The restoration of Jedidiah Strutt’s Derby town house

PUBLISHED: 16:59 03 November 2014 | UPDATED: 20:02 23 October 2015

Friar Gate House, Derby

Friar Gate House, Derby

Ashley Franklin Photography

William and Donna Hardcastle have rescued historic Friar Gate House and are returning it to a ‘living and breathing family residence’

William and Donna Hardcastle with daughter IndiaWilliam and Donna Hardcastle with daughter India

The conferring in 2001 of World Heritage Site status on the Derwent Valley Mills has done much to illuminate the valley’s crucial role in the Industrial Revolution. It has also helped raise the profile of the men who shaped it who include, notably, Jedidiah Strutt. An instance of this was the unveiling of a blue plaque last January outside Strutt’s final family home at 65 Friar Gate in Derby.

Better still, this house has returned to being a family residence, thanks to William and Donna Hardcastle who are busily restoring the building to its former Georgian glory and grandeur, albeit with an exciting modern twist.

‘I am delighted the Hardcastles bought the house,’ says historian, conservationist and Civic Society member Maxwell Craven. ‘One of my chief standpoints is that historic domestic buildings should be wrested from the dead hand of local authorities and institutions and returned to occupation.’

Friar Gate House was built in 1792 as part of a succession of Improvement Commissions which led to the distinctive Georgian elegance of this periphery of Derby. There were several designs by Joseph Pickford, including his own house at No 41, now a museum. No 65 was designed by Jedidiah Strutt’s son William who was later responsible for the Derbyshire General (later Royal) Infirmary.

The front entrance and hallway with the original door and Hopton Wood stone floorThe front entrance and hallway with the original door and Hopton Wood stone floor

It’s pertinent that like Jedidiah Strutt, the Hardcastles are entrepreneurs and pioneers of industry. In their case, it’s the world of interior design where their company Nash Interiors is increasingly gaining wide-eyed national attention for their striking smorgasbord of styles where both the classical and the contemporary mix and match, and colours are invariably bold and vibrant.

This makes William and Donna the ideal incumbents of a decaying house that was facing the prospect of its 41 rooms being gutted and split into modern apartments.

‘We have always lived in and loved town houses,’ says William. ‘We love the architecture of town houses, and they are so convenient – you don’t have to get the car out all the time. We also feel that the town house environment is so alive, and populated by such an interesting mix of people, too.’

William and Donna were first entranced by the Strutt house when walking by at the turn of 2012. ‘It’s eight bays wide and four storeys high yet in all the years of driving down Friar Gate we hadn’t really noticed it as it’s not especially imposing. Because we were strolling by, it caught our eye – not least the For Sale notice.

Sitting roomSitting room

I thought we could never afford it, yet as it turned out we discovered the house we were then living in had a higher value.’

Donna then convinced William it was not only perfect as a family home but also an exciting restoration project. Furthermore, it was a wise business move: ‘Our work was wearing us down,’ Donna reveals, ‘so I suggested we made our new home our work base, too.’

Work meant travelling to Nottingham every day where Nash had its showroom. William had taken over the running of the family’s interiors business from his father Noel Hardcastle. Nash Interiors – ‘Hardcastle sounded a bit Northern, whereas Nash was the King’s architect’ William points out – started up in Derby in the 1970s before settling in Nottingham city centre. ‘As a tot I was taken to antiques fairs at weekends,’ recalls William. ‘By the age of four, I was helping to deliver sofas. I used to carry the cushions in. The business got into my blood.’

‘Having a showroom in Nottingham meant we were dictated by shop opening hours,’ explains Donna. ‘By basing ourselves in our new house, our work hours would be our own. We could be more flexible.’

Monty's bedroomMonty's bedroom

So they decided to buy Friar Gate House and in August 2012, moved in: William, Donna, teenage sons Jasper, Finn and Monty, and infant daughter India. Ironically, having in one stroke eased the stress of running a busy retail showroom, the Hardcastles were plunged into an all-consuming renovation programme, offset by the elation of finding themselves custodians of an architectural gem, as William remembers: ‘I was so excited when we moved in that I found myself wandering around at one in the morning with a torch in my hand, just exploring.’

Exploration led to the discovery that many of the house’s Georgian features lay behind layers of add-ons from successive periods. ‘In one instance,’ reveals William, ‘we found a 1970s’ fireplace, behind which was a 1920s’ fireplace and behind that was a Victorian one before we finally got to the Georgian fireplace. We got through a lot of soot and dead pigeons.’

Other discoveries included, remarkably, three small rooms in the basement behind a cupboard, one of which included a stack of small beds, harking back to the building’s century-long spell as a school when it once took boarders. A more poignant discovery was that of an unopened letter from the mother of a maid at the house: it had slipped down the gap between a mantelpiece and the wall.

There were gaps in the windows, too. ‘You could have passed sheets of paper through those gaps,’ says Donna. ‘We were pretty frozen that first year.’

Friar Gate House, DerbyFriar Gate House, Derby

So, renovation of the windows was paramount, as was the re-leading of the roof. ‘Before that, there were buckets everywhere,’ recalls William, ‘and it looked as if the ceilings might cave in at any moment.’

The boys did their bit, too. ‘They filled two skips from the stuff they got out from the roof,’ reveals Donna; ‘another skip was filled with nothing but black dust. Our boys looked like miners emerging from a pit... even after they washed!’

The family also encountered woodworm and dry rot; and an incredible 200 tons of earth came out of the basement. ‘It took two weeks just to restore a floor in one room,’ says William; ‘we would all spend hours on our hands and knees sanding and staining.’

There is now light at the end of the passageway. The roof is secure, most of the plastering is done and the joists have been replaced. It will still be a while yet before the family decamps to its ground floor living quarters but some rooms have been completed while others await William and Donna’s individual and extravagant design touch.

‘We are not out to reproduce this house as it may have appeared originally,’ states William. ‘After all, we don’t want this to be a museum. What we DO want is something exciting that combines our love of both history and contemporary design. We are also delighted that this house is living and breathing again as a family residence.’

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