Old Halls, Manors and Families of Derbyshire

by Joseph Tilley

Transcriptions by Rosemary Lockie, © Copyright 1999-2008

Volume I, The High Peak Hundred
Hassop Hall

SIX HUNDRED years ago William l'Eyre was holding lands in the Hope Valley by virtue of his being the official in charge of the venison around the valley, or rather from having the custody of the Forest of Hope Dale. These lands were held in capité from the Crown. Hope is the earliest home of the family, even as Bowden Edge is of the Bagshawes, and Wormhill of the Foljambes. From the time of Henry III. till the reign of Edward III. their residence here is clear, but how long before or after there is little more than supposition. With the union of Nicholas Eyre and the heiress of the Archers of Highlow about 1360, their list of marriages with beauty and property begins. We will simply glance at a few of them, and some of their illustrious alliances, as there is matter of interest to be gathered; though to follow their pedigree as given by Burke in his Commoners, Landed Gentry, and Peerage, yields some curious and thrilling facts if only, from their union with families, perhaps the most historically real in our annals. The estates of the Eyres are forming, at the present moment, one of the most celebrated cases in the High Court of justice; with which there are connected, so we are told, facts of a most sensational and incredible character. The father of Nicholas Eyre had Joana Barlow for wife - at least so says Burke, and be adds that she was of the Chorlton-cum-Hardy family. Of course, she could not be one of our Barlows; they were not sufficiently distinguished! At any rate this marriage goes to prove that the famous family of whom Burke says she was a member was a branch of the Derbyshire house, for in those days Chorlton was a long distance to go courting; neither were there any sixpenny telegrams to send a love message, whereas there were not ten miles between Hope and Barlow Hall near Dronfield. The acquaintance of the Eyres and the Chorlton Barlows reasons very loudly that the famous and historical Lancashire Barlows were offshoots of the ignored men living among the hills on the road to Chesterfield. We all know that Robert Eyre, the famous son of Nicholas, who won his spurs at Agincourt, won also the hand of Joan, the heiress of the Padleys, whose son Roger won a lady who was at once the heiress of the Whittingtons and Bakewells. After the purchase of Hassop, of which we shall speak in a moment, we find one of the lads (Stephen) who mated with the heiress of the Blackwells; whose son Rowland secured Gertrude Stafford with her quarter of a million; whose son Adam had the heiress of the Barlows of Dronfield Woodhouse; whose son Rowland was the husband of the heiress of the Hulmes of Leek. Then, by way of a change, some of the boys had the daughters of Earls for helpmates - a Crawford, or a Fitzwilliam, or a lady of the Lindseys, Digbys, Packingtons, Willoughbys, or Phipps. But the girls of the Eyres topped the boys altogether by having the Earls for partners, Manvers, Kinnoul, Massarene, Oxford. Surely it was loyalty linking with loyalty when a Digby mated with an Eyre. The chivalrous defence of Newark is surely equalled by those four Digbys, brothers and knights all of them, who fell side by side on the field of Towton, and one, of them was father of seven sons who all fought for the same dynasty on the field of Bosworth. Less than two centuries ago the Eyres were lords of twenty manors, while almost within living memory they held more than twenty thousand acres round about Highlow, Rowter, and Hassop, with an Earl's coronet to boot; and now, the lands and coronets are gone, nay, more, the Rowter and Hassop branches are extinct. They had stately homes at Rampton, in Nottinghamshire; at Welford Park, in Berkshire; at Lindley Hall, in Leicestershire; at Loughton, in Yorkshire; at Hassop, in Derbyshire; at Slindon, in Sussex; at Egham, in Surrey; besides seats in Middlesex and Northumberland, King's County, and the Counties Galway, Tipperary, and Cork. Their names are in the Extinct Peerage, and but yesterday they were peers of the realm.

No one has apparently mooted the question whether the Wiltshire Eyres were from the same founder as the Hope family. Mark the singular facts. The shields of both houses are identical in trick and tincture; their crests the same, and accompanied with a similar romance of a loss of a limb on the field of battle, though there is a slight difference of narrative. The Derbyshire Eyres say it was it Hastings where their ancestor saved the life of the Conqueror; those in Wiltshire that it was at the siege of Ascalon where Richard I. owed his preservation to their forefather. Both families have held peerages, have intermarried with the aristocracy, have founded branches in Ireland, and, what is so singular, the pet names given to their sons are the same, and even the motto borne by the Eyres of Hassop - Si je puis - was and is, we believe, still borne by the Wiltshire house; yet Burke has no observation to prevent so simple and interesting a question from cropping up. The tendencies of the two families have been somewhat different. Members of one have been Admirals of the Red and the Blue and the White, and battalion officers in the Army: members of the other have held at least three seats on the Bench, one of which was that of Lord Chief justice of England.

