Recently I joined a Victorian Society South Yorkshire Group walking tour of Clay Cross, the company town in mid-Derbyshire founded by George Stephenson & Co following the discovery of coal and iron seams during the digging of the Clay Cross tunnel on the North Midland Railway.
I was curious, having driven many times through Clay Cross without stopping, what there was to see of historic and architectural interest. The honest answer is – not a great deal. There’s a very fine parish church by the Derby architect Henry Isaac Stevens (1851/1857), and a well-kept municipal cemetery with a miniature brick chapel and a monument to the 45 men and boys who died in the Parkhouse Colliery disaster of 1882. Neither building was open when we visited.
At the end of our walk we came upon the remaining educational centre of the town – two of the three company schools built between 1854 and 1884, alongside the later Mechanics’ Institute, another school and the original Victorian police station.
As we surveyed this concentration of sturdy public buildings, a local man asked us what we were doing, and suggested that we look while we can “because it’s all coming down”.
The schools were replaced by new premises in 2009, and have no obvious further purpose.
It seems that Derbyshire County Council plan to replace this complex with something called a “care village”, and that North East Derbyshire District Council, which has the power unilaterally to declare it a conservation area, has no conservation officer or spare funds to block the demolition of the biggest and best concentration of historic buildings in a town which has no history to speak of older than 1837 and deserves to conserve as much of its character as possible.
Understanding and appreciating Clay Cross requires patience. There is an excellent historic trail of Clay Cross at http://www.jonellis.plus.com/stbarts/town/Clay%20Cross%20trail.pdf and a further guide at http://www.derbyshire-peakdistrict.co.uk/claycross.htm.