Architect Joseph Aloysius Hansom undertook the work of creating an Elysium amongst the dark hills above Derwent.
Next time you turn on the tap, you might spare a thought for poor old Derwent Hall. This interesting and distinguished house disappeared slowly beneath the waters of Derwent Reservoir between summer 1943 and 1945, when the last vestiges of its half-demolished shell finally disappeared beneath the waters. The culprits were the combined water authorities of Derby, Nottingham, Leicester and Sheffield, eager to ensure uninterrupted clean water for their burgeoning populations, and the entire operation was nationalised in 1947.
So what was lost? Essentially a typical upland Derbyshire stone built 16th or 17th century gabled country house much enlarged and equipped with all the latest comforts in the late 19th century, but none the less interesting for all that.
Although Derwent was part of the extensive upland parish of Hathersage, the unforgiving terrain was not inductive to the accumulation of a landed estate and the site from late medieval time was a farm held by the Barber family. The father of Henry Balguy (pronounced ‘bawgee’), a younger son of the Balguys of Aston-in-Peak, bought some land at Derwent and later acquired more at Rowlee and Henry (1648-1685) combined the two to create a modest estate, acquiring Derwent Hall, then a moderate sized farm house taxed in 1670 on four hearths, in 1672.
His son – another Henry – rebuilt the house some two decades later (it bore an entirely convincing date-stone of 1692), leaving an attractive small H-plan manor house of two storeys with gabled attics, built of coarse local Kinderscout grit with ashlar detailing: coped gables, four, six and eight light mullion-and-transomed windows with string courses over, and quoins at the angles, all under a stone slate roof. The central entrance had a round arched top with the date-stone and an armorial set above it, the string course dipping down above for emphasis.
The east elevation was five bays, the two closest to the main front being full height and the three towards the north being lower with attics, representing service accommodation. In the early 19th century a pair of ten light matching windows were installed here. There was also a lower wing to the west and a stable block beyond, at right angles to the house, the whole ensemble being set on the lower slopes of the hill behind with parterres and terraces running down to the Derwent.
A third Henry Balguy (1700-1770), having acquired by marriage extensive coal mining interests in the Alfreton area, sold up in 1767 and moved there, selling to the Bennet family, a numerous and well-off farming family in the Dark Peak. The purchaser’s son, John Bennet, acquired tapestries rescued from the fire that destroyed Lord Shrewsbury’s epic prodigy house, Worksop Manor and had them altered to fit Derwent’s parlour and dining room. In 1831, however, the estate was sold to John Read (1777-1862) initially as a summer retreat. He re-ordered the gardens as recorded in the lithograph by W L Walton. He sold it on in 1846 to the Newdigates of West Hallam Hall and Arbury (Warwickshire) who tenanted it as a farm.
They too sold it on, in 1876, and this time the purchaser was Henry, 15th Duke of Norfolk, who vested it, as a coming-of-age present, to his younger son, Lord Edmund Bernard FitzAlan-Howard. Although the Howards were normally seated at Arundel, it must not be forgotten that they also owned Glossop Hall and the vast, if rather barren, hills that surrounded it; indeed the lad’s politician great uncle Edward, who lived there, was in 1869 created 1st Lord Howard of Glossop.
Lord Edmund, as a FitzAlan-Howard, was a strong Catholic, and also a talented and energetic fellow. He immediately set about transforming the very modest old house into a considerable seat, employing the then doyen of Roman Catholic architects, Joseph Aloysius Hansom (of cab fame) to undertake the work of creating an Elysium amongst the dark hills above Derwent. The work began in 1878 and was completed in 1882.
Although the original south front was kept, the remainder of the house was almost completely rebuilt, although with considerable tact. The two cross wings were extended back into the hillside, the main range was doubled in depth, and new service wing was added to the west and the stable range was re-ordered to create a courtyard around it. The East front was enlivened with two ground floor square bays and a large projecting bay containing a vast new drawing room with a canted end, beyond which was built a simple gothic domestic chapel, slightly higher than the house itself. Attic dormers were also added, and the interior acquired new oak panelling to match the old, along with a completely new and very fine oak staircase. The interior also gained an overmantel dated 1634 from old Norton Hall (replaced in 1796 and now in Sheffield).
The gardens were completely re-arranged and the estate increased to 1,274 acres. The result was a house of some style and ambition, fitted with all modern conveniences, including home-produced gas and, after a decade or so, electric light installed by George Crompton of Stanton Hall, Stanton-by-Dale, a pioneer in this field.
In 1921, Lord Edmund was appointed Lord Lieutenant of Ireland – the last person to hold that office and the first Catholic to do so since 1686 – and was ennobled as Viscount FitzAlan of Derwent in consequence. By the time he laid down office in 1922, as a result of the declaration of the Irish Free State, he had decided, with advancing years to live at Cumberland Lodge at Windsor, and the family just went to Derwent for part of the summer and the shooting season.
Then, in 1920 the various local authorities determined to build a further series of reservoirs to alleviate an impending water shortage, and it soon became clear that the days of Derwent Hall were numbered. In 1920 the Norton Old Hall overmantel was given to the Cutlers’ Hall, Sheffield, and the house and part of the estate were sold to the water authority in 1924. Although the family continued to use it until 1932 when it was let to the YHA as a youth hostel.
In 1943, with the Derwent Dam all but complete, the house was finally vacated and Charles Boot, a notable demolition contractor, was engaged to dismantle it, one consequence being that much of the best pieces of architectural salvage went to embellish his home at Thornbridge Hall, Ashford. Derby and Nottingham Corporations both acquired oak panelling and other items for their respective Council HQs. The two pairs of late 17th century gate-piers and their iron gates were relocated to Woodthorpe Hall, Holmesfield and Ladybower Dam respectively, and the remainder of the house was reduced to low standing walls. Since 1945, only the spire of the abandoned parish church (since dismantled) has manifested itself during dry periods; no vestige of the house has been spotted since the 1960s.