Built: 1872 Architect: John Foster and Joseph Wood Owner: Kersfield (Property Development Group) Private apartments Grade II Listed
Commonly known as Burwalls House but referred to here under its original name of Burwalls
Orange/red brick with limestone ashlar dressings; stone-coped plain tile roof with carves finials; brick ridge and end stacks with moulded stone cornicing to diagonally-set flues. Jacobethan style. (Historic England)
The year is 1864 and the Clifton Suspension Bridge has just opened spanning the Avon Gorge and the River Avon, connecting Clifton in Bristol to Leigh Woods in Somerset. The opening of the bridge has caused great excitement and, for those heading into Bristol, saves a lot of time.
However, the construction of the bridge had not been without its critics. The Bristol Times, in an article by the Churchgoer, blamed the disruption on three Bridge Commissioners, Liberal dissenters, “the loudest to talk, the last to feel for the humble” who had abused a clause in an Act of Parliament to “mar the scenery.”
The readers of the Bristol Times did not know that the legendary Churchgoer was none other than Joseph Leech, the owner of the newspaper. While they delighted in his prose they were not to know that Leech was also vice-chairman of the Suspension Bridge Company.
This mischievous characteristic would resurface later when Leech discovered plans by Sir Grevile Smyth, of Ashton Court, to create a low-cost housing on part of his estate at Leigh Woods. He carefully put together an alternative proposal to build high-class housing instead. He became a director of the company and succeeded in obstructing the Smyth scheme.¹
It was here that Joseph Leech built Burwalls in 1872.
Joseph Leech (1815-1893)
Joseph Leech was born in Ennis, County Clare, in 1815. He represented the ‘mad Irishman’, a famous spinner of yarns, who embellished his stories so much that now it is difficult to establish fact from fiction.
He was the son of an Irish Protestant, John Leech, who ran a prosperous hardware business in Ennis. His brother-in-law ran a newspaper in Maryborough (Port Laoise) and it was here that Joseph acquired an inclination for newsprint.
In 1838 Joseph made a visit to London travelling back home via Bristol. It was here that he studied local newspapers and decided that the city needed a Conservative publication to respond to the Bristol Mercury , a hard-hitting Liberal title.
Legend has it that Joseph returned to Ireland and obtained £500 early-inheritance from his father . Back in Bristol he set up the Bristol Times, published at a small shop and lodgings on Redcliffe Street, writing many of the early editions himself.
“By the early 1840s, he really hit his stride with a brilliantly inspired idea. He became “The Bristol Church-Goer”. Nowadays we are familiar with the idea of a mystery shopper, someone who goes into retail premises incognito to review them. Leech became a “mystery worshipper”, sampling a different church service each Sunday, first in Bristol and then further afield, and then reviewing it in his paper. He carried out his researches anonymously, leading his readers to believe that the Bristol Church-Goer was a short, portly, balding bachelor in his fifties, when in fact he was a tall young buck still in his twenties.”²
In 1853 Joseph purchased Felix Barley’s Avon Journal and two years later he amalgamated with the Bristol Mirror. As senior proprietor he devoted himself to business management and literary work. His dry humour made him an excellent narrator and a wonderful memory afforded him a storehouse of subjects. He also became part owner of the Bath Chronicle with Charles Thring Bleeck, whose sister Adelaide Elizabeth he married in 1852. He and Ada, as she was known, had six children and lived at Kingsdown Parade and Canynge Square in Clifton before moving to Burwalls.
The house at Burwalls was designed by Foster and Wood, who were responsible for many of Bristols’s finest buildings, including Bristol Grammar School and the former Grand Hotel on Broad Street.
Joseph never sought public life, turning down offers of mayoralty and a position of Justice of the Peace, but carried out several undertakings as vice-chairman of the Bristol Waterworks Company, a director of the Leigh Woods Land Company and the Aberdare Railway Company. He also associated himself with the Clifton Zoological Society.
His zealousness almost cost him dearly in the 1870s. He was sued for libel by Handel Cossham after Joseph had accused him of dishonesty over the winding up of a manufacturing company. The case was complicated and many believed that Cossham would be victorious but Leech was fortunate enough to win the case. Defeat would have ruined him.
Joseph retired from the Bristol Times and Mirror in 1882 and also sold his interest in the Bath Chronicle. His eldest son died just as he came of age and it was said that Joseph never recovered from the loss. In 1888, at the unveiling of the Queen Victoria Jubilee statue, at College Green, Joseph caught a cold resulting in severe illness. He slowly recovered and lived his remaining years at Burwalls.³ However, he suffered from a chronic intestinal complaint that required a live in nurse.⁴
He died at Burwalls in August 1893 after catching another cold. His old rivals at the Bristol Mercury were among the first to pay tribute. “He left a very distinct mark upon the history of Bristol journalism … His name and his work will long be remembered with respect and with admiration.”
Joseph left estate worth £107,000. Ada was given £1,000 with a further annuity of £1,000. She inherited the furniture and household effects and was allowed to remain at Burwalls. His only remaining son, Joseph Bleeck Leech, was given £4,000.
In time, Ada moved to nearby Wentworth House and between 1894 and 1897 Burwalls was rented to Surgeon-Major Robert James Fayle. He was in the Royal Army Medical Corps and later served in the South African Campaign (1899-1901) for which he was awarded the D.S.O..
In 1897 Fayle married Mary Leech, daughter of Joseph and Ada, but it marked the end of his stay at Burwalls. This was also the year that Ada died and the Burwalls estate was placed on the market for the first time.
George Alfred Wills (1854-1928)
George Wills lived with his wife Susan (Britton Proctor), and their four children, in a large house called Woodlands, on Bridge Road. They shared this with his brother Henry, an architect, his wife and their three children.
When Burwalls came on the market in 1897 it provided George with an opportunity to strike for independence and exploit some of the wealth he’d amassed. He paid £8,000.
Wills was born in 1854, the eldest son of Henry Overton Wills, of Kelston Knoll in Bath. In 1874 he entered the firm of Messrs W.D. and H.O. Wills, tobacco manufacturers, and eventually became one of the managing directors.
When the Imperial Tobacco Company of Great Britain and Ireland was formed in 1901 he became its deputy chairman. On the death of his cousin, Lord Winterstoke in 1911, he became chairman, a position he held until the end of 1924 when he retired. On his resignation he was invited to become president, a coveted role he kept until his death four years later. Outside of the tobacco industry he was a director of the Great Western railway and president of the Bristol General Hospital which also benefited from his generosity.
George was a man of retiring disposition and simple life and is long remembered for his generous gifts to the City of Bristol. These provided for the welfare of its citizens and notably towards the University of Bristol. His father had donated £100,000 from which the university was formed and George made gifts far exceeding this amount.
At Burwalls he also invested considerable amounts of money to extend the house and expand its estate. He created Burwalls’ Gardens, acquired Burwalls’ Wood and the Nightingale Valley and, donated both of these to the National Trust in 1908. Major changes and renovations, designed by his uncle Frank Wills, were also completed at Burwalls in 1916.
Despite the extensive work at Burwalls he spent most of his time at Coombe Lodge, Blagdon, which he had inherited from Lord Winterstoke. Here, he carried on the tradition of high farming, successfully bred shorthorn cattle, and spent his time angling and game shooting.
George was created a baronet in 1923 but suffered ill-health in his later years. In 1928 he became seriously ill and died in July. He was survived by his son George Vernon Proctor Wills and daughters, one of whom would inherit Burwalls.⁵
The most staggering details emerged after George’s death. He left estate worth £10 million to which the Exchequer benefited about £4 million because it came under the maximum death duty rate of 40%. After settling certain bequests he split the remaining estate between his children. On his death he became the tenth member of the Wills family to leave estate worth more than a million pounds.⁶
Hilda Proctor Wills (1879-1946)
Burwalls became the home for George’s eldest daughter Hilda Proctor Wills. She remained unmarried but was recognised for her work on behalf of Bristol institutions and all sections of the community.
In 1931 she became the first female president of the Bristol General Hospital, in succession to her brother, Sir George Vernon Proctor Wills. In 1935 she gave £6,000 that allowed the hospital to purchase massage, electrical and x-ray equipment.
Hilda also had the distinction of being the first lady president of the Society of Bristolians in London in 1938, and held other interests as governor of the Bristol Homeopathic Hospital, vice-president of the Peter Herve Benevolent Institution and president of the Colston Research Society.⁷
She stayed at Burwalls until 1937 but had already bought Horton Court, at Chipping Sodbury, Gloucestershire, the previous year. Building work at Horton Court delayed her departure but she eventually turned her back on the family home.
Burwalls was offered for sale but eventually let as an unfurnished property. It was requisitioned by the War Office at the outbreak of World War Two, the house adapted to become the headquarters of the Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment who found it ideally situated to protect Bristol and its port. Towards the end of the war it became an army educational centre.
Hilda Wills later moved to Langford Court, near Bristol, where she died, aged 66, in 1946. This allowed Bristol University to buy Burwalls from her trustees.
The house and grounds were used as halls of residence until 1973 when it was converted into Bristol University Conference Centre. By 2010 the building was deemed surplus to requirement and the university placed Burwalls on the market for £5 million. The house was considered run-down and future occupation would need considerable investment.
“Its impressive red brick frontage will be instantly recognisable to anyone who regularly goes across the Clifton Suspension Bridge.”
The sale process was long and complex but a deal was eventually reached in 2013. However, this fell through soon after and allowed Kersfield, a London and Bath based property developer, to begin negotiations for the purchase. The company, run by David Newton, specialised in high-end flat conversions and paid a sale price of £4 million.
Over the next few years almost £6 million was invested at Burwalls. The conversion went over budget due to the presence of asbestos and the discovery of an old well underneath the house. The aim of Kersfield was to remove many of the university’s later changes and re-engage with the original purpose of the house. They appointed Nash Partnerships to design and reconstruct Burwalls into luxury apartments but this meant consultation with English Heritage and Bristol’s Conservation Department. They were required to restore the building to its former glory with minimal disturbance to the fabric of the building. At the same time they introduced contemporary features sympathetic to its original features such as fireplaces, timber panelling and the decorative ceilings. The old stables, along the southern boundary of the estate, were also redeveloped to provide two refurbished houses along with four new detached houses and a studio.
In 2016, a year later than planned, the new apartments were advertised for sale with prices ranging between £1.1 million and £1.5 million.
