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Lost Houses of Derbyshire – Lockett’s House Wardwick, Derby

Lost Houses of Derbyshire – Lockett’s House Wardwick, Derby

The Wardwick is, even today, one of Derby’s most elegant streets; in Georgian times it was the bees’ knees as a place to live, despite having Markeaton Brook flowing along the back gardens of the houses on the north side and the Odd Brook as a meandering feature in the pleasure grounds of those on the south. Originally a pre-Norman settlement, separate from Derby, Wardwick, with its parish church dedicated to the Mercian Princess, Werburgh, was absorbed by its bigger neighbour after the Conquest, but the name survived in the street, which ran from St. James’s Bridge westward to join the main road to Ashbourne, where now is Ford Street.

The south side has survived tolerably well, although the pitching of Becket Steet, resulted in the loss of two thirds of the Jacobean House, but the north side suffered more ‘improvement’, with the Mechanics’ Institute being built on the site of a town house and a jumble of cottages, in 1836, the Museum replacing the impressive town residence built for the Locketts of Clonterbrook , Swettenham, Cheshire, in 1879, and its extension plus road widening put paid to Dr. Francis Fox’s house in 1913.

The house built for the Lockett family boasted a facade less than seven bays wide, three full storeys high and the three bay centrepiece broke forward about a foot and contained the porticoed entrance, reached up steps to a perron embellished by iron railings, probably by Benjamin Yates, Robert Bakewell’s foreman and successor. It was entirely of brick, very severe, with a banded parapet and gauged brick lintels over the windows. A single storey Regency brick bow was later added to the west (garden) front in the 1810/1820 period. However, the only known picture of it, by S. H. Parkins of Derby, was done retrospectively, so we cannot fully rely on it as a true rendering of the original. One is inclined to suspect that it was a lot better proportioned and may also have included more detailing; one suspects a first-floor sill band might have been included, for instance.

The house was built for William Merrill Lockett (1732-1777) in 1751, on the legacy left by his father, William, an opulent parson, who had long been incumbent of the combined parishes of St. Werburgh and St. Michael, Derby, as well as serving as perpetual curate of Osmaston-by-Derby. He was the second son of Jeffery Lockett of Clonterbrook, Swettenham, Cheshire, a house built in 1697, sold by the parson’s cousin once removed (another William who preferred to live in Knutsford) and re-purchased by the family in 1939. The family had extensive trading and shipping interests in Liverpool.

William Merrill Lockett himself went to Derby School and Inner Temple, before setting himself up as an attorney in 1757, and being appointed Town Clerk of Derby in 1765. The plain-ness of the house is typical of the period, and it is not impossible that the architect was a London acquaintance of the young Lockett. The alternative is that it may have come from a London pattern book and have been put up by a Derby builder. Certainly, it is unique in Derby in its austere façade. 

Unfortunately, Lockett died in 1777, unmarried, and the property devolved upon his cousin twice removed, William Jeffery Lockett (1768-1839), in whose time Stephen Glover described the place as ‘a large and handsome house’. However, W. J. Lockett was only nine when he inherited his cousin’s Derby property, and it is likely that the house was let in the interim. In the event, he took up occupancy there on his marriage in 1794 to Anne, daughter of William Bilbie of Berry Hill Hall, Mansfield, whose mother was an heiress of a member of the Barber family of Greasley; Anne Lockett’s bother was indeed another lawyer, and it may be that he occupied the house for a while.

Prior to being culverted to create The Strand in 1870 (at the expense of opulent railway contractor Sir Abraham Woodiwiss) the Markeaton Brook, running along the northern boundary of the property, tended to overflow when it backed up, due to the Derwent, into which it flows, being in spate. The Revd. Thomas Mozley – brother-in-law to Cardinal Newman – knew Lockett’s House well, writing in around 1825: 

The gas came in 1820, sponsored by William Strutt. 

Thomas Mozley described W J Lockett as ‘Copley’s friend’, here referring to the Anglo-Irish but American born artist, John Singleton Copley (1738-1815), who came to England in 1774 and never returned to his native land. The friendship’s origin is difficult to disentangle, but it is said that Copley and his wife were frequent visitors to the house, and that Lockett stood by him during his least, lean years, during the French wars. Indeed, Lockett’s influence may have been seminal in inspiring their son John (later 1st Lord Lyndhurst, thrice Lord Chancellor) to take up law. There must be a portrait of Lockett by Copley (whose portraits are highly rated over his historical scenes) and it may be it is with the family still, in Cheshire. The only surprise is that there are not more Derby or Derbyshire people amongst his known commissions, but maybe his visits were to escape the tyrany of his easel.

Self portrait of J S Copley c1795 (US National Portrait Gallery)

Lockett became a member of the Derby Philosophical Society at about the time that Copley died, where he was befriended by William Strutt. He served on the Derby bench and, on his death in 1839 – the year of the first great exhibition of the arts and sciences in the new Mechanics’ Institute next door – the house passed to his only child, William, then forty-two and his father’s partner in his legal practice, which he continued until his own death, unmarried, in 1848. 

Following the success of the exhibition of 1839, those behind it, including William Strutt’s son Edward (later 1st Lord Belper), Douglas Fox (whose family lived next door to the Locketts) and other members of the Derby Philosophical Society had gathered together a number of the more important specimens from the event, to which Strutt and his uncle Joseph (the founder of Derby’s arboretum) added specimens of all sorts, including a plaster-filled crocodile and an Egyptian mummy. These were kept for the time being in the Mechanics’ Institute, but in time, became too numerous, and needed to be moved. They were accordingly offered to the Corporation as the nucleus of a museum for Derby but, by this date, those Enlightenment-inspired men who had previously dominated the Borough’s affairs had moved on and the harder-nosed new generation peremptorily refused the offer.

However, on the death of Lockett, junior, his executors were prevailed upon to make part of the house available for the collection, which then formed the Town and County Museum, whilst a few rooms (previously the Locketts’ offices) were also let in 1858 to John Borough of Eaton Bank (1831-1922), who had set up in practice as a solicitor.

One of Derby’s two members of Parliament at this time was Michael Thomas Bass (1799-1884), third generation brewer at Burton, and phenomenally wealthy. He had already made several generous donations to the town (which had been accepted) and in 1876 proposed to donate a building to house a library and the collections of the Town and County Museum. This offer was, this time, gratefully accepted, and after a competition, a scheme by Richard Knill Freeman of Bolton-le-Moors (1838-1904) was selected.

The plot chosen was, needless to say, that on which stood  Lockett’s House, where the potential exhibits were, even then, residing, which was excellent news for them, but not so good for Mr. Lockett’s place, which came down in 1877 for the footings to go in.

During the 25 years I worked at the Museum I searched for relics of the house, but absolutely none seemed identifiable, but I was able to re-display Mr. Strutt’s mummies and once had to help carry the (very heavy) plaster-stuffed croc along the Wardwick, much to the amusement of passers-by.

Yet, unlike most houses featured in this series of articles, at least it could be said that it was lost in a good cause!


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