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The Lost Houses of Derbyshire – Beaufort House, Derby

The Lost Houses of Derbyshire – Beaufort House, Derby

By Maxwell Craven

“Some years ago, a friend who is a keen collector of local postcards, Don Gwinnett, sent me a copy of a postcard of a delightful house with Gothic windows, labelled Cowsley Fields. I loved the look of the house, and decided to try and identify it, which I may say I had great difficulty in doing. Being on the edge of Chaddesden and just down the slope from the termination of the memorable Stanley Footrill Colliery Tramway, but (just) within the Borough boundary, I consulted Peter Cholerton, who has researched and understood the history of Chaddesden most thoroughly, and he was very helpful.”

What emerges is that this photograph is of Beaufort House in Cowsley Fields – the area due north of Nottingham Road, abutting the cricket ground/racecourse (as was) and a few hundred yards north east of St. Mark’s Church – hence, of course, Beaufort Street, which runs N-S across the site, and is the only street in the area not named after a British or Irish county. We came to the conclusion that the name on the card got there because the house lay in Cowsley Fields and not because it was itself called that, although it wasn’t called Beaufort House either prior to 1853. Nearby Cowsley Field House and Cowsley Farm (also long vanished) looked completely different. 

Peter told me that by 1853 the house was The Pavilion Tea Gardens, built as a place of public resort and refreshment which faced west and would have provided a pleasant view across the racecourse. The racecourse at Derby had been on The Holmes from the turn of the century, but in 1833 racing was discontinued and, by the time a new committee had been set up to effect a revival, plans to build the new Trijunct railway station on the site had been mooted. A new venue had to be found. 

For some years the new Derby Race Committee – chaired by the Duke of Devonshire – had a struggle to find a new venue. Eventually, some of the land in Little Chester, to the east of the canal, including Cowsley Fields, was lighted upon and after some years’ development, the first meeting at the new racecourse was held in May 1848. 

This upheaval therefore, led to the foundation of the Pavilion Tea Gardens for, in that era of temperance, it was clearly felt that a place of refreshment should be available for racegoers. Furthermore, temperance notwithstanding, it is clear from the sale particulars of 1853, that it was not only tea that was on offer!

That the house was there before the racecourse though is clear from its appearance and from its design: it does not have the partly open-fronted façade of those tea rooms one sees in architectural pattern books of the period. From the only extant (to my knowledge at least) photograph of the building, it was of brick with stone dressings, of two storeys and seemingly five bays wide, with a eastward (rear) extension for kitchen and services. The entrance, sheltered by a picturesque timber gabled portico, was centrally placed and was flanked on either side by Tudor Gothic fenestration with depressed pointed arched tops and filled with cast iron glazing bars set out as elongated hexagons, of a type being produced locally from the first decade of the 19th century.  

Coach house of Richard Leaper’s demolioshed Rycote House, Kedleston Road, c 1828

Beyond this set-piece portion of the façade it sported an extra bay in the picture, clearly added, with more conventional fenestration and one suspects that the bay to the right of the person taking the photograph was similar. The house, from its absence from early maps, must have been built in 1835 or ’36, and its architectural congruence with various ancillary buildings designed by the amateur architect, Derby Alderman Richard Leaper, at Rycote House, Kedleston Road, and the neat lodges to The Pastures, Littleover (now the Boys’ Grammar School), Hilton Lodge and Bladon Castle would suggest the hand of Leaper himself, although at 76, he might well have given up by this date and we are more likely looking at the hand of a follower, like his former right-hand man, Joseph Cooper. 

Either way, we know that the ground later occupied by the racecourse and that lying east of it, 50 acres in all, was owned by George Wallis (1791-1851) stage coach proprietor and the third of his family to be landlord of the New Inn, Bridge Gate, Derby (on which see Country Images November 2022). The Wallises had begun as blacksmiths in King Street, but had built the New Inn and established an ever-increasing network of coaching routes. George’s uncle John had married Sarah Yates, son of John Yates, a notable Crown Derby China painter and close relative of Joseph Wright, whilst George’s sister Anne married his fellow China painter George Robertson and her sister later became the sister-in-law of the most famous China painter of all, William Billingsley. 

