Sutton Hall, at Sutton-in-Craven, was built in 1894 by John William Hartley, the reclusive bachelor- owner of Greenroyd Mill (founded by Peter Hartley in 1830) and a throwback to the flourishing days of the textile industry. It was built with views across the Aire Valley and on completion contained a Reception Hall, Morning Room, Dining Room, Library, Drawing Room, Billiard Room as well as 7 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms and a lavatory. It also contained a large attic as well as the centrally-placed ‘Tower Room’. It was lit with gas but had been wired for electricity with state-of-the-art central heating. The house was so big that it was said to have never been completely furnished
On J.W. Hartley’s death, in 1909, he was said to own ‘practically all the houses in Sutton, and also the larger part of the farms on the hillside hear the village’ as well as an estate near Pateley Bridge. The estate passed to a cousin, Miss Emma Hartley, who sold the mill in 1911 due to the poor economic climate and the decline in the textile trade. She died in 1930 and Sutton Hall was left to Ernest Hartley but he only had possession for two years. When he died in 1932 there was a conundrum as to who should inherit the hall. His eldest son, George Clifford Hartley, would have succeeded to the estate had he reached his majority before his father died. However, he failed this by three weeks and, under the deed, couldn’t succeed because he was a minor. This left the bizarre scenario that Ernest Hartley’s brother Allen, a Morecambe bus conductor, might inherit if the title could be proved.
In the end the estate did pass to George Clifford Hartley but he had no intention of keeping Sutton Hall and put it up for sale in 1933. He cleared the contents of the house in a series of auctions that included mahogany, oak and walnut bedroom suites, Axminster and Brussels carpets, oil paintings, watercolours and silverware.
Considering that it had cost nearly £40,000 to build just 39 years earlier the decline of the British country house was highlighted when it was sold to Ernest Turner, a Keighley builder and contractor, for just £3,000. The estate covered an area of approximately 25 acres, including Sutton Hall, lodges, garages and stables, and the timbered grounds and park. Turner immediately advertised it as being ‘suitable’ as a convalescent home or a public or private institution. There were no interested buyers and in 1934 he proposed dividing it into five flats. He gave 6½ acres of adjoining woodland to Sutton Parish Council, but the rest of the estate was developed into what he called ‘a kind of garden city – the first and the finest in this neighbourhood’, a project which involved the demolition of Sutton Hall itself in the early 1940s.
Mells Park (or Park House), near Frome in Somerset, was lost almost 100 years ago. The house had been built in 1724 when Thomas Strangways Horner commissioned Nathaniel Ireson to build a new mansion in an ‘H’ shape, and the family moved there from Mells Manor House. In 1900 the Horner’s, finding it too expensive to run, left Park House and moved back into Mells Manor House. The house was rented to Mr G.T. Bates, of Edward Bates and Sons, ship owners of Liverpool, until his death in April 1917. His effects were removed and the mansion was redecorated and furnished with a view to the Horner family again going into residence.
The evening of 11th October, 1917, was cold and miserable with driving rain. At about 8.00pm the Misses Horner, daughters of Sir John Fortescue Horner, spotted flames coming from Mells Park. With only a caretaker and his wife on the premises it was left to Sir John Horner and William Bexter, agent of the estate, to summon help and try and put the fire out. The rising wind carried the flames into the older part of the building, and the blaze quickly spread along all three sides. The ferocity of the fire meant efforts were instead diverted into saving the most valuable pieces of furniture, family pictures and books.
The house might have been saved had it not been for a series of unfortunate mishaps involving the fledgling fire brigade. Initially the Frome Fire Brigade had been summoned but was unable to find horses. Instead they travelled to Mells Park by motor managing to arrive by 9.30pm. By this time the fire was out of control and the Radstock Fire Brigade was summoned to assist, but it appears that the motor drawing their engine got stuck in mud on route. The Bath Fire Brigade were telephoned but they declined to set out as Mells Park was considered too far to travel. In the end only the bare walls survived and the only portions saved were the stables and electric station. The cause of the fire remained a mystery but it was thought to have started in a heating apparatus chamber.
It was the end for the house. The Horner family stayed at Mells Manor House and the following year there was a sale of valuable furniture, china, prints, watercolours, carpets and rugs that were salvaged from the fire. The architect Edwin Lutyens tried unsuccessfully to persuade the Horner’s to rebuild Park House and it took until 1924, when they let it to Reginald McKenna (Chairman of the Midland Bank and married to a Horner niece), on the understanding that they would rebuild the house. Lutyens finally rebuilt Mells Park in a more modest scale neoclassical style in 1925.
Billing Hall (or Great Billing Hall as it was once known) was built on land owned by the Barry family. It was constructed about 1629 but substantially altered as a Georgian-style mansion by Lord John Cavendish about 1776.
The Elwes family arrived in 1790 and stayed for the next 140 years. Its most famous resident was Gervase Elwes, a tenor singer, who in 1921 while in Boston, USA, had a dreadful accident: he was retrieving an overcoat belonging to another passenger that had fallen from the train and fell between the platform and the train and died of his injuries.
Billing Hall was sold to the Musicians Benevolent Fund in 1931 by Geoffrey Elwes who moved to the run-down Elsham Hall, near Brigg, in Lincolnshire to make the family home habitable again. The proposal was to make BillingHall a home for aged musicians (in memory of Gervase Elwes) but the £50,000 cost to upgrade the mansion proved a stumbling block. There was talk of placing the mansion in the hands of house-breakers and the idea was eventually abandoned several years later.
Billing Hall was put up for sale in 1937 and was acquired by Drury and Co, Northamptonshire builders, who intended to demolish the house and erect a number of period and character-type houses in the grounds. However, uncertainty in the housing market halted plans and the house was probably rented out during the war years.
In 1945 the house and its 17 acres of woodland was bought by the Northampton Brewery Company Ltd. Two years later it announced plans to convert the house into a four-star hotel at a cost of £25,000 with longer term ambitions to add a further 30 bedrooms. Mr R.C. Vaughan representing the company said: “It was going to seed and falling into dilapidation… becoming an eyesore… it has been abandoned for some years now.”
It would appear the hotel plans never materialised but the brewery company retained possession. Installing a handyman and caretaker (who spent many years rebuilding estate walls) the house remained empty. In 1952 the Northampton Brewery Company decided to take advantage of Northampton’s growing population and its close travelling distance to London. It started to sell off plots of land and build ‘large’ private houses in the estate grounds. This inevitably led to the demolition of Billing Hall in 1956.
The death of Mrs Marion Evelyn Coore in February 1953 brought an end to the family’s long tenure at Scruton Hall and in July most of the pretty village of Scruton, in the Hambleton district of North Yorkshire, went under the hammer. In addition to the hall, the 1,100 acre estate included 5 farms, the village shop and post office, cottages and small houses and a large area of timber.
The estate at Scruton came into the possession of Dr Thomas Gale, later Dean of York, in 1678. Scruton Hall, a Queen Anne country house, had been built by Roger Gale in 1705. Before that the estate had been owned by the Danby family of Thorpe Perrow. It passed into the possession of the Coore family when Harriet Gale married Lieutenant-Colonel Foster Lechmere Coore in 1816.
The hall was subject of a building preservation order as of special architectural and historical interest and came with the title of ‘Lord of the Manor of Scruton’ but not the patronage of the living of Scruton, which had been left to the Bishop of Ripon in Marion Evelyn Coore’s will.
The sale of the contents attracted a crowd of more than 1,400 who snapped up furniture, artworks, china and silverware. More than £5,500 was raised, one of the highest bids being for a silver tankard believed to have been given by Charles II to Barbara Villiers. It had been made by John Plummer of York in 1664, and was bought for £460 by Mr A. Craven Smith Milnes of Hocherton Manor, Southwell, whose wife was actually a member of the Coore family.
The estate was sold in 38 lots reaching a value of £61,545 and Scruton Hall itself was sold to J.W. Tunnicliffe, timber merchants of Silsden, who paid £14,600. They bought the property primarily for the timber on the 60 acres of woodland but were unsure what to do with the mansion.
Within 12 months they had made an inquiry to Bedale Rural Council about demolition who were obliged to inform the North Riding Planning Committee that while they didn’t want to see the property demolished they couldn’t suggest a use for it. The view of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government was that the structure of the hall was sound and wanted to see it preserved if possible. Despite its preservation order Scruton Hall was eventually stripped, allowed to decay, and sadly demolished between 1956 and 1958.
Built: Probably 1753 Architect; Unknown Owner: Home Group Remains of country house Grade II listed
“Formerly a late C18 mansion, now reduced to provide a farmhouse and buildings. Only intact portion is present farmhouse to the right, of 2 storeys in red sandstone ashlar with slated roof. 3 windows above triple-arcaded ground floor with 2 windows with later hung sashes with glazing bars and centre door of 6 fielded panels with 3-light rectangular fanlight.” (Historic England)
When fire destroyed an empty farmhouse at Maryport in August 2015 there were few tears shed. Its previous owner John Dixon had died in 2012 and the farm had been allowed to deteriorate. The cause of the fire was never determined but suspicion pointed to the work of a grubby arsonist.
