Rediscovered: plans of Osmaston Manor, 1850-1873

It happens this way in archives sometimes.  One minute, you are moving a roll of plans from one shelf to another, and carefully keeping a record of its new location; the next, you are rediscovering some long-lost treasure*.

It was in 1978 that we acquired collection D1849, the archives of the Osmaston Estate.  The collection includes rent books, tenancy papers, some plans and photographs, and family papers of the Walker family, which acquired Osmaston Manor after the death of Francis Wright (1806-1873).  A list for the collection was circulated soon afterwards.  However, entry D1849/14 on that list, (“Osmaston Manor plans”) had no descriptive details, and our internal record to say which shelf held the plans said only “number not used”.

As I intimated above, the plans were re-discovered when there was a need to rationalise some of our storage.  That is the good news.  The bad news is the state they were in:

D1849 14 Osmaston Manor plans.JPG

As carefully as I could, I took a few minutes to have a look at them, so as to add some details to the catalogue.  The relevant entry now reads:

D1849/14: Plans of Osmaston Manor, 1850-1873.

Approximately 20 architectural plans and sketches of building works. Most of the plans bear the name of Francis Wright Esq.  Including:
-Plan of Osmaston Manor showing pipeage
-Section drawing showing details of cresting on conservatory
Details of windows on proposed lodge at village entrance (rough, in pencil) at scale 1.5 inches to 1 foot
-Elevation of flag tower
-Plans of fountain
-Section drawing showing “bridge across the back road”. Signed by Henry Isaac Stevens, architect, dated 18 Feb 1850.
-Plan of stable court and surrounding buildings at scale 1 inch: 8 feet. Stamped “Butterley Ironworks” on the reverse
These items are in poor condition and cannot be produced until conservation work has been completed.

I cannot be any less vague about the details, and for once it’s not my fault – if I had spent any longer trying to inspect the goods, I would only have worsened their condition.  Lien, our Senior Conservator, has had a look at the plans and will be deciding how best to render them fit for use in future.  That may be a long-term project, but an early stage will be to get the plans stable enough to photograph or scan, so people can view them on the computers in our searchroom.

It makes sense that at least one of the plans is stamped “Butterley Ironworks” – in 1830, Wright had become senior partner in the Butterley Company, “which he dominated for the next forty-three years”, according to his entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.  The same source takes the view that “the outward sign of Wright’s success was the building of a great country house, Osmaston Manor, outside Ashbourne, in 1846–9”.

And if you want to show off your success by erecting buildings, you hire the best architect you can find.  In Wright’s case, it was Henry Isaac Stevens of Derby (1806-1873 – yes, his years of birth/death really are the same as Francis Wright’s).  I only saw the signature of Stevens on one of the plans, which was dated 1850, but at least some of the others will be his work, and given the dates of construction mentioned in the DNB, I feel sure that the 1850 plan will not be the oldest in the bundle.

Osmaston Manor was demolished in the 1960s.  You can find out more about it on the Osmaston Park website, which describes what this location has to offer as a wedding venue.

*”treasure” is an over-worked term when it comes to news of archival discoveries, so I’m sorry for using.  But the truth is, it’s ALL treasure to somebody, or we wouldn’t be keeping it!

Archives rescue team swings into action!

A few weeks ago, the Ripley Heritage Trust alerted us to the possibility that there were historic Butterley Company records at the former company works in Ripley that were in danger of being severely damaged or destroyed.  The works was sold after the Butterley Company closed down in 2009, since when the company that owns it has gone into administration.  The site has been sitting derelict and is shortly to be sold for redevelopment.

After visiting the site in the company of the very knowledgeable members of the Ripley Heritage Trust, the Record Office was able to get approval from the owners of the site to salvage records, so this morning a team of four of us went down there with a van.  If you find the sight of neglected records distressing, look away now:

IMG_8870 IMG_8871 IMG_8868As the pictures show, much was damaged beyond repair, but most of this material looked like purchase orders and timesheets, which aren’t of historical value.  There were however, lots of engineering drawings, mostly dating to between the 1950s and the 1980s.  Although some had been disturbed by vandals, and were ruined, many were still in plan chest drawers and had been well protected from the elements and the pigeons – mostly!

IMG_8853

Some chests had drawers that couldn’t be opened: IMG_8859 IMG_8884

But well-equipped in our protective clothing, we were able to salvage a good proportion of the drawings:


IMG_8856The drawings are now heading to our quarantine, and once our conservation team have given them the OK, we hope that the Ripley Heritage Trust will be able to use their expertise to identify the drawings so they will be accessible for research.

If you haven’t heard of the Butterley Company before, if was a company famed for iron founding and engineering.  In its latter years it was responsible for prestigious projects including the roof of St Pancras Station (if you’ve ever been in the station you’ll know how impressive this is – if not, take a look at these images) and the Falkirk Wheel.  Derbyshire Record Office already holds a substantial archive for Butterley (see our online catalogue) and Ripley Heritage Trust have just gained funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund for a project to document the history of the firm (see: https://www.hlf.org.uk/about-us/media-centre/press-releases/ripley-heritage-trust-secures-heritage-lottery-fund-support).

Thanks go to the Ripley Heritage Trust for alerting us to the records, and we are also very grateful to the owners of the site for allowing us to preserve this piece of Butterley history.  It will take some time before the drawings are sorted and listed – if you, or someone you know, has an engineering background and/or used to work for the Butterley Company and would like to help, please leave a comment below and we’ll be in touch!