The late Dr Andor Gomme, emeritus Professor of English at the University of Keele (set in a park created by William Emes of Bowbridge Fields, Mackworth) was a notable architectural historian, who tragically died some years ago.
Ever since I first met him in the 1980s, I was much taken by his enthusiasm and verve, and by the fact that he was writing a major biographical work on the Baroque country house architect Francis Smith of Warwick, whose houses I had long admired. As it turned out, I had to wait nearly twenty years until Smith of Warwick was published by Spire Books in 1999, by which time one practically needed to re-mortgage to afford a copy!
We had quite a few enjoyable outings in Derbyshire researching the few surviving Smith works in Derbyshire and I managed to contribute a few fairly valid thoughts. We also much regretted the losses, for elsewhere in middle England, Smith’s houses, like Ditchley, Chicheley, Mawley, Kinlet etc, have fared well, but in Derbyshire, although he built about ten whilst acting as contractor for building All Saints’, Derby (and two earlier), the majority have gone: Etwall, Kedleston, Darley Abbey, Alfreton, Chaddesden, Willesley and Farnah have all disappeared, leaving us with the ruined shell of his masterpiece Sutton Scarsdale, Shardlow and Locko, both subsequently much rebuilt.
One local house that was as grand as Sutton Scarsdale, but perhaps not quite as architecturally spectacular, was Wingerworth on the eastern side of our county, in its day, one of the truly great Derbyshire country houses. Wingerworth Hall was a larger version of Smith’s typical ‘flat top’ style of house: three stories, well- proportioned, with quoins at the angles, astylar – no giant order of pilasters (as one might expect) – and a flat roof hiding behind a balustrade liberally punctuated by substantial stone urns. Wingerworth was nine bays wide on its entrance front and seven on the returns; on both fronts the central three bays broke slightly forward.
A pair of lower service wings at the rear started off as extensions to the previous house, a romantic late Jacobean villa with canted bays attributed by Mark Girouard to John Smythson of Bolsover Castle fame. Oddly, although relatively undistinguished, they are the only parts of the house suffered to survive. The rear of the house had a central recessed portion with a solid ground floor loggia linking the two earlier wings, with their round headed ground floor windows.
Incidentally, one of these (built 1666) was re-fronted by Smith as a domestic chapel, for the family who built the house, the Hunlokes, were Catholics. Inside there was plentiful Baroque stucco probably by Joshua Needham of Derby and the two storey high hall led via an arch to the stunning timber well staircase with ramped handrail, three balusters per tread (one fluted, two twisted) and carved tread ends, made by Smith’s incomparable joiner, Thomas Eborall.
The carving work elsewhere was by Henry Watson (son of Samuel, of Heanor and uncle of White Watson) who did the chimneypieces and Edward Pynton, also a local man of enormous talent. The builder was Sir Thomas Windsor Hunloke 3rd Bt, and although he did not, as a Catholic, subscribe to the rebuilding of All Saints’, Smith appears nevertheless to have received the commission to replace the old house in 1725, when work at Derby was nearing completion. The house was completed in 1728 and was paid for by the family’s extensive coal mining and iron founding interests nearby. The Hunloke family had purchased the estate from the Curzons in 1582 and had enlarged it, despite being penalised for supporting the King during the Civil War, earning Henry Hunloke a baronetcy and a financial crisis.
Despite foundries being visible from the house (as was Chesterfield itself, for the building sat on a substantial eminence) plans were put in hand to landscape the 85 acre park. At first William Baker of Audlem (primarily an amateur architect who had worked at Egginton) made plans, although we have no idea if they were carried out. Then in 1777 the excellent William Emes did some work there too, including the modest lake. However, Humphrey Repton was introduced to Sir Thomas Hunloke 5th Bt in 1809 and was asked to work up a scheme to improve the park and extend the house. He therefore made one of his celebrated Red Books (which was only re-discovered in the 1980s), illustrated with his own watercolours of the various prospects from and of the house, embellished with flaps which could be folded over to show before and after aspects. He was a better businessman and self-promoter than landscaper in all probability and over 250 parks are known to have been re-designed by him, although quite how many were actually done is another matter. Repton proposed to add a colonnaded cour d’honneur to the east side of the house, all in Doric and centered on a tall rusticated stone arch, fronted by a low iron screen.
He also proposed a rustic keeper’s house in the park, extended lake (to draw the eye away from the family ironworks), a menagerie along with a stone terrace in front of the entrance and to rebuild the chapel range. In the event, Sir Thomas never implemented most of Repton’s scheme, making alterations of his own, which “mistaken assemblage of dots and clumps…”.mistook “extent for beauty” and were more suited to “a villa in Clapham or a flat scene in Lincolnshire” as Repton grumpily wrote in 1816. Acute financial difficulties of course underlay all this and throughout the 19th century the 2700 acre estate was beset with problems.
The baronetcy had become extinct in 1856 when the estate devolved upon the niece of Sir James Hunloke 7th Bt, daughter and heiress of 1st Lord de Lisle and Dudley, who carried it to the Hon Frederick FitzClarence, a son of 1st Earl of Munster and therefore a grandson of William IV. She let the house to Sir Charles Allen, chairman of Henry Bessemer & Co of Sheffield and on her death in 1904, the estate passed to Sir Philip Percival, who assumed the additional name and arms of Hunloke, but again had no use for the house letting it to Col Sir Charles Seeley Bt, MP.
In 1920, after moving in himself and not liking the experience, he sold up, but the house at first failed to find a buyer. It was eventually sold to William Twigg of Matlock (a firm well known for demolishing large houses and which I believe still exists) who demolished it. Much was salvaged, as at Sutton Scarsdale. In 1929 Robersons of Piccadilly offered the staircase, oak drawing room and oak library for sale. Whilst I have no idea who had the staircase which was so big it might have been divided, one room went to the Museum at St Louis in the US and the other to Kansas City Museum, where both remain. That they were appreciated sufficiently is a testimony to the sheer quality of the house and the tragedy that it was allowed to be demolished.