Tapton House: progress at last


Whilst our views will not be favoured by some members of the local community  the Civic Society committee has welcomed the news that the Borough Council is to offer Tapton House and its immediate grounds (but not the park or golf course) for sale on a 999-year lease. This is after two years of trying unsuccessfully to let the property on a short-term lease as offices.

If a sale can be achieved, the taxpayers of Chesterfield will be relieved of the considerable cost of maintaining a large Grade II* listed building for which the council itself has no use. Private capital can be used to renovate the mansion and restore the gardens.

No conditions have been imposed concerning the future use of the building, although a 999-year lease (as opposed to a sale of the freehold) means that the council retains some control over what happens to it. The council also has powers as a local planning authority and, since Tapton House is listed II* rather than II, Historic England would have to be consulted about any changes to the fabric.

Above all, we believe that a sustainable future for Tapton House might well be achieved by the property’s sale into a caring and appreciative owner.

Unsuitable

Various possible uses have been canvassed for the house, including conversion into flats, a hotel or a nursing or care home. Our view is that the building is unsuitable for any of these because of its internal layout. We deal with the potential for community use below.

A museum has been mentioned, or some form of craft centre. The issue here is on-going income and the need for modern services, such as climate-controlled storage for museum exhibits, floor loading and security. The building is remote, not really on a public transport link, so we think that the actual footfall would be low. This is hardly a long-term solution for the property, particularly as other museums are under extreme pressure with funding. Chesterfield, or course, also already has a museum in the centre of the town – currently closed for extensive refurbishment.

The alterations needed would be undesirable and probably unacceptable to Historic England. For this reason we would prefer to see the mansion revert to being a large private house, as it was until the 1920s. The ground floor would need some reorganisation to make it manageable as a house with (one assumes) few if any resident domestic staff, and bathrooms would need to be installed on the first floor. The top floor, which is mainly divided by stud partitions, could be converted into flats for staff or semi-independent relatives, or used to run a business from home. At present the grounds are open to the public, but it would be possible to create a boundary giving the owner of the mansion a reasonable sized private garden while retaining public access to the park.

There remains the question of what to do with the school buildings of 1931. Some if not all of these appear to have been built on the footings of former stables and other outbuildings, and are connected at ground- and first-floor level with the mansion at its north-east corner. The nature of the brickwork suggests that these buildings were erected for Charles Markham after he bought the Tapton House estate in 1873, and are not part of the original mansion of 1794 and 1811.

The school buildings are listed, but only because they are attached to a listed building. They would not merit listing in their own right. Internally they were quite extensively altered by Chesterfield College during their time at Tapton. In these circumstances, it is arguable that some or all of them could be demolished without loss, which would improve the setting of the mansion.

There’s now no doubting that Tapton House is for sale, as this sign states, recently erected at the entrance to the park on Brimington Road, Tapton.

Misunderstandings

News of the council’s decision to sell Tapton House has been greeted with disapproval by those who believe that it should be used in some way for ‘the community’. Indeed, the Civic Society has recently received an abusive anonymous letter, said to be from three local organisations, none of which has a website or postal address, criticising our decision to support the council’s sale of the property.

Suggestions of this sort are based on various misunderstandings. The first is that the estate was given to the council on condition that it be used ‘for the people of Chesterfield’, as if this was a binding covenant on the local authority. This is not the case. It was given to the council unconditionally, with the hope that it might be used in this way – most of the estate has been. The park has always been open to the public, and the golf course has always operated as a public course.

The mansion, on the other hand, has never been open. After an abortive attempt to turn it into a museum, it was a school for sixty years and then an annexe to Chesterfield College.

Community use?

More fundamentally, suggestions for ‘community use’ of the buildings have yet to be accompanied by any realistic proposals for funding. It is possible that the National Lottery might meet some of the capital cost of conversion, but it would certainly not contribute to running costs.

No one has yet suggested a use which would generate sufficient income to make ‘community use’ viable.

The sale

The sale of Tapton House is being handled by the Sheffield office of Knight Frank and a well-presented sales brochure, including floor-plans, is currently available on the firm’s website.

They have also put up a conspicuous sales board at the entrance to Tapton Park, which should attract some passing trade.

With luck, someone in a position to restore the mansion as an attractive, but manageable, country house, will decide to take on the challenge.


5 responses to “Tapton House: progress at last”

      • So it’s lost to the residents of Chesterfield, who were supposed to benefit from Charles Markham’s gift of Tapton House, Park and Gardens, this being a responsibility entrusted to Chesterfield Borough Council?

        • Thank you for your comment to our post. We think we have covered this issue in our thoughts on the future of Tapton House document (downloadable from the link here – http://www.chesterfieldcivicsociety.org.uk/2021/10/tapton-house-our-thoughts-on-its-future/)

          It’s worth remembering that the House has never been open to the public (though the grounds have). The fundamental issue here is that no-one appears to have suggested a sustainable future for the house.

          • The council are trying to sell (after a couple of years of trying to rent) the house because it is not sustainable and would take vast sums of money to maintain. The council have a business property that they built in a public park that is viable – the Innovation Centre.

            This begs a couple of questions:-

            Can the council build businesses in all our public parks so that they can sell them ?

            Why not sell the viable business – the Innovation Centre which most people regard as a monstrosity – to fund the upkeep of the house that the people of Chesterfield seem to want to keep ?

            Also, on a slightly different topic, the designation of buildings (Grade 2 listed) be changed at the whim of the council and/or your organisation ?

            Thanks in anticipation
            Chris

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