That a house as beautiful and both architecturally and historically interesting could be demolished indicates the dire straits that country house owners found themselves in the 1920s.
The Manor of Wingerworth was first mentioned when given as a gift to the Brailsford family by Henry II in 1160 who remained at Wingerworth until 1400 when it passed to the Curzons of Kedleston Hall through marriage. Around 1500 major changes were made to the local church, probably financed by Sir Ralph Longford, who by that time owned the estate and held it until he died. Wingerworth then became the seat of the Hunloke family who had first come to the estate in 1540. The first records with the name Hunloke relate to leases to one Nicholas Hunloke, a merchant tailor from London, who also began buying small areas of land in the vicinity. The Hunlokes already owned land in Nottinghamshire and Middlesex and had decided to extend the family interests northwards.
It was one of Nicholas' sons, Henry, who finally was able to purchase the entire estate in 1582. However, the first records of him being in residence at the estate only start just before 1600. So why the gap? Without clear records it's not possible to confirm but it's likely that Henry would've wanted a larger house comensurate with his new grand estate so the gap could be the period covering the demolition of the old hall and the construction of a new one in the Elizabethan style. No architect is known but there are stylistic echoes with other small castellated local houses such as Hardwick Hall, designed by Robert Smythson and built in 1590, and Barlborough Hall.
Little is known about Henry beyond that he was made Sheriff of Derbyshire in 1623 and that whilst discharging his duties died, aged 47, in the presence of King James I whilst at Ilkeston. Henry's son, also called Henry , Henry (b.1618 - d.1648), was just six years old when his father died. When of a suitable age he was sent to Grays Inn for a legal education but had just reached adulthood when the civil war broke out (1642). Following the family's tradition of loyalty to the crown, Henry immediately joined the Royalists fought with distinction in the battle of Edgehill and was knighted and later created a Baronet. Whilst Henry was off fighting, Wingerworth Hall was left in the care of his estate stewards. When the Parliamentary troops came to 'take' the house, eventually turning it into a garrison for 100 men, it's unlikely they would've met much resistance thereby preventing serious damage. Sir Henry returned to Wingerworth in 1646 but died at the age of 29 following complications from his wounded arm. His widow then married a colonel in the Parliamentary army thus protecting the house and estate from sale or destruction.
The 2nd Baronet, also called Henry (b.1645 - d.1715), took over the estate when he came of age, with his mother and her husband moving to Stubbing Edge Hall near Ashover. In 1673, Sir Henry married Catherine Tyrwhitt of Kettleby, Lincolnshire bringing an enhanced social status as she was related to the royal family. Perhaps to mark his marriage and elevated status and with possibly enhanced funds from an advantageous union Sir Henry had two parallel ranges built, two storeys high, 7 by 3 bays wide, to the west of the old house sometime between his marriage and 1690. Perhaps unusually for such a staunchly Catholic family the wings were built in a simplified form of Palladianism though without a main building to act as centre point as was the case in most Palladian houses. Perhaps the ranges were a demonstration of Sir Henry's architectural intentions and a forerunner to the plans for the main hall, which was now over-shadowed by the new additions. At this time Sir Henry also started accumulating land and laying it out as parkland. However it was not Sir Henry who commissioned the new hall, as he died in 1715. His eldest son (also Henry) had died young whilst on a Grand Tour, so the house passed to the second son, Sir Thomas, 3rd Baronet (b.1684 - d.1752), who started work on the new Wingerworth in 1726 with the work completed in 1729. Sir Thomas moved back from his other estate at Stretton (then) in Staffordshire where he had been living during construction, in 1730 to take up residence.
Interestingly, for such a grand design, there is still some element of doubt as to who the architect was. Professor Andor Gomme1 has argued convincingly that the honour lies with Francis Smith of Warwick who had also been working on Sutton Scarsdale hall, a few miles away. Sir Howard Colvin also concurs and cites Gommes' assertion in his seminal book 'A biographical dictionary of British architects, 1600-1840'2. In many ways Wingerworth is a design easily attributable to Smith; a tall house, rising two and half storeys, 7 bays wide with the centre 3 bays projecting forward, with a balustraded roofline and quoins decorating the corners. The regularity of the exterior with it's straightforward design and Baroque exterior decoration was similar to other houses Smith had worked on.
