The entire building was set in a small landscaped park and embellished with a pair of fine Wellingtonias – giant redwoods – and with dense planting to shield the house from those on Sitwell Street.
I suppose that, if one counts Locko Park as part of Spondon, one could say that the village (now Derby suburb) has no surviving country house. Yet Locko’s splendours lie comfortably outside the City’s boundaries, in which case one could reasonably aver that Spondon has lost all its country houses: the Old Hall (about which I have already written), Field House, Spondon House and the Hall; four out of four. As an aside, it must be acknowledged that The Homestead survives (on Sitwell Street), but this is really what posh estate agents would call a village house and was indeed built by a prosperous tanner rather than a landed gent.
Spondon Hall was a new house on a new site when it was built in around 1810, the Old Hall also on Sitwell Street being the historic ‘manor house’ of the village. Yet for a new-built brick Regency villa, the house was strangely irregular, and it may be that it was an early work of that redoubtable amateur architect, Alderman Richard Leaper and his client.
The house was of two storeys under a hipped and slated roof. The main south front was of three bays, that on the left being a full height bow and separated from the other two bays of windows by a gap. The west front, which included the entrance, was of three bays, a narrow one over the front door flanked by a pair, slightly wider, and that towards the SW angle being further from the central bay than that to the NW angle. In front of the entrance was a single storey porch with a cornice and parapet. The entrance to this was to the right of a large rectangular window, so that once inside, one realised that the main front door was actually offset from the entrance from the outside and faced the big window.
To the north was a narrower gable-ended double pile service range with a single bay protrusion to the west. The east front was the only regular part with four evenly spaced bays. Either side of the entrance porch and attached to it and accessed from it was a pair of conservatories, a small one to the south with a hipped roof and an L-shaped one to the north, rather taller, but both with their eaves supported by a line of stone pilasters separating the generously glazed bays. The entire house was stuccoed, grooved and coloured to resemble ashlar.
The entire building was set in a small landscaped park the land falling north to south from the church to the Nottingham Road and embellished with a pair of fine Wellingtonias and tall poplars with dense planting to the NE to shield the house from those on Sitwell Street which overlooked the site. There was also a brick stable block and coach house to the NE with Gothick cast iron windows (like that surviving on Kedleston Road which once served Ryecote House) with a stump tower with a pyramidal roof under a neat lantern.
Although the house lacks Alderman Leaper’s customary maladroit ornamentation, he did design plain houses like Thornhill on Kingsway (demolished in 2006). The closest house in overall appearance, though, is The Firs, Burton Road, a villa of similar vintage which has a similar entrance front and asymmetrical curved bay.
Be that as it may, the client was Roger Cox, a Derby lead merchant whose family had built the famous shot tower on The Morledge in 1809. His father had founded the family business, as a protégé of 4th Earl Ferrers (the one hung with a silken rope for murder), upon whose Brailsford estate he had grown up. Roger was one of several brothers, one of whom built Brailsford Hall in a similar Regency style using an existing family farmhouse as a starting point. Another brother, who forsook lead trading for wine importing, built Parkfields, just north of Kedleston Road, again in similar style (but more regular), in the 1820s.
The fact that three brothers built three two storied stuccoed large villas within about 15 years of each other might suggest that all three may have been designed by the same architect. If so he was Joseph Cooper of Derby, for Stephen Glover attests him as the designer/builder of Parkfields, a house which happily still exists, although now divided as three dwellings. As Cooper, his father John and his brothers William and Thomas, customarily acted in just this capacity for Leaper (as correspondence relating to Thornhill attests) it may be that Cooper designed (and built) Spondon Hall and that the requirements of the super-rich Roger Cox dictated a layout which made perfect symmetry of the facades impossible to achieve.
Unfortunately, no record survives of the interior but if those of similar houses in the Derby area are anything to go by, they would have been modest, with stucco cornicing and good quality, but not over elaborate, chimneypieces of polished local limestones. The staircase was probably cantilevered stone with cast iron balustrade supplied by the Britannia foundry in Duke Street, then owned by Weatherhead and Glover, and which specialised in high quality cast iron architectural ornament.
The Cox family owned the house and its modest estate for a little over a century, Arthur Cox (no relation to the whilom Derby County manager, I am assured) selling it in 1921. Part of the estate was sold for housing, but the house and the large part of the land was bought by newly ennobled Sir Henry Fowler, chief mechanical engineer (CME) of the Midland Railway. He made few changes to the house except to fit shutters to the windows.
Fowler, born in Evesham in 1870 was apprenticed to John Aspinall of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway from 1887 and worked with his successor George Hughes before joining the Midland Railway at Derby in 1900 and succeeded Richard Deeley as CME in 1909. His knighthood (a KBE) came in 1919 following his war work as, first, director of production at the Ministry of Munitions and afterwards as assistant director general of aircraft production.
When the railways were re-formed into groups from 1st January 1923, the Midland became part of the London, Midland and Scottish Railway and Fowler became deputy CME to his old boss George Hughes, succeeding him in 1925. His most famous locomotive design during his period in charge was the Royal Scot class of 4-6-0 passenger locomotives, although numerous other well–known designs emerged under his leadership both at the MR and during his time at the LMS. He retired in 1933, to be succeeded in quick succession by Sir Ernest Lemon and then Sir William Stanier.
Fowler was a great traveller, often going on railway-sponsored fact-finding expeditions abroad, during which he collected numerous exotic horticultural specimens, which flourished greatly under his care once re-planted in the grounds of the hall, which he much improved and re-landscaped. He died at Spondon Hall on 14th October 1938 and was buried in Nottingham Road cemetery at Derby.
Fowler’s executors sold the hall and grounds to the Derby Childrens’ Hospital (then still in North Street) at the very favourable price of £4,800 but the war intervened and instead it was commandeered for use as an officers’ training establishment. The war over, no use could be found for it, and the grounds were gradually sold both to private developers and to the local RDC, the latter building the Willowcroft Road estate across the grounds, and in 1958 the long derelict house was destroyed in advance of the new A52 (now Brian Clough Way), which was put over the site on an elevated concrete causeway, changing the topography of the once delightful grounds for ever. All that remains is a part of the park, now Willowcroft Road Park, south of the A52.
As a recuperation unit for sick children as Fowler’s trustees had intended, of course, it would have been delightful, and such a use would probably have extended its useful existence in the era of conservation and the statutory list. Had that happened, it might still be with us, albeit probably a care home with extensions, but none the worse for that!