Some of Derbyshire’s finest and most sequestered countryside may be found west of Derby itself, although it is countryside well removed from ‘classic’ Derbyshire: the spectacular sequences of White and Dark Peak. West of Derby is gently undulating arable country, scattered with miniscule villages, some shrunk, some beginning to expand again, interspersed with country houses, delightful churches and the sites of other such settlements, long deserted, like Meynell Langley and Barton Blount.
As such, the area is impossible to encapsulate in a single visit; the winding lanes, their erratic courses determined by the ancient boundaries of pre-existing land holdings, would always preclude so adventurous an enterprise. Instead, we proposed a taster, one that would take the voyager never very far from the City of Derby, yet still experience something of that ambience.
We decided to start from the parkland which formerly surrounded Markeaton Hall, thoughtlessly demolished in 1964. Mercifully, a former owner, Mrs. Mundy, donated much of the park (along with the house) and the Council bought more (see Country Images for March and April 2012). We drove past the re-positioned hall gates, now restored and facing the Markeaton Roundabout on the Ashbourne Road. They look splendid, but they are wasted in such a position. In return for parking up, we were relieved of a certain amount of money for the privilege, so be warned!
The parkland is today just over 200 acres and was landscaped around 1760 by William Emes, who was a prominent locally based follower of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown who specialised in lakes, although that at Markeaton was widened to allow boating by the Council in 1932. For twenty glorious years, the park was embellished by a miniature railway, mainly steam operated, closed by the Council in 2014, who refused to maintain to a decent standard the buildings leased by the railway’s proprietors, thus allowing repeated entry to vandals. It is much missed.
We began at the pet cemetery at the SW part of the park, then moved via the surviving buildings to admire the surviving plinth of the early Tudor hall, incorporated by Joseph Pickford when he rebuilt the stables as a magnificent two-courtyard hunting stables, buildings with a rich heritage, subsequently diminished when demolished. What is left is the orangery (the roof much altered) and a single courtyard behind, the latter peopled by craft retail outlets which, once life gets back to normal, are always worth a visit.
From thence proceed westward out of the park, past the west lodge, in which one 18th century gate pier is half-embedded and indeed, can be seen from within the upstairs room! Here one is in what remains of the village, moved here when the park was landscaped but embellished by two fine earlier farm houses, a tea shop and garden centre. It still retains the pleasant semi-somnolent appearance of the estate village it once was, and is one of the few remaining true pieces of rus in urbe remaining within the city.
Markeaton and Mackworth were essentially lumped together in Domesday Book, and as you look west from Markeaton village, the spire of Mackworth church (founded by the Touchet family of Markeaton somewhat later than Domesday) can be seen. Indeed, the Roman Road from Little Chester to Chesterton (Staffs.) ran from here directly across the fields to the church which was built across its alignment. Its course is marked by the lane for a hundred yards, which then diverges left from the alignment, whilst it continues across a field, the agger (raised plinth) on which it lay and a hedgerow marking its course.
We chose to retrieve the car, and drive along the Ashbourne Road (with the Markeaton parkland and the old Ashbourne road alignment on our right) to the traffic lights at Radbourne Lane, where we turned right down the lane to the church. Unfortunately, last December this beautiful edifice, listed grade one because of the rich collection of local carved alabaster within, was utterly gutted through the efforts of an arsonist, and now makes a sorry sight and is partly barricaded off. Yet hope is at hand, as it was well insured and Historic England have insisted on its re-instatement.
The Roman road runs in front of the church’s south door. I know this because in 1981 I directed two Archaeological Society excavations to find and record it and the east part duly showed up clearly. Oddly, to the west of the berm of the churchyard, there was no sign of it at all! The earth for a metre down had been cleaned, probably by a flood, of all vestiges! To the SE of the chancel is the Mundy vault with its locally made but strangely pretty iron brattishing, and to the immediate west of the path to the south door is a substantial stone monument, the inscription upon which is to Sarah, infant daughter of William Emes, who lived at Bowbridge House a little west of the village on the main road.
Yet a little further west of the poor, forlorn church, the alignment of the Roman Road converges with the village street here called Lower Road. A walk along it as far as Jarvey’s Lane, where a brick double pile early Georgian farmhouse makes a gratifying marker, is a complete delight. The village, never large, but which largely supplanted Markeaton from the mid-18th century, is still essentially an estate village, for the Mundy family’s heirs, the Clark-Maxwells continued to farm the estate despite the last Mrs. Mundy giving the house to the Borough. The handsome Victorian vicarage of 1877-78 (since the death of the much-admired Revd. Henry Dane, now privatised), the ornately decorated school, and several of the houses were designed by Robert Evans of Nottingham (1832-1911) who opened a Derby office with William Jolley on the back of extensive work for the Markeaton Estate.
