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 East Midlands: Monday September 20, 2004


Thornbridge Hall, Derbyshire
Thornbridge has survived into the 21st century

They stood firm throughout the ages, home to generations, but in the last century many mansions across the region have been brought to the ground - not by war, or storms - but by bulldozer. Inside Out finds out more.

During the last century, many grand mansions were demolished across the region because the upkeep was just too much for families who lived in them.

High taxation, divorce within inheriting families, individual conflicts and general incompetence all played a part in the break-up and break-down of these great estates.

Inside Out joins local historians Maxwell Craven and Mick Stanley who have spent the last 25 years investigating the stories behind these lost country homes.

Gone in the blink of an eye

The fall of the mansions

Below are the number of mansions pulled down in the East Midlands between the early 20s and the late 1960s:

  • Derbyshire 53
  • Leicestershire 28
  • Lincolnshire 50
  • Nottinghamshire 20

During the last hundred years, over a thousand country homes were burnt down and blown up right across England.

Much of the nation's heritage disappeared and the East Midlands lost some of its finest stately homes.

"For hundreds of years country houses underpinned, with its estate, a sustainable rural community," explains Maxwell. "Nobody thought it would end."

The buildings sacrificed ranged from the Rococo magnificence of Nottinghamshire's Nuthall Temple to the Baroque splendour of Derbyshire's Sutton Scarsdale.

History for sale

When Clumber stately home in Nottinghamshire was demolished in 1938, the local newspaper loyally declared the decision was necessitated by heavy taxation.

However if truth be known, for generations the property's owners had been hopeless financial managers.

Mick Stanley and Maxwell Craven in a vintage car
Mick and Maxwell go on the trail of the lost mansions

Living on such a grand scale was no longer affordable or in indeed the fashion.

It was not just the building that was to be lost forever, but its contents too.

"It was not just demolished, but incredible sales of all the amazing contents," describes Susanna Smith of the National Trust.

"Rooms stuffed full of great masterpieces, French furniture and amazing statuary."

Clumber was one of the great treasure houses of the age. Sadly with little export protection laws much of its contents are now thought to be in America.

But all is not lost. Inside Out tracks down many of the Hall's fixtures and fittings to a house in Derbyshire.

Second hand goods

Thornbridge Hall in Derbyshire is now home to a vast array of statues, facades and fountains originally belonging to Clumber.

Jim Harrison,  Mick Stanley and Maxwell Craven in front of Thornbridge Hall
Thornbridge Hall benefited from Clumber's downfall

Henry Boot Construction were contracted to demolish Clumber after a fire in 1938. It was Charles Boot that was responsible for bringing the many items to Thornbridge, although the bulk were lost to private buyers through auction.

"Looking at the pictures we have of Clumber there was a huge amount of things," describes Jim Harrison of Thornbridge Hall. "Where it all ended up is anyone's guess."

Although Thornbridge Hall benefited from the fall of Clumber, many other grand country houses suffered very bleak prospects.

Country estates and the way they were run had to be changed drastically if they were to be spared demolition.

Facing the future

Sir Richard FitzHerbert of Tissington Hall is living proof that adaptability is the key if stately homes are to beat the bulldozers.

Stone lion
This stone lion from Thornbridge Hall is safe from the bulldozers

The FitzHerberts have held the land at Tissington for nearly 600 years. And with ingenuity and resourcefulness, the house can look forward to another 600.

"We've had to look at a different source of income in order to maintain the balance," explains Sir Richard.

"In the last 15 years we've turned the ratio from 70:30 agricultural to business income around the other way.

"Now 30% of our income is agricultural, the other 70% is tourism."

There's no doubt that the last hundred years saw a crisis for Britain's stately homes. But although many estates were lost forever, thankfully far more survived.

With the presence of the National Trust and resourceful estate owners such as Sir Richard, the region's stately homes can hopefully look forward to a brighter and more secure future, providing generations of Britain's a small glimpse into a world that once was.

See also ...


On the rest of the web
The National Trust
Stately Homes
Tissington Hall

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