Elston - A Modern Description
Elston lies five miles south of Newark and three quarters of a mile from the Roman Fosse Way. The river Trent is about one and a half miles away and forms the western boundary of the parish. Southwards lies the beautiful Vale of Belvoir and Lincolnshire is within sight to the east. Huge pylons carrying electricity stride across the landscape where hedges have been removed to form large fields. Finds of Stone Age flint and Roman pottery and coins are evidence of earlier dwellers in the area.
Elston is a compact village developed from two parishes in the form of a rectangle of four roads, Low Street, Top Street, Pinfold Lane and Toad Lane. The church, school, village hall and playing field are within the rectangle. The Hall and all its buildings stand on the south side of Top Street, turned now into modern homes. Within the rectangle there are also developments of modern housing. The barns of a disused farmyard have been converted, with the addition of more houses to form a pleasant development on the south east corner and the council estate, although outside the rectangle, does not spoil the compactness of the village.
It is a friendly village with good support for local events. There are about 850 inhabitants, most of whom commute to work out of the village. This is a far cry from 150 years ago when there were 13 farmers and most trades had one or two representatives. The local trade of 'Skepmaking' (Basketmaking) used willow especially grown in 'rodholts' and stripped by village women and children. Surrounded as it is by agricultural land, farming continues to be very important although the use of modern machinery has reduced the size of the workforce considerably. There are still a number of working farms in the village.
The village is fortunate to have a post office and general store. The Hall was owned by the Darwin family from 1680 to 1954. Erasmus Darwin was born there in 1731. He moved to Litchfield after becoming a Doctor. He became one of the country's finest physicians, an inventor and founder member of the Lunar Society. His grandson, Charles, is recorded as having said that his theory of evolution owed nothing to Erasmus' work on the subject, which seems uncharitable to say the least!
Another interesting building in the village is the old Elston chapel. The parish of Elston Chapel was created in 1584. The building, with its Norman doorway, has been a puzzle but recent convincing research suggests that the hospital of St Leonard, which was sold in 1576, was in this area and the building could have been the hospital chapel.
Out of the village on the Fosse Way is a recently opened restaurant beautifully restored from the facinating Victorian Middleton House. Robert Middleton had the building started in 1872. Stories are told that when, on his travels, he saw something he liked he would dash back to Elston to have the particular feature incorporated into his new home. How the builder must have dreaded him appearing with a new idea.
The recently refurbished public house, The Chequers, is the only one left out of three. The other two are now private homes. Both the church and the Methodist chapel are very fine buildings. There is a modern school and vicarage, replacing the Victorian buildings which are still standing and occupied. The old school has been converted into a private house. The Victorian Darwin Cottages opposite the church replaced the original almshouses provided by Ann Darwin in her will in 1722 and are still occupied by four ladies. The windmill, unfortunately without sails since 1940, has also been converted into a home giving a marvellous view of the surrounding land and of Belvoir Castle.
The Nottinghamshire Village Book (The Nottinghamshire Federation of Women's Institutes and Countryside Books 1989)