The Spread Eagle Island

Visitors to the centre of the village will have noted activity around the Spread Eagle “Island” during the past few months.

The origins of this piece of ground are not known but it is an old and established village feature.

Layton Layberry in his memoirs of his 1920’s childhood notes the area as the natural village focal point for children to meet up and play.

For many years it was the site of an elm tree and this tree is used as a reference point in plans (section opposite) for re-routing village roads in 1819 and 1834. Village post cards of the 1950’s and 60’s still show a large tree on the site.

The principle of fencing the site is also long established. The Rolleston Charity account book has an entry for 1827 –

“Hackett & Faulkner for fencing round ye elm tree £.12s.6d.”
“Two labourers assisting in putting down the fence 3s.6d.”

There is also an entry –

“For the old paling round the elm tree 7s.6d.”

Cleaning of the iron railings has revealed a stamp mark in a cross bar “J Hollis Rolleston” A stamp in another bar reads “Yorkshire” which may indicate the source of the wrought iron.

A search of the Censuses and Church records by Michael Wardell reveals that John Hollis was born in Newborough or Hanbury about 1817. He died and was buried in Rolleston Churchyard in 1887. He appears in the Censuses from 1841 to 1881 as blacksmith or master blacksmith and it seems evident that he erected the present railings during that period.

Records show also that John Hollis engaged an apprentice, John H Topley in 1881. This will be the first of the line of Topley family blacksmiths who occupied Blacksmiths Yard in Burnside and finally became the firm of Topley and Fisher that will be remembered by more recent residents.

It is fitting that the island is the site of an anvil used by the last village blacksmith, W Frank Topley. This was erected in 1984, in Frank’s memory, by the Tonman Mosley Lodge, Manchester Unity of Oddfellows, of which Frank was a member.

Notes from Parish Council meetings, collected by the late Alan Woodbine, give us some 20th century history of the island.

At the September 1920 meeting of the Parish Council reference was made to the untidy state of the fenced ground round the tree opposite the Spread Eagle and it was agreed that Sir Oswald Mosley should be contacted in the hope that an improvement could be effected. Sir Oswald subsequently advised that he made no claim whatsoever on this land but, in making this disclaimer, he would ask that the Parish Council should, on its part, write to him expressing a desire to keep the enclosure in its present form. The Council there upon decided to accept responsibility for the enclosure. It was the first piece of land that the Council acquired as an open space. In December 1920 it was referred to as the Village Cross and the Chairman reported that he and Mr Marriott had purchased shrubs at a cost of £2.15.0 , that the planting had been done including the cost of labour of £1,10.0 which had been paid for by Mrs Crawshaw £1 and Sir Oswald 10s.

At the March 1966 meeting of the Council it was reported that the architect designing the bus shelter opposite the Spread Eagle proposed to incorporate features of the lychgate. In March 1967 a tender for erection of the shelter, from Sanders and Sons of Repton, for £947.9.10 was accepted. (About one third of the price of a house at that time! - Ed.)

In 1970 the Council decided to register the Spread Eagle Island under the Commons Registration Act of 1965. This registration was heard before the Commons Commissioner at the Crown Court, Hanley in 1979 and he was satisfied that the Council had a possessory title.

The bus shelter was supplemented with vandal-resistant seating designed, made and erected by John Underhill in 2008. (If you wondered why the sign for Derby points to Tutbury, that’s because that’s the direction the bus goes!)

The last renovation of the island was probably when the bus shelter was built, now over 40 years ago. In recent years it has become untidy and trees which were a good idea as saplings have become overgrown.

In 2011 public meeting to review the condition of the island was called by the Parish Council, a number of proposals agreed and a joint working party of the Civic Trust and Council set up. Several meetings were held with various individuals and representatives of many village organisations, culminating in the Civic Trust commissioning of two reports from the Bluebell Arboretum, one of which was a tree survey and the second a planting consultation, this enabled us to formulate a replanting and maintenance scheme, which would reflect the historical importance of the Spread Eagle Island as well as acknowledging its focal position in the conservation area.

The Parish Council obtained quotations for the work including clearance of the overgrown shrubs and undergrowth, shot blasting and repainting the railings, digging out the perimeter and reusing the large stone pieces as an edging to the island. Excavation and renovation of the railings has shown that road and verge levels have been raised significantly since they were installed but the present ground profile will be maintained for safety and to protect the island.

The Working Party had the good fortune to enlist the voluntary help of Rolleston resident and garden designer - Karin Kay. Karin has devised a scheme which, once established, will supply all year round interest and waves of seasonal colour and shape. All the planting has been undertaken by volunteers, including the laying of the turf and more planting is due later in the autumn.

Whilst working on the island, volunteers have been approached by many passers-by expressing their interest and approval of the improvements.

The Parish Council has provided the finance for the majority of the planting including the turf, this amounted to £5323.55. Happily, with the help of our Borough Councillor, Mrs Beryl Toon, a grant was obtained from ESBC for £2396.00 towards this cost. The Civic Trust funded the two reports by the Bluebell Arboretum and has also supplied extra plants and top soil. A substantial number of Hellebores have been provided by villagers following the appeal in the Rollestonian.

All of those involved with the Spread Eagle Island renovation project hope that this will prove to be a long lasting feature in the centre of the village to be enjoyed by residents and visitors alike.

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Last updated: 21 July 2013