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Ashbourne - Church Street, The Mansion
The Mansion, Church Street, Ashbourne. The house and garden.
Image © Ann Andrews
Dr. Taylor's House, Ashbourne [1]

The Mansion, near the end of Church Street and close to the parish church (the spire can be seen behind the trees above), is mostly an early eighteenth century building. However, Ernest Sadler, a later resident (see below), tells us that the house was built by Benjamin Taylor, an Ashbourne attorney, about 1680. His son Thomas, also an attorney, followed on from his father, and in turn Benjamin's grandson, John Taylor, inherited the property in 1731[2].

Probably the best known guest was Dr. Johnson who used to visit his lifelong friend Dr. John Taylor in the reigns of George II and George III. They had attended the same Lichfield school and were also contemporaries at Oxford, although were at different colleges [1]. James Boswell, Johnson's biographer, was also invited to The Mansion in 1776.

Samuel Johnson is thought to have used a small room facing the street that became a bathroom, so this would have been on the back staircase. His first visit was between 1737 and 1740 and he was last at Ashbourne between mid July and mid September 1784. Just three weeks later Dr. Taylor was to read the burial service at Westminster Abbey[1].

This was Dr. Taylor's summer residence. The Mansion was partly rebuilt in 1784; "the work that Robert Adam carried out converted it into a miniature mansion - one of the best of the smaller works of the Adam the Adam brothers in the country"[2]. Johnson, by this time not a well man, had "found a house half built of very uncomfortable appearance" on his final visit[1].

According to J. B. Firth, John Taylor was Rector of both Market Bosworth and of St. Margaret's, Westminster [1]. His probate records show him to have also been a Prebendary of the Collegiate Church of Saint Peter at Westminster [3]. He was to survive Johnson by three and a half years and was buried at St. Oswald's on 3 Mar 1788, aged 77 [4]. He asked "to be buried in a lead coffin in the same vault as his first wife and brother James Taylor"[3].

On this page are three views of the house from the garden and one of the frontage onto Church Street. The garden images include the wonderful domed octagonal room designed by Robert Adam which is entered from the garden by a flight of steps. When the web mistress lived here, during term time I should add, there was a splendid grand piano in the room. Its walls had several high niches which Firth said had housed statues; they were removed to the Town Hall at some stage and subsequently destroyed[1]. With or without the statues, it is a most impressive room.

John Taylor's relative, William Webster, a magistrate and deputy-lieutenant of the county, died at The Mansion on 29 Sep 1843[5] and was also buried at St. Oswald's on 5 Oct 1843; he was 71[4]. In 1848 Mr. Hobson, an Ashbourne auctioneer, advertised a large sale, or "public competition", to dispose of all The Mansion's furniture (including an organ, a Cremona violin and a grand piano), chandeliers, glass, plate and pictures; he had been instructed to do so by Frederick Taylor Webster, Esq.[6] William Webster's estate also included "a collection of fine old paintings" amassed by his "ancestor"[sic], Dr. Taylor, along with various prints and some relics of the late Dr. Samuel Johnson. The Mansion was then to be let - one attraction was its excellent pews in the Parish Church[7].

Mr. Hobson offers the substantial property for sale in 1850. It had a "servants'-hall, butler's-pantry, kitchen, larder, laundry, brewhouse, six cellars, eleven bedrooms, two store rooms and water closet, splendid entrance hall with geometrical staircase, and well arranged breakfast, dining and drawing rooms, with good stabling for four horses, carriage-house with rooms over, saddle-house and other necessary attached and detached offices; together also with greenhouse, pleasure grounds, shrubberies and fishpond and an adjoining small piece of land in possession of Henry F. Powell, Esquire."[8]

The Church Street facade of this three storey building is red brick and the wall is topped by a parapet with balustrades that hides the roof. The front would be symmetrical, with two windows either side of the door, etc., were it not for the slightly shorter older section on the western end. A low door leads to the back parts of the house, above which is the room Samuel Johnson was pleased had not been altered on his final visit. The main entrance is through the central front door underneath a portico with columns and a pediment. As you enter the building there is a step down into the Adam designed large entrance hall that rises up to the first floor. A shallow stone staircase rises up to a balcony that is supported by marble columns and on the hall's ceiling is a painting of Ganymede and the Eagle, a replica of a painting in the National Gallery[9].
The Gallery's web site now calls this The Rape of Ganymede.

