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Lost Houses of Derbyshire – The New Inn Derby

Lost Houses of Derbyshire – The New Inn Derby

by Maxwell Craven

I decided to take a break from country houses this month and mention a licensed house – not that I have run out of the former, but I felt a building as substantial as this merited inclusion, especially as it had a notable place in the history of local coaching and for its connections with the great and good of Derby. 

As one travels about and, from time to time, calls at inns for refreshment, one is often amazed by the number which style themselves coaching inns without the slightest justification. The coaching inn was, after all, effectively home from home for the well-heeled traveller, aiming to provide the sort of accommodation as a modest country house for the convenience of the inside passengers, extensive stabling for teams of horses, and accommodation for the crews as well. Frequently, the stops en route, rather than overnight ones, were done with enormous speed, such was the competition and tight scheduling on the turnpike roads of the 18th and 19th centuries. Hence, they tended to be spaced at approximately a half-day’s drive between each other on major routes and were mainly in towns and always in the turnpike roads rather than down narrow lanes. 

One of the last of the celebrated coaching inns in Derby to be built, between 1761 and 1766, was the appropriately named New Inn at the corner of Bridge Gate and King Street and opposite St. Helen’s House. Like the latter, it was probably designed by Joseph Pickford of Derby (1734-1782), although stylistic confirmation is not possible due to a thorough rebuilding some-time after 1873, when a part of it had been lost to street widening and a new façade was put onto the original two and a half storey brick building – and rather awkwardly, to boot, as its cornice stood forward of the roof eaves by a foot. 

The new King Street front, however, was handsome enough, the window openings almost certainly corresponding to those originally existing, although the sashes were of the upper leaf with glazing bars over plate glass type. Below, the sills were shaped aprons of rubbed brick which, with the playful interplay of string courses, banding and keyblocks, evoked the style of the young Alexander MacPherson (who was a Nottingham man with a busy Derby office) as having been the architect for the alterations. The side elevation was also re-fenestrated at the same time, but within the old openings with their rusticated lintels retained. 

Dr. Richard Wright, painted as a young man by his 19 year old brother, Joseph

The inn was built for George Wallis, a relative of Joseph Wright and of the Gells of Hopton; indeed, Sir William Gell is known to have stayed there when in Derby in 1793, on the occasion on which he painted old St Helen’s House from an upper window, giving us a vital record of its appearance seven years prior to its demise. 

The Wallises were probably the single most important inn-holding family in Derby’s history, and the New Inn remained in their family through three generations and four proprietorships. George Wallis (1694-1780) was the son of a John Wallis, both blacksmiths in King Street, the site of their works – almost opposite the site of the inn – being so occupied until the later 1960s. 

George’s son, George Wallis I (1731-1786) was a born entrepreneur, and probably had access to the funds he needed through his marriage in 1753 to Rebecca, daughter of John Clarke, a Nottingham Road maltster, whose family ran the Derby Brewery right through the 19th century. George had, though, been apprenticed to his father, becoming a freeman of the Borough in 1754, and initiated a series of stage coach and mail services from his newly founded inn from the start, buying up others’ routes and consolidating his hold both regionally and nationally in a remarkably short period of time. 

Notable amongst these coaches was the Derby Diligence (‘Dilly’), a service which, amongst others, he later franchised out (to the Bell in this case) simply because the New Inn could not alone cope by the dawn of the following century, with the pressure of all the Wallis services running through Derby. The ‘Dilly’ ran from Derby to Nottingham on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at a fare for inside passengers of 4/- (20p). Wallis also had, by 1773, a mourning coach and hearse for hire and did a roaring trade in funerals and wakes. 

His sister, Sarah married Dr. Richard Wright, the painter Joseph’s older brother, in 1774 but the absence of any known portrait of a Wallis by the artist seems strange: perhaps they are out there still, but the identity of their sitters has got lost. On George Wallis’s death, he was succeeded by his eldest son William Wallis I (1763-1791). His wife was a cousin of Alderman Samuel Rowland, the co-proprietor of the Derby Mercury, and his elder sister, Sarah married Alderman Dr. Thomas Haden, Richard Wright’s young partner, later father-in-law of Kirk Boott, the founder of Lowell, Massachusetts, USA.  

