Old Halls, Manors and Families of Derbyshire

by Joseph Tilley

Transcriptions by Rosemary Lockie, © Copyright 1999-2008

Volume I, The High Peak Hundred
Ashford Rookery and Little Longstone Manor House

JUST without the pretty little village of Ashford, some two miles north of Bakewell, at the south-west angle of the Buxton road, is a quaint old building denominated The Rookery. Situated in a lovely vale, surrounded by hills thickly wooded, the Wye in front of it bounding onward to join the Derwent, truly the view from its threshold is picturesque. Its earliest inhabitants we can trace were the family of Milnes, say in the sixteenth century, now ennobled; it has since probably been the homestead of scions of two other baronial houses, the Fynneys and Cheneys. The family of Milnes furnishes a capital illustration of the advantages gained by the yeomen classes, from a line of kings (Tudors) who encouraged commerce rather than agricultural pursuits. In the reign of Elizabeth we find the Milnes leaving their sheep-shearing and farming and establishing themselves as traders at Tapton, Aldercar, and Ashover, as well as at Bawtry, Yorkshire. They became mayors and aldermen, members of Parliament, justices of the peace, and doctors of law; while some of their children had Royal sponsors at christening; we rather fancy these particular Royal sponsors had accounts with the Milnes which were never balanced, except with a balance in favour of the Milnes. Three times have their daughters mated with the Viscounts Galway, and at the present moment the senior representative, Robert Offley Milnes, holds the coronet of Houghton in the Peerage of Great Britain. The grandfather of the present peer was M.P. for Pontefract; was offered a seat in the Cabinet by Perceval in 1809, as either Chancellor of the Exchequer or Secretary of War, and it was his refusal which gave Palmerston “admission to the Ministry”. His son (the late peer, Richard Monckton Milnes) was ennobled in 1863, but he will be best remembered as a munificent patron of literature, and by his Palm Leaves, Monographs, and Life of Keats. Among the other tenants of The Rookery we find a branch of the Bullock family. The vicissitudes of this house incline us almost to believe in the aphorism of Burke - that gainers by the spoliation of the Monasteries never prospered. The Bullocks were settled at Darley, Unstone, Norton. Their name appears on the list of. Derbyshire gentlemen 12 Henry VI. (1433). They held Darley Abbey for eighty years; were Lords of the Manor of Norton: one was Sheriff of the County in 1616; another was selected by Charles II. to be a Knight of the Oak, with an annuity of a thousand pounds, but the Order and the annuity too, went to the dogs. Old Hutton tells a marvellous story about one of the Bullocks, whose name was Noah. Having christened his three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth, as can be proved by the registry of St. Alkmund, he built himself an ark on the Derwent, and lived in it with them, but what they did there must not be told in Gath. Anyway the coins he tendered in payment were always beautifully bright. Another one, and in this case a resident at The Rookery, who was partial to intoxication, would sit on horseback for hours to drink huge quantities of beer, preferring such a position to the cosy hostelry of the village, or his own drawing-room. This was the gentleman who, having fallen over the shafts of a cart one night in Vicarage Lane, procured an axe and divested the vehicle of such appurtenances amid a volley of oaths so quaint that they have come down to posterity.

The Manor of Ashford has ever had either king, prince, or noble for its lord; yet until held by the illustrious house of Cavendish its possession seemed fatal. The Plantagenet who called it his, fell by the assassin or was slain; the Hollands, Earls of Kent and Dukes of Exeter, were beheaded or murdered, or begged their bread; the Nevilles, Earls of Westmoreland, had to fly to save their necks. The last Holland, Duke of Exeter, was the most powerful of the Lancastrian nobles; was a grandson of John of Gaunt; had a precedency to the House of Lords; could bring into the field ten thousand retainers. At the battle of St. Albans he was made a prisoner, was confined in Pontefract Castle, and while there met his cousin Anne; sister of Edward IV., to whom he was soon after married. The momentary success of the Lancastrians at the battle of Wakefield made her sever herself from her husband, and demand from Pope Pius II. her divorce, which this Pope positively granted, and then she espoused St. Leger, and by him had a daughter Anne, who mated with Sir George Manners. Hence the royal quartering; on the chief of the Rutland shield. Holland fled from the disastrous field of Barnet to the continent, where, in the capital of Burgundy, Comines the historian saw him shoeless and with clothing in tatters crying “Bread, bread, give me bread for Jesu's sake”. The Manor of Ashford at the survey was royal demesne, and remained so till 1199, when King John gave it to Wununwyn, lord of Powisland, whose descendants had a grant of free warren here, but it was again with the Crown in 1319, when Edward II. granted. it to his relative, Edmund Plantagenet, whose heiress, the “Fair Maid of Kent”, passed it to the Hollands, from whom it went to the Nevilles. Both the Plantagenets and Hollands had a mansion here, the site of which is appropriated now by the lads of the village on the fifth of November for their bonfires. Less than ten years after Bess of Hardwicke - say 1549 - had persuaded Sir William Cavendish of the advantages of a married life - she had, as his wife, persuaded him to purchase Ashford from the Nevilles. The Manor of Sheldon has ever passed with Ashford less a slight alienation to the Pickfords in the reign of Henry III.