Whoever started the fire probably didn’t realise that the farmhouse, rather grandly called Ewanrigg Hall, held long forgotten secrets. The flames would eventually consume the first floor and deprive the building of its roof. Only an exposed lintel with the date 1753 offered any clue to its previous existence.
Here was the last remnant of a grand house that once stood proudly on the site. For this was once the west wing of Ewanrigg Hall, a late 18th century country house and seat of the Christian family of Cumberland for many generations.
The fire might not have meant a tragic end to Ewanrigg but it certainly reflected its circumstances over the past centuries. The house appears not to have been a particularly happy one. Whilst the Christians were Lord of the Manor there were several occasions when the house was unsuccessfully offered for sale and numerous times it was occupied by live-in tenants. In the end it proved to be a millstone for the family who were eventually rid of it by the end of the 19th century.
The Christian family had originally settled in the Isle of Man and held chief public offices in the little principality for generations. Their connection with the Ewanrigg estate came about in the late 17th century through circumstances which afford a curious illustration of the manners of the period. The Bishop of Sodor and Man liked to ease the burden of his duties by gambling and, on one unfortunate night, lost a small fortune to Ewan Christian. From his winnings Christian was able to buy the estate and manor of Ewanrigg in Cumberland. Writing in 1688 Mr. Thomas Denton, the County Historian, said “Mr Ewan Christian hath built a good house out of the shell of an old tower,” which suggests it may originally have been an old pele tower.
Ewan was blessed with five sons and ten daughters. His successor, John, married a Senhouse of Netherhall, and their eldest daughter, Mary, married Dr. Law, afterwards Bishop of Carlisle, and became the mother of the first Lord Ellenborough, who chose that title in consequence of having been born at Ewanrigg Hall, close to the village of Ellenborough. John Christian’s second son, also John, became his successor and married a Curwen of Workington Hall, and their son, John, marrying his cousin – the heiress of the Curwens – took his wife’s name, and as John Christian Carwen, M.P. for Cumberland, acquired fame as a politician and as an agriculturalist.
John Christian’s sixth son, Charles, was an attorney at Cockermouth, and married the granddaughter of Jacob Fletcher, who was descended from William Fletcher who built Cockermouth Hall. Their sixth son was Fletcher Christian, the ill-fated and infamous ‘Mutineer of the Bounty’.
Ewanrigg Hall was rebuilt as a spectacular stone-built house in the late 18th century (probably 1753) with views of the Solway Firth and the Scottish mountains beyond. Within there was a large drawing room, a breakfast room, library and eight good-sized bedrooms. The walls of the tower were reputed to be over 5 feet thick. It was also the setting for Limmeridge House in Wilkie Collins’ ‘The Woman in White’, chosen by him when he was travelling through Cumberland with Charles Dickens.
For many years it was occupied by Henry Taubmen Christian who died in 1859. Unfortunately, his widow soon descended into madness and ended her years at Dunston Lodge Lunatic Asylum in Gateshead. The house was left unoccupied, ‘a deserted and decaying mansion’, where ghosts were said to haunt its corridors and where ‘no tenant could be found with enough temerity to take it’. In 1895 the house and its 600 acre estate was offered for auction by order of the Court of Chancery. No purchaser was forthcoming but in 1897 it was sold to Mr. J.R. Twentyman, a wealthy tea trader who lived in Shanghai, and who had previously bid for Dalston Hall.
Twentyman spent most of his time in China with seemingly little intention of living at Ewanrigg Hall. It was offered to rent but remained empty falling into further disrepair.
It might be suggested that the condition of the house worried Twentyman. Without doubt he was looking for an impressive property in which to display his massive collection of oriental furniture and relics. He pondered on the large amount of money needed to restore Ewanrigg and considered turning his back on it.
In 1903 Twentyman made one of his frequent journeys to China but not before making an important decision. He had set his heart on another property and had decided to buy Kirby Misperton Hall near Malton in Yorkshire. He realised the disposal of Ewanrigg might not be so easy and looked for ways in which the estate might pay for itself. In the end he saw agriculture as the most likely way to achieve it. This meant demolishing the bulk of the house with two-storeys pulled down in the central block – the ground floor now used for cowsheds for the adjacent hall farm. A new farmhouse was created at the west end of the house which was the only part not disturbed and still known today as Ewanrigg Hall. Eight years later the farm was sold for £12,000.
And this is how Ewanrigg Hall survived for the next 100 years; its unique identity slowly forgotten until someone tried to destroy it completely. There is almost a happy end to the story. In 2016 the then owner of the farm, Kevin Thompson, announced plans to demolish part of the historic hall as part of a major homes plan. Allerdale Council approved plans for the Grade II listed building and convert it into two houses and four flats. Outline planning permission was also granted to build 124 homes nearby.
Unfortunately the project never started and in 2017 Ewanrigg Hall was sold to the Home Group who plan to convert it into five homes and build a further 125 homes on surrounding land.
Built: 1821-1826. Main part demolished in 1935 Architect James Trubshaw
Owner: National Trust under lease to the Youth Hostels Association Youth Hostel
Grade II* listed
Family mansion of considerable dignity and splendour, erected of freestone in a most substantial manner, the masonry being very strong and durable, principally in the Tudor style of architecture, with Norman towers. The mansion contains 40 principal, secondary, and servants’ bed-chambers, besides dressing rooms, men’s rooms, etc.; a noble suite of reception rooms and private apartments, lately re-decorated, and extensive domestic offices. . There is good stabling for 11 horses, a large carriage house and out buildings. (Morning Post, 5th July, 1885)
‘It is popularly thought that the road by the river side approaching Ilam Hall is the scene of the ‘Happy Valley’ in Johnson’s ‘Rasselas’ , and here, no doubt, Congreve when a youth wrote his celebrated comedy of the ‘Old Bachelor’ and a part of the ‘Mourning Bride’.’
The story of Ilam Hall is typical of many country houses. It was built on the riches of industry and became a showy country retreat for two prominent men. However, the advent of the 20th-century marked a rapid and quite remarkable decline in its fortunes.
The Ilam estate stands on land that used to be part of Burton-on-Trent Abbey. Around it sweeps the rich and lovely Vale of Ilam embellished with hanging woodland and views towards the swelling hills of limestone around Dovedale. At its extremity are the River Hamp and River Manifold, which after taking separate subterranean courses emerge and unite to form a wide river at the valley bottom.
Following the Dissolution of the Monasteries the land passed to William Paget, Principal Private Secretary to the King, who sold the manor to John Port in 1547. The Port family built a Tudor mansion on the ridge over the river and remained there for the next 250 years.
With its beauty came its remoteness. A tale is told of the old Countess of Shrewsbury, who visited Ilam Hall, in the days when the roads were dreadful and carriages extremely uncomfortable. On her arrival from Alton Towers she inspected the beauty of the ‘Happy Valley’ with her companion, the Rev. Bernard Port. He proudly exclaimed, “Now my lady, you are in Paradise.” Her ladyship turned on the parson and retorted, “I thought that must be so, for sure, we’ve been in purgatory all the way we’ve come.”¹
In the end, its isolation probably contributed to its downfall.
In 1809 the house and estate was sold to David Pike Watts, an extremely wealthy brewer and vintner, of Portland Place in London. His daughter and heiress, Mary (1792-1840), married Jesse Russell in 1811 and here the story of Ilam Hall really begins.
Jesse Watts-Russell (1786-1875)
Jesse Russell was the son of Mr Jesse Russell, a successful soap boiler of Goodman’s Yard, Minories, residing at Walthamstow, and Elizabeth Russell, the daughter and heiress of Mr Thomas Noble, of Boroughbridge, in Yorkshire.
He was educated at Worcester College, Oxford, and took his Bachelor’s degree in 1808, presiding his Master of Arts in 1811 as a ‘Grand Compounder’. Russell appears to have taken little interest in his father’s business and by the time of his marriage was resident in Staffordshire.
The newly-weds made Ilam Hall their principal home and inherited the property on the death of David Pike Watts in 1816. From here on Jesse Russell adopted the Watts name by Royal Licence and by this marriage had four daughters and four sons. He became High Sheriff of Staffordshire in 1819.
On the death of his father in 1820, Jesse Watts-Russell was a very wealthy man. He inherited half-share of estates in Essex and a third-share in the remaining fortune. In the same year he became the M.P. for Gatton. Combining the two family fortunes he made plans to build a new house at Ilam to compete with the Earl of Shrewsbury’s grand house at Alton Towers.
The first part of the process was to clear Ilam Hall of its historical contents. In November 1820 he auctioned household furniture and fittings including chimney-pieces, plate glass windows and doors.² Later he commissioned James Trubshaw (1777-1853) to build a new hall to the designs of John Shaw (1776-1832). Work commenced in 1821 and was completed by 1826.
