In the year 1900, when you walked out of Etwall Primary School, you would not find a car park and a toilet. There was a row of cottages along School Lane and, as you walked down it to Egginton Road, you could see cattle in the fields opposite.
Imagine walking up to Main Street. The road is just wide enough for two carts to pass and the surface is made of compacted stone, dusty and broken where the rims of cart wheels break up the surface. It will be some years before the village has a tarmac road passing through it. Still, there is a lot of space on our side of the road and at least there is now a proper footpath. Over the road is the wall of Etwall Hall, right on the road’s edge and with a mass of trees behind it hiding the hall itself
There is very little traffic, you have never heard the words “road safety” and the speed limit is only 14 mph. Unless you meet a horse-rider or a bicycle, you are probably the quickest thing in sight. If you see one of the new motorcars, call out to your friends – they will not want to miss it. There are only 750 in the whole of Britain, though the number is rising rapidly.
Bird’s eye view from above the school
The next building beyond the cottages, towards the centre of the village is the workhouse, just where the library will be built later. The workhouse used to give food, shelter and some work to people who have no one to care for them, could not earn a living in the village or get a place in the almshouses. It is now let out cheaply to deserving tenants but working people will remain suspicious of workhouses until they disappear after the building of council houses.
Beyond the workhouse is Peartree Farm. More than 100 people in the village work in farming and many of them live on the farms like Holly Farm and The Mount, which will become ordinary houses, and Blenheim Farm, a future hotel. The farms bring cattle right into the village twice a day for milking during the summer. There are signs of this wherever you look – so mind where you tread. There is a water trough on the village green and at the top of Church Hill a small building used as a slaughterhouse. There is not much traffic but it includes hay carts, milk carts and farm animals. A pony and trap may pass by as well.
The village smells of animals most of the time because as well as the farms, any house with the space will keep a few hens and perhaps a pig or two.
Most of the people we pass seem quite formally dressed. Everyone wears a hat, all the women wear long skirts and the men wear jackets unless they are working.
Before we find more farms we pass the Spread Eagle. It has been a pub for hundreds of years and is now a large one. It has a thatched roof and an open space at the front, which is not a car park – no cars. There is very little open space behind it, because there are cottages on both sides of Portland Street, which used to be to be called ‘Dog Lane’. You will see a few street lamps in the village, lit by gas from the factory on Heage Lane but there is no electricity yet. At night, though a few people carry lanterns, most just make their way in the dark without bothering.
All the buildings have smoking chimneys. There is no central heating and few hot water boilers so there are open fires in the houses and they all have coal sheds.
You do not find bits of wood or paper lying around as it is collected for burning. There are no dumped cans either and glass is so expensive that the shops buy the empty bottles and jars back to use again. Nothing you can see is made of plastic.
On the corner of Willington Road there is a bicycle shop and repairer and opposite that a butcher’s shop. There are no ‘take aways’, which is a pity as only the newest houses have ovens, heated from the kitchen fire. The others have an open fire and a hob to stand pots on, with a grille over the burning coals. When they want to roast meat, some villagers have to hang it on string in front of the fire over a drip tray and turn it by hand.
Others get the bakers to cook for them after the bread is done and there are several bakers’ ovens in the village. One of them is in the bakery behind the Post Office opposite Church Hill. This is a tall building with two round ‘Dutch Gables’ and two separate entrances on the front. Being the Post Office, it is where the new telegraph system has its office. Soon, it will be the telephone exchange until a special one is built. Do you know where that will be put?
Directly across Main Street are the lodges and gates of the hall. Each lodge is a small cottage and the massive gates will one day, after the hall is dismantled, be moved to the Almshouses. From the lodges the wall stretches to right and left round the estate. The wall facing the Church goes in a curve toward the graveyard and part of it, opposite the church door, will survive another hundred years and more.
Behind the wall we get glimpses of the hall but mostly we see just the trees. The hall is quite famous, often painted and photographed and more people work there than at the railway station or the gasworks. There has been a hall on the site for over 400 years and it will survive until it is knocked down so that the John Port School can be built in the 1950s.
Beyond the church we can see the almshouses. They look much as they will for the next hundred years behind their railings. They house 16 almsmen and that number now includes a few women, who were excluded until fairly recently.
Church Hill is unpaved, stretching from the wall of the church to the wall of the rectory, which has a path across to the church as well as its grand entrance onMain Street, opposite Blenheim Farm.
If we walk up Willington Road to the Methodist Chapel, past Holly Farm and the wheelwright’s workshop, we see fields ahead where the road swings to the left. The first of these is called the Pinfold where the 'the pinder' used to keep stray animals. The chapel is built with bricks from the works in the old Bancroft field. The works closed when the railway opened because anyone could easily get cheap bricks delivered. We can probably get back to Main Street along what will one day be Blenheim Mews and come out by the saddler’s shop, which will become a newsagent and later a general store when cars and lorries replace horses.
St Helen’s Church looks as it has for centuries though the inside was modernised when the very oldest people in the village were children. The graveyard in front is full of headstones and still being used.
Up Main Street towards Derby we can see the big houses. The Rectory, the Hawk and Buckle, The Red House, Etwall Lawn, Lawn House and Lawn Cottage are all there with the farms tucked in between them. On the corner of Sutton Lane we find a blacksmith and the house where the village ‘vet’ has his surgery.
In the centre of the village, between the church and the wall of Etwall Hall, is an open trough with cattle drinking at it. The village used to be called Etwelle, and the "well" could be this little spring coming to the surface. It is part of a small stream coming down from near the church and just over the wall is a little tank house for the hall garden. Every house and cottage has the use of a well and years ago they buried in a culvert the stream that runs down Willington Road and across to the big fishpond in the hall. We cannot see the pond as it is hidden behind the trees.
The station is really big. It has got pens for cattle, loading bays for milk churns and storage for all the bricks, timber, drainpipes and anything large made of metal. People now get to Derby and Burton-upon-Trent in about 20 minutes though there are not as many trains as there will one day be buses. If a train comes through, just see how it puffs smoke and soot everywhere. Do not stand on the bridge.
If you could walk up the line towards Mickleover past the Heage Lane gasworks and out into the country then imagine the rails and sleepers removed, it would look just like a special track for cycling.