If you were to walk towards the city centre in Derby along Queen Street, you would eventually reach St. Michael’s, an unassuming Victorian church designed by Henry Isaac Stevens of Derby and built in 1857-59 of ridged ashlar blacks to replace its Medieval predecessor, the chancel of which collapsed, rather dramatically, on a summer Sunday, 17th August 1856, mercifully, just after the congregation had left.
The church is now solicitors’ offices, having been converted from ecclesiastical use by Derek Latham as his own offices in 1979. Then there is a gap there before one reaches St. Michael’s House, a red brick building which used to be HQ of the Cathedral until about 20 years ago. This gap bears the name St. Michael’s Church Yard, which it once was but, before 1959, the view through the gap would have been terminated by a fine white painted Georgian house, Nos. 3-4 St. Michael’s Church Yard, which once looked across the church yard to Queen Street and had a garden which ran down to the Derwent.
The plain façade of this house – two and a half storeys and five bays wide with an extra lower ground floor on the east side facing the river – had, as so often in Derby, a house of considerably greater antiquity, being said by one Derby author to date from ‘at least the seventeenth century’. A person familiar with the house in its declining years also made mention of unusually thick walls, roughly squared stone plinth work appearing in what was largely a brick house, blocked mullioned windows visible from within (but not evident on the exterior) and a staircase which, if correctly described, must have dated from the later seventeenth century, of oak with turned balusters ‘slightly bulbous in shape running continuously up the gradient of the stair’. There was also a bolection moulded chimney piece, two others ‘of Jacobean appearance’ and a ceiling centered by ‘an oval of realistic fruit.’ The pleasure grounds ran down to the mill-race and, prior to the building of the Derby Silk Mill 1717-1721, no doubt reached the river bank and had a summerhouse there, as did so many other Derby gentry town houses.
It is by no means clear who built this house, although there is some circumstantial evidence to suppose that by the time it had receive its Restoration period makeover, it was the town house of the Poles of Radburne Hall. In the 1741 election German Pole stood as the Tory candidate in the first general election of that year, being defeated by skulduggery on the part of the Whig-dominated corporation. They, knowing that the majority of Pole’s supporters would be coming in from the country and that Pole had put money behind the bar of a number of inns for their refreshment, closed the polls at lunch-time, handily disenfranchising any who had not finished their refreshments. Pole, despite having lost, gained much credit from restraining his supporters from rioting.
The Poles seem to have relinquished the house after the death of German Pole (who had built the new (present) Radburne Hall, and it was sold to John Balguy of Alfreton (pronounced ‘Bawgie’), a member of an ancient family from Hope which had gone into coal ownership in a big way, making enough money to live in Swanwick Hall by 1770. People of his ilk needed a residence in Derby, not only to stay in whilst attending the assemblies and the race-meetings (which invariably coincided) but also to be on the spot to oversee their business interests.
The Balguys made some improvement to the house, adding the plain Georgian brick façade, and parapet (barely hiding an older, uneven roofline) and installing panelling in the dining room.
Balguy bought Duffield Park in 1791, shortly after he had been appointed recorder of Derby, but, in the early 1800s, the house was let to Thomas Haden (1760-1804), later an Alderman and Mayor of Derby in 1811 and 1819. He was partner to Joseph Wright’s brother, Richard, a doctor who had inherited Dr. Erasmus Darwin’s medical practice and lived and worked in St. Alkmund’s Church Yard. Haden needed to be close to Wright’s practice, so rented the Balguy’s house in St. Michael’s church yard.
The Hadens, at the centre of Derby’s social life being friends with most of those Enlightenment period figures of the time, especially the king-pin, William Strutt who, from 1807 lived very close by at St. Helen’s House, added a ballroom embellished with neo-Classical plasterwork, lit by a large canted bay overlooking the garden.
Thomas Haden had several sons, of whom the third, Henry, a surgeon, was the only fatal casualty of the Derby Reform riot of 10-12th November 1831, when he was mugged in Queen Street, left for dead and subsequently succumbed to his injuries (he wasn’t even a Tory, but was in the wrong place at the wrong time, poor chap). In 1818 his sister Ann had married a young American-born army officer, Kirk Boott (1790-1837) who went on to become one of the founding fathers of the cotton-spinning city of Lowell, Massachusetts; the father, also Kirk, a friend of Joseph Wright’s other brother, John, a banker, had migrated to Boston in the 1770s.
One of Haden’s grandsons was the surgeon Sir Francis Seymour Haden, FRCS (1818-1910) who, although knighted for the advances he brought to obstetrical surgery and for his role as a co-founder of the Royal Hospital for the Incurables (now the Royal Hospital for Neuro-Disability), is nowadays more famous as an extremely talented artist who excelled as an etcher. As an artist, Haden was well known as having enjoyed a close relationship to the US born impressionist James Abbot MacNeil Whistler (a descendant of Ann Haden and the Boots) marrying Whistler’s half-sister Dasha Delanoy. Needless to say, like most people who befriended Whistler, they eventually fell out rather drastically. In his younger days, he had joined his grandfather’s medical practice, in direct succession to Dr. Darwin himself.
Nor did the Hadens neglect efforts to embellish the house: despite the imposition of a dreary brick rooming house which intruded into the garden, they managed to secure the seven stone urns from the parapet of the 1731 Guildhall when it was demolished in 1828, with which they embellished it. Where these all got to later is unclear, but three ended up decorating the wall built alongside Becket Street in 1852 when the road was put through the grounds of the Jacobean House, and I discovered a single survivor in 1992 when the former Queen Mary’s Maternity home in Duffield Road was being demolished; where that is now is an open question. The home, once a listed 1824 villa, was demolished shortly afterwards to make room for a thoroughly intrusive infill estate of what we used to called ‘executive homes.’
When Alderman Haden died in 1840, the Balguys reclaimed it and installed John Balguy’s youngest son, Revd. Thomas Bryan Balguy, vicar of St. Michael’s church, the old vicarage have been demolished for improvements. His two elder brothers were both men of importance in the town, the eldest, Bryan Balguy (1785-1857) serving as town clerk of Derby 1818-1841 and the next brother, John (1782-1858), succeeded his father as recorder of Derby in 1833 and lived at Ockbrook Manor, another vanished house with which I shall entertain readers on a future occasion.
The old mansion thenceforward became the vicarage of St. Michael’s church (to which the family contributed generously, when it needed to be replaced) but was severed from the millrace by the building of Sowter Road across what was left of the lower part of the garden in 1879-1882.
The building survived to be listed in the old grade III category in 1948, which was later abolished, those having been so graded being either demoted to the local list, or up-graded to grade II. However, in the later 1950s, the church was combined with Derby Cathedral (virtually next door) and lost its vicar, the result of which was that in 1959 the old mansion was torn down and, like so many historic Derby houses, the site, instead of being put to good use, was adapted as the Cathedral car park, whilst the garden was sold off and upon which was built a squash club (designed by Derek Latham, but subsequently also rather pointlessly demolished – needless to say to make way for a car park.)
Not long afterwards, St. Michael’s Lane, which runs down the north side of the site, also lost the timber framed Nottingham Castle Inn (listed grade II) and, immediately adjacent to it, a Wesleyan Chapel in which Wesley himself had preached. These sites also became car parks for nearly 40 years before being built upon. Had both been suffered to remain, be re-used and re-purposed, along with the Hadens’ and Balguys’ old house, St. Michael’s church and the Lane, all adjacent to the Silk Mill (now the Museum of Making), would have become an historic and delightful part of old Derby and not the car-infested wasteland it is today.
But that’s progress for you.