1920s, when the Sadler family lived here (see below).

Henry Folliott Powell, a former Army captain, remained as tenant until about 1860[10]. The Powells were followed by members of the Fitzherbert family, the widow and children of the Rev. Alleyne Fitzherbert, who were living here in 1871. Rev. Fitzherbert had been a curate at Fenny Bentley (1851 census) but had died at Warsop Rectory on 15 Apr 1860. It seems likely that the next occupants were the sisters Anne and Catherine Gould, along with their niece Eliza Wright[11].

The Wilkies followed the Goulds. Colonel David Wilkie, whose uncle was the artist Sir David Wilkie, had been present at the siege of Delhi and the relief of Lucknow. He lived at Bradbourne Hall between 1862 and 1885, but he and his wife then took up residence at the Mansion and lived here until his death in 1894[12].

Dr. Ernest Alfred Sadler (1864-16 Oct 1945), a General Practitioner, moved in and was married from The Mansion[13]. The Sadlers lived here for almost fifty years. Dr. Sadler was a member of the Johnson Society[9] and his library included books relating to both Johnson and Boswell[14]. His name lives on at Queen Elizabeth's Grammar School, where he had been a governor; a cup bearing his name was presented to the school captains for many years (a boy one year and a girl the next), though is now given to both the head girl and head boy each year. One of the Sadler children, Michael Sadler, became Chairman of Governors and worked hard in his role for many years. Michael and his siblings were all born at The Mansion.

Hanson's pre WW1 view of The Mansion. The property next door, closer to the church and now
72 Church Street, has a facade dating from about 1800 although the house itself is older.
It is Grade II listed.

We hear of The Mansion next in 1946 when Mrs. Ball, the wife of the headmaster of QEGS and who gave her address as both the Old Grammar School and the Mansion, placed advertisements in the local press. For the next part of its history The Mansion was home to Queen Elizabeth's Grammar School's girl boarders as Major Ball had bought The Mansion. The Ball family lived here with girl boarders, who initially only boarded during the week. There seem to have been only about twelve girl boarders in 1948, and the previous year the total of pupils in both boarding houses was just 35. Seemingly, the fees their parents paid went directly to Major Ball as there were no places paid for by the County Council.

The Mansion was bought by Derbyshire CC in early 1950 for £6,000[15]. It was to provide boarding accommodation, with any fees paid to the County Council rather than to the school's head, and a home for the headmaster. The following year saw a sum of £2,500 granted for repairs and alterations to be carried out over a number of years. From this there was to be expenditure of £500 on improvements to include fire precautions and the adaptation of the kitchen into a day room for the fifteen girl boarders[16].

The building was, deservedly, given Grade I listing status in 1951.

The web mistress lived here for six years during term time when Mr. Kimmins was the headmaster (see list of headmasters, etc., on Church Street, the Old Grammar School). One striking feature during that time was the garden that extends down to the Henmore Brook. They were immaculately kept by a gentleman called Mr. Lear. He maintained rose beds and shrubberies, filled the large greenhouse with plants and tended an extensive vegetable garden that was tucked out of site of the main house. He also dealt with the boiler, the fires and the garden behind the Old School.

The Henmore was really not much more than a stream but it broke its banks in the floods of the late 1950's and early 1960's the flood water travelled quite a way up the garden.

The Mansion is now in private ownership.

QEGS Girls' Boarding House, February 1960.
It was clearly a warm day as the window of the junior girls' day room was open.
So was the sash window of the Adam room,
that had a kind of stable door opening at the bottom.

There is more about The Mansion elsewhere on this web site:

Church Group from Matlock,
photographed in The Mansion garden in the 1920's, is elsewhere on this website. Dr. A. E. Sadler would open his garden to visitors on occasion, something that Mr. and Mrs. Kimmins continued to do in the 1950s and 1960s.

