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Places Pevsner Forgot 2 – Foston

Places Pevsner Forgot  2 – Foston

It might reasonably be argued that the reason that Sir Nikolaus Pevsner omitted certain settlements from his magisterial series The Buildings of England was that they contained no buildings worthy of note. Yet times change, tastes change, scholarship uncovers matters closed to Sir Nikolaus when he began his project in 1948. 

Last time, we looked at Milton, a forgotten gem of an estate village, really quite formal, and which today its omission would seem inexplicable. Hence, we chose another estate village today, but one much less formal, and which has suffered a great disaster. It is also one where even the listed hall did not attract the compilers’ attention.

The village is Foston, west of Derby along the old Uttoxeter Road. A recent issue of Country Images looked at the early history of the place and the hall up to the moment it burnt down in 1836 and left, as Samuel Bagshaw, the compiler of the 1846 Directory of Derbyshire says, ‘a smoking ruin, which it still remains.’ The great disaster, the destruction of the Regency hall aside, was the completion of the A50 trunk road in 1996. This went right through the centre of the village, involving some destruction of buildings, and sundered the historic hall, on the south side, from the community built to serve it, on the north. Not only that, but the incessant roar of the traffic is overpowering, and left us glad to find a few places where intervening buildings managed to muffle it. It must have totally destroyed property values there; inside one’s house armed with triple glazing is one thing, but how can one sit out in one’s garden with that continuous roar?  

We parked in the main street, formerly the A511 old Uttoxeter Road, which merges with the A50 here. The only listed building this side of the A50 is Broomhill farm to the north and not accessible to the public, but is a pleasant if unremarkable brick built farmhouse with outbuildings dating from the second quarter of the 18th century but given a rebuild in the early 19th century. If one walks to the junction with the A50 (using ear defenders!)where one may cross on a steel footbridge, the stub of the old road veers off right, which brings one to the walled kitchen garden of the hall. This is undoubtedly impressive, and the bricks employed suggest a mid-19th century date. Furthermore, it has two divisions, the southernmost one full of caravans and the northern one, grassed over, faces the 19th century buildings of home farm, which has an equestrian adjunct and of which some of the outbuildings have been converted as residences.

Home farm, tenanted by H M Woodward in 1928.

Returning to the road, a number of modern residences have been built on the left as one walks away from the A50, whilst on the right a long low building with an oeuil-de-boeuf gable window would appear to have been the estate’s wheelwright’s shop, probably mid-19th century. Probably the Broadhurst family turned their attention to improving the village once the new hall was complete. From before 1827 until almost the turn of the century the wheelwright (also a farmer) was William Alsop and his son William after him. Beyond it, end-on to the road, is an early 19th century brick cottage which without doubt started off as more than one, perhaps part of it was chez Alsop.

Beyond this, is a range of what must once have been three cottages, gable end to the road, and partly harled with pebbledash, with the easterly gable-ended cottage joined to the others by a link. From 1827 there had been a grocer and a butcher in the hamlet, and by 1891 the grocer had also become the Post Office, which continued to flourish until 1980s. The door of the westerly gabled range is currently blocked with new herringbone brickwork, but its tiled canopy suggest that this must have been the former Post Office and store. Indeed, the Post Office might have moved, for in 1891 it was run by the blacksmith, John Hollis but, by 1908, it was run from the general store.

It might be added that in 1846, there was also a pub, The Crown. The parish historian claims there is a record of a pub in the village as far back as 1577 and recorded again (un-named) in 1686. Whether there was any continuity or not is obscure, but The Crown closed its doors in 1890, leaving the villagers to traipse off to Scropton for a drink to a pub that is also now closed!

Opposite these relatively pleasing buildings, is the only substantial house in the hamlet bar the outlying farms and the hall and The Cottage, which we failed to locate (if it still exists).  This is The Firs, a two storey rendered brick villa which took on it present form sometime after the Second War, one suspects. On the old 6 inch OS maps, it is L-plan with a range end-on to the road, its end wall actually on it, and another range at right angles, parallel to the street. Today, this end-on-to-street range has disappeared to be replaced with a substantial brick gable separated from the other range by what appears to be a newish two storey porch with re-used stone quoins enclosing a room over the stone entrance, all topped by a stone coped gable with prominent kneelers. The range to the right, though, is clearly older, possibly much older. Although rendered, the bricks in the chimneys with their decorated stacks are narrower than standard, suggesting older work than c. 1830s. Beyond are a range of outbuildings, once stabling, farriery and hay barns, all now converted into separate homes.

