Winster is a picturesque village in the south-east of the Peak District National Park. It occupies an upland location 215 to 275 metres (700 to 900 feet) above sea level.
The name 'Winster' is first recorded in Domesday Book (1086) as Winsterne, which possibly means 'Wyn's thorn tree', presumably after a local landmark.
The village is located in a broad valley where the steep limestone bank to the south meets the shales and gritstones to the north. The geology gives Winster much of its distinctive character, both in the walled fields with their limestone outcrops and in the mixture of limestone and gritstone from which the houses are built. The only substantial brick building is the Market House.
Lead mining, for which Winster is famous, may have had its origins here in Roman times, for the Romans certainly mined in this part of Derbyshire. The boom in mining from the late seventeenth century saw the population rise to 2,000 by 1750 and turned the village into a prosperous town, one of the largest in the county. But flooding in the mines became a problem as the workings went deeper, and eventually it forced many of them to shut down. The last working mine, at Mill Close, two miles north-east of Winster, employed a large number of local men until it closed in 1938.
Roads and trackways also played a large part in Winster's development. One of the most important is the Portway, a prehistoric trade route that passes close to the village. Salt routes from Cheshire also pass nearby and the eighteenth-century turnpike road from Nottingham to Newhaven went through the village.
The first-time visitor is invariably surprised by its grand Main Street, closed in by the Market House at one end and the Dower House at the other, and by the jumble of tightly packed cottages spreading down the lanes and high up Winster Bank. A number of the buildings on Main Street, some of which were once shops, date from the hey-day of mining. The two grandest buildings are Winster Market House (now owned by the National Trust) and Winster Hall. The cottages which huddle together on the hillside, known as Winster Bank, are more likely to have been the modest homes of the poorer miners, quarrymen and agricultural workers and their families. They spread out between two steep roads, East Bank and West Bank, and are linked by a web of narrow pathways. All around are mineshafts and grassy mounds left over from the period of lead mining. In the 1950s an estate of council houses was built at Leacroft, on the eastern approaches, with more new housing on nearby Wyntor Avenue in the 1960s.
Winster today has a population of about 630. In contrast to past times, few of the residents now work in the village, and this fact, together with the rise of motor transport, has brought the demise of much of the old community.
But although there has been change there has not been decline, for Winster is one of the most lively villages in the area, with a school, shops, a garage, two pubs, a church, two chapels, playing fields, a medical centre, a newly refurbished village hall, and many flourishing activity groups. Much of this liveliness can be experienced during Winster Wakes, especially on Wakes Saturday, which is usually the first in July (except when June 24, the feast of the patron St John the Baptist, falls on a Sunday, in which case Wakes Saturday is the last day of June).