This is part of a heritage trail around Belper, taking in some of the key historic areas, and talking about some of the people involved in the development of the town. You can find a map of the trail, and information on where to find interpretation boards containing more details on the town and its history at www.derwentvalleymills.org/belper.
Will Hay, star of some of the best-known British comedy films of the mid-20th century (‘Oh Mr Porter’ is the best known of these), came to lodge at Wellington House during part of his time in Belper, where he began his professional career. As a stand-up comedian and performer, he appeared at a tented theatre on Lion Croft, behind Wellington House, on what is now the Lion Hotel and Field Lane car parks.
He is supposed to have written some of his best early routines while staying at Wellington House, and secured a number of relatively big names to perform at Lion Croft during the time, reflecting the increased status of Belper over the previous three generations, from scattered village to industrial urban centre. From 1904, the Smithfield next to the Lion Croft was used as a cattle market, and by 1914 Hay had moved away and the tented theatre was gone.
Wellington House after World War Two
After the Second World War, businessman Norman Cox and his family lived at Wellington House. Norman sold Rolls-Royce cars to the American market for many years, with great success. A number of locations in the town, including the Wellington House drive, were used as a backdrop for photographs of the vehicles which were then sent to his clients.