City Centre Streets 5
This street takes its name from that of the Babington Family, famous for their association with Mary, Queen of Scots. The family at the time occupied the nearby Babington Hall, long since demolished, and provided accommodation for one night for Mary as she made her way to one of the Earl of Shrewsbury’s many properties, he being her gaoler at the time. It is said that Anthony developed an infatuation for Mary and subsequently participated in a plot to free Mary, execute Elizabeth and put Mary on the throne. Obviously the plot was discovered and Anthony was hung drawn and quartered.
Much later a substantial Jacobean house was constructed on the site that is now occupied by Waterstones, also known as Babington Chambers. Originally built as St Peter’s House it was later renamed Babington House in order to inject with a bit of history. At that time it sat in grounds of 13 acres and what is now Babington Lane was merely a track at the side. The street we see today was pitched properly in 1792.
Over the years the house was sold numerous times until in the early 1830s the land was developed with various streets and building plots and the house finally demolished in August 1897.
The first three photos (above and Below) show the Grand Theatre building, today a Chinese Buffet Restaurant. This was designed by the Birmingham architect Oliver Essex for the theatre impresario Andrew Melville and opened in 1886. Almost immediately it burnt down and had to be rebuilt. Once reopened, however, the theatre was extremely successful, attracting top class acts in theatre, music and opera.
The interior was altered a number of times, most significantly in 1893 by the famous theatre architect Frank Matcham and then again I 1900 and 1908, by which time its capacity had reached 2500.
Possibly one of the most famous productions staged at the Derby Theatre was in 1924. On August the 4th of that year Hamilton Deane staged the world premiere of the first authorised stage play of Bram Stokers Dracula. After a successful run it went on tour around the country before being transferred, in 1927, to Broadway in the US where it starred Bela Lugosi.
The theatre closed as a live venue on December 9th 1950. After remaining closed for a number of years it reopened as a ballroom in 1959 later becoming a night club. It remained so under a number of guises – Tiffany’s, Confettis, Ritzy, Eclipse and McClusky’s before its current incarnation as an all you can eat restaurant in 2001. Today only the facade remains with its corrinthian pilasters, tripartite windows and oeil-de-boeuf winfdows
The next two pictures show part of the 1960s redevelopment of the area with a block of offices, shops and the Babington Arms Public House. This Wetherspoon’s pub, with its fabulous floral display, opened in 1997 and takes its name from an earlier pub which stood at the top of the road, closing in the 1920’s
The building below was built in about 1939 and includes on it’s corner frontage the original signage naming it ‘Progressive buildings’ I have been unable so far to discover the reason for this title. The ground floor has for many years been occupied by an electrical retailer with large windows and a canopy above. The upper floors were once home to the cities famous Rock House night club which opened in 1984 and survived until 1996. It struggled on after this under a number of names – Future Club, Supernova and First Floor but has now been closed for a number of years. An application has now been submitted to convert the existing floors and build an extra 2 floors creating 81 studio apartments
The building shown below, currently occupied by hunters furniture store, is part of a much larger range which occupies a substantial part of the street. The site was once home to Abbots Hill house, a large and important property that stood for nearly 200 years. It was demolished in 1927 and this Art Deco building of 3 – 4 stories constructed. Built using a local stone by the Friargate based Joseph Parker it was designed by the architects Naylor and Sale. Comprising a number of retail units, the furniture store, Hunters, occupied the largest unit in 1928 and have remained there ever since.
The Post Office building on the opposite corner, once an ugly office block, has recently been refaced and turned into luxury apartments
With the development of the land around Babington House a number of streets were pitched and Sitwell Street is one of those. It can be seen originally on a map of 1826 it was once a much more substantial street than it is today, lined with terraced houses along its length. These were all swept away and today only the Sitwell tavern remains. The land opposite the images in the pictures below is now a large car park and of little interest. The street is now just the pub and the apartments seen in the other pictures - this, however, is the rear of them, the front façades are much less interesting. A history of the pub can be found in the pubs and inns section of the website
Another of the streets that come off Babington Lane is the one now known as Gower Street. . Originally called Blood Alley the street was later renamed after William Leveson-Gower MP sometime around 1850. (This is according to Maxwell Craven, however I have been unable to find any information about Leveson-Gower). The street has a number of interesting buildings. At its corner with Babington Lane is the continuation of the Hunters building (Below)
Further along the street is a fine set set of houses and next to them a derelict Presbyterian church of 1868 more photos of which can be seen in the Green Lane section. On the opposite side of the road is an extremely large office block called Prosperity House - this is now in the process of being converted into 147 apartments.