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The Lost Houses of Derbyshire – The Grove, Darley Dale

The Lost Houses of Derbyshire – The Grove, Darley Dale

The name Alsop (with multitudinous variations of spelling) is by no means uncommon in Derbyshire, if only because it derives from an unique place name, Alsop-en-le-Dale, next to Parwich, just north of Ashbourne. The Alsops had a Norman or Norse ancestor, called Gamel (probably derived from the Latin for ‘twin’- gemellus), who took his name from the place when granted the sub-tenancy of the manorial estate there by Henry de Ferrers before 1086. His descendant remained there until poverty forced a sale in the late 17th century and a tall portion of the family’s Elizabethan house remains as an ornament to the village to this day. 

As the place name is unique, it is likely that all Alsops today descend from Gamel, although you would need to DNA test everyone bearing the name to establish that most were actually of the same blood, so to speak. Furthermore, the preservation of the uniform spelling of names was in the hands, before the 1870 School Board Act, of semi-literate parish clerks which is why many surnames have sometimes quite extraordinary phonetic variants. 

With the Alsops, it rested with the duplication or otherwise of ‘l’s and ‘p’s. Hence, TV personality Hon. Kirsty Allsopp and her ancestors, back to Derby tobacco merchant Thomas, all spell with two of each. When her ancestor, Sir Samuel Allsopp, Bt., 1st Lord Hindlip, was first ennobled, he wanted to take the title Lord Alsop of Alsop, but he failed to establish his descent from the ancient family, and the Heralds in 1886 refused and whilst such a descent seemed likely, lack of proof forced him to take the name of his Worcestershire country house, Hindlip Hall (now the West Midlands Police HQ) as his title, becoming ‘Lord Hindlip of Hindlip and of Alsop-en-le-Dale’ (of which parish he had thoughtfully acquired a modest amount of land). He also had to accept changes to the historic coat-of-arms. 

The spectacular timber staircase in 2011. Not in  plain timber, as originally intended.

Back in Derbyshire, lead trader John Alsop of Snitterton who wrote his will in 1798, was a similar case. His descent, possibly from Luke Alsop of Wirksworth, living in 1693, cannot be provably traced to Alsop-en-le-Dale either, although for all his family’s skyrocketing wealth, he was never offered a peerage! 

John Alsop had two sons, the elder Anthony, was barmaster (legal controller of lead mining) at Wirksworth and was ancestor of the Alsops of Wensley Hall, three generations of whom were barmasters at Wirksworth. The younger son, John Alsop was a lead merchant like his father and settled at Lea Wood, dying there in 1831; his memorial still graces the wall of the former chapel there to this day.  

He had two sons and two daughters, of whom the elder son Luke lived at Lea Hall, a delightful Baroque villa (albeit facing the chilly north winds) high up in Lea, and married Lydia the daughter of his father’s brother Anthony. The house at Lea Wood stayed in this branch. The younger son was John who was also a lead merchant and acquired some land on the east side of the main road (now the A6) through Darley Dale.  

Here, about 1790, he built a decent, four-square three storey and three bay wide villa with a top parapet, which he named The Grove. Some twenty-five years later he decided to increase the size of his house, adding a pediment over the whole width of the original villa, and two bay wings of two storeys on either side, but containing somewhat loftier rooms than those in the original part, with the result that the wings were nearly as tall as the main, central, block. At the same time, he provided the garden front with a cast iron trellis verandah with an iron roof. The grounds ran to over 50 acres, but who undertook the landscaping is not known. John Webb, in the 1790s active at Willersley Castle, is a possibility. Indeed, we was working in conjunction with Thomas Gardner of Uttoxeter there, formerly assistant to Joseph Pickford of Derby, and it is not impossible that Gardner might have built Alsop the original villa. 

The finished house was, therefore, of some size, and was inherited in 1834 by John Alsop, the son, also a lead merchant who, for reasons not wholly clear to me (one assumes financial difficulties or the lure of becoming a gold trader) emigrated to Australia in about 1850. He let the house to Revd. William Hiley Bathurst (1796-1877) the second son of Charles Bathurst MP (formerly Bragge) who had inherited the Lydney Park estate in Gloucestershire from an uncle, Poole Bathurst, in 1804. Incidentally, the ‘a’ in Bathurst is always short. W. H. Bathurst himself had married Mary Anne Rhodes, the daughter of a Leeds businessman, but in 1863, his brother died and he inherited the Lydney Park estate, moving there that year.  

Advertisement for the hydro in 1891, from a Kelly’s Directory of Derbyshire.

His successor was a lowland Scot and an Indian ‘nabob’, Robert Keith Pringle (1802-1897) of an old Selkirk family, who had risen high in the Indian Civil Service at Bombay (now Mumbai) under the Honourable East India Company. In 1848 he married Mary Jane, daughter of General George Moore of the Indian Army, but the couple had moved back to England in 1862, following the changes brought about in the wake of the mutiny. At the Grove, now re-christened Darley Grove (confusingly, bearing in mind there was then a substantial house in Derby of the same name – see Country Images August 2015) the couple added a canted bay to the south front along with a conservatory, supplied by Messenger & Co. of Loughborough. Here, at Darley Grove, they reared a brood of five sons and five daughters, and it may have been lack of space that persuaded them to sell up, in 1876 to a Manchester millionaire, William J. Roberts. 

Within a few years, Roberts decided to replace the house with something more befitting his status, so in 1884 demolished The Grove and set about building a completely in-your-face essay in Jacobean revival, of dominant massing, riotous gables and clustered chimneys, all built of fine-grained Stancliffe stone from the adjacent quarry. The architect was Thomas Worthington, FRIBA (1826-1909) of Alderley Edge, father of the rather better-known town planning pioneer, Sir Hubert Worthington; the cost was an eye-watering £35,000. 

Yet, in 1890, Roberts had tired of it, and sold up. It was purchased by a consortium, keen to cash in on the craze for hydropathic establishments, and opened after conversion in 1891. However, the venture came in at the end of the boom in such places, and it failed in 1902, the building and 48 acres being sold as a school. This opened as St. Elphin’s in 1904 and lasted exactly a century, until 2004, when it, too, closed. It was never listed, but lay in a conservation area. It was sold and converted into a  retirement village in 2010-11, all rather swamped by opulent additions and extensions in vaguely matching style, peppered with open loggias on several levels. 

Unfortunately, of poor old Darley Grove, Mr. Roberts seems to have left no trace bar a fine steel and brass Regency firegrate, transplanted into the new house and heedlessly sold with the general contents of St. Elphins in 2005. 


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