The writer, Ebenezer Rhodes (1762-1839), visited the new Ilam Hall in 1823 and reported his findings in the publication of Peak Scenery, or the Derbyshire Tourist in 1824:-
‘Ilam Hall, though not entirely finished, had a grand effect even at a distance; approaching nearer, the detail began to display itself, and the general design and arrangement to be clearly understood. On a verdant knoll, a little above the margin of the river manifold, that ran rippling and sparkling through the meadows below, I stopped to gaze upon the new mansion at Ilam, which is truly a noble structure, and a proof of the professional skill and taste of the architect (John Shaw, Esq., of Bedford Square, London). The principal part of the building, with its large bay windows, octagonal projections, and richly ornamented parapets, is in that peculiar style of architecture which was fashionable in the reign of Elizabeth; but there are portions of this structure that nearly a-similate with the gothic, both in character and ornament, and these are decidedly the finest and most imposing parts. The whole appears to be admirably contrived, both for picturesque effect and convenience: but the most beautiful feature in this noble mansion is the circular gothic lantern by which it is surrounded. It is not a paltry thing, made merely for the purpose of admitting light; its dimensions are ample, and perfectly in proportion with the capacious base on which it rests. The circle of which it is composed presents to the eye a series of pointed arches, resting on appropriate shafts: these, in connexion with each other, describe a circle, and constitute the framework of the lantern. Where light is wanted in the central part of a building, the dome is sometimes so constructed as to be a noble ornament: but the lantern at Ilam is a more noble contrivance, and one of the most tasteful and elegant architectural ornaments that ever adorned a building. I have mentioned a part only of what is already accomplished at Ilam: a museum, a splendid conservatory, and a picture gallery, upwards of eighty feet long, are intended to be added.’
In 1832 Jesse Watts-Russell put himself forward in the Conservative interest for North Staffordshire but was defeated by Sir Oswald Mosley and Sir Edward Buller. It was a gallant and determined fight and his supporters later descended on Ilam Hall to present him with a silver candelabra which stood four feet high.
Mary Watts-Russell died in 1840 but Jesse Watts-Russell would marry twice more. In 1843 he married Maria Ellen, daughter of Peter Barker of Bedford and, in 1862, Martha, daughter of John Leach of Wexford.
In his later years Jesse Watts-Russell was in a poor state of health. He died at Ilam Hall on Good Friday in 1875 aged 88. His remains were interred in the family mausoleum at Ilam Church, a building rebuilt by Watts-Russell some years previous, following a quiet and unostentatious funeral. The sombre occasion did not pass without farce. The Rev. C.F. Broughton, of Snelston, was walking up the aisle of the church when he inadvertently stepped into the opening leading to the mausoleum and fell headlong sustaining severe bruising.³
Ilam Hall, along with estates in Derbyshire and Northamptonshire, passed to his eldest son, Jesse David Watts-Russell (1812-1879). However, the former M.P. for North Staffordshire, preferred the family’s other country house, Biggin House in Northamptonshire, and promptly made plans to dispose of Ilam Hall.
First to go was Jesse Watts-Russell’s collection of paintings ‘chiefly of the English school’ which were auctioned at Christie’s. The works included those by Landseer (St Bernard Dogs), Callcott (Dutch Fishing Boats), Collins (The Fisherman’s Return), Constable (Harwich Lighthouse), Turner (Two Street Views in Oxford) and Opie – considered eminent modern painters at the time – as well as a few old masters including A Wood Scene by Gainsborough. Amongst the prized items was a portrait by Sir Peter Lely, of Congreve, with a landscape background. Also auctioned were a number of decorative objects including clocks, carved oak chimney-pieces, and statuary by Chantrey and Gibson.⁴
In August Ilam Hall was auctioned but failed to sell. Bidding started at £50,000 and reached £73,000 before stalling and promptly withdrawn. The presence of a private buyer in the background might have influenced the decision because, on the same day, the Staffordshire Journal was reporting that Ilam Hall had been bought by Mr Robert Hanbury, the M.P. for Tamworth.
Robert William Hanbury (1845-1903)
With a new owner at Ilam Hall there was still outstanding business in relation to its previous owner. Trustees of the late Jesse Watts-Russell put the library contents up for sale in 1876. The auction by Sotheby, Wilkinson and Hodge contained numerous important works which excited considerable competition.⁵
Robert William Hanbury was the only son of Mr Robert Hanbury and Mary Anne, of Bolehall House in Warwickshire. He was educated at Rugby and Corpus Christi College, Oxford, with adeptness at rowing. He had captained the Corpus boat when it was head of the river.
Hanbury had also travelled throughout the world – from the Holy Land “from Dan even into Beersheba” and explored Egypt a quarter of a century before the days of Kitchener’s “Express to Khartoum”.⁶
A man of importance he was a magistrate and Deputy-Lieutenant for Staffordshire, Derbyshire and Warwickshire. From 1873 until 1880 he was a Captain in the Queen’s Own Royal Regiment of the Staffordshire Yeomanry. He sat as the M.P. for Tamworth between 1872 and 1878, a seat he vacated to become the short-lived M.P. for North Staffordshire. He would later become the elected M.P. for Preston in 1885. In 1895 he was appointed Financial Secretary by Lord Salisbury but the pinnacle of his parliamentary career was being made President of the Board of Agriculture and a place in the cabinet in 1900.
In 1874 Mr Hanbury made the overland tour to India by the Euphrates and Tigris, a route not often taken. The journey through Asia Minor was carried out with comparative ease. Dervish Pasha, the Ottoman War Minister, placing at his disposal a troop of Turkish cavalry, to protect his caravan from possible attacks by marauding Arabs.
Robert Hanbury married Ismena Tindal, daughter of Thomas Morgan Gepp of Chelmsford, in 1869. She died in 1871 and he later married Ellen Hamilton Knox.
Hanbury was a man of wealth. He was the son of a country gentleman of ample fortune, and was left fatherless at an early age. Much of his wealth derived from collieries around Cannock Chase and he could now claim to be Lord of the Manor at Norton Canes, Ilam and Calton in Staffordshire.
The fact that Hanbury spent most of his time in London meant he took no part in local affairs and only sat on the local bench on two occasions. However, he used Ilam Hall to entertain political and other friends and was held in high esteem by farmers of the district. This was partly due to his role as Chairman of the Board of Agriculture for which he laboured for the domain of farming.
His stay at Illam Hall was one of improvement. He carried out a comprehensive scheme of electric lighting, power being obtained from the River Manifold. Hanbury’s plan was to power the hall, farm buildings, the church and the nearby village. He also improved the gardens and would personally supervise planting schemes and garden layouts.
The house was full of treasures, antiques and curios, gathered from all parts of the world. His most prized possession was said to be a short bronze sword, which was said to the oldest weapon extant, with an inscription showing its age. Hanbury had obtained it while making an overland journey from Europe to India, when he came across a colony of Franciscan monks at Nineveh, who presented him with the sword as a souvenir of his visit. The British Museum later declared it was Egyptian and, from the cuneiform characters three times repeated on it, had belonged to an Assyrian king reigning about 1300 BC.⁷
Hanbury’s second marriage to Ellen Hamilton, the only child of Colonel Knott Hamilton, took place in 1884. This marriage, like his first, produced no children, but the couple settled down to life in London and at Ilam.
In April 1903 Hanbury returned to his home at Belgrave Square, London, after a short visit to Preston. The following day he entertained friends but left the dining table feeling ill. Dr Jones, his medical adviser, arrived shortly after and pronounced that Hanbury was suffering from a severe attack of pneumonia and influenza. A week later he grew much weaker and died on 28th April. At Ashbourne, where he was entitled to sit as a Magistrate, flags were flown at half-mast in recognition of the man.
Hanbury’s coffin was conveyed from Herbert House, in Belgrave Square, to Ilam and remained in the spacious hall covered with floral tributes. The funeral was mainly a local affair attended by villagers, tenants and farmers. The coffin was carried from the hall by twelve employees from the Coppice Colliery, Cannock Chase, in which Hanbury held a large interest. His body was finally laid to rest at Ilam Church, a stone’s throw from the house.
Ilam Hall’s remote location meant that most of his political colleagues attended a memorial service at St. Margaret’s, Westminster, instead. However, Lord Newport made the long journey as representative of the Prime Minister. At the memorial service the Prince of Wales was represented, as also was Prince Christian. The Prime Minister, the Duke of Westminster, and practically every member of the cabinet was also in attendance.⁸
His death sparked a number of tributes, the most glowing coming from the Sussex Agricultural Express:-
“It has been said with truth that no one since the Board of Agriculture was called into existence did more to study the difficulties of the British landowner, the needs of the British farmer, and the circumstances of the agricultural labourer. Mr Hanbury during the closing months of his life laboured unweariedly to master this complex – perhaps insoluble – problem, and in the endeavour to do so, by personal inspection and inquiry, he amassed a fund of knowledge that has been lost with him.”
Robert Hanbury left personal estate to the net value of £104,667 (£204,000 at gross value) but the executors, his wife Ellen Hanbury and Charles Fisher, of the Coppice Colliery, would face difficult times ahead.
Ellen Bowring-Hanbury (1861-1931)
Robert Hanbury’s coffin had barely been in the ground before widow Ellen Hanbury found herself a suitor. The fellow in question was Victor Henry Bowring (1867-1943), a close family friend who had attended the funeral.
The attachment was no surprise as Ellen Hanbury was regarded as a ‘strikingly beautiful and vivacious woman’. (In 1931 the Birmingham Mail reported that she was had been very popular with the miners at the Coppice Colliery. She had cut the first sod in 1892 when the pit was sunk and the miners had chosen to name the colliery ‘The Fair Lady’ after her.)