Although Wallis died young, like his father, he left three children, of whom the only son, George Wallis II (1788-1834) was too young to succeed him at the New Inn but later married the widowed Mrs. Hoare and through this astute move became also the proprietor of the King’s Head in Corn Market, another much more venerable coaching inn. One of William’s daughters, Sarah, became related by marriage to William Billingsley, the celebrated Derby China painter, and through him to William Wheeldon, another China painter, whilst the other daughter, Anne, married one of Billingsley’s former colleagues, the talented George Robertson.

In 1791, therefore, William Wallis’s widow Felicia took the inn over, but was quickly supplanted by her brother-in-law, Alderman John Wallis (1776-1821). He was a prominent Tory, the founder of the Derby True Blue Club (which, inevitably, met at the inn, but later at the King’s Head). He was also the All Saints’ team leader in the Derby Shrovetide football. He, too, ran a tavern, the Black Boy, St. Peter’s Street, until 1817. In 1801 he married Sarah, the daughter of yet another China painter from the Derby factory, John Yates, himself a landlord, in retirement, of the Seven Stars, Nottingham Road. She died in 1821, leaving four sons and two daughters, and her husband, true to family precedent, also died relatively young in the October, when an advertisement appeared informing the public that the ‘business [is] continuing for the benefit of the late Mr. John Wallis’s family.’

This left the 19-year old eldest son, William (II) Wallace Wallis (1802-1859) in charge. Fortunately, he was also endowed with talent, an acute business sense and boundless energy. He decided that he couldn’t run both the inn and the coaching business, so in 1829 he let the inn to one Isaac Spencer and retained the posting and coaching business. Spencer held a memorable Coronation dinner at the New Inn in 1838, and it became the venue for auctions, too. 

W. W. Wallis married twice, leaving children by both marriages, his first wife Sarah (nee Wightman) being painted on a Derby porcelain plaque by William Corden around 1830. In the event, Isaac Spencer soon handed control of the inn over to William’s brother George Wallis III, who also took on the King’s Head from his uncle George (II) around 1846. W. W. Wallis’s third brother, John (1809-1885) who was latterly of Gerard Street, was listed as a publican, but so far the identification of his pub has proved elusive. A fourth brother, Robert (1810-1871) became landlord of the Green Man at Ashbourne, where he was succeeded by three of his sons in succession down to 1898. He was ancestor of the much late but much liked Dick Wallis (1931-1984) of the Derby Evening Telegraph. 

William Wallis II, however, was also shrewd enough to forsee the rapid decline of the coaching trade when the railways came, so he divested himself of his coaching enterprises to less astute proprietors and re-invented himself as the booking and freight consignment agent for the Midland Railway. He also initiated an omnibus service which ran from the new Trijunct Station (now Derby Midland) to Derby Market Place from 1840. He ran a large number of wagon services as well and was for a time landlord – of all unlikely inns – the Milton’s Head in Ossian Street, conceivably connected with his omnibus enterprises. 

His second son, Percy, succeeded him as the MR’s agent, and his eldest son, Alfred (1833-1918) later became editor of the Derby Mercury. In the 1900s the New Inn was owned by James Eadie & Co, but sub-let in 1903 to Zachary Smith’s brewery of Shardlow before Marston’s took it on in 1922. By this time, though, it had become merely a large town pub, probably too large for the trade it attracted and closely surrounded by other watering holes. Yet, by 1929, it had been acquired by Derby brewers, Offiler, which in 1964 was taken over by Charrington, and which in turn a year or so later was absorbed by Bass. 

Bass closed the New Inn in 1967, in advance of the re-development of the area, to accommodate the new Inner Ring Road, which was to be put through in a vast cutting right on its site.  It was therefore demolished the following year. The site is now a fume-filled abyss solely dedicated to the passage of motor cars. Derby’s only Georgian Square, adjacent, in St. Alkmund’s Church Yard was destroyed at the same time, not to mention St. Alkmund’s church itself, the most ancient site in Derby itself, where an Anglo-Saxon minster had been founded in 921.


    1. Hi,
      I beg to differ, it was flattened in 1968 to accommodate the ring road. The end of the article gives the details of why it was demolished.

      Hope that clears that up.


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