References:- ¹Peter Gould (2011) ²Bristol Post (17 Mar 2015) ³Western Daily Press (14 Aug 1893) ⁴Derek Smith www.leighwoods.org ⁵Western Daily Press (12 Jul 1928) ⁶Western Daily Press (4 Aug 1928) ⁷Western Daily Press (14 May 1946)
Built: 1871-1877 Architect: George Devey Private apartments Grade II* listed
“Red brick, English bond, with diaper patterns in blue headers, above a coursed rubble stone base, and with ashlar dressings and stone mullioned windows; Welsh slated roofs with multiple stone-coped parapeted gables, numerous multiple shafted moulded brick chimneystacks with moulded bands and oversailing caps.” (Historic England)
Goldings is a large country house built Elizabethan-style by architect George Devey between 1871 and 1877.
Devey (1820-86) was one of the major Victorian country house architects, designing in a picturesque style, with Elizabethan and Jacobean details, which merged with the evolution of the Arts and Crafts Movement in the late 19th century. A skilled water colourist, Devey’s picturesque massing was based on pictorial composition, but his plans were often rambling and haphazard as at Goldings.
One critic is Mark Girouard who said of Goldings:-
“Devey’s weakness is especially apparent in larger buildings; and his big country houses are very big indeed. However fascinating the plan of a house like Goldings may be as an example of capable planning combined with apparent haphazardness on an enormous scale, the actual house is depressingly shapeless: it seems to dribble on for ever.”¹
The earliest known Goldings mansion was built about 1700 for Thomas Hall, Squire of Bengeo. In 1813 the estate was sold to Samuel Smith and inherited by his grandson, the merchant banker Robert Smith, son of Abel Smith.
Robert Smith (1833-1894) took over the Goldings estate in 1861, and was Sheriff of Hertfordshire in 1869. He was the head partner in the old-established banking firm of Smith, Payne and Smith, of Lombard Street, and a partner in Samuel Smith and Co, Nottingham, Smith Ellison and Co in Lincoln. He married a daughter of Henry John Adeane, of Babraham Hall, Cambridgeshire.
The old Goldings Hall of 1650-60 was demolished around 1875, by which time the new house by George Devey, his biggest country house, was nearing completion.
Following Robert Smith’s death the house passed to his son, Reginald Abel Smith, who died in 1902. His wife, Margaret Alice Smith, remained at Goldings and allowed it to be used as a Red Cross Auxiliary Hospital during World War One.
The estate came to market in 1920 and attracted the interest of the Council of Doctor Barnardo who were looking for premises in countryside surroundings with open fields for recreation.
“One day, sometime around 1920, Mr Ernie Walker was working in the engine room when three well-dressed men came along to see him. They wanted to know whether the house, which at that time was only occupied by an handful of people, was capable of supplying water and handling sewage etc. for up to 260 people. This was the beginning of the negotiations, which led to a very dramatic change for Goldings.”²
In 1921 the house was sold to Dr Barnado’s Homes for use as an orphanage and renamed the William Baker Technical School.
“A great change occurred in April 1922 when the first Barnardo’s boys arrived. Two hundred and sixty from Stepney, led by their own band, marched along the road from the railway station at Hertford and took up residence. Later that year the Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII) came for the official opening of the William Baker Technical School as it was called. The large stables of the mansion were ideal for workshops and in the fifty acres of grounds there was plenty of space for a swimming pool and other sports facilities.”³
In 1923 Goldings was modified and enlarged and a chapel added. A new wing was added north of the arched entry to the forecourt in 1960. In 1967 the orphanage closed and Goldings was purchased by Hertfordshire County Council for use by the County Surveyor’s Department.
In 1997 the council sold the property to London-based Harinbrook Properties to be converted into apartments.
Built: 1758 Architect: James Paine Private apartments Grade II* listed
“Ashlar; roof of graduated Lakeland slate. 3 storeys; 3, 3, 3 bays x 1, 3, 1. South elevation: cornice to rusticated ground floor; central three bays project under open pediment containing later corbelled arms.” (Historic England)
Axwell Hall , a house once so splendid, it is hard to believe that it fell into spectacular decline. So dramatic was the decay that by rights it should not be with us today.
In its heyday it belonged to the wealthy Clavering family with prosperity gained through land and mines. They remained custodians for 162 years before economic conditions eventually forced them out.
The Clavering family were descended from 13th century Anglo-Norman aristocracy, the Lords of Clavering and Warkworth, from Alan de Clavering of Callaly Castle, who died in 1328.¹ The lands around Axwell were purchased by James Clavering, a merchant adventurer from Newcastle upon Tyne, for £1,700 in 1629. However, this Lord Mayor of Newcastle would die just a year later.
The estate passed to his John Clavering who died in 1648 but it was his son, Thomas Clavering (1620-1702) who became the first Baronet, ‘Clavering of Axwell’, in 1661. The title was graciously passed down the line until it was handed to Thomas Clavering (1719-1794) who succeeded the title in 1748. He found the existing manor house inadequate for a man of his means and made plans to replace it with something much grander.
Sir Thomas Clavering, 7th Baronet, was MP for St Mawes (1753-1754) and for Shaftsbury (1754-60). He resigned his seat at Shaftsbury to fight for a seat in County Durham but would only succeed in 1768. However, it was a seat he held until 1790. With substantial mining interests, with collieries at Beckley and Andrews House, he had lived at Greencroft Hall (demolished in 1960). In 1782 he was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Civil Law (D.C.L.) by Oxford University².
The old house at Axwell was demolished in 1758 and the architect James Paine engaged to build a Palladian-style house in its place. By all accounts it was not a harmonious relationship between Clavering and Paine, who complained of regular interference in the design by his client.³
Differences apart, Axwell Hall was a resplendent property with parkland laid out in ‘English landscape’ style. It has been suggested the new house and estate was Clavering’s attempt to keep up with the Bowes’ family estate at nearby Gibside.
The next few years saw improvements to Axwell Hall, culminating with significant remodelling by north east architect John Dobson† in 1817-18. A garden temple was erected in the grounds but this has since been demolished.
The Baronetcy became extinct on the death of Sir Henry Augustus Clavering, 10th Baronet, in 1893, but only after he’d made further improvements to the pleasure grounds. The title now extinct, Axwell Hall remained with the Claverings until the early part of the 20th century. The last occupant was Colonel Charles Warren Napier-Clavering who battled to keep the estate alive but eventually admitted defeat. In 1920 he turned his back on Axwell and moved to Staplegrove House, near Taunton, in Somerset.⁴
The Axwell estate was put up for sale and the inventory provided an insight into the enormous size of the property. Details in the sale catalogue listed the hall, stables, pleasure grounds, walled kitchen garden, home farm, a gardener’s house, a villa, several lodges, cottages, a dairy and the spa well.
The estate was eventually bought by the Newcastle Industrial and Ragged School founded in 1847 at Sandyside. ‘There being no agency to bring moral and religious training to bear upon the juvenile depravity and delinquency prevalent in the town’. Its aim was to provide education and industrial training to poor youngsters.
The change of use allowed youngsters from Newcastle, Gateshead, Durham, Sunderland and Middlesbrough to move to Axwell. When it opened there were 153 boys all receiving a dinner of a pennyworth of bread and cheese.
In 1933, Axwell Park as it was now known, became an Approved School, under new legislation introduced by the Children and Young Persons Act, which replaced Reformatories and Industrial Schools. The house was run by the Home Office and received regular mention in newspapers as young offenders were compelled to spend time at Axwell. Locally, the house was referred to as the ‘bad lads’ home.
Forty years later, around 1973, Axwell Park became a Community Home with Education (CHE) under the control of Newcastle City Council. However, the house was in such a poor state of repair that it eventually closed in 1981.⁵
For almost a quarter of a century the house and estate suffered vandalism, arson attacks and had to be boarded up to deter its attackers. Finally, in 2005, it was bought by Eight Property Ltd, which turned the derelict walled garden site into the 18-home Axwell Gardens. In 2016, the £3.3 million Courtyard development was completed with 27 apartments and houses on the site of the former stables adjacent to the hall.
Presently, work is underway to restore the main house, with its interior being converted into luxury apartments.
References:- ¹Sunniside Local History Society ²Douglas Archives Genealogy Pages ³Chronicle Live. 26 Jan 2016 ⁴rolyveitch.20m.com ⁵childrenshome.org.uk
Notes:- †John Dobson (1787-1865). The architect worked in the north east of England. With the builder Richard Grainger he was responsible for the area of Newcastle upon Tyne bounded by Grey, Market and Grainger Streets. He was also responsible for Newcastle’s gently-curving Central Railway Station regarded by many as one of the finest in the country. His best-known country houses are Nunnykirk (1825) and Meldon Park (1832) in Northumberland.
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: 1907 Architect: Sir Edward Guy Dawber Owner: Private ownership Country house and estate Grade II listed
“Squared rubble stone with ashlar dressings, tall hipped stone slate roofs and prominent rubble stone stacks with ashlar quoins. Two storeys and attic, late C17 style with symmetrical garden front, asymmetrical entrance front and L-plan service court.” (Historic England)
“The selection of an appropriate local stone – taken mostly from old walls about the estate; the exceptionally suitable roofing – old stone slate – also obtained in the vicinity; and the utilisation – fused into the one design – of motives easily separated under the heads of ‘Classic’ and ‘Gothic,’ are all representative of the modern type of residence design in England.” (The Architectural Review 1907)
By comparison to other featured houses, Conkwell Grange, at Limpley Stoke, near Bath, is relatively new. Nevertheless, this Edwardian property, built 109 years ago, has an incredible amount of history attached to it.
Built from the proceeds of Yorkshire wool it suffered at the hands of the Russian Revolution. It was almost destroyed by fire in the 1920s and then we have the puzzling story of the spinster who bought Conkwell Grange and drove around in a chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royce. This is not to mention the Royal Navy Commander who was a failed fruit-grower and the civil servant who shaped the future of one of the world’s busiest airports. Throw in a few Arab racehorses and Conkwell Grange has more to tell than many of its older and grander neighbours.
Conkley Grange, a neo-baroque house, has far-reaching views towards the Avon Valley and Salisbury Plain. The Grade II listed mansion was built in 1907 for James Thornton to a design by the renowned country house architect, Sir Edward Guy Dawber (1861-1938) at an estimated cost of £25-30,000.
