Old Halls, Manors and Families of Derbyshire

by Joseph Tilley

Transcriptions by Rosemary Lockie, © Copyright 1999-2008

Volume I, The High Peak Hundred
Leam, Foolow and Eyam Halls

THE original and memorable Statute of Labourers was passed in 1349, memorable not only from being the outcome of the horrible Black Death, which carried of one-third of the whole population, leaving an insufficiency of hands to perform the work of the nation; not only from being the landmark of the first instance when the labourer dared to assert his worth and ask for better remuneration, but from the inhumanity of the statute, to which, we believe, the Peakrell was exempt. This statute had eight clauses. If any labourer under the age of sixty - or anyone who could not clearly show that he held employment of a superior grade - refused to work (and this work was agricultural), he was sent to prison. If he left his employer under any pretence, the same punishment followed. If he requested and deserved a higher rate of wage, it was to be peremptorily refused. If the master winked at the statute and paid his labourers in excess of the scale fixed by Parliament, he forfeited three times the whole amount. If the workmen were artificers, the statute applied. If any help were given to those who refused to acknowledge this law and thus be without work, the offence was heinous. If excess of wage in any case were paid, the King had power to seize the payment. The sixth clause is the only just one: that food should be at reasonable prices. This statute failed in its purpose and had to be backed by many supplemental statutes. In 1353 it became law that it was a crime for the workman to leave his own parish, but exception was allowed for the Peakrell, or he was not amenable anyway. It would be most interesting to dig deeper into this historical fact. We were thinking of this period of the Black Death, and of the ratio of decimation, when we were approaching the village that was almost depopulated by the Plague of 1665. We do not wish to recapitulate in any way any fact which is to be found in Wood's History, and so ably stated by a graphic pen; we wish simply to mention certain individuals and certain edifices.

There were many famous and noble men among those[1] two thousand two hundred and fifty-seven ministers of the Church of England, whom the Act of Uniformity expelled their livings in 1662; but none nobler than Thomas Stanley, rector of Eyam. Of his early career we only know that he was born at Duckmanton; first officiated at Handsworth, then Dore (three years), then Ashford (eight years), then Eyam, where he became rector in 1644. How after fourteen years of a Godly ministration (that exacted a good word from the Parliamentary Commissioners), he was compelled, perchance by necessity, to accept a curacy in his own rectory; how he so fearlessly exposed himself to assuage the mental and physical agonies of the dying villagers during those awful thirteen months, wherein five-sixths of the inhabitants perished from the Plague; how his name is still lovingly remembered, may be familiar facts; but we cannot find one writer who will allow himself to ask a few simple questions. During those thirteen months, when Eyam became a veritable Golgotha, two men, of the noblest type in which Nature moulds humanity, worked shoulder to shoulder amid the horrors around them, with the liability before them that the pestilence might seize them amid their work of tenderness and piety; with the same claim upon the admiration of posterity; and these two men, rector and curate; yet in the recital of the horrors of those months by the immortal Mompesson there is no mention of Stanley. If there had been but one kindly mention, one little tribute! but no, not even a syllable. Indeed, even at this ghastly time, there were those who could solicit the Earl of Devonshire to remove Stanley because of his nonconformity. The reply of this nobleman was a just tribute to the worth of Stanley.

The heroic wife of Mompesson, who chose to sacrifice her life rather than be wanting in her devotion to her husband, was a daughter of that old and honourable Northumbrian family of Carr, who, at the time were located at Cocken Hall, Durham. This lady was either sister or cousin of Sir Ralph Carr, M.P. for Newcastle in 1679, whose line was extinct, but the Cocken Hall estate was purchased by “a kinsman of the name, and is still enjoyed by his descendant”, says Burke. The son and grandson of this noble woman became Masters of Arts and Rectors, while she is still represented in the distaff line (or was but the other day), by a brave officer of the Royal Bengal Fusiliers - Henry Fisher Heathcote.

