Old Halls, Manors and Families of Derbyshire

by Joseph Tilley

Transcriptions by Rosemary Lockie, © Copyright 1999-2008

Volume I, The High Peak Hundred
Hazlebadge (Hazelbadge) Hall

HOW the Manor of Hazelbadge, in the Hundred of High Peak, came into the possession of the Strelley family seems to be one of those questions that have never suggested themselves to the compilers of Derbyshire history. Even the more erudite of them, such as dear old Lysons, deem it sufficient to mention that they held it in the reign of Edward III. We have no hesitation in saying that it accrued to them from the marriage of Sir Robert with Elizabeth, the heiress of the Vavasours (who brought him Shipley also), whose father had held the custody of the Honor of Peverell. Otherwise, the possession of the manor is clear from the time of Lewin the Saxon, till the Strelles sold it to the Vernons, in 1421, whose heiress, Dorothy, brought it to the Manners, to whom it still pertains.

The Strelleys were courtiers of King John, and shared with De Montford in his victories and defeats. They were holding a knight's fee for twelve generations, and married with the baronial houses of Somerville, Vavasour, and Pierpoint, together with the Stanhopes, Kemps, and Wests. Besides their Manor of Strelley, where their tombs are to be seen in the old church, they held Shipley, part of Repton, and Hazelbadge. In 1536-7, Sir Nicholas, the famous Captain at Berwick, bought Beauchief Abbey estate from Henry VIII. at seventeen shillings and sixpence an acre, getting the Abbey as a gift, while at the same time he bought Ecclesall, too, but this was without the monarch's knowledge, and for which he had to have a dressing down. The knight had three sons, Anthony, Nicholas, and John. His Derbyshire estates he allotted to Nicholas, who married Barbara Thwaites, whose son, Gervase, espoused Dorothy Burnell; whose son, William, mated with Gertrude Eyre, of Dronfield Woodhouse; whose daughter, Gertrude, became the wife of Edward Pegge. About a century from their purchase of Beauchief, the last male descendant of the Strelleys was a mechanic, working at his bench in Nottingham, for old Thoroton tells us he knew him, and adds, he was a gentleman withal. Indeed, we have read it somewhere, that the last of the three branches of the family - Hazelbadge, Beauchief, Nottingham - a female, too - had to obtain parish relief. From the reign of Henry I. to that of Charles IT. they are among the knights and gentlemen of England, and a century later the last relict is a pauper. If the vicissitudes of the old Peak families could be compiled, as those of the aristocracy have been by Sir Bernard Burke, what surprises would await us, what thrilling incidents would be related, what tales of noble struggling with misfortune, yet perchance none more so than those of the Strelleys. More than five hundred years ago Brough Mill belonged to the Strelleys “by the singular service of attending the King on horseback whenever he should come into Derbyshire, carrying a heron falcon”.

From Part IV, of the Twelfth Report of the Historical Manuscripts Commission, we gather many interesting particulars of Sir Richard Vernon, who purchased Hazelbadge from Sir Robert Strelley in 1421. Sir Richard was High Steward of the Forest, and apparently Constable of the Castle, as we shall see in a moment. Hazelbadge Hall, after the purchase of Sir Richard, was not only a shooting-box for the lords of Haddon and a residence for a junior line of the family, but as its position was at one of the recognised boundaries of the forest, and as the Vernons undoubtedly held more than once the coveted position (though honorary) of high steward, the hall wore occasionally the dignity of a vice-regal lodge. Would it be absurd to suppose that within its walls Miss Dorothy may have whispered to one of the retainers accompanying a chase party from Haddon (who was really her John disguised) some words that made his heart beat quicker? The present structure, as Nye perceive from the tablatures on the gable, was built about three centuries and a half ago by the celebrated King of the Peak, and evidently not so long after the visitation of Bluff Hall, as alongside the date is the initial and Roman characters, H.VIII. The middle tablature is charged with a shield per quarterly of four, surmounted with H.V., which may have been removed from a previous edifice, or the date, 1549, may refer to alterations only, and so the building may be much older than we assume it to be. Sir Richard, while Steward of the Forest, evidently carried matters with a very high hand, for among the documents found in the loft over the stables at Belvoir, in 1885, there are several which run after this manner: “Complaint to the Earl of Suffolk by Robert Bagshawe, one of the King's tenants in the Peak, that Roger Clark, servant of Sir Richard Vernon, came with seven men, armed with jacks and salets, and forcibly took him and imprisoned him for three days in the Castle of the Peak, without any cause. The said Roger also made a warrant to the Bailiffs of the Peak to raise divers amercements on him”. “Complaint to the King's Council of his Duchy of Lancaster by William Hadfield, tenant of the King in Edale, that Sir Richard Vernon, the King's Steward in the Peak and Fermor of the Forest of Champagn, has sued him in the King's Court for tresspassing with his cattle. The said Richard is so mighty in the said county that the 'besecher' may not abide the danger of his suit” “Complaint by Robert Woderofe, one of the foresters of fee of the High Peak, that on Thursday before the feast of St. Margaret (c1440), Roger Clark carne with seven men, armed with jacks and salets, and forcibly took him and imprisoned him for three days in the Castle of the Peak, without any cause. Whereas he and his fellow foresters of the ward of Champagn have had liberty since the time of Prince John, Duke of Lancaster, either to occupy their claim with certain cattle of their own or to ‘agiste’ the cattle of other men, the master forester will not suffer him to ‘agiste’ any”.

