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.
In May 1852 a newspaper advertisement announced the sale of valuable land adjoining Bradfield Moor in Yorkshire. It appeared in the Sheffield Independent, a daily newspaper for the town of Sheffield which lay a few miles to the south. This sale of valuable land by Mr Joseph Hammerton of Walker House, Bradfield Dale, included 102- acres of ancient woodland and 7 acres of grassland with commanding views of the surrounding romantic scenery. It also suggested that this freehold estate would be the ideal place to build a summer residence and perfect to use as a Shooting Box in winter.¹
Sidney Jessop and eventful times at Thornsett
The offer was taken up by Sidney Jessop (1809-1871), a nobleman of the eminent Sheffield steel-making firm William Jessop and Sons. The business had been started as a small crucible steelmaker by his father William Jessop in 1830, but there were records of Jessops making steel in Sheffield as far back as 1774. When William Jessop died in 1835 it was taken over by his sons – Montague (1802-1841), Henry (1808-1849), Thomas and Sidney. Montague died soon after and Henry, who established an American branch of the company, also died, in New York at the relatively young age of 41. Their father had taken care not to make any of his sons ‘masters’ and set them to learn the rudiments of the business, often making them toil as hard as other working men.
Sidney, along with his older brother Thomas (more of which we will read about later), continued the firm between them and quickly established it as one of the town’s most reputable manufacturers of steel for the making of tools, saws and steel pens. They also became investors in the Sheffield, Wortley, Silkstone and Wakefield Railway Company.
Sidney lived at 31 Broom Grove Road in the well-heeled district of Broom Hall. The house had been left to his widowed mother, Rebecca, but it was Sidney’s income that provided for the family indulgence. When William Jessop and Sons opened a branch on Dale Street in Manchester it was Sidney who supervised operations. He would move to Shakespeare Street in Ardwick, a house he maintained until his death.
The estate at Thornsett Moor was ideally situated on the way to Manchester. Thornsett Lodge was probably built about 1855 but the architect remains unknown. It was undoubtedly built as a summer retreat and, being a keen sportsman, ideal for Sidney to use during the grouse shooting season. As early as 1858 he was entertaining a party of about fifty gentlemen for the ‘Glorious Twelfth’.
‘The weather was beautifully fine, the sun being exceedingly powerful until towards two o’clock, when the clouds wore a threatening aspect, and the sound of distant thunder attracted the attention of those who were unprepared for a storm. Vivid flashes of lightning, followed by loud peals of thunder, shortly afterwards came in quick succession. About four o’clock the storm became so violent that the sportsmen were obliged to leave the moors. The rain and hail stones descended heavily for a couple of hours, and then somewhat abated, the storm apparently travelling in the direction of Sheffield’.²
When Sidney bought the land at Thornsett he might not have been aware of an important development in the valley below. In 1856 there was talk that the Sheffield Waterworks Company was considering building a new reservoir in order to supply the quantity of water required by an Act of Parliament for the mills of the River Loxley. It became reality in 1859 when construction started and the landscape below Thornsett Lodge was obliterated by hundreds of workmen. In time the ‘Bradfield scheme’ planned to have four reservoirs in the hills surrounding the nearby village.
The work on Dale Dyke encountered frequent problems but by the end of 1863 the embankment was so far complete as to be ready for the reception of water. Through the winter the 76-acre reservoir filled and by March it was almost full. However, disaster was to strike on the evening of Friday 11th March 1864 when, during high winds, the embankment collapsed sending 3 million cubic metres of water down the Loxley valley towards Sheffield. The wall of water destroyed everything in its course and reached Malin Bridge and Hillsborough where the River Loxley met the River Don . The water then thundered towards the town centre and then in the direction of Attercliffe and Rotherham. Altogether at least 240 people died and more than 600 houses were damaged or destroyed by the flood.
It proved to be Sheffield’s worst disaster (although not its last) and the remains of Dale Dyke scarred the landscape on Bradfield Moor. The Mayor of Sheffield, none other than Sidney’s older brother, Thomas, quickly set up a relief fund for the homeless and the needy that eventually reached £49,650. Notwithstanding the huge loss of life and the prolonged work needed to rebuild the dam there was now a stigma attached to the area around Thornsett.
The flood may have prompted Sidney to put the Thornsett Lodge estate up for auction in 1869. When the bidding failed to reach its reserved price the lot was withdrawn and it remained in Jessop hands.³
Sidney Jessop always lived under the shadow of his remaining older brother. He had a retiring disposition and never took much part in public affairs although, for a time, he did represent the Park Ward in the Town Council, during which time he declined an invitation to become Mayor. After a period of indifferent health he died at his Manchester residence in January 1871. Such was the respect given to him by his workmen that the pall bearers at his funeral were eight of the company’s oldest employees. Sidney Jessop was buried at Ecclesall Church in Sheffield.
Thomas Jessop – hero of the town
Upon the death of Sidney, his brother Thomas Jessop (1804-1887) was left the sole proprietor of William Jessop and Sons. Thomas was already an extensive owner of landed property and now inherited the estate at Thornsett. He lived at Endcliffe Grange in Sheffield which remained his principal residence.
While Sidney was considered to have been the restraining influence it was Thomas who showed the most enthusiasm for growing the business of William Jessop and Sons. At the age of 28 he crossed the Atlantic and laid the foundations of the business that afterwards sprung up. It was also Thomas who saw further ahead and from the original premises on Blast Lane, next to the canal, he extended to Brightside, and a year later added the Kilnhurst works as a temporary establishment. The Brightside works grew until they occupied nearly 30-acres of land intersected by nearly three miles of railway lines. At one stage there were six water-wheels and 28 steam boilers needed to drive the engines, hammers and machines.
Thomas Jessop will always be remembered in Sheffield as the generous donor of the Jessop Hospital for Women, an institution that still exists today. It had first been established in 1864 on Figtree Lane and a new hospital was opened in 1878. His donation amounted to £26,000 and he explained that while serving as Mayor of Sheffield he had thought it necessary that the town’s women should have their own hospital. ‘He had now built the hospital, he had furnished it, he had given it to the trustees for the benefit of the town, and he asked them to assist him in supporting it’.⁴
The public career of Thomas Jessop dated back to 1843 when he was elected a councillor for the Park Ward. He retired from the Town Council in 1848 and devoted his attention to the family business. In 1863 Thomas was chosen as Master Cutler and decided to re-join the council becoming Mayor a month later.
William Jessop and Sons became a limited company in 1875. Through aggressive business deals and key contracts the firm had grown into a world reputed empire. Thomas believed that the firm had become so big that the responsibility had to be shared with younger shoulders and wanted to develop young fellows who would eventually support his own son, William. He agreed to sell the company’s estate and property to Mr D Chadwick, M.P., and prepared to retire from the business. In the years that followed the firm went through several years’ poor trading and became saddled with a large quantity of iron bought when the price was at its height. Thomas Jessop returned as Chairman and effectively saved the company when he gifted it £46,000.
After he inherited Thornsett Lodge Thomas used his wealth to acquire the Huggate estate, on the Yorkshire Wolds, between Driffield and Pocklington, extending to 4,000-acres. This property, along with several good farms, cost him £160,000. He also became the owner of Foston, some 600-acres near Driffield, which included a trout stream running right through the middle of it.
