We were holidaying in the Peak District with family when Alex, who loves old buildings (we had already restored two houses and I swore there wouldn’t be a third…), decided to walk back from Matlock to our B&B. Before he took the track along side the Peak Rail steam railway line, he espied an Estate Agent and there the story begins…
We were given some photos, including those of a wedding taken on the stone steps (probably in the 1910s) and the original glasshouses. Also the estate agent details mentioned that Joseph Paxton, Head Gardener at Chatsworth, had bought the house for his daughter and landscaped the gardens in 1845. There are several clues to this legacy; a column top identical to those surrounding the site of the great stove at Chatsworth (now the maze), a rock garden (obviously on a far smaller scale) and many specimen trees including a copper beech, a towering giant sequoia and a pair of gingko biloba trees. We were captivated by the rich history and felt a sense of responsibility as the current guardians.
We believe that the gingko biloba trees are some of the oldest in the country. In 2017 the head of the arboretum at Chatsworth took some berries from our female to restock the gingkos at Chatsworth. They were thrilled by the idea of maintaining the lineage to Paxton’s original gingko seeds.
The house and gardens had clearly been greatly loved through the years and in 1986 the gardens were featured on the BBC’s Gardeners’ World. However, when we bought Darley House in 2009 it was ready for some significant restoration and there were some beautiful original features such as ornate ceilings and shutters to work with.
We reconfigured the top floor, raised ceilings to their former levels, put back cornicing and partitioned one jack and jill bedroom to create two more ensuite bathrooms. We completely replumbed and rewired the house putting the boilers and hot water tanks into the basement. We restored all 20 sash windows, which had been replaced with plastic PVC frames in the 1980s, and we put in underfloor heating throughout the downstairs. We laid local gritstone in the kitchen and stairwell and revealed colourful caustic tiles in the entrance hall. We put back a Georgian wooden fire surround in the games room, a French red marble one in the living room and an enormous wooden one in the entrance hall.
The most significant aspect of the building work was the rebuilding of the wing that now houses the magnificent open plan kitchen and dining area. It had been a billiard room but in the 1970s a tree fell on the roof and the owners took the opportunity to create a double garage and garden room with a flat roof which was now leaking badly. We took down the original stone walls and rebuilt them with modern insulation, restoring the pitched roof. The extra stone littered the gardens for a while.. and then we built a store room with them. Once the work was complete we sand-blasted the back of the house, removing its industrial drabness.
You will notice an over use of the word “we” in describing the work that was done…
…well, we were incredibly lucky to be guided by Martin Swindell, an expert restorer of period properties. He recommended some very talented craftspeople who were able to give Darley House the TLC that it deserved and to restore it to its former glory.
In January 2015 Darley House was featured in Derbyshire Life and this article goes into more detail about the work done and other contractors involved.
We are not alone in loving Darley House and not only the past stands testament to that. In April 2015 we started renting Darley House as a self-catered holiday let. Our wonderful guests, many of whom return, build their own special memories and connection with Darley House through time spent celebrating special occasions and friendships with the people that they hold dear.
Darley House is a luxury self-catered holiday let sleeping 14 on the edge of the Peak District National Park. If you would like to create a relationship with Darley House, please take a look at our website or contact Lucy at firstname.lastname@example.org.