The main criticism of Smith is that, whilst extremely competent as a builder and architect, he lacked imagination. Few would therefore have guessed from such a typical exterior that the major successes lay inside; fine interiors including a beautiful and elegant saloon and elegant staircase. Rising to double height, the 32' cube decorated with full height Corinthian pilasters and what Worsley calls '...highly sophisticated chimneypiece and doorcases...a model of what one might call English Rural Baroque.'3. The pilasters formed an arcade on one side with small balconies from the second floor sited above the archways. The staircase was equally well executed with three balusters per step and with finely carved Composite columns as newel posts.
The expenditure on the new Hall was significant and so improvement of the parkland fell to Sir Thomas' son the 4th Baronet, another Henry (b. 1724 - d.1804). The expense of construction had depleted the family fortune but despite this the Hunlokes continued to pay for new buildings on their estate including a new schoolhouse in 1758. However, by 1763 Sir Henry was still unmarried and in need of an heir, he mortgaged property in West Hallam to raise £3,500 to finance a lavish round of entertaining in the hopes of securing a suitable wife. This was a success with Sir Henry marrying Margaret Coke, cousin to the 1st Earl of Leicester of Holkham Hall, Norfolk. Shortly afterwards, new coal mining on the estate produced enough money to clear the mortgage and with his new wealth, in the early 1790s, Sir Henry set about improving the park, commissioning William Emes (also designer of the gardens at Holkham) to draw up plans. This resulted in new lodges, built in 1794, and the extension of the the pleasure grounds which included extensive planting of trees and rare plants.
The 5th Baronet, Sir Thomas Windsor (b.1773 - d.1816), who inherited in 1804, continued the grand plans for the estate despite existing mortgages. In 1809, he engaged the leading landscape designer, Sir Humphry Repton to draw up further plans for the improvement of the park. Repton stayed at Wingerworth (at 5 guineas a day) and produced one of his famous 'Red Books' in which he described the estate:
EXTRACT FROM THE RED BOOK OF WINGERWORTH, IN DERBYSHIRE, A SEAT OF SIR WINDSOR HUNLOCK, BART. CHARACTER AND SITUATION. THE elevated situation of the house, on one of these broad hills, peculiar to the most picturesque county in England, would alone stamp the character of importance on the place, in whatever style the house might have been built; for where we see a large pile of building on the summit of the hill, we are naturally led to compare its relative importance with the scenery to which it belongs. And here we shall be surprised, on approaching the mansion, to find it so much larger, richer, and more dignified, than it appears from a distance: the reason is, that the mansion is one square mass, almost a cube; and every building which partakes of this form, however great its proportions, always appears less than it really is, because the eye is not attracted either by its length, depth, or height, each being nearly equal: and it is only from a subordinate building placed near it, that we form any idea of its real magnitude.
Repton's usual practice was to be the consultant rather than contractor, leaving the owner to arrange the execution of his ideas. This meant that owners were free to carry out as much or little of Repton's plans as they wished - and often they pursued only the cheaper options. In the case of Wingerworth the existing mortgages limited Sir Thomas' ambitions and so except for a new lodge and some minor alterations many of the grander plans, including the damming of the River Rother and new drives were unrealised. Perhaps Sir Thomas' never intended to complete the plans and had engaged Repton to produce an aspirational 'coffee table' book and for the pleasure of the boast that he had been consulting the famous Sir Humphry Repton.
