Felley Priory

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. 

The front of Felley Priory House

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.’

At the time of the Dissolution in 1535, not all of the Priory was completely destroyed. Parts were used elsewhere in the construction of the house and garden, for example, on the west side of the house between the Tudor door and chimney. The pillars at the entrance to the garden were originally part of the Priory Church and date from the late 12th Century. The house was plundered during the Civil War and became an army garrison and Royalist stronghold.

Back of the house.

The house and its 2.5 acre garden are nestled in beautiful countryside of Nottinghamshire. The house is the private home of the Chaworth-Musters family who have owned it since 1822 and as a private house is not open to the public. Although you cannot see inside you can walk very close to both the front and back of the property which makes a very attractive backdrop to the beauty of the gardens.

The gardens have many rare and unusual plants and have been planted so that there is colour and interest all year round. The garden now covers the site of the Priory Church. The high garden wall to the south west is believed to be part of the priory boundary wall. The central part of the house was constructed in the 16th and 17th centuries and there is a particularly fine example of a Tudor chimney on the west side of the house. 

Tudor chimney in the centre of the picture.

In Spring the orchard has a carpet of daffodils some of which are extremely rare and which were recently the subject of a detailed article in The English Garden Magazine. In late spring the nearby woods are full of bluebells.

A small apple tree in the orchard.

In Summer the walled rose garden is filled with old fashioned roses. Under the old Elizabethan wall are many agapanthus and some tender shrubs. The borders around the old walls have a mixture of trees, shrubs, geraniums, hostas, digitalis and meconopsis. In the centre of the garden there are pergolas covered with roses, vines, clematis and lonicera. There is a knot garden made up of architectural box and yew topiary birds. This area was one of the first parts of the garden to be established and was designed to reflect the age and brickwork of the priory itself.

There is still plenty to see in the Autumn. A collection of hydrangeas provide wonderful autumn colour and the flower borders are still full of many colourful flowers such as the white and purple asters.

Felley Priory has a fully stocked plant nursery, from which you can buy many of the plants seen in the garden. On this visit I resisted buying any but have done so on previous occasions. The Farmhouse Tea Room offers a delicious selection of snacks, meals and drinks. We enjoyed a cup of coffee with a cheese and onion roll followed by a piece of lemon cake.

For information on opening times of the gardens and tea room please visit the Felley Priory website www.felleypriory.co.uk

Darley Abbey Hydrangeas

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.

Hydrangea Paniculata is a large deciduous plant with cone shaped flower heads. These can be dense with infertile showy florets or lacey and open. The flowers have different ratios of fertile and infertile florets. These hydrangeas are becoming more popular and are hardy throughout Britain, they put on a vigorous display of amazing flowers from August to November.

A little bit of history about Darley Park which is one of Derby’s most beautiful parks. It was in fact once home to the county’s most important monastic institutions, a house of Augustinian Canons established in 1137 and dedicated to St Helena. By the early 14th century, the abbey had fallen into poverty and the last remaining two canons had to be sent to other monasteries as they could not be sustained at Darley. The Abbey was surrendered for dissolution on 22 October 1538. 

Pub in the old Travellers rest building of a former Augustinian Abbey 

Over the centuries the land passed through many hands, reaching the local mill owners – the Evans family by the early nineteenth century. Under Walter Evans a red brick mansion was constructed on the site, Darley House was surrounded by gardens and plantations. During the second world war this became a school but it was demolished in the 1960s as it was was in such a poor state of repair. 

A traveller in 1829 wrote favourably of the village of Darley, “I passed through Darley, interesting as the seat of the extensive cotton and paper mills of the Messrs, Evans, and also as an exhibition of their unwearied philanthropy to their numerous work-people. The whole forms a neat town, displaying general comfort, with institutions of all kinds, for the improvement of the physical and moral condition of some hundred families.” 

The river Derwent flows through the park and it is an easy walk along the river into the centre of Derby. In the park, the walled garden is closed during the winter, although the rest of the park remains open throughout the year. Darley Park also has a Tree Trail that you can follow, which takes you past thirty different varieties of trees originating from all over the world, from the Purple Japanese Maple to the Tibetan Cherry.

Although the walled garden closes in the winter there are wildlife gardens to explore and many beautiful views.

Dale Abbey, Derbyshire

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.

Remains of Dale Abbey

The stone from the abbey was eagerly seized upon by local builders. Only the great 13th century east window remains, which probably has much to do with the ancient belief that if the arch fell the villagers would have to pay tithes. Today the abbey ruins are designated as an ancient monument.

Stone from the Abbey was used to build part of this house.

Parts of All Saints Church date back to 1150, when the hermit started to build his chapel and house on the site. The church is the only one in England to share its roof with a farm. At one time it shared it with the abbey infirmary and later with the Bluebell Inn, when the connecting door from the church was said to lead from ‘salvation to damnation’. 

The church is very unusual and nothing seems to quite fit, it has reputedly the largest chalice in England. The pulpit leans at a sharp angle and it is possible to sit in one of the box pews with your back to the minister.

Dale Abbey Church and Farm.

Hermit’s Wood is an ancient woodland and probably formed part of the original forest that once covered this area. It contains many fine beech and oak trees. Abundant wildlife and over 60 species of flowering plants have been recorded. The Hermit’s Cave is now designated as another Scheduled Ancient Monument, and it is worth taking a good look at the view from this point.

Tattle Hill in Dale Abbey is said to have got its name from neighbourly ‘tittle tattle’ amongst the householders. On this road is a thatched barn once the up-market residence of four cows.

Friar’s House in the village dates from about 1450 and is open on Sundays and Mondays trading as a cafe during normal times. To check their opening times please look at their website. Friar’s House Dale Abbey.

Friar’s House Dale Abbey

Lastly a few more photographs from our visit.