Stephen Eyre, who was the eleventh son of Sir Robert and Joan of Padley - (living 3, Henry VII., 1488) - was the founder of that Hassop branch whose exploits in the Civil Wars give a tinge of chivalry to our annals. The last of this branch expired on the 22nd November, 1853, in the person of Mary Dorothy, Countess of Newburgh, and wife of Charles Leslie, Esq. Stephen married into the family of Dymokes, of Lincolnshire, who were then, as they are now, the Champions of the Kings of England. Some of us may not possibly know what is meant by “King's Champion”, and from the interest which centres in the office and family, we may be pardoned for a moment's digression. When a Monarch of England is crowned it is the duty of a Dymoke to ride into Westminster Hall and challenge the world against the right of his Sovereign. He is mounted on his charger, clad in armour, with all the necessary trappings of his horse embroidered with two lions passant (the arms of his race), together with other relics of past pageantry. He is supported on either side by noblemen and heralds on foot, and having advanced a certain distance, he throws down his gauntlet, uttering the while his challenge to mortal combat with anyone who denies his Sovereign's right. The challenge runs after this manner:- “If there be any manner of man, of what state, degree, or condition soever he be, that shall say and maintain that our Sovereign --- this day here present, is not the undoubted and rightful inheritor to the imperial crown of this realm, and that of right he ought not to be crowned King, I say he lieth like a false traitor, and that I am ready the same to maintain with him whilst I have breath in my body, either now at this time or at any time whenever it shall please the King's highness to appoint, and thereupon I cast him my gage”. For this duty he gets a gold cup. It was Catherine Dymoke, the wife of Stephen Eyre, who purchased the Hassop estates from Sir Robert Plumpton in 1498, and whose wealth was the nucleus of their later great possessions.

The long-contested ownership of the Hassop estates has vested them with more than ordinary interest, and when it is remembered that the historical data of the families who have held them would furnish materials for a novelist, there becomes even a greater desire to gather some particulars of the past owners.

Hassop is the Hetesope of Domesday Book, and was Royal Demesne, while the probability is that it was a portion of the Peak Forest. During a period of six centuries, however, the possession of the manor is clear, being held consecutively by three of the most famous families who were ever Derbyshire Landlords - the Foljambes, Plumptons, and Eyres. From the documents relating to the Foljambe Chantry in Bakewell Church we get at the fact that their principal residence was a Hall at Hassop, and this in the reign of Edward III. The heiress of the first branch of the Foljambes, which became extinct in 1388, was a ward of King Richard II., who sold his wardship to Sir John Leake for fifty marks; he in turn selling her again for one hundred to Sir William Plumpton. When this child was only eleven months old, her covenant of marriage was made out. This would be two months after the death of her father, who had passed away at the early age of twenty-one. He was only a stripling of ten when he succeeded his grandfather, the founder of the Bakewell Chantry; she, too, was not thirty, though mother of three sons and two daughters, when she died. Sir William took excellent care to secure this ward for his own son's wife (and in her dowry was Hassop, with a dozen other lordships and moieties in twenty townships) as we learn from the Plumpton Correspondence,[1] published by the Camden Society, and that she was affianced before her fifth birthday, The present Squire Foljambe is a lineal descendant of this lady's cousin Henry, whose wife was Benedicta Vernon, of Haddon.

The Plumptons first come before our notice with a love episode, wherein an innocent man was condemned to the scaffold. There is something tragic and thrilling about this incident. In the year 1184 Roger de Guilevast Granvil, who was one of the justiciaries of the Midland Counties, had the wardship of a lady whom he intended to marry to a relative, but whom he learnt had plighted her truth secretly with Gilbert de Plumpton. To successfully effect young Plumpton's ruin the judge swore he was guilty of robbery and of ravishing his ward. Sentence of death was passed and immediate execution ordered, but how he was secured from the hands of the hangman is best told in the words of the old document:

“I forbid you”, said the Bishop of Worcester, who was a spectator, “on the part of God and the Blessed Mary Magdalen and under sentence of excommunication to hang this man on this day, because to-day is the day of our Lord and the Blessed Mary Magdalen, wherefore it is not lawful to contaminate the day.”[2]

“Who are you? What madness prompts you that you have the audacity to impede the execution of the King's justice?”

“Not madness, but the clemency of heavenly pity urges me; nor do I desire to impede the King's justice, but to warn you against an unwary act, lest by the contamination of a solemn day, you and the King incur the wrath of the Eternal God”.