We have a note or two, not included under “Peveril Castle”. The beasts of the forest, plus the hart,[1] hart, hind, boar, and wolf, included the hare, while the rabbit was not considered a beast of the chase even, but of warren, thus coming chum with the pheasant, partridge, quail, mallard, and heron. The buck, doe, fox, and marten were beasts of the chase. Every forest is said to have possessed eight properties: soil, covert, laws, courts, judges, officers, game, bounds. We may be sure that any of our sires who lived within the boundaries of the forest kept no other dog but the mastiff, for such was the law, and that the claws of each forefoot were cut off. “It is, indeed, singular”, says A.L. Smith, of Baliol College, “that those royal demesne lands of which the forests once formed the main part, after straining the relations between the Crown and people for centuries, and assisting unduly to magnify the prerogative, while they soon failed to add to its real strength or materially to aid the Exchequer, have, at last been made to cover the whole cost of the monarchial establishment”. The revenue from this source is now four hundred thousand pounds.

The last of the Haddon Vernons who dispensed with Hazelbadge Hall and gave it to a younger brother, was Sir Henry, father of the three sons who founded the Stokesay, Hodnet, and Sudbury branches of their house, and who died in 1515. The career of the knight, if put into biographical shape, would be of marvellous interest. His efficiency as a courtier has probably never bad an equal. In the desperate conflicts of the Houses of York and Lancaster he appeared as the adherent of both, and they considered him so. If Henry VI. was king to-day, there was a Royal message for Vernon; if on the morrow Edward IV. made Henry a prisoner, there was a document sent to Haddon expressing the King's pleasure. When Warwick fought his last fight at Barnet he relied upon Sir Henry to aid him. Only three days before Richard III. fell at Bosworth, he charged the knight to attend him “with suche nombre as ye have promysed unto us sufficiently horssed and herneised”. In the following October (Bosworth was fought in August, 1485) there was a gracious letter from Henry VII. He was actually squire to the bodies of Edward IV., Richard III., and Henry VII., by whom he was knighted. There is a letter from this monarch, dated 26th April, 1492, asking from Vernon the loan of a hundred pounds.

