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Lost Houses of Derbyshire – Measham Hall

Lost Houses of Derbyshire – Measham Hall
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‭W‬ell informed readers might be tempted to say‭, ‬on seeing the subject of this article‭, ‬that Measham is not in Derbyshire at all‭, ‬which seems all wrong in view of the fact that we try to present histories of lost‭ ‬Derbyshire‭ ‬houses‭. ‬All it not quite as it seems‭, ‬however‭, ‬as Measham was until 1897‭ ‬very definitely part of Derbyshire‭, ‬one of a number of‭ ‬enclaves entirely surrounded by Leicestershire‭, ‬which tidy-minded legislation of 1889‭ ‬set out to resolve‭. ‬Furthermore‭, ‬the church of Measham was originally a chapel-of-ease of Repton parish church‭.‬

These enclaves were formed in the tenth and eleventh centuries by assarting‭ (‬clearing of woodland for cultivation‭) ‬by Derbyshire‭ ‬people in land that had not at that time been fully shired in the wake of the unification of re-conquered Mercia with Wessex to‭ ‬form the Kingdom of England‭. ‬The southernmost was Ravenstone‭; ‬others included Chilcote‭, ‬part of Donisthorpe‭, ‬Oakthorpe‭, ‬Packington‭, ‬Snibston‭, ‬Appleby Parva and part of Magna‭, ‬Stretton-en-le-Field and Willesley‭ (‬the hall at which we have already dealt with‭). ‬We lost Clifton Campville and part of Edingale to Staffordshire and received both Seals‭, ‬Over and Nether‭, ‬in return‭.‬

The ancient manorial estate was from the Conquest with the de Measham family‭, ‬but in 1308‭ ‬it passed via an heiress to the Bereforts and thence to the Blounts of Barton Blount‭, ‬Lords Mountjoy‭, ‬from whom it came in the Civil War to the Sheffields‭, ‬Dukes of Buckingham and Normanby‭, ‬then the Wollastons‭, ‬who sold much of the land‭, ‬long heavily mined for its coal‭, ‬to Robert Abney in 1730‭. ‬

The Abneys probably originated from the village of that name in the Peak‭, ‬the first known representative being William son of John Abney of Hope‭, ‬not so far away‭, ‬living 1310‭. ‬Just over a century later they inherited Willesley‭, ‬where they remained until 1858‭. ‬George Abney of Willesley who died in 1579‭ ‬left three sons‭. ‬The eldest continued at Willesley‭, ‬whilst the second Edmund was‭ ‬a Leicester merchant‭, ‬married a daughter of a mayor of the place and their son Dannatt Abney was also mayor there‭. ‬A descendant‭,‬‭ ‬Paul‭, ‬served in the navy on the frigate‭ ‬HMS Josiah‭ ‬and died in Virginia‭, ‬where his posterity remained and flourished mightily as prominent landowners and attorneys‭.‬

The youngest son settled on an estate at Newton Burgoland‭,  ‬and his great grandson was Robert‭, ‬whose elder surviving son became‭ ‬a mill owner at Oldbury‭, ‬Staffs‭., ‬in the Black Country‭ (‬then a lot less black‭, ‬of course‭) ‬whilst the younger‭, ‬William‭ (‬1713-1800‭) ‬was given the land at Measham to develop the coal‭.‬

This must have proved rewarding‭, ‬for in 1767‭ ‬he resolved to build a house on the land‭, ‬and indeed seems to have spared little expense in so doing‭, ‬being aided in this by his wife‭, ‬Catherina‭, ‬who he had married in 1743‭ ‬and who later inherited an estate at Little Canons‭, ‬Herts‭. ‬from her father‭, ‬Thomas Wootton‭. ‬By 1767‭, ‬they had four young sons and two daughters and probably needed a‭ ‬house of sufficient size‭, ‬commensurate with their status‭, ‬and to build it at Measham was probably the ideal site‭.‬

The Palladian building which resulted is not fully understood as there seems to be no proper survey surviving‭, ‬but it was a two‭ ‬and a half storey brick house‭, ‬seven bays wide on the main‭ (‬south‭) ‬front with the central three bays breaking slightly forward under a pediment‭. ‬This contained a round carved stone cartouche set unusually low down on the cornice containing the family crest‭ (‬a demi-lion issuant or holding between the paws an ogress‭) ‬flanked with palm fronds‭. ‬The ground floor end bays had each a tripartite window set in rusticated surrounds‭, ‬whilst the rest‭ ‬of the windows had gauged brick lintels‭. ‬There was a sill band at first floor level and a plat band between the first and second‭ ‬floors with rusticated quoins at the angles‭, ‬all topped by a rather perfunctory cornice supporting a hipped roof with central light well‭. ‬The side elevations were of three bays‭, ‬where the fenestration was set in stone surrounds and the windows on the first and ground floors were embellished with triangular pediments‭, ‬whilst the central top-floor window was octagonal‭. ‬The entrance‭ ‬was to the east‭.‬

