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Lost Houses – Exeter House, Derby


In the early 17th century, the West bank of the Derwent was becoming very sought after for gardens and suddenly Full Street and Cockpit Hill became fashionable places to live.

Exeter House, No. 1, Full Street, was the house occupied for three days and two nights by Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1745.

Derby has had an unfortunate habit of demolishing buildings connected to famous figures from the past, buildings which today could be a tourist draw. As recently as 1971 the childhood home in Wilmot Street of philosopher Herbert Spencer was demolished, preceded by only four years by that of his birthplace; Erasmus Darwin’s house was lost to a planning scheme in 1933 and Joseph Wright’s birthplace went in 1909, whilst the house he lived in until four years before his death succumbed as early as 1800.DERBY-1730-PANORAMA-DBYMU

Yet the rot really started with the demolition of Exeter House, No. 1, Full Street, early in 1855, for this was the house occupied for three days and two nights by Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1745, and in which he held the Council of War at which the fateful decision to turn back to Scotland was arrived at. Even then there were voices raised in protest. Not that it saved Exeter House, but at least the panelling from the so-called Council Chamber in the house was rescued and preserved by a sympathiser whose executors advertised it for sale in April 1872:

‘Old historic oak for sale. The whole of the oak panelling, cornicing, fittings of three window places, two fluted pilasters, two solid oak doors &c., &c., which were removed from THE OAK COUNCIL ROOM (on the pulling down of Exeter House in Derby, formerly the residence of the Earls of Exeter) in which Prince Charles Edward Stuart held his council of War previous to his retreat from Derby in 1745. The whole of the oak is of the finest grain and polish and a plan of the room having been kept (the dimensions being 20 feet square, height 10ft. 6in) it can easily be adapted and refixed. Apply Mr., Powell, 1 Full Street, 24 April l872.’

In March 1873 with buyers still hovering around, Michael Thomas Bass heard about it and stepped in himself and saved them for the Borough. In 1879 he presented the panelling to the newly-founded Museum and where they were given an allegedly ‘purpose-built’ room in which it has resided ever since.900

The room then spent 116 years as a meetings room, which meant that the public never got to see the fine oak panelling with its fluted Tuscan pilasters and pretty chimney piece. When I took over as Keeper of Antiquities, I lobbied consistently that we should turn it into a gallery celebrating Derby’s part in the ’Forty Five and hold meetings elsewhere. It was only after a change of Director that this got taken seriously and was finally agreed in 1995. We got a wax figure looking like Prince Charles Edward made, re-furnished the room, and the panelling (which we discovered had been seriously ‘bodged’ to fit it in the room, which was nowhere near 20 x 20ft) and disguised the Early English lancet windows with re-placement 12 pane sashes. We put out everything connected with the event, dimmed the lights, provided a moon and had a recording made of the man himself reading out loud from a letter reporting progress to his father James VII & III. Indeed, it was the last large project I was able to complete before being made redundant from the Museum in 1998.

Exeter House though, had a longer history entirely. In the early 17th century, the West bank of the Derwent was becoming very sought after for gardens and suddenly Full Street and Cockpit Hill became fashionable places to live.

Thus it was that on the outside of the curve Full Street used to make towards the Market Place, the Bagnold family erected c. 1635/1640 a two storey brick house with two straight gables over five bays of windows, probably at that stage, mullioned ones, although possibly also with a transom too. The gardens stretched down to the river bank, whilst the front door was virtually on the street.

The son of the household, John Bagnold, rose from high municipal office (he had been town clerk) to be elected one of the two MPs for Derby in the 1680s, the first under the new 1682 Charter granted by Charles II. He resolved to enlarge the house, adding an impressive parallel range nearer the river, of two storeys with attic dormers in a hipped and sprocketed roof, embellished by tall panelled chimney stacks, linking the old house to his new creation by a short block. This new house was nine bays wide and was in the latest architectural manner. Although we have no account of the interior then, the surviving ceiling from contemporary Newcastle House (see Country Images July 2014) suggests lavish plasterwork and frescoes, along with fielded panelling and so forth.

Bagnold died in 1698 aged 55, yet the daughter and ultimately co-heiress of this grandson of a yeoman farmer from Marston-on-Dove married one of the first of the ‘super-rich’, as we call them today: copper and lead entrepreneur Thomas Chambers (1660-1726) a London Merchant whose coat-of-arms has three copper cakes upon the shield and a miner in a mine for a crest, carved on his lavish marble tomb in Derby Cathedral by no less a sculptor than Louis-Francois Roubiliac. He even commissioned Robert Bakewell to surround the structure with a fine iron railing.

Thomas Chambers’s father had been a Derby lead trader and he added to the grounds, acquiring a tract of land on the opposite side of the river to the house from the Sitwells as his pleasure grounds. He also built the delightful brick pavilion, boat house or summer house on the Derwent’s edge visible in the old East Prospect of the town.