Immediately after liberation, the King discovered what was going on, and the youth's acquittal followed.

The Plumptons, before the Foljambe marriage, had held baronial rank and extensive possessions, but they were ever involved in some dispute. The first-born of this union married his wife without witnesses and before sunrise, jeopardising the rights of his children: They were pronounced illegitimate by the Church, and but for the Priest and lengthened litigation they would have lost their inheritance. The splendour of the house of Plumpton finished with a debtor's prison. In one item they are unique among the old Derbyshire families; their possessions were spoil for the cupidity of Henry VII., from the villanies of the creatures, Empson and Dudley. Thus we gather the motive which prompted them to sell the Hassop estates to Catherine Eyre in 1498.

With Catherine Eyre began the glory of Hassop and the splendour of her house. She allied her sons to the wealthiest families around, and when her grandson marries the prodigiously rich Gertrude Stafford we come to those Jacobean times when the present structure was reared. The building is by no means a specimen of even the debased school of architecture, but its glories of a different sort endear it to our memory. It was within a few yards of its portals that Rowland Eyre, in 1643, gained his first military engagement with the Parliamentary troops. The hall he turned into a garrison, and then had to pay twenty-one thousand pounds to redeem his own property. It was this cavalier's father who pulled down the old mansion and reared the present one.

How the Eyres became peers as Earls of Newburgh seems to he a fact not so well known as we thought it was. At the commencement of last century, Charlotte Maria Livingstone was Countess of Newburgh in her own right when she married Lord Radclyffe, brother to the Earl of Derwentwater. The Earl was executed for drawing his sword in the cause of James Stuart, the Chevalier St. George, while the husband of the Countess was made a prisoner and placed in Newgate. He was then unmarried, but the union took place at Brussels, 24th June, 1724, as he had managed to escape from England. The loyalty of Lord Radclyffe to the fallen dynasty still led him to meet the man he considered his king (Charles Stuart, the young Pretender) in 1745, when, before he could do so, though on the high seas at the time, he was captured, and this time he suffered the fate of his brother. He had by the Countess three sons and four daughters, the youngest of which daughters (Mary) mated with Francis Eyre, of Warkworth and Hassop. The first-born of Lord Radclyffe (James Bartholomew) succeeded to the Peerage of Newburgh, as did also his son, Anthony James, who died without issue; when Francis Eyre, the son of Francis and Lady Mary Radclyffe, was allowed the earldom. Burke has pointed out that the House of Lords tripped themselves in this instance. We cannot see it. We admit there was a direct representative of the Livingstones living on the Continent at the time, and that the Lords were under a mistaken notion that an alien was debarred from holding an English peerage; but if the title of the Countess Charlotte Maria was good, so was that of the Eyres. The descendant of this representative, Sigismund Marquis Bandini Guistiniani, though an Italian, now holds the coronet. Francis Eyre, who became Earl of Newburgh, married Dolly, the daughter and co-heiress of John Gladwin, of Mansfield, Notts, Attorney-at-Law, and Steward to the Duke of Portland.

On a cold November morning (22nd) in 1853, at Hassop Hall, died Lady Dorothy Eyre, Countess of Newburgh, and wife of Colonel Charles Leslie. By a codicil to her will, dated seven o'clock on this very morning, Lady Dorothy bequeathed the Hassop estate to her husband absolutely, By virtue of this codicil and other documents the Leslies claim to be lords of Thornhill, Calver, Rowland, and Hassop. A few facts of this family may not be unwelcome to the historical student. Their remote ancestor was a certain Bartholomew, a Hungarian, who settled in Scotland about 1067. From an incident sprang all the future greatness of this house. The Queen of Malcolm III. (who was the sister of Edgar Atheling, whom the Norman cheated out of the English Crown) was crossing a river in Fifeshire, when she would have been drowned but for the aid of the Hungarian. When in the water he seized her Majesty by the buckle of the belt around her waist, and made for the opposite bank; but she, feeling his hold relaxing, uttered the two words which remain to this hour the motto of the Leslies, “Grip fast”, and so gave him courage, and three buckles on a bend is their escutcheon. Among other good things with which he was rewarded was one of the Queen's Maids of Honour for a wife, and from this union sprang those various branches of which the most illustrious is the one which has held the Earldom of Rothes for four hundred years, Another branch held the Earldom of Leven till 1641, when the heiress linked her coronet and herself with the Earl of Melville.

Notes

[1] At p. 8, there is a pedigree of the various branches, of which this lady was the maternal ancestor.
[2] “Correspondence”, p 9.
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Extract from Old Halls, Manors and Families of Derbyshire, 1892.
Transcribed by Rosemary Lockie in April 1999.

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