When the celebrated Francis Talbot, fifth Earl of Shrewsbury, became a widower by the death of his Countess, Lady Mary Dacres of Gillesland, it was to the quiet village of Little Longstone that he came a wooing a second time. This fact may be new to many readers, particularly as Burke says the Lady was of Holme, County Chester: The truth is the Shakerleys of Little Longstone were a branch of the Cheshire house, and, of course, it is in keeping with Derbyshire honors - shift them to some other county. When we recollect that she was the daughter of a squire simply, while he held not only the senior Earldom of England, but was the link between the old Barons and the recently fledged aristocracy of the Tudors - was the nobleman to whose sword even the Tudors themselves owed so much - there is surely some truth in the romance which surrounds this union. But before we speak of this romantic incident or others of a much more sensational character we will notice one or two of those families who were lords of the soil, as also the ancient race, whose name will ever be associated with the Manor House. According to Domesday Book the Manor of Little Longstone, under Edward the Confessor, belonged to Colne, the Saxon, and during the Norman monarchs to the de Ferrars, Earls of Derby. After the forfeiture of the eighth Earl, it was given by Edward I. to the Mountjoys, though there had been a temporary holding by Robert Fitz-Waltheof. In the fifteenth century the Blounts possessed it by heiress of the Mountjoys. The famous old Derbyshire family of Blount has furnished many pages of English history - some as bright as noonday, others as black as night; some which the pen of Shakespeare has made familiar and immortal; some which the annalist pronounces unfit for publication and ignores. One fact should ever be remembered kindly, that when the Grocyn first introduced the study of Greek at Oxford, about 1491, to which there was frightful opposition, the Blounts were amongst the first to perceive the value of such a study and to encourage it. The safe navigation of the Conqueror's ships was due to a Blount, who afterwards fought on the field of Hastings together with his two brothers. One of them was Count of Guisne in Picardy. It was the navigator to whom William I. gave the Barony of Ixworth, which his descendants held for two hundred years, when the sixth Earl fell at the battle of Evesham, defending the standard of de Montfort, and so the peerage became attainted. Sir John Blount, who espoused Isolda Mountjoy, and thus came in for several Derbyshire manors, among which were Little Longstone and Winster, had a second wife - Eleanor Beauchamp - by whom he had a son Walter, who became. one of the most celebrated warriors of the reigns of Edward III., Richard II., and Henry IV. Sir John had a son John by the heiress, who gave to this half-brother Walter his Derbyshire estates, to which the warrior added by purchase the vast estates of the Bakepuzes. This gallant soldier, who won his spurs under the Black Prince, and whose prowess assisted to gain the victories of Nesbit Moor and Homildon Hill for Henry IV., allowed this monarch to persuade him (so did other Derbyshire knights, as to wit, Sir John Shirley) into wearing the Royal dress at the battle of Shrewsbury. The scene as given by Shakespeare will have interest:

BLOUNT: What is thy name, that in the battle thus Thou crossest me? What honor dost thou seek Upon my head.

DOUGLAS: Know then my name is Douglas; And I do haunt thee in the battle thus, Because some tell me that thou art a king.

BLOUNT: They tell thee true.

DOUGLAS: The Lord of Stafford dear to-day hath bought Thy likeness, for instead of thee. King Harry, This sword hath ended him, so shall it thee Unless thou yield thee a prisoner.

BLOUNT: I was not born to yield, then haughty Scot, And thou shalt find a king that will avenge

Lord Stafford's death. [They fight, and Blount it slain.

HOTSPUR: O Douglas, had thou fought at Homildon thus. I never had triumph'd o'r a Scot.

DOUGLAS : All's done, all's done; here breathless lies the King.

HOTSPUR: Where?

DOUGLAS: Here.

HOTSPUR: This Douglas? No. I knew this face full well. A gallant knight he was, his name was Blount, Semblably furnished like the King himself.

DOUGLAS: Now by my sword, I will kill all his coats; I'll murder all his wardrobe, piece by piece, Until I meet the King.

A lineal descendant of the knight was the author of the famous Tenures, but his cousin Thomas has filled in the most thrilling page of history, though it cannot be told, further than when a prisoner he was cut up alive by orders of the King's Chamberlain, Sir Thomas Erpingham, and amid such inhuman hatchery, could yet taunt his adversary to madness, even when he had ceased to be recognisable as a human being. The great scandal of the last Blount of Thurveston, who held the Earldom of Devonshire in 1605, and Lady Rich may he told some other time. There are still two offshoots of the Blount who are holding baronetcies.

