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Lost Houses of Derbyshire – Stapenhill Hall

Lost Houses of Derbyshire – Stapenhill Hall

By Maxwell Craven

Derbyshire lost more parishes to Staffordshire than it gained under the local government reforms of 1887 and thereafter: Clifton Campville, Croxall, Edingale, Winshill and Stapenhill among them. The desire of the Borough Burton-upon-Trent to increase rating revenue, for instance, added to a sort of municipal tidy mindedness, resulting in the transfer in 1894 of Stapenhill and Winshill to that Borough as well.

There was some logic in this, as Stapenhill and Burton face each other across the Trent, the former on a bluff and the latter upon water-meadows prone, since the fourteenth century climate anomaly and the ‘little ice age’ which followed, to flooding. Even by 1894, the great and good of the Borough tended to build opulent villas there (mainly brewers or their well remunerated legal advisors), giving them splendid views west and south west over the river and town. Here, the brewers could keep an eye on their works from the comfort of their smoking room banquettes.

Until 1538, Burton was dominated by its Abbey, founded by the Saxon grandee Wulfric Spot in 1004. Their land holdings grew to  include part of Stapenhill, enhanced in 1192 by bequest on the death of its long-standing lord, Bertram de Verdon. According to the Staffordshire Victoria County History, there was a capital messuage at Stapenhill by the time the abbey was dissolved which, in 1546, was acquired with the rest of the abbey’s property, by William, 1st Lord Paget of Beaudesert, whose family were to dominate the history of Burton for the next four centuries, rising in eminence to become Marquesses of Anglesey.

The Abbey’s leading tenants of the estate were the Abell family, originally recorded at Ticknall in the early 14th century, and who continued in occupation under the Pagets. John Abell was tenant at the dissolution, and his family must have built the first hall. His descendant, George Abell had his coat-of-arms confirmed in 1611, but his son Robert decided for reasons of religion (he was a Puritan) to migrate to America and settled in Massachusetts, where his family continued to flourish.

The house as recorded on an early map and later in 1731 by Samuel and Nathaniel Buck, was a relatively simple L-plan brick house of two storeys and attics with an extension added to its rear. The only clue we have to the successors of the Abells as tenants is that Edward Hunt was taxed on nine hearths there in 1670, indicating that the house was of a pretty reasonable size. Nothing much can be discovered about Hunt, who was probably the person who married Dorothy Parker at Lichfield in 1659. It may be that he was steward to 6th Lord Paget, an eminent diplomat and consequently rarely in Staffordshire.

Stapenhill Hall garden front c.1890

However, thanks to Derbyshire historian William Woolley, we know that the house was renewed or replaced in the late 17th century by Hunt’s successor Charles Blount, who, he stated in 1713,

 ‘… had an estate here and not long since built a pretty good house on the banks of the Trent., which runs under it, who sold it to Paul Ballidon, Esq.’

Charles Blount was the younger son of Sir Henry Blount of Tittenhanger, descended from the Blounts of Blount’s Hall, a long-vanished house in Burton itself. The family, which also had Stenson House for a while, were a junior branch of the Medieval Blounts, Lords Mountjoy, of Barton Blount. The transaction implies, also, that the property had become detached from Lord Paget’s estate by that time, too.

Ballidon married Sarah, daughter of Sir Thomas Gresley of Drakelow, Bt., at Stapenhill in 1715, suggesting he was already in residence by that date, but he died in 1729 without leaving any surviving issue, being followed by his widow in 1736, both being interred at Derby, where Paul’s grandfather (another Paul) had been a merchant and his great-grandfather, a mercer, had been Bailiff in 1574. The family took their name from Ballidon, in the White Peak, where one Peter de Ballidon was recorded as early as 1201.

It has proved impossible to identify exactly what happened then. There was a cousin, Robert in London and others at Trusley, so one or other branch of the family probably inherited the estate, and perhaps sold it, but to whom is a mystery, although Paul’s will would no doubt make matters a little clearer.

Stapenhill Hall next appears on record in 1833 when John Levett (of the family then living at Wychnor Hall) was the owner and also in residence, as a notice in the Derby Mercury assures those interested in the house and 15 acres of gardens, that he would be available to show them round. Clearly the Levetts had acquired the estate and John lived there while his father, Theophilus, was alive, moving to Wychnor once his Stapenhill residence was let. The new tenant was Thomas Allsopp of the brewing family, who later moved to The Mount at Newton Solney. 

A view of Burton from c.1860, showing the house as freshly rebuilt, again tucked away in the left of the painting

Yet, ten years previously, the Levett family had sold the estate (but retained the house and gardens) to banker and brewer Joseph Clay in 1823. The Clays were directors of Bass, who had been building up a portfolio of property in Stapenhill from 1817 when Joseph had acquired the Stapenhill holdings of Thomas Lea, bankrupt, against a mortgage of £1,280 and, also through marriage with Sarah, only daughter of John Spender of Stapenhill.  His eldest son Henry, soon afterwards bought the house as well into which he moved, although he much later settled grandly at now derelict Piercefield Park, on the edge of Chepstow racecourse. He thereupon rebuilt the house, subsequently re-named and described as ‘Stapenhill House…a handsome mansion’.

The rebuilding, completed by 1857, was fairly drastic, providing the south (garden) front with three stone coped gables and fairly deep mullion and transom cross windows also in stone. To the west there was an extension of another wide bay, carried towards the rear by a further four bays, the central pair, like the central bay of the main front, recessed. It was only on the side elevations that the late 17th century brickworks and a few blocked windows could be seen. He also added a stable block and offices, including town gas and modern plumbing. The architect was almost certainly Robert Grace of Burton-upon-Trent, who had designed Cliffe House, Newton Solney for Samuel Ratcliff (another brewer) in very similar style in 1860 and who built several brewery buildings at Burton for Bass, Ratcliff & Gretton.

However, his desire for life on the Wye, away from the pervading yeasty odours of Burton, led to his letting the house to his brother Joseph Spender Clay, who redesigned the gardens through the agency of John Barron & Son of Borrowash.  On Henry Clay’s death in 1874, his son (another Henry, and ancestor of the Clays of Herefordshire) found he had no more use for the place than his father (who had in any case sold much of the estate to enable the building of much of modern Stapenhill) and sold it to his youngest brother, Charles John Clay who lived there for a while before letting the house yet again, this time in 1894 to the firm’s solicitor, Henry Goodger, who finally acquired the freehold in 1911.

Meanwhile, of course, Stapenhill had become part of the Borough of Burton, and Goodger’s widow, Mary, became in 1931, Burton’s first female Mayor. However, on her death two years later, death duties forced her son, H W Goodger to retrench, in the process of which he gave the house and parkland to the Borough. 

Whilst Goodger may have anticipated a community use for the house – which, after all was relatively new and in excellent repair – his mother’s former colleagues on the council resolved to demolish it without delay, but with the compensatory element that they re-landscaped the site and opened the gardens, in May 1933 in Alderman Mrs. Goodger’s memory.

The gardens still exist, although they suffered somewhat by the building of the approach road to the new St. Peter’s Bridge 1983-1985. Nor was Stapenhill Hall (later House) the last large mansion in Stapenhill to be demolished through the following years, but any account of one of them will have to wait for another occasion. 


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