“Wherefore we holding for undoubted that ye here a singulier tendreness to such things as concerns the suretie and universal weale and tranquillite of our saide reame and subgeittes, desire and hertily praye you that ye wit lene unto us the somme of an Cli (£100) and to send it unto our Tresomer of England by some trusty servauntes of yours to the intent that they maye receyre billes of him for contentaccion thereof ayen”. The letter, rendered into modern English, goes on to say that “we faithfully promise you by these our letters that you shall have repayment or sufficient assignment, upon the half-fifteen payable at Martinmas next coming, whereunto you may verily trust, wherein you shall not only do unto us things of and singular pleasure, but also cause us to have you therefore more especially recommended in the honour of our grace in such things as you shall have to pursue unto us hereafter. Given under our signet at our manor of Greenwich”. Sir Henry was much honoured by this monarch, and made governor to the Prince of Wales, and when the lad went through the ceremony of marriage with Catherine of Arragon, Vernon figured very prominently at the espousals. From the Report of the Historical Manuscripts Commission we gather that Ralph Sheldon, of Sheldon, in 1503, when nigh unto death, offered to sell his lands in that ilk to Sir Henry, but the knight said “that the said Ralph might sell no land lying on his death-bed, after the custom of the lordship of Ashford, and therefore he would not buy his land”. Here is an item of curiosity. What is meant by “after the custom of the lordship of Ashford?” The knight founded a chantry at Tong, in Shropshire, after the manner of a good son of the Church; and he gave a great bell which weighed forty-three hundredweight and measured six yards in circumference, which was only rung when a Vernon visited the town. It is at Tong where so many of the family are buried, and among their tombs are those of Sir Henry and of Margaret, the sister of Dorothy. Any writer who undertook to give us a life of this extraordinary old courtier would find a marvellous amount of material at his command. He lived during the most memorable period of the whole of English history. It was the period of the renaissance when everything changed: Caxton introducing the printing press for the diffusion of knowledge; Henry VII. destroying feudal tenure and encouraging commerce; the people getting a glimpse of Holy Writ in their own tongue; the period when Moore was thinking out his immortal Utopia; when Erasmus was ridiculing the Pope, and exposing the venality of the clergy; when Dean Colet was struggling for the liberty of conscience against a bigoted hierarchy.

Sir Henry had four sons: Richard, who succeeded him; Thomas, of Stokesay; Humphrey, of Hodnet; and John, of Sudbury. How well these boys must have kept their weather eyes open. Neither was distance of any consequence, though these were the days when even stage coaches were unknown. The Ludlows, with whom Thomas and Humphrey married, were lords of several manors; while the Montgomerys, whose co-heiress John espoused, held Cubley, Marchington, and Sudbury. The Montgomerys were demesne tenants under the De Ferrara at an early period, for they gave part of their lands to the Priory of Tutbury in the reign of Henry II. They continued so under the Earls of Lancaster; they were living at Cubley when Thomas Plantagenet made his precipitous flight from the Castle and lost his money chest in the river, the contents of which were found so strangely after five hundred years. At the time that John Vernon left Haddon and the Wye behind him, the last of the Montgomerys had three daughters and co-heiresses, the eldest of whom, and her dowry, he took to himself. The position of his home and lands, bounded by the gliding Dove, was situated in a more lovely part of the county perchance than the baronial edifice of his sires. His grandson, John, mated with Mary Lyttleton, of the famous Worcestershire house, memorable for producing the celebrated judge. How marvellously this family, since the death of the King of the Peak, has defied any malignant fate to render it extinct is both curious and interesting. When John, of Sudbury, died without issue, in the year 1600, and was succeeded by his brother Henry, his lady, was prepared for such an emergency. She had already been the wife of Walter Vernon, of Hodnet and Houndshill, by whom she had a son, Edward. Now it also happened that Henry also died leaving only a daughter, Margaret; but Margaret of Sudbury took Edward of Houndshill for husband; thus two of the lines of the family that had gone forth from old Haddon in the days of Henry VII. were inseparably linked and perpetuated in their posterity. In the next generation the Vernons, of Haslington, had only a daughter, Muriel, so the son of Edward and Margaret (Henry) brought her home as his bride and kept up the Charter. A generation later still, their son, after two marriages, found himself without male issue, when he mated with Catherine Vernon, of London, and this lady sent Master Fate (who was looking askance) about his business most ignominiously. There are as many branches of the old tree now as in the Middle Ages, when there were the Vernons of Shipbroke, Haddon, Stokesay, Tong, London, Erdswick, Holgrave, Mottram, Lostock, Hazelbadge, Houndshill, and Middlewich. The senior line of Sudbury has even played fox and geese with their surname. At the beginning of last century the first Lord Vernon took the name of Venables; subsequently, letters patent made his second son a Harcourt, for the present member for Derby undoubtedly had a grandfather (an Archbishop of York) who was born a Vernon at Sudbury, but died a Harcourt, and as recently as 1847. The third lord, when his elevation to the peerage was remote, adopted the name of Sedley, on condition of a rich wife. In more ancient days there was the same propensity, for the Erdswicks, of Staffordshire, who produced the well-known historian, were certainly Vernons, of Shipbroke originally, and of a senior line to that of Haddon, but not to those of Haslington. The present Lord Vernon is a descendant through six distinct branches of his house - Haddon, Hodnet; Haslington, London, Sudbury, and Shipbroke - from William de Vernon, who was Lord of Vernon in Normandy before the Conquest. We find it on record that William, who married Avicia Avenell, and acquired Haddon, was imprisoned for some offence, but whether from a quarrel with the Bassets we cannot gather; he was, however, in the train of King John when he went to Ireland, and subsequently became one of the justices Itinerant. The pedigree of this family amply repays for scrutiny, for if we trace the present noble resident at Sudbury through Sir Edward, of Hodnet, or Margaret, of Sudbury, it shows twenty-nine generations, and if through Muriel, of Haslington, it yields thirty. The father of Muriel was Justice of Common Pleas and Baron of the Exchequer, and it is said that he purchased his coif. Foss has it that the great learning of this judge was well substantiated, but that there was a silence about his integrity.

