As part of our series of articles about Derbyshire's cultural heritage, we included a feature on places which walks you through the best of the county's cultural experiences. Here we take a closer look at the town of Alfreton in Amber Valley.
Spotlight on Alfreton
Going about everyday life it’s easy to take your surroundings for granted. But there’s much more to many places than immediately meets the eye. Derbyshire Gold Magazine threw the spotlight on Alfreton to bring us this article, delving into its past and discovering more about the town’s less obvious sights. And with good public transport links to the Amber Valley town from many parts of the county, the area is well worth a visit.
Alfreton today is a bustling little town, nestled on the eastern side of the county, with good shopping facilities and easy access to major roads. And there’s a good deal of history behind the high street facades, testimony to its famous benefactor Robert Watchorn.
Robert was one of nine children, who decided to make his own luck at the age of 22, by emigrating to America. On his arrival he got into a scrape after wrongly being accused of theft and ended up befriending the policeman who had set out to arrest him. He climbed the ranks to become Commissioner for Ellis Island and Immigration chief in the early 19 th century before retiring and founding the Watchorn Oil and Gas Company in Oklahoma.
And while he lived most of his life in the States he never forgot his Derbyshire roots giving enormous sums of money to his birthplace which is still in evidence today.
If you wander along Derby Road you’ll see the Watchorn Memorial Methodist Church, founded in 1927, Watchorn church properties including a school, manse and cottages built in memory of his mother, a sports ground and pavilion given in remembrance of his son, killed in World War I and the Abraham Lincoln Library, now a masonic hall.
At the top of the town around Church Street, Alfreton Hall, which used to be owned by Derbyshire County Council and used as an adult education centre, is now a function centre and French-style restaurant. There is no sign of the original hall thought to have been sited where Hall Farm and stables now sit. On the opposite side is St Martin’s Church, parts of which date back to the 13 th century. The old vicarage, close by, is the oldest inhabited house in the town.
In more recent times, Alfreton Leisure Centre offers Gold Card holders the chance to swim for free, while nearby Alfreton Community Education Centre, set in Alfreton Park, offers a range of courses both academic and for pleasure, some of which offer a Gold Card discount.
Heading out of town, the construction of Chesterfield Road meant cutting through the yard of the George Inn, leaving the hotel on one side and the stables on the other. It’s now closed but the buildings at the back are still used for hospitality as the King’s Banqueting Hall.
Other landmarks worth noting include, at the top of King Street, the War Memorial, erected and dedicated in 1926. Funding the monument during the hard times of the 1920s was a struggle, but hearing of the difficultiesRobert Watchorn again proved a generous benefactor.
Lower down King Street, the House of Confinement, with nothing to mark out its history, can go unnoticed. But it is thought to be a unique example of a parish lock up. Built around 1820, it has a stout oak, iron-studded door, small, round windows and a stone slabbed roof. Inside there are two cells, one for men, the other for women.
In High Street the former King Alfred Public House has been renamed Ye Olde MacDonald’s Farm. Alfreton House, built in the mid 1650s, is an attractive feature at the end of High Street shopping area, and is now used as offices owned by Amber Valley Borough Council. Further along, you could take a break at Alfreton House Victorian coffee shop, and pass by the former post office and town hall.
There is a thriving indoor market just off Hall Street, while just around the corner in Severn Square you can use your Gold Card to borrow from Alfreton Library. Or to find out more about the town visit Alfreton and District Heritage Centre in nearby Rodgers Lane.
While you’re in town don’t forget to shop local and check out those businesses offering a Gold Card discount. See the guide which comes with this magazine or pick up a copy from your local library or district or borough council office or go to www.derbyshire.gov.uk/goldcard for details.
This article appears courtesy of Derbyshire Gold and was originally published in the winter 2009/2010 edition of Derbyshire County Council's Gold magazine.
Getting you there
The bus station in Hall Street, Alfreton, is the only one in the county owned by Derbyshire County Council. We put in around £5 million to support local bus services, so you should find bus links, from most parts of the county, to get you to this Amber Valley town. And remember, as a Gold Card holder you get free bus rides after 9.30am weekdays up to 11.00pm and at anytime weekends and on bank holidays.
Alfreton Parkway Train Station:
Alfreton is also handy for getting you to other parts of the country. Northern Trains connects Leeds, Sheffield and Chesterfield to Nottingham stopping at Alfreton en route.
Or if you take East Midlands Trains you can get to Liverpool, Sheffield, Nottingham and Norwich, via Alfreton. Both are hourly services.
Several buses per hour pass by the station from Alfreton town centre and Chesterfield is only a 20 minute ride away.
You can also get train links from Alfreton to London via Chesterfield and Nottingham.
And because Derbyshire County Council puts in around £250,000 cash to support other public transport services it means all Gold Card holders can travel for half fare on local trains at any time.
Other journey planning information
There are several ways to plan your journey and find out the times of buses and trains to suit you.
Area Timetable Books for Mid and South Derbyshire (includes the city of Derby), North East Derbyshire and the Peak District tell you everything you need to know about bus times in each of the three areas, plus they contain maps, tourist information and a free update service. Each costs £1.50 and is available from bus enquiry offices, local libraries, Tourist Information Centres, selected newsagents and post offices.
Check out our round up of opening times for each of the venues mentioned here
We've compiled a Google Map of Places mentioned in this article in ‘at-a-glance’ form. If you know of others, add them to the map.
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Many thanks to Deborah Porter, Sharon Stevens-Cash, Carole Crompton, Bygonederbyshire, Peak and Fell Walking, The Derby Local Studies Library and Robert Steadman for picture contributions to this series.
Source materials for this article