Bowring was the youngest son of Edgar Alfred Bowring, past M.P. for Exeter and former librarian and registrar to the Board of Trade as well as a former Royal Commissioner of the Great Exhibition of 1851. His grandfather had been Sir John Bowring whose adventurous career had been full enough for half a dozen lives. He had been kept in prison by the Bourbons in 1822 and after the French Revolution of 1830 had been the first Englishman received by Louis Philippe. He became Envoy and Minister Plenipotentiary to China, and involved Britain in the war with the Celestial Empire. On his way home he had been shipwrecked, and spent three days on a coral island without food or shelter before being rescued. He spent the rest of his days writing poetry and prose.
Victor Bowring had been educated at Cambridge and was a 36-year-old eligible bachelor living at 30 Eaton Place, London, as well as owning a country house near Brighton. His family background opened doors to the upper crust with endless invitations to royal and aristocratic occasions. He might also have been called somewhat ‘eccentric’ – the press enchanted at his aptitude for embroidery and his ability to make curtain hangings for his mother’s home. (In 1925 he displayed his work in an exhibition.)
When his marriage to Ellen Hanbury was announced in February 1904 it was regarded as one of the most fashionable weddings of the year.
It was welcome relief for Ellen Hanbury as she had just concluded litigation with in the courts with respect to her late husband’s will. The question at issue was whether under the will Robert Hanbury had gifted his estate to his wife or whether she simply had life rent. The wording of the will proved rather ambiguous – “the whole of my real and personal estate absolutely and in full confidence that my wife will make such use of it as I should have made myself, and that at her death she will devise it to such one or more of my nieces as she may think fit.”
It would appear that Ellen Hanbury needed clarification as to her obligations to Robert’s seven nieces. We can only speculate as to the circumstances leading to the court action. Had the seven nieces wanted to benefit from Hanbury’s death or were they simply protecting their own interests? After all, provision had been made for them in his clumsily worded will, and the presence of Victor Bowring might well have been seen as a threat to any entitlement that they had a legal right to.
The will was subject to scrutiny and after several court cases ended up in the Appeal Court. The ruling was that Robert Hanbury had left his property absolutely to the widow without giving a reversionary interest to his nieces, leaving their future participation to the widow’s discretion.
It wasn’t until 1905 that the matter was resolved once and for all. After the nieces had appealed the original decision the matter returned to the House of Lords where the Lord Chancellor, in giving judgement, said he thought that it was quite clear what Robert Hanbury intended was to give his wife life interest in the property (a trust), and that at her death she should make such selection of his nieces as she thought fit. ⁹
The wedding took place at St Peter’s Church, Eaton Square, on Tuesday 16th February 1904. Despite being billed as one of the most anticipated weddings of the year it was attended by only twelve people. Ellen Hanbury wore a deep diamond collar and brooch which was reputed to have once belonged to Marie Antoinette.¹º Afterwards the party attended an informal reception at the Hyde Park Hotel. From now on the couple would be known as Victor and Ellen Bowring-Hanbury.
The newly-weds retreated to Victor Bowring-Hanbury’s house at Brighton before making their first visit to Ilam Hall in June. For the occasion the village was gaily decorated, the church bells rang and schoolchildren and villagers gave them a warm welcome. It also provided an opportunity to present them with a belated wedding gift – a beautiful rose bowl.¹¹
In December 1905 the Bowring-Hanbury name hit the headline again. This time it was news that Ellen Bowring-Hanbury had been robbed of £8,000 worth of jewellery while waiting with her maid at Euston Station for the train to take them back to Staffordshire. Among the items was a diamond tiara given to her by Robert Hanbury. The train had left London when the loss was discovered and after all efforts to find the jewels failed, the train was stopped by means of the communication cord.
The robbery captivated the press for the next two years. Ellen Bowring-Hanbury had originally offered a reward of £100 for information that would lead to the arrest of the jewel thief. This was boosted by £500 from the London police authorities and after a lapse of nearly seventeen months the Goldsmiths’ and Silversmiths’ Company of Regent Street offered a further £1,000. In the end the jewellery was never recovered, believed to have been spirited away to America where the jewels were broken up and the gold melted.¹²
In July 1910 Victor and Ellen Bowring-Hanbury made their first attempt to dispose of the Ilam Hall estate. However, with the terms of the will in mind the reserve price was set by the Court of Chancery. At the Royal Hotel, Derby, the house and the estate were put up for auction. It was originally offered as one lot but, with no bids forthcoming, the sale was split into several lots. Lot 1 included the hall, grounds and farms, amounting to 852-acres. The bidding opened at £35,000 and reached £38,500 before the auctioneer, Mr Howard G. Frank of Knight, Frank and Rutley, referred to a sealed envelope that contained the reserve price. With the final offer failing to reach reserve the estate remained unsold.¹³
Events might suggest that the Victor and Ellen Bowring-Hanbury were living beyond their means. Future events would dictate that Victor Bowring-Hanbury was not the best guardian of financial matters and the family wealth was obviously tied up in Ellen’s inherited estate. In 1911 Knight, Frank and Rutley offered for sale 30 lots of Ellen Bowring-Hanbury’s fortune which realised over £50,000 and included Worcestershire and Derbyshire properties.¹⁴
Ilam Hall, however, remained a sticking point, and the couple would remain at the house until 1926. By now Ellen was an invalid and ill-health forced Victor to be virtually house-bound. Every year he would make the long journey to Brighton for a few months but seldom left the house.
In August 1926 the Ilam Hall was once again put up for auction, still governed by a high court order concerning the settled estates of Robert Hanbury. The sale took place at the Midland Hotel, Derby, under the direction of Knight, Frank and Rutley. Bidding for the whole estate started at £15,000 and reached £28,000 before being withdrawn. The sale was split into lots and Ilam Hall and its grounds were once again withdrawn at £7,000. The sale was further split and Ilam Hall once again withdrawn when bidding reached £3,500.¹⁵
Victor and Ellen-Bowring left Ilam Hall and took up residence at 5 Belgrave Square. It was another year before Ilam Hall was finally sold by private treaty.
Ellen Bowring-Hanbury died in March 1931 leaving unsettled property to the value of £26,395. The residue of her property went to Victor Bowring-Hanbury who went on to sell parts of her art collection, among them some ten pastels by Dunkarton, and works by Gainsborough Dupont, Hickel, Hurter, King and Morland.
Victor Bowring-Hanbury became a ‘society sensation’ of the 1930’s. The house at Belgrave Square contained old masters, rare china and old furniture, which he valued at over £150,000. However, some of the collection had been collected without the means to pay for it. In 1935, while Victor was spending the day at Ascot, part of the collection was seized for a debt of £5,000. Soon after he declared bankruptcy and was discharged in 1938. Fortunately for Victor, two women friends had bought up a large number of his confiscated lots, and duly returned them before his death in December 1943.
A place of amusement
In April 1927 Ilam Hall was bought by Edward C.S. Backhouse for an undisclosed fee. Backhouse had been one of the bidders in the August 1926 auction and frustrated when his bid was rejected. However, he eventually managed to get ownership of Ilam Hall as well as the nearby Izaak Walton Hotel.
He converted parts of the house into a restaurant with plans to develop the grounds into an amusement park. The restaurant was advertised with ‘excellent catering at popular prices’ and encouraged customers to send for ‘our menus of satisfaction’. A hotel opened in the hall soon after.
By 1930 Ilam Hall was advertised with an 18-hole miniature golf course, archery, dancing in the ballroom to popular bands such as the British Legion Band, and an invite to visitors to see the ‘priceless massive oak 15th-century fireplace and underground rivers’. Later advertisements showed that visitors were also able to play tennis.
Ilam Hall and its grounds were open daily from April and newspaper advertisements showed that popular coach companies like Bartons and the Trent Motor Traction Co were including the hall in their motor excursions.
Ilam Hall’s location in its beautiful Dovedale surroundings must have been welcome relief for the working classes of Derby, Nottingham and Stoke-on-Trent. However, quite how successful Mr Backhouse’s business venture proved to be is open to question.
In 1932 the North Midlands Regional Council of the Youth Hostels Association rented the right wing of Ilam Hall. The plan was for four dormitory bedrooms accommodating ten men and ten women. In addition there was a large common room, kitchen, cooking apparatus and shower baths for the residents. The intention was to attract hikers, ramblers and cyclists who regularly visited the beautiful countryside around Ilam and Dovedale.
The interest shown in the youth hostel was not lost on Edward Backhouse. The YHA, doubtful that the number of beds was insufficient, were relieved when he agreed that any overflow could be lodged in the main hall, having decided upon a special low tariff for hikers and cyclists. He also offered meals for guests if required. Quick to see a business opportunity he was soon telling people to ‘Make Ilam Hall your holiday centre’.
With summer occupancy at capacity the YHA didn’t bargain for the isolation and severe weather conditions that affected the peaks in winter. Quite unsuitable for winter accommodation the hostel closed and was not brought into use again.
