January 2023

The Oxcroft Settlement

It’s little known today but for a few years from 1936 until 1968 nearly 400 acres of land were part of an experiment in agricultural management, animal husbandry, horticulture and land tenancy, which we briefly look at in this blog.

This map of the Oxcroft Estate appeared in Fred Kitchen’s 1947 book of his experiences there – ‘Settlers in England’.

In February 1936 Derbyshire County Council bought Oxcroft farm (399 acres, about two miles north of Bolsover) from the 9th duke of Devonshire. The same year it was leased to the Land Settlement Association. Forty smallholdings were formed, intended to give unemployed men and their families a chance to make a living from the land.

Each holding had a semi-detached, three-bedroom house, 5 acres of land, a piggery and other buildings. A ‘central farm’ or ‘estate service depot’ was managed by the estate manager.

By the 1960s there were problems, which include a poor tenancy rate and air pollution from Coalite (Bolsover) and Staveley works – so much so that tomatoes were reported as having a taste problem.

The estate was closed in 1968 – the land and buildings were sold off.

Taken from Fred Kitchen’s 1947 book ‘‘Settlers in England’, is this line-drawing by EJ Brown, which shows the then community centre, which is still extant though is now dwellings.

Fred Kitchen wrote about his experiences as a tenant at Oxcroft in his book ‘Settlers in England’, published in 1947, by JM Dent & Son. The book is now fairly rare. Two of EJ Brown’s line-drawings for the book feature in this post.

The wary can still spot these semi-detached houses scattered on the near 400 acres of the Oxcroft estate. All were built to a near-standard pattern and included glasshouses and accommodation for animals, fowls and particularly pigs.
The estate houses are not difficult to spot, once you know what to look for, but most have been altered since construction.

There’s more about the Oxcroft Settlement in our VCH book ‘Bolsover and adjacent parishes’ and further information about Fred Kitchen here.

Recently (January 2023) Bolsover District Council announced that they were looking into the possibiloity of a conservation area in the former Oxcroft Settlement area.

This post was first published on our Facebook page on 10 October 2020, but has been edited for this website blog.

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Sit awhile and remember Fred Kitchen

Next time you’re near Bolsover Library have a look and indeed sit awhile on a memorial seat to local author Fred Kitchen, who we remember in this post.

The sculptured seat to Fred Kitchen outside Bolsover Library.

We only briefly mentioned Kitchen in our Bolsover and adjacent parishes VCH ‘big red book’, mainly in connection with the Oxcroft Settlement, where his 1947 publication ‘Settlers in England’ helped record what it was like to live there.

The seat (in reality it’s much more than that) been made possible by local partners including Bolsover Civic Society, local councils and businesses.*

The seat was installed in 2021. It’s in the form of a central wooden seat with sculptured stone ends representing Kitchen’s books. Sculptor Andrew Tebbs was responsible for the stonework. There’s also a plaque which gives further details about Kitchen, who was born in Edwinstowe in 1890 and died in 1969.

A closer view of the seat, with the sculptured stonework at either end representing books that Fred Kitchen published.

From a farming community Fred Kitchen worked in what would have then been hard manual work as a farm labourer. He improved his basic education by enrolling in a Workers’ Educational Association class at Worksop, studying creative writing. His talents developed and he ended up having 16 books published, along with various other works. ‘Brother to the Ox’, an autobiographical work, was perhaps his most famous. It was even adapted as a television and radio play.

A lesser-known work is ‘Gosslington’ a fictious part of the Derbyshire moors, first published in 1965. This is the front cover of the 1967 paperback edition.
‘Settlers in England’ published in 1947 documents Fred Kitchen’s experience of living on the Oxcroft Settlement, near Bolsover. It contained a series of line-drawings by EJ Browne and a map of the estate. The front cover shows a typical small-holding.

Bolsover library also has a small display on Fred Kitchen and a collection of his books, so is well-worth a visit to find out more about this interesting character who wrote about local life and community.

*Bolsover Civic Society, Old Bolsover Town Council, Bolsover District Council, Derbyshire County Council, Rothstone, Morrisons Supermarket, NAL Plant, Stephen Wakelam and Bolsover Rotary.

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