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Lost Houses of Derbyshire – Brimington Hall

Lost Houses of Derbyshire – Brimington Hall
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I have a feeling that, had Brimington Hall survived the rapid industrialization of early 20th century Chesterfield, it would by now be listed grade I or II*, for it was, judging from our limited knowledge, a house of exceptional interest architecturally. 

An estate at Brimington was held from the earliest times by a family which took their name from the place, the heiress of which eventually married Robert Le Breton who was lord of Walton-by-Chesterfield, another lost house – probably a rather large one, too – but one of which we have no known illustration; its site is now occupied by a good 18th century stone farmhouse. The Breton family, too, ended with an heiress who brought the estates of Walton and Brimington to Sir John Lowdham of Lowdham, in Nottinghamshire, but he too, left only a daughter, who married the younger son of one of the grandees of the Derbyshire Peak, Sir Godfrey Foljambe of Tideswell, Darley and Wormhill MP (1399-1371).

This younger son was Thomas, who settled at Walton, and whose younger great grandson Godfrey was settled for life at Brimington Hall. He died without leaving any legitimate issue (a natural son, Godfrey Foljambe alias Brownlow went off to live in Staffordshire at Croxden) and the house was then granted to his nephew, George Foljambe (1532-1580). He seems to have been the builder of the house as we know it, but quite what his predecessor, Godfrey had left is unclear. The date of George’s building was around the time of his marriage to Ursula, daughter of Richard Whalley of Screveton, also in Nottinghamshire: c. 1554, making it just about Elizabethan.

George’s tenure seems to have been for life, for when he died, the house and land, instead of passing to his daughter Troth, Lady Bellingham, reverted to his elder brother Sir Godfrey Foljabe of Walton, in whose line it descended, being used intermittently for younger sons and dowagers, until the time of Sir James Foljambe of Walton who, despite having been made a baronet in 1622, was facing considerable financial difficulties and was obliged to sell Brimington hall and estate in 1633 to Col. Gill, of a gentry family then recently settled further north in the county at Norton.

Built of course rubble of Ashgate sandstone, probably culled from an adjacent outcrop, with ashlar dressings of the same stone. Its irregular plan is probably explained by slightly disorganized growth over the years from its first phase of building in the 1550s. 

The entrance front was particularly irregular, the entrance itself being set in a modest portico with a room above topped by a shaped gable and sandwiched between a tall gabled range set at right angles with an attic dormer and a lower range with the gable facing the front but embellished by a very charming two storey canted bay with a little hipped roof over. To the left was another gabled range, parallel to that flanking the left of the door, and the right ended with a gabled range parallel to that flanking the right hand side of the door: the effect was, nevertheless, one of great charm, with three and four light mullioned windows and paired diamond stacks rising from the stone slate roof.

The tall range to the left of the entrance was echoed by a similar range on the garden front, embellished by a stone orial window at first floor level. This joined awkwardly to a pair of straight coped gables with chimneys rising from their apices and with eight, two mullioned windows seemingly distributed at random. To the right, a low single storey range with attics ran from one side of the house to the other.

As the two large gables to the left of the garden front were of differing sizes and not set flush with each other, we may presume that they were built at marginally differing dates, but without the structure to examine in the flesh, disentangling the various alterations would appear to be a thankless task. 

Inside all we know is that there was a fine oak staircase, and that the main rooms had fine Sheffield School plaster ceilings, such as to this day survive at such places as North Lees (Hathersage), Cartledge and Brampton Halls. This exuberant plasterwork included a superb overmantel in the great chamber on the first floor replete with biblical figures, quotations from the Vulgate Bible and enclosed by terms at either end. One of the aspects of all this that makes me suggest that it would have received a pretty high statutory listing had it survived, is that it was never seriously rebuilt and seems to have retained its essential semi-vernacular Elizabethan fabric largely unaltered.

The Gill family ended with an heiress who married into the local coal owning family of Heywood, the last of whom, George, was childless but left it to an heiress Hannah. She married D’Ewes Coke, who also had local commercial interests, despite having an inherited estate at Suckley in Worcestershire. In fact he was the representative of a junior branch of the Cokes of Trusley, whose ancestor George had been Bishop of Bristol and then of Hereford (1636-1646), where he had bought an estate.

Joseph Wright painted a celebrated triple portrait of D’Ewes, and Hannah Coke with their cousin, Derby radical Tory MP Daniel Parker Coke, grouped in a landscape – either Brimington or Brookhill (Pinxton) – looking at a plan, presumably of an intended landscape, perhaps by William Emes of Bowbridge Fields (1729-1803). The picture dates to 1781-1782 and one version is in the collections of the Derby Museums Trust. Hannah looks pretty determined, and indeed, the family history records of her that ‘she was spoilt as a child’, which led to her becoming ‘rather disagreeable as an adult’! D P Coke, on the other hand, was well liked in Derby as being ‘animated, public spirited and honest’.

I suggest that the landscape in the portrait might be Brookhill, for after Brookhill was rebuilt (probably by Joseph Pickford) and the landscaping done, the family converted the old Elizabethan house by 1816 into ‘small tenements, occupied by labourers.’ Brookhill was preferred because it was close to the Pinxton china factory, which the Cokes had founded. 

Yet, decline was soon averted, for in the late 1830s it had been restored as a single dwelling and let to Chesterfield grandee B M Lucas, and later to George Heller. Around this time, the house passed to another branch of the Cokes, the tenant then being local industrialist Charles Markham followed by Francis Sacheverell Wilmot, who was succeeded in residence by R G Coke. He, though decided to sell it in 1890, to the Staveley Coal &  Iron Company, which firm adapted it as a residence for their general manager, the last to live there being Henry Westlake, who died in 1918. 

At this time, the Company chairman was another Chesterfield grandee, C. P. Markham, whose father, Charles, had married a daughter of Sir Joseph Paxton in 18623, and had taken a tenancy of Brimington Hall from the Cokes. Charles Paxton Markham, was actually born at the hall, yet in 1924, faced with the perennial problem of vandalism, with a notable lack of sentiment, ordered the house to be demolished. The first floor plaster overmantel was last seen, in pieces in an outhouse prior to demolition. 

The outbuildings and walls survived until 1931. The equally ancient stone stables, latterly used as a barn, stood where a Wesleyan Chapel and a pair of shops were built in its place in 1895 in Heywood Street. This street, and Foljambe Road represent part of the redevelopment of the grounds with which the Staveley company proceeded in the wake of their vandalism, whilst vestiges of the small park survive as a somewhat anodyne green space lying either side of Hall Road, just south of the church.  

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