The closure of the hostel was a devastating blow to Edward Backhouse who would declare bankruptcy in 1933. By September solicitors acting on behalf of Mr Backhouse put Ilam Hall and its grounds up for auction in six lots including the mansion, fishing lodge, country cottage, entrance lodge, accommodation, parkland and woodland. Buried within the newspaper advertisement was the gloomy declaration of ‘building land’ – obviously aimed at aspiring property developers.¹⁶
William Twigg (1881-1958)
The new owner of Ilam Hall was William Twigg, a constructional engineer from Matlock, who paid £1,600. If Edward Backhouse had failed to turn a profit on Ilam Hall then William Twigg was well qualified to do so.
Born in 1881, the son of a farmer, he had developed an interest in second hand plant and machinery. In 1905 he borrowed money to buy Slack Quarry in Ashover and later set up business buying and selling old quarry machinery. He would later buy the Manifold Valley Railway from the L.M.S. Railway Company, including nine miles of track, railway engines and stations, and immediately sell it at a profit to a rival bidder.
With regard to Ilam Hall the reasons for his purchase were quite clear.
In the 1920’s Twigg had bought Wingerworth Hall from the Hunloke family and stripped the flat roof of 50 tons of lead, which sold for £1,500. In addition he spent two years stripping and selling the interiors making a handsome profit in the process. (This massacre of a fine old house has been described as ‘recycling’ by some modern-day observers.) Once stripped of anything salvageable the house had eventually been demolished.
Twigg was mindful that Ilam Hall also had a flat roof but well aware that the price for lead had fallen dramatically. To what extent he stripped Ilam Hall of its glories is uncertain but we know that the ballroom fireplace was sold to Arthur Rank studios for use in film productions.¹⁷
William Twigg, satisfied he had taken whatever riches Ilam Hall offered, declared he would look for a quick sale on the property. If unsold by the start of 1934 he said he would have no hesitation in demolishing the entire building.
Sir Robert McDougall (1871-1938)
History books state that demolition was well under way by the time Robert McDougall bought Ilam Hall in June 1934. This is untrue but the house was in such a sorry state that demolition might have been the cheapest option.
Robert McDougall, of Cheadle Hulme, Cheshire, had been brought up in the family’s flour mills business and later became a director of its flour milling companies. McDougall’s Flour was created by the McDougall brothers. It followed their discovery of a new type of baking powder, a ‘yeast substitute’, in 1864 and, later, a product called ‘self-raising’ flour that revolutionised home baking.¹⁸
McDougall was keenly interested in social and philanthropic work and, in 1933, gave £20,000 to the Society of Friends for a scheme providing allotments for the unemployed. He had bought up large swathes of Dovedale and gifted it to the National Trust. He contested the High Peak division for the Liberals without success on three occasions and would be appointed the unpaid Deputy Treasurer at the University of Manchester. In 1937 he would be knighted for social and philanthropic work in the Coronation Honours.
McDougall bought Ilam Hall and 20 acres of grounds for a nominal fee with the intention of saving this once grand house. His first task was to gift it to the City of Stoke-on-Trent but, after careful consideration, the council rejected the offer.
McDougall had approached the council because of the interest which the Stoke-on-Trent Corporation had made, through its representatives on the National Trust Committee. The council’s General Purposes Committee visited Ilam Hall and determined that the only viable option would have been to use it as a hospital for tubercular patients. However, the majority of the committee thought that it would be a very costly matter and almost impossible to use in the winter due to its inaccessibility. Alderman Sir Fred Hayward said that Ilam Hall “had all the faults of architecture 100 years ago. It had 17 staircases and very lofty rooms.”²º
McDougall’s second option was to donate Ilam Hall with its woodlands and parkland to the National Trust.
He had already decided that portions of the hall would be let to the Youth Hostels Association (YHA), who would also keep up the kitchen garden, and eventually run a tea house for the benefit of the general public. A common room, refectory, kitchen and wardens’ quarters were planned for the old manor house and dormitories would be provided in separate blocks, with bathrooms for men and women. It was anticipated that the entrance hall would be converted into a conference room.²¹
The cost of this project, with central heating and hot and cold water for 150 people, was estimated at more than £3,000.
Part of the plan was the demolition of the greater part of Ilam Hall allowing the old house – built c1600 – to be exposed to view. This meant only the formal entrance, service wings and estate buildings would survive from Jesse Watts-Russell’s house.
Work began immediately and projected for completion in May 1935. However, complications meant the youth hostel did not open until September when it was officially opened by Mr William A. Cadbury of Birmingham.
As well as Robert McDougall, cash gifts were given by the W.A. Cadbury Trust and the Carnegie Trust. It became the largest youth hostel in England with the entrance hall and east wing adapted for the purpose.
Wartime and beyond
With the youth hostel proving extremely popular, the arrival of the German Youth Orchestra in March 1938 did not detract from future events. The orchestra, consisting of 35 men and 15 girls, played a programme of folk dances and songs as well as classical works. The concert was recorded for broadcast on the BBC Midland Regional service.
In December 1938 Sir Robert McDougall died. After a business meeting in London he hailed a taxi outside Mansion House Station but on arrival at Euston Station was found unconscious in his seat. The driver drove to the National Temperance Hospital where it was found that he was dead.
With the outbreak of World War Two the YHA activities at Ilam Hall slowed down.
The house was instead used to house a party of 29 Czech refugees, mainly clerical and engineering workers, from Sudetenland. As the Germans plundered the countryside and villages the British Committee for the Refugees from Czechoslovakia had offered them refuge in Britain.
“As the storm clouds massed over Dovedale’s heights and the rain dripped steadily from the tall firs, I heard 28 Czech refugees sing of their ‘fatherland across the sea’.” (Derby Daily Telegraph 27 Feb 1939)
The refugees had to be accommodated elsewhere over the Easter weekend as the hall had been booked up months in advance by people wanting to use the youth hostel.
In May, now numbering 38 people, they were moved to Farley Hall, a residence owned by Major C.F. Bill, near Oakamoor and close to Alton Towers.
The war had forced the YHA to seriously reconsider their position and by September Ilam Hall had closed indefinitely.
The house was used to accommodate a party of blind people evacuated from Derby for ‘national purposes’.²² They stayed at Ilam Hall until 1943 when the Derby Health Committee decided to return them to Derby.
The hall had been taken over at short notice and was considered far from ideal for its purpose. Two severe winters had proved a trial and had once been cut off by snow for four days. During this time a patient had died and it was nearly a fortnight before transport could be obtained to remove the body. ²³
At the end of the war Ilam Hall once again reopened as a youth hostel and still remains in use to this day. It stands in Ilam Park which, alongside Dovedale, both gifted by Sir Robert McDougall, are managed by the National Trust.
References:- ¹Derby Daily Telegraph (25 Oct 1910) ²Derby Mercury (22 Nov 1820) ³Derby Mercury (7 April 1875) ⁴Staffordshire Sentinel (29 Jun 1875) ⁵Morning Post (26 Jan 1876) ⁶Lancashire Evening Post (12 Feb 1901) ⁷Derby Daily Telegraph (7 May 1903) ⁸Taunton Courier and Western Advertiser (13 May 1903) ⁹Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser (8 Feb 1905) ¹ºCornubian and Redruth Times (13 Jan 1906) ¹¹Lancashire Evening Post (13 Jun 1904) ¹²Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser (9 Feb 1906) ¹³Derby Daily Telegraph (26 Jul 1910) ¹⁴Belper News (31 Mar 1911) ¹⁵Derby Daily Telegraph (16 Aug 1926) ¹⁶Staffordshire Advertiser (2 Sep 1933) ¹⁷Derby Daily Telegraph (29 Jun 1950) ¹⁸www.togethertrustarchive.blogspot.co.uk ²ºStaffordshire Advertiser (30 Jun 1934) ²¹Derby Daily Telegraph (30 Oct 1934) ²²Derby Evening Telegraph (26 Sep 1939) ²³Derby Daily Telegraph (24 Dec 1943)
All above courtesy of the British Newspaper Archive.
Notes:- Notes on William Twigg were provided from ‘William Twigg – a successful and caring company’ by Brian Hall. The company, bearing William Twigg’s name, still survives. William Twigg (Matlock) Ltd provides steel fabrication, steel stock holding and hardware and plumbing supplies.
We have learned that Jesse Watts-Russell built Ilam Hall to emulate the glories surrounding Alton Towers, the home of the Earl of Shrewsbury. The attempt by Edward Backhouse to create an amusement park at Ilam Hall compared with similar plans taking shape at Alton Towers around the same time. Ilam Hall’s inaccessibility meant the project was always doomed to failure, thankfully so for lovers of the countryside. As for Alton Towers, the rest is history! In the end, both houses were lost in some way or another – Ilam Hall partly demolished and Alton Towers becoming a monumental ruin – but still exist in vastly different circumstances. Some might say that Ilam Hall has come out of it the best of all.
Stone; coarse ashlar of carboniferous limestone from Kniveton and dressings of Ashover Grit from Stanton Moor. Roof: flat and slate. An irregular house of massive appearance in the neo-Tudor genre. There was a 150ft tower in army barracks style, a second smaller campanile, mullioned and transomed windows and a spacious palm house loggia. The Derbyshire Country House (Maxwell Craven and Michael Stanley)
There is usually limited information available when writing about a demolished house. However, with Osmaston Manor it was different. This house threw up different challenges. When researching the house and its people the amount of material proved almost overwhelming. The outcome was one of the longest pieces I have written but as the story took shape the eventual outcome was inevitable.
