This year sees the 50th anniversary of the Derbyshire Historic Buildings Trust which has worked to save and protect some of our county’s most loved and important landmarks. Viv looks back on their biggest success stories.

Today, the sight of a ruinous historic building swathed in scaffolding whilst teams of skilled craftspeople transform it is, usually, welcomed within the local landscape.

Yet, before restoration and regeneration became by-words for giving our towns and countryside a sustainable future, it was the imagination and persistence of organisations such as the Derbyshire Historic Buildings Trust that opened eyes to such possibilities.

Established in 1974, a desire to mark European Architectural Heritage Year by Derbyshire County Council provided the impetus to DHBT’s formation. At the time, it was one of just four such trusts in England.

Its current chairman Derek Latham, who as a county conservation officer initially oversaw the Trust’s technical division carrying out feasibility studies for potential projects, recalls the challenges faced.

‘In the beginning, the public demand was often for modern architecture because we were coming out of the oppression of the post-war years. However, having started with just £14,000 funding, we got going relatively quickly,’ he recalls.

‘We initially identified 120 listed buildings across Derbyshire that were empty, neglected or needed repair. These included private properties, industrial sites, and former schools and chapels.’

Great British Life: Multiple dwellings restored in Golden Valley, between Riddings and Ripley, marked the Trust's first large-scale residential projectMultiple dwellings restored in Golden Valley, between Riddings and Ripley, marked the Trust's first large-scale residential project (Image: DHBT)

The first buildings successfully rescued and resold were relatively modest - a former toll cottage in Derby, followed by a rural ruin near Chesterfield which, as Derek says, made a lasting impact.

‘The second building, Stud Farmhouse, had been vandalised and was in a very bad way,’ he explains.

‘We converted it into two dwellings and the uplift this gave to the surrounding area showed the power of regeneration. It paved the way for the Golden Valley project, where a whole settlement lay derelict.’

Here, 14 of the former Butterley Company iron workers’ cottages were fully restored and brought to market, whilst self-builders snapped-up the remaining 12 insulated shells.

As Derek, who by this time had set-up his own architectural practice, explains, this in turn provided a blueprint for one of the Trust’s most ambitious and acclaimed projects.

‘Derby had the oldest, purpose-built railway buildings in the country and I suggested we should try to save them,’ he says.

‘It was a major project, with 55 buildings involved. At the time there was only around £45,000 available to begin the work, so we borrowed from the Architectural Heritage Fund and the bank.’

Great British Life: Derby's historic Brunswick Inn reopened following the area's extensive restoration during the early 1980s Derby's historic Brunswick Inn reopened following the area's extensive restoration during the early 1980s (Image: DHBT)

Reversing plans to drive a new road through the area, which also included the historic Brunswick Inn, archaic plumbing, collapsing brickwork and an infestation of dry rot were all issues which had to be overcome – and were.

Aesthetically, the results of this ambitious project were stunning, including the visual attention to historical detail embodied, for example, in replica railings painted in Midland Railway maroon, and the electric lighting with its nod to the gas original.

Completed with added front gardens and car parking spaces, the awards and accolades poured in.

‘It was typical of many projects; there are stories to be told but major hurdles to be overcome,’ adds Derek. ‘That’s part of the joy, you never know what to expect. It takes a lot of perseverance and is never a quick fix.’

This is certainly true of the Trust’s contribution towards Wirksworth’s resurrection, which lasted just shy of a decade.

Great British Life: Derby's Midland Place and Brunswick Inn had become derelict and condemned prior to restoration Derby's Midland Place and Brunswick Inn had become derelict and condemned prior to restoration (Image: DHBT)

Having been in sharp decline since the collapse of the lead industry and contraction in quarrying, the town was declared a General Improvement Area during the late 1970s.

The catalyst for change came when it was chosen for a national experiment powered by the Monument Trust, with conservation the engine for social and economic regeneration.

This ranged from an elegant Georgian townhouse on Market Place to a former blacksmith’s shop, as well as workers’ cottages where the cost of replacing guttering exceeded the property values.

‘Ironically, the most difficult of the initial 12 properties in the Wirksworth regeneration was the Trust’s now headquarters. At one point, it was more like an archaeological dig,’ Derek suggests.

An eyeless, floorless and roofless shadow of this once affluent 17th century merchant’s residence, Hopkinson’s House on Green Hill had been festooned with mullioned windows and decorative plasterwork.

Once restored, the building epitomised the town’s revitalised spirit which, later, was rewarded by a prestigious Europa Nostra silver medal for Cultural Heritage.

‘It was the beginning of a movement and encouraged others to take on the restoration of more buildings,’ Derek says.

‘Twenty years after the Trust’s involvement began, Wirksworth became a vibrant community again.’

Naturally, some projects hit rough waters, most notably the Buxton Thermal Baths, now known as Buxton Hot Baths.

The Trust’s resilience though surfaced again, enabling the completion of another public project at Derby Arboretum and, most recently, the £1.7 million rescue of Francis Thompson’s Grade II* listed wayside station at South Wingfield, quite possibly the oldest rural railway station in the world.

Great British Life: Wingfield Station was on the at-risk building list in October 2020 before restoration work started Wingfield Station was on the at-risk building list in October 2020 before restoration work started (Image: DHBT)However, the past delays in securing grant funding and the time it takes to sell DHBT-owned properties has, its chairman says, led to a financing rethink.

‘On our At Risk List since 1974, Wingfield Station had become a ruin,’ says Derek. ‘Thankfully, the National Lottery Heritage Fund and Historic England recognised what we were trying to do and, additionally, we received a lot of support both in Wingfield and from the wider railway community.

READ MORE: How Wingfield Station in Derbyshire was restored

‘Moving forward we want to become an investment trust, by retaining the buildings we restore and renting them out to secure an income to use in other projects. We’ll then need only small grants from other sources to be sustainable.’

According to the Trust’s Lucy Godfrey, volunteers can play a vital role.

‘They were heavily involved at Wingfield Station - from researching and writing information panels, to undertaking ground clearance and devising guided tours.

‘We’re continuing to work with volunteers and the local history group, while the charity Wingfield 1947, now a tenant in the Goods Shed, is actively recruiting volunteers to support the work they do.’

And Derek points to another significant pivot in the Trust’s business model.

Great British Life: Wingfield Station's restored exteriorWingfield Station's restored exterior (Image: Laura Firth/MiniAperture Photography)‘We’re now looking for projects where people can be trained-up in historic building skills,’ he reveals. ‘This will enable us to apply for training grants and support individuals currently out of work or re-entering employment.

‘The Derby Hippodrome is an early example of a theatre combined with a cinema. A feasibility study, funded by the Theatre’s Trust, has shown there’s a market for an alternative music venue within the city. Initially, there will be a café and rehearsal room with a big open space for events.’

Partnerships and collaboration with like-minded local and national conservation bodies and individuals – most notably its first patron: Deborah Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire – have always been the bedrock of DHBT’s unwavering commitment to restoring the county’s built heritage.

Just as important to its continuing success is the support of Trustees and Friends.

‘We’d love to hear from anyone who wants to give these at-risk buildings a future,’ concludes Derek.

‘It’s unthinkable that the Derbyshire Heritage Buildings Trust will not always be around for generations to come.’