Thomas married Frances Yates Hope, daughter of Peter Hope, wholesale merchant and grocer of Liverpool, in the spring of 1846. Before this he had lived in his father’s cottage adjoining the Blast Lane works – ‘A beautiful place, with a lovely lake in the front, and delightful surroundings’. After marriage he lived at Claremont and later moved to Farm Bank on Shrewsbury Road, afterwards to Shirle Hill in Sharrow. Thomas Jessop bought Endcliffe Grange following the death of its owner Edward Fisher Sanderson. He extended and improved the house making it one of the most desirable residences in one of the wealthiest suburbs. He also embellished the interior with valuable works of art, including those by Osler, Pettie and other famous painters.
However, it was Thornsett Lodge where Thomas spent his long summers enjoying the view down the valley of the Loxley and the Porter, the Parish Church of Sheffield being discernible in the distance. During the grouse season he made a point of gathering friends around him, including members of the ‘Birthday Club’, meeting on market days at the King’s Head, and he always made a point of visiting Thornsett on the 12th of August.⁵
Thomas Jessop died at Endcliffe Grange in November 1887.
William Jessop – man of the land
The only son of Thomas Jessop was William Jessop (1856-1905) and now head of the third generation of the steel manufacturers. As a youngster he was educated at Collegiate School in Sheffield and later at Repton, in Germany, before finishing his education at Cambridge. For the greater part of his life he didn’t take part in the affairs of the business but finally became a director in 1880 and, on the death of his father, became its chairman. Although he didn’t take a prominent part in the day-to-day running he was influential in establishing a branch in America in 1902.
For some years he had been a director of the Sheffield and Rotherham Bank, and also occupied a seat on the board of the Yorkshire Engine Company. He also supported the work started by his father at the Jessop Hospital for Women and became president of the institution. This inspired him to also become a trustee of the Sheffield Royal Infirmary. Possessed of ample means and inheriting considerable landed estates from his father, William was more at home in the countryside.
William was keenly interested in agriculture, an ardent sportsman, who loved to handle the gun and rod and to play host to his sporting friends. As such he regularly visited Thornsett Lodge and owned extensive shooting rights in the Strines district, and became a prominent member of the Bradfield Game Association, a group of gentlemen who enjoyed grouse-shooting rights over a large area of the nearby moorland.
William was twice married. His first wife was Mary Crompton Bateman of Middleton Hall, Youlgreave, in Derbyshire. Her father and grandfather had been ardent antiquarians and were well-known in connection with their researches into the history of Derbyshire. By this marriage he had five children, four daughters and one son. Following the death of his first wife he married again, this time to Mrs Frances Jane Fenwick Watson, widow of Mr W.J. Watson of Newcastle.
For many years William resided at Forest Hill, near Worksop, and later moved to Wallingwells, an estate belonging to Sir Thomas White. For a time he moved to Endcliffe Grange while spending a few months each year at his house, 5 Westbourne Grove, in Scarborough. However, his liking for country life caused him to resume his occupancy of Wallingwells, where he remained until late in life. Here he indulged in hunting and shooting and could be regularly found with Lord Galway’s hounds when they were out. The tenantry on his estates found him an excellent landlord and he actively worked several of the farms on the Huggate estate. His open-handed generosity to those poorer than himself was evident in those times of agricultural difficulty and there were many who thought him an ideal candidate to take part in public affairs. However, William chose not to participate and preferred a quieter existence, one that had been deprived of his father.
At the Coronation of King Edward VI and Queen Alexandra he made generous arrangements for each of his tenants and workers at Foston and Huggate to enjoy a day of festivities. Each person received an invitation card illuminated in Coronation colours, on it were portraits of the King and Queen alongside the Royal arms. In the centre were views of Foston Church, Wold House, Huggate, and Thornsett Lodge. Below these were photographs of Thomas Jessop on one side, and his grandson on the other; with the host and hostess Mr and Mrs William Jessop between them. On the day itself each person was presented with a Coronation medal with a pendant ribbon of red, white and blue.⁶
During the last two years of his life William was struck down with a painful affection of the throat. In an attempt to rescue his health he journeyed around the world visiting Australia and Japan. William made several visits to London for medical consultations but it was apparent that he was gradually sinking. He left Wallingwells and made Thornsett Lodge his permanent home. It was here that he spent the last 12 months of his life, the last three being unable to leave the safe confines of the house, and here he died on 4 July 1905.
William Jessop bequeathed his wife a carriage, a pair of horses, harness, saddlery, and stable furniture, as well as wines and spirits and other consumable stores from Thornsett Lodge and Westbourne Grove in Scarborough. He gave her a legacy of £500 and the right to use Thornsett Lodge until his only son, Thomas Jessop, reached the age of 23. It would appear that she had no appetite for alcohol as the extensive cellar of vintage wines was auctioned the following November.⁷
Thomas Jessop and the extravagance ends
When William Jessop’s only son was born in 1888 it was quite right that he should be named after his famous grandfather. He was sent away to be educated in Cheltenham and enjoyed the sporting traditions available to a privileged young man. He was an amateur cross-country jockey and won numerous trophies at point-to-point meetings He was a first-class shot and a cricketer of some repute. In 1905, aged 17, he joined William Jessop and Sons but the death of his father a month later probably arrested any ambitions to serve the company.
It might also be the case that Thomas had little interest in Thornsett Lodge either. His step-mother, entitled to stay until he reached the age of 23, decided to take the sea air and had moved to 127 King’s Road in Brighton, Sussex. In 1908 Thornsett Lodge was advertised to let on a yearly tenancy. It was described with three reception rooms, twelve bedrooms, excellent servants’ offices, extensive stabling and outbuildings. It also came with relatively rare electric light installation and all modern conveniences.⁸
Thomas, like his father, enjoyed countryside pursuits and while in Gloucestershire had met a similar-minded person in Miss Bertha Muriel James, daughter of Mr A.B. James of Somerset and Mrs James of Park House, Thirlestaine Road, Cheltenham. They were married in July 1909 and the fact that Thornsett Lodge was still without a tenant provided the perfect opportunity to spend their honeymoon there.
The couple lived on private means and set up home at 25 Promenade, Moat House, Uckington, in Cheltenham, but there was also time spent in Lincolnshire. In 1906 he had obtained a commission with the Lincolnshire Yeomanry, serving under Lord Yarborough, with whom he served throughout World War One. He was on HMS Mercian when she was shelled in the Mediterranean with the loss of nearly 80 lives. He also saw several years’ service in Egypt and Palestine, much of which was with the Desert Mounted Corps.
Returning to England he settled in the Spilsby district of Lincolnshire and purchased Harrington Hall. He devoted much of his life to hunting, a passion shared with his wife. They had hunted throughout Britain from 1911 until he went to war and he was Master and Huntsman of the Boddington Harriers in Gloucestershire. In 1920 he became Joint Master of the Southwold Hounds and later hunted the Burton Hounds and then South Wold East.
Thornsett Lodge remained under his ownership but by the 1920s was being used by the Bradfield Game Association for shooting purposes. However, in 1928 the association had instructed the Sheffield auctioneer’s of Eadon & Lockwood to sell all the contents of the house.
Maybe Thornsett Lodge had too many close associations with Sheffield and its industrial past to satisfy Thomas Jessop’s rural pursuits. Whatever the reasons the house steadily fell out of favour with him as did the city that had allowed him to live the life of a country gentleman. (Ironically, his step-mother, Frances Jane Fenwick Jessop, had by now moved out of Brighton and had taken a house, ‘Thornsett’, on Falmer Road in Rottingdean. She died in May 1933).
Soon after the contents of Thornsett Lodge had been disposed of the house and estate were sold to Grange and Dale Ltd, a Lincolnshire based property investment company headed by Major Charles Wilson of Riseholme Hall and a Captain Hunt. It is not without probability that they were friends of Thomas Jessop and were keen to exploit the shooting moors that came with the lodge.
