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Derbyshires Lost Houses – Meynell’s House, Derby

Derbyshires Lost Houses – Meynell’s House, Derby

Francis Meynell (1698-1768) was a member of what was, in the early eighteenth century, a younger branch of the great Derbyshire house of Meynell, recorded in the county as of knightly status from c. 1100. His father had an estate at Anslow in Staffordshire and property elsewhere in that county, but also set up as an apothecary in Derby, building himself, in the first years of Queen Anne a very fine town house immediately adjacent to the surviving house built by his friend Alderman William Franceys.

The building, which was destroyed in 1935 to make way for a branch of Martin’s Bank, was without doubt by the same hand as its larger and rather grander next door neighbour, Alderman Franceys’s house of 1694. Although the architect is not known, both houses have very similar detailing, especially in respect to the first floor window surrounds. Indeed the upper storey surrounds are eared and contain rose paterae, a feature still to be found on the former Lloyd’s bank on the corner of Market Place and in Sadler Gate as well as the former George Inn (now Fould’s) a few doors up in Iron Gate, of 1691.

Unlike Franceys’s House, Meynell’s three storey brick façade was articulated by a giant Corinthian order enclosing all five bays of windows, with an entrance to the shop part of the premises between bays one and two, and a carriage arch giving access to the family’s entrance and the yard behind, between bays three and four. A large scar in the tiles on the street front of the roof in a photograph of 1855 suggests that when built and until the mid-19th century, there was a row of dormer windows there lighting an attic
Inside, the first floor contained two spacious rooms with fielded oak panelling, and entered through eight-panelled doors in muscular eared architraves. The staircase was a fine one, also in oak with two turned balusters per tread. Even the garden was of above average description, boasting a ‘pilastered summerhouse’, presumably a brick edifice built en-suite with the house..

At the time of the ’Forty-five, when Meynell and his family, faced with the imminent arrival of the Jacobite claimant in the shape of Bonnie Prince Charlie, forbore to join the Whig corporation in their flight to Nottingham, they found themselves host to Alexander Forbes, 4th Lord Pitsligo and his entourage. The words ‘Charming Kitty Bailey/Wm. Napier’ were found scratched by a diamond on the pane of a window. But any romantic tale of Jacobite romance it vitiated by the date below – 1747 – and by the absence of any Napiers from the roll of officers in the Highland army! Nevertheless, bearing in mind that ‘Bailey’ may be as mis-spelling of ‘Bayly’ a connection with Francis cousin’s and sometime Derby MP Thomas Bayly might reasonable be postulated.
Francis Meynell, had been born at Anslow Park, was baptised at Rolleston, for Anslow is not a separate parish. He had been educated at Derby School and on his father’s death in 1727 inherited his modest landed estate in Anslow, making the Derby residence a true town house, as well as being the place of business, the shop portion being serviced on the ground floor.

In their day, apothecaries were the nearest most people got to having a GP, and they were in consequence, the repository of much confidential information concerning their clients. Indeed, this fact is often used to explain why Henry Franceys, the apothecary next door (son of Alderman William), was allowed into the County Assemblies when in fact, not being a member of the gentry (unlike Meynell), he should have been restricted to the separate Borough Assemblies. More likely, Franceys got in because he had married a Harpur of Twyford Hall, and by chance more than intent, Francis Meynell had also married a Harpur, but in his case she was Jane, daughter of John Harpur of Littleover Old Hall, senior cousins to the Twyford branch.
The next step up from being an apothecary in those days was to train as a surgeon, and in due time Francis Meynell’s son John (1726-1802) was duly articled in 1740 to a local surgeon and in 1747 – the year that next door neighbour Henry Franceys died, enabling Francis Meynell to take over most of his clientèle – he qualified and worked at first from the house alongside his father. In 1778 he was practising in London, despite having inherited the apothecary’s business in 1768, and married a cousin there, from whom his son Godfrey was eventually to inherit a large portion of the ancient Meynell Langley estate, which had gone out of the family in the fifteenth century.

Thus with John in London, the business was run after 1768 by his brother Francis (1738-1825) from Rotten Row – as the area was then called, prior to the demolition of the houses opposite Meynell House in 1870-77. At some stage, this Francis retired, and there is no record of his two sons having succeeded him. The date was, in all probability 1796, for that is the date claimed as that of the initiation of their business by Thomas and James Storer, who took the building on and opened the shop part as a grocery. The section on the right of the ground floor they let off to Benjamin Smith, a hosier who was there for many years.

In 1890, the Storer family sold the business to Giles Austin a west-countryman, who traded under his own name. He rebuilt the house, improving the shop façade, adding iron bratishing to the facia and installing a parapet centered by a pediment which read TEAS COFFEES/1796/AUSTIN & Co/GROCERIES which clearly indicates that he considered himself merely a continuator of the concern.

In 1910, he moved out of the house itself, building a pleasant detached villa in a couple of acres of Village Street, Normanton-by-Derby called Homelands (later replaced by a large grammar school of the same name, now itself no more) and the upper floors of the Market Place house were henceforth devoted to storage, although he did fit gas and electricity.

Austin had no children, however, and on his death in 1929, the business was sold again to a well-established grocery called Hodgkinson’s, and they continued the shop until 1935 when they moved the business almost next door. The house was then sold (possibly by the Meynells, who may well have retained the freehold) to Martin’s Bank. They were not so kind towards it, however, and demolished the old house to make way for their new bank. The only thing rescued was double bowed neo-classical timber facade of the shop of c. 1770, just visible in the early photograph. This was presented to the Museum and is still in their care. The quality of the carving is excellent; one would love to know who made it.

The new building was erected to a design by the Nottingham firm of Bromley, Cartwright and Waumsley. This was at least built on the same scale (unlike any modern successor!) but in brilliant white Portland stone and with its windows in steel from Crittall’s. Since the 1960s it has been the outlet of a succession of building societies.

Left: Rotten Row, photographed by Richard Keene in 1855 looking North. Meynell’s House was just behind the photographer on the left. [Private collection]
Below: View of the house after Austin’s alterations, and the demolition of Rotten Row, c. 1895. [Derby Museums Trust]


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