The Magazine of Lenton Local History Society

Lenton Times Issue 4 - June 1990

More about Mr. Mitchell

Iris Keeble's article in our last issue spurred Frank Barnes to add a little more to the sum of our knowledge about her great grandfather, David Mitchell.

The Lodge and entrance way to Lenton Firs. Photograph by Paul Bexon

The Lodge and entrance way to Lenton Firs

David Mitchell may have modestly described himself as a gardener. Yet he belonged to that body of highly trained men who were actually responsible for creating the cultural landscapes that we have inherited from the heyday of Victorian horticulture, and which too often are credited to their owners rather than to their makers. It should not surprise us that David Mitchell was a man of parts, artistic as well as practical, and known to his family as a violin player and a competent painter and draughtsman, excelling in water colour landscape painting.

The new lodge at Lenton Firs (now occupied by the University's Department of Architecture) into which David Mitchell moved in 1862 carries that same date on its facade. It was part of the reconstruction and extension of Lenton Firs carried out in 1861-62 at the joint expense of the lessee, Thomas Adams, and the owner, Lord Middleton. The lodge is sited half-way up the steepest part of Adams Hill where a new drive to serve the 'new' house joined Derby Road. At the brow of the hill is another short drive leading up to Lenton Firs. This effectively served as the 'tradesmen's entrance' but is in fact all that was left of the original drive from the old turnpike, cut off by the new line of Derby Road built by Lord Middleton in 1822.

David Mitchell may have lived in the lodge but he was not a gateman. He was evidently appointed by Thomas Adams to reconstruct and redesign the gardens on a scale to match the new mansion. He also had the job of supervising the construction and operation of the large glasshouses that were still a feature of Lenton Firs down to the Second World War. The nature of his training as landscape gardener and horticultural engineer at Chatsworth would be his major qualification for this position, but it is interesting to speculate as to whether his earlier antecedents may have had any bearing on his appointment. His birthplace, the village of North Grimston in Yorkshire, was part of the estate of Birdsall Hall, which became the favourite and principal home of Lord Middleton, the owner of Lenton Firs, in the 19th century, when Wollaton Hall was out of favour; and I understand from Mrs. Keeble that David Mitchell actually began his working life as a gardener's lad at Birdsall Hall.

With his marriage to Rebecca Hobbs in 1852 David Mitchell left Chatsworth and came to Nottingham in 1854 or 1855, after a brief period at or near Derby (on the evidence of the birthplaces and birthdates of his children as recorded by the Census Enumerators Books of 1871). Although he may have lived briefly on Butchers Lane (now Wollaton Road) Beeston just before moving to Lenton Firs Lodge, we find him with his family living at Sherwood at the 1861 census. There was a particularly large development of big houses and gardens, most with glasshouses, in the area south of The Forest, between Forest Grove and the Arboretum, and David Mitchell ought to have found plenty of scope here for his talents. His six or more year’s residence at Sherwood may well have gained him a local reputation for glasshouse and design expertise which would ultimately commend him to Thomas Adams.

Frank Barnes

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