It is astonishing how many country houses and estates were lost to Derbyshire in the boundary adjustments of 1888 and 1936; in this column we have visited several, including Measham and Willesley Hall, Norton House, Hazlebarrow with others. As they had been part of Derbyshire for about 900 years prior to their unwilling transfer, I for one continue to regard them as Derbyshire country houses, lost or not.
One of that plethora of islands of Derbyshire marooned within the borders of Leicestershire and lost in 1888 (in exchange for which we gained only Nether and Over Seal in this area) was the delightful village of Appleby. Appleby Magna lay partly within our county whilst the subsidiary township of Appleby Parva was mainly in Derbyshire. Anciently the manor belonged to the Applebys, whilst an estate that included the Derbyshire portions of Appleby Parva came to the Vernons of Haddon. Whether the latter had a manor house there, like the splendid moated remnant of the seat of the Applebys, still standing in Appleby Magna, seems unlikely.
In 1598 a man called Charles Moore purchased much of the old Vernon estate, to which was added two decades later further land along with part of Norton-juxta-Twycross by his homonymous son. Although the old histories, like William Woolley describe the family as ‘of mean account’ this was clearly not the case, mainly because both Charleses had the money to buy the land in the first place, the elder having lived previously at Stretton-in-Shirland, and because the family, who began indeed as farming stock in Lancashire, were then London merchants. The second Charles’s younger son was Sir John Moore, Lord Mayor of London 1681-1682 and Tory MP for the City of London, a man who enormously increased the family’s wealth.
Sir John’s father or elder brother (a third Charles), seems to have built a manor house, but lived at Snarestone, letting it in the 1670s to Henry, the newly married son and heir of Henry Kendall of Smisby Hall, and on which he was taxed for 13 hearths, indicating that the house was of moderate size. Unfortunately, we have no evidence of what it looked like, although if the precedent of Sir John Moore’s Grammar School nearby, designed by Sir Christopher Wren (albeit somewhat diluted by the dubious talents of Sir William Wilson), is anything to go by, it might have been very handsome. John Nichols’ History of Leicestershire informs us that it was pulled down in 1770 and became the site of its successor.
In 1775, Charles Moore of Appleby FRS (again, a non-resident) died without issue, having five years earlier demolished the family seat. His uncle Thomas had living in Appleby manor house, but died in 1762 leaving an elder son, Revd. Thomas Moore, who built in a new house in 1770 called The White House, illustrated by Nichols, but which stood to the NE of Appleby Magna, safely in Leicestershire (hence Nichols’ inclusion of it.)
Thomas too died without issue in 1795 upon which the estate came to his half-brother George Moore, later High Sheriff of Leicestershire. He set about building a new house on the site of the previous manor, at first called Appleby House. The contract still exists in family hands for its building, signed by the architect/builder Thomas Gardner of Uttoxeter, a former colleague of Joseph Pickford of Derby, who oversaw on his behalf the erection of Etruria Hall, works and workers’ village for Josiah Wedgwood. At the time, Gardner was building the hall nearby at Thorpe Constantine for the Inge family, who still have these plans and elevations. It was thanks to the late Ambrose Moore that I was able to see the contract for Appleby, which was estimated at £1,861, and to his much-missed son Peter that I was able to glean further information.
The document makes it clear that the house was more or less as photographed in Edwardian times; of ashlar coal measures sandstone, two and a half storeys high with a south front of five bays, the central one being embellished by a pediment supported on attached Ionic columns flanked by matching pilasters, with a heavy-looking tetrastyle portico at ground floor level in baseless Doric. The parapet was supported upon a grooved entablature and there were antae (plain broad pilasters) at the angles. The east front consisted of two shallow bows with tripartite windows on the ground floor and first floor in the centre only. The north front was of but four plain bays and was otherwise unembellished although throughout all the windows were set in moulded surrounds. This handsome and modest sized house stood in parkland perhaps landscaped by William Emes, part of an estate that then ran to 3,778 acres.
The house was a more elaborate version of Barton Blount, completed by Gardner for Derby banker Samuel Crompton a few years before; many of his larger houses are much more austere as, indeed, Thorpe Constantine and Loxley in Staffordshire. Inside, decoration was restrained with good chimneypieces but there was a magnificent top-lit cantilevered Hopton Wood stone well staircase rising throughout the house in its centre, with an iron rail almost identical to that at Barton Blount. A contemporary lodge was built to the west on New Road – essentially the original road south from Magna but re-aligned to allow the parkland to be laid out. Gardner also designed the elegant red-brick rectory nearby which, happily, still survives. The lodge was raised by a storey post war, and more recently extended to the north and also survives.
George More was a great agricultural improver and under him the estate flourished, so much so that his son was able to extend the house in a two storey approximately matching style to increase accommodation and enlarge the two and a half storey service wing, the employment of additional staff and the formalizing of life in the country house becoming a feature of the period. The year was 1836 and the architect Henry Goddard of Leicester. A generation later and T. C. Hine of Nottingham was also called in to make further improvements.
In 1873 the great agricultural depression began and the estate hit difficult times; unavoidable sales of land further reduced rental income. By the end of the Great War, the death of the squire (of natural causes) had led to a tax bill being imposed and the son and heir decided to sell up in 1919, by this time with an estate of only 2,786 acres. Yet the house failed to attract a tenant and in 1927 was reduced by the new owner so that only the 1836 extension and the service wing survived, occupied by Henry Saddington, formerly of Field Farm. By the time the second war broke out however, the remaining portion of the house was empty and derelict, and these remains were cleared away in 1952 due to damage caused by mining subsidence.