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Lost Houses – Aldercar Hall


It was of brick with quoins and other dressings of coal measures sandstone, undoubtedly from a local quarry (or re-used from Codnor Castle, at this date, rapidly in decline).

Aldercar, a portion of the parish of Heanor and in the Middle Ages being one of four parks attached to the Zouche family’s Codnor Castle estate, takes its name from the Old English for an Alder plantation. At some stage in the downward spiral of the fortunes of the Zouches, Aldercar Park was sold off. That the Codnor estate was large enough to split without too much damage to the income (mainly from agriculture and coal rents) will be apparent when it is realised that the total parkland alone ran to 3,000 acres.

The purchaser was Heanor merchant Henry Hyde, although we cannot tell precisely the date of his acquisition. Probably he was a freeholding yeoman farmer who had made a fortune by letting the rights to mine for coal under his land. In those days, mining was a family or extended family affair done in bell pits, the land being rented from the freeholder for a share of the take. This indeed, was probably Hyde’s incentive for buying part of the Codnor estate.

Henry died in 1610, probably relatively young, for his son and heir, John, who succeeded to the land, was only twelve at the time; a younger son was Henry, only eight. John married a lady called Joyce around 1626 and they had a son, also John, born two years later, and it may well be the death of one of other of them that allowed the estate to be sold. Whether the Hydes actually built a house at Aldercar is not wholly clear, but the elder Hyde is once or twice described as ‘of Aldercar’ which suggests they lived there rather than in Heanor.

The purchaser of the estate was extractive entrepreneur Richard Milnes of Dunston Hall, Sheepbridge, near Chesterfield, but all he did was to detach part of the estate which he wished to add to some coal-rich land he already owned nearby, and in around 1667 he sold the remainder on. It was bought by his kinsman Thomas Burton of Holmesfield Hall, near Chesterfield, the scion of a then numerous but very ancient family. He too was a coal owner, but he had at first settled in Derby, building Thorntree House at the bottom of St. Peter’s Street, now the site of the HSBC. The impetus for this was his marriage, during the Commonwealth, to Frances, the daughter of the aristocratic gynaecological pioneer Dr. Percival Willoughby, who lived in the house later known as the Old Mayor’s Parlour, nearby, which I described in these pages two years ago.

Frances died in childbirth, and his father died in 1657 so Thomas returned to Holmesfield. He re-married in 1662, his bride being Prudence, a daughter of Francis Lowe of Owlgreaves Hall, very close to Aldercar (now called Aldgrave and replaced). Indeed, it may have been the spur for Thomas buying land near his wife’s father’s estate.

ALDERCAR-HALL-PC-FROM-LAKE001What is certain is that he built a house – or perhaps, rebuilt the one that the Hydes had. It was of brick with quoins and other dressings of coal measures sandstone, undoubtedly from a local quarry (or re-used from the castle, at this date, rapidly in decline) It was of two piles deep, plus a northern service wing, with twin gabled end elevations. The gables being straight coped and decorated with finials, with two light mullioned windows on the attic storey and mullion and transom cross windows on the lower floor. The whole being of two tallish storeys with attics.

Inside there was a fine oak staircase with turned balusters and much panelling of the period.. It seems to have been taxed on seven hearths in 1670, when it must have been very new; a sundial was dated 1668, which might well mark the completion date of the building.

William Woolley, writing in 1713, said of it that it was a ‘good house and a pretty commodious seat’ but by his time, Burton had died (not long after his wife, who died in 1679). He had three sons, of whom the youngest., Capt. Thomas Burton had the single misfortune to have been killed in action fighting under Marlborough at the Battle of Blenheim in 1705.Michael, the eldest, married the co-heiress of Henry Wigley of Wigwell, an opulent lead trader.Moving to Wirksworth he sold Aldercar to Richard Milnes’s grandson (also Richard), from whom it descended in 1787 to Robert Mower and through his daughter’s marriage in 1791 to Thomas Smith of Dunston, ancestor of my esteemed kin the Craven-Smith-Milnes family of Winkburn Hall in Nottinghamshire.

Thomas Smith’s brother, John sold the house and estate to George Jessop, youngest son of Butterley Company co-founder William, sometime around 1848, when the latter became involved with the running of the company after his return from setting up an ironworks in India. He moved to Honley Hall in Yorkshire in the 1850s, and sold it to his Butterley co-director, Francis Wright of Osmaston, who installed his 16 year old son Francis Beresford there in 1857. In 1862 the latter married Adeline FitzHerbert (of the Norbury branch of the family), whose family occupied a superb Carolean house in Warwickshire, the hall at Wootton Wawen, which they bought outright in 1882

Aldercar failed to sell, due to the agricultural depression, and was instead let as a school for young gentlemen wishing to make a career in the colonies, run by Francis Hugh Adams and later by Ernest Nicholls. In 1895 the house was described as ‘venerable looking’. However, in 1896, the Wright’s eldest son Arthur came of age, and he re-occupied Aldercar, soon afterwards (certainly before 1908) completely rebuilding it.

His architect was John Reginald Naylor of the Derby partnership of Naylor & Sale of Derby, who were then building extensively for other members of the family, enlarging Swanwick Hayes for Francis Wright’s brother FitzHerbert in 1893-96 and adding the tower to St. Andrews, Swanwick, where he was patron in 1900-1902.

The house acquired a new entrance front. Facing east, of great simplicity and excellent proportions, accessed from Aldercar Lane along an avenue of trees, to the re-positioned 17th century gate-piers which opened onto a wide courtyard, flanked on the right by a new service wing. The Butterley brickwork was in diapered Flemish bond, with two light stone mullioned windows with intervening string courses on all floors, the central entrance having an arched stone hood on brackets with an armorial below. Much of the south front of the old house was retained, albeit with internal alterations. A slim square tower was added at the NW angle topped by a steep pyramidal roof.

The grounds were re-landscaped by William Barron & Sons of Borrowash, with modest lakes to the south and west linked by woodland walks. The stable block formed a separate courtyard to the north, with the long established farm buildings beyond again. The farmland itself was by this time 280 acres, the all-pervading Butterley Company having appropriated the remainder of the estate for their own purposes.

Arthur Wright inherited the Wootton estate on his father’s death in 1911 and his mother occupied it until her own death in 1924. The remainder of the estate was thereupon taken over by the Butterley Company and the house, despite its newness, failed to find a tenant, was largely unoccupied from 1927 and was unceremoniously demolished in 1962.

The Butterley Company was nationalised along with the coal industry in 1948, but some time after the house was destroyed, it was realised that the land was not all required and that sales of unused assets might help to improve the balance sheet. Therefore some six and a half acres were sold in the 1970s to Mr & Mrs. Ward, who built a new house and developed the farm site as an equestrian centre, which it remained at least until offered for sale in 2003.

The replacement Aldercar Hall is a much more modest affair. It is of two storeys with five bays of uPVC windows, the central bay breaking forward under a wide gable masquerading as a pediment over an awkwardly wide window. The upper storey is, however, appreciably lower than the ground floor, giving the brick house rather a squat appearance. The quoins and breakfront angles are, however, dressed in stone, which is of the right local honey colour. The house is set off by a hipped roof and the sort of white painted pedimented Doric portico shielding the entrance much loved by the builders of ‘executive homes’ at that period. When it sold in autumn 2004 it made £650,000.




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