If you drive west into deepest Derbyshire, past Matlock and Brassington, you eventually end up in even deeper Staffordshire, passing from one to the other when you cross the River Dove.
Between the valleys of the Dove and the Manifold lies Alstonefield, an ancient settlement dating back to Saxon times with a Norman church dedicated to St Peter and a cluster of fine houses, mostly dating from the mid-eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
It was the birthplace of Charles Cotton (1630-1687), the probable author of The Compleat Gamester (1674) and contributor to Izaak Walton’s The Compleat Angler (1653 onwards).
Within sight of the parish church stands Alstonefield Hall, a small but grand residence with a 1587 datestone, though there is evidence within of a structure dating back 150 years earlier.
It’s evident that the Elizabethan building work was intended to front a functional farm complex with a façade that indicated the status of its owner, John Harpur. Within the projecting entrance porch the visitor enters a spacious chamber with a screen masking a service wing and a staircase leading to the upper floor.
John Harpur was the son of a wealthy judge and, through family connections with the Harpurs of Swarkestone Hall, Derbyshire, he is associated with the Harpur-Crewe family of Calke Abbey.
Alstonefield Hall never developed further grandeur, and over the centuries it declined in status until it was simply a farmhouse, Hall Farm, which the Harpur-Crewes sold in 1951.
The building was partly occupied until the beginning of this century and once abandoned it quickly deteriorated.
Its historic importance had been recognised as far back as 1967, when it was listed Grade II*, and at long last its restoration is about to begin.
The Derbyshire Historic Buildings Trust, working off-piste in Staffordshire, provided a rare opportunity to see this fascinating building, in a group led by the historian and archaeologist Tom Addyman, who explained the detailed investigations that are piecing together its complex history.
At present it’s a hard-hat area, uneven underfoot, and it’s unlikely to be accessible until years of restoration are accomplished.
However long the work takes, the end result promises to be outstanding.