Dawber was the president of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) between 1925 and 1927. His work consisted mainly of stone-built country houses in the Cotswolds vernacular tradition. Houses designed by him include Nether Swell Manor (Gloucestershire), Eyford Park (Gloucestershire) and Bowling Green (Dorset).
Conkwell Grange was described as a ‘modern William and Mary-style residence’ with reception rooms, 13 bed and dressing rooms, 3 bathrooms and a squash court.
James Thornton (1865-1939)
James Thornton was the son-in-law of Sir Charles Parry Hobhouse, of Monkton Farleigh, having married Miss Lilian Hobhouse in 1900. Prior to building Conkwell Grange the couple lived at the Priory, at Beech Hill, in Reading.
Thornton was an alderman for Wiltshire County Council and Chairman of the County Education Committee. He became a magistrate for Wiltshire and Berkshire, and contested North-West Wiltshire as a Liberal in 1895 and 1900. He strengthened his political ties by acting as President of the West Wiltshire Liberal Association. Together with Harry Plunkett Greene he also started the Wiltshire Music Festival and became President of the Bath Orpheus Glee Society.
His move to Conkwell Grange courted controversy almost immediately. Thornton, wanting privacy for his new home, closed access to the historic Conkwell Woods which spread across the estate. These woodland walks had been used by locals for generations and the erection of barriers didn’t make Thornton a popular man. The obstructions were demolished by frustrated walkers and a crusade was mounted by the Bath Socialist group who alleged interference with public rights of way.¹ The dispute eventually ended up at Bristol Assizes and Thornton was ordered to take down the barriers.
Thornton might have thought his new family home, a prestigious one at that, the beginning of a new adventure. However, the clashes with locals over Conkwell Woods were nothing compared to what lay ahead.
His immediate family, with strong ties to the Yorkshire woollen mills, had made their fortune in Russia where his father and brother spent most of their lives. As a result James travelled regularly throughout Europe living off his own personal wealth.
At the beginning of the 20th century the Thornton family owned cloth mills near St Petersburg proudly supplying the Russian Imperial Court . This allowed the Thornton’s to accumulate significant wealth, money which paid for the construction of Conkwell Grange, but the events of 1917 had devastating consequences.
The Russian Revolution focused around Saint Petersburg, then capital of Russia. In March 1917 members of the Imperial parliament assumed control of the country, forming the Russian Provisional Government, resulting in the collapse of the Russian Empire and the abdication of Emperor Nicholas II. The aftermath was chaotic with frequent mutinies, protests and many strikes across the country.
Havoc was wrought on the Thornton properties and the cloth mills were smashed by angry dissidents. Production stopped and the family business collapsed with James Thornton reported to have lost nearly half a million pounds.²
While events in Russia raged out of control, life continued quietly in the peace of the Wiltshire countryside. The gardens at Conkwell Grange were being carefully attended by David Lewis Bolwell, a Countrycompetent gardener, who had worked for Thornton’s father-in-law, Sir Charles Hobhouse, at Monkton Farleigh. Prior to their move he had been the gardener for Thornton at the Priory before moving in 1906 to oversee the layout of the new Conkwell Grange gardens. If anyone could speak about the secrets of the house then Bolwell was the man to do it. His love affair lasted 37 years and, rather fittingly, he collapsed and died in the gardens in 1943.
James Thornton’s stay at the house was almost at an end. In 1922, five years after the collapse of the family business, he sold up and moved to a smaller property, Turleigh Combe, at nearby Winsley.
He sold Turleigh Combe in the late 1930s looking to buy another property in the area. The search was unsuccessful and he ended up staying at Pratt’s Hotel in Bath. He died in his sleep, aged 74, in 1939. Following his death he left gross estate worth £23,578, with net personalty £22,742.³
George Pollard Armitage (1867-1952) When James Thornton left Conkwell Grange in 1922 it is possible he negotiated the sale to a friend and business contact. It may have been relief to a man who had lost half a million pounds and the man who offered a helping hand was George Pollard Armitage.
George was the only son of Joseph Armitage and Julia Francis, the daughter of George Thomas Pollard of Stannary Hall, in Yorkshire and Ashfield in Cheltenham. He was educated at Harrow and Jesus College, Cambridge.
Like the Thornton’s, the Armitage family were wealthy woollen manufacturers from Yorkshire. George’s grandfather, also Joseph, had built his first woollen mill in 1822 at Milnsbridge, two miles west of Huddersfield. In the 1840s, he handed over control of the thriving business to his sons who renamed it Armitage Bros. The company prospered during the industrial revolution and with it came riches to match.
George’s own prosperity came about in 1898 when he inherited Milnsbridge House, a country mansion, and the lease of Storthes Hall, at Kirkburton, quickly selling the freehold of the latter to the county council.
He later became a J.P. for the West Riding of Yorkshire in 1902 and married Coralie Eugenie, youngest daughter of Rev. Chastel de Boinville, the vicar of Burton in Westmoreland, in 1912.
By this time the woollen industry was not such a viable business after all. The boom years had gone and the First World War caused inevitable disruption to the industry. It would be some years before the market collapsed altogether but these were ominous times for George Armitage.
He also faced a dilemma over what to do with Milnsbridge House. When built, around 1748, the magnificent house had been in idyllic rural surroundings. Over time the industries of Huddersfield had advanced and now threatened to surround Milnsbridge. About 1919-20 George decided to sell and enjoy old age in a more suitable environment. On hindsight, his prognosis was quite correct. Armitage Bros ceased trading in 1930 while Milnsbridge House survives in an industrialised suburb of Huddersfield. For more details about Milnsbridge House please refer to an earlier post at Rudding Park.
With proceeds from the sale of Milnsbridge House George Pollard Armitage moved to Conkwell Grange in 1922.⁴
He spent his time at Conkwell Grange developing the estate for agricultural use and extended it to about 400 acres.
His stay was not without drama and the house was nearly lost on Christmas morning in 1925. A fire started in the day nursery and a call made to the fire brigade to attend. By the time they arrived at this remote location the fire had been brought under control by hard-working servants including, no doubt, the gardener David Bolwell. The blaze caused £400 worth of damage but Conkwell Grange survived owing to the nature of the walls and ceiling, which were lined, rather alarmingly, with asbestos. Fortunately the main damage was confined to the one room but the house was smoke-logged.
In 1933, with the collapse of Armitage Bros still rankling, George decided to put the Conkwell Grange estate on the market. He had his eyes on a nearby property, Hunters Leaze, and so appointed Thake and Paginton, of Newbury, and Fortt, Hatt and Billings, of Bath, to negotiate a sale. The land was divided and Conkwell Grange, along with about 125 acres, was sold to Miss Ethel Hallewell.
George Pollard Armitage moved to Hunters Leaze and died in 1952 leaving estate worth £14,440.
Ethel Winifred Catherine Hallewell (1864-1945) Ethel Hallewell was described in the press as ‘a lady who frequently visited Bath and chose to make her home in one of the choicest country districts that surround the city’.
The 1911 census reports that she was living by private means but as to how she acquired such wealth remains a mystery. For several years Ethel Hallewell had been a regular guest at the Pulteney Hotel in Bath and was most likely keeping an eye out for a suitable country house to live.
She was born in 1864 in Cape Town, the daughter of Charles James Maynard Hallewell and Amelia Catherine Barber, who had moved to South Africa.
Charles Maynard was a Captain in the Cape Mounted Rifles but the birth of Ethel prompted their return to England. He became a Lieutenant with the 19th (1st Yorkshire North Riding – Princess of Wales’s Own) Regiment but the family lived at Axminster in Devon.
Charles retired from military service in 1866 and a year later a son, Frank Maynard Hallewell, was born. In later years Charles (and his second wife Catherine Sophia Wilde) lived at Bryn Hyfryd, Conway, before returning to Devon at Deepdene, in Bathampton.
Charles died in 1919 leaving just £917 in his will. A lot of money then, but in comparison, when Ethel died in 1945 she left estate worth £144,649. She remained a spinster and, with no husband earning an income and no obvious benefactor, her finances remain a matter of speculation.
Maybe the answer to this conundrum lay thousands of miles away in South Africa? There were strong family connections and her brother, Frank, had followed in their father’s footsteps and joined the Cape Mounted Rifles. He died in 1937, aged 70, in a car accident at Vereeniging in the Transvaal. Sadly, he was also unmarried and without issue.
When Ethel died in 1945 she made provision for several charities, all of whom received £500 each.
The Child Emigration Society, founded in 1911 and better known as the Fairbridge Society, was dedicated solely to child migration, sending children to its farm schools in Australia and British Columbia and to a college in Southern Rhodesia.⁵ In addition Ethel made further provision of £500 to support the Fairbridge Homes.
The reason for Ethel’s support is speculative but no doubt she believed she was bettering the lives of impoverished children from Britain’s slums. Far from improving lives, the scheme was eventually exposed with stories of cruelty, hardship and of families torn apart.
Two further charities benefited from her will. These were the National Library for the Blind and the Royal Blind Pension Society (pensions for the blind poor). Dare we speculate that Edith was herself blind, perhaps prompting her parent’s hasty departure from South Africa after she was born? Or was it simply a case of her being a caring and wealthy individual?
Another bequest of £250 was made to the Home of St Giles, an Essex charity that raised money to fund a hospital designed specifically for the care and treatment of leprosy. Although, by the turn of the 20th century the disease had long been eradicated in Britain, this hospital provided for the few people who had caught it abroad.⁶
Ethel also made provision for her chauffeur, Sidney J. Waldron, who had paraded her around in a Rolls-Royce, and received the handsome sum of £600. However, her greatest bequest went to a relation, Commander Edmund G Hallewell, retired of the Royal Navy, who received £12,000.
It was he who decided to put Conkwell Grange up for sale and, in 1946, sold it to another Royal Navy officer, Commander Wardell-Yerburgh.
Arthur Wardell-Yerburgh (1891-1953) In the course of researching these articles there often comes a time when something doesn’t quite ring true about a person. All too often history tends to be kind but something about Arthur Wardell-Yerburgh suggested ‘scoundrel’.
When I originally wrote this piece I invited comment from anyone who might have been able to put the record straight. I was subsequently delighted to hear from his son, Richard Wardell-Yerburgh, who said he was “profoundly amused by the description of him as a ‘scoundrel’ because it precisely reflects my own view.”
However, Arthur’s upbringing had been impeccable, being the son of Reverend Oswald Pryor Wardell-Yerburgh, Vicar and later Canon of Tewkesbury, and Edith Wardell Potts. Arthur lived with them until his early twenties at the Abbey House in Tewkesbury. This wealthy family were descended from the Rev. Richard Yerburgh, the vicar of Sleaford in Lincolnshire.