The house was made available to let and in 1933 it was home to Gladys Hilda Wyles, spinster, whose only claim to fame appears to be the bankruptcy of her Mowbray Confectionery Works, a wholesale and manufacturing confectioner in Sheffield.
In 1934 Grange and Dale Ltd sold Thornsett Hall to Sheffield Corporation most likely to be used as offices for the waterworks department who were responsible for the nearby Dale Dyke, Strines, Agden and Damflask reservoirs. Grange and Dale Ltd retained the shooting rights and were still advertising that the grouse moors were available to let as late as 1940.
As for Thomas, during World War Two he served as a Welfare Officer in the Northern Command, based in Lincoln, and would later become Major Thomas Jessop. He went on to serve with Spilsby Rural District Council and its committees but it was with the company of ex-servicemen that he enjoyed his role as President of the Lincolnshire Yeomanry Old Comrades’ Association as well as being patron of the Spilsby branch of the British Legion.
While Thomas lived his peacetime in relative comfort, and on the proceeds of William Jessop and Sons, it was apparent that times were changing. Between the wars his move from Harrington House to the smaller Harrington House Farm in the adjoining village reflected the declining years of the steel business and a change in his personal circumstances. He died aged 65 at Horncastle Hospital in February 1952.⁹
Decline and fall
The prospect of war loomed over Europe and in May 1939 it was announced that Thornsett Lodge would house infants from Herries Road Nursery ‘in case of emergency’.¹⁰ This was exactly what happened and the youngsters enjoyed the fresh country air while the city below worked itself to exhaustion and suffered at the hands of German bombers.
It was the start of a long association with children and when peace returned Thornsett Lodge was used as an adjunct to Sheffield Corporation’s cottage homes at Fulwood. It was also around this time that the name appears to have been changed to Thornseat Lodge. A swimming pool was built at the rear of the house and in 1973 it was described as a mixed sex home for 16 emotionally disturbed or ‘difficult’ children of all ages. By 1978 it was listed as an Intermediate Treatment Centre accommodating 12 young people, but its days were numbered.
By the time of its closure in 1980 there was little to associate Thornseat Lodge with its glorious days of domestic pleasure. The 1980s were difficult times for the City of Sheffield. Unemployment was high; its infrastructure was struggling and the council was cash-strapped. There was little else to do but ‘mothball’ it until a better use came along.
The house was not entirely empty. In the early 1990s it was used by the Sheffield Gingerbread Group as a place for families on low incomes to go and stay. As one person said on the Sheffield History forum: – “We stayed there several years’ running. It was a beautiful old house with one room which the caretaker still used in its original state with oak panelled walls. We celebrated children’s birthdays, Halloween and lots more and it was great to see the kids out-of-town and into the countryside.”
But the good times weren’t to last. As the new millennium approached little was done to save Thornseat Lodge. The severe moorland winters were no match and the house quickly fell into a state of disrepair. The worse it became the less likely anybody was going to be interested in buying the property. In 1994 there were plans to turn Thornseat Lodge into a possible location for an eight-place secure unit but hesitancy by Sheffield City Council and opposition from the Peak National Park meant plans were quickly shelved.¹¹
In 2004 the council finally sold the property to Hague Plant Excavations Ltd whose ownership and intentions have been subject of much internet debate ever since. Most certain is that Thornseat Lodge has become a perilous ruin and, without listed status, its future is uncertain. A huge amount of money would be required to restore the property and for what purpose? The easiest option might be to demolish it once and for all but there might yet be salvation. In June 2016 a new company was formed called Thornseat Lodge Ltd. Its purpose is unclear but let us hope that there might be a happy ending for Sidney Jessop’s old shooting lodge after all.
Until then the ghosts will continue to wander through the open corridors, the crumbling stonework and the broken glass.
Note:- William Jessop and Sons, later William Jessop and Company, merged with J.J. Saville and Co to become Jessop Saville & Company. The Brightside Lane works in Sheffield closed in the late 1980s and was later cleared to become ‘Jessop’s Riverside’ business park. In 1998 the company was bought by Allegheny Teledyne.
References:- ¹Sheffield Independent (15 May 1852) ²Sheffield Daily Telegraph (14 Aug 1858) ³Sheffield Independent (30 Jun 1869) ⁴Sheffield Evening Telegraph (30 Jun 1887 ⁵Sheffield Evening Telegraph (30 Nov 1887) ⁶Sheffield Daily Telegraph (12 Jun 1902) ⁷Sheffield Daily Telegraph (8 Sep 1905) ⁸Sheffield Independent (30 May 1908) ⁹Skegness Standard (27 Feb 1952) ¹⁰Sheffield Daily Telegraph (4 May 1939) ¹¹Terry BK (Sheffield Forum)
Day by day this Grade II listed house falls into disrepair despite long-running plans to turn it into a residential development. If its crumbling walls could talk they might reveal long forgotten conversations between partying aristocrats, famous actors and even Royalty.
The early years
Firbeck Hall was built in 1594 by William West, a lawyer of Moorgate Hall, Rotherham and Steward to the 5th Earl of Shrewsbury and to the Manor of Sheffield at the time of Mary Queen of Scots’ imprisonment. West wrote a legal book called Symbolaeographia and was succeeded by his son William.
William’s son John West died in 1638, leaving a sister and co-heir, Elizabeth, who married Lord Darcy, son of Michael Darcy and Margaret Wentworth. She went on to marry a second time, marrying Sir Francis Fane, who inherited Firbeck after her death.
It remained with the West’s until 1669 before being sold to William Woolhouse. He sold it to Jonathan Stanyforth in 1676 and passed through several generations before being sold to Henry Gally Knight, a Barrister-at-Law, in 1800. He was son of the Rev. Henry Gally, Chaplain in Ordinary to George II, distinguished among the literati of his day, who married Elizabeth, only sister and heir of Ralph Knight of Langold. The Gallys were a refugee family which sought asylum in England on the revocation of the Edict of nantes.
On Henry’s death in 1808 the estates at Firbeck and Langold Park were left to his only son, also called Henry Gally Knight (1786-1846). Henry Gally Knight Jr was elected as M.P. for Nottinghamshire in 1835. In the literary world he gained considerable reputation, and published, on his return from travelling in Greece and Syria, a volume of poems under the title Eastern Sketches. He married Henrietta, youngest daughter and co-heir of Anthony Hardolph Eyre, of Grove Park, but did not have any children. After his death Firbeck was willed to Ecclesiastical Commissioners who sold Firbeck Hall to Frances Harriett Miles – nee Jebb – in 1853. Upon her death the Firbeck estates formed the Miles Trust which was inherited by Sydney Gladwin Jebb in 1898 on the death of his uncle, the Rev. Henry Gladwin Jebb.
Sydney Gladwyn Jebb was a West Riding J.P. and wealthy landowner. He was the son of Captain Joshua Gladwyn Jebb of Barnby Moor House, Nottinghamshire. In his later years he lived with his wife, Rose, at Caring House near Maidstone. Attempts to sell the house in 1909 failed and the house subsequently rented out. During the Great War it became the base for Belgian refugees.
One cold November morning in 1924 the house suffered a serious fire. The occupant at the time was Mr Albert Orlando Peech, chairman of a large steel manufacturing company, Messrs. Steel, Peech & Tozer, of Sheffield. He was renting the house and awoke to find flames coming from the servants’ quarters. When it was realised that the fire had obtained too strong a hold the valuable oil paintings and furniture in the mansion were removed to the park outside. Despite the attendance of fire engines from Rotherham, Doncaster and Worksop the central portion of the hall was gutted. Most of the roof collapsed bringing with it a shower of molten lead.
