshire on the eve of the Civil War.

In part 2, the text of the 1638 muster book is printed in full, along­side a shorter roll of 1639 and some ancillary documents.

Publication of the musters should be an in­dispensable source for the study of family history in Derbyshire, as well as the demography of the county, and also sheds new light on local administration in the early seventeenth century.

A sample page from part 2 of the Muster Book; an extract from the 1638 muster. This shows part of the entry for Beighton and Chesterfield borough. Part 1 contains an introduction and a full index of names and places. (Courtesy Derbyshire Record Society.)

The two parts retail at £33 each, but members of the record society can obtain them at £20 for each part. For further details contact the society’s treasurer – or fill in the on-line order form.

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How did Staveley develop?

Our VCH county editor has recently written a very brief overview of how Staveley initially developed.

There’s never really been a serious account of Staveley’s history. At VCH we’d like to put this right. Indeed, we started work on this town but had to concentrate our resources elsewhere.

A planning application been submitted to convert the former Elm Tree public house on High Street into dwellings, with further residential building on the surrounding land. As part of comments from the Chesterfield and District Civic Society on the application, which is in a conservation area, a very brief overview of the parish has been written by our county Editor – Philip Riden. We hope you will be interested in this, which we share below.

The Elm Tree, High Street, Staveley is to the left in this Edwardian postcard. Note the tree outside the public house – which presumably gave its name to the pub. The building to the immediate left was replaced some years ago. (Collection the late Fred Wood).

How Staveley grew

The village of Staveley grew up on the right bank of the Rother at a point where the main road running north-east from Chesterfield (the modern A619) divides into two. Historically, one arm (today the B6053) ran north through Beighton to a crossing of the Don at Rotherham and the other continued eastnorth-east to Bawtry, at the head of navigation on the river Idle, crossing on its way the route which runs along the magnesian limestone ridge between Rotherham and Mansfield (A618/B6417) and the Great North Road.

At the southern entrance to the village a minor road (the modern High Street) branches from the main road to run north parallel with it, before turning east (as Church Street) to rejoin the main road. The parish church and manor house were built on the north side of Church Street. If a map of 1783 (reproduced in A. Court, Staveley: my native town (1946) from an original at Chatsworth) is a reliable guide to earlier settlement, most of the houses in the village stood on either side of High Street and the south side of Church Street, with more limited building on Duke Street. The map also marks the modern Porter Street, which connects Duke Street with High Street at roughly the mid-point of these two roads. The main road between the junctions with High Street and Duke Street is today known as Market Street, but there was no medieval market in Staveley.

Romano-British settlement

Traditionally, it was assumed that there was little or no Romano-British settlement on the heavy clay soil of the Coal Measures of north-east Derbyshire, but this view has been modified in recent years with the discovery of a farm alongside the A61 at Wingerworth, and (of greater relevance here) slight evidence for settlement at a site in Brimington, between Chesterfield Road and North Moor View. If there was Romano-British settlement at Brimington, there may have been at Staveley as well, where inconclusive evidence of Roman occupation was found during excavations at Staveley Hall in 2006. If such occupation could be confirmed, it would prompt fresh thoughts about the use of routes from Chesterfield to the Don and the Idle in the Roman period, since both may have been used to export lead smelted in the Peak.

The Elm Tree

On the Elm Tree itself, our editor notes that initial investigations on the site, as part of the planning application, did not find any evidence of Roman occupation but the possibility is worth bearing in mind if further work is undertaken.

The inn stands on the west side of High Street opposite the end of Porter Street. It occupies a wide plot, which would originally have run down to the Rother. Its width means that the pub yard extends alongside as well as behind the building. The plot is clearly shown on the map of 1783, with a substantial T-plan building on it, with access to a rear yard at its southern (left-hand) end. The present pub building appears to date from the middle or late nineteenth century. The Elm Tree is listed in county directories from at least 1888 but does not appear in that of 1857.

More work on Staveley’s history

We’d like to carry-out further work on Staveley in due course, but this depends on our available resources. If you’d like to join us in this work please contact our county editor.

The Elm Tree planning application is reference CHE/21/00778/FUL. You can view the civic society’s full response here.

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