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Lost Houses of Derbyshire – Green Hall, Belper

Lost Houses of Derbyshire – Green Hall, Belper

The story of the Strutt family and that of modern Belper,

which they more or less created, are intertwined. They built the mills and the workers’ housing (to a very high standard for the period) and over several generations endowed the town with numerous benisons, leaving the built environment the better for it; today it is a settlement with, for its size, an extraordinary number of listed buildings. Some, however, failed to survive to be listed, or at least to benefit from the 1968 planning act. This obliged listed buildings to be put through a series of evaluations, resulting in consent or otherwise to demolish or alter them. Prior to 1st January 1969 one had merely to notify the local authority and the Royal Commission on Historic Monuments (so they could record the building) before doing anything drastic. 

One Belper building to fall to the wrecking ball was Green Hall, situated at the top of King Street on the north side. It was one of a group of three local country houses built in the period 1790-1810 for various members of the Strutt family: Milford House, Makeney House and Bridge Hill House being the others, of which the latter appeared in these pages in November 2012. 

Three of these houses were designed by Jedediah Strutt’s eldest son, William Strutt, FRS, an amateur architect who worked in a Neo-Classical style and who was usually sensible enough to employ what we would today call an executant architect, for instance Samuel Brown when he designed the Derbyshire General Infirmary at Derby, 1806-1810.

The latter year is that in which the sources agree the house was built at Green Hall. The idea was to provide a house for Jedediah Strutt the younger, second son of George Benson Strutt, younger son of the first Jedediah, and founder of the Belper branch of the family. G. B. Strutt lived at Bridge Hill House, and in 1810, his son married on 12th April, Susannah, daughter of Rotherham steel maker Joshua Walker. Green Hall was to be their home until such time as Jedediah’s father died and they could move to Bridge Hill.

The house was nothing like as grand as Bridge Hill, and once extended lacked the latter’s symmetry and elegance, although the hand of uncle William can still be discerned in it. Yet it is a bit of a hotch-potch when viewed from the small garden on its west, nor was the short, south (entrance front) particularly architectonic either. The North side was blank and the east side was aggressively plain and stood flush to the west edge of Green Lane.

The west front had five bays and although the entire house was of two storeys, the range to the North was higher, under a hipped roof and dwarf parapet; This contained the high-ceilinged dining room. To the right was a conservatory fronted room beyond which was the only symmetrical portion, three bays with a central pediment under which were superimposed tripartite windows, where were the drawing room with master bedroom above. This part had a slightly higher hipped slate roof, and was the original William Strutt-designed house. On the east side the extension created a recessed court yard which acquired a glazed roof. 

From the asymmetrical extensions it becomes clear that as Jedediah and Susannah’s family increased, so the house was extended accordingly, hence the taller block at the NW angle and the linking range. The need to entertain may have increased too, after the death of Jedediah’s elder brother George in 1821, unmarried. Jedediah was henceforth the heir and thereafter the manager of the mills. 

The house was filled with gadgetry of the type pioneered by John Whitehurst and Erasmus Darwin (the latter a mentor of William Strutt) designed to improve what was then called the domestic economy and included improved kitchen ranges with back boilers to heat water for bathing, flushing lavatories and clever ventilation systems, all of which William Strutt had tried out in St. Helen’s House, Derby.

There was only a low stone wall in front of the main range and a patch of lawn with a near-circular path, the remainder of the pleasure grounds lay on the other side of King Street, which in 1830 was cut through the grounds between stone retaining walls. Part of the grounds to the west of the house even oversailed shops built into the retaining walls. To ensure continued access to all the pleasure grounds therefore, an iron bridge with a depressed Tudor arch was built, to connect to the land on its south side, called The Paddock. This was cast, at a cost of £42.10s.9d, at a local foundry, the bill being paid on completion in August 1832. All this was probably done at the behest of Jedediah who, as manager of the Strutt mills in the town, was a keen improver, like his father. The Paddock itself was the scene of public celebrations marking the passage of the Reform Act in the autumn of 1832, when the new bridge no doubt proved handy.

When George Benson Strutt died aged eighty in 1841, Jedediah and his second wife moved into Bridge Hill House, leaving his own son, able to move into it when he came of age in 1847. In his turn he succeeded to Bridge Hill House on Jedediah’s death in 1854. It then became home to John Strutt, the youngest brother, who died unmarried in 1858. It remained, largely unoccupied until 1867, by which time it had become clear that no member of the family was likely to want it as a residence, a probable exacerbated by the construction of the railway station immediately to the west in 1840. Nor was any likely candidate found to take a lease on the place and in the end, it was let to a boys’ preparatory school and the garden bridge was removed in late autumn 1867. The Paddock itself was given to the Belper UDC in 1921 and the town’s war memorial, a tall plain tapering obelisk in Cornish granite, was erected there within a specially designed memorial garden.

Meanwhile the preparatory school deserves comment. It was established by Arabella, widow of Thomas Taylor, a prosperous farmer at Cuckney in Nottinghamshire, and she was assisted by her daughters Sophia Elizabeth and Augusta Amy, and in 1871 they had 29 pupils, some from minor gentry families and a smattering of sons of Derby industrialists. Within a few years, however, Augusta went off to get married and Sophia ran it with four staff after her mother’s death in the 1880s. Not every census was taken when the boarders were in session so it is hard to gauge the school’s success, but in 1901 there were only 13 boarders, although there were undoubtedly day-pupils, too.

Miss Taylor died in April 1914, leaving no successor as head, and the proprietorship devolved onto her sister Augusta, Mrs. Hugh MacDiarmid, who kept it going until the end of the academic year before closing the establishment and surrendering the lease back to the Strutt estate. 

This was opportune, for within six weeks the great War had broken out and the Strutts offered the building as a military hospital for injured personnel recovering from serious wounds. George Herbert Strutt (1853-1928) paid for Col. Maurice Hunter, the Belper estate architect, to adapt the building and he paid for the furnishing and equipping of the place with accommodation for 40 men, which opened in 1915. Strutt also defrayed the running costs. By the war’s end and its de-commissioning in 1919 over 3,00 men had been treated or rehabilitated at Green Hall. Matron Ethel May Crump was awarded the Royal Red Cross decoration for her service. 

After several fruitless attempts to find a tenant for the hall, in 1931 the Strutt estate decided to sell the contents and turn the building into ten flats: four flats on the ground floor, five on the first and one above two garages at the north end. One ground floor flat was a clinic before the Second War, when it became an ARP post, being domesticised in 1947. The flats varied in size from one room to a suite of four with kitchen and bathroom. Most, though had shared facilities; Mr. Alan Cockayne, who contacted me some years ago now to tell me he had spent much of his childhood there is the person we have to thank for these details.  

By 1947 the building has fallen into a poor state, made worse by the restrictions on building work imposed by Earl Attlee’s government, ensuring that no repairs were done for quite five years and even then, it appears they were cosmetic. Mr. Cockayne’s family moved out in 1956, and within two years, the house, which quickly became derelict, was demolished and the site cleared. Almost inevitably, it became a car park. This was later supplemented by a row of nondescript shops and a gabled pub called the Green House.



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