The Jebb family severed links with Firbeck Hall in May 1934. There had been plans to sell the house at auction in Worksop. However, a few weeks earlier an approach had been made by Mr Cyril Nicholson, a stock broker from Sheffield, to purchase the whole of the 1,500 acre estate. In addition to the house there were six farms, 14 small holdings and a number of cottages. It was reported that he intended to retain the estate as it was but nobody could have anticipated the plans he had in store.
Firbeck Hall Club
“The club which will be opened sometime next month is the only one of its kind in the north of England. There is nothing to compare with it near London.” Mr Santos Casini, Sheffield Independent, 8 March 1935.
Firbeck Hall will forever be remembered for the celebrated period between 1935 and 1939. Although Cyril Nicholson had bought the estate he had secretly been making plans with two business associates. These were Lord Feilding, eldest son of the 9th Earl of Denbigh, and Mr Santos Casani, a famous dancer of the Casani Club in London. Between them they turned the old family house into the Firbeck Hall Club. The hall retained its outward appearance but its old interiors were, by modern standards, inexplicably destroyed. The old panelled walls gave way to brightly covered walls and the interior rooms were covered almost entirely with mirrors. The fashionable art deco style was created by Robert Cawkwell of the Sheffield architect firm of Hadfield Cawkwell Davidson. The total cost was £80,000 with actual alterations alone to the building costing £45,000. With the fire damage it took almost a year to complete.
The inside was a triumph, winning acclaim from specialist journals including Architecture Illustrated, which published pictures of the hall’s la mode zebra prints, sweeping plaster work and streamlined ocean liner-esque fittings.
“Where once there were darkly-panelled rooms there are now dance halls with maple floors, cocktail bars with stainless steel furniture, dining rooms upholstered with its latest Zebra pattern coverings, grill rooms and billiard rooms.”
Furniture for Firbeck Hall was provided by a well-known firm of local furnishers, James and William Hastings Ltd, of Bridegate in Rotherham. They supplied all the special tables for the grill room and restaurant, and also a quantity of special coffee and cocktail tables made to the design of the Finish architect, Alvar Aalto.
Ellis Pearson and Co were employed to provide the mirrors which ran the full length of the dining room walls. Cut into them were sporting scenes depicting the activities of the club. In the grill room they created windows with silhouette figures. These, with large mirrors in the ballroom, ballroom lounge and bars were regarded as ‘the finest glass work executed in the British Isles’.
Of significance was the state-of-the-art lighting system installed by Kenneth Friese-Greene. The ballroom was illuminated by concealed lighting in the cornice providing an even, soft light throughout the room. A control on the band platform changed the lighting from white to a rotary colour-changing dimmer driven by an electric motor. The glass panels in the ceiling of the dining room, reception hall were all lit by concealed floodlights.
In the grounds and park there was a new 100 ft outdoor heated swimming pool (constructed by B. Powell and Son of Sheffield) as well as tennis courts and an 18-hole golf course designed by celebrity golfer John S.F. Morrison. The championship-standard squash courts were described as being comparable to those at the Bath Club.
Most significant was the new aerodrome, designed by the famous airman Captain Tom Campbell Black, joint winner of the Mildenhall-Melbourne Air Race in 1935, where the rich and famous, including the Prince of Wales (on his royal Dragon aircraft) and Amy Johnson, flew in.
A first-hand account of Firbeck was given in 2000, by former club-goer Luke Seymour, a director of estate agent Henry Spencer and Sons of Sheffield, who recalled events in the Sheffield Star:
“Evening parties were very popular – and dangerous in the pool. “John Bowett – who had never dived in his life before – and Ted Tylden-Wright both dived off the high board in their morning suits after a Bowett wedding.”
Noel Wade wrote in 2000:-
“The ground floor featured a mirrored walled ballroom with a maple wood floor and a lighting system that changed the colour and tone of the room. Also on the ground floor was the clubs main restaurant with its London West End chef and maitre d’hotel, the kitchen had the capacity to provide over 400 table d’hote dinners. The lounges had furnishings covered in a zebra stripe material that was complimented by the distinct patterned mirrors gracing the lounge walls. The Cocktail bar became a popular place to socialise and sample one of the latest American cocktail recipes flamboyantly the Cocktail barman. On the second floor was located a smaller grillroom that had a reputation for serving the best of English breakfasts and steaks, a card room that became the scene of regular high stake games and a smaller ballroom with reception areas that could accommodate small private functions. In addition there were a number of bedrooms, furnished in an older more traditional style.Adjoiniug the Hall was the Dormey House, which over looked the 18 hole putting green and contained twelve bedrooms furnished to a very high standard of comfort in the latest of 1930’s designs.”
Colonel W. Elwy-Jones, whose work at the Piccadilly Hotel had made him one of the best known figures in London, was appointed the Managing Director. He told reporters: “In these days of flying, when you can fly from London to Sheffield in an hour, distance really means nothing. I intend to make the club the last word in social amenities. There has always been criticism of cooking in the provinces and I intend to alter this by supplying as good food as any to be found in the West End.” Shortly afterwards he appointed a new Catering Manager known by one name only, Emil, who had previously worked at the Savoy and the Adelphi and also joined Firbeck from the Picadilly Hotel.
The club was so sought after that even Vogue published an entire Firbeck supplement featuring beautiful 1930s-clad women posing throughout the club’s vast grounds. Within a few months the Firbeck Club had 700 members with Life Membership fees ranging between three to seven guineas. One disreputable member turned out to to be Mr Leslie Francis Collier who managed to pass himself off as the Earl of Macduff. Leaving a trail of deception he obtained money and left a trail of debt throughout Britain. His charade ended after flying into Firbeck from Scotland and someone recognised that he wasn’t actually the real Earl of MacDuff. The police were called and he was arrested.
Such was the increasing reputation of the club, that the BBC also transmitted its weekly Saturday show “Late Night Dance Music” with Henry Hall, Carroll Gibbons and Charlie Kunz from Firbeck. The club was fitted throughout with Dynatron receiving and amplifying apparatus for diffusing radio, gramophone records, speech and band music.
In 1938 the Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer wrote: “Firbeck Hall is an erstwhile stately home of England, which has saved itself by becoming a country club. Just across the way Sandbeck Hall (Park) seems to frown sternly on these goings-on. Sandbeck is still a ‘Stately Home’ within the meaning of Mr Noel Coward’s act.” It was a golden period for Firbeck Hall but proved to be short-lived when gaieties were halted with the devastating outbreak of World War Two.
At first there were no immediate threats to the club and Cyril Nicholson generously offered hospital beds at Firbeck Hall. These were still early days but it was soon apparent that the house would be pressed into full-time service. The writing was on the wall but Nicholson, Feilding (by now deceased) and Elwy-Jones had already turned their attention elsewhere a few years earlier. Between them they had bought the Grand Hotel in Sheffield and, by the time the war started, this large Edwardian building had been refurbished to retain its title as the city’s finest hotel.
Gone with the glamour and war intervenes
Firbeck Hall was taken over by the Sheffield Joint Hospitals Board and the dwindling country club shunted into the nearby Lake House. It became an annexe of the Sheffield Royal Infirmary for the duration while the aerodrome was converted into RAF Firbeck, comprising four squadrons from 1940 to 1944. The dream had died and in 1943 Cyril Nicholson put Firbeck Hall up for sale. There were no takers for the estate and it would take until 1945 for the Miners’ Welfare Commission to acquire it as a rehabilitation centre.
