The tiny village of Mapleton, one and three quarters of a mile from Ashbourne, stands on the Derbyshire side of the River Dove that divides it from neighbouring Staffordshire. It is a village of attractive red brick cottages, somewhat unusual in the Peak District where stone normally dominates. The village borders the Peak District and acts as a gateway to the Dove Valley. The houses stretch out in a line along the road through the village mostly looking over the river in the direction of Okeover Hall, a private residence not open to the public.
As with so many towns and villages in Derbyshire, there is a problem with either the pronunciation, or the spelling - with Mapleton (or should it be Mappleton?) there is problem with both. Locals invariably pronounce the name according to the latter spelling, but the church notice board, many local guidebooks and the Ordnance Survey prefer the former. Whatever the spelling, this little village is a place not to be missed with its lovely walks and air of peace and tranquillity.
Along the narrow winding road from Ashbourne to the centre of Mapleton, up a tree-lined drive, is Callow Hall. The grounds covering 44 acres with splendid views from the Hotel’s elevated position of the valleys of the Bentley Brook and the River Dove. Once the property of the Rev H Buckston, it is a handsome Elizabethan style stone mansion. The Manor House to the south of the village is a substantially built house looking out across the water meadows to the river.
Mappleton faces its Staffordshire neighbour, Okeover, across the flat water-meadows of the Dove. It is an 18th century church, of limestone, small, aisleless and endearingly idiosyncratic with a squat west tower which carries a dome, surmounted by a disproportionately large lantern (this in turn evidently once carried an urn, which now lies damaged at the foot of the tower). The nave is lit on each side by three arched lattice windows, one with tinted glass the rest plain. A 19th century writer dismissed it for its “hideous style that was then considered suitable for ecclesiastical edifices”. The locals disagree: its local nickname is or was “little St Pauls”. Set into the south wall of the nave are three slate headstones of the 18th century, all with their lettering as crisp as ever, one of them (to a Tunnicliff) especially assured, with ambitious scrollwork.
The chancel has a chair of 1666 with elaborate carving on the back, culminating in a crown with nubile lady supporters. And the wall monument to James Hawksworth, mid Victorian in date (he died in 1856 age 62) but still classical in style with draped urn, which surely would have gladdened the heart of Samuel Smiles. This is his epitaph:
“Of humble origin, he by industry, perseverance and punctuality in the discharge of his duties, acquired an honourable competence, and became Lord of the Manor of Mappleton, which is here recorded that others may be induced to follow his example.”
Close to the bridge is a handsome five-bay Georgian House, built in the mid 1700s by Rowland Okeover and known as ‘The Okeover Clergy House’. The house was originally divided up as three almshouses, later reduced to two, for the widows of clergymen.
A low single arched bridge crosses the Dove, and on the Staffordshire side of the river is the former Okeover Corn Mill, some distance behind that stands the hall. Okeover Hall dates from the 18th century, a pleasing mainly Georgian building of red brick round three sides of a courtyard, with a more recent extension. It has a church only a few yards away, built as a private chapel.
There is a public road across Okeover Park, once the province of deer, but it is sheep that now hold sway. Motorists confronted in towns and cities with road calming measures undertaken to reduce speed often have to drive over man made humps in the road, or sleeping policemen as they are sometimes called. Another form of road calming is in operation in Okeover Park, particularly when the sun is out and the tarmac is warm. This takes the form of sleeping sheep lying on the hot road, who only move with great reluctance to let passing motorists through, but only then after being slowed almost to a standstill and having had to sound the car horn.
It is a tradition for those people who do mind the cold to jump from Okeover Bridge into the River Dove to raise money for charity, in the annual New Year Boat Race and Bridge Jump. In 2003, fourteen teams of two rowed down the river before leaving their boats and jumping from the bridge into the freezing waters below and then swimming 60 yards upstream. The contestants then ran to the Okeover Arms, the winner receiving the ‘Brass Monkey’ award!
To contact the church, Enquiry St Marys Mappleton