When architects design their own houses, there is always something of interest.
Richard Leaper was Derby’s Regency period amateur architect who, according to historian Stephen Glover ‘…has had great taste and much experience in building family mansions…’
Leaper was a municipal grandee, a banker and tannery proprietor, but despite these responsibilities, was indeed a fairly prolific architect, a gentleman of leisure with time on his hands and a wide circle of kinsmen and acquaintances.
Leaper’s father had served as Mayor of Derby in 1776-1777 and in 1753 had married Sarah Ward, sister of Archer Ward, a banker colleague of his father. Richard, born in 1759, was educated at Derby School, joined the Corporation 1790, being elected Mayor in 1794-95 and was made an alderman shortly thereafter. He served as Mayor again in 1807, 1815 and 1824, by which time he was also a partner in the bank. His earliest commission was probably the Particular Baptist Chapel in Agard Street (for Ward) built in 1796 with a good Classical facade. Unfortunately, it fell victim to the coming of the Great Northern Railway in 1876.
On this page over the last two years we have looked at four of the houses he designed for friends in the Derby area, but of equal interest is the house he himself lived in, for when architects design their own houses, there is always something of interest. At first he lived at 59, Friar Gate, Derby, a house of 1770 upon which he seems to have left no discernible architectural impression, but at some time before 1819 he had decided to leave his modest Georgian house in Friar Gate and move to Kedleston Road ‘about one mile outside Derby’ where he built himself a villa, later called Parkfields Cedars. It was possibly so called from the outset indeed, but house names tend not to be listed in very early directories.
The six acres of land in which it stood was part of the Park Field, one of the common fields of the Borough and which was sold off at about this time. On various parts of it were built Parkfields House (now situated off Park Grove), Highfields (off Highfields Road) and Parkfields Villa (Duffield Road, cruelly demolished in the 1990s). Two large cedar trees framing the SW front determined the choice of name. Leaper’s authorship of its design is implicit from its date and the fact that he resided there during the final two decades of his life, but no supporting documents seem to survive. Stylistically though, it had his paw prints all over it.
The house was a relatively plain two storey brick and stucco villa of three bays by five, the three on the garden front, being centered by a full height curved bow. There is a typically Leaper cornice and low parapet hiding the low hipped roof. The return, SE, front appeared to have five bays with Doric pilasters framing the central trio, but actually at the right hand end there was an extra bay with mezzanine windows, marking the position of the staircase. The NW side had the entrance, very like Leaper’s nearby villa called The Leylands in that the portico was columned in antis, but Doric rather than Ionic as at The Leylands. This part was also irregular, in a typically Leaperish way in that there were two bays to the left of the portico, but only one to the right and that was a blind bay with only recessed panels, and antae (plain pilasters) at the angles. The analogous house is the extant Limes, Mickleover, which has just this arrangement, with a bowed garden front and an irregular side entrance with a portico and is thus also attributable to Leaper.
Inside, the dining room lay to one’s left and the drawing room, looking out over the lawns and cedars, to one’s right. Further along the hall and the breakfast room and study/library were entered on the right with the stairs opposite. This was timber, carved with fruit and flowers and almost Jacobethan in its un-Classical exuberance. It bifurcated on a mezzanine lit by an eight light Gothick window almost exactly like that on the stairs at Leaper’s Barrow Hall, Barrow-on-Trent (see Country Images for April 2014). One of the rooms sported a Corinthian chimneypiece of local crinoidal marble, whilst another was pseudo-15th century with stone hood, very similar to an equally quirky one Leaper installed in The Pastures, Littleover (now the Boys’ Grammar School). There was also a large service wing to the NE.
On Leaper’s death in 1838, the house was sold to Alderman John Sandars, a man who had, shortly afterwards, the distinction of being Mayor of Derby. When the new Guildhall burnt down very spectacularly on the night of Trafalgar Day 1841, he had left office for a year. This conflagration might have meant the loss of all the City’s records which were then stored in the building, but for the fact that the good Alderman, a former book dealer and antiquarian turned vintner, had used his Mayorial clout to take many home with him to read, thus ensuring their survival.
Sandars died aged 86 in 1867, when the property was sold by his family to the Wilmot-Sitwells of Stainsby House (see Country Images January 2015) as their Derby town house. Later, in the 1850s, it became the roost of some of their maiden aunts, notably Eliza Wilmot-Sitwell, after the tenancy of whom the place was let to solicitor John Moody, founder of Messrs. Moody & Woolley, then and until recently of St. Mary’s Gate. Towards the end of the 19th century it was again sold, this time to the formidable Mrs. E. M. Pike, proprietor of the Derby Telegraph. She was something of an enthusiast for buying property, having also bought 36-38 Corn Market (formerly the Tiger); on her death in December 1905 her trustees decided to dispose of Parkfields Cedars.
Thus it was in 1905 that Derby Council bought it with five and a half acres for £5,800 in order to convert it into a girls’ grammar school, previously based in an unsuitable building in Abbey Street. At first the building was used for teacher training, but considerable extensions were designed by C. B. Sherwin and continued after he joined the colours in 1914 by F. S. Antliff of Long Eaton. They also replaced the original Georgian windows with their slim glazing bars with plate glass sashes and added a generous tunnel vaulted assembly hall where the service wing had stood, lit by the Leaper’s vast Gothick staircase window, a lodge and other blocks of classrooms, all in a dignified brick vernacular Classical. Half an acre was also detached and on this was built the Sherwin designed Markeaton Primary School on the N. side. The school finally opened in 1917 as Parkfields Cedars Grammar School for Girls.
It was much a much admired and uncommonly successful school, the ‘Old House’ as Leaper’s former residence was called, being particularly enjoyed. The history of the building’s time as a school is immortalised in Anne E. Owen’s enjoyable book Parkfields Cedars – True to the End (Derby 1999). Regrettably, the ‘Old House’ was completely gutted by fire on the night of 6th February 1965 – shades of Leaper’s Barrow Hall a few years before. The cause was unquestionably arson although the culprit was never caught. The Council, however, instead of rebuilding the Old House, demolished it and replaced it with a two storey block very redolent of its period. Whilst it was being built, British Railways gave the school a redundant ex-LMS saloon passenger carriage (less bogies) as temporary accommodation. The school moved in spring 1969 to new premises on the Mackworth Estate, later becoming a comprehensive and losing its identity in 1975. Meanwhile, in 1974 site of Leaper’s old home became the County Council’s Schools loans HQ, but of the house of c 1816, nothing at all remains but the two magnificent Cedars which gave it its name.