Speaking about the acquisition Mr J.A. Hall, the Yorkshire Miners’ President and a member of the commission, said: “It would be a fitting counterpart to the Scottish miners’ rehabilitation centre at Gleneagles, and an establishment for Yorkshire miners to be proud of. Every care would be taken during adaptation to preserve the architectural outlines of the historic mansion.” The purchase price was £30,000 and extensions and alterations were soon underway including the enclosure of the open-air swimming pool. By the time it opened in 1946 there was room for 70 patients within the old house.
In 1984 it transferred to the Trent Regional Health Authority as a convalescence home for industrial injuries but this eventually closed in 1990. 27-years-later, Firbeck Hall remains derelict, eerily lost and in the most precarious condition. It was bought by successive owners in 1996 and 2010 before being bought by Ashley Wildsmith in 2014. He plans a residential development for the country house with plans drawn up by architects Building Link Design from Doncaster.
Built: c.1765-1768 Architect: James Paine Owner: Earl of Scarbrough Country House Grade I listed
“Dickon Scarbrough was much appreciated in the Sandbeck neighbourhood, and miners from the nearby Maltby pit were happy to act as beaters at his pheasant shoots. During the miners’ strike of 1984 there was a sudden lull during a drive, explained when a beater emerged from behind a bush. ‘Sorry, my lord,’ he said, ‘but we’ll have to scarper. There’s some snoopers from the DHSS over there in a van.'” (Obituary for the 12th Earl of Scarbrough, The Telegraph, 17 April 2004)
The former mining town of Maltby might not be the obvious place for a grand old country house. Many locals consider it down-at-heel yet, not far from its centre, is Sandbeck Park, the family seat of the Earl of Scarbrough since the 18th century, and to whom many residents of this small South Yorkshire town still pay their ground rent to.
Today Sandbeck Park is relatively unknown but it has seen its fair share of noble visitors. It’s close location to Doncaster Racecourse firmly placed the house into the diaries of landed gentry as well as Kings and Queens, including our present one. If all this is forgotten then Maltby’s inhabitants delight in speculation that former model, actress and author Joanna Lumley might somehow be related to the present occupants of the house!
This Grade I listed house dates to the 17th century with extensive remodelling in the 18th and 19th centuries. It lies close to the ruins of the better-known Roche Abbey, founded in 1147 by Cistercian monks.
The 1st recorded house at Sandbeck was built-in 1626 for Sir Nicholas Saunderson, 1st Viscount Castleton. Sandbeck passed to Thomas Lumley later 3rd Earl of Scarbrough who died in 1752.
Sandbeck remained in the hands of the Castletons until 1723, when the sixth viscount, who was granted an earldom in 1720, died without an heir. He willed Sandbeck to his cousin, Thomas Lumley, the 3rd Earl of Scarbrough.
In 1760 the fourth earl hired Neoclassical architect James Paine to considerably rebuild and extend the 17th century house in the fashionable Palladian style. Paine had a favourable reputation in Yorkshire including his work at Nostell Priory, Hickleton Hall, Cusworth Hall and the Mansion House in Doncaster. He was also responsible for the huge stable block at Chatsworth House in Derbyshire.
Between 1763 and 1768 he enlarged the main building with a new Grecian front and added several outbuildings, including gatehouses and the limestone stables. Paine allegedly used stones from Roche Abbey during the construction of the house.
If the Dissolution of the Monasteries and the later handiwork of James Paine hadn’t robbed Roche Abbey of its contents then much worse was to come.
In 1774, the fourth earl commissioned Capability Brown to completely landscape the area, signing a contract to pay him £2,800 for work to last through 1777. It appears that Brown had little regard for the historical value of the abbey and systematically destroyed much of it to satisfy contemporary tastes. When finished the abbey was little more than a romantic folly.
‘Brown engineered a lake and islands over Roche’s southern buildings, substituted a river for the medieval water channels, contrived a waterfall to cascade from the Laughton Pond, and composed irregular tree groupings in surrounding fields. He also levelled the ruins’ irregular walls to provide a uniform grassed foreground for a banqueting lodge’.
In 1857, the 9th Earl of Scarbrough turned to the Scottish architect William Burn to further remodel and improve the house. This resulted in significant internal alterations and in 1869 Benjamin Ferrey, an ecclesiastical architect and pupil of Augustus Charles Pugin, built a private chapel for the earl. A 19th-century service wing that linked the house to Sandbeck Chapel was demolished in 1954.
There might have been a steady decline in its social status, not helped by its close proximity to Maltby Colliery, one of Britain’s largest deep coal mines that closed in 2013. Sandbeck Park is now the home of Richard Osbert Lumley, 13th Earl of Scarbrough (b.1973). They still own the former family seat at Lumley Castle which now functions as a hotel. The 13th Earl has continued the good work started by his father (who was a godson of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother and of the 1st Earl of Halifax) by helping charities, with the Dinnington-based Safe@Last being one of his top priorities. He is a patron of the charity which provides refuge and help for runaway youngsters or those in danger at home.
. Built: 1870 Architect: Unknown Owner: Private ownership Country House
Stone steps lead to the main reception with tall doors opening to the formal entrance to the house. The centrally positioned, spectacular T shaped hallway presents an immediate impressive introduction to Rockwood House showcasing original features including deep skirting boards and an impressive high ceiling height (a theme which is continued throughout), ornate coving and the most spectacular bespoke, carved oak staircase and stained glass leaded window reminiscent of the period of build. (Fine & Country)
Rockwood House is an unassuming and little known property tucked quietly outside Denby Dale to the south-east of Huddersfield. In early times Denby Dale was sparsely-populated but like so many other Pennine hamlets it grew with the dawn of the industrial revolution. Not surprisingly, the area developed a small textiles industry and the population spread. These circumstances were the reasons why Rockwood House was built and can be called one of those ‘brass castles’, properties built from the proceeds of commerce and industry.
Walter Norton (1833-1909)
Rockwood House was built in 1870 for Walter Norton, the second son of Joseph Norton who had built Nortonthorpe Hall at Scissett. Along with his brother Benjamin and his cousin, Thomas Norton of Bagden Hall, they ran a ‘plush’ manufacturing business, Norton Brothers & Company Ltd, manufacturing fancy shawl, mantle cloth, dress goods and rugs at Nortonthorpe Mills.
Walter was chairman, a role he appreciated, and held a similar position at the Denby Dale Gas Light Company. Money was something the Norton family weren’t short of, but Walter quickly earned his own fortune. He married his cousin, Elizabeth Norton, the eldest daughter of George Norton of Bagden Hall, in 1859.
He gained a reputation as a keen sportsman and founded the Rockwood Harriers Hunt in 1868 of which he was Master for many years and which still exists today. It was after the hunt that he named Rockwood House.
Eleven years after his marriage he bought 500 acres of land on the far side of Denby Dale, just far enough away from his employees who worked on the other side of the village towards Scissett. The architect of Rockwood House is unknown but it was typical of a small Victorian country house complete with castellations, a central front door and bays either side. Then, as now, its appearance was deceptive as the interior was much larger than its appearance suggested .