Under Haddon we mentioned there was a member of this family (Sir Ralph, Baron of Shipbroke) who lived to the modest age of one hundred and fifty years. Whether this Baron was married to Maud Grosvenor, or merely jumped over a broomstick, we know not; anyway he had two grandsons, both Sir Ralph Vernons, but one with a straight line and the other with a crooked; and Edmondson, in his Baronagium, ignores the latter and perpetuates the former, while the truth is, as Lysons says, it became extinct, plus a daughter, who married Hamo le Strange. Now Edmondson, in his large and costly work, beside ignoring the crooked line (who held Shipbroke, mind), resorts to an amazing dodge to hide a fact, which can be seen by reference thereto; he gives to Sir Richard, who married Margaret Molineux, two fathers and two mothers, which would never be detected without a suspicion of such a thing. Edmondson was Mowbray Herald of last century, yet he put together a pedigree that was egregiously faulty; and Burke, the Ulster King-at-Arms of our own time, in no way corrects him, further than in the union of Sir William of Haddon with Margaret Swynfen, and not Pipe. The last of the crooked line which sprang from old Sir Ralph and Maud Grosvenor was an heiress, Dorothy, wife of Sir John Savage, who was slain at the seige of Boulogne. The last of the Savages (who held the earldom of Rivers) sold the Shipbroke estates to the Vernons of Middlewich, who gave them to the Vernons of Hilton, in Staffordshire, who disposed of them in 1764. The Vernons of Hilton seem to have been overlooked by Burke (as to their honors), for they certainly produced the man who was made Secretary of State by William III., to the rage of the House of Commons, who desired to have Wharton; and also the famous seaman, who took Portobello with a handful of men, and was struck off the list of Admirals for not knuckling to certain red tapeism.

On any wild night, says tradition, when the winds howl furiously and the rainfalls in torrents, there can be seen in the gorge between Bradwell and Hazelbadge the spirit of a lady on horseback, the steed rushing madly in the direction of the old Hall. They say it is the ghost of Margaret Vernon, the last of that line of the Vernons who were living at Hazelbadge for three centuries. She had given her heart, with its fullness of affection, into the keeping of one who had plighted his troth with another, and when she discovered his treachery she had braced up her nerves to witness his union in Hope Church; but at the finish of the ceremony she had ridden to her home as if pursued by fiends, with eyeballs starting from their sockets, and her brain seized with a fever, from which she would never have recovered, only from the tender nursing of those around her. Her spirit, they say, on a spectre steed, still rushes madly between Hope and Hazelbadge at midnight.

The old Hall stands by the wayside, about half-a-mile out of Bradwell, on the road from Brough to Tideswell. Apart from its antiquity, Tudor architecture and historical associations, it is of interest as an item of the dowry which Dorothy Vernon brought to John Manners when she gave him herself. We have copies of many letters which were written either by or to this fortunate gentleman. There are two or three we will quote, as they relate to Dorothy's first born, and to matter which cannot fail to be of interest to the curious. Two letters are addressed to her husband, at Haddon, and the other to her brother-in-law, Roger Manners:-[2]