The interior was apparently of some pretension‭, ‬with a mahogany staircase rising through the height of the house in the central‭ ‬well with three turned balusters per tread‭. ‬Unfortunately‭, ‬little detail has survived otherwise‭, ‬although the portrait of Jedediah Strutt by Joseph Wright‭, ‬now in Derby Museum‭, ‬hung in the house from the mid nineteenth century‭, ‬where it was recorded in 1907‭.‬

In true Palladian style‭, ‬the house was flanked by two smaller pavilions joined to the main building by short single storey links‭. ‬These were on one and a half storeys three bays wide under a pyramidal roof‭. ‬The ground floor windows were set in a blind arcade and a first-floor sill band extended under a panelled parapet over the links‭. ‬In all‭, ‬it made a very satisfying ensemble‭. ‬The‭ ‬well-wooded park extended to thirty acres‭.‬

The architect of the house is not known for certain‭, ‬but in the 2001‭ ‬third edition of‭ ‬The Derbyshire Country House‭ ‬I opined that it might have been William Henderson of Loughborough‭, ‬a close contemporary of Joseph Pickford‭. ‬Now I know more about Henderson‭, ‬I do not think he was involved‭, ‬but instead would suggest William Harrison‭ (‬c‭. ‬1740-1794‭). ‬He started in Derby‭, ‬son of a joiner and was styled‭ ‬‘architect and surveyor’‭ ‬by the time that Measham Hall was begun‭. ‬He was building the Clergy Widows’‭ ‬Almshouses at Ashbourne at that same period‭. ‬It is possible that working for the Abneys brought him in contact with potential clients at Leicester‭, ‬for he settled there soon afterwards‭. ‬His magnificent Leicester Asylum has stylistically much in common with the somewhat more elaborate Measham Hall

The eldest son‭, ‬Robert Abney‭, ‬died without surviving issue‭, ‬when the estate was inherited by his next brother‭, ‬the Revd‭. ‬Edward‭ ‬Abney from whom it descended to the grandson‭, ‬Capt‭. ‬William Wootton Abney‭ (‬1807-1866‭), ‬who also died without surviving issue‭, ‬leaving everything to his brother‭, ‬another Edward‭.‬

This Edward‭ (‬1811-1892‭) ‬was a parson‭, ‬living in a grand Regency house on Burton Road outside Derby called The Firs‭ (‬still extant‭, ‬albeit altered‭). ‬He was long the vicar of St‭. ‬Alkmund’s church‭, ‬having been instrumental in its rebuilding by Henry Isaac Stevens in 1847-48‭. ‬He had married Katherine‭, ‬daughter of the younger Jedediah Strutt in 1833‭. ‬He was also Dean of Derby and a close friend of the neighbouring Mundys of Markeaton Hall‭, ‬where he met their brother-in-law‭, ‬W H Fox-Talbot‭, ‬who interested him in photography and‭, ‬in the 1840s‭, ‬he taught his‭ ‬élève,‭ ‬the young Richard Keene the art‭, ‬too‭.‬

On inheriting‭, ‬he seems to have added the canted bay onto the garden window of the drawing room‭, ‬rusticated to match the end bays and probably also the work of Stevens‭. ‬He also partly re-glazed the house with plate glass‭ (‬to its detriment in my view‭). ‬His‭ ‬son was Sir William Abney KCB FRS‭ (‬1843-1920‭), ‬a pioneer of scientific education and also of photography‭, ‬presiding over the first steps towards polaroid photography and colour printing‭. ‬His wife’s sister married Revd‭. ‬Canon J C Cox‭, ‬FSA‭, ‬a notable Derbyshire antiquary‭.‬

It was Sir William’s son‭, ‬Lancelot who moved away‭, ‬selling the house to the Measham Colliery Company‭, ‬in an echo of the similar and contemporary sale of the hall at Shipley to the local colliery company‭. ‬From thereon‭, ‬its fate was sealed‭. ‬

Nevertheless‭, ‬it was lived in by the colliery manager and partly used as offices‭, ‬but nationalisation of the coal industry led to its being instead crudely divided as flats‭. ‬The fact that the company had extended workings beneath the house from 1928‭ ‬was one thing‭, ‬but in the virulently egalitarian post-war world‭, ‬with the well-remembered class warrior Emanuel Shinwell as Minister for Fuel and Power‭, ‬it was felt that‭, ‬as at Shipley‭, ‬Stainsby House‭, ‬Erddig in Denbighshire‭ (‬and more so at Wentworth Woodhouse‭),‬‭ ‬to mine away the coal left beneath the house would be acceptable‭. ‬Inevitably‭, ‬the building soon began to suffer subsidence problems with the result that in 1958‭ ‬it was evacuated‭.‬

In 1959‭, ‬therefore‭, ‬this fine house was cleared away in the name of progress‭: ‬a serious loss in terms in landscape and heritage‭,‬‭ ‬things we now tend to value much more than‭  ‬in the age of austerity‭. ‬

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