[dropcaps]In its day, Farnah Hall, set in a delightful landscaped park not so far from Duffield, was something of an exercise in architectural contrasts. It had two ranges set side by side and whilst both can be accurately labelled Classical architecture, each was entirely different in almost every respect.[/dropcaps]
Before it became little more than a jumbled heap of brick and stone, shrouded in dense covert, deep in private land, the house was long empty for lack of a tenant. During the Second World War the Home Guard used it for training and in the process seriously damaged the fabric, which shows abundant signs of bullet holes, the aftermath of grenade practice and other indignities it suffered.
Thereafter, what was left quickly began to collapse. Mick Stanley and I were allowed to visit the site at the end of August 1983, but Lord Scarsdale insisted on accompanying us, mainly because the site and surrounding covert was full of noisy wire-triggered intruder traps. In the event, Mick and I managed to avoid the lot, whilst Francis set off three, much to his chagrin! The earlier part of the house was built around 1736 for John Coape, whose family had purchased the estate in the previous century. The late Professor Andor Gomme attributed the design to William Smith of Warwick, son and successor to the better known Francis.
He built a twin pile five bay two-and-a-half storey range in brick with top cornice, quoins and sill banding in Keuper Sandstone probably sourced from a quarry at Kirk Langley. The main front faced east. The entrance was via a simple segmental headed doorway with an ornamental fanlight and the hall led through to a fine timber staircase set at right angles. His son William built a fine new stable block at right angles by the north end of the house (the shell of which remains, also buried deep in bocage) and an icehouse. In 1799 William, John’s grandson inherited the Oxton Hall estate in Nottinghamshire, assuming the surname and arms of Sherbrook in lieu of Coape.
As a result he decided to go and live at Oxton and sold the Farnah estate to 2nd Lord Scarsdale, with whose family the property has been ever since. In 1820, it was the home of Lord Scarsdale’s eldest son, Hon Nathaniel Curzon for whom the house was rebuilt to provide more accommodation. It is not known who the architect was, but he was probably the same man who designed Field House in Spondon; the Derby amateur Alderman Richard Leaper (1759-1838) is a strong possibility.
The resulting addition, wider than the original part, was attached to the south end of the original house. It was of only two storeys, but with very much loftier first floor rooms than the 18th century house, the upper floor containing a fine drawing room lit by two very deep tripartite windows facing south east and further illuminated by another large floor depth window in a canted bay on the return (SW) front. This also had a balcony with wrought iron railings.
The only problem was that all the floor levels changed at the junction between the ranges except on the ground floor, which must have been somewhat inconvenient to say the least. The old entrance was decommissioned and turned into a window and a new entrance was provided at the end nearest the older range, leading into a fine drum shaped top lit hall with a flying cantilevered staircase, much like the one provided by Leaper at The Pastures, Littleover in 1806 and that at the Spondon house.
The southern-most two bays of the 18th century range were also rebuilt as a square two storey bay with paired pilasters rising from the first floor sill band reminiscent of Leaper’s work at Mill Hill House. Late in that century, a glass conservatory-porch was added by Messenger & Co of Loughborough. At some stage, probably in the 1770s when it is presumed the stables were built, the parkland was extensively landscaped perhaps, in view of the artfully contrived lake, by William Emes, the locally based follower of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, whose talent with sheets of water were legendary. The landscaping also incorporated a fine Medieval homestead moat some 250 yards west of the house, which marked the position of the mansion house of Champeyne Park, a scheduled ancient monument.
This was once the seat of a knightly Norman dynasty of that name, the heiress of which married a Bradshaw of Windley, which family pulled down the ancient house and built the first house on the site of Farnah Hall instead. After Nathaniel Curzon succeeded as 3rd Lord Scarsdale in 1837, the house found little favour with other younger sons of the family, and it was offered for sale in 1857, but failed to find a buyer. Until 1916, when it became empty for the last time, it was the home successively of Revd E E Mountford (who rather enterprisingly ran a school of engineering there), Herbert Unwin and Col H A Johnson.
The latter was a Mancunian, the proprietor of Johnson’s wire works at Whatstandwell, but he later bought Allestree Hall and moved out. Whilst being surveyed for possible family re-occupation in 1925 Farnah Hall was found to be structurally unsound, mainly due to subsidence and its slow decline then began. The Regency part could, of course, be successfully rehabilitated as a luxury home, were the property boom to re-establish itself. Note that the remains are on private land and cannot be viewed.