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Lost Houses – Potlock House


Potlock – the name derives from Old English ‘potte’ (depression) and  ‘lacu’ (stream) has had a long history. The site is crossed E-W by one of Derbyshire’s two Neolithic cursus monuments, huge communal enterprises of unknown utility, which are today only visible as crop marks and, in the case of this one, as a geophysics reading in places. A bronze age settlement, which sprang up near it, lasted until the period of the English settlements in the 7th century AD, when it was replaced by a new settlement further away, itself deserted in the Middle Ages.

Potlock emerges onto the pages of history in the Domesday Book as part of the large manor of Mickleover, originally granted by Wulfric Spot to Burton Abbey around 1002, taken by the Conqueror in 1066 and returned to the monks by 1086, when the book was complied. We know from other sources that Potlock, with land at Willington and Findern was then held by Humphrey de Touques, otherwise Humphrey de Willington or de Chebsey, a Norman sub-tenant of the Abbey.

His sons were the crusader Geoffrey de Potlock who held Potlock, later deemed a manor in its own right, with its mill by the Trent and John de Willington of Willington, ancestor of the family of that name. Geoffrey’s offsprings included Humphrey de Thoca, ancestor of the Toke family, who held Potlock, Anslow (Staffs.), Sinfin, and part of Hilton, and another Geoffrey, ancestor of a family called de Potlock.

Dr. Cox, in his four volume Derbyshire Church Notes tells us that the manor lay either side of the Trent, the larger part, to the south, having been granted by the Findern family to Repton Priory, the family having retained the northern part, on which lay the manor house and “close to it”, the chapel of St. Leonard. He also tells us that the chapel was first endowed by John de Toke in 1323 with a chaplain, house and 14 acres, and that the Finderns, who inherited Potlock from this John by marriage, used Potlock Manor as their principal seat, rather than that at Findern.

This as all fine and dandy as far as it goes, but the Burton Chartulary clarifies matters. The manor did lie on both sides of the river, but the islands there were granted separately to the Abbey by Ralph Gernon, Earl of Chester during the civil war or Brother Cadfael’s war, as readers of the detective stories of Ellis Peters might prefer to term it (1135-1154). They were then granted to the Tokes. The chapel was actually founded by around 1210 when a chaplain (un-named) is mentioned, and in 1255 a charter sets out the terms under which, it was to be maintained in some detail. John de Toke in 1323 was merely confirming what had been a going concern since at least 1200, probably longer. One odd thing is the dedication (not mentioned in the charters): St. Leonard was usually reserved for leper colony chapels, like Locko, Derby and Burton Lazars (Leics.). Could there be more to be learnt about this chapel, which from all accounts appears principally to be that pertaining to the manor house?

The Finderns bought back the chief lordship from William, 1st Lord Paget, who in 1546 had obligingly purchased all the Burton Abbey lands from his monarch.  They probably rebuilt the old manor house, which without much doubt had been built around a central courtyard (this is how what was then left of it appeared on the 1781 Enclosure Award map). They were not a notably wealthy family, probably contented themselves with rebuilding the south range (as being the sunniest) endowing it with perhaps a new great hall, lit from high up fairly deep windows. From the death of Michael Findern in the earlier 17th century, though, the estate passed to the Harpurs of Swarkestone, if Judge Richard Harpur hadn’t already bought it fifty years earlier when he married Michael’s great aunt and ultimate heiress (as it turned out). In either case, as a manor house it had become redundant after the tenure in the 1670s of John Thacker, a son of Godfrey Thacker of Repton Hall.

By this time, it is generally agreed that the chapel had been despoiled or ruined; the village had probably vanished earlier, in the Black Death. The end of the Finderns inevitably led to the reduction of the house to become a tenanted farm. This may have involved the demolition of its older ranges, or their conversion into farm buildings and the division of the great hall horizontally to make two storeys, where one had been previously. It would further appear that the Chapel had gone entirely; its raison d’etre, its usefulness as a domestic chapel, would have evaporated anyhow. Only Chapel Close, lying between the site of the Manor house and the Trent, south of the road, remains, although it is said that the foundations, visible in 1805 when the last vestiges of the Manor were cleared away, could be clearly seen from the air in the dry summer of 1976.

We are told that the old house was destroyed by John Glover, who described himself as a gentleman and had been its Harpur tenant (no doubt with the support of the estate). It was replaced by a very pleasing five bay two storey house with a central break-fronted pediment containing a delightful ogiform Gothick light. It was of brick and covered with Brookhouse’s Roman Cement, manufactured on The Morledge, Derby. The rear was much plainer and may also have contained earlier work, left over from the Medieval manor house. There seems to be no record of the interior.

A peculiarity of this delightful house, latterly pale pink washed, was that the two storeys to the west (left) of the entrance were typical of 1805 in being half-height first floor over full-height ground floor, but that the remainder was of two storeys where the first floor was actually higher than that below. Now this arrangement is pretty typical of Elizabethan practice – in extreme form, note the disposition of floors at, say, Hardwick. I suspect that this part of the building had been adapted from the rebuilt Tudor great hall, resulting in the high windows, which had originally lit the entire hall being sashed to light the new house’s first floor, with new openings put in below to light the ground floor, created in all probability when the space was converted into part of a farmhouse and then lit by low mullioned windows.

When Mr. Glover came along, the architect – almost certainly Samuel Brown of Derby and employed by the notoriously thrifty Harpur estate – decided to demolish the inconvenient surviving medieval fabric and adapt part of the more recent build into the “modern farmhouse” from which Glover and his son John Jowett Glover farmed the entire 364 acres of the old estate, then still co-terminus with the township of Potlock which, in 1846, contained the grand total of two houses and a population of 16! In 1879, the Bull family (originally from Cubley) came as tenants of the farm, staying until 1894.

After a century and a half, the first indignity forced on this pretty house with its guardian cedar tree was the erection of the huge Willington power station in the 1950s; the second was the advent in the 1970s of Messrs. Amey Roadstone, extracting gravel nearby, who bought the house and land, leaving it empty and decaying from late in 1981. In 1982 they applied for permission to demolish the grade II listed house, which led to a local enquiry refusing consent. But, as is inevitable in such cases, they got their way in the end, and it went a year or so later. The final indignity was that the actual site has still to this day not been used for gravel extraction; the whole exercise would appear to have been completely un-necessary. Worse, it is probably too late to demand they fund an archaeological investigation, but in truth, it would be a golden opportunity to investigate this most ancient site.

The loss of such ancient places and environments in the Trent Valley, almost the cradle of civilisation in the whole region, to power stations, pylons, power lines, trunk roads and factories – Toyota being the largest and most recent, something future generations will find hard to forgive.


  1. Fascinating. I am puzzled however by the reference to John Thacker son of Godfrey Thacker in the 1670s when according to G.D. Squibb, the 1662 Visitation stated that this John Thacker “dyed onmaried” (Harleian Soc. New Series, vol.8 [1989], p.22). What is the documentary source for the statement about this John? Is it Cox, or elsewhere?


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