If Osmaston Manor had survived it would now be considered one of Derbyshire’s finest houses. Alas, for this country house, it suffered highs and lows, the result of ‘boom and bust’ circumstances, which in turn created a love-hate relationship for its owners.
Francis Wright (1806-1873) Osmaston Manor was built for Francis Wright (1806-1873) who inherited the estate from his mother’s family (she was a daughter of Francis Marcus Beresford of Compton House, Ashbourne and Osmaston). The Osmaston estate had originally belonged to the Meynell family of Bradley.
The Wright family were Nottingham bankers but made their fortune from iron and coal production. Francis Wright was the head of the Butterley Iron and Coal Company from 1830 until 1873. When he became senior partner the company was valued at £30,000 and to underline its success its assets amounted to £436,000 by 1858¹ He was also connected to Codnor Park and several other large collieries in Derbyshire.
According to the Sheffield Independent he might have been termed a Christian in the broadest sense of the term. He was a supporter of the Church Missionary Society, the Church Colonial Aid Society and the British and Foreign Bible Society for Promoting Christianity amongst the Jews. In his time he would build a new church, new schools and properties at Osmaston and become a benefactor of the Derbyshire Royal Infirmary². His biggest achievement was his involvement in the foundation of the Trent College, a public boarding school for boys in Long Eaton.
Wright had married his cousin Selina (1806-1888), the daughter of Sir Henry FitzHerbert of Tissington Hall, in 1830. They made their home at Lenton Hall in Nottinghamshire but saw the land at Osmaston as their future.
Looking to build a new home worthy of his position Wright appointed Henry Isaac Stevens (1806-1873) of Derby to oversee the work. The architect was a brave choice as Stevens’ previous work had mainly been church designs but it would become his greatest commission. The house was built by Messrs. Ford and Co of Derby and was completed in 1849 in Victorian Tudor style with more than a passing resemblance to Tissington Hall.
Osmaston Manor had 70 rooms, a bake-house, wash-house as well as a brew-house. It had a subterranean railway, hot-air central heating and a central tunnel carried smoke from the house to a communal garden chimney, 150 feet high in Italianate style¹. The house was 330 feet long and a height of 192 feet. The terraces covered 4 acres of ground.
It was set within 3,500 acres of parkland with lakes and trees. Sir Joseph Paxton is believed to have advised on the layout of the park.
Francis Wright would live at Osmaston Manor until his death from bronchitis, aged 66, in 1873. He left 5 sons and 5 daughters – the oldest of which was John Wright of Eldensley House² who inherited his father’s estates. Another son, Francis Beresford Wright, lived at Aldercar Hall.
While Osmaston Manor enjoyed the trappings of success under Francis Wright the same could not be said under the guardianship of John Wright.
John Wright (Osmaston) (1831-1901) John Wright (1831-1901) had been married twice. He married Emily Sophia Plumptre in 1853 and, following her death, was wedded to Florence Mary Rice in 1861. In his lifetime he would become Deputy Lieutenant of Derbyshire and Justice of the Peace for Staffordshire and Derbyshire.
Wright was eager to build upon his father’s legacy and just six months after his death had negotiated the purchase of the Old Dalby Estate in Lincolnshire for £19,100. The sale included Old Dalby Hall with its beautiful grounds and gardens and 343 acres of land. A month later he offered the property for lease ‘on the border of the great Vale of Belvoir, within easy access to all the meets of the Quorn and Belvoir Hunt’.³
The following year, in 1874, he was entangled in a legal battle concerning the purchase of Dearham Colliery in County Durham. Wright believed he had bought the colliery through an intermediary for £90,000 only to find that the purchase had actually cost just £60,000. The aggrieved Wright initiated criminal proceedings against a Mr Henry Osborne O’Hagan (who had bought the colliery), Mr Isaac Armstrong, Mr James Saunders, the Cumberland Union Banking Company, the London and Provincial Bank and the London and Liverpool Financial Association, all of whom he believed implicated in the fraud. In the end only O’Hagan and Saunders were tried at the Central Criminal Court where the jury returned a verdict of not guilty.
It was a harsh lesson for John Wright and, with large estates to support, suggests the family wealth was not what it was. Something needed to be done and the first signs of change came when John Wright rejected his patronymic and changed his name to John Osmaston in 1876. He stated that there were several magistrates of the same name in Derbyshire⁴ but it is more likely he had a long term plan.
In 1883 it was announced in a London newspaper that the estates of the late Francis Wright at Osmaston, Shirley and Ednaston, in Derbyshire, and at Langar and Barnston, in Nottinghamshire, were to be sold at auction⁵. Victorian property owners had begun to realise that there was a natural decline in property values if they were not carefully attended to. To ensure that wealth remained for future generations many ‘impoverished’ landowners resorted to the Settled Estates Act which effectively set them free of unwanted and unsustainable properties. Income raised from the sale could then be used for them to live in relative comfort for the rest of their lives.
The Osmaston Manor Estate, comprising 3,400 acres, with a rent roll of £6,000 per annum, failed to sell at the August auction. The main problem was Osmaston Manor which was thought to be out of proportion to the value of the property and could not be kept up in adequate style on less than at least twice the rental of the Derbyshire and Nottingham estates put together⁶.
Despite its failure to sell at auction there were interested parties willing to take on the financial burden of Osmaston Manor.
In November 1883 it was reported that the estate had been bought by Sir Samuel Wilson (1832-1895) who had made his fortune by sheep farming in Australia. On returning to England he had leased Hughenden Manor from Lord Beaconsfield and his vast fortune was more than enough to cover the upkeep of Osmaston Manor.
Wilson was understood to have paid £206,000 for the Osmaston Manor Estate, including the entire contents of the house, with the exception of the pictures. This was thought to be a low price for such fine estate with many experts stating it was worth at least £25,000 more than that⁷. At the time of the sale it was estimated that Francis Wright and John Osmaston had spent close on £250,000 to build and upgrade the house and grounds.
However, Sir Samuel Wilson was to be frustrated and the potential sale didn’t receive the necessary consent or ratification. The likelihood was that the sale didn’t meet the necessary formalities specified in Lord Cairns’ Settled Estates Act, under the enabling powers of which alone the property could only be sold.
No sooner had the sale fallen through when, just twelve hours later, Sir Andrew Barclay Walker stepped in to buy Osmaston Manor. The deal was completed in January 1884 with the Liverpool businessman paying £206,500 for the mansion, including the furniture and contents, excepting the pictures⁸.
Before John Osmaston could sever his ties he had the final task of disposing of the entire collection of valuable paintings from Osmaston Manor.
The collection, enriched with bronzes and statutory, had been brought together by Francis Wright and his son and was said to have cost £150,000. The auction took place at the Lecture Hall at Wardwick, Derby, in March 1884. Commentators of the day questioned why so extensive a collection had not been sent to the rooms of Christie, Manson and Co in London.
The auction catalogue claimed that two well-known works were included in the sale. These were the ‘Monna Lizza’ by Leonardo da Vinci, and ‘The Magdalen’, by Murillo, purchased direct from the Queen of Spain.
Also included were ‘The Annunciation’ by P.P. Rubens; ‘The Fight for the Standard’, the engraved work by R. Ansdell, R.A.; ‘A River Scene’ by Constable, R.A.; three grand works by J.M.W. Turner⁹.
The Derbyshire Times and Chesterfield Herald gave a word of caution:
“Old masters are dubious things to buy from an auctioneer unless he knows something about art. It is difficult, above all things, to estimate the real value of works by the old masters. Experienced picture-buyers sometimes fall into pit-falls ruinously expensive, victimized by false work which has the irresistible charm of plenty of brown varnish employed by scientific swindlers, who, by their clever counterfeits obtain rashly artificial prices.”
On the day of the auction John Osmaston answered his critics by stating he had offered the pictures in Derby because he thought many of his friends in the country would be glad of an opportunity of purchasing some of them. Mr Huggins, the auctioneer, said that one of the conditions of the sale was that he could not guarantee the authenticity of any of the lots and that considerable doubt was cast upon their genuineness¹º.
In the end the bidders were unconvinced. Proceeds from the entire auction raised a paltry £7,000 – ‘The Magdalen’ sold for 1,900 guineas and the ‘Monna Lizza’ scraped a mere 50 guineas!
So ended John Osmaston’s shorts and ill-fated tenure at Osmaston Manor. We can only speculate as to his character and business acumen but evidence suggests he spent far more than he could afford and the only solution was to dispose of the estates.
John Osmaston, lighter in pocket, was now free to move to another country house, Hawkhurst Court, Billingshurst, in West Sussex. In time he would become a J.P. for Sussex and would remain there until his death, aged 70, in 1901. At the time of his death his estate was sworn at £2,826¹¹. By sharp contrast his father, Francis Wright, had left personal estate worth £700,000. His mother, Selina Wright, would live in the Dower House at Yeldersley Hall and died in 1889.
