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The Lost Houses of Derbyshire – Hearthcote House, Swadlincote

The Lost Houses of Derbyshire – Hearthcote House, Swadlincote

by Maxwell Craven

Hearthcote House was a deceptively ancient and complex building by the time of its demolition in 1980. At first glance, it appeared to be an eighteenth century two storey L-plan brick farmhouse, lit by sash windows both conventional and side opening (the latter usually called York sashes), under cambered heads and with brick string courses in between – all reminiscent of the later Georgian Era. In fact, this external fabric was dated 1793.  

The entrance looked plain, too, but showed signs of having once had a stone surround, but at the NW end, there rose a mighty stone built external chimney breast which once rose in stages and which was latterly topped by a brick chimney stack, also in two stages. This feature betokens an early Tudor date or even the mid-to late-fifteenth century and was clearly once attached to a much more ambitious house.

Inside, all was not as it seemed, for it was actually box framed in timber, in the style of the mid-17th century, with a particularly interesting oak staircase with balusters tenoned into two posts which ran up the whole height of the house, a feature only paralleled to my knowledge by the 1640s staircase at (not lost!) Sturston Hall, near Ashbourne, also a timber framed house of similar size, later cased in brick (and stucco in this case). 

I might add that this important staircase was safely removed from the house prior to demolition in 1979 and stored dismantled with the County Council’s important collection of agricultural machinery at the excellent Working Estate Museum, Elvaston Castle, from which, needless to say, it was subsequently lost when the museum was suddenly closed by the County Council and the collections – including much agricultural material given by the late Lord Vernon – auctioned off. No one has been able to discover its fate, despite efforts by the South Derbyshire District Council heritage officer, Philip Heath. 

At the time Domesday Book was compiled, Drakelow and Hedcote are combined as one manorial estate, listed at the head of the list of those held directly from the King by Nigel de Stafford, whose posterity settled here and took the name of another manor, Gresley, as their surname, but they lived at Drakelow until 1933. The name Hearthcote is directly analogous to ‘Heathcote’, meaning the house or domestic property on the heath, and indeed the area is well scattered with names ending in ‘-cote’: Swadlincote, Brizlincote and Chilcote being further examples. The spelling varied wildly, but remained mainly as ‘Heathcote’ until the Stuart period but, by the time Peter Burdett drew his map of the County in 1767, he had labelled   it ‘Hearthcote’ although 19th century directory compilers must have become confused on hearing the name spoken in the local argot, rendering it both as ‘Earthcote’ in 1846 and as ‘Arthcote’ in 1895!

Sturston Hall, Ashbourne, from the SW (Bagshaws)

It was reckoned part of Stapenhill by 1185 when the place was granted to Burton Abbey, and it may well have had a capital mansion on the site, as the grant included a long vanished chapel, almost certainly a domestic one. Later though, it seems to have reverted to the Gresleys, for Sir John de Gresley granted it to Gresley Priory in 1363.  

It was leased by the Prior to the Verdons, one of whom appears to have had a capital mansion here – presumably on the site of Hearthcote House. By 1296, Hearthcote was held from Theobald de Verdon, with Newhall and Stanton (by Newhall), by Robert de la Warde of Upton, Leicestershire. Three years later he was summoned to Parliament as 1st Lord Warde of Alba Aula, which quaint Latin designation probably equated to the appearance of his newly built seat at Newhall and indeed, there was a Whitehouse Farm there until a century ago, having survived Lord Warde’s new seat by several centuries. Also, from that time and for many centuries, Hearthcote, Stanton and Newhall all had the name ‘Ward’ suffixed.

The descent of the estate went from his son to Sir Hugo de Meynell and the evidence seems to be that he lived at New Hall and members of his family occupied the secondary houses at Stanton and Hearthcote, but after his male line failed, it passed to the Dethicks and thence through several successive heiress.

When Gresley Priory was dissolved in 1536, the estate at Hearthcote was valued by the commissioners at £13 – 6s – 8d (£13.33) the same as Church Gresley, which they also held, suggesting both were then pretty small. The Commissioners sold Hearthcote to the Alleynes of The Mote in Kent, who built Gresley Old Hall, and the house became attached to their estate there, although Hearthcote itself seems to have become an extra parochial liberty of Church Gresley – that is, separate from the main parish and free from shrieval control. 

The Alleynes pulled down the old medieval Hearthcote House (probably built around a courtyard) and replaced it with a timber framed farmhouse attached to a stone chimney breast retained from the old house, being strongly built of ashlared stone – waste not, want not! This probably happened after 1597 when Hearthcote was still described in a document as ‘an old howse’. 

The 1939 OS 6-inch map showing the house and its relation to the colliery and pottery

In 1730 John Alleyne sold the estate, including Hearthcote, to the somewhat egregious Littleton Poyntz Meynell of Bradley, who intended to use it as a shooting box, but his son decided to move to Leicestershire the better to hunt and, in 1775, the Meynells sold it all to the Gresleys, so Hearthcote thereby came full circle. It was without doubt the Drakelow estate that re-cased the old house in brick, and seems to have continued with the three-life tenancy of the Newbold family. 

However, change was again on the cards for, in 1828, Sir Roger Gresley, Bt. sold Gresley Old Hall and Hearthcote separately, the latter becoming the property (probably due to the lure of good quality coal being available on the estate) of Stanley Pipe-Wolferstan DL JP (1785-1867), whose tenant was Thomas Burton, farming 68 acres there. Stanley was the grandson of Revd Samuel Pipe, rector of Croxall, who had married Dorothy Wolferstan, heiress of Statfold Hall, Staffordshire, which that family had in turn inherited through an heiress of the Stanley family.

On Pipe-Wolferstan’s death in 1867, the Hearthcote estate was sold to John Hall, a colliery entrepreneur, who had already taken a lease on some of the land and who had sunk the Cadleyhill colliery immediately to the north of the house in 1861, an enterprise nationalised in 1947 and closed in 1988. Hall installed John Hyman as tenant who in the early 1890s was succeeded by his son Charles, who acted as Hall’s bailiff, but who shared the building with James Henry Haywood, who continued to farm what was left of the land. 

The next chunk taken out of Hearthcote House’s cultivation was that between the house and the entrance to Cadleyhill Colliery, where in 1891 John Hall as Hall & Boardman also started a tile works, which by 1912 had transitioned into the manufacture of jam pots. This closed in 1924, was re-started in 1930 and lingered on some time after that.

Meanwhile, after the Second World War, the house had become run down, shorn of productive land and eventually was left empty, as the land around was bought up and despite a grade II* listing, it was summarily demolished in October 1980, the granting of consent for this being an unforgivable lapse on the part of South Derbyshire Council. By then, the land belonged to Bullivants, who erected a huge works behind a berm facing the road. The house itself had stood back from the Hearthcote Road and opposite to the mini-roundabout serving the end of Chiltern Road. A great loss, although the Royal Commission of Historic Monuments did fully record this building on its ancient site prior to its demise.


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