Arthur joined the Royal Navy in 1904 training at Royal Naval College, Osborne, on the Isle of Wight, and at Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, in Devon. He joined active service in 1909 serving as a Midshipman on HMS Agamemnon and later HMS Indefatigable. In 1914 he was promoted to Sub-Lieutenant and given command of submarines. He was decorated with the award of the Distinguished Service Cross (D.S.C.) in 1918 for operations off the Belgian coast..
The following extract is taken from The Dover Patrol 1915-17, by Admiral Sir Reginald Bacon, and refers to his preparations for a “Great Landing” on the Belgian Coast, a plan which was eventually postponed but which was at least reflected in the subsequent raids on Ostend and Zeebrugge. It also mentions Arthur Wardell-Yerburgh and the circumstances into achieving the D.S.C.:
‘It was necessary that our survey should be accurate to within six inches. A submarine (known as C30) was, therefore, sent to submerge off Nieuport, to lie on the bottom, and to register the height of the water above her hull continuously for twenty-four hours by reading the depth gauge. The rise and fall and the tide curve at this spot was thus obtained at springs, neaps and intermediate tides.
This information was obtained by Lieutenant Wardell-Yerburgh. It was a weird experience for a submarine to steal up and submerge right under the guns of the enemy’s coast defence, always with the off-chance that in her journey to the bottom she might settle down on a mine. Also as the submarine was a C Boat, and not large, and as she had to remain submerged for twenty-four hours, she was apt to get stuffy. The number of crew was therefore reduced to a minimum.’
Arthur retired from the Royal Navy in 1921 and married Enid Mary Florence Till, the daughter of John Till of Kemerton Court. In December 1921 John Till died while hunting after suffering a seizure and falling off his horse. He left gross estate worth £35,334. Kemerton Court was left for his wife, Florence, and the residue of his property was placed in trust for his three daughters, including Enid, and presumably Arthur.
He re-joined the Royal Navy in 1922, probably as a commissioned officer, and was awarded the rank of Lieutenant-Commander. However, the period between two World Wars saw a decline in the number of Royal Navy ships and Arthur probably never saw active service again. If this is the case, then considering he always referred to himself as Commander Arthur Wardell-Yerburgh, then never has such a title been so ill-used
Without a ship to command, but a title nevertheless, Arthur and Enid moved to Wesmacott, near Tewkesbury. It was here that he hatched plans for a fruit farming business at Bredon. While at Wesmacott they had their only child, John Gerald Oswald Wardell-Yerburgh, born in 1925.
There was a difference between the sea and fruit farming and Arthur realised he had made a mistake. The business wasn’t a success and his relationship with Enid was strained to say the least. Just how much money was lost in the enterprise is unknown but, in 1926, they sold up and went to live with Enid’s mother at Kemerton Court.
If this was an attempt to reconcile their differences within a stable family environment then it proved ill-advised. More likely the move was the result of financial hardship caused by Arthur’s failed business venture. Enid, frustrated by Arthur’s inability to gain meaningful employment and no doubt encouraged by her mother, became increasingly disenchanted. By 1929 the couple were living apart with Arthur staying at Westbourne Terrace in Paddington.
In January 1931 he and Enid were divorced on the grounds that Arthur had committed ‘misconduct’ at a London hotel.⁷ Arthur didn’t defend the suit and Enid was granted a divorce, with costs and custody of their child.
We know that many divorces were ‘staged’ affairs. The law at this time required one of the parties to be caught and witnessed in liaison with another person. In circumstances where a relationship had broken down it was not unknown for such affairs to be instigated by both parties. In this case the witnesses were John Russell, a private inquiry agent, and Thomas Hawkins, a waiter at the Hotel Central in Marylebone, where the wrongdoing was alleged to have taken place.
Richard Wardell-Yerburgh believes that Enid Till was disgracefully treated as was his half-brother, John.
“I believe the principle reason for the trouble was that Arthur Wardell-Yerburgh was in the habit of borrowing from Enid’s friends and relatives. Unfortunately, it appears he was not in the habit of re-paying these loans. Arthur never spoke or wrote to his son, John, from the day of the divorce until the day that he died. I only learned of John’s existence by accident.”
Enid might have had moral ground to obtain a divorce and we will never know whether this woman was a ‘put-up’ affair or someone directly involved with Arthur. That someone might have been Marion Georgina Cooper, from Paddington, because, with the ink barely dry on the ‘decree nisi’, she was married to Arthur in September 1931 (although Richard Wardell-Yerburgh believes this was in 1933).
With changes in the air it was also time for Arthur to call time on the Royal Navy and he officially retired from the service.
This time the marriage appeared more compatible and lasted the course. The couple settled at Worton Grange, near Devizes, where they had a son, Richard Geoffrey Robert Wardell-Yerburgh (b. 1935), subject of welcome correspondence in this post.
“The marriage between my mother, Marion Cooper, did nothing to stabilise Arthur Wardell-Yerburgh’s financial position. She was penniless, the daughter of a London milkman, and had determined that she would somehow get herself out of Paddington. She lived in the area of Paddington either in, or adjacent to, Westbourne Terrace (where Arthur had been living in 1929).
“Arthur Wardell-Yerburgh was apparently well-healed and Marion grasped the opportunity. That she had made the wrong decision only dawned to her as the paucity of Arthur’s finances became apparent.”
The move to Conkwell Grange followed a succession of deaths within Arthur’s close family. In April 1941 his sister, Hilda, died when a fish bone caught in her throat while dining at Littlewood House, near Frampton. Three months later his mother died leaving an estate worth £14,498. Arthur received £2,200 and shared the residue of her property with his younger brother, Geoffrey Basset Wardell-Yerburgh. Geoffrey didn’t live long enough to enjoy his windfall and died in 1944.
“Arthur earned not one penny from the Royal Navy after he retired until the day he died,” says Richard Wardell-Yerburgh. “Everything came from his mother, Edith Wardell-Yerburgh, who has been described as being ‘As rich as a Croesus’ – including settling debts from two bankruptcies – the fruit farm and a business called the Light Car Company.
“In 1931 she paid a settlement figure into a Trust for the support of my half-brother, following the divorce from Enid. My mother told me this was in the sum of £25,000 (in 1931/32). According to the Historic Inflation Calculator (HIC), this equates to £1,472,650 at today’s rates. When she died, I understand my father actually inherited £167,000 after deduction of the monies paid out for his debts. According to the HIC this amounts to £8,419,963 at 2016 values.”
Arthur and Marion moved to Conkwell Grange in 1946. The house, with its stately grandeur and a Rolls-Royce to match, suited him in his retirement years. However, they were to stay just 5 years before ‘down-sizing’ and re-locating to Hall Farm, at Thickwood, in 1951. This was where Arthur died in 1953, at the relatively young age of 61. He left effects to the value of £21,493. His wife, Marion, died in 1984.
The last word goes to Astra Towning (nee Wardell-Yerburgh), the daughter of Richard Wardell-Yerburgh:
“My grandfather was a very handsome young naval officer and he and my grandmother (Marion) made a very glamorous couple. Marion ended up in a small house stuffed with glorious, if unloved, furniture, antiques, jewellery and furs. Most of this went in a series of burglaries, including Arthur’s ceremonial naval swords. We have a journal from his time in the navy. This book is huge and beautifully presented – lovely writing, glorious pictures of ladies he knew in various ports, and wonderfully detailed technical drawings.”
Philip Eric Millbourn (1902-1982) Conkwell Grange was bought by Philip Eric Milbourn (1902-1982), a Yorkshireman, whose reputation has diminished with history. He was the Honorary Advisor on Shipping in Port to the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation.
Here was a man, from humble beginnings, who shunned publicity and chose to get on with his job while, at the same time, acquiring a personal fortune. For this reason his name is almost ‘air-brushed’ from the archives and virtually unknown today.
Eric, as he liked to be called, married Ethel Marjorie Sennett, the only daughter of Joseph Ernest Sennett, of Kingswood Grange, Reigate, in 1931. His job required a town house and for many years they lived at 41 Parkside in Knightsbridge, as well as living at a cottage on the Kingswood Grange estate.
Their move to Conkwell Grange corresponded with a glorious decade for Eric. In 1950 he had been awarded the Order of Saint Michael and Saint George (C.M.G.) and was knighted five years later. However, his greatest accomplishment came in in circumstances not dissimilar from today. Faced with escalating passenger numbers at London (Heathrow) Airport he was asked to head a committee to determine how the problem might be resolved. With meticulous foresight his findings were presented in the Millbourn Report of August 1957.
His contribution shaped the Heathrow Airport we know today. In the report he recommended that all Heathrow’s terminals be located in one central area. With this he suggested the construction of a new long-haul terminal (now Terminal 3) and a short-haul terminal (which became Terminal 1). In addition, the report called for the expansion of Gatwick Airport. The total cost of these proposals was an estimated £17 million to handle the 12 million passengers anticipated by 1970.
The Millbourn Report was the zenith of a career that demanded Eric travel the world advising on transport problems. It also made him a very wealthy man and, on his death in 1982, he left estate worth £1,779,975. Lady Millbourn died the year after and Conkwell Grange was once again put on the market.
The Fosler family and the racehorse stud The house was eventually purchased by the Fosler family in 1985 who made the estate the centre of a stud farm and racing stables. Today it is an estate of 300 acres mostly devoted to woodland and horses. A 100 box complex of equestrian buildings have been used as a thoroughbred stud and, at the turn of this century, was used for the breeding and training of Arab racehorses. More recently it has been the home to the Neil Mulholland stables.
Nowadays, Conkwell Grange is approached through impressive stone pillars and a pair of lodge cottages leading into a magnificent mature beech avenue. Surrounded by mature plants, accessed through its own gated drive, the property sits in a private position within maintained gardens and grounds amongst the pastureland.
In 2016 Conkwell Grange was brought to the market with a guide price of £5.9 million. Today’s accommodation is on three floors, including five reception rooms, 10 bedrooms and five bathrooms. In addition there are two lodge cottages, six further cottages and four staff flats providing secondary accommodation, with 128 acres of managed woodland to the west of the estate creating shelter and privacy for the main house.