In 1474 the Blounts sold their Manor of Little Longstone to Richard Shakerley, whose old homestead in this ilk was standing in our own time. This gentleman married the heiress of the Levetts. His sons allied themselves with the Balguys, Bagshawes, and Revels of Higham, while his granddaughter combed her hair for a coronet. That Grace Shakerley did marry Francis Talbot, Earl Of Shrewsbury, is a fact known to any student of genealogy, and for the romance, we submit that the fact is some evidence of its truth. Long years before (when she was but a girl, and he but young, though Justice of the High Peak Forest at the time), he had seen her as Queen of the May. From the courtesy he had paid her that day, she had given hint her young heart. Poor girl! She did not know he was married, nor he dream that his innocent gallantry would be mistaken for affection; and after two decades of summers and winters he came to claim that May Queen, who, he knew, had been faithful to the love she had given hint twenty years before. The son of this very nobleman, and successor in the title, was the husband of Bess of Hardwicke, and it was when Bess had become a Countess that she bought the Manor of Little Longstone from the Shakerleys. There was a moiety of this manor held by the Longsdons in the twelfth century, which we believe is still with that family. We know that the Longsdons were resident here as far back as the reign of King John, as there was a lawyer at Bakewell called Longsdon Parva, from his place of abode. He is said by some to have been a priest, and not a lawyer, but he had a wife and children, and priests were not such sociable animals in those days. The old Manor House was certainly built by a Longsdon, and it is of this ancient line of men that there is a thrilling story told. On the 3rd March, 1658, there was a skirmish between some Parliamentary troops and adherents to the House of Stuart in the neighbourhood of Sheffield. Among the leaders of the former was Thomas Longsdon, who, at the time, was the last of his race. He had married Elizabeth Berley, of Middlewood House, Bradfield. She was with her husband when the skirmish commenced. This lady's undaunted pluck is proved by the incident. Placing herself where she could watch the encounter, she saw her husband fall from his horse mortally wounded, and, instead of fainting, rushed to his assistance, lifted his body in her arms, mounted his horse and galloped away to where she could place him under surgical skill. With a heart bursting with grief and rage, she rode back to his company and led them on to victory. This earned her the name of “Captain Bess”. It was a gallant deed for a lady near to her accouchement, for within a fortnight after she had become a mother and a widow, as is proved by the register of Longstone Church, for she came there to have the boy baptised. Her husband was buried beneath the east window of St. Peter's, Sheffield. This son perpetuated his line, and thus we have, at this moment, those squires among us with an unbroken pedigree of eight and twenty generations. It is asserted that the Longsdons had a Charter of Free Warren between Matlock and Mam Tor from the Conqueror, “to hawke, hunte, fishe, and fowle, cut down tymber and digge uppe stone quarries”, the consideration, says Mr. Sleigh, in Vol. IX. of The Reliquary, “being that the family was always to keep a bull, a boar, and an entire horse for the public use, and to furnish two gentlemen in armour”. “Certain it is that in proof of this allegation, pieces of ancient armour, swords, and halberds have decked the walls of the Old House at Little Longstone within the memory of living men, but, like too many of their fellows, they have found their way into the melting pot as old iron, and for aught we may know form a component part of one of our great iron roads. An old morion is actually remembered to have fallen so low from its high estate as to have been used for the pitch kettle at the annual sheep gathering”.

When Richard St. George, Norroy King-at-Arms, made his Visitation to the Peak in 1611, Stephen Longsdon, of Little Longstone, appeared before him and disclaimed the title of gentleman, “as not knowing how he might justify the same”, and St. George tells us he “proceeded against him according to my commission”. But Longsdon found out his error, and asserted his right, when he was allowed the use of the arms and crest of his ancestors.

During the sixteenth century the young ladies of Little Longstone very judiciously mated with the neighbouring squires, and even with scions of the aristocracy, while their brothers very ably followed their example. We find that the Beresfords, of Newton Grange, from whom springs the present Marquis of Waterford, came courting the girls of the Longsdons, while the Fynneys, of Ashford, won their hearts and doweries too, for the old residence next to the Manor House still bears the evidence of the fact, as it is recorded on a stone just beneath the point of the gable. The lads of the Longsdons went to Hassop among the Eyres, and the Leches of Chatsworth, to select their wives; but two hundred years before the Eyres were Lords of Hassop, members of the Longsdons were being summoned by Edward I. for a purpose which, perchance, was one of the wisest ever conceived by a King of England. It was the assembling together of those gentlemen of the county who were tenants in capite to the Crown, that they might render to him an account of its state and condition, its extent and productions. Two of the Longsdons had been summoned from their knowledge of the Peak. And as gentlemen in the thirteenth century, so their descendants remain in the nineteenth - kind, courteous, intelligent, benign - gentlemen all through, as if Nature had created a family of men to illustrate her own conservatism.

Extract from Old Halls, Manors and Families of Derbyshire, 1892.
Transcribed by Rosemary Lockie in December 2001.

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