Jo Travis travels back in time to visit the Staffordshire village of Yoxall.


Yoxall is a village in the Staffordshire countryside - which has a Derbyshire postcode.

It is quiet, almost sleepy and yet in 2004 it was splashed across the nation's newspapers at the centre of a gruesome story.

It has no extravagant history and very few claims to fame, but it is undeniably a lovely place to live.

Yoxall lies on the banks of the River Swarbourn on the A515 road north of Lichfield and south west of Burton upon Trent.

Just south of the village, Yoxall Bridge crosses the River Trent.

It is thought that the name Yoxall is derived from Anglo-Saxon geoces halh which means "yoke's nook" or "secluded piece of land small enough to be ploughed by one team of oxen, or providing feed for a yoke of oxen".

Simon Kelsey, branch partner of estate agent Kingston Belague, said: "It's one of our key areas, a very pleasant rural village.

"It has a post office, butchers, two pubs and a restaurant and a primary school which feeds into the John Taylor High School, which has a very good reputation."

St Peter's Primary School is a Church of England school with 122 pupils between the ages of four and 11.

Ofsted inspectors graded the school as satisfactory during their most recent visit, but noted that many of the staff were new to the school and were still implementing changes.

They said that pupils enjoyed school and were well supported but that some of the more able pupils were not challenged sufficiently.

The village has a good range of housing stock from quaint Victorian cottages and 1960s estates right up to farmhouses and huge new builds.

Mr Kelsey said: The cheapest house we had on our books went this morning for £165,000 and that was a cottage that was in need of restoration: The most expensive sale in Yoxall was £925,000 for a new home at Weaverlake."

Many residents have a long connection with the area but Yoxall is increasingly cropping up on the radar of people with young families who find the village an ideal compromise between rural living and city working.

Just north of Lichfield and to the west of Rugeley, the village is commutable from Derby and Birmingham.

The 2001 census records that the majority of Yoxall residents are white middle-aged Christians who are more likely to have a degree and work as managers or senior officials.

They are more likely to live in detached houses and tend to own two cars or more per household.

Nearly 69 per cent of the residents are employed and there is virtually no long-term unemployment or youth joblessness.

At £39,000 the average household income is above the national average and 74 per cent of villagers reckon they are in good health.

Yoxall residents are less likely to binge drink, smoke or be obese and more likely to eat their five portions of fruit and veg per day - yet they have a slightly lower life expectancy than the rest of the country.

The village's most famous son was the soldier James Thompson who was awarded the Victoria Cross for valour during the Indian Mutiny.

On July 9, 1857, at Lucknow, Private Thompson of the 1st Battalion 60th Rifles of the King's Royal Rifle Corps, saved the life of his commanding officer, Captain Wilton, by springing to his aid when he was surrounded by the enemy. The private killed two of the attackers before help arrived.

Private Thompson was also commended for conspicuous gallantry throughout the siege. A plaque commemorates his heroism at St Peter's Church.

Now Yoxall's most famous resident is eastern philosopher and poet Christopher Moody, who spends his time writing articles of the importance of variation in sexuality.

In October 2004, Yoxall hit the headlines when animal rights protesters broke into the grounds of St Peter's Church graveyard to steal the body of the 82-year-old Gladys Hammond.

Mrs Hammond's only crime was being related to a local family who ran a farm where guinea pigs were bred for medical research.

Animal rights activists spent years targeting anyone and everyone connected to the family in order to get the Darley Oaks Farm closed.

The desecration of the grave shocked the nation and a year later the farm's owners announced that they would be ceasing breeding of animals in the hope that Mrs Hammond's remains would be returned.

Following a police investigation, arrests were made and on April 10 2006, three men pleaded guilty to blackmail. They were sentenced to 12 years each.

The grounds of Yoxall Lodge are part of the National Woodland and at this time of year they are carpeted with bluebells.

Yoxall Lodge was originally built as a hunting lodge in the Needwood Forest and it was a popular hunting ground for the kings of England.

The hunting lodge was rebuilt as a comfortable Georgian country house by John Gisborne in the mid 1700s and his eldest son Thomas was to become its most famous resident.

The Reverend Thomas Gisborne was known as a divine and a poet.

He was a lifelong friend of the anti-slavery campaigner William Wilberforce having studied together at St. John's College, Cambridge along with Thomas Babington whose family seat was Rothley Temple in Leicestershire.

Gisborne married Thomas Babington's sister Mary in 1784, a year after he was ordained as a priest. They settled down at Yoxall Lodge which he had inherited from his father a few years earlier along with a considerable amount of money.

The Rev Thomas and Mary Gisborne led a content and happy life at Yoxall Lodge producing eight children but their youngest daughter Lydia was to scandalise society by conducting an affair with Branwell Brontë, brother of the Brontë sisters.

William Wilberforce became a regular visitor to Yoxall Lodge from about 1794 making it his summer residence and convalescing there after bouts of ill health.

The large and comfortable house gave Wilberforce and Thomas Babington the perfect retreat from which to work on the abolition of the slave trade.

Unfortunately, the old house was pulled down in 1928 after falling into a state of disrepair.

Although the hall is no longer there visitors can still enjoy walks through its grounds.

Another fine home in the area is Hoar Cross Hall - a Grade II listed building from the 19th century.

The hall is now run as a well-known health spa and hotel.