In its declining years, this suburban Regency Villa was known merely as 237 Osmaston Road, Derby on the thoroughfare of the ancient pre-Roman route south of Derby towards Swarkestone Bridge. This was a place which in the early 19th century was still extremely rural; one has the description by Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) of the fields surrounding the home in which he grew up, in newly-built Wilmot Street, as testimony to the bucolic character of the area.
Here in Litchurch, which was absorbed by the Borough of Derby in the 1880s, stood Joseph Strutt’s ‘summer villa’ the pleasure grounds which in 1840 he gave to the Borough as the Arboretum and it was just to the east of the Arboretum that the next earliest villa was built, sometime in the early 1820s. This was The Field.
Although it has been demolished for some fifty years, it has not been previously chronicled, but surely deserves to be. It was never the town residence of a landed family, but the spacious residence of a number of prominent Derby families. Before it was demolished it was listed Grade III, which was the lowest grade, later abolished, with all surviving Grade III buildings being either promoted to Grade II or relegated to the Local List.
The house was originally of three by three bays, two storeys high, and constructed of ashlared blocks of Keuper sandstone from Weston Cliff on the Trent, rather than the ubiquitous Roman Cement of other contemporary villas. Clearly the person who commissioned the house was making a statement about the state of his bank balance! The centre bays all the main fronts broke forward slightly under a low parapet in a very restrained Neo-Greek manner.
It was architecturally sophisticated too, with the floor heights of the ground floor greater on the south and east fronts and at the entrance front, where the hall ran right through house to dog-leg staircase under two depressed arches, ceiling heights were lower giving a more spacious feel to the master suite above. The service wing was to the north, although later an extension beside the entrance and incorporating part of it, was added to provide an extra reception room. On the east side an almost free standing top-lit billiard room was built on much later in the 19th century.
The interior focused on the long hallway, the layout closely resembling that at Leaper’s Highfields, the space being broken into three sections divided by depressed arches supported on pilasters and decorated with egg-and-date plaster moulding. The cornices were all of ornamental modillions and the main reception room was stuccoed in French Baroque manner, like the Headmaster’s study at The Pastures and Parkfield House (also lost) on Duffield Road. The dog-leg staircase had an ornamental cast iron balustrade, undoubtedly made by the Derby foundry of Weatherhead, Glover & Co in Duke Street. They probably also made the cast iron sliding jalousies which once protected the windows but were removed in the 1942 scrap metal drive.
The grounds were originally fairly extensive and landscaped, declining towards a small lake just west of London Road, although as the 19th century went on chunks were disposed of to provide housing. Indeed after the construction of a further pair of villas the street was lined during the 1840s and ‘50s with well-proportioned brick terraced housing, the Arboretum proving a draw for those wishing to live in the style then referred to as genteel. Yet the down side for the occupiers of The Field must have been the erection of the Union Workhouse (now the Royal Crown Derby factory) on the meadow opposite.
The building is firmly attributable to an amateur architect, Alderman Richard Leaper, the third son of William Leaper JP (1713-1784) a banker in partnership with a kinsman, Robert Newton of Mickleover. Leaper’s father had served as Mayor of Derby in 1776-1777 and in 1753 had married Sarah Ward, sister of Archer Ward, also on the bank’s board and a keen Baptist. Richard, born in 1759, was educated at Derby School, becoming a brother of the Corporation in 1790 and elected Mayor in 1794-95 then an alderman shortly thereafter. He served as Mayor again in 1807, 1815 and 1824, by which time he was, like his father before him, also a partner in the bank. He lived initially at 59 Friar Gate, Derby but after 1817 at a house of his own devising, Parkfield Cedars, Kedleston Road (also regrettably a lost house), which bore many features in common with The Field, where he died, unmarried, in 1838.
As an architect, the Derbyshire historian Stephen Glover, who knew him, averred (writing in 1831) that he “has had great taste and much experience in building family mansions…” going on to a number of other houses he had designed.
The building dates lies somewhere between 1819 and 1824 and the client was Francis Severne, a manufacturing jeweller with premises in Corn Market. On his death, his son Henry moved over the road to build Ashtree House and The Field (then called Litchurch Field) was sold to silk manufacturer, Henry Boden of Ednaston Lodge (1807-1862), whose wife was the sister of Sir John (‘Brassy’) Smith. He later moved to The Friary and let the house to the Midland Railway’s eminent engineer William Henry Barlow FRS (1812-1902) who lived there until 1857 when he moved to London to design St Pancras Station and the main line from Derby. His successor, John Sidney Crossley, another civil engineer, occupied the house thereafter until around 1871 when Alderman Sir Abraham Woodiwiss (1828-1884), a multi-millionaire railway contractor acquired it.
He probably added the NW extension (done in brick and stuccoed over, hence the rendering of the remainder of the street front to unite, visually, the disparity) and the billiard room. He served two consecutive terms as Mayor, in 1880-1 and 1881-2, but moved to another Leaper House, The Pastures in Littleover, around 1880 and died there, leaving his son Abraham, junior (1852-1912) in residence at The Field; he too was mayor twice, in 1888 and 1901.
In 1895 young Abraham moved out and let the house to Hull-born Cllr George Edward Franklin, proprietor of the Public Benefit Boot & Shoe Company who lived there for more than a decade before leaving Derby for pastures new.
In between the wars it became the Derby High School for Girls, then after the Second War the School moved to Littleover and the Borough (later County) Fire Brigade used the house as their HQ. In 1971 the Fire Service followed the High School to Littleover and the house became empty and was sold with its surviving ground (by this date mainly surfaced for car-parking) for re-development to the Guinness Trust.