I love to visit the beautiful gardens of Felley Priory. Felley Priory like Dale Abbey was reputed to have been built on the site of a small hermitage. Unlike Dale Abbey no one is sure where the hermit’s dwelling had originally been. The Priory of Felley and the Priory Gardens are situated just half a mile from Junction 27 of the M1 and 16 miles from Dale Abbey.
Felley Priory was founded in 1156 dedicated to Our Lady. It consisted of twelve canons following the Rule of St Augustine. Like Dale Abbey the priory was not always managed well and in 1276 its prior was deposed for mismanagement and misbehaviour. He had permitted the priory buildings to fall into disrepair and, ‘the canons had erred and strayed to the scandal of the neighbourhood.’
Yesterday we had a lovely walk in Darley Park. The sun was shining and the trees were changing colour. We took the opportunity to visit the walled Hydrangea Garden before it shuts to the public on November 3rd. The garden is looked after by a team of volunteers and it was obvious that since our last visit in 2019 a huge amount of work had been done. The garden houses the National Collection of Hydrangea Paniculata.
Hydrangea Derby, (the name of the voluntary group) was set up in 2010 to look after the Hydrangea Garden and in the last 10 years they have become the National Collection, the only such collection in the world. They also have a wide variety of other hydrangea species. The garden now holds 890 different cultivars.
Dale Abbey is less than three miles from the suburbs of Derby to the west, and close to Industrial areas on the Eastern side. Originally known as Depedale it is a most intriguing and beautiful area. The story of Dale Abbey begins when a Derby baker had a dream in which the Virgin Mary appeared and told him to go to Depedale, to live a life of solitude and prayer. At that time it was a wild and marshy place and the hermit carved out a home and chapel in a sandstone cliff. There is a path beside the church and farm which goes through the woods and from this are several ways up to the caves using steps.
Here the hermit continued to worship until one day the smoke from his fire was seen by Ralph Fitz Geremund the owner of the land. He rode over to the place where he saw the smoke, intending to drive the intruder away. On hearing the hermit’s story he was filled with compassion and allowed him to remain. He also gave the hermit the tithe money from Borrowash Mill. This enabled the hermit to build a small chapel and home on the site of the present church.
After the hermit’s death, word spread of the religious significance of the place and Dale Abbey was founded in about 1200 by the White Canons. The abbey remained until 1538, when it was dissolved and the majority demolished by the command of Henry VIII.