Just outside the village of Elston there is a rather attractive building. I loved the look of the place from the moment I set eyes on it. Pevsner (in The Buildings of England: Nottinghamshire) describes it as "one huge folly". I see what he means but it makes me think of a doll's house for some reason. Anyway, I have always thought of it as wonderful but now I have read about it I think it is marvelous!
|Eden Spa or Elston Towers|
It was built between 1872 and 1875 for Robert Middleton of Newark. His family had made their money from malting but Robert felt his true calling was the Baptist ministry so at the centre of his new house he incorporated a chapel. Just inside the main door was a pulpit and an automatic pipe organ which could play up to 30 different hymns all on its own. Two hundred seats were arranged on the main floor and on the galleried landing above (he expected his sermons to be very popular). A metal flight of stairs went down to a baptismal tank where people could be fully immersed.
The rest of the house was furnished at immense cost. Apparently Middleton spent in excess of £30,000 (a few million by today's standards). Stone masons decorated the outside of the house with carved heads using people associated with the build ... the architect (Mr Waugh), the builder (Mr Hunter), the plumber (Mr Bousefield) and Mr Middleton himself. A large raised terrace went around the building, with servants' quarters and stables built underneath it. A separate stable block at the back had a steam powered clock which chimed the hour and could play up to 28 different tunes - a different one each day of the month (including Home Sweet Home and Oh Dear What Can the Matter Be). What a brilliant place! I bet non-religious folk went just to see it!
|Eden Hall Spa|
The only reference to a bomber actually exploding there that I have come across involved a colleague of Wing Commander Guy Gibson (of Dam Buster fame). He was on duty with Group Captain Gus Walker on 8th December 1942. Walker noticed some incendiaries had fallen out of the bomb bay of a Lancaster which was situated near the main bomb dump. Walker drove over and tried to move the devices using a rake. The 4000 lb "cookie" bomb ignited inside the plane's bomb bay and Walker lost an arm in the explosion. I have not found any evidence that this particular explosion caused the damage though.
Over the years Middleton Towers has had a variety of uses .... a chicken farm, Rolls Royce motor agents, a kennels, offices, a race track and a restaurant ... it was even a maggot farm at one time. Blow flies laid eggs in carcasses in the conservatory; once the eggs were collected the well-fed flies were released: it is claimed they were the size of small sparrows! The stinking carcasses were taken out to be burned and a tall chimney was used to prevent the smell reaching the village ... it didn't work! The Spa has been there ten years now. Middleton envisaged it as a place of worship, where people could find inner peace .... in a strange way he might have got his wish!
Across the road from Eden Spa on the corner of the road into Elston there is a white building. It is now called Elston Lodge Farm but originally it was just 'Elston Lodge'. It was built in 1801 by William Brown Darwin. The Darwin family occupied Elston Hall at this time. To get to London William had to walk about a mile up the road to catch the London coach ... at 5 o'clock in the morning. He had Elston Lodge built by the side of the main road so he didn't have to get up so early! Rather an expensive bus shelter!
The Hall came to belong to the Darwin family when William Darwin of Cleatham married Anne Waring in 1680 .... that same year her step father, George Lascelles of Elston Hall died. The Hall and estate passed to George's 11 year old son, John. William and Anne Darwin had two children (William and Robert) before William died in 1682. Anne and her children returned to live at the Hall with her mother, Anne Lascelles, and her brother. John was only 22 years old in 1691 when he too died leaving his mother with a life interest in the property. Anne Lascelles died in 1708 and Robert Darwin (son of William and Anne Darwin) stepped in and bought the estate.
|Anne Darwin Almshouses|
The Robert who inherited the estate in 1754 was a bachelor and died childless at the age of 92. His younger brother was called Erasmus. He was born at the Hall in 1731. He trained as a doctor and moved to Lichfield where his reputation grew. He was regarded as one of the finest physicians in England. He was a philanthropist: giving aid to his poorer patients instead of charging them. He was an inventor, creating designs for a canal lift, a horizontal windmill and a 'speaking machine' (it blew air through organ reeds). Here he is predicting a future of steam ships, fast cars and helicopters:
"Soon shall thy arm, Unconquered Steam, afar
Drag the slow barge or drive the rapid car;
Or on wide waving wings extended bear
The flying chariot through the fields of air." [Botanic Garden]
He was recognised as a poet (his work was admired by Wordsworth!) and Mary Shelley cited some of "Dr Darwin's experiments" as being part of the inspiration for her novel, "Frankenstein". He was a philosopher and a founder member of the Lunar Society. He was a life long friend of Benjamin Franklin, he spoke up against the slave trade and he argued for the education of girls. His grandson, Charles Darwin, would become famous for "The Origin of the Species" but Erasmus was already forming radical opinions along the lines of evolution and the survival of the fittest two generations earlier. In Zoonomia he wrote:
"Would it be too bold to imagine, that in the great length of time, since the earth began to exist, perhaps millions of ages before the commencement of the history of mankind, would it be too bold to imagine, that all warm-blooded animals have arisen from one living filament, which THE GREAT FIRST CAUSE endued with animality, with the power of acquiring new parts, attended with new propensities, directed by irritations, sensations, volitions, and associations; and thus possessing the faculty of continuing to improve by its own inherent activity, and of delivering down those improvements by generation to its posterity, world without end!"