References:- ¹Wiltshire Times and Trowbridge Advertiser (22 Jun 1907) ²Gloucestershire Echo (1 Apr 1939) ³Western Daily Press (3 Jun 1939) ⁴Landed families of Britain and Ireland (Nicholas Kingsley) http://landedfamilies.blogspot.co.uk/2015/07/177-armitage-of-high-royd-and.html ⁵ Child migration: philanthropy, the state and the empire – Stephen Constantine, Lancaster University (History in Focus) ⁶“Caring for Hansen’s Disease – The Hospital & Homes of St. Giles 1914-2005” by Nicholas Best ⁷Cheltenham Chronicle (17 Jan 1931)
I am indebted to Richard Wardell-Yerburgh and Astra Towning for providing fascinating details about the colourful Arthur Wardell-Yerburgh.
Notes:- In 1937 James Thornton was involved in an unusual incident at Bradford-on-Avon Police Court. While presiding as a magistrate he left the bench and entered the witness-box to answer a charge for failing to stop at a halt sign. Thornton, who pleaded guilty, said he had a lady passenger in the car at the time who attracted his attention talking about the beauty of some trees. In future, he said, he would fix a notice on his windscreen requesting passengers not to talk to the driver while they were approaching halt signs. He was fined £1, which he paid, and then returned to the bench to administer justice elsewhere. (Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette – 18 Sep 1937)
Built: 1795 with extensive C19 and C20 additions Architect: Unknown with remodelling by Robert Scrivener c1861 Owner: Marriott Hotels for the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority ADIA) Country house hotel and country club Grade II listed
“The plan is a trifle untidy, due to the complex evolution of this fascinating house. The general effect is rather sad.” The Derbyshire Country House (Maxwell Craven and Michael Stanley)
The above comments may appear rather harsh. However, it is true that the visitor to Breadsall Priory wanders from old to new almost as soon as they enter this grand old mansion. Recent additions have confused the layout but there remains, at its core, an almost intact Elizabethan mansion, a 19th-century house and the ruins of a 13th century priory owned by the Austin Canons.
Breadsall Priory is a former Augustinian priory in Derbyshire, close to the city of Derby, and situated around two kilometres north of Breadsall, and two kilometres east of Little Eaton.
The early years
In 1536 all monasteries with revenue less than £200 a year were suppressed by Henry VIII and handed over to the Crown. Breadsall Priory and its land was leased to Laurence Holland of Belper in 1537 and used for agricultural purposes.
In 1552 it was handed to Henry, Duke of Suffolk, the father of Lady Jane Grey, but he only retained ownership for a few months. He sold it to Thomas Babington of Dethick and Kingston in 1553.
Babington sold Breadsall Priory to Thomas Hutchinson in 1557 and by 1573 it was in the hands of John Leeke, the uncle of Bess of Hardwick.
Around 1795 it was bought by Sir John Bentley, a knight and Councillor-at-Law. By this time the Priory had been inhabited and in ruinous state. Bentley converted the priory into a tall e-shaped dwelling and lived there until 1621.
Following John Bentley’s death in 1622 the house passed via his heiress to Sir Gervase Cutler and then to Sir Edward Mosley of Ancoats, from whom it descended to a distant cousin, also called Sir Edward Moseley.
He granted Breadsall Priory to his son-in-law, Sir John Bland of Kippax in Yorkshire, in 1693. Bland sold the house to Thomas Leacroft of Wirksworth for £1,675 in 1702. The following year Leacroft sold it to Andrew Greensmith of Steeple Grange, a partner in his lead smelting business.
Breadsall Priory remained with the Greensmith family until 1799 and underwent a series of alterations including re-siting of the main entrance from the east front to an extension on the north side. The last family occupant was Hannah Greensmith Beard of Lincoln who died in 1797. Her sons sold the house and grounds to Erasmus Darwin in 1799.
The first few years of Darwin ownership proved tragic but the name will always be associated with Breadsall Priory.
According to Nick Redman, Erasmus Darwin (1759-1799) was 41-years-old and unmarried when he bought the estate.
He was the son of Dr Erasmus Darwin (1731-1802) whose scientific and philosophical achievements were well-known across the land. He was a physician, poet, and botanist noted for his republican politics and materialistic theory of evolution. Although today he is perhaps best known as being the grandfather of naturalist Charles Darwin and of biologist Sir Francis Galton.
Dr Erasmus Darwin had married Mary, daughter of Charles Howard of Lichfield, who produced three sons – Charles (who died aged 19), Erasmus (II) and Robert (who was father to Charles Darwin).
Erasmus, the second son and new owner of Breadsall Priory, had wanted to enter the church but instead became an attorney-at-law specialising in property and opening a practice in Derby.
He bought Breadsall Priory in November 1799 but on the night of 29 December ran out of the house in a distressed state and was later found drowned in the River Derwent. The exact circumstances of his anguish remain a mystery but the likelihood is that he committed suicide.
Breadsall Priory reverted to his father, Dr Erasmus Darwin, who had been living in Derby since 1783.
Darwin probably commissioned an extension on the east front of the house but didn’t move in until March 1802.
His stay lasted a matter of weeks and on 18 April Darwin died from a heart attack. His second wife, Elisabeth, widow of Colonel Chandos Pole of Radbourne, remained at Breadsall Priory until her death in 1832. (Darwin had married Elisabeth Pole in 1781 and had three sons and three daughters).
Following Elisabeth’s death Breadsall Priory was inherited by their only surviving son, Francis Sacheverel Darwin (1786-1859).
Graduating from Emmanuel College, Cambridge he travelled the world aged 22-years-old. Darwin had started with four others, one of whom was his brother-in-law Theodore Galton, on a tour through Spain, the Mediterranean and the Near East. They came in contact with war, robbers, privateers and the plague and only Darwin returned alive.
Francis became a physician inheriting his father’s tastes and distinguished abilities. He had lived for a time at Lichfield where he had an extensive practice and subsequently at Sydnope near Matlock.
In 1815 he married Jane Harriot Ryle, youngest daughter of John Ryle of Park House, Macclesfield, and had three sons and seven daughters. He was knighted by George IV in 1820 and served as a Justice of the Peace and Deputy Lieutenant of Derbyshire.
After his mother’s death Francis made Breadsall Priory available for rent. In 1842 an advertisement in Aris’s Birmingham Gazette offered the house on a 5 year let:-
‘The most beautiful and desirable residence, four miles from Derby, containing every accommodation for a genteel Family, with gardens, orchards, pleasure grounds, fish-ponds, rookery etc. And about 25 acres of rich pasture land, with a cottage for servant or labourer. There are several packs of hounds in the immediate vicinity, and the tenant may have the exclusive rights of shooting over the farm adjoining. The house is abundantly supplied with the softest and purest spring water’.¹
The last tenant at Breadsall Priory was Joseph Webster whose family developed a wire drawing business in Sutton Coldfield. He had safeguarded the firm against competition from a new patent piano wire by successfully negotiating a merger and creating Webster & Horsfall Ltd of Penns Mill. The company would also produce the wire used in the first transatlantic cable. Webster left Breadsall Priory and moved to Ashfurlong House at Sutton Coldfield.
Francis Darwin finally moved into Breadsall Priory in 1847. He was a keen antiquarian and carried out several excavations hoping to find a tunnel that was rumoured to run from the house to Horsley Castle three miles away. He dug a trench along the north side of the house but found nothing.
In his later years Francis Darwin lived in retirement and due to age and increasing infirmities was unable to mix in society. He died in 1859 and Lady Darwin moved to Breadsall Lodge nearby.
In January 1860 Breadsall Priory and its estate were put up for auction at the Royal Hotel in Derby. Bidding opened at £10,000 and was sold to Mr Francis Morley for £13,000.
In March the entire contents of the house were auctioned and Morley took possession on March 25 1860.
Just three days later an advertisement appeared in the Derby Mercury advising builders and others ‘desirous of contracting for several works connected with alterations and additions to obtain plans and specifications from the architect’, Robert Scrivener, of Hanley in the Potteries.²
Francis Morley (1810-1883)
Francis Morley was the son of Richard Morley of Sneinton Hall near Nottingham. The hosiery firm of I. and R. Morley was established by John (1768-1849) and his brother Richard (1775-1855) in about 1797.
Hosiery was still primarily a cottage industry at the time. Entrepreneurs like I. and R. Morley were essentially wholesalers, buying in goods and storing them in warehouses in Nottingham and in the City of London.
Francis Morley might have been expected to join the family business and for a time did play an important part. However, marriage took Morley into the world of pottery with considerable success.
In 1835 he married 18-year-old Emma Ridgway, daughter of the famous potter William Ridgway. Morley became a partner in Ridgway, Morley, Wear and Co and in 1842 became sole proprietor with Ridgway.
The nineteenth-century historian Llewellyn Jewitt said that ‘Morley entered with spirit into the pottery business and into the life of Staffordshire.’
When Ridgway retired Morley continued the business alone before going into partnership with Samuel Astbury and trading as Francis Morley & Co.
Business was carried out at the Broad Street Works, Shelton, in Hanley, but Morley recognised the importance of new markets and built a factory in Philadelphia, USA.
The company became famous for its ironstone and earthenware and was producer of the acclaimed Mason’s Patent Ironstone China. (Morley had bought many of Charles James Mason’s moulds when the latter went bankrupt in 1848). This product is now highly collectable in modern antique markets.
The partnership with Samuel Astbury was dissolved in 1853 and Morley took another partner, Taylor Ashworth, with whom he worked until 1862 before taking retirement.
It was with this in mind that Morley bought Breadsall Priory in 1860. Until then the house looked almost as it did in John Bentley’s day. The only change had been east front additions and Morley was keen to bring the house up to Victorian standards.
Morley returned to the Potteries and engaged the services of the architect Robert Scrivener (1812-1878). The Ipswich-born son of master builder William Scrivener had moved to Staffordshire in the 1850s, establishing a practice in Shelton, close to Morley’s Broad Street works. Scrivener was one of North Staffordshire’s leading architects designing many of Hanley’s most notable buildings.
The style chosen for Breadsall Priory was theatrical and changed the appearance entirely. The Victorian Gothic style was complicated and hid most of the original house behind a new façade.
Nick Redman in An Illustrated History of Breadsall Priory described the dramatic effect:-
‘Morley began by removing all the additions on the east side. He then added a large three bay extension which butted up to the front of the old house, leaving only Bentley’s attic floor visible. On the central bay was a projecting porch with a balustrade and battlemented corner turrets.