One building clearly not by Evans, of course, is the shell of the stone gatehouse built four hundred years earlier, when part of Mackworth was still in the hands of the family of that name. Always known as Mackworth Castle, it is a fine example of late Medieval architecture, but the (presumably timber) seat behind was never rebuilt to match, as Henry Mackworth suddenly inherited a much more impressive property at Empingham, Rutland, and stopped work at Mackworth forthwith. Behind (which is private property) is a delightful brick farmhouse on part of the original house platform and surrounded by a wall probably of fine ashlar, from the gate house.
From the gatehouse, proceed to the left hander where Jarvey’s Lane begins its ascent to the Ashbourne Road, and the Roman route continues on the Lower Road alignment. At the top of the former, Lane End Farmhouse is another unfussy handsome estate farmhouse again by Evans. Yet from this point, it is best to turn left (eastwards) back towards Derby. The Mundy Arms is a much-rebuilt late Georgian estate pub and, further along on the north side is the Mackworth Hotel, a Georgian farmhouse rebuilt by Robert Evans in 1880 as a house for the agent to the estate.
Once the Radbourne Lane lights have been passed, turn left down Markeaton Lane, which will bring you back through the village, but continue on, over the Markeaton Brook, to the Kedleston Road, where we turn right and proceed nearly a mile until this road branches from that to Quarndon.
The village at Kedleston was quite obliterated by the re-landscaping of the park to the designs of Robert Adam by William Emes, so there is no real core, but the greater landscape was planned to the last detail. As you proceed, the first thing to strike the eye is the monumental Kedleston Hotel, built by Adam to the designs of his predecessor Matthew Brettingham in Palladian style. It began as a place to stay for people wishing to take the waters at Lord Scarsdale’s ‘sulphur’ spa, the building of which has been restored but is well out of sight inside the park, with which the road marches all the way to the west lodge. The hotel thereafter became a farmhouse, but was restored to use as a pub post war and is now run as a boutique wedding venue and hotel by Lesley and her daughter’s Helen and Sally.
Beyond, once past the golf club, along a very straight stretch of road, one can see on the left the North Lodge to the parkland, a pedimented triumphal arch, by Adam this time, with wrought iron lattice gate piers and railings by Benjamin Yates of Derby (Bakewell’s successor), since 1916 separated from it by the road to the north. Thereafter, the road takes a turn to the left and, after a couple of wriggles, reaches Cumberhills Road.
Just beyond this, on the right, just before a cluster of farm buildings, lies the site of another deserted medieval village, Ireton Parva or Little Ireton. The hall there was the ancestral home of Lt. Gen. Henry Ireton, the Parliamentary strong man whom Cromwell raised to a peerage during the Commonwealth. Later it passed to the Curzons, of whom Lady Mary created a notable garden there before the house was replaced by a model farm in 1765, built to a design by Adam, and marked by excellent farm buildings in Neo-Classical style, the south range of which is pedimented, with pilasters and blind ovals: very impressive. The walls beyond survive from Lady Mary’s garden, and the delightful Gothick Temple, just visible along Cumberhills Road, is said to have been built 1758 by Adam, but although the drawing is in his collections at Sir John Soane’s Museum, London, it is unsigned and in any case a fraction too early to be him. Opposite the farm, a delightful ashlar keeper’s lodge with a little gable.
Not far beyond, there stands a delightful Victorian keeper’s cottage, now a holiday let its two pointy gables embellished by ornamental bargeboards set in front of a small courtyard with kennels, facing the road (subsequently blocked off by a wall). Immediately after that, the road turns left, diverging from that to Weston Underwood (itself another estate village), just where the white painted smithy is situated. This is a delightful Adam-ish element entirely en suite with the rest of the estate’s buildings, but, in its awkward but engaging combination of Gothick windows set in classical blind arcading, entirely vernacular – probably the product of the estate foreman cherry-picking from a pattern book.
Mercaston Lane also boasts a delightful little school, much in the style of the keeper’s cottage, with master’s house opposite, less exuberant, and at the next corner Adam’s south lodge, and the Rectory, originally by Samuel Wyatt (Adam’s clerk of works) but later repositioned here by his successor, Joseph Pickford. Parts of the interior were re-used from the previous hall at Kedleston.
To end the tour, turn left up Lodge Lane, with the Kedleston Hall park on your left. At the highest point it gives way to the parkland of Meynell Langley which, until the 1830s, ran on both sides of the road, past two delightful stone-built farmhouses on that estate, and then joins Flagshaw Lane (named after the local brook), which, if you turn left, takes you back to Kirk Langley, from whence a quick dash along the Ashbourne Road brings you back to Mackworth.
Our round trip of about five miles had encompassed much of three surviving Derbyshire historic landed estates, and all within five miles of Derby!