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The small Peak District village of Pilsley, lies close to magnificent Chatsworth House and much of it belongs to the Dukes of Devonshire.
There are many attractive eighteenth and early nineteenth century cottages in the village, a post office and a pub named the Devonshire Arms. The primary school which was built by Joseph Paxton. Many of the pupils at the school are the children of Chatsworth estate employees. The old chapel has been turned into a village room. For services most people go to the church at nearby Edensor.
Pilsley is also the location of the Chatsworth Farm Shop, a business selling estate and British produce, which was established in the former shire horse stables in 1977. A 90 seat restaurant was added in 2004.
Well Dressing at Pilsley
There are a number of wells at Pilsley. These are no longer in active use, although are 'dressed' annually in well dressing ceremonies.
The wells in Pilsley are located at the Village Green (the main well- pictured left) Pilsley School Duck Row, in front of the telephone box (Windmill Well) and in Pilsley Lane. The village fair and well dressing at Pilsley is held in the third week of July.
The custom of Well Dressing in Derbyshire
The origins of this exclusively Derbyshire custom are lost in the mists of time. It is thought to have developed from the old pagan custom of making sacrifice to the gods of wells and springs to ensure a continued supply of fresh water.
The fact that many well dressings have a 'well queen' does suggests echoes of ancient spring fertility rites. However, some sources state the practice began after the Black Death of 1348-9, a great plague which claimed the lives of a third of the population of England.
Some villages such as Tissington in Derbyshire, were left untouched by the disease. The inhabitants attributed this to their clean water supply and gave thanks by 'dressing' the village wells.
The custom of well dressing had almost died out by the early years of the twentieth century, but was resumed in the 1920s and 1930s. The custom has since been revived, primarily for the tourist industry, in numerous villages and small towns in Derbyshire, Cheshire, Staffordshire and South Yorkshire.
The construction of the well dressings is an art requiring skill. Wet clay is spread a few inches thick across a wooden backing board, a design is 'pricked out' in the clay using a paper pattern and then petals and other items are positioned to form the design. After the 'dressing' the well it is blessed.
Nearby places of interest
Chatsworth House known as "The Palace of the Peak" is the country seat of the Duke of Devonshire and is situated on the banks of the River Derwent, 3.5 miles to the northeast of Bakewell in the heart of the Peak District National Park.
Haddon Hall near Bakewell, is an architectural gem. Dating back to the eleventh century, the hall has been described as "the most complete and most interesting house of [its] period", it is the finest example of a medieval manor house currently in existence in England.