Moths First Pages
Return to Tapton House School.Tom Jones 1944
Low whispers room to room disrupt your bounds.
Your voice, instilled with youth, is yearning still
With shrilling echoes smoothed in clear young sounds
Sweet lingering within the warmth they spill.
I come with memories - heretics in time.
They lay within me like forgotten seed,
To burst their life in flower, some to mime
A truth of past, and others to exceed.
Remembered joys are seen with sorrow's eyes,
And grief lies framed among the peace we sought.
We call into the past, and past replies
With mirror-like reversal of the thought.
I have not cried too long into this past
For time's mutations. Earth and moon are one
With universe, and though to shade they cast
Old faces, only imagery is gone.
Slow darkling years loomed suddenly away
And some returned, my school, to you. They lie
Upon your heart and wait the prospect day
Of my recalling, - lights of turned reply.
From Romans to Railways - and a little furtherMalcolm R Handford - The Taptonian 1958
Reference to Tapton's past in all the usual works of local history are remarkably few, and the further we delve back the scarcer they become. Of late, however, much has been said and written concerning Tapton and its possible connections with the Romans.
Local tradition has it that on Tapton Castle Hill - the large earthen mound to the west of Tapton House - can be found the site of a Roman encampment. Near it the old Roman road from Derby to York was supposed to have run. The latter theory has now been largely discredited but the former still remains a vague possibility. It is possible that Chesterfield was a trading station under the Romans. The discovery of a few coins bearing the heads of long-dead Caesars lends weight to the theory that sons of Rome once occupied our modest mound - now clothing itself with trees - but hardly enough to warrant the assumption of its historical accuracy.
The Saxon name Chesterfield (meaning the field of the chester or castle) seems to imply that in Saxon times our ancient town was overlooked by the ramparts of a castle. Tapton Castle Hill (once called Windmill Hill) - now preserved by the Ministry of Works as an ancient monument - would, because of its commanding position, be an obvious choice of site for the erection of any fortification. Ford's History of Chesterfield (published in 1839) seems to regard this as an historical fact and talks of 'the ancient castle of which the foundation may even now be traced'. In the absence of other evidence to corroborate this statement, and bearing in mind that the particular book in question is riddled with inaccuracy, the possible existence of a castle on Tapton's doorstep (almost literally!) must, too, remain no more than an attractive theory.
Domesday Book - that inevitable resort of the local historian - provides the first recorded milestone in the course of Tapton's history. At the time of the great Domesday Survey (1086) Tappetune was one of six berwicks or hamlets of the Manor of Newebold (Newbold). Tapton thus came within the boundaries of the Worpentake of Scarredele (Scarsdale) and as such was the property of the king.
In the reign of King John (1199-1216) Tapton emerges as belonging to William de Briwere. Briwere, a noted royal favourite, had been granted Tapton along with the whole of Worpentake of Scarsdale by John, the king. It is next recorded as having passed into the possession of the Durrants, an old Chesterfield family.
The possibly Elizabethan stone Manor House of Tapton was partly demolished towards the end of the seventeenth century as a result of a misunderstanding which had arisen from a badly worded will. The remaining section with its stone roof, stout chimney stacks and mullioned windows can still be seen. It is in a well-preserved condition, though somewhat modernised in part, and is situated in a hollow some quarter of a mile to the S E of Tapton House.
But if Tapton Manor lays claim to distinction in the annals of antiquity it is Tapton House that attracts the tourist with an eye for a story.
The house is not of any great architectural importance, though its elegant proportions and many-windowed façade cannot fail to give pleasure to the sightseer. This handsome pile of mellow brick and stone rests - when free from its present inmates! - perhaps dreaming of the times when it would welcome carriages bringing guests instead of cars and teachers. Only with reluctance has it surrendered to those who thought - still think, I suppose - it more suitable to house a school than anything else.
Built towards the end of the eighteenth century, Tapton House stands proudly amidst a large rolling park and spacious gardens that are the pride of the men who plan and tend them.
About its early career there is still much opportunity for speculation. The first owner of Tapton House that we can record with complete certainty is Isaac Wilkinson. Wilkinson was a wealthy Chesterfield banker and it has been suggested that it was for him the house was built. On his death in 1831 he willed the house to a George Yeldham Ricketts who afterwards took the name of Wilkinson. This gentleman did not reside at Tapton and his visits appear to have been few. It is thought that Ricketts subsequently 'disposed of Tapton as part of a colliery lease'. The new owner was George Stephenson. It was the coal seams, discovered nearby, that first attracted him to Tapton and not the house.
But Stephenson soon realised the advantages of Tapton House as a residence and made it his home. The extensive gardens and the opportunity to indulge in his favourite hobby, horticulture, doubtless exerted no little influence. Extensive the gardens may have been, but they had been neglected and were much overgrown. Stephenson was determined to replan and set them. One of his first actions was to cut a woodland path to the S W of the House. The path, though much changed, is still in use today. It was 'Old George's' delight to challenge his guests to a race on the steep path and he was very disappointed if beaten!
In Grundy's Pictures of the Past we are told that Stephenson's 'one belief, save in steam and coal and iron was in these gardens of his'. He had many glass houses built (one of these may still be seen in the gardens behind the house) and he devoted much of his time to growing fruit of many varieties but especially peaches and pineapples. One of his distinguished friends was Sir Joseph Paxton (of Crystal Palace fame) who must have visited Tapton House more than once.
Stephenson's great love of animals and birds remained with him all his life, as is evident from the lengthy list of pets that he kept at Tapton. After reading a paper On the Fallacies of the Rotary Engine at Birmingham in the July of 1848 he suffered a severe attack of fever. The illness seemed to be passing when he had a sudden relapse and died on the 12 August 1848, at the age of sixty-seven. He was buried in the Church of Holy Trinity, where a simple 'G.S. 1848' marks his grave.
The next we hear of Tapton is as a boarding school run by two spinsters, the Misses Pocock and Walker. Little is known about the early progress of this venture except that it was here that Miss Violet Markham's mother received part of her education. Her initials and those of her sister are carved on a tree in the 'wilderness' behind the gardens. There appears to be no written reference to the later career of this school.
In her autobiography Return Passage (1953) Miss Violet Markham writes that 'Tapton had been unoccupied for some time and had fallen into considerable disrepair before my parents took possession of it'. Miss Markham's parents had previously lived at Brimington Hall, 'a Jacobean house within three miles of Chesterfield'. Her father, purchased Tapton House and he and his family moved to Tapton on New Year's Day, 1873. Tapton, happily, escaped most of the extreme bad taste of the Victorian era. Indeed, it is to Charles' wife, Rosa, that we owe the beauty of the old salon, or drawing room, which now houses the school library.
The family of Markham continued to live at Tapton for many decades, taking a great interest in Chesterfield affairs and winning the respect of the people of the borough. Miss Violet Markham, however, is known to a much wider public both as a writer of no mean ability and as an educationalist.
In 1925 Mr Charles P Markham gave Tapton House and its extensive grounds to the people of Chesterfield, suggesting that it might be used as a museum or some other public centre. A local museum collection was begun and housed for a time.
But here ends the story of the Tapton known to antiquity and the Tapton House which meant home to two noble families. Here, too, a story begins, the story of Tapton House, the school. However, it is not the present writer's intention to set down the history of that school. Perhaps someone else will take up his abandoned pen and pursue the story of Tapton ever further.