He too left an heiress and she made a glittering marriage in 1724 to Brownlow Cecil, who two years before had succeeded his brother as 8th Earl of Exeter. Henceforth Bagnold House would be known as Exeter House, although, like her London-based father, she did not spend all that much time there, being henceforth châtelaine of Burghley. Yet she must have spent enough time there to alter the house, for, sometime after the last East Prospect was painted (.c. 1730) and before 1745 the East (garden) front was re-façaded in brick.

Whereas John Bagnold’s alterations were bang up-to-date architecturally, the new front of Exeter House was distinctly old fashioned – thoroughgoing Provincial Baroque or Queen Anne in style – suggesting a local man designed and built this new front. The detailing has much in common with Alsop’s House (Wardwick Tavern),Abbott’s Hill (see Country Images June 2015) and indeed The Friary, although the latter has pilasters. If these can be accepted as by the same hand, the architect was probably Richard Jackson of Armitage, Staffs, who also designed the 1731 Guildhall. Yet all that was done was the raising of a parapet to hide the roof, leaving windows for the dormers to obtain light through it and others as dummies, so that the nine bays read as three full storeys. The real windows and blind ones are clearly apparent on Richard Keens’ autumn 1853 photograph.FULL-ST-EXETER-HO-1854FULL-ST-EXETER-HOUSE-c-1840s001

The old cross windows were replaced by sashes with stone keyblocks penetrating rubbed brick lintels. There was a stone band above the cornice supporting the parapet and another above the ground floor windows, whilst a new stone surround was added to the door and windows above it. One can tell how cosmetic the raising of the top storey was, for S. H. Parkins’s albeit retrospective view of the house from Full Street, shows the parapet as just a wall supported by iron ties to the roof ridge.

Although this makes the rebuilding appear as a cheap-jack sort of job, if the surviving panelling is anything to go by, the interior was re-done in the best mid-Georgian manner. The use of oak, though, is again old fashioned as import duty came off mahogany in the 1720s.

Earl Stanhope, writing in 1839 wrote of the interior that

‘…the staircase…is of dark polished oak with carved balustrades…on the first floor the drawing room is equally unaltered, it is all over wainscoted with ancient oak very dark and handsome and looks out as also the drawing room below into the garden.’

Six years later, Katherine Thompson, Wedgwood’s kinswoman, added that there was

‘A wide staircase, rising from a small hall leads to a square oak-panelled drawing room, the Presence Chamber in the days of the ill-fated Charles. On either side are chambers retaining…much of the character of former days….The back of Exeter House is picturesque in the extreme….more distinctly ancient; and its architecture is uniform though simple. Beyond the steps by which you descend from a spacious drawing room is a long lawn enclosed between high walls and extending to the brink of the Derwent.’

It was to the rebuilt house that Bonnie Prince Charlie came, and in the panelled room overlooking the Derwent on the first floor (the memory of which seems still to have been fresh a century later) that the fateful meeting took place late on 5th December 1745.

Eventually Exeter House became surplus to Lord Exeter’s requirements and in March 1758 it was sold to John Bingham, then Mayor of Derby and lived in by John his son when he married Martha Rogers in 1771. They moved to Martha’s native Worcestershire in 1796 and the house was let to William Strutt. In April 1802, however, the Binghams sold to a consortium of iron masters, Thomas Saxelby, Richard Forester (married to a Mundy), William Wylde and Nathaniel Edwards, so they could erect an iron foundry on part of the garden on the East bank of the Derwent. Edwards, son of William Edwards, thrice Mayor of Derby, was their lawyer (and that of Wiliam Duesbury the younger) and also lived in the house.

Edwards died in 1814, and in the ensuing  months James Oakes of Riddings House (the man who much later invented fracking for oil) acquired the shares of the 1802 purchase and sold the house and the grounds surviving on the west bank of the river to another rich attorney, William Eaton Mousley in June 1819. He was shortly afterwards described as ‘the largest household proprietor in town’.

His contribution seems to have been to block the ground floor windows on Full Street, probably to avoid them being smashed in Derby football games, which his successor as Mayor, Henry Mozley, finally outlawed in 1846. He also made contemporary alterations to the dining room which, Lord Stanhope dismissively averred ‘…will doubtless be better appreciated by Mr. Mousley’s convivial guests than by his antiquarian visitors.’

Not long afterwards his efforts to build up a landed estate around Hilton saw him move out, and the house fell into disuse. In 1850 he sold the stabling and a strip of garden for housing, and by the time of his death in 1853, the house was virtually derelict. It was then that it was photographed by Richard Keene, before Samuel Harpur’s diary records its acquisition by the Curzons of Lockington who demolished it to build Burghley Street in spring 1854.

Burghley Street eventually went too, in 1933. Along with Darwin’s house, to widen Full Street and build the recently restored former Magistrates’ Courts. The panelling came to the Museum and in 1989 I managed to acquire from a descendant of the man who had rescued it from Exeter house, the 16th century iron Armada chest, in which the Prince is said to have stashed his ready money. It, too, is now in the Prince Charlie Room at the Museum, stuffed full of (entirely make-believe) gold and silver coin!

Exeter House from the East, from A Prospect of Derby painted c. 1730 [Derby Museums Trust]



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