By this time, there were four mortgages on the estate totalling £54,000 (2007 average earnings value - approx. £36m) with interest payments of £3,000 a year alone (equivalent to £2m on average earnings). Underlining the poor financial situation, Sir Thomas moved, along with his family, to Paris in 1815, to enable the Hall to be let and to take advantage of the lower cost of living on the continent. Sir Thomas died of a fever in January 1817, in Paris, aged just 43. The premature death meant that his affairs were left in a fairly chaotic state compounded by the fact that his eldest son, yet another Henry (b.1812 - d.1856), the 6th Baronet, was just three years old. The trustees eventually sold the West Hallam properties to clear the mortgages but Lady Hunloke and the children remained in Paris. This period marked the beginning of the decline at Wingerworth. Despite the estate boasted three iron works, four full-sized collieries and a host of small coal pits, four quarries, a stone-sawing mill, a lead mine, clay works, and a gravel pit in the deer park, once an adult, Sir Henry lived at nearby Birdholme house, and only used the Hall for entertaining. Following the lifting of the restrictions on Catholics in public life, Sir Henry took full part in county affairs and used his wealth for maintaining his social standing rather than living in the house.
Sir Henry's death died in 1856 without an heir, which again led to a complex inheritance. The house eventually passed to great niece, Adelaide Sidney, daughter of Baron D'Isle and Dudley, who married Frederick FitzClarence, son of the Earl of Munster, who took the additional surname of Hunloke. The house was let from 1878 following the death of Frederick and Adelaide's move back to her London house. Tenants included an industrialist and to one of the richest men in the country, Colonel Sir Charles Seeley MP Bt, from 1907-1915. The FitzClarence-Hunlokes had no children and after Adelaide's death in 1904 the house and estate passed to her nephew Philip Perceval who changed his surname to Hunloke. More interested in sailing and the Court in London he borrowed against the estate to raise money for his lifestyle and continued the letting of the Hall. In 1918, Philip Perceval came back to live at the hall but, as with many other landowners, was suffering financially. With little sentimental attachment to the Hall, he decided to sell up and move south to his other home Buckenell Manor, Berkshire and it was auctioned off in May 1920. Perceval subsequently bought Cowbridge House in Malmesbury, Wiltshire which was demolished in 2007.
The auctioneer stated the bidding for Wingerworth Hall with 260 acres at £60,000 but with no takers dropped it to £50,000 and then £40,000 without success. At a second auction in July of that year it was again offered unsuccessfully. Perceval offered the house to a local farmer for £12,000 for demolition but it went to W. Twigg, Demolition Contractors, of Matlock, Derbyshire. The wings and stable block had been divided up into flats by this point and the fixtures and fittings of the main house were removed and sold. The main staircase, the library and the drawing room were all advertised as for sale with Robersons of Knightsbridge in 1929 who had been consulted about sales from the house as early as 1925. The fate of the staircase is unknown but at least one room had already been sold to the City Art Museum in St Louis, Missouri as '...the Baroque Room from Wingerworth Park, Derbyshire.' in 1928. However, Charles Roberson was known for carving up rooms to suit the needs or requirements of clients and the room from Wingerworth is likely to a composite of others. The room was de-accessioned from the St Louis collection in 1987 and sold at Sotheby's New York in 1987 to Mrs Barbara Piasecka Johnson. Correspondence from Roberson to Joseph Duveen in 1925 discusses a room for Mr Joe Minton of Dallas which could well be the oak drawing room later listed in Roberson's 1929 catalogue. An Adam chimneypiece was rumoured to have been gifted to the Flint Museum in Michigan from private collection but is no longer listed in their inventory4. Other doors, fireplaces, pannelling and the large ornaments from the balustrade went to individual buyers - who knows what pieces grace local houses even today. The large ashlar stone blocks from the main house were cut up for use as curbstones for the roads.
Today, just the two wings and the stable block survive, all three having been converted into apartments. The grounds have suffered from development with houses now running near to the two wings and other large buildings having been built between the house and church. Another sad end for a house of such interest and elegance.
1 - 'Smith of Warwick. Francis Smith, Architect and Master-Builder' - Andor Gomme (2000)
2 - 'A biographical dictionary of British architects, 1600-1840' - Howard Colvin (Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, Yale University Press)
3 - 'England's Lost Houses' - Giles Worsley (2002, Aurum Press)
4 - as quoted in 'Moving Rooms' - John Harris (2007, Yale University Press)