Brief History of Winster
Evidence of prehistoric settlement in Winster comes from two Iron Age burials accidentally discovered in 1856 in the garden of a house (now called The Manor), and from a burial mound excavated in 1868 on the hillside overlooking the village.
Seventh-century Anglo-Saxon Cross from Winster Moor
Winster Miners at Millclose Mine
The earliest written reference to Winster is in The Domesday Book of 1086, which gives the name as Winsterne, meaning possibly 'Wine's Thorn Tree'. In medieval times the nucleus of the village was probably where it is now, with shared open fields to the west, north and east, some of which can still be seen in the traces of ridge and furrow that once marked them out. The area of open common and waste to the south of the parish (towards Grangemill) was enclosed by a parliamentary act of 1763. A separate act of 1809 enclosed Bank Pasture (the slopes above Winster).
These enclosures established the patchwork of fields, but the walls often had to cut across the hummocks and ditches left by lead mining, which was the most important industry in the Winster area since Roman times. The lead deposits that were easiest to mine were up in the limestone rock on the south side, and this is probably why the village was built on a north-facing slope. In time shafts were also sunk into the shale and sandstone on the other (lower) side, but the workings had to be deeper, so flooding was always a problem. Long drainage soughs (tunnels) were dug down the length of the valley to the River Derwent, and in some places the water had to be pumped out by steam engines. Mining boomed in the eighteenth century and for a while Winster was one of the most important and populous towns in Derbyshire. But eventually, as the workings went still deeper and water proved to be more of a problem, lead mining became uneconomical, and the last nearby mine at Mill Close ceased working in 1939. Some of the old mines had fanciful names, such as Lickpenny, Lucky-the-Lane and Horsebuttocks, and many of the old shafts can still be seen in the fields round about, capped with stones or concrete slabs.
Winster Market House
Winster has about seventy listed buildings. The greatest concentration is along Main Street, where the close-packed eighteenth-century frontages reflect the mining boom of the time. Prominent among them is Winster Hall, built about 1700, and the Market House, of about the same date and now owned by the National Trust. The close-packed small cottages that once belonged to the old mining families extend up the bank, linked by the web of gennels and alleyways that are a distinctive feature of Winster.
The church is at the west end of the village. It has an eighteenth-century tower but the rest was rebuilt in Victorian times. The primary school is at the east end of Winster and was built in 1866. New housing was built near the school, mostly in the 1950s and 1960s.
Bank House on West Bank is the site of a famous murder. In 1821 the village doctor, William Cuddie, was courting the daughter of the influential Brittlebank family. The young lady's family objected and a quarrel ensued between Cuddie and her brothers, which eventually led to a duel, which was illegal at that date. In the course of the duel Cuddie received a fatal wound, so the brothers and their helpers were arrested to be tried for murder. But William Brittlebank, who had fired the shot, jumped bail and escaped abroad, never to be seen again. In the absence of the ringleader, the others were acquitted. This caused an outcry among the villagers, for Cuddie had been very popular whereas the Brittlebanks were widely disliked.
Many interesting stories about the village, based on recordings of people's memories, have been gathered into a book (see the list below). There is also a Village Map, which contains a great deal of historical information. There is also a booklet of six circular walks around Winster, the first of which guides the walker through the streets and gennels. These items are available in Winster's community-owned Village Shop. (The book is about to go out-of-print. Second-hand copies are available on eBay.)
For more information:
Winster Local History Group, Winster: A Peak District Village Remembers (2000)
Winster Village Map Group, Winster Village Map (2003)
Geoff Lester, Walks around Winster: Six Walks with Maps and Points of Interest (2013)
Other information is on www.winster.org/pages/winster-history-group.htm
Geoff Lester, Chair of Winster Local History Group