Andrew Barclay Walker (1824-1893) Andrew Barclay Walker was the second son of Peter Walker of Auchingflower who had been the head of the Fort Brewery in Ayr. His father had removed to Liverpool and after completing his education at Ayr Academy and the Liverpool Institute Andrew Walker was taken into partnership in his father’s brewing business.
In the course of his early career it is told that, at one time, becoming aware that foreign brandy would probably become scarce wowing to the failure of crops, he at once applied himself to buying up all the brandy that he could get control of. His anticipations proved accurate and he made a sum of money¹³.
In 1853 he had married Eliza, the daughter of John Reid, of Limekilns, Fifeshire.
Walker had served as a magistrate for Ayrshire and sometime afterwards was made a magistrate for the county of Lancashire. His chief residence was at Gateacre Grange, Liverpool, and joining the municipality had risen to the position of alderman.
He had first been elected Lord Mayor in 1873, and the day after his appointment he had announced his intention of presenting the city with an art gallery at a cost of £20,000. For many years he had been in the habit of gathering numbers of poor men and women about him to enjoy a Christmas treat, which he provided for them in Toxteth.
A highlight of his career was a visit by the Duke of Edinburgh to lay the foundation stone at the Walker Art Gallery. As it was approaching its completion in 1876 the council thought it right that Walker be re-elected as Lord Mayor. To celebrate he presented the council with a handsome jewelled badge to be worn by future mayors on state occasions.
Walker had spent a number of years cruising with Lady Walker who had been suffering a lingering illness. She died in 1882, leaving behind her six sons and two daughters, the eldest being Peter Carlaw Walker (1854-1915).
By the time Andrew Walker purchased Osmaston Manor he was the head of Peter Walker and Sons and a very wealthy man†. It was understood he owned half the public houses in Liverpool. His main brewery was at Warrington with a second one added at Burton-on-Trent. Walker was also the proprietor of coal mines in South Wales.
In the same year the Liverpool Corporation built an extension to the art gallery, and Walker generously covered the cost of £12,000.
In 1885 he was awarded a baronetcy and would become known as Baronet Walker of Gateacre in the County of Lancaster. He was also appointed Deputy Leiutenant of the same county.
A reporter from the Liverpool Mercury visited Osmaston Manor in June 1887 and described the house and the popularity of its new owner:-
‘The entrance hall is a spacious and pleasant chamber, as are the principal rooms, but the smoke room is evidently much appreciated. Though its appointments are good, and its panelled ceiling of timber very fine, it has an essentially cosy appearance. Like the rest of the house, it is lit with the electric light. I found Mr Richard Keene, the well-known photographer of Derby, taking a variety of views of the mansion and its surroundings. For many years Sir Andrew Walker had known Sir Henry Wilmot, by whose advice, rumour has it, he bought Osmaston Manor. Be that it may, ever since that never to be forgotten garden party, to which the whole county was invited for Sir Andrew by Lady Wilmot, the popularity of its owner has gone on increasing with all classes. Only at the last county ball at Derby the guests were equally astonished and delighted at the sumptuousness of the supper and the excellence of the wines, and it only accidentally oozed out that the supper was the generous gift of Sir Andrew. He is a munificent subscriber, I heard, to all charitable and religious agencies for good, but withal he gives with discretion. He is a familiar presence at county gatherings, and with the middles classes and poor he has made his name a household world no less than with the county gentry’.
In October 1887 he married for a second time. His bride was Maude, the second daughter of Mr Haughton Charles Okeover, a family of very old standing and who had held the lordship of Okeover for over 700 years. Maude had served Queen Victoria in the capacity of Maid of Honour and was rewarded with several wedding presents including a beautiful diamond, ruby and pearl brooch, with a piece of hair and a photograph of her majesty in a silver frame.
Sir Andrew Walker made a number of improvements at Osmaston Manor. Kelly’s Directory 1891 described it as ‘a noble mansion, of dark blue limestone, with dressings of gritstone, situated on an eminence commanding extensive views of the picturesque scenery around, and is surrounded by large and well-kept pleasure grounds covering an area of about 35 acres ; considerable improvements have been made within the last few years, and in 1887 a billiard room was added : there are four lakes with islands within a short distance of the manor frequented by flocks of wild fowl.’
Sir Andrew Walker was a private man but an extremely generous one. He had contributed £1,000 towards the rebuilding of Derbyshire Royal Infirmary, of which he served as president in 1886. He also sat on the committees of the Derbyshire Agricultural Society and Derby Charity Organisation Society as well as becoming vice-president of Derbyshire County Cricket Club. He was also vice-president of the Derbyshire Natural History and Archaeology Society, a patron of the Derby Burns’ Club, and a director of Francis Wright’s Trent College.
While Sir Andrew was a popular and kindly landlord his stay at Osmaston Manor was relatively short. He had suffered ill-health and even his wedding to Maude Okeover had to be delayed several months while he recuperated on his yacht and a visit to Scotland¹².
During early 1892 he was confined to his room at Gateacre Grange for several weeks with a severe illness. It was a sickness he would never recover from and he died in February leaving estate worth £2,876,781¹⁴.
Walker left the Osmaston estate, together with its contents,as well as the Belle Vue estates and adjoining property at Little Woolton, near Liverpool, to his eldest son, Peter Carlaw Walker¹⁴.
Gateacre Grange was left to another son, William Hall Walker, and another property, The Knoll, at Barton-under-Needlewood, to John Reid Walker¹⁴.
In 1895 Lady Maude Walker would marry Lort Phillips, of Lawrenny Park, Pembrokeshire, Master of the Pembroke Hounds.
Sir Peter Carlaw Walker (1854-1915) Sir Peter Carlaw Walker, 2nd Baronet, was just 38-years-old when he inherited Osmaston Manor. With the huge burden of maintaining his father’s popularity he wasted no time taking on Sir Andrew’s affairs.
As the head of the Walker and Sons he looked to expand its portfolio of public houses. In 1894 he formed a property company for the purpose of opening new sites and to carry on the business of brewers, maltsters, ale, beer, porter and corn merchants¹⁵.
Unlike his father he had been educated at home, proceeding to neither public school nor university. Instead he had developed a prowess at sport. Big game fell to his rifle in Norway, Ceylon, Assam, Colorado, Wyoming and British Columbia. He was also a keen sailor, being a member of the Royal Yacht Squadron at Cowes and spending six months in the south seas sailing around in a 30-ton coasting schooner. Walker was a strong supporter of the National Hunt and later appointed the trainer, Johnny Latham, to oversee his jumpers.
His business interests would be divided between Derbyshire and Lancashire. He was a Deputy Leiutenant and Justice of the Peace for Derbyshire, and a Deputy Lieutenant for Lancashire, of which county he was also High Sheriff in 1896-7. Although a staunch unionist he had little time for politics, nor indeed public life in general. He would be remembered as a generous landowner and country gentleman, an ardent follower of the hounds, a consistent patron of the turf, and perhaps above all as a keen officer in the auxiliary forces seeing out 35 years of service in the Lancashire Yeomanry and Derbyshire Yeomanry. He would reach the rank of Colonel in 1906 before handing over to Lord Henry Bentick, in 1912.
He was President of Derbyshire Royal Infirmary in 1903 and presented the institution with a complete Finsen light apparatus for the treatment of Lupus. He also invited the inmates of the Liverpool Seamen’s Orphanage to Osmaston Manor every year.
One of Peter Walker’s most interesting innovations at Osmaston Manor was a selection of Wyoming elk, which he purchased during one of his expeditions to the ‘Wild West’.
In 1895 Peter Walker gave away his stepmother at her wedding to Lort Phillips which took place at St. Peter’s Church in Eaton Square.
There was no doubt that the bond between Walker and his stepmother was close. Where similar relationships had failed it was through Maude Okeover that Peter Walker met his future wife. This turned out to be Ethel Blanche Okeover, his stepmother’s younger sister (d.1935), and the new Lady Walker of Osmaston Manor.
The wedding took place at Okeover Church in May 1899. Peter Walker’ was 44-years-old and his best man was Mr Nugent Howard of Broughton Hall at Malpas. It was an elaborate affair with the couple leaving Ashbourne by train for London en route to Paris, where their honeymoon was spent
Ethel Blanche Okeover, the step-daughter-in-law to her own sister, proved to be an able marriage partner. She became actively involved with the Derbyshire Children’s Hospital and was vice-president of the Derbyshire Red Cross Society. She also owned a number of National Hunt horses and raced under the name of Mr Shirley Park, taking the title from a neighbouring Walker estate.
In 1900 the couple celebrated the birth of a daughter, Enid Walker (1900-1988), who would marry Count Cosmo Diodono de Bosdari in 1928 but it would end in divorce in 1949. She later remarried to Bernard H. Lofts-Constable in 1958.
Despite his liking for privacy Peter Walker opened the gardens at Osmaston Manor to the general public for the first time in the summer of 1900. It was the start of an annual event that lasted many years with entry charges donated to worthy causes. The occasion was always a highlight of the calendar with specially arranged daytrips from Nottingham and Derby.
In November 1902 Sir Peter and Lady Walker celebrated the birth of their son and heir.
Ian Peter Andrew Monro Walker (1902-1982) was christened at Osmaston Church with the Countess of Kingston acting as godmother¹⁷. While Ian Walker enjoyed a charmed childhood his life would change dramatically in 1915.
