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The Knoll, Littleover

The Knoll, Littleover
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I have tramped the streets of Littleover many times over the last decade, canvassing or delivering leaflets, and have often wondered, when entering Knoll Close from Swanmore Road, on the south western slopes of the village, whether the inhabitants were aware of the reason for their street’s name.

The street itself was built in the late 1970s and partly covers the site of The Knoll, a house of some pretension, which stood in two acres running southwards from Burton Road, next to Elms Farm (also demolished).  There are not many photographs of The Knoll, but some really very fine ones taken by gifted amateur Alice Hurt (1837-1894) in the 1860s enable us to get a good idea of what the house was like.

It was in brick and designed in a rather watered down Jacobean revival style, with a three storied square topped tower at the east end, beside which, on the north west (entrance) front, was a projecting two storey bay with six-light mullioned and transomed windows. To the right was the tall staircase window and beyond that another projecting two storey bay, this time topped by a straight coped gable, containing the entrance, which was effected via a stone moulded depressed arch. Westwards again, was a projecting chimney breast, a blind bay and then the south west front.littleover-the-knoll-from-buron-rd

Strangely, for a part of the house likely to be well lit from afternoon to dusk, this consisted only of a single, full height gabled bay with projecting mullioned and transomed windows (an eight light one with minimal stone dressings set over a much more lavishly embellished ten light affair) the reminder of this being recessed and – apart from a single cross window lighting a landing – entirely blank, only the projecting drawing room chimney breast breaking the monotony, along with the string course which ran around the entire house above the ground floor windows. Stangely, this end of the equally sunny south east front was also blind (albeit with a garden door at the west end, blocked, even in Alice Hurt’s day) until one reached the corresponding bay to the entrance portico, which exactly matched the projecting south west gabled bay. The tower was the same both sides although the three stories were lower in height than those in the remainder of the house. The north east side was service accommodation but with a south east facing conservatory. The grounds were attractively laid out and descended gently south to the Hell Brook,

On the death of Francis Hurt of Alderwasley Hall in 1861, his widow, Cecilia, née Norman, ‘…went to live at a house called The Knoll at Littleover.’ Mrs. Hurt was one of the many offspring of Richard Norman of Melton Mowbray by his wife, Lady Elizabeth Manners, a daughter of Charles, 4th Duke of Rutland, and she had a large family by Francis, whom she married in 1829. Apparently she bought it as effectively as dower house and also as a place where any of her children could resort in time of need (which several did).

The house was clearly in being when Cecilia bought it, and it looks old fashioned for 1861, but not in any way ‘ancient’. The previous owner had been solicitor John Huish (1815-1886). The son of a naval officer of an old Somerset family settled in Nottingham. He moved to Derby as clerk to the Improvement Commission and to the Commissioners of Tax in 1836. He was called to the bar in 1858.

On his re-marriage to a daughter of John Ray of Heanor Hall in 1856, he moved to Smalley Hall, letting the house to Rowland Smith of Smith’s bank in the Market Place. Smith’s move into Duffield Hall in 1861, neatly coincided with Mrs. Hurt’s retiring to live at The Knoll. The earlier history of the house is, however, opaque, but one clue seems to unlock the mystery. When Huish sold the contents of the house, he referred to it as Littleover Hall, implying that Mrs. Hurt had decided to re-name it..

There was, however, a previous owner of a house called Littleover Hall – to be distinguished from the former manorial residence of the village which from 1806 had become a farmhouse called Littleover Old Hall.  This was William Edwards (1796-1855) another solicitor, living there on his giving up practice in 1826 and recorded there in 1828 when he moved to Aston-on-Trent. He was a scion of a family of lawyers; his aunt Elizabeth having been successively the wife of Derby China works proprietors William Duesbury II and Michael Keen, whilst his grandfather William had been the much put-upon legal adviser to Duesbury, whose descent into a welter of mental health issues and suicide is well documented in surviving correspondence.

Huish took over Edwards’s practice in Brookside in 1836 and, thanks to the upheavals caused by the creation of Victoria Street from the year following, moved it to the Jacobean House in Derby. His taking over Edwards’s house in Littleover at about the same time should occasion no surprise therefore.

One aspect of Huish’s time at Jacobean House is that in 1852, the Borough Council wanted to put Becket Street through his building, from The Wardwick to Macklin Street and, in consequence, it had to be reduced to a footprint about 2/5ths the size it had occupied previously. That job was done with immense tact by Derby architect John Price (1795-1859), latterly also a Littleover resident, occupying Park Lane House there. He had a substantial country house practice, also designing Lea Green, Haddon House Bakewell, and Churchdale Hall at Ashford-in-the-Water.littleover-the-knoll-gdn-front

I suspect that the sequence was that William Edwards, young and newly married in 1819, bought two acres on Pastures Hill from Bache Heathcote, who was re-locating to The Pastures (now the Boys’ Grammar School), and built a relatively modest brick Regency house of two stories. Having taken over from Edwards, Huish vastly extended the house, using the shell of Edwards’ house but going for a Jacobean style. The pre-existence of the notional Regency villa might explain the awkwardly low pitch of the roofs, not an anomaly apparent in Price’s other houses in this style. The architect was almost certainly Littleover man John Price and the job was done at some time between Huish taking over from Edwards’s family in 1836 and his deciding to sell on his second marriage in 1856.

The three storey tower presumably included a sitting room on the upper storey from which the gentlemen could enjoy the uncluttered view across the vale of the Trent to Breedon church and Charnwood Forest whilst enjoying a good Havana. This tower is certainly a rather engaging and self-conscious aspect of the house, which otherwise is textbook Jacobethan.

After Mrs Hurt had moved in, the gardens were re-modelled by William Barron & Sons and the conservatory added by Messrs. Messenger of Loughborough. Mercifully, both firms later published catalogues itemising their clientèle.

On Mrs. Hurt’s death, the house was sold for £3,500 to the widow of super-rich railway contractor Alderman Sir Abraham Woodiwiss, previously of The Pastures, nearby, by whom it appears to have been later purchased. When she died in July 1897, it was taken by Col. H. C. Holland, who had just been appointed Chief Constable of the County. He moved on to Brailsford Hall in 1902, when he was succeeded by Mrs. Woodiwiss’s son-in-law Alderman William Blews Robotham, JP (1863-1943), a solicitor who went on to be Mayor of Derby in 1909 and again in 1919. He did the sensible thing and extended the re-entrant south angle of the house to maximise the sunshine, according to 20th century block plans.

On his death in 1943 it was sold to Rolls-Royce to house engineers unable to fit into The Grange, nearby, taken over two years before. When the company become insolvent in 1971, it was sold off for housing development – hence Knoll Close.

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