Walter and Elizabeth lived happily at Rockwood House entertaining family and friends. He was a pillar of the community, buying the manorial rights to Penistone in 1877, a strong Conservative and churchman and was much attached to Camberworth Church. For over thirty years he was also a West Riding Magistrate frequently sitting at the Barnsley Petty Sessional Court. Despite all this, his marriage to Elizabeth failed to deliver any children, and he became a widower following her death in 1903. Walter died six years later in 1909 leaving estate worth £45,099.¹
Dr Duncan Alistair MacGregor (1857-1924)
With no heir to Walter Norton the contents of the house were sold at auction but Rockwood remained within the family. It passed to Dr Duncan Alistair MacGregor who stayed for the next ten years. He had married the daughter of Dr Clayton, of Highfield House in Denby Dale, who also happened to be the niece of Walter Norton.
MacGregor had spent nearly 40 years in practice at Clayton West and Denby Dale where he was held in high regard. He was also the Medical Officer of Health for the township of Gunthwaite and Ingbirchworth, near Penistone. In 1919 he was offered the post of Medical Officer to the Exeter City Mental Hospital, and so at the age of 62, he moved his family away from Rockwood House which was put for let. MacGregor died at Exmouth in 1924 leaving a widow and a son and daughter.²
Wilfred Dawson (1871-1936)
Following MacGregor’s move to Devon the house was occupied by Wilfred Dawson J.P., a typical Yorkshire councillor, who had entered the Council of the County Borough of Huddersfield unopposed at a by-election of 1917. He became Lord Mayor between 1921 and 1923 and later became chairman of the Finance and Watch Committee. His greatest achievement had been the purchase of the Ramsden Estate by Huddersfield Corporation in 1919, at the time the largest purchase of valuable land ever made by a British municipality. Outside of council affairs he was a director of W. Bentley & Co, stock and share brokers, as well as being a director and vice-chairman of Huddersfield Town Football Club.
The ownership of Rockwood House at this time is uncertain. It is possible that it remained in the Norton estate after MacGregor left. It is also feasible that Wilfred Dawson eventually purchased Rockwood because newspaper reports of 1924 suggest he might have been the owner. In this year the house was once again offered for let but we do know that by 1925 it was the residence of Henry Gordon Cran.³
Henry Gordon Cran (1889-1971)
Very little is known about Henry Gordon Cran and his purchase of Rockwood House was likely to have taken place during 1924. However, the house was reported to have been sold by Cran by private treaty in 1925. By now the estate consisted of approximately 30 acres including three paddocks with timbered grounds and walks. It was a far cry from Walter Norton’s 500 acres which had been sold off in various lots over the years.
Henry Gordon Cran, a former member of the Royal Regiment of Artillery, had married Dorothy, the daughter of William and Mary Broadbent, of Huddersfield. Her father was the son of Thomas Broadbent, who had founded an engineering and millwright business in 1864. After repairing and refurbishing several centrifugal extractors, installed as dryers in the textile industry, he had seen potential for its application in other industries which had a need for separating liquids and solid. In 1870 he had produced his own extractor to remove water from washed wool and cloth and became a rich man. He died in 1880 and the business was eventually passed to William Broadbent and his brother Horace. The company, known as Thomas Broadbent and Sons, would eventually manufacture a diverse range of products including steam engines, cars and overhead travelling cranes.
It was into this family that Henry Gordon Cran married and inevitably found himself working as an engineer at Thomas Broadbent and Sons. In reality his job role was far more important than suggest. He was a designer and inventor and many patents were registered under his name. Cran became a wealthy man and was able to afford the grandness that Rockwood House provided.
It appears that the sale of 1925 did not proceed and the Cran family remained at Rockwood House until at least 1949 when Dorothy died. Henry died in 1971 at Threlkeld in Keswick.
Matters are confounded by reports that Colonel Alfred Whiston Bristow was living at Rockwood House in 1945. The house is listed as being owned by Henry Gordon Cran but it is conceivable that he may have rented it to Bristow.
Colonel Alfred Whiston Bristow (1879-1949) was an engineer of remarkable versatility. He was a pioneer in aviation rising to the rank of commander in the Royal Naval Air Service and testing many early aero-engines. He transferred to the Royal Flying Corps rising to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. In 1927 he became interested in low-temperature carbonisation and soon developed a successful and profitable industry. Besides being chairman of Low Temperatures Carbonisation Ltd (eventually known as Coalite and Chemical Products Ltd) he was the chair of various other similar companies.⁴
The 1950s and a period of uncertain ownership
Any doubts over ownership and tenancy of Rockwood House pale in comparison after 1950.
It is reported that the house passed through various owners and one significant name is mentioned. He was Commander Henry George Kendall (1874-1965), a British sea-captain who survived several shipwrecks and was involved in the capture of Dr Crippen. He was also the captain of RMS Empress of Ireland which sank in the Saint Lawrence River after colliding with a Norwegian coal freighter in 1914. Alas, I am unable to confirm his connection with Rockwood House. He died in a nursing home in London in 1965.
Another account suggests that Rockwood House became a private school, known as St Aiden’s, and lasted until 1964. This is confirmed by Roy Fisher, a local, who says it operated as a school in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, although he believes it was known as Rockwood House School. His mother worked there as a cleaner and he remembers the closing down sale when lab equipment, coat hangers and various other items were sold off. By the late 1960’s it was once again a private home and he remembers attending a party hosted by the daughter of a ‘very senior naval officer’.
In 1972 the house was converted into the Rockwood House Country Club, a restaurant and club, under the ownership of Richard Mattock Berry. The concept might have appeared reasonable but the undertaking was beset with problems. Financial difficulties pushed it into receivership and the country club closed in 1976.⁵
Rockwood House was bought by Michael Winch in 1980 who carried out extensive renovations to the house and grounds. During the miners’ strike of 1972 he had the enterprising idea of selling homemade decorated candles from the back of a van. This was the start of Candlelight Products Ltd which now employs 130 staff in the UK and a further 2,000 in the Far East.
The house has remained in the family since but it was put up for sale, along with 7 acres of land, for £1.85 million in 2016.
“It was my father who purchased Rockwood House around forty years ago, and for him, looking after the house itself and transforming the gardens has been a lifetime project. It’s an extremely impressive home, almost like a fairy-tale castle with its turrets and castellations. As you approach it via the very long, private driveway, you come around the corner and through the trees and the house slowly comes into view; it’s incredibly striking. It was a magical place to grow up in, very grand in both its appearance and scale. Every room, including the bathrooms has a beautiful open fireplace, and the house as a whole is awash with gorgeous period features. The rooms are all very large and the ceilings are high, but it’s a very comfortable family home and particularly conductive to entertaining. My father invested a lot of time and effort into completely transforming the gardens, and as well as adding lots of beautiful plants, he also had the tennis court refurbished and a swimming pool installed; it’s now an absolute paradise. The views are magnificent and a dense wood of exotic trees that were planted by Walter Norton, who was also a keen botanist, surrounds the house” (Ben Winch – Fine & Country Sale Brochure)
Update: In early 2018 the house was withdrawn from the market. Its owner, Mike Winch, has decided to stay at the house and is currently renovating both the interior and exterior.
References:- ¹Barnsley Chronicle (28 Aug 1909) ²Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer (21 Apr 1924) ³Yorkshire Evening Post (2 Aug 1949)/Huddersfield Directory Who’s Who (1937) ⁴Colliery Year Book and Coal Trades Directory (1945) ⁵The Gazette (Mar 1976)
Architect: John Carr
Grade II* listed
House and Heritage features a guest post from Michael E. Reed on the history of Gledhow Hall, Leeds, and its Royal connections.
Michael E. Reed (b.1964) studied Art History at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. He has taught English, History, Music and Drama at various Melbourne colleges for many years and has worked as a performer – particularly in theatre, opera and as a band singer. Reed has written for the UK Guardian regarding the Duchess of Cambridge’s family connections with art and architecture. He has worked as a researcher for other leading UK newspapers including the Telegraph, the Express and the Daily Mail.
