Moated Manor houses are relatively rare in Derbyshire, although several well known houses like Egginton, Radburne and Shipley Halls were certainly moated once, but the fashion for naturalistic landscape gardens in the 18th century led to their being enthusiastically filled in by landscape gardeners. Other sites are remembered by ‘moat’ place names.
The great age of the moat was from the period of the Barons’ War c1250 to the end of the first third of the 14th century and contrary to general assumptions, most were status symbols rather than effective defensive barriers. Only when the house had been subject to a licence to crenellate from the Crown could one be reasonably certain that a moat was part of a proper defensive scheme.
The former hall at Bearwardcote (pronounced ‘Barrowcote’), which lies on the edges of Burnaston and Etwall, just north of the Derby to Uttoxeter Road, was once moated, although it was never subject to a licence to crenellate. The estate had its origins in the de Chambreis family, believed to have been a junior branch of the de Ferrers Earls of Derby,
The estate passed eventually to the Bakepuises of Barton Bakepuise (later Barton Blount) and under them William de Heanor (whose family took their name from Rough Heanor, in Mickleover) had it as tenant by 1927so he must have been the man who built the house and moated it round. His heiress brought it to John de Rochford and he in turn left two co-heiresses. In 1397 a reference in a legal document reported that the house was ‘moated round’ and in 1402 the estate was sold to Francis Bonington (of the family which gave their name to Sutton Bonington), whose descendants remained there to the later part of the 17th century.
The Hearth Tax assessment of a mere four hearths in 1664 suggests it was then a small manor house, almost certainly timber framed. The low number of hearths at that date for gentry houses tended to indicate that the house was old and had a great hall containing a single large fireplace, with perhaps two heated rooms off it and a kitchen elsewhere. Where such halls were split to divide them horizontally, further fireplaces were usually provided. The family never seem to have had the wherewithal to greatly modernise the house and an attempt to do so in the 1590s or 1600s (with other works on the estate in Burnaston village) by Ralph Bonington seems only to have plunged the estate into debt and he himself was imprisoned for this in 1623.
The continuing debts (exacerbated by the punitive fines levied by Parliament for supporting the King in the Civil War) eventually in 1672 caused the sale of the manor to the wily family lawyer, William Turner of Derby (d.1716), but the Hall continued to be occupied by the widowed Mary Bonington until her death in 1680. Her inventory describes the Hall as ‘a good House moted round with a Bridge of Stone and Gatehouse… two Orchards and a fair garden and a little Stable all lying within a Mote…. a Dourhouse [Dower house] and two Barns lying without….’
The man who benefited from all this was Derby Alderman William Turner. He had married Mary daughter of Roger Allestrey of Derby MP and on his death was succeeded by his son, also William (1703-1751), from whom the manor was to pass to his son Exuperius, born about 1725. Exuperius was educated at Westminster and St John’s Cambridge and in 1748 he was called to the bar.
Exuperius Turner, newly married in 1751, seems to have gone to town and built himself a delightful villa in the most up-to-date version of Rococo Gothick. The entrance was via a projecting crenellated portico with pinnacles and was flanked by a pair of ogiform gables. The two storeys were parapetted with battlements and further punctuated with slender pinnacles and tall chimneys. He also, according to a brief (and retrospective) description in Bagshaw’s Directory of 1846, installed heraldic glass in his lancet windows – or at least perhaps rescued and re-set pre-existing glass from the Medieval house. The roof appears to have been of expensive Swithland slate and the outbuildings were probably not particularly ancient appearing to have been of brick. The gatehouse was probably timber framed, from the lack of brick or stone excavated from its position.
The entire building appears to have been an essay in the picturesque. Archaeology carried out nearly 40 years ago seems to indicate that the medieval gatehouse was suffered to survive, along with the bridge over the moat. An attempt to match the rooms named in the inventory to the ground plan recovered in the excavation is however, not to be relied upon because the excavator was not aware of the mid-18th century rebuilding, which may have been very thorough and although the footprint of the medieval house appears to have been used, it is exceedingly unlikely that the original plan would have been adhered to.
It is difficult to say who would have designed so spectacular a house. The obvious candidate is Sanderson Miller (1717-1780), who was certainly working at Arbury Hall in Warwickshire at this period with the owner Sir Roger Newdigate. Sir Roger was married to a Mundy of Shipley and had an uncle married to a Pole of Radburne, both families for whom Exuperius’s father had acted in his legal capacity, so there is every reason to think that they could have been at least acquainted.
Miller himself was an amateur and a keen Gothicist. The inspiration for the house is plainly Horace Walpole’s astonishing Strawberry Hill, which has virtually identical pinnacles, crenellation and fenestration. The design of pinnacles come from Arbury and the ogiform gables and disposition of the façade appear at Prestwood Hall (now long demolished) near Stewpony in Staffordshire, which might also indeed be Miller’s work and date from just this period.
The Turners lived at Bearwardcote from its completion soon after their marriage but the couple’s marriage was dissolved in 1760 and no doubt the house lost its allure for Exuperius after this. He eventually left the house and moved to London, leaving the manor and lordship of ‘Barrowcote’, plus 183 acres of arable, meadow and pasture to be offered for sale in the Derby Mercury in 1764.
Robert Newton of Mickleover was the man who purchased the house and its modest estate. He was proprietor of Leaper & Newton’s Bank, Derby (later Crompton & Newton) and was old, exceedingly rich and lived at Norton on the north east corner of Derbyshire. Sir Francis Chantrey, the famous sculptor was born in a farmhouse on his estate. Newton rented the Hall out as a farm and died unmarried in 1789, leaving his estate to John Leaper, a colleague in the bank, who added the name of Newton. He clearly had other ideas about his Bearwardcote property and proceeded to demolish the Hall in 1790, building Bearwardcote Farm north-west of the moat instead. It became an adjunct of the Mickleover estate and so remained until its dispersal in 1937.
Today all that is left in the tangled bocage which occupies the site (to which there is no public access) are clear traces of the moat and the remains of the bridge, photographed for me by my late friend Don Farnsworth four days after Christmas 1984. And just think: if the Turner’s marriage had been a happy and fruitful one, the house might still be standing today.