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Restoring Wheathills

Wheathills Farm is located on Brun Lane, within the boundaries of the old Derbyshire village of Mackworth, which is located just off the current A52 Derby to Ashbourne Road. Mackworth village has been in existence from ancient times and is recorded in the Domesday Book of William the Conqueror. The village lies in the Manor of Markeaton, and has, in itself, a long and most interesting history. The beginning of Wheathills as a house can be traced to a time just after the Act of Enclosure of 1763, when a number of prominent, old, local families and landowners, including Lord Scarsdale, the Poles, the Mundys (who were the Lords of Markeaton) the Bennetts and sundry others, petitioned Parliament to divide up certain land within the village to create ‘enclosed fields’ which make farming a more financially viable prospect. Amongst other land changes, this Act of Enclosure required what was known s ‘Common land’ to be enclosed and therefore the local farmers lost the right to graze their animals on this common land. (Common land was land that could be used for common grazing after the harvest had been reaped and before the new crop was sown.) As a result of this land redistribution, John Bennett Jnr., a local yeoman farmer, whose family had been resident in the village for many years, acquired just over 16 acres of land, including a portion of the common land. Not long after Bennett secured the land, it is believed that he built a home on it for himself and his family some time between 1765 and 1780. Unfortunately no plans of the original house have, as yet, been found. The land adjacent to that on which the house was built, was above the village, and had been tilled for wheat, and this perhaps accounts for the house originally being called ‘Wheat Hills House’ (Note the name and different spelling of that time.)

The house eventually passed to James Bennett, (John’s Junior son,) and he died in 1805. A section of James’ will is shown below. From this, it can be seen that when James died he was a wealthy man and that he bequeathed a considerable amount of money and effects to his son and daughters, as well as his two friends. (The money he left exceeded £2,500, a huge sum in those days, but still less than what was paid for his property after his death!)

Will

In line with Bennett’s will, Wheathills was placed in auction, and on the 12th July 1805, the house and some thirty acres of land were sold. Francis Noel Clark Mundy, Lord of Markeaton Manor, and Sacheverell Pole, both of whom were original petitioners for the Act of Enclosure in 1763, purchased the land jointly, and paid £110 duty on the purchase, to the auctioneer, a Mr Shaw. It is believed that Sacheverell Pole purchased only a portion of the land, whilst Mundy secured both land and buildings. The land sale realized about £2,960 whilst the ‘neat convenient dwelling house and suitable out-offices and extensive farm buildings’ fetched £750. It has been suggested that Mundy bought Wheathills with a view to using it as a ‘retirement or dowager home’ and would pass the running of his Estate to his son, Francis who would take up residence at Markeaton Hall, then located in the present Markeaton Park. However before Mundy moved into the house he decided to extend and probably update the house to a better class of residence in all probability to make it worthy of a person of his standing. He employed a Derby Architect, Samuel Brown, to draw up plans for the alterations and the original account book records show that Mundy spent over £4,900 on this project. The alterations and extensions appeared to take some four years to complete for it was not until August 15th 1809 that the final account was settled. During the ongoing works at the house, substantial sums of money were spent on local artisans, including masons, blacksmiths, carpenters and painters.

There also records of marble being purchased from one Richard Brown of Derby. (no connection to the architect). In addition to this, towards the end of the contract, a local man called Richard Leaper was involved in the project. Leaper was a prominent figure in Derby and besides being an amateur architect, was an Alderman and later Mayor of Derby. From the account book, indications are that the interior of the house was finished to a high standard, but despite the existence of this record of payments, and supporting documentation, again, none of the plans, which Brown drew up for the project, can be traced. Indeed it has been very difficult to trace any major information on Samuel Brown himself. However enquiries are continuing to try and establish more details, but should any of our visitors have information on Samuel Brown we would be delighted to hear from you.

Mundy allegedly lived at Wheat Hills until his death in 1815, but records are vague on this point. However there are small clues which indicate that this may not have been the case, as a letter of 3rd December 1809 infers that a Bennett was still resident and owed Mundy some rent. The same letter indicates that Mundy also appeared to owe the Bennett Estate money for the sale of the house and an interim accommodation was being considered!

Records of 1823 show that Mrs Bateman lived here and as time passed the house reverted back to its original function as a farmhouse and numerous farm families tenanted it. Around 1890 a family called Smith from Staffordshire, took over the tenancy and a descendent of this family, Mr. Allsop Smith Esq., who was in his 80’s when interviewed was most helpful in the research regarding the house and its grounds.

In the 1960’s a decision was taken to divide the house into flats, and until Kedleston French Polishers purchased the property Wheathills remained as flats. The company took possession of Wheathills in December 2001 and the work to restore the house to some of its former glory began. Shards of old wallpaper were found in a number of rooms, behind doorjambs or under plasterboard. Samples were sent to the Victorian and Albert Museum for assessment and results indicate that one sample is mid late 1800’s whilst another is c.1815. When false walls were removed it was evident that the original house built by Bennett was modest and utilitarian, but nonetheless well constructed. The main ‘division’ of the house between the original and the alterations made by Mundy, can be seen by looking at the roof on the western side of the house. Under the eaves on the left a ‘saw tooth’ pattern of brick is clearly discernable, whilst to the right a ‘dentil’ pattern of bricks can be seen . As you walk around the house, you will see other areas where probable alterations by Mundy were carried out.

The research into the enigma called Wheathills is an ongoing project. Occassionally the house reluctantly reveals a few of its tantalizing secrets, whilst further clues are being discovered through documentary research. Where additional information is uncovered, we will pursue each and every avenue of enquiry, so that we can truly bring the past into the present to be enjoyed into the future.

 
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