Reed lives in Melbourne in an Arts and Crafts house with his wife and daughter.
The Middleton family and GLEDHOW HALL, LEEDS Gledhow Hall, in Leeds, is still standing sentinel and today houses several luxury flats. Yet few are aware that the Hall and the Gledhow area itself is intrinsically linked with the family of Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge.
Gledhow Hall is on Gledhow Lane at its junction with Gledhow Wood Road. The land was originally monastic and was purchased from Queen Elizabeth I by the Thwaites family. Several notable Yorkshire families have owned the Hall, including the Becketts, the Benyons, the Dixons and the Coopers. The Hall, as seen today, was completed shortly after 1766, by York architect John Carr who had been responsible for Harewood House – the home of Princess Mary, Countess of Harewood, whose niece is Queen Elizabeth II.
Between 1812 and 1815, J.M.W. Turner sketched the view of Gledhow Hall from across the valley and made a painting. Turner’s painting was inherited by Guy Kitson Nevett, the great grandson of James Kitson who purchased Gledhow Hall in 1885.
Kitson employed Leeds architects Chorley and Connon to extend the hall in the following years and create the impressive hipped slate and lead roofs, balustered parapet, cornices and chamfered quoins. Also evident today are the stone cantilevered stairs, a wrought-iron scrolled balustrade, the mahogany handrail and the partitioned top-lit stair well which still retains eight fine lunette windows. In late 1885, Kitson created a superb Burmantofts ‘Faience’ bathroom in honour of a proposed visit to Gledhow Hall from the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII)
James Kitson was created a baronet in 1886. He was the 1st Lord Mayor of Leeds in 1895 and would be raised to the peerage as Lord Airedale in 1907. When Kitson acquired the Gledhow Hall Estate, some of the land had previously been sold to William Hey who had built the neighbouring Gledhow Wood Estate circa 1860.
The Middleton family connection begins in 1875 when the Gledhow Wood Estate was purchased by German nobleman – Edward, Baron von Schunck – who had married Kate Lupton in 1867. Kate – the daughter of a former Mayor of Leeds – had grown up nearby at her family’s Potternewton Hall Estate, as had her first cousin, Francis Martineau Lupton and his daughter, Olive Middleton who was the great grandmother of Kate Middleton.
In 1890 at Gledhow Wood, Baron von Schunck’s wife hosted the wedding breakfast for her daughter, Florence, and her new son-in-law, Albert Kitson. A prestigious event, Olive’s family were reported as being guests at the wedding; so too, was Herbert Gladstone (later Viscount Gladstone), the prime minister’s son. The great prime minister himself, Gladstone, had also been a visitor to Gledhow Hall.
On March 16, 1911 Albert Kitson inherited the title 2nd Lord Airedale and took ownership of Gledhow Hall. Given that his mother-in-law, Baroness von Schunck, was residing at the adjacent Gledhow Wood Estate, the two estates were re-united as a grand family seat.
Lord and Lady Airedale were invited to pay homage at Westminster Abbey to King George V at his coronation in June 1911. Lady Airedale’s mother, Baroness von Schunck (née Kate Lupton), was also invited. A wealthy woman with a keen interest in the educational provision for women, Baroness von Schunck is listed in Burke’s Peerage Second World War Edition as having died in 1913. The Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer reported that amongst her chief mourners were members of Olive Middleton’s family.
In 1914, Olive married solicitor Richard Noel Middleton whose grandfather – solicitor William Middleton – had founded the Leeds firm of solicitors, William Middleton and Sons. A gentleman farmer, William Middleton Esq. had also lived in the area at Gledhow Grange Estate.
World War I saw Gledhow Hall being offered by the 2nd Lord Airedale for use as a VAD hospital. Lord and Lady Airedale’s daughter, The Hon. Doris Kitson, was photographed working at her home as a volunteer nurse in 1916; she was mirroring the war efforts of her cousin Olive Middleton – also photographed as a volunteer nurse at Gledhow Hall. Familial ties were strong and we find that Olive’s sister-in-law, VAD nurse Miss Gertrude Middleton, was similarly photographed at Gledhow Hall. A talented pianist, the Gledhow Hall Concert Programme records Gertrude Middleton as being an accompanist at concerts held at her relative’s grand home.
As second cousins, Baroness Airedale and Olive Middleton shared much: apart from their Unitarian faith, both women and their families were much involved with charity work which concerned nursing, social and educational matters. They have no doubt inspired their descendant, the Duchess of Cambridge.
Tragically, all three of Olive Middleton’s brothers were killed in World War I. Various memorials are found to honour the brothers at the Leeds Mill Hill Chapel, Trinity College Chapel, Cambridge and St. John’s Church, Roundhay.
By 1923, Gledhow Hall had come into the possession of the City of Leeds. Noel Middleton died in 1951, his wife Olive having passed away in 1936. Baroness Airedale died in 1942.
Gledhow Hall reminds us that a manor house can hold memories both celebratory and glamorous in nature yet also contain within its walls stories of enormous human heartbreak.
Built: 1900 Owner: Wood and Stone Developments Ltd Country house hotel
There is a certain mystery about Dunsley Hall. This late Victorian building is prominently situated in the small hamlet of Newholm-cum-Dunsley, a few miles outside Whitby. It offers distant sea views which made it an idyllic spot for Frederick Haigh Pyman to build his holiday home back in 1900. Its location at the heart of the village rather flew in the face of his contemporaries who were much happier hiding away from prying country folk. Today, it sits blissfully beside a handful of cottages, a former chapel and the odd farmstead, altogether the perfect rural setting.
To understand why he chose Dunsley we must first look at his family background. Frederick Haigh Pyman (1858-1932) was the seventh child of George Pyman (1822-1900) of Sandsend, a small fishing village close to Whitby.
At the age of ten George Pyman joined the family fishing boat and immediately developed a competency for the sea. By the time he was 21 he was captain but had far greater ambitions. He married Elizabeth English (1821-1893) in 1843 at Whitby Parish Church but realised that money could be made elsewhere. He uprooted his young family to West Hartlepool in 1850 and started a new career as a ship-chandler going into partnership with Thomas Scurr and later setting up a business with his brother-in-law, Francis English.
Pyman and Scurr later became ship brokers and coal fitters for the Weardale Coal Company and operated several collier briggs. After Thomas Scurr died in 1861 George continued to run the company which became George Pyman & Co. He moved into steamships and accumulated significant wealth allowing him to diversify into timber, farming and coal mining. However, it was the intricate web that George developed in shipping that provided his biggest assets. He became the largest steam-ship owner in the north east, was elected a Poor Law Guardian for West Hartlepool in 1861, an Improvement Commissioner in 1868, and became a Justice for the Peace for Durham in 1872. He was even appointed Vice-Consul for Belgium in 1879.
With two daughters and seven sons it was not surprising that his offspring would use his fortune to set up similar ventures around the country. George retired to Raithwaite Hall at Sandsend in 1882 and died in 1900. He left a substantial fortune of £135,000 as well as Raithwaite Hall, Moss Brow House and significant agricultural land around Whitby and Sandsend.
Frederick Haigh Pyman, his sixth son, was born in West Hartlepool in 1856. He was typical of George’s sons and, along with his brother Francis, set up Pyman Brothers in London in 1882 and later the London & Northern Steamship Company.
