It is exactly seventy years since the late Sir Nikolaus Pevsner’s Buildings of England county guides were first published by Penguin, six years after Sir Nikolaus began work on the research. These invaluable pocket books have been helping us to appreciate what we look at whilst travelling round England ever since. In Derbyshire, we were subject of a guide first published in paperback in 1953 and revised by Elizabeth Williamson (with some help from the author and a great deal from the late Edward Saunders and other local experts) in 1978 as a hardback version. In 2016 came the third edition, undertaken with local input by Claire Hartwell, much enlarged in scope and in format, too. These days, instead of a side pocket, one needs a poacher’s pocket to lodge one about one’s person!
Sir Nikolaus is said to have written them by being driven around by one of his Birkbeck students in a Land Rover whilst standing up behind the cab with another student beside him, jotting down his musings and the guides cover most of the important sites, settlements and buildings in each historic county. However, a fair number of lesser settlements were omitted (probably through sheer lack of space) and not restored in later revisions. This is also true for Derbyshire, and indeed, some of the omissions are quite significant, although they might well have appeared less so in the 1940s and ’50s.
I recently analysed the contents of the Derbyshire edition, following which Carole and I decided to visit each of the omitted places and record what we saw in terms of buildings for posterity, starting, we decided, with Milton.
Milton is a linear village running either side of the road which hereabouts runs south from Repton towards Foremark reservoir and Ticknall. It is one of Derbyshire’s best estate villages and a complete delight visually, greatly worthy of a visit. Pevsner’s accounts of settlements invariably begin with a description of the church, usually followed by the most important buildings, but as Milton lacks a church, we thought to forego this formula.
Thus, if one enters the village from Repton, the road turns right (southwards) and a fork continues east to Foremark. The junction is marked by the sight of a good white stuccoed classical villa behind a wall, built very much in the post-Regency tradition. This was erected on the site of a stone-built farm house between 1878 and 1891 (and probably much nearer the latter) for John Edward Harpur Crewe, formerly of Repton Park. Historically, Milton was divided between the Harpurs of Calke and the Burdetts of Foremark but, in 1821, a rationalisation led to the lot passing into the hands of Sir Francis Burdett 5th Bt., in exchange for land elsewhere. Ironically therefore, J E Harpur Crewe was forced to re-acquire the land for his new house from the Burdetts. He called it The Grange, but after his death, it was let to a Mrs. Garton before passing again to the Burdetts, who installed their upper-crust Welsh agent, Llewellyn Caradoc Picton JP and re-named it Bramcote Lodge, after the family’s original estate in Warwickshire.
Having turned into Main Street, one finds either side lined with delightful brick estate cottages, almost all built or rebuilt by the Burdetts after 1821. The village would appear to have been historically largely stone built with cottages on crofts end-on to the road and many original stone courses have been retained or re-used. The rebuilding was done in brick and deploys various conceits, like blind arcading (even in small cottages) to splendid effect. The only reservation is that far too many have had uPVC and lumpy hardwood windows installed, wrecking their appearance. This must have been allowed by the local authority sadly.
Amidst all this, a number of buildings stand out. The most obvious is brick and stucco Kirby Holt, on the west side some way along, built in the 1820s as a well-proportioned but modest sized Regency villa of two storeys, bays and with a Doric portico. It was built for corn miller Thomas Somers (‘Gent. and freeholder’ according to the directory – and of a notable Repton family) in the 1820s, probably to the designs of James Smith (1782-1862) of Repton, a builder/architect capable of some excellent work, like Repton Hayes and Laurel Hill there. One suspects that the Burdetts engaged him to aid their estate foreman in rebuilding much of the rest of the village, too.
Whilst Kirby Holt and its pretty Regency cottage to its left (sold to the Foremark estate in 1869 and later the home of their equally upper-crust farm bailiff, Richard Hesketh) is striking visually, the most sophisticated building in the hamlet architecturally, which Pevsner would have loved, was The Farm, slightly further north of the same side as Main Street. It is of 1820s date, in brick, of two storeys and gabled attic, three bays wide, lit by extraordinarily wide sash windows in the outer bays, of five panes over four under gauged brick lintels. The whole is slightly set back from the road’s edge and flanked by a pair of two storey pavilions with similar fenestration, really of Palladian inspiration, with hipped roofs, with a fine plain iron railing on a stone plinth running between them: why it’s not listed I cannot imagine. If this is Smith’s work, he goes up in my imagination no end.
Kirby Holt is listed, as is Common Farm, to its south, a pattern book three bay, two and a half storey farmhouse but again, with the same extraordinarily wide five-over-four sashed which embellish The Farm thus assuring us of a late Regency date. The local authority’s Conservation Area Appraisal claims this as dating from 1766 on the strength of an inscribed brick bearing farmer John Brown’s initials, but this survivor must have been retained in what must have been a thorough rebuild, done after 1821.
Opposite, should you be feeling in need of refreshment after viewing these delights, stands the Swan inn, a Regency expansion of a smaller and earlier house, first listed in the 1835 directory as the White Swan, run by John Curzon Gamble. His successor from the early 1840s was Jonathan Glasby (under whom, after 1846, the pub’s name was shortened to just The Swan), who only retired (or died) in the 1880s. He was followed by John Bell, whose family were still running it when the Great War broke out: three landlords in 80 plus years is some going! That said, it is an ideal place to catch one’s breath, although we felt it a pity that the exterior had been painted.
I might add we noticed three pairs of municipal semis in the hamlet (one set just beyond the pub), all clad in timber planking, which does much to mitigate the otherwise stark appearance of such buildings of that date (1950s) but snootily dismissed by the compilers of the Conservation Area Appraisal as ‘most out of place’ – we thought they’d matured sufficiently to blend in passably well.
Returning on the west side (having first gone further south to view the remains of the sawmill), we noted the former forge, in brick but retaining an entire corner of the previous stone building, sitting happily beside its accompanying house, built well back from the street and of mid to late Victorian date and again, stuccoed. We also noted the former Mission Church dated 1881 but not recorded in a directory until 1893 and now re-clad and doing duty as the village hall with its tactfully retained accompanying war memorial.
Further north on the same side is Brook Farm, another pattern book farmhouse, two storeys but with sash windows, but of the more normal four-over four pane type with brick string courses between. As John Farey recorded the striking dovecote alongside, with its pretty cupola, in 1817 the pair of them may date from only a few years before and the detailing suggests the hand of Samuel Brown of Derby (1756-1825), the Calke estate’s tame builder at that time. It is also listed, one of – astoundingly – only three buildings on the statutory list in the entire hamlet.
From Brook Farm we took a public footpath down across the fields to the Milton Brook, enjoying a view of the (now sumptuously converted) Mill House in the process and enjoying the cool beneath the bocage where the path crosses the brook on a rustic bridge. From there one could go (if one wished) to Foremark, but we returned to Main Street to admire the remainder of the east side, uPVC fenestration notwithstanding.
Milton’s modest size commends itself and, apart from a handful of modern dwellings, mainly on the west side, its size lends it visual cohesion. Modern alterations have been kept to a minimum and where they occur – as with a large addition to an 18th century Burdett farmhouse on the junction with the Foremark road – the job has been done with tact.
We felt we had stumbled on a hidden gem, and hope readers will visit and see if they agree.