Dr. Sadler wrote about his house:
Sadler, E. A. (1932) "The Mansion, Ashbourne. Derbyshire". Archaeological Journal (1932), Volume 53. (pp. 039-050) - with photographs and map of the ground floor

He also published a paper about Dr. Johnson's Ashbourne friends:
Sadler,E. A. (1939) Derbyshire Archaeological Journal, Volume 60 (pp. 001-020). "Dr. Johnson's Ashbourne friends".

1. "Dr. Taylor's House, Ashbourne". Illustration by Nelly Erichsen, published in J. B. Firth's 1908 book[8].
2. "The Mansion, Ashbourne". Pen and ink sketch from "The High Peak to Sherwood, The hills and dales of old Mercia", Thomas Linthwaite Tudor (1926), published London by Robert Scott. This drawing was done by Tudor.
3. "Ashbourne". Published by H. P. Hansen, Photographer, Ashbourne. Posted at Ashbourne on 31 May 1913 and sent to Devon.
4. Photograph of The Mansion, taken in February 1960 by Ann Andrews.
All images in the collection of, provided by and © Ann Andrews.
Researched by and written by and © Ann Andrews.
Intended for personal use only.


[1] Firth, J. B. (1908) "Highways and Byways in Derbyshire" MacMillan & Co., London. The Nelly Erichson illustration provided is from this book. In Dr. Taylor's Will (see [3] below) he bequeathed "a small piece of gold which was given to my late friend Doctor Samuel Johnson by Queen Anne which he wore suspended by a ribbon" to his Grace the Duke of Devonshire.

[2] Sadler, E. A. (1939) Derbyshire Archaeological Journal (1939), Volume 60. "Dr. Johnson's Ashbourne friends" (see the .pdf link above).

[3] Dr. Taylor's PCC Will is available at the National Archive (Ref PROB 11/1164/64) and was proved 13 March 1788. There were a number of beneficiaries, including "William Brunt son of Ann Brunt". He instructed that "William Brunt to take upon himself the surname Webster being the name of my grandfather and the common ancestor of myself and the said William Brunt". He further stated that whilst the Will named male beneficiaries William Brunt, Paul Brunt, James Brunt, John Johnson, Thomas Webb, Thomas Green and William Walker "but if they marry any of the daughters of Richard Beresford of Ashbourne Esquire or any of the daughters of Francis Beresford of Ashbourne Gentleman or any other women of the Beresford family in the county of Derby ..." they would not inherit anything. Nor would their heirs.

[4] St. Oswald's burials can be found on Find My Past.

[5] The notice of his death was published in the Derbyshire Courier on 7 October 1843. William Webster's relationship to Dr. Taylor was incorrect in several articles about his death and the sale of The Mansion (see [3] above).

[6] Notices were placed in several editions of the Derby Mercury, the Derbyshire Courier and the Derbyshire Advertiser and Journal (several dates) and other newspapers, some of which were outside the county.

[7] Derbyshire Advertiser and Journal, 12 May 1848.

[8] Derby Mercury, 6 November 1850. It had been advertised in the same paper on 29 May 1846. The greenhouse was still in situ in the 1960s.

[9] Derbyshire Advertiser and Journal, 5 October 1912.

[10] The last reference to H. F. Powell in Ashbourne is in Harrison's 1860 directory. He and his family were in Ramsgate Kent in the 1861 census and in West Malling in 1871. He passed away there on 6 Dec 1872 (this from national probate records).

[11] Although an address was not given in the 1881 census, their abode was next to properties where there were elderly women, i.e. the almshouse. Ann Gould died in 1885. Her slightly younger sister passed away in 1910, aged 100.

[12] Derbyshire Advertiser and Journal, 21 December 1894. Announcement of death of Colonel Wilkie, aged 85. He passed away on 19 Dec 1894.

[13] Announcement of marriage, The Times, Friday, 17 Feb, 1899.

[14] The Times, Monday, 8 Jul, 1946. Dr. A. E. Sadler's library was offered for sale by his executors.

[15] Ashbourne Telegraph, 27 January 1950. Mansion as Boarding House.

[16] ibid., 11 May 1951.

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Queen Elizabeth's Grammar 1909-64


Other Ashbourne images
by Nellie Erichsen

Church Street Almshouses

Queen Elizabeth's Grammar, the Old School