The house was built in the 1680s and improved to the latest Georgian fashions in the second half of the 18th Century. The later work was probably carried out by Joseph Pickford of Derby, who also re-fronted the Grey House on the opposite side of Church Street.
The original brick house was built by Benjamin Taylor, an attorney, in about 1685 on the site of a house of a priest who had served one of the Chantry Chapels in St Oswald’s Church before the reformation. Benjamin Taylor’s house was a typical 17th Century gabled house, H-shaped with open ends facing the garden and road, and may have incorporated some of the previous building.
In 1764, Dr Taylor (Benjamin’s grandson), re-fronted the house in the latest fashion, possibly in answer to the work done on the Grey House opposite, albeit in brick rather than the local sandstone used on the Grey House. The work on both properties was probably carried out by Joseph Pickford of Derby, whose house in Friargate, Derby, is a museum. Shortly afterwards an octagon room was built between the 2 wings at the rear of the house, although this time using sandstone rather than brick. In 1784, the original 1680s entrance hall and staircase were replaced with a large 2 story entrance hall, a new staircase with wrought-iron balustrade leading to a gallery on two Ionic alabaster columns. As this work was undertaken after Pickford’s death, the architect may have been Pickford’s assistant, Thomas Gardener.
In later years the house was owned by Francis Wright of Osmaston Hall, a railway company who needed part of the grounds for the new Station, and Derbyshire County Council for use by the Headmaster of the Grammar School and the girls’ boarding house; the boys’ boarded in the Old Grammar School building on the other side of the road, which also had the shared dinning room.
The mid 18th Century facade has 5 bays and 3 storeys. There is a Tuscan porch surmounted by a Venetian window on the first floor and a Diocletian window on the second, topped by a triangular open brick pediment and balustraded parapet.
The long garden wall with blank brick arches dates from around 1764, and would have formed one of the walls of the orangery. The iron palisade in front of the house dates from 1777. The copper-doomed octagonal room can be seen from School Lane, the road by the Church gates.
Both the Mansion and the Grey House opposite were re-modelled in the 1760s, probably by the Derby architect Joseph Pickford. It is now believed that the Grey House was the first to be completed on behalf of its new owner, Brian Hodgson, who had made his money from Inns at Stamford and Buxton, along with extensive copper mining interests. As such, he was considered to be “in trade”. It is likely that Dr Taylor, the owner of the Mansion, did not want to be outdone by a “tradesman” and had his house remodelled along similar lines. However, the red brick front of the Mansion looks inferior to that of the Grey House and it is interesting that Taylor’s next extension to the Mansion – the Octagon at the rear – was built in the same local sandstone as the Grey House.
The mansion was one of the first buildings in Ashbourne to have a water closet, which is mentioned in the sales particulars in 1852. Above the front door can be seen an inscription in Latin, which translates as “May this house stand until the tortoise walks around the world and until the ant drains the ocean waves”. This was a verse penned by Dr Johnson and sent to his friend Dr Taylor, who owned the Mansion. However, it was not put on the house until the 20th Century.
Benjamin Taylor was born about 1630 and died in 1690. He built the present house (the Mansion) shortly before his death leaving it to his wife, Elizabeth, and after her death to his son, Thomas, who was also an attorney.
Dr Samual Johnson wrote the first English Dictionary but had been turned down when he applied to be master at Queen Elizabeth's Grammar School. He was a frequent guest at The Mansion
Dr John Taylor was the eldest son of Thomas Taylor, a member of a wealthy Ashbourne family, who lived at The Mansion, Church St.
Joseph Pickford, respected architect of the 18th Century worked on several houses in Ashbourne.
Dr Taylor died in 1788 and left his house (the Mansion) to a distant relative William Brunt.