Burnaston House was built for Ashton Nicholas Every Mosley JP DL (1792-1875) a relation of the Every family of Egginton. His father, Ashton Mosley of Park Hill, Egginton bought had bought 66 acres at Burnaston in 1810,which he had in 1820, settled on his son when he married Mary Theresa, daughter and heiress of William Stables of Hemsworth-in-Norton on the northern edge of the County. Stephen Glover’s entry in his well-known History and Gazetteer of Derbyshire (2nd edition 1833) tells us that “Burnaston House, the seat of Ashton Nicholas Every Mosley, Esquire, is a modern stone mansion erected by the present owner on a commanding situation.”
The house itself was built in 1825 (it was finished by 1827), beside an existing farmhouse called Conygree. Indeed, the name was at first transferred to the new house as Conygree Hall, but shortly afterwards it was re-named Burnaston House – certainly by 1832. It may be that it was not the Mosleys’ marriage that was the spur to building, but his father-in-law’s death in 1824, which made the money available to begin building, and that work on the design began not long thereafter.
The new house was built in a small landscaped park on a low ridge south-facing ridge overlooking the flood-plain of the Trent near where it meets the Dove, well away from the hamlet of Burnaston and not far from Etwall. The design was both striking and very sophisticated. To look at it the lowish two storey house presented a severe aspect, with almost no ornamentation on the exterior. The effect was heightened by most of it being built of local stone, although a certain amount of mind-changing on the part of the client left one part of it in brick as was the entire service wing.
The south (garden) front was six bays wide, the central four breaking slightly forward with single bays either side, which were probably originally intended to be single storey, but which ended up with an upper floor set back from the façade by a whole bay and lit from the sides by superimposed tripartite windows. The ground floor windows were set in blind recessed panels, whilst those above were set on a sill band under a modest cornice and low parapet, panelled at the bays.
The building went through several stages before the final arrangements were arrived at. The first plans for the house were for an L-shaped house, with two reception rooms on the NW angle with a two bay service wing beyond. The staircase was to be at the re-entrant angle at the rear, implying a main entrance on the east front. The only elevations we have, however, show the house more or less as built, with a four bay main block with single storey, single bay wings at either end of the façade. The north side was windowless, running uninterruptedly across the whole six bays of the house. As this side included the largest room – the dining room in all probability – and as neither staircases nor service wing are shown, we may reasonably conclude that this was a trial sketch, and that the fenestration and other details would have been worked out once the position of these essential adjuncts had been finalised. This is confirmed by the light sketching in of the first floor end extensions, set back from those on the ground floor, again, clearly an afterthought, but equally suggesting that there must have been further, final, plans and elevations of the house – now, presumably, lost – which would have incorporated all of these developments.
The plans we have are accompanied by south and west elevations, juxtaposed to it, which again reveal the house mainly as it was completed. The central four bays are shown precisely as built, but the two end bays are each shown differently, possibly to give the client an “either or” choice. Both end bays were, in building, raised in height so that their cornices matched the first floor sill band, with a dwarf parapet above echoing that over the main block. The entrance was settled on as via the NE bay on the East front – under the first floor extension – leaving the South front to house two equal-sized reception rooms. The service wing was built extending from the East end of the North front, and was of slightly lower proportions under a hipped and slated roof.
One anomaly was that the westernmost first floor return was, like the rest of the show-fronts of the house, in ashlared Keuper Sandstone, but the corresponding east return was, anomalously, executed in brick, probably because the house went up from east to west, and that there was uncertainty until the very last moment as to whether the first floor should, after all, be extended over the whole of the ground floor end bays, and the return was therefore done in brick, in case of a last minute change of mind, whereas by the time the SW angle went up, the matter had presumably been settled. Thus this latter (W) return was executed in ashlar and, to save time and expense, the corresponding part on the east side was stuccoed in locally made Brookhouses’s Roman cement, grooved and painted to match. It has been suggested that these side portions were added a decade or so later; having looked closely at the fabric when I first wrote about it in 1981, I became convinced that it was all one build, albeit subjected to revisions even whilst building.
The design of the house is striking and significant. The late Sir Howard Colvin was unable to attribute the writing on the early plan for the house, but it always seemed fairly reasonable to ascribe it to some follower of Sir John Soane, whose spare, stripped-down form of Classicism set the architectural standard for the first two decades of the 19th century; Francis Goodwin, who designed Derby County Gaol (1823-27), St. John’s Bridge Street in the city (1826-28) and Meynell Langley (1829), only four miles from Burnaston, seemed a likely candidate. Once the drawings appeared, the thought arose that they might be by Samuel Brown of Derby, whose plans for rebuilding Repton Park were also in the collection and certainly bore similarities. Sir Howard, however, managed to establish that the writing on the older Burnaston plan was from another hand than Brown’s.
The nearest house in design terms to Burnaston is Elmham Hall, Suffolk, designed in 1830 by East Anglian architect W. J. Donthorne. There is, however, nothing in his known oeuvre to connect Donthorne with Burnaston. The inspiration for both, however, seems to lie with the incomparable Prussian architect, Karl Friederich Schinkel (1781-1841) as much as with Soane.
I personally would attribute the house to the Derby banker, alderman and amateur architect, Richard Leaper (1759-1838), who designed The Pastures at Littleover (now the Grammnar School), Parkfields Cedars, Highfield and Thornhill House, all in Derby. His authorship of both Newton Park and Bladon Castle as built at Newton Solney (c. 1809) seems generally accepted, and the lodge to Newton Park, which escaped the rebuilding which befell the house in the 1860s, was done in a matching format to Burnaston.
Whereas Leaper’s early houses were gauche, it is clear that with age and experience he refined his architecture, and that Newton Park’s lodge emphatically presages the sophistication of Burnaston House.
After A. N. E. Mosley’s death, 392 acres of the estate was sold, leaving the house and 382 further acres to be let by the grandson, the longest serving tenant being George Darcy-Clark. But from 1916 to 1936 it was a school. In the latter year it was sold by its owner, Col. Godfrey Mosley, a Derby solicitor whose wife had inherited the Calke Abbey estate, to Derby Borough Council for £21,500. This was to comprise a new municipal airport being planned, which opened in June 1938. The house serving as the terminal and aero club house, until the commercial side of the airport closed in 1968 and moved to Castle Donington, after which a new owner lived in the service wing and allowed the remainder to fall into hideous dereliction. A friend managed to rescue a few pieces of plasterwork and staircase to aid eventual restoration.
After two public enquiries rejected applications to demolish the grade II listed structure, it was acquired for conversion into a care home, but at that juncture along came Toyota and the County Council. The car-maker refused to keep it in use on their factory site and the County Council, in 1993, decided to demolish it.
At the last moment however, came a knight in shining armour in the shape of Gainsborough Properties, who won the contract to demolish it, taking it down stone by stone, making plans and numbering the parts, and storing it for re-erection. The tragedy is that, despite four attempts to get planning permission to re-erect it in various southern Derbyshire locations, all have been blocked.
I did once suggest that the City Council acquire it for re-erection on the deserted house platforms either at Markeaton or Darley parks, to create a useful community facility or boutique hotel but the suggestion was dismissed by the councillors. Nevertheless, Burnaston House is still awaiting the call, safely palletted up and protected by plastic, so we may yet see it gracing our countryside again.