‘North of the porch he placed a separate castellated extension with a new dining room at ground floor level, and with bedrooms and bathrooms above. Below it two wine cellars linked to the basement beneath Bentley’s north east tower.
‘Between this extension and the old house Morley inserted another block, also castellated. The Gun Room on the ground floor had a side door. The construction of these new buildings covered or destroyed the Priory foundations revealed earlier by Sir Francis Darwin.
‘The old entrance hall which had been very narrow, was enlarged by taking away a large portion of the lower section of Bentley’s central tower, in which was formerly a winding staircase. The new entrance hall measured 24 square feet, with solid parquet flooring, the centre of oak and walnut interlaced, with an ornamental border of elaborate design. The principal staircase was of carved oak.
‘The gabled stage of the south-east tower was replaced by another floor with battlements and overhanging corner turrets. Above this was a tall octagonal stair tower with cross arrow slits, machicolations and battlements.
‘West of this tower Morley replaced the large gabled return with a replica of one of Bentley’s gables, but retaining Bentley’s mullioned window within it. He inserted a new window of four lights and added below it a large canted bay with a trefoil-headed battlemented windows under quatrefoil decorations.
‘West again he built a billiard room. It was single storey and thus most of the west front of Bentley’s house was left untouched. The room had an open carved roof lit by skylights, and with a three-light traceried window to the south. It was furnished in the Moorish style.’
The house was completed in autumn 1861 and Morley spent the next few years developing the grounds and parkland at a cost of about £4,000.
Despite originally investing in new farm buildings Morley decided to withdraw from agriculture in 1875 selling all his livestock and equipment.
In his later years Francis Morley suffered ill-health.
George Ashworth, the father of Taylor Ashworth, wrote “Mr M would beat mother just now in a walking stick match for she cannot even stand.” Jane M. Diener wrote that Morley and his wife Emma lived in retirement served by a butler, footman, housemaid and lady’s maid.³
Francis Morley died in 1883, aged 73. In his will he left personal estate amounting to over £71,000. He left Breadsall Priory and its estate to his wife for life, then his nephew, William Statham, for life, and on the death of the survivor, to his nephew’s son, Francis Statham.⁴
However, his widow had no intention of staying at Breadsall Priory. On June 17 1884 the entire estate was offered for auction at the Mart, Tokenhouse Yard, London.
Henry Joseph Wood (1851-1920)
The purchaser of Breadsall Priory was Henry Joseph Wood. He was a native of Kent, being the son of Edward Wood of Aylesford. In 1876 he married Jane Cooper, the only daughter of Joseph Cooper of Trent Vale, Staffordshire, and moved to the midlands.
Quite how Wood made his living is uncertain but prior to buying Breadsall Priory he was living with his family at The Hollies, the Cooper’s ancestral home at Trent Vale.
In 1885 Wood qualified as a magistrate for Derbyshire and also served on Derbyshire County Council. In 1888 he was elected the President of the Derbyshire General Infirmary.
Wood was a man of many interests. In his younger days he had been a keen cricketer, playing for the Derbyshire Friars. He was also fond of hunting, and was well-known with the North Staffordshire, the Meynell and the South Nottinghamshire packs. He was also a keen shooter and kept this up until old age.
In farming he always took an active interest and regarded this as one of his chief hobbies. At Breadsall Priory he soon built up a herd of dairy cows and a stud of shire horses
His stay at Breadsall Priory proved to be relatively short. In March 1892 he auctioned his entire farming stock and made plans to return to his native Kent.
Wood moved to Bidborough Court, a huge Victorian house built in the 1860’s near Tunbridge Wells, and previously known as Elm Court.
He became a J.P. for Kent as well as serving on Kent County Council. He became a visiting justice for the Kentish Asylums and the County Gaol, and devoted much of his time with the Discharged Prisoners’ Aid Society.
Jane Cooper, his beloved ‘Jeannie’, died in 1917 and proved a devastating loss to Wood. He died in July 1920, aged 70, when heart trouble was followed by other complications. He left three sons and six daughters.⁵
Richard Rainshaw Rothwell (1860-1948)
Henry James Wood sold Breadsall Priory to Captain Richard Rainshaw Rothwell. It is likely that he bought the house with the proceeds of an inheritance from his uncle, also called Richard Rainshaw Rothwell.
The older Rothwell had been the owner of large estates in the Bolton area of Lancashire who, for his active interest and financial contributions towards Italian unity, had been created the Marquis de Rothwell and later a Marquis of the kingdom of Italy. He lived at Sharples Hall, Bolton-le-Moors and died in 1890 leaving no male heir. The majority of his vast estate passed to his nephew, Richard Rainshaw Rothwell, the son of his brother, Ralph Rothwell.
Rothwell, the younger, was born in Dunkirk, France, in 1861. He spent most of his childhood in Kent before attending a Gentleman’s School in Hampstead. He married Mary Constance Murdock in 1881 and settled in Berkshire. By the time he inherited his fortune he was living at Finley House at Andover in Hampshire.
He became a J.P. for Lancashire but quite how he came upon Breadsall Priory is open to speculation.
Newspapers reported that Rothwell was going to make considerable improvements to the house and he made good his promise. He provided a supply of spring water from two powerful springs and created a 30,000 gallon reservoir. This supplied the house and outbuildings as well as the ornamental lake and fountains. Rothwell also installed electric lighting throughout the house.
According to Nick Redman he was also thought to have installed a three-manual barrel organ built by Alfred Noble of Birmingham. This stood in the entrance hall and was used until after the First World War. In 1975 it was presented to the Darwin School at Chaddeston but subsequently dismantled.
In 1894 Rothwell sold Sharples Hall and we might have expected him to have made long-term plans for Breadsall Priory.
However, Rothwell’s interest in the house was waning and may even have overstretched his finances. In November 1896 the Derbyshire Times and Chesterfield Herald reported that Sir Alfred Haslam had ‘practically acquired’ the ownership of Breadsall Priory.
The following year the following appeared in the Pall Mall Gazette:-
“Large estates continue to be put on the market. We understand that offers will now be received for Breadsall priory, the Cantley estate of 4,500 acres, near Doncaster, and Poynton Birches, on the borders of Derbyshire.”⁶
In May 1897 Messrs. Walton and Lee were preparing auction of Breadsall Priory. The house came with 135 acres of rich grass land but the property was eventually withdrawn from the market.
In August 1897 the estate was sold by private treaty. The buyer was Sir Alfred Seale Haslam who had been interested in Breadsall Priory for several months.
Richard Rainshaw Rothwell moved to Hove, in Sussex, where he was reported to be living on his own personal wealth. He later moved to Devon where he resided at Morebath Manor until his death in 1948.
Sir Alfred Seale Haslam (1844-1927)
“Sir Alfred was very proud of the place, and when I called on him, not many months before his death, he took the greatest pleasure in showing me round the house and grounds.” (Gossiper – Derby Daily Telegraph 9 July 1930)
Alfred Seale Haslam was the fourth son of William Haslam, an iron-trader from Derby.
Alfred was educated at the Diocesan School and privately. He started work as a practical engineer at the works of the Midland Railway Company in Derby and the establishment of W.C. Armstrong and Co at Newcastle-upon-Tyne. In 1868 he returned to Derby and joined the Union Foundry and Engineering Works at Little Chester.
It was in 1880 that Alfred had pioneered an early refrigeration system. The equipment allowed for the transport of meat in sound condition from the colonies of the Antipodes. The following year it was fitted to a steamer which transported 17,000 carcases to Britain from Australia.
The idea was ridiculed at first and there was opposition from the British agricultural interest and the prejudice of the British consumer.
He risked between £25,000 and £30,000 in support of his guarantee that the meat carcases would not suffer in transportation. It revolutionised the meat trade and changed the meat-eating habits of the country.⁷
The process made a fortune for Alfred Seale Haslam and in no time at all millions of carcases and sheep were imported from far away. It quickly became an indispensable part of equipment for warships, liners and meat stores. The process was also applied to other colonial food products such as butter, cheese and fruit. Its usefulness also allowed warships to store explosives at an even temperature. Other products manufactured included boilers, hoists, mill machinery and air conditioning equipment for hospitals overseas.⁸
The company was converted into a limited company in 1876 and was renamed as the Haslam Foundry and Engineering Company Ltd. He became the Managing Director and principal shareholder.
A devout Baptist, Alfred married Annie Tatum, the daughter of Mr Thomas Tatum of the Elms, Little Eaton, in 1875. They lived at North Lees, Duffield Road, Derby.
Haslam became a Borough magistrate in 1886 and a Derbyshire magistrate in 1891. He became Mayor of Derby in 1890 and 1891. In the year of his second term he received Queen Victoria on her visit to the town and was later knighted on the platform of Derby Station.
Alfred was chosen as a Unionist candidate for Derby in the general election of 1892 but suffered defeat. He filled many public offices in Derby, including the Presidency of the Derby Chamber of Commerce and the Derby Children’s Hospital.
With considerable personal wealth it was only fitting that Alfred Seale Haslam was looking for a home of better standing. However, his move to Breadsall Priory in 1898 led to a parting of ways with Derby Corporation.
His new house was outside the borough and disqualified him from council matters. His qualification further failed owing to his company being a limited liability company and therefore carried no vote. The difficulty might have been overcome had Haslam rented a single room at his works or even taken a room elsewhere in the borough. Haslam refused and his council duties came to an abrupt end.
Settled in his new home Alfred offered his services to Newcastle-under-Lyme across the border in Staffordshire. He was not a regular member of the council but was Mayor for three successive years from 1902. For a time he combined this role with that of Unionist M.P. for Newcastle, winning his seat by 182 votes in 1900, and sat until 1906 when he was a victim of the great Unionist debacle of that year.
Alfred donated a statue of Queen Victoria which still stands at the Blackfriars end of the Thames Embankment in London. Similar statues were also funded for Derby and Newcastle-under-Lyme.
Although Sir Alfred Seale Haslam resided in London he spent as much time as possible at Breadsall Priory. He added a large west wing in Elizabethan style obscuring half of Bentley’s west front.
According to Nick Redman he made significant alterations:-
“He demolished Morley’s billiard room, replacing it with a library. Beyond that he built his own billiard room complete with minstrels’ gallery and raised seats for the spectators. It was a striking room, decorated like Morley’s in Moorish style, with a moulded plaster ceiling with pendants. The large window on the north side looked out in Haslam’s day into a little courtyard complete with a rockery.