Recently widowed and with a young family of five, George had also succeeded to the proprietorship of the King’s Head, a coaching inn in Corn Market, by marrying in 1834 Joanna, the relict of John Hoare of Litchurch Lodge, its previous landlord, and seems to have disposed of the land to the Race Committee for the new racecourse. That part of the land not required, however, he sold to Chaddesden freeholder and gentleman farmer William Holland, ‘Gent’ who seems to have built the house before the end of the 1830s. 

Secure in the knowledge that the races were coming to the fields below his house, Holland only a few years afterwards decided to adapt his new house to serve as a refreshment  establishment to cater for racegoers, adding a plan bay at each end and rebuilding the service wing. He called it the Pavilion Tea Gardens, wisely put it into the ownership of an independent trust and installed a manager, called John Ward.   

1852 Board of Health map, showing the location of Beaufort Houses (here marked as The Pavilion BH Tea Gardens).

 That this enterprise was up and running by 1848, when racing finally resumed, is established by an advertisement in the Derby Mercury of 1849. However, its viability was holed below the waterline in 1851-52 by the erection of the grandstand. This building, designed by Henry Duesbury, who a decade earlier had designed the new Derby Guildhall, incorporating portions of its 1828 predecessor, was erected less than 150 yards SW of the Pavilion, and, needless to say, included catering facilities, which must have posed a direct threat to the viability of the tea gardens, and so it turned out. 

By the end of the summer of 1853, the Pavilion was in financial difficulties, and the contents and stock-in-trade were offered for sale by Holland’s trustees on 4th October, the premises now, ominously, described as ‘at the back of the race stand.’ Items on offer included ‘Burton Ale…Plant of a ginger beer manufacturer and a beer seller’ (sic: clearly ‘cellar’ was intended) and concluded with the requirement that 

‘All bottles belonging to Mr. Ward, in the hands of customers, to be sent to the premises, by Saturday before the Sale, or they will be charged therewith.’   

Remember returnable bottles? 

Following this, the trustees were obliged to search for a new tenant, which does not appear to have borne fruit until 1858 when engineer Thomas Howkins Sowter (1830-1903) decided to taking a lease on the building. He was the son of the corn factor who had built a mill contiguous to the north end of Derby Silk Mill, and his brother, Alderman Unwin Sowter (1839-1910) was better known as a co-founder of the Derbyshire County Cricket Club and who also served as Mayor of Derby in 1879-80.

Sowter moved in with his new wife, Emily, daughter of Maj. John William Wilcockson, and although he spent increasing time in London through his work in the 1860s, they lived there over two decades, re-naming it Beaufort House. In 1881, however, poor Emily died, leaving a daughter and heiress, Emily (later Mrs. Storer). Fortunately, by this time Sowter had obtained the freehold of the property, which he offered for sale by auction at the end of May 1882. The particulars reveal that by then the house had two reception rooms, a Minton tiled hall, and four bedrooms, with five acres of grounds. However, no acceptable offers again being forthcoming, he withdrew it from the market, encouraged no doubt by his second wife, whom he married in September that year, Selina, sister of accountant and Mayor of Derby Samuel Whitaker. Instead the house was let.

In August, 1891 Sowter made another attempt to sell the house, this time by private treaty, but again, no offers were forthcoming, and in the event the Sowters moved back in and lived there until his death in May 1903, when the house again became vacant. In the event, it was by 1913 divided, with the northern bay forming a rather modest residence (later No. 52, St. Mark’s Road) called Beaufort Cottage and the main part, (No. 54), continuing as Beaufort House. In 1935, the former was occupied by Walter Nash and the main portion by Arthur Hughes, both by then tenants of the Borough Council who had bought the building in the 1920s with a view to building a large estate of municipal housing. In the end, the tenancies expired and Beaufort House (entire) was demolished in the early 1950s to be replaced by Lothian Place and a forbiddingly square three storey block of flats. 


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