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  • Roger Waterhouse

Names, Signs and Letters


In 1993 we were living in a small house in St Mary's Gate in the centre of Wirksworth, but looking to buy somewhere in the Derbyshire Dales. Our requirements were, somewhere traditional, big enough for us and our two children (aged 11 and 8 at the time), and a large garden. We ended up buying Demonsdale Farm, Ashover.

It was not ideal. Essentially it was a two-up two-down traditional farmhouse in good repair but with only a small garden. We needed three bedrooms; there were only two. So for two years our son's bedroom was a caravan out the back, which appealed to the 11 year old in the summer, but caused relocation to the sitting room sofa when the wind blew in the winter. The plusses were, a lot of derelict outbuildings. And the garden may have been small, but there were 9 acres of field. So, over the years (many years) we have turned it into a well appointed smallholding with room for my workshop, Jacky's loom room, and plenty of grazing for horses, sheep, geese, chickens etc.

But this is about signs.

When we came the only way to get to us was through a working quarry, up a lane past derelict cottages, and over a spur of the Ashover light railway. Beyond us there was a private track to the historic Overton Hall, which at that stage was an old people's home. And we inherited this sign.

I never liked the script, which I thought inappropriate to a modest dwelling at least a couple of hundred years old (we have no idea why it was called 'Demonsdale'). But the sign was adequate for a while, and not top of our priorities when we had no central heating, not enough bedrooms etc.

However, we began to experience a problem with our address, which persists to this day.

Our postal address had always been, Demonsdale Farm. Fallgate, Ashover.

However, 'Fallgate', historically was an area, rather than a road. But things like Google Maps needed to know what every road was called. So 'Fallgate" came to be the road which led down the hill, past the quarry and round to the Miners Arms.

Our lane, , which led through the (now closed) quarry acquired a signboard which said 'Jerting' Street. Locals who had been born here objected, and said that if anything it was 'Jetting Street'. I don't think that Google maps have yet caught up with the nimble North East Derbyshire District Council when it comes to naming. Check your satnav.

Whatever. Demonsdale Farm is not on the street called 'Fallgate', nor upon the lane now called 'Jetting Street'. It is upon the historic bridleway called 'Abraham's Lane'. Which neither the Post Office nor Google recognise. In the great scheme of things this doesn't really matter because there is no longer any other property on Abraham's Lane which either Amazon or the Post Office would need to deliver to. But that doesn't help the east European delivery guys who are just trying to do a good job. It reminds me of Tony Kaye's problem - but that's another story.

Anyway, after we had been here a few years, and the painted sign was rotting and falling off its post, I decided to make a new one. It's surprising how many people cannot distinguish between carpentry, wood turning and wood carving. Old friends will still ask me occasionally how the woodcarving in going. I remind them that I'm a turner. Carving is quite a different skill, though one I have experimented with in the past. I decided a carved oak sign would be in keeping with the property' so I did my best.

We don't know how old the original building was at Demonsdale, but it was probably one-up one-down from the early eighteenth century, maybe seventeenth. So I didn't want my carving to be a modern font. At the time my father was still alive and living with us, and every Saturday morning I would take him to visit childhood friends of his who lived in Norton, Sheffield. Whilst he was there I had an hour or more to kill. I've known Norton since I was a boy. Even though it is now surrounded by suburban Sheffield it still has its mediaeval village church and a classic graveyard. So i browsed the graveyard for the stone cut fonts of old Norton. I chose one I really liked, photographed it and back home made templates of the individual letters, which I adjusted to the size I needed.

There were two problems. My gravestone had no letter 'M'. I solved this by inverting a 'W'. The other problem was spacing. Aesthetically it only worked if there was some overlap between the letters. So I overlapped, even though that presented a challenge in cutting the fine ridges between some of the letters.

Given that I could only afford an hour or so each weekend to work on it, the sign took me several weeks to complete. But I was well pleased with the result.

I hung it from a branch of a tree at the top of our drive.

Time passed, and my sign weathered well. But the tree kept growing and putting leaves in front of it. And there was a holly bush in front of the tree which kept getting bigger. So apart from in the winter months, the sign was usually obscured by leaves. We decided a new, lower, more prominent sign was needed.

In Tansley, which is just over the hill from us, there is a family called Cross. We've known them for over 25 years. Lorna ran a landscape gardening business and nursery. Her sister Josie sold 'Lots of Pots' and other things, including some of my bowls. Josie moved to the Outer Hebrides (Lewis) about 18 months ago. Lorna, unbeknownst to me until very recently, is a stonemason. When i went to buy my usual Christmas tree from Lorna in December we had a discussion about whether she could reproduce my carved oak sign in stone. She reckoned she could. And she did! The eighteenth century stonemasons of Norton would have been proud of her. And I think flattered that we had so appreciated their original work.

But the final credits in this story must go to Christian. He is the man of many talents who set it in the wall. Really he is a tree man. But one of those rare people who not only likes a challenge, but grows with every one he successfully meets.

And Tony Kaye? He lived at April Cottage in the same little village we did on the Suffolk/Essex border. There was one street, appropriately called 'The Street'. Tony was made redundant in his 50's. He was a keen amateur painter but reckoned he could eke out his meagre pension by framing pictures. So he needed business cards to promote his new business. He reckoned that 'April Cottage, The Street, Ashen' didn't sound professional enough, and seemed to remember that when they had bought the cottage in the 1950s it had a number - number 22. (None of the houses in The Street carried numbers). So Tony went into the main post office in Sudbury to find out whether they would recognise number 22, The Street as April Cottage. The postmaster looked at him indulgently and said "If you want it to be number 22 Mr Kaye, it's 22".


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