Eyam has been baptised the Athens of the Peak. One of its earliest literary characters is said to have been John Nightbroder, who founded the house of Carmelites at Doncaster in 1350; while the name of Anna Seward, poetess, is placed at the head of a goodly list, in which come Cunningham, so largely quoted by Rhodes, in his Peak Scenery; Richard Furness and his Rag Bag; William Wood and his History of Eyam, while the father of the poetess published an edition of Beaumont and Fletcher. Could Miss Anna Seward have been satisfied with the fame she acquired by her Sonnets, it would have been well, for the praise was in excess of the merit; but her ridiculous affectation of after years, leaves a painful impression never to be forgotton. Her Letters marred everything. We will use the words of Chalmers when he was writing of these Letters: “They maybe justly considered as the annals of vanity and flattery, and in point of style exhibit every defect which bad taste could produce.” Contemporary with Miss Seward was William Newton, “The Peak Minstrel”, and poetical carpenter of Monsal Dale. He is often mentioned in her correspondence, and she inscribed one of her poems to him, but when it came to acknowledging him in society, mark her own words: “That being of true integrity, that prodigy of self-taught genius, Newton, the minstrel of my native mountains, walks over from Tideswell, his humble home, to pass the day with me to-morrow. To prevent wonder and comments upon my attention to such an apparent rustic at the public table, I have shown two charming little poems of his which are deservedly admired here.”[2] The mother of Miss Seward was Elizabeth Hunter, whose father was Head Master at Lichfield School when Dr. Johnson was a lad there. The lexicographer and the Eyam poetess often met in after years in literary circles, but dear old Sam never found favour, for he was no vendor of flattery.

Amid the lovely scenery of Woodland Eyam, on an upland, with the Derwent gliding beneath its walls, is Leam Hall. From the possession of the estate we get at one of the wrinkles of who's who among the Derbyshire families. The homestead was with the Middletons, whose line (so far as male heirs were concerned) became extinct by the death of Robert in 1736, when the heiress married Jonathan Oxley, of Sheffield. This gentleman made Marmaduke Carver his heir, who took out letters patent in 1792, and in 1808 was Sheriff of the County as Marmaduke Middleton Middleton. His son John espoused Mary Anne Athorpe, of Donnington Park[3], Yorkshire, and adopted his wife's name and arms, per pale nebulée, argent and azure, 2 mullets in fesse counterchanged. The estate, we fancy, has passed to this gentleman.

Whether the Middletons of Leam were relatives of the Middletons of Nottinghamshire, who were lords of Gratton, or were offshoots of the family who produced the Justices Itinerant under the first three Edwards in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, we cannot state for facts, though there is some evidence to make us think so. At the present moment we know a family in Sheffield, in the humblest path of life possible, who are in the distaff line lineal descendants of the old Middletons, of Leam Hall, but this is one vicissitude of many that have come beneath our notice.

Offshoots of one of the most aristrocratic houses of England were living at Eyam and holding Foolow and Bretton for generations; yet what have the compilers told us about them? But again and again have they reiterated that King John gave Foolow and Bretton to the Staffords. Now the Inquisitions Post Mortem for 12 Edward I. (1283) say that William de Morteyne died seized of Foolow, and there are heaps of evidence to verify this entry. Then how did the Staffords become possessed of it? They certainly acquired it from the Morteynes, but the particulars of such a fact would give many other circumstances.

If there is an old edifice in the county which appeals at once to the historical student and the antiquarian, it is Foolow Hall: And yet there is no building in the kingdom probably which has been so absolutely ignored. There is no mention to be found of it, even in the pages of those writers to whose researches most of us owe so much. Here are oriel windows, but what a burlesque has some architect of the sixteenth century made of such a beautiful conception. The Peakrell and the Oriel never pulled in the same boat evidently. What is known as the heavy Jacobean mullion was known in North Derbyshire long before James the Canny was sitting on our Throne. The oriel was a conception of our remoter sires for the purposes of prayer: The word is derived from orare to pray, as a place for devout meditation. In later years they were used by the adherents of the Stuarts, to inculcate sedition and hatch conspiracies. Foolow Hall was a residence of the Staffords, but whether built by Humphrey, the last of the Eyam house, we cannot trace. If there is but one tittle of truth in Wood's Madam Stafford,[4] it must have sheltered a human form as nearly approaching to the angel in soul as intellect allows possible.


[1] Vide Calamy's “Nonconformist Memorials”, Vol. I.
[2] “Gentlemen's Magazine”, Vol. lv.
[3] [Ed: Please note this should be DINNINGTON Park, now South Yorkshire, 3 miles north west of Worksop. The ATHORPEs were still living in Dinnington Hall in the 1950s, but the Hall has now been converted into an Old People's and Nursing Home, and the Park is a modern housing estate. But the Althorpe's presence is still felt in the village. There is a family crypt under St. Leonard's Church, and the family still have influence over the appointment of the rector there. Thanks to Pam Cook for bringing the error in the original source to my attention.]
[4] [Ed: See William Wood's Tales and Traditions of the Peak, Madame Stafford]

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

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