|Monument to Erasmus Darwin|
Charles Darwin's cousin was Charles Waring Darwin, known affectionately in the village as The Colonel. His son was another interesting man:
Charles John Wharton Darwin was born in 1894. He was educated in Germany, Switzerland and Winchester then joined the army in 1912, transferring to the Royal Flying Corps in 1916. He took part in the Paris Peace Talks with Churchill and after the war he became one of the first flying instructors at RAF Cranwell. Between the First and Second World Wars he was a member of the Secret Intelligence Service and in 1939 he helped to set up Bletchley Park, briefed agents and set up a chain of radio transmitters. In 1940 he rejoined the RAF but became ill in April 1941 and died that year.
His son, Christopher was killed during active service in 1942 at El Alamein where he is buried.
|Elston Hall ... additional wing|
The family moved out of the Hall in 1934 and sold it in 1954. It became a Catholic Boarding School and the two wings were added as dormitories. The school closed in 1970 and the building was later converted to apartments.
Across the road from the Hall is All Saints Church. Until 1870 this was not the only place of worship. Elston Old Chapel is sited at the other end of the village and is thought to have been the medieval leper Hospital of St Leonard’s as well as a place of worship.
Its round arched south doorway with bold zig-zag moulding dates back to the 12th century, so it predates the present village church. There is a 12th century report of Gabriel d’Eylston (Elston), son of Ralph (a family of knights) being struck by lightning and killed while in the church porch.
The Old Chapel is also thought to have housed prisoners of war after the Battle of East Stoke in 1487 before King Henry ordered their execution. Their leader, John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln, was supposedly buried here after his death in the battle.
The chapel was taken out of commission in the 1870s because it was rarely used. In the end there was one service a month; the last wedding conducted there was in 1873 and the final baptism was in 1878.
The village church now is the Church of All Saints. It dates back to the 13th century.
|All Saints Church|
As well as carved monuments to the Darwin family a number of the stained glass windows are dedicated to their memory. This one is to Robert Alvey Darwin who inherited the Hall in 1842 but he died just five years later at the age of 21.
This is to the memory of Charlotte Darwin (d 1885). It was made by Heaton, Butler and Bayne who we have come across before (see .........................).
|Heaton, Butler & Baynes window|
Here is a window designed by Herbert Bryans, dedicated to John Lloyd Wharton (The Colonel's father in law) who died in 1913.
|Herbert Bryans's window|
There is a small black and white running dog in the top left hand corner of the inscription panel on this window ... this was Bryans' trademark.
These two are also from Bryans's studio.
Personally I like this modern one the best:
|Paul Quail window|
Here are the rest.
Even more impressive is the bravery of Captain Joseph Richard Dench MC of the 5th Battalion, the Sherwood Foresters who earned three MCs in a five week period in the last two months of the First World War. On 29th September 1918 he captured a gun battery and two machine guns. Four days later he and his men were attacked at Montrehain but he managed to inflict heavy casualties on the enemy. Then on 6th November (within a week of the Armistice) he lead his company over difficult and wooded countryside at Priches under continuous hostile machine gun fire. After the war he lived quietly. He never wore the medals. He died in 1953.
|Royal Coat of Arms|
The oldest house in the village is Ardmore House on Low Street. Nearby cottages date back to the early 1700s. IvyHouse for example has the date 1729 on the side. The initials D T S stand for Thomas and Sarah Derry, the first people to live there.
|The Black Giant!|
|The Chequers pub and Funfair Brewery|
The pub building is over 250 years old and was a coaching inn. The earliest reference to the name Chequers actually comes from ancient Pompeii. Our word 'exchequer' orginally meant a kind of chessboard but moneylenders and accountants began to use checked money tables so very old inns in England may have been using the sign to show they were prepared to act as banks in the days before such establishments were on the high street.
Map of Elston: click here.