His father had been suffering from internal ailments for some time before entering a London nursing home in September 1915. The baronet underwent an operation and recovered sufficiently to be moved to Osmaston Manor. However, once settled in his own bed he suffered a relapse and died aged 61. On his death he left unsettled estate of £255,096 with net personlty £174,612.
At the age of 13 Ian Monro Walker inherited the Osmaston Manor estate along with the death duties associated with it.
Ian Peter Andrew Monro Walker (1902-1982) Ian Walker fell into his father’s mould with a love for the outdoors. Under the watchful eye of his mother he shouldered the responsibilities as the 3rd Baronet at Osmaston Manor.
He marked his coming of age with the purchase of the Glen Avon deer forest in Banffshire from the Duke of Richmond and Gordon. The estate comprised 40,000.acres producing about 90 stags a season as well as grouse, shooting and fishing¹⁸
His biggest contribution to Osmaston Manor was the creation of a polo ground within the grounds along with a riding school built for the purpose of housing polo ponies. The annual polo weeks would prove to be one of Derbyshire’s principal summer attractions. He became a prominent breeder of polo ponies and Ayrshire cattle.
While enjoying his sporting pursuits the young baronet showed expertise running estate affairs. In 1931, aged 29, he formed a new unlimited company, the Shirley Park Estate Company, ‘to acquire, manage certain estates in Derbyshire, and to purchase certain chief rents, to construct, improve, and alter roads, railways, watercourses, parks and streets’¹⁹
This measure of turning the estate into a company was designed to ease the burden of heavy taxation and one that the Duke of Devonshire and Duke of Bedford had already adopted.
The following year Ian Walker bought Beresford Dale for £15,500, not for the Shirley Park Estate Company, but out of his personal wealth. The Dale, one of Derbyshire’s beauty spots, was well known for its excellent fishing and came with 576 acres.
In 1935, the person who had protected his childhood from the pressure of baronetcy died. Lady Ethel Blanche Walker died at Osmaston Manor after a short illness.
By now it was evident that Osmaston Manor and its estates were becoming a millstone. It was a problem shared with many large houses and, in 1937, the Derby Daily Telegraph lamented the loss of country houses and praised the county’s remaining properties:-
“It is fortunate that very few Derbyshire estates have shared the tragic fate of Drakelow Hall, its glories consigned to the housebreaker and timber merchant. Keddleston Hall, Osmaston Manor, Foremarke Hall, and, of course, Chatsworth and Haddon, remain unsullied by modern changes²º”
For one of these houses the future was not certain at all.
Sir Ian Walker married Dorothy Elizabeth Heber-Percy (1913-2005) of Guy’s Cliffe, Warwick, in June 1938. She was the granddaughter of Lord Algernon Malcolm Arthur Percy, the second son of the 6th Duke of Nortumberland, and a former chairman of Warwickshire County Council. The best man was Ralph Curzon²¹.
Despite the pressures of running a large country estate Sir Ian Walker remained a popular landlord. He had built new cottages and a village hall in Osmaston with traditional thatched roof and half-timbered style.
The outbreak of World War Two saw Osmaston Manor handed over to the Red Cross to attend wounded soldiers. It also coincided with the birth of the couple’s first child, Elizabeth Anne Walker, born in 1940. She would be joined by Jane Katherine Walker (1942-2012) and Captain Sir Peter Ralph Leopold Walker (1947-2003). King Leopold of Belguim was one of Peter’s godparents explaining the use of his name for the future 4th Baronet.
In 1942 Sir Ian Walker purchased the estates of Slains, including the picturesque village of Collieston and the historic Old Slains Castle. The estate, bordering on the rugged Aberdeenshire coast, extended to 8,000 acres, and included 54 farms and crofts²².
As second-in command of the Derbyshire Yeomanry he saw active service throughout the North African campaign and eventually took over as commanding officer in 1944. The following year he was awarded the D.S.O. ‘for distinguished service’ in Italy.
The end of the war highlighted the many problems facing many landowners. In 1946 Sir Ian Walker announced his intention to leave Osmaston Manor and take up residence at Okeover Hall which had recently come into his possession. He told the Derby Daily Telegraph that the decision was “entirely due to heavy taxation.”
A string of would-be purchasers looked around Osmaston Manor but the house was not officially on the market. The most viable plan was to convert the manor into a girls’ school while retaining the estate. However, his departure depended on essential repairs being completed at Okeover Hall. In 1947 the Shirley Park Estate Company auctioned Yeldersley Hall further reducing their assets.
The move away was a prolonged affair with Sir Ian Walker still associated with Osmaston Manor. According to Giles Worsley in ‘England’s Lost Houses’ (2002) Sir Ian Walker didn’t actually inherit the Okeover estate until 1955 and didn’t actually move there until 1962. This is perfectly viable and explains his decision to obtain a Royal licence to change the family name to Walker-Okeover in 1956. The title befitted his role as Lord-Lieutenant of Derbyshire which he had assumed in 1951
However, with the future of Osmaston Manor seemingly doomed, he continued to develop his property portfolio elsewhere. In 1948 he had set up a new company, along with Lady Dorothy, called The Walker Scottish Estates Co, based at the House of Glenmuick in Ballatar, with the purpose of running estates in Aberdeen and Angus²³.
By this time Osmaston Manor was a problem that would not go away. With little in terms of maintenance the house was left to decay and the inevitable occurred in 1965 when the Walker-Okeovers made the irrevocable decision to demolish the house. It was raised to the ground but not before the neo-Tudor main staircase was transferred to Wootton Lodge in Staffordshire²⁴
Sir Ian Walker-Okeover died in 1982, aged 79, and Lady Dorothy died in 2005 reaching the grand old age of 91.
The Osmaston Estate is still owned by the Walker-Okeover family as well as the House of Glenmuick, Ballatar, in Aberdeenshire. It is managed by Sir Andrew Peter Monro Walker-Okeover, 5th Bt (b.1978), and Lady Philippa Walker-Okeover.
The foundations of Osmaston Manor still exist and the grassed terraces, ponds, stone steps and balustrades have been restored. Today it is called Osmaston Park and serves as a wedding venue where elaborate marquees stand on the site of Henry Stevens’ now forgotten masterpiece.
By coincidence the original plans for Osmaston Manor have recently been discovered by Mark Smith of Derbyshire Records Office:-
“It happens this way in archives sometimes. One minute, you are moving a roll of plans from one shelf to another, and carefully keeping a record of its new location; the next, you are rediscovering some long-lost treasure.
“It was in 1978 that we acquired collection D1849, the archives of the Osmaston Estate. The collection includes rent books, tenancy papers, some plans and photographs, and family papers of the Walker family, which acquired Osmaston Manor after the death of Francis Wright (1806-1873). A list for the collection was circulated soon afterwards. However, entry D1849/14 on that list, (“Osmaston Manor plans”) had no descriptive details, and our internal record to say which shelf held the plans said only ‘number not used’.”
The plans are in a poor condition and conservation work will be needed.
References: ¹Bygone Derbyshire
²Sheffield Independent (25 Feb 1873)/Morning Post (25 Feb 1873)
³Morning Post (12 Sep 1873)
⁴Derby Mercury (13 Sep 1876)
⁵Derby Mercury (30 May 1883)
⁶Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser (21 Nov 1883)
⁷Derby Mercury (28 Nov 1883)
⁸Sheffield Independent (24 Jan 1884)
⁹Derby Mercury (13 Feb 1884)
¹ºDerby Mercury (19 Mar 1884)
¹¹Sheffield Daily Telegraph (14 Feb 1902)
¹²Sheffield Independent (12 Oct 1887)
¹³Lancaster Gazette (1 Mar 1893)
¹⁴Leeds Mercury (29 Mar 1893)
¹⁵Liverpool Mercury (30 Jul 1894)
¹⁶Lichfield Mercury (2 Jun 1899)
¹⁷Derby Daily Telegraph (19 Feb 1903)
¹⁸Nottingham Evening Post (30 Aug 1923)
¹⁹Derby Daily Telegraph (28 May 1931)
²ºDerby Daily Telegraph (10 Feb 1937)
²¹Derby Daily Telegraph (28 Jun 1938)
²²Aberdeen Journal (11 Apr 1942)
²³Dundee Courier (30 Oct 1948)
²⁴The Derbyshire Country House (Maxwell Craven & Michael Stanley)
†Peter Walker & Son
The original brewery was started by Peter Walker, father of Andrew Walker, at the Fort Brewery in Ayr. Through investors the business expanded to Warrington and Burton on Trent. Andrew Walker took over the business in 1890 and is credited with pioneering many production, distribution and management systems that are still in place within the industry. The group had a chain of pubs around Liverpool and the north west. The company merged with Cairns Brewery in 1921 and the Tetley’s Brewery of Leeds in 1960, to form Tetley Walker.
In 1961 Tetley Walker merged with Ind Coope of Burton and Ansells of Birmingham to become Allied Breweries. This later became Allied Lyons in 1978 following a merger with J Lyons and Co. The business merged with Carlsberg in 1992 to become Carlsberg-Tetley and is now known as Carlsberg UK.