The Firs is not listed in the directories until 1891, when Fraser Tytler lived there, followed for well over 20 years by Edwin Caldecott JP, and I suspect it was the house for the agent of the hall estate. Having been privatised when the estate was finally sold up it probably underwent a couple of rebuilds to reach the stage it has today, exhibiting much charm and fronted by an intelligently designed new wall to the street of brick, perhaps reclaimed from the demolition of the street range and using a pair of pedimented stone gate-pier cappings.

Former Post office shop and adjacent cottages

Moreover in 1997 the house was sold and became Foston’s Roundhouse Gallery of art and studio pottery, re-located from its previous home in Tutbury by Philip Evans. The collections on show and available to purchase are of very high quality and include individual ceramics providing a range of over fifty high-profile artists which include Chris Carter, David and Margaret Frith , Peter Hayes, David Leach and John Maltby; it is frequently open and well worth a visit.

Beyond the converted outbuildings of The Firs is Coplow Lane, which runs north from the former main road. Coplow derives from the old English for ‘rounded hill’ and a thousand years ago probably described an element of the topography of the rising ground to the north. The only building worthy of note on the lane (which is not to disparage the later 20th century and later buildings in between) is the former vicarage, now called Coplow House, a late 19th century or Edwardian double pile gabled building of considerable presence. It seems to have replaced a previous vicarage, listed in the later 19th century.

As one returns to the main road, one can see, opposite the end of the lane, a pretty brick cottage, the house itself again side on the road, with three miniscule dormers facing east, with a former workshop attached behind, effectively facing the street. This is now called Keeper’s Cottage, but one suspects that it might have been the blacksmith’s before that, to explain the workshop. Nevertheless, a gamekeeper is listed in the village from 1835 to the inter-war period. 

Opposite and to the right, is a little curiosity: a stone built gabled and Gothic archway. Above the arch is the cypher IB (for John Broadhurst, then of the hall) and the date 1871. Conceivably it was designed by the hall’s architect Thomas Chambers Hine of Nottingham as part of some grander scheme that was never followed through. Was he indending a chapel of ease here? Now it looks almost like an ornate ’bus shelter, and originally seems to have been intended as an entrance to something which, the old maps tell me, was never built, for today the far side is infilled with breeze blocks and a low seat provided. In short, this charming little structure appears to be no more now that a very pretty sheltered place to sit.  

At this stage, having admired the delightful Foston Brook from the heavily fenced old bridge, we took the car back round onto the A50 westbound and once under the Foston footbridge turned off left towards the prison. 

There is nothing to see of the hall, for it transformed itself after a wartime stint as a refuge for the Railway Orphanage in Derby, first to a youth detention centre, then an open prison and finally to a very much closed women’s prison. It was built in 1863 for John Broadhurst (son of the man who allowed its predecessor to burn) by T. C. Hine on the site of its ruined forerunner. It is all shaped gables, diapered brickwork (aping Sudbury) and tall chimneys, with a surprisingly rich interior, all sat in a pretty park with a string of lakes stretching down towards Scropton and the Dove. Portions of its predecessor may be seen on the side nearest the road. I was lucky enough to see it when Derby Museum was discussing acquiring items from it and from another country house turned prison in Warwickshire, and we were invited to a meeting to discuss it there with the then governor, Paddy Scriven, who seemed much too amiable to run a tough prison, but I was assured otherwise!  

In 1901 the estate was sold to Maj. Gerald Holbeach Hardy, a man seriously addicted to the chase, who added a superb brick hunting stables dated 1905, along with the necessary associated buildings, and also ran a breeding programme, his stud groom being a resident in the old village. He also added a nice faux-timber framed Arts-and-Crafts lodge and both it and the stables, possibly the work of Alexander MacPherson of Derby, can be enjoyed from the road. If you want to see more, you will need to get a female friend arrested tried and convicted of GBH or similar; then you can see something of the stables on visiting day!

There are outlying buildings in the township, but none that are easily visible today, yet what is there certainly does not lack charm. It is, though,  a tragedy that this small estate village should have been wrenched untimely from its attendant great house by the A50, which surely could have been routed more intelligently than straight through the middle. With no A50 in the 1950s, Pevsner’s having missed the hall strikes me as a bit of a lapse on his part, though.

Illustrations [MC unless stated]


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