“Your son George doth well, and behaveth himself like an honest man. Yet you may do well to write to him for to endeavour himself to learn to write better; and to rise earlier in a morning. For two hours' study in a morning is better than four in an afternoon. I would know if you can like to bestow your son on Sir Henry Dares' daughter, and that you can make shift to give therefore £2000; for that is the least will be had. I would gladly do something for George's advancement”.
“I am very glad you take in so good part my friendly mind to your son George of whom you may have great comfort. For now you have some trial of him in this time he hath been at his own liberty; he hath carried himself free from any vice and willing to take advice and warning of his friends and I hope in time he will profit in study sufficiently. For the matter of Sir Henry Darcy's, if I bring it to pass with such conditions as I like of, and according to your mind, you shall bear further from me. My brother (in law), and his son are agreed and her Majesty is contented to yield to his suit for the sake of the land. The book is drawn ready for Her Majesty to sign and Mr. Attorneys hand and my lord Treasurer at the book, so as if you will buy the land of him let me hear from you. Touching the Lord of Shrewsbury, if he will stand to the law all will go with him, but he put anything to compromise, she is too well friended. For my lard's money safe locked in his chest will do him no good. The matters in the Low Countries speed nothing well. The prince of Parma winneth towns daily. What is become of Sir Francis Drake, we know not, but hope well”.[3]

John Manners, before the death of his wife, and almost a quarter of a century before he was knighted, was Custos Rotolorum of the county, but there was apparently a hitch. On August 11, 1580, the Lord Chancellor - Sir T. Bromley - writes to Manners:-

“In performance of my promise made to you, about Trinity term, a twelve months since, I lately passed to you the gift of the office of Custos Rotulorum, in your county of Derby. I have since been advertised by her Majesty that about two years passed, she had promised the same to Sir John Zouch. For the end that her promise maybe accomplished, I am required to write to you for the re-deliverance of your commission and to grant the office to Mr. Zouch”

Manners writes five days later to Lord [?Shrewsbury]:-

“I have understood from the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Rutland of your goodness showed to me in my furtherance to be appointed Custos Rotulorum in Derbyshire. I beseech you to be a mean to the Queen that it not now he taken from me. I was appointed in the commission under the great seal. I world not enjoy any land or living without the Queen's gracious favour, but I hope it may please her to respect my poor credit so that I may not be so greatlie defaced, by revocation of the commission”.

On the same day, very singularly, Sir John Zouch writes to Haddon:-

“Before the death of the late Lord keeper I was a suitor for the office in question and by means of my Lord of Bedford I got the grant thereof if Sir Francis Leake should die in his time. The Queen gave her gracious consent. Upon the death of Sir Francis Leake I sent to her Majesty with as much speed as I could. I have not laboured to have your commission called in again, for I never knew that you had any or that you had appointed a clerk of the Peace, or received the Rolls. I mean not to leave off my suit until I know her Majesty's pleasure to the contrary”.

A letter written from Oatland immediately after states:-

“The Lord Chancellor says that by law Mr. Manners must have the office. His Lordship has authority by Act of Parliament to grant it as he has done. If this be true, it is folly for us to strive any longer to procure his displeasure any further. I remember that about two years past, my old master the late Lord keeper made you a promise of this office but I was not privy that at that time, you moved her Majesty therein. Send me certain word, if she made you any promise thereof and who was suitor to her for you”.

On the 19th of the next month, Sir Francis Walsingham writes to Haddon:-

"The Queen desired that the office of Custos Rotulorum in the County of Derby should be bestowed upon Sir John Zouch, not from any mislike of you but because she had ordered the late Lord keeper to pass a promise of it to Sir John, when it should fall vacant. She did not know of the Lord Chancellor's absolute grant thereof to you, and she is very well contented that you should have it, believing you to be very able and fit to discharge that office".

Hazelbadge Hall has been held by the Fox family for several generations; and to the present resident we would acknowledge our obligation for the courtesy of inspecting the interior.

[1] Hunting the hart began at the Feast of John the Baptist and ended Holyrood Day. Hunting the hind began on Holyrood Day and closed at Candlemas. The season of the boar hunt was from Christmas till Candlemas.
[2] Under date 17th June, 1586.
[3] Under date 5th July, 1586.

Extract from Old Halls, Manors and Families of Derbyshire, 1892.
Transcribed by Rosemary Lockie in March 2008.

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