Spondon House was a fine Georgian mansion, in reality a secondary seat on the Locko estate of the Drury Lowes. Yet it was not without presence, and its history not without interest.
All accounts of the house, the building records for which are absent from the Drury-Lowe archive at the University of Nottingham Library, aver that it was built as a dower house, and its plain, well-proportioned appearance suggest that this event took place in the last quarter of the 18th century.
The house itself, as built, was of brick, a single pile with three bays and two and a half storeys, gable ended with prominent kneelers, with a central arched entrance under a broken pediment, standing in landscaped grounds. By the time of the first known illustration of it – a lithograph of c. 1840 – the ground floor windows flanking this door had been modified with canted bays under perfunctory hipped roofs, part of a Regency makeover which included the addition of a lower, two bay matching wing on the SE angle, still of two and a half storeys. The north side, too, apart from (probably) two ground floor tripartite windows, was quite devoid of fenestration.
In the mid-Victorian period, the house was extended yet again by a two storey wing with service accommodation on the NE side. This included the provision of the second staircase and the moving of the main entrance from the centre of the original range to the angle of that and the Regency SE addition, making way for a conservatory, very like that of Spondon Hall, along the south front. The new staircase was lit by an octagonal, conical top-light with a shallow roof topped by a jaunty ball finial, sitting a little awkwardly on a flat section of roof where the two additional ranges met, at the east end of the main range.
The first Lowe of Locko, was John (1704-1771), eldest of the four sons of Vincent Lowe of Denby by Theodosia, a daughter of John Marriott of Alscot, Gloucestershire. John married his mother’s niece, Sydney Marriott, herself the sole heiress of the family’s Gloucestershire estate, but they had no issue. His next brother, Vincent, had pre-deceased him unmarried, whilst the next, Stead Lowe, migrated to America, leaving a son, Stead. The youngest brother, Richard (1716-1785) therefore succeeded John at Locko in 1771. Most genealogies sanitise the family history at this point, having him die unmarried but, late in life, he did marry, his bride being his long-standing maîtresse en titre, Ellen Leyton, previously mother by him of three daughters.
On Richard’s death, however, the estate reverted, not to the American Stead Lowe, junior, as one might expect, but to William Drury, a Nottingham-born London merchant, whose grandmother had been Vincent Lowe’s sister, and in 1790 he assumed the additional surname and arms of Lowe by Royal Sign Manual. He then set about greatly enlarging the reasonably modest provincial Baroque Smith of Warwick Locko Hall, but died in July 1827 leaving only a daughter and heiress, Mary Anne, who had run away to get married at Gretna Green in August 1800. Why the skulduggery – which drew down the displeasure of her parents – is unclear, because her swain was entirely suitable: Robert Holden of Nuthall Temple and Darley Hall (1765-1844). Indeed, the Holdens were of rather more distinguished lineage than the Drurys, and just as well off!
Spondon House, being so plain and simple, was probably built for the widowed Ellen Lowe and her three daughters, which would suggest a building date of 1785, which looks entirely right. Possibly William Drury wanted nothing much to do with poor Ellen, and Spondon House would have been provided with the minimum of ornament and a lowish cost, probably built by the Locko estate foreman using a plan and elevations from one of the many well-illustrated builders’ manuals then available. The rooms inside, according to a late friend who was educated there, were quite plain and the staircase (albeit moved, as noted above) was typical of the period, being timber with mahogany rail and stick balusters.
It is not clear when Ellen Lowe died but, by 1801, runaway Mary Anne and Robert Holden were in residence, and they not only re-named it Aston Lodge (after the Aston-on-Trent estate from which these Holdens sprang) but set about enlarging it. They appear to have put in the windows either side of the entrance and also added the substantial, but slightly lower range to the right of the entrance.
However, by 1814, Aston Lodge, as it now was, became vacant yet again, which must suggest that, with the then recent improvements wrought to Locko by John Dodds and William Lees of Derby, there was room for two households there. Thus in that year Spondon House was let to Miss Edwards who founded an ‘Academy for Young Ladies’ which flourished there until 1844. That was the year Robert Holden died, and Miss Edwards was obliged to re-locate to Derby, so that his widow Mary Anne could move in, her son William Drury Holden (thereafter Lowe) having succeeded to Locko. For her, without doubt, was the NE extension built, resulting in the new entrance, conservatory and moved staircase with the accompanying strange roof arrangements at the east end of the house. Yet in the event, she died only five years later, in 1849, leaving Spondon House (as it was once more) vacant.
In 1854 a new lease was acquired by Revd. Thomas Gascoigne, who founded a prep school called ‘Spondon House School for the sons of Gentlemen’ there. He was joined in 1874 by Revd. Edward Priestland, who married his daughter and later took over as proprietor and headmaster of what, under his enthusiastic guidance, was to become one of the best schools of its type in the area; the Australians even played their cricket team in 1898! So much so, that following Priestland’s retirement, and under his successor, C. H. T. Hayman, it amalgamated with Winchester House School, Deal, Kent (which had been founded by a relative of Priestland’s) in 1912.
Spondon House was not empty for long, for it was requisitioned in 1914 as an auxiliary hospital, becoming vacant again early in 1919. The headmaster and managers of the over-crowded neighbouring Spondon (Junior) school had the vision to realise that here lay an opportunity to expand without the expense of building, and in 1920 the LEA accepted that the idea was sound, and two years later, a new County School was founded at Spondon House (later absorbing the nearby early 19th century villa called The Croft, latterly home of the Lillys) which flourished mightily. It became a County Secondary School in 1945, but closed in 1964, to move into new premises at West Park, Spondon, on the site of Field House, then recently – and sadly – demolished for the purpose.
If Field House, the long empty seat of the Devas, Arkwright and Osborne families, had to be demolished to enable Spondon House School to move, it was a straw in the wind, for Spondon House itself, the freehold of which the County had acquired from the Drury-Lowes in the 1920s, was also rapidly demolished; a serious loss, for it was in good repair, and would have easily converted into three or four excellent dwellings. Yet it was heedlessly cleared away in 1965 and the site sold. All that remains is the substantial brick wall surrounding the still wooded site (although altered to accommodate changes to the street pattern in places) and the gates.