In 1885 he married Blanche Gray (1862-1896), the daughter of William Gray, a family friend and extremely successful shipbuilder from West Hartlepool. Between them they had ten children and it is likely that Blanche died during the birth of Blanche Gray Pyman in 1896. Three years later Frederick married Edith Mary Browning and would go on to have another three children. They chose to live in Enfield and later at 82 Fitzjohns Avenue in Hampstead.
While spending most of his year attending to business in London Frederick was eager to own a holiday home. In 1900 he chose a plot of family-owned land at Dunsley which stretched almost to Raithwaite Hall at Sandsend. It is not without possibility that Dunsley hall was built on part of the original Home Farm estate. Indeed, early maps suggest an older property stood on the site with the most likely use being a farmstead.
The architect is unknown but it is likely that the original property was smaller than appears today. The modest house was built of stone with two stories and an attic in Y-shaped fashion. The rear of the property stood higher while the unassuming main entrance was at the side of the property where a date stone is still visible above the door. Without doubt the masterpiece of the house would have been its unsymmetrical north prospect with then unobstructed views of the sea. Its three bays, containing the family rooms, led onto a small terrace with descending steps into the formal gardens.
Throughout the house was oak panelling hand-crafted by ships’ carpenters. According to legend the same craftsmen who worked here went on to do the interiors for the Titanic².
Without doubt the pinnacle of today’s house is the lounge. This may have originally been the drawing room or even used as a library. However, its grandeur suggests that this was once a room designed to impress and would have been used for entertaining.
Two features exist that make it one of the most remarkable rooms.
The first is a stained glass window depicting a classic seascape – obviously commissioned by a sea-faring person – and providing privacy from the village lane outside. The second is an inglenook fireplace, quite magnificent, with green tiles and marble surround. It is encased with carved oak and crowned with the Pyman coat-of-arms awarded to Frederick’s father.
The coat-of-arms appears almost Arabesque suggesting connections with far-off exotic places. However, according to a family descendent, who uses a later version of the family crest for the Pyman Pâté company it is rather glorified:-
“It was first matriculated in the 1880s for my great-great-great Grandfather George Pyman. The most striking feature of the coat of arms is the ‘savage affrontee proper garlanded about the loins and temples holding in the dexter hand a scroll’. During the nineteenth century the College of Arms seems to have been the habit of granting savages to those with business in foreign part – hence also the crescent and the stars. That George Pyman mainly did his business in Europe and around the British coast seems to be taking this somewhat to excess. It has met with slightly ribald comment from the family over the years.”³
Frederick Pyman was an enterprising man all but forgotten today. We can determine that he was particularly fond of singing, and a vocalist of no mean ability. He was a J.P., would become a Chairman of the London Chamber of Shipping, Commodore of the Whitby Regatta, a President of the Whitby Yacht Club (he kept his yacht ‘Stalwart’ at Whitby), and of Whitby United Football Club. In his later he years he, along with his brother Walter Herbert Septimus Pyman (1858-1931), was responsible for the reconstruction of the Pyman Institute at Sandsend, built on the site of their father’s birthplace.¹.
Frederick named one of his new ships for the London & Northern Steamship Company after Dunsley Hall. The steamship Dunsley was built in 1913 but had a short life. It was travelling from Liverpool to Boston when it was torpedoed off the south coast of Ireland in 1915. Newspapers report that it was hit by U-24, the same submarine that had already sunk the White Star liner SS Arabic. Pyman’s boat managed to stay afloat and rescue a number of the liner’s passengers. Two crewman from Dunsley were killed but we can assume that the rest of the crew and the Arabic survivors were transferred to safety before the ship plummeted to the depths.⁴
Frederick Pyman’s year followed a fairly predictable pattern. The winter would be spent attending to business at Mountgrove, his London town house, at Fitzjohns Avenue. During the summer he would relocate the family to his much-loved Dunsley Hall.
It was here, in the summer of 1932, aged 74, that he was taken seriously ill and died. He left £270,132 and properties to his family. Most interesting was that he put aside £2,000 to be distributed amongst his servants and employees.⁵
On his death the Dunsley Hall estate passed to a consortium of his eldest children. The most likely summer resident was Captain Frederick Creswell Pyman (1889-1966), the managing director of William Gray and Co Ltd, the West Hartlepool shipbuilders. He lived with his wife and children at Oval Grange in West Hartlepool and served with the 2nd Battalion of the Yorkshire Regiment in World War One.
In 1944 the whole of the Dunsley Hall estate was put up for sale by the executors. It comprised 728 acres and described Dunsley Hall as “a modern residence with luxurious and up-to-date equipment placed in a sunny and sheltered position with Mulgrave Woods to the North and commanding views over Sandsend and Whitby”.
The sale also included six farms, including Home Farm.
“The principal feature of the estate (apart from the beauty of its situation) is the excellence of the farm buildings. The late owner was not so much concerned with rental as with contented tenants and pride in a particularly well ordered estate, and the substantial comfortable and spacious character of the various steadings reflects this attitude to a remarkable degree, and entirely removes the usual anxieties of a Purchaser as to heavy repair and future capital expenditure”.⁶
In the end the estate was purchased privately by Frederick Pyman’s children with only a handful of outlying lots offered for sale.
According to authors Peter Hogg and Harold Appleyard in their book The Pyman Story the family owned Dunsley Hall and its farms until 1949. Legatees, led by Frederick Creswell Pyman, eventually sold the estate to a wealthy Leeds businessman called Joshua Raynor.
Dunsley Hall became isolated from the rest of its estate but survived under several different owners. During the seventies and eighties it appeared to have suffered from an identity crisis. The house was obviously expensive to maintain and the building was sub-divided into flats for a time. A number of changes of use were proposed. In 1978 it was granted planning permission to convert the main building into a school while, in the same year, was refused consent for conversion into a country club. Not to be deterred the owners applied for change of use from flats to a hotel. Once again this application was rejected by the North Yorkshire Moors National Park⁷.
Dunsley Hall’s recovery came in 1995 when it was acquired by William and Carol Ward. Their persistence with planners resulted in the house becoming the Dunsley Hall Country House Hotel with significant, but sympathetic changes, to the interiors and the creation of a new bedroom block.
The business flourished for many years but suffered in the nadir of the economic recession. The year 2014 is regarded as the one where financial hardship finally hit the hospitality industry. It must have been a catastrophic day when the hotel was forced to call in administrators and all the hard work lost.
Happily, but not without irony, the house was bought by Wood and Stone Developments in 2015. With challenges overcome by others the hotel once again appears to be thriving with plans for further refurbishment afoot.
Other children of Frederick Haigh Pyman:-
Frederick had thirteen children across two marriages. Apart from Frederick Creswell Pyman the most notable were his eldest son William Haigh Pyman (1887-1983) who became a director of Pyman Brothers. Margaret Joyce Pyman (1891-1986) married John Campbell Boot, the son of Sir Jesse Boot of Nottingham, in 1914. They would later become Lord and Lady Trent. Lieutenant Alan Pyman (1895-1915) was killed by a bullet while serving with the 3rd Yorkshire Regiment at Givenchy in France.
References:- ¹Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer (18 Jul 1932) ²Yorkshire Post (4 Mar 2009) ³Pyman Pâtés (http://pymanpates.co.uk/home/pyman-family-crest/) ⁴Stevens Point Daily Journal, Wisconsin (20 Aug 1915) ⁵Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer (17 Oct 1932) ⁶Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer (18 Jul 1944) ⁷Planning applications to the North Yorkshire Moors National Park
Further Reading:- ‘The Pyman Story – Fleet and Family History’ by Peter Hogg and Harold Appleyard (2000)