“At the west end of the south front Haslam built a gable matching Morley’s replica gable of 1861. Haslam’s coat of arms and the date 1899 are still visible above the library’s bay window. In the room at ground floor level below the billiard room was a small windowless area for use as a photographic dark room. (This was used by Haslam’s eldest son, Alfred Victor Haslam who took many photographs of Breadsall Priory).
“The drawing room was accessed from the entrance hall by a separate flight of stairs running parallel to the main staircase.
“In the dining room the fine oak panelling covering the lower half of the walls came from Sir Alfred’s Derby home (presumably North Lees).
“Outside the dining room Haslam installed a large Gothic door made by his father, William Haslam. The door had been displayed at the Great Exhibition in 1851 as an example of ancient church wrought iron-work and was hugely praised.
“Haslam made only one change to the east front of the house. He inserted into the balustrade over Morley’s porch a large stone bearing his coat of arms and motto ‘Agnus Dei Salvator Meus’”
In August 1904, Alfred, keen to show off his new country house, invited the whole of his workpeople at the Haslam Engineering Works to Breadsall Priory, together with their wives. In total there were about 700 people present for the occasion of the homecoming of his son, Alfred Victor Haslam, and his new bride.
Haslam later commissioned Thomas Hayton Mawson, the garden designer, to develop the pleasure grounds. A new rose garden was created in 1909 and it is thought that many fragments of stone from the old priory were finally cleared away.
Sir Alfred Haslam attracted much interest at the outbreak of World War One.
When hostilities started Haslam, along with his two daughters, was visiting the German spa at Homberg. For several days the three, together with other English visitors, were semi-prisoners in their hotel. His release was probably due to his age, and a most unpleasant journey to the Dutch border followed, before travelling back to Breadsall Priory. The ordeal caused Alfred much anxiety and he was confined to bed suffering from a severe shock to his nerves.⁹
While Breadsall Priory became Alfred’s ‘pride and joy’ it also experienced tragedy.
In 1907 Alfred’s eldest son, Alfred Victor Haslam, died at Northfield, his residence on Duffield Road, Derby.
In 1917 Captain Kenneth Seale Haslam, his youngest son, of the North Midland Howitzer Brigade, was killed in action at Guémappe, east of Arras.
Of the three sons only Eric Haslam survived as well as his two daughters – Edith Hannah Haslam, who still lived at home, and Hilda Annie Ham, wife of the Rev Herbert Ham, Vicar of Wirksworth and later Provost of Derby Cathedral.
His wife, Lady Haslam, died in March 1924 at Breadsall Priory.
Sir Alfred Haslam had been far from well but rallied sufficiently to continue his business affairs. He still visited his factory every day and travelled the country for meetings.
It was on such matters that he travelled to London in January 1927. He was staying at the Midland Grand St Pancras Hotel and on the night of January 12 complained of feeling unwell. He retired to his room with orders for a hotel servant to wake him early next morning. After receiving no response to his knock the servant entered the room and found Sir Alfred dead in bed.
His estate amounted to £1,064,393 after estate duty of £288,691 had already been paid. Newspapers of the day took great delight in calling him the ‘millionaire businessman’.
Both Sir Alfred and Lady Haslam were buried at Morley. The Breadsall Priory estate was left to Alfred’s second son, Captain Eric Seale Haslam, who was 41-years-old, and his houses on Duffield Road were given to his daughters.
Eric Seale Haslam (1886-1967)
“Sitting in my library, watching the herd of cows making their way across the park is one of the joys of my life.” (Captain Eric Seale Haslam)
Eric Seale Haslam was born in 1886 and educated at Haileybury College in Hertfordshire. He later trained to be an engineer at the Rhos Prepatory School in Colwyn Bay.
During the First World War he served with the Territorial Artillery, and was wounded at Loos in 1915. He returned to action but was invalided out of France following a serious railway accident in 1916. Just a year later his younger brother, Kenneth Haslam, was killed in action.
Eric Seale Haslam had joined the family business and became chairman, choosing to rename the company as the Derby Pure Ice and Cold Storage Co Ltd*.
A freemason with the Tyrioan Lodge he was also on the board of the Derby Canal Company and a manager at the Derby Savings Bank. Outside of his business interests he was a keen agriculturalist being the president of the Derby and District Milk Recording Society and the West Hallam Ploughing Association. He was later appointed a magistrate for Derbyshire and became High Sheriff of Derbyshire in 1937.¹º
The story of Eric Seale Haslam at Breadsall Priory might also be the story of his sister, Edith Hannah Haslam. She remained at Breadsall following the death of her father and appeared to live happily alongside her brother. While Eric was the person safeguarding the finances it was Edith who became the public figure.
She was known throughout the county for her generosity. In 1927 she opened the St Christopher’s Home for Wayfaring Women at North Parade, in Derby. She attended Breadsall Church and was a committee member of the Queen Victoria Memorial Home of Rest. Edith also championed the conversion of the St Alkmund’s old burial ground into a rest garden and playground for children.¹¹
She later wrote a book, The Garden with Two Keys, published by the Oxford University Press. It was in the form of weekly letters, originally written to her god-daughter, June. The little girl had been so delighted that Edith thought other children might care for the letters too. She also designed a model garden as a companion to the book.¹²
One interest that brother and sister shared at Breadsall Priory was the gardens. Both lavished attention to them and they were regularly opened in aid of charity. They were later enhanced with a programme of tree planting. A visitor to Breadsall Priory in 1938 wrote of the “air of comfortable well-being… the well-kept lawns and gardens… everything’s in harmony.”
In June 1932 the columnist of the Derby – and Joan feature in the Derby Daily Telegraph made observations of her visit:-
“I went over to Breadsall Priory and , after tea with Miss Edith Haslam, Mr Eric Haslam, her brother, and Sister Ward of the St Christopher’s Home for Wayfaring Women, was taken to look at the terrace, rock garden and stream.
“There are some grounds which never give a caller the pleasure occasioned by the first visit, but those belonging to Breadsall priory have the knack of making a greater appeal every time they are seen.
“A flag path had to be treated carefully because of the aubrietas which grew in every crevice. In every shade of purple they were exquisite.
“On being advised to look the way I had come, one of the prettiest garden pictures met the gaze. Flowers, bushes and trees hugged the line of the rivulet and, in the distance, a flame coloured azalea added just the right touch.”
Nick Redman states that the tall stair turret and four bartizans on top of the tower were removed at the beginning of the Second World War. This was to avoid Luftwaffe bombers using Breadsall Priory as a landmark as they headed towards the Rolls-Royce factory in Derby where Spitfire engines were made. The drawing room was also used by the Derbyshire Children’s Hospital as a convalescent ward. During this period Eric Haslam served as a Special Constable around Derby.
The war also unearthed another one of Breadsall’s secrets. While excavating to build an air raid shelter a 13th century doorway was discovered from the old priory. This was later restored and is visible today. Further excavations also revealed part of a lower floor level with drains that turned out to be the canon’s washing area, fragments of the old priory walls and the remains of the bake-oven.
Redman also says that during a fire in one of the outbuildings in 1947, water was used from the ornamental lake to put it out. The following year the lake developed a leak and emptied gradually filling with bushes and small trees until restored in the 1970s.
Edith Haslam died in December 1941. She left a will of £52,611 but it was the contents of the will that summed up her generosity.
£5,000 was given to her nephew, Christopher Haslam Dillon Ham, with £2,000 each to Eric and her sister Hilda Ham. Edith gave £1,000 each to Gwendoline Peach and May Ward. She left St Christopher’s House to Hilda, £200 was given to St Alkmund’s Garden and £500 each to Derby Hospital for Sick Children, the Victoria Home of Rest and the Mission of Lepers in Covent Garden. Edith also gave £100 each to her maids of three years’ service.
It was later revealed that Edith had offered a house at 125 Osmaston Road, Derby, to become the Derby Hostel for Lads (which opened in 1942). This property had originally been where she had helped to found the St Michael’s Hostel for Girls in 1937.¹³
Eric Haslam married in November 1943. His bride was Norah Apphia Woodroffe, the younger daughter of the late G.F. Woodroffe of Wimbledon and Mrs Woodroffe of Hillesley House, near Wooton-on-the-Edge, Gloucestershire. The wedding took place at St Mary’s Church in Wimbledon.¹⁴
Eric Haslam, long retired and calling himself a ‘farmer’, died of cancer in 1967 and was buried at St Matthew’s Church at Morley.
His widow, Norah, lived alone before moving to a new house, Priory Chase, built-in one of the quarries near the entrance lodge. She lived here until her death in 1988.
There was a sale of surplus contents in May 1970 but the main house was unoccupied. It was a target for thieves and the garden and grounds slowly became overgrown and the drive rutted. For a house that once prided itself in its lovely gardens it was a sad demise.
Finally, in late 1970, the Breadsall Estate was put up for sale. It included the house and its grounds that had now been extended to 828 acres.
Charles Arthur Richard Harpur-Crewe (1917-1981)
Breadsall Priory was bought by Charles Harpur-Crewe, whose family already owned much of the land around it. Charles (born Jenney) was the grandson of Sir Vauncey Harpur-Crewe, the last baronet of Calke Abbey in Derbyshire. The Calke Abbey estate had passed down the female line until Charles (now called Harpur-Crewe) inherited it in 1949.
The Harpur-Crewe’s estate holdings were very large; apart from Calke abbey and the thousand or so acres of parkland immediately adjoining it, they had some 9,000 acres of land in Staffordshire, Derbyshire and Leicestershire, for the most part let to agricultural tenants, and also about 3,000 acres of moorland in the Staffordshire Peak District.
Charles Harpur-Crewe was unmarried, shy, retiring and had made Calke Abbey one of the most impenetrable country houses in England. He had very little to do with other Derbyshire landowners and preferred to converse with his tenant farmers. In 1961 he served as High Sheriff of Derbyshire and was a hereditary governor of Repton School, a member of South Derbyshire District Council and Chairman of the local Conservative Party.¹⁵
Patrick O’Connor, a jockey who rode horses for Charles’ younger brother, Henry Harpur-Crewe, described a meeting with Charles Harpur-Crewe in 1981:-
“First impressions of Harpur-Crewe certainly didn’t fit the image of what one would expect of an aristocrat, owner of large tracts of land and former Lord Lieutenant of Derbyshire. He was untidily dressed and had an unfriendly look in his eye that had probably been honed to intimidating perfection dealing with tradesmen and troublesome employees on his estate.”¹⁶
Harpur-Crewe probably wanted Breadsall Priory for its land rather than the house. The purchase came with uncertainty and he wrestled for most of his life with large death duties and had little or no money to spend.
