It never ceases to surprise me the number of really very substantial houses that once existed within the boundaries of the present City of Derby. Most of them have already appeared on these pages, but Darley House has so far escaped being chronicled.
Although no great shakes aesthetically, it has a triple importance: first that it was built for the Evans family who in 1782 began establishing their Boar’s Head cotton mill on the Derwent here; secondly because it was without doubt designed by William Strutt, FRS (1756-1831) and thirdly because Coleridge spent some time there. It was also a very substantially sized house, probably slightly larger than Darley Hall nearby into which the family moved in the 1830s.
Thomas Evans,(1723-1814) was the son-in-law, second cousin and heir of William Evans who had in 1734 established a wrought iron works on The Holmes in the Derwent at Derby, adding a copper rolling mill in 1737, becoming exceedingly wealthy thereby. Thomas used his newly inherited wealth to found a bank in 1774 and was lucky enough (if indeed luck had anything to do with it) to have been appointed receiver in the bankruptcy of Messrs. John & Christopher Heath in March 1779. He seems to have done very well out of it, too, acquiring the Darley Abbey site, including a paper and flint mill on the river, as well as the site of the Cockpit Hill pottery factory.
His first wife, Sarah Evans bore him an eldest son, William, who married Elizabeth, daughter of cotton pioneer Jedediah Strutt, whilst his daughter Barbara, by his second marriage, married Jedediah’s eldest son, William in 1793. He, of course went on to be a leading industrialist, scientist, chairman of successive Derby Improvement Commissions and amateur architect. We looked at another of his houses some time back when I wrote about Bridge Hill House, which he designed for his brother George Benson Strutt. He also designed Milford House (still with us) and Green Hall, Belper (lost), as well as the Derbyshire General Infirmary, various bridges over the Markeaton Brook and vast extensions to St. Helen’s House for himself.
Thus, once the Boar’s Head cotton mills at Darley Abbey were up and running, a whole new Regency mill village was created. As part of that a house for the manager was built and a grand new house adjacent for the family also became an imperative, but at that time the Holdens were comfortably ensconced in the Hall, so it was deemed necessary to start from scratch on their own land nearby.
The house that they built, Darley Fields (later re-named Darley House), was a large two and a half storey brick house, begun around 1791. That the architect was probably not a professional seems apparent from the irregularity of the design, although this was also a result of the fact that it was erected in two stages. The design, however, may confidently be attributed to William Strutt in his earlier stage, when he preferred an attic storey for the staff rather than a separate wing.
The client at this stage was Thomas Evans, and his house was three by three bays, with a façade overlooking the mills, another facing south down a modest piece of parkland, most of which lay to the west and contained the modest entrance, and a third facing west where the ground rose. There was a pyramidal tiled roof crowned by a battery of large chimneys. For the modest Thomas Evans, this was enough, but by the time the house was completed he had entered his seventies, and he was joined in partnership in the mills by the eldest son of his second alliance, Walter.
What with Walter and his family and several as yet unmarried daughters, the house desperately needed enlargement, so a second range was added. To the SE angle. This consisted of a second three bays facing south, but set back from the original south front by about six feet, and a long east front overlooking the mills, of five widely-spaced bays, with another addition and a service wing to the north. The windows on the east front (bar the attics) were fitted with sliding cast iron sashes of the sort later made by Weatherhead, Glover & Co. in their Duke Street foundry. As this was not up and running (on what had been William Strutt’s St. Helen’s parkland) until 1818, these may not have been fitted until c. 1820, for it has proved difficult to establish where earlier ones might have come from or even if such luxuries had actually have been developed before then.
What the house was like inside can only be gleaned from later sales particulars, but the staircase was a cantilevered Hoptonwood stone one with wrought iron balustrade, but set in a smaller hall than the final proportions of the house might suggest, having been provided for the house in its first guise as a simple mill-owner’s villa. The rooms had local polished limestone chimneypieces and simple cornicing, but nothing showy, despite the stupendous wealth of the family, this in stark contrast to the original plans for Willersley Castle for Sir Richard Arkwright. A large projecting glazed porch was added on the south front c. 1820 by Richard Leaper, very like the one he added to Aston Hall, Aston-on-Trent and the hall was enlarged to some extent to suit the grander entrance.
The kitchens were equipped with the latest devices to aid domestic economy: running water heated from the cooking ranges from a back boiler as at St. Helen’s House, using a system pioneered by John Whitehurst FRS and ‘improved’ by William Strutt, who inevitably claimed the entire invention for himself. He also installed hot air heating ducts and ducts to aid the draw of the fires.
Here the widow of William Evans, Walter’s elder half-brother, entertained the poet Coleridge in 1796 when the house was still very newly enlarged. He wrote to a friend:
‘Perhaps you may be so fortunate as to meet with a Mrs. Evans whose seat is at Darley about a mile from Derby. Blessings descend on her! Emotions crowd on me at the sight of her name; we spent five weeks at her house – a sunny spot in our life.’
The young widow offered Coleridge the post of tutor to her children at a salary of £150, but the rest of the family, suspecting the presence of too warm an affection between them, talked her out of it.
On the death of Elizabeth, the survivor of two unmarried daughters of William Evans, who had remained there when the rest of the family moved to Darley Hall in 1835, the house was let to Col. James Charles Cavendish VRD, a director of what by that date was Crompton & Evans’s Union Bank (now the Natwest) who lived there until his death in 1918. Thereafter the house became a preparatory school run by William Henry Cooke, which it remained until 1930, when it fell victim to the aftermath of the Great Depression and closed down.
The Evans family trustees then sold the property with 23 acres of parkland, all that was left as some had been detached in the 1890s to build a villa for Henry Evans on the site of what later became St. Philomena’s, north of Broadway which survived until c., 1990 when the great oaks were felled and many small homes were built on it.
Indeed, this was ultimately the fate of the remaining 23 acres, too, for Derby Corporation finally bought the site, intending to use the house for some institutional purpose, but they changed their mind with a change of control and the house was unceremoniously destroyed in 1931. The coming of the second war, prevented housing being built there and it was only after 1968 when Darley absorbed within Derby’s expanded boundaries that the land was sold to private developers, who covered it with very modest housing.