The Magazine of Lenton Local History Society

Lenton Times Issue 7 - September 1992

Holy Trinity Benefactor - Francis Wright

Francis Wright lived at Lenton Hall and contributed 3,000 towards the cost of building Holy Trinity and the Church school while also providing the land on which both were built. Such basic facts gain regular inclusion in the standard histories of Holy Trinity but none of them go on to explain who Francis Wright was and what was the source of his evident wealth. The following article attempts to rectify this deficiency.

Portrait of Francis Wright as a young man

In about 1760 a local merchant and ironmonger, Ichabod Wright, founded a bank in Nottingham which, along with Smith's bank, was to play a significant role in the industrial expansion of the town and surrounding region. Ichabod died in 1777 and the business was left to his sons, John and Thomas Wright. John died in 1789 and Thomas a year later, so control of Wright's bank then passed to their two sons, respectively John and Ichabod.

Apart from his part share in a very prosperous banking concern, John Wright also inherited land near Nottingham plus the family's Derbyshire estates at Ripley, Hartshay and Riddings. The significant event, from our point of view, came in April 1791 when John Wright married Elizabeth Beresford and John became part owner in another business. Eventually to be known as the Butterley Company, this had begun life in 1790 as a partnership between Benjamin Outram and John's new father-in-law, Francis Beresford. A fourth partner joined at the same time as John Wright. This was William Jessop, the well-known civil engineer. They described themselves at this time as 'traders together in getting and smelting Ironstone, Casting and Manufacturing Iron, getting & burning Limestone, and getting Coal & Slack' and the Butterley Company, located in the vicinity of Ripley in Mid Derbyshire, was to grow into the largest coal and iron concern in the East Midlands.

John Wright had lived at Willoughby House in Nottingham but at the beginning of the nineteenth century bought a portion of land on what is now the University campus and commissioned William Stretton to build him an imposing residence there. This was completed c.1802 and initially known as Lenton House the name was later changed to Lenton Hall. (The building now forms part of Hugh Stewart Hall of Residence.) Elizabeth Wright had given birth to a son and four daughters while they were resident at Willoughby House. After the move to Lenton Hall there were two more boys, the older of these being Francis Wright.

In the normal course of events the eldest son, John, might have been expected to inherit the bulk of his father's estate but his early death in 1828 meant the chief beneficiary became his younger brother, Francis. Francis Wright didn't even have to wait until his father's death, as in June 1830 Francis was given all his father's shares in the Butterley Company. Now in his early seventies John Wright was handing control to his son who was only 23. These Butterley shares have been calculated as being worth somewhere in the region of 110,000 and presumably provided Francis with sufficient income to enable him in August 1830 to marry Selina, the eldest daughter of a baronet, Sir Henry Fitzherbert of Tissington. After their marriage the local directories suggest that Francis Wright and his wife went to live in the vicinity of The Park in Nottingham. How long the couple remained there is not clear but certainly by 1840 they had become the occupants of Lenton Hall while John Wright had taken up residency in Lenton Firs. John Wright died at Lenton Firs in April 1840 at the age of 81 and left an estate worth 18,000. This is a much smaller sum than might be anticipated and suggests that he distributed much of his wealth among his children prior to his death. Nevertheless the decision on the part of members of the Wright family to give a substantial sum to the Church building fund may in some small part have been influenced by their recent inheritances.

OSMASTON MANOR c.1908. Francis Wright was evidently well satisfied with
the design of Holy Trinity Church at Lenton as he employed the same architect,
H.I. Stevens of Derby, to design Osmaston Manor. He came up with a huge
neo-Tudor style mansion complete with its own racquet court and 80ft long
conservatory. Although there are chimneys evident in the photograph the
building originally had none. Instead the smoke from household fires was directed
into a smoke tunnel which ran through the cellars, then under the kitchen garden,
and out to a specially built tower 150 ft high. Osmaston Manor had extensive
Italianate gardens and glasshouses on which Paxton is said to have advised.
Sadly the house was demolished in 1966 and all that now remains of the original
building is the smoke tower.

Lenton Hall remained Francis Wright's home for most of the 1840s but in 1846 he began the construction of a huge mansion out near Ashbourne. Once 'Osmaston Manor' was completed in 1849 the Wrights left Lenton Hall which was then sold to Lord Middleton.

The Butterley Company had obviously been quite successful prior to Francis Wright's appearance on the scene but during his time at the helm the company seemed to go from strength to strength. By 1862 its output of iron amounted to one fifth of the production of all Derbyshire while its pits were producing between 700-800,000 tons of coal a year. Perhaps the best known structure produced by Butterley during this period was the iron girders which make up the roof of St. Pancras Station in London.

Francis Wright continued to live at Osmaston Manor until his death in February 1873. His funeral at Osmaston was attended by all the tenantry from his various estates in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire together with 1,200 of his workforce at Butterley. His estate was eventually declared to be worth 1,400,000.

The Butterley Company remained the property of the Wright family until 1888 when it became a private limited company. It shed its iron smelting early this century and evolved instead into a large engineering concern while its coal mining interests were retained until the nationalisation of the pits in 1947. In 1968 the company was bought by the Hanson Trust which developed the brickmaking and building materials side of the business while selling on the engineering works. Since then the engineering works have changed hands several times but at the time of writing are still in business.

Further information about the history of the company can be found in Through Five Generations: The History of the Butterley Company by R. H. Mottram and Colin Coote (1951) and The Butterley Company 1790-1830 by Philip Riden (rev. ed. 1990).

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