[dropcaps]Osmaston is one of the small settlements surrounding Derby which by the early 20th century had become eaten up and later on entirely devoured by the fast expanding County Borough. It is of interest as a settlement because the tenant of the larger estate in the township at the time of King Edward the Confessor was one Osmund.[/dropcaps]
Whether the settlement was a recent one that had taken his name or an earlier one named after one of his homonymous forebears we shall never know, but it represents a rare phenomenon. Osmund, whose ancestors would have been Norse, rather than Anglo-Saxon, survived the Conquest, for he turns up in the Domesday Book as the tenant of Henry de Ferrers at Codinton (now Cottons Farm) not far away.
The estate passed from the Osmastons to the Folchers and from them to the Bradshaws, but the first country house about which we can be certain was built by Nicholas Wilmot. It was purchased for him by his father, Robert Wilmot of Chaddesden and passed to Nicholas, his younger son, in 1637. It was probably contemporary with the family’s Chaddesden house, also built around this period. We have a pretty good idea what this house was like as the family were descended from a line of thrifty former Derby merchants, so when the house was replaced in the 1690s, the old one was not done away with, but retained and included as part of the new house, acting as its service wing. It was of two storeys, stone built and had a three gabled façade with attics.
The stone, ashlared throughout, was Millstone Grit Sandstone, probably Rough Rock from Horsley Castle Quarry. Originally it probably had a pair of cross-wings either side of this façade, for at the hearth tax assessments of 1662, it was taxed on 20 hearths, which suggests that it was of a good size. Comparable in size were West Hallam, Hassop, Egginton and Radbourne Halls, of which only Hassop survives, albeit completely rebuilt in the 18th century. It may be that what we know of the old house was only the new part and that the remainder, long demolished, was much older, perhaps built by the Bradshaws. When Sir Nicholas Wilmot (as he had become on the back of a booming legal practice) died, his son Robert, MP for Derby 1689, decided to start again.
His house built c1696, was much more four square, of three storeys, nine bays wide with, on the garden front, a central segmental pediment (triangular on the entrance front) crowning the rather compressed middle three bays supported by giant composite pilasters and with plat band between the storeys. The fenestration was originally of mullion and transom cross type, later replaced by sashes, with the windows under the pediments given a more ornamental treatment. The architect was clearly not a man drawn from the first rank of his profession as the façades are full of solecisms.
To use a giant order in the centre and quoins at the angles is odd and the giant order itself ends not in a frieze as one might expect, but with little chopped off pieces of an imagined one called dosserets, without which the cornice and balustrade would have risen directly from the vertical surface of the wall. The central section and pediments were built in Keuper Sandstone, perhaps from Weston Cliff, but the remainder was brick, although by the beginning of the 19th century these parts of the house had been stuccoed over in Bookhouse’s Roman Cement which was made in Derby at a riverside works on The Morledge.
The pediments boasted the Wilmot arms set in ornamental carving and broken slightly back that, on the entrance front rose on three superimposed Orders: Doric, Tuscan and Ionic, an unusual but not essentially incorrect architectural combination. The house’s sides were set off by four small pavilions joined to the house by links, all originally with tall parapets centred by eccentric arched features framing oval blind oculi.
The interiors were apparently very fine. An un-built design for Melbourne Hall of exactly the same date by the sculptor and mason turned architect Sir William Wilson has generally similar awkward proportions and wayward detailing, despite having a much more Francophile and exuberant upper storey and the same hand was almost certainly at work at Osmaston. Wilson was born in Leicester in 1641 and trained as a statuary mason. He obtained his knighthood through the good offices of his then rather grand fiancée, the widowed Lady Pudsey in 1682.
He did much of the carving at Dudbury Hall and was responsible for the wayward Gothic of St Mary’s at Warwick. His Melbourne plan is dated 1697. Nothing of his known oeuvre betrays the hand of anything but a second rater. Nevertheless, William Hutton said of it, ‘This house is one of the most beautiful pieces of architecture I ever beheld’ which probably says more about Hutton’s appreciation of architecture than Wilson’s ability.
Nevertheless, Osmaston Hall was quite grand and an eminently suitable seat for the Wilmots, raised to a baronetcy in 1772. Sir Robert’s father had commissioned Bakewell to make new gates for his entrance – the ironsmith’s last known work; his eyesight was failing around 1750 when this commission came his way. Sir Robert had the pavilions on the garden front replaced by a simple three bay single storey pedimented one with Venetian windows, very much like one added to Chaddesden Hall at about the same time by his cousin there; possibly the architect was Joseph Pickford.
At the same time he had the park land re-landscaped by the locally based William Emes, forming an adjunct to gardens originally laid out in the 1690s by George London and Henry Wise, whose work at Melbourne happily survives. Emes provided the lake which went some way to enlivening a rather flat landscape which he enclosed with groves of planting at the fringes. The estate stretched to 3,709 acres. Sir Robert Wilmot, the 3rd baronet (1784-1841), married the heiress of the Hortons of Catton and later moved there, away from Derby’s burgeoning industry and its accompanying pollution.
The family, later the Wilmot-Hortons (their surname forming the basis for the name of the suburb of Wilmorton which they developed on the estate in the 1870s), let the house in 1814 with 32 acres of grounds to the Fox family, relatives of the Darwins and the Strutts. They built a pretty little thatched lodge on what is now the corner of Osmaston Road and Ascot Drive, probably to designs by Richard Leaper, which survived until the Second War. The Fox family lived there until the noise and pollution of the foundries on Cotton Lane drove them out in the 1880s.
In 1888 the Wilmot-Hortons sold the house and estate to the Midland Railway, who continued to develop the latter, also expanding their carriage and wagon works onto it and building railway lines practically to the front door. They used the house as offices and storage. Part of Emes’s park became the Royal Showground (also a golf course), hosting the event regularly until 1933. Nemesis came when the LMS railway sold what remained to Derby Borough Council in 1937, who planned a housing estate on the site, although the intervention of the war allowed a transformation into an industrial one instead, the Ascot Drive Estate.
The fast-decaying house was unceremoniously demolished in March 1938. After the war the historic parish church of St James went, along with its vicarage, although to some extent it had been replaced in 1904-1906 by Percy Currey’s superb St Osmund’s, with its complex of almshouses and vicarage, forming a sequestered ‘arts-and-crafts’ campus beside the canal, which itself had invaded the parkland in 1794. Today you would be hard put to it to know that a grand house had once sat in an elysium of green parkland at all.