In September 1971 David Cox, a hotel owner and property developer, visited Breadsall Priory while it lay empty. He wrote:-
“The Priory’s a superb old building and it’s ideal for the purpose I’ve got in mind. I want people to be able to go there for golf, swimming, squash, all sorts of recreational purposes, and just relax in a good club atmosphere. When it’s finished there won’t be anything like it in the country.”
It is likely that David Cox’s approach to Charles Harpur-Crewe was a difficult and complicated affair. We know that Harpur-Crewe was a stubborn man and planning and legal delays meant it wasn’t until October 1974 that permission was finally granted. Cox signed a long lease to convert Breadsall Priory into a country house hotel and golf complex.
Cox set about refurbishing the sad and empty house. The dining room was turned into the Elizabethan Restaurant and Rothwell’s organ was dismantled to make way for the new hotel reception. The Billiard Room became the Oak Room and the Drawing Room was renamed the Wedgewood Room.
A bar, called the Monk’s Bar, was built over the canon’s old washing area, and the 13th century doorway, discovered by Eric Haslam, was made a feature of the room. Cox created 17 bedrooms upstairs and opened for business in May 1976.
Alongside the hotel development, a new golf course was created within the parkland. The course, enhanced with Cumberland turf, was designed by David Cox, John Flanders and Richard Lambert.
The Home Farm building was converted into a club house and in 1977 the Breadsall Priory Golf and Country Club was officially opened.
The gardens, once the pride and joy of the Haslam family, were cleared and restored and the ornamental lake put back in working order.
Charles Harpur-Crewe died in 1981 and inheritance tax problems enforced the sale of the Breadsall Priory estate.
David Cox was able to buy it outright while Calke Abbey passed to the National Trust in 1985.
In 1986 David Cox was approached by Country Club Hotels, a subsidiary of Whitbread PLC, about buying Breadsall Priory. Negotiations over the sale lasted two years and a deal wasn’t concluded until January 1988.
Whitbread and the Marriott Hotel
The purchase by Whitbread marked a significant change for the house. Their first priority was to increase the number of bedrooms to 92 by constructing a new bedroom block. A leisure complex was also added using old farm buildings and a swimming pool was created in place of the old farmyard.
More importantly a restoration programme was carried out on the old house and a new kitchen block was built alongside.
The golf facilities were also improved with the creation of the Moorland course and a new pavilion which opened in 1992.
Breadsall Priory Hotel Golf and Country Club opened in 1990.
In 1996 Whitbread obtained the franchise rights for the Marriott name in Great Britain and the hotel was rebranded as the Marriott Breadsall Hotel and Country Club.
A new accommodation block, with 24 bedrooms, was built in 1997.
As a salute to its former owners a number of rooms were renamed to become the Haslam, Darwin and Morley Rooms.
Whitbread sold its portfolio of 46 Marriott hotels to the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) in 2006. The deal, reported to be £954m, allowed the Marriott Corporation to operate the hotels on behalf of the new owner.
RBS eventually sold the chain to the British Virgin Islands-based Professional Ventures Corporation (PVC) for £1.1bn in 2007.
In 2008 Marriott refurbished the historic meeting rooms, leisure complex, restaurant and golf facilities at Breadsall Priory. However, there were still troubled times ahead.
In 2011 it was reported that the Marriott hotels chain had been placed in administrative receivership after PVC failed to make loan repayments.
RBS, the majority lender on the debt, regained control of the property portfolio and eventually sold the chain, including Breadsall Priory, to the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA) for £640m in 2013.
Breadsall Priory is now regarded as the oldest Marriott hotel in the world.
References:- The process of writing this post has been made considerably easier due to the chronology of events and extensive research already carried out by Nick Redman . An excellent account of its evolution is included in his book An Illustrated History of Breadsall Priory (2009) which proved invaluable and is quoted often. ¹Aris’s Birmingham Gazette (23 May 1842) ²Derby Mercury (28 Mar 1860) ³White Ironstone Notes (Winter 2011) ⁴Derby Daily Telegraph (8 Jun 1883) ⁵Kent and Sussex Courier (30 Jul 1920) ⁶Pall Mall Gazette (2 Feb 1897) ⁷Derby Daily Telegraph (13 Jan 1927) ⁸National Archives ⁹Derby Daily Telegraph (20 Aug 1914) ¹ºDerby Daily Telegraph (18 Mar 1937) ¹¹Derby Daily Telegraph (30 Apr 1932) ¹²Derby Daily Telegraph (6 May 1936) ¹³Derby Daily Telegraph (1 Jul 1942)/Derby Daily Telegraph (3 Sep 1942) ¹⁴Derby Daily Telegraph (6 Oct 1943)/Derby Daily Telegraph (19 Nov 1943) ¹⁵Calke Abbey (Harold Colvin). National Trust 1989 ¹⁶Glorious Obsessions of Calke Abbey (Patrick O’Connor) Patrick O’Connor 2013
Notes:- *Eric Seale Haslam, continued in the family business, renamed the Derby Pure Ice and Cold Storage Company. In 1928, the Haslam Foundry Company was taken over by the electrical engineers Newton Brothers Ltd who changed its name, in 1935, to Newton Brothers Ltd. But the refrigeration side was bought in 1935 by L Sterne & Company Ltd of Glasgow who had been making refrigeration machinery since about 1882.
Louis Sterne died in 1953; the company continuing in the refrigeration business until it virtually ceased trading in 1961, being acquired by Prestcold Ltd, owned by British Leyland, in 1968. The Sterne name was phased out in 1971. The name ‘Derby Pure Ice and Cold Storage Company’ was liquidated in 1976.
Built: 1852 Architect: Unknown Owner: The Mitchell family Country house hotel
Ellen Bank was built about 1852, probably by Mr Robert Ritson (1811-1887), the head of Messrs Ritson and Co, a long-established firm of shipbuilders, timber merchants and sailmakers of Maryport, Cumbria.†
It was typical of many Victorian manor houses and stood within 3 acres overlooking the rolling countryside to the west of Maryport. It was built with stone mullioned windows, decorative fireplaces, a cellar and elaborate wood-workings. An entrance portico leads into the entrance hall and various reception rooms.
The house was originally known as Ellen Bank but became known as Ellenbank in more recent years.
In addition to Ellen Bank Ritson owned land and cottages at Allerby, Aspatria, Byerstead Southerfield and Bromfield as well as land at Toxteth Park in Liverpool.
He married Mary Anne Smith in 1842 and lived at 122 High Street, in Maryport. They had four sons, the oldest being John Ritson (1848-1897), and four daughters.
By 1852 the Ritson family had moved to Ellen Bank and employed a cook and two housemaids. However, with increasing wealth, they had obtained the services of a groom, John Bainbridge, by 1871.
Robert Ritson died in 1887. On his death he left £89,343 and all his shares in ships and shipping companies to his sons John and William. His prized collection of silver plate and china was shared amongst the rest of his family.¹
John Ritson (1848-1897) inherited the mansion house at Ellen Bank as well as the farmland and cottages at Allerby and Aspatria. He also acquired the land at Toxteth Park which was under contract for sale to Mr Hugh Jones.
In early life John Ritson was an officer in the Cumberland Militia. He then took an active part in the management of the family business and gained a reputation as ‘a man of sterling character’. He was also a director of the Maryport and Carlisle Railway, the West Cumberland Iron and Steel Company and the Cumberland Union Bank. He was also a J.P. for Cumberland.
In 1865 John Ritson married Mary Jane Logan, the daughter of Captain John Logan, of Maryport, at St Luke’s Parish Church in Chelsea.
Between them they had two sons, Robert and John, and two daughters, Marjory and Kathleen. In 1891 they employed three servants as well as a governess to take charge of the children.
John Ritson died suddenly in 1897 aged 50.
He had suffered heart problems for a while but this didn’t deter him from being an enthusiastic cyclist, one of his greatest passions.
On Monday 13 September 1897 he had spent the day shooting partridges with his two sons at Allonby. In the evening he took the train from Bullgill to Cockermouth and cycled with Mr W.B. Mathias to Keswick, where his wife and family had been staying. He then cycled back to Maryport the same night.
The next day, while attending business at his office, he complained of feeling faint, and asked for a glass of water. His brother, Thomas Smith Ritson, took him outside for a breath of fresh air but he suffered complete collapse. John was taken home by stretcher but never rallied and died on Wednesday 15 September 1897. He was later interred at Maryport Cemetery.²
At the time of his death his eldest son, Robert, was just 9-years-old. His widow remained at Ellen Bank until her death in 1939 and the house remained in the family until the 1980s.
The house was purchased by the Mitchell family in 1985 who turned the house into a country house hotel. It was subsequently converted and extended resulting in 26 en-suite guest bedrooms and a function room.
It became popular as a country hotel and became a meeting place for organists from all over Cumbria who played there on a regular basis.
When the Mitchell’s decided to retire the property was placed on the open market. However, like similar size Victorian properties, the cost of renovation looks to have discouraged potential purchasers.
In August 2016 the Mitchell family asked for permission to turn the hotel into 16 flats and create eight townhouses in the grounds.³
References:- ¹Carlisle Patriot (16 Sep 1887) ²Carlisle Patriot (17 Sep 1897) ³Times and Star (5 Aug 2016)
Notes:- †There is a possibility that the house may have been built by Joseph Ritson, his father, who died in 1865. In March 1866 the Carlisle Patriot carried an advertisement for ‘ a desirable dwelling house, known as Ellen Bank, near Aspatria’. It contained 4 sitting rooms, 6 bedrooms, dressing room, pantry, cellar, good kitchen, carriage house and two-stalled stable. With views over the River Ellen it was described as being ‘very substantial, well-fitted, having been built about 10 years ago by the late proprietor for his own occupation’. This may be Ellen Bank of this article and may refer to Joseph Ritson who died the previous year. However, we must regard this with caution as there might well have been a similar dwelling called Ellen Bank at Aspatria. The subject of this article is much nearer Maryport.
Maryport quickly developed as an industrial centre throughout the 19th century. An iron foundry opened and the port developed as did shipyards, such as Wood’s yard and Ritson’s yard, which was famous for launching ships broadside into the River Ellen because it was not wide enough to allow ships to be launched the usual way. Ritson’s operated until 1914.