Old Halls, Manors and Families of Derbyshire

by Joseph Tilley

Transcriptions by Rosemary Lockie, © Copyright 1999-2008

Volume I, The High Peak Hundred
Stony Middleton Hall

ROBERT ASHTON, of Stony Middleton, was Sheriff of the County in 1664-5. Whether this gentleman abstained from providing himself with the usual gilded equipage which this office enforces we know not; but we do know that he met the judge of Assize at Derby on foot, and when this dignitary of the law asked him where his coach was, he replied, “There is no such thing as having a coach where I live, for the town stands on one end.” Sheriffdom, as Stubbs says, is one of the most important features of constitutional history. The office is a remnant of Anglo-Saxon jurisdiction. However anomalous the fact may appear, the truth is that England, as a country, is subsequent to England as an aggregation of townships, hundreds, and shires. It was not the division of the country into sections, but the agglomeration of these sections into a unity which made the nation. The township, manor, and parish, were anterior to the hundred; the hundred anterior to the shire, the shire anterior to the kingdom. The Folkmoot was older than the Hundredmoot, which existed before the Shiremoot, which was prior to the Witanagemot. The gerifa or sheriff was chief man of his hundred a thousand years ago, and at this moment the sheriff of a county is the first man of that county, taking precedence to any nobleman. All fiscal and local imports were paid to the sheriff, with a result only natural in such an age; and before the institution of those courts which branched off from the Curia Regis of the Norman, he had a criminal, a military, and a civil jurisdiction. His office existed before Kingship, before titles and coronets; while the constitution was in its swaddling clothes. At the Conquest he became a Royal official for the administration of justice within his county; he made his tourn or circuit of the shire twice in the year, and at his court were taxes assessed (he being the financial representative of the Crown); the coroners and verderers elected, and, in later times, the knights of the shire. In some counties the office of the sheriff was hereditary, but it became electoral by the 9 Edward II.; and then arose, what we all know as “the pricking of the sheriffs”, on the morrow of All Saints, when the Judges with the Lord Chancellor and the Chancellor of the Exchequer meet in the Exchequer Chamber. A memorable page in history is the “Inquests of the Sheriffs” in 1170, when Henry II. dismissed them all, removed them, and ordered an investigation into what he considered their malpractices. They appear to have come off with flying colours, and only three years later, when this monarch was attacked on every side by his enemies - by the French abroad, and by his most powerful nobles, the Earls of Derby, Chester, and Leicester at home - it was the sheriffs (around whom the people collected) who so materially assisted him to crush the rebellion. The sheriffs were shorn of their military functions by Henry VIII., by the creation of a Lord-Lieutenancy. Previous to 1376 the knights of the shire were certified by the sheriff alone, and not “selected by common choice”, and one of the last acts of Edward III. was to give effect to the prayer of the Lower House, that the freeholders should return the men of their own selection: “Le roi volt y'ils soient esluz par commune assent de tout le coutée”. The knights had to take part in the County Court, which was virtually the Folkmoot, over which the Justices Itinerant presided, and to which came “the archbishops, bishops, abbots, priors, earls, knights, and freeholders, and from each township four men and the reeve” (sheriff), “and from each borough twelve burghers”.[1]

The abstracts, which we have already given of the county representatives[2] afford us a glimpse at their political careers to a certain extent. We know at what famous debates they were present; what famous statutes they helped to make law; with what notorious Parliament their names must ever be associated. The abstract gives immediate answer to questions, not only interesting, but which would cost a certain amount of research. Who represented the county in the Parliament of 1340, when the Act was passed “that no charge or aid shall henceforth be made but by the common assent of the prelates, earls, barons, and other great men and the Commons of the realm of England and that in Parliament?” John Cokayne and Godfrey Foljambe. Who assisted to pass the Statute of Provisors in 1351? John Cokayne and John Foucher. Who were among the Commons that first impeached a Minister of the Crown for malpractices in 1376? Edward Appleby and Ralph Statham. Who were returned for the shire in the following year, when the House first selected a Speaker; first imperatively laid it down, that no money could be raised but by their consent; and by equitable proceedings earned the name of “Good”? John Pole, of Hartington, and Edward Foucher. What Derbyshire men were in the Parliament of 1341, which witnessed the struggle between Archbishop Strafford and Edward III.; and which demanded an equality with the Peers; a confirmation of the Charters? John Cokayne and John Curzon. Were not Edward Leche and John Frecheville members of the Parliament of 1628 which secured the Petition of Rights? Were not Philip Gell, of Hopton, and Gilbert Clarke, of Somersal, there in 1689, when the dispensing power of the Crown was abolished for ever by the Bill of Rights? We will take a curious feature. Who represented the shire in the “merciless” Parliament (1381)? Oliver Barton and William Sallow; or in the Parliament of “Bats” (1426)? Richard Vernon, of Haddon (who was Speaker, but who came like the rest with his butcher's stave), and John Pole, of Harrington; or in the “diabolical” Parliament of 1459? John Gresley and Walter Blount; or in the “Parliamentarum indoctum”, from the lawyers being excluded (1404)? John Cokayne and Roger Bradshawe.

Edward Fynney (we believe of Stony Middleton) was High Sheriff in 1690. His remote ancestor was John; the kinsman of the Norman Conqueror, who made him hereditary Constable of Dover Castle and Warden of the Cinque Ports.

Stony Middleton came into the possession of the illustrious family which now holds it from the marriage of Joseph Denman, M.D., of Bakewell and Buxton, with Elizabeth Fynney, of Ashford, in the year 1761. The mother of this lady was Margaret Peploe, who, we believe, brought it to the Fynneys. This last fact has been courteously sent us by that very learned writer and antiquarian, Mr. John Sleigh, J.P. We believe also that the Peploes bought it from the Ashtons. What a mass of memorabilia are contained in these four names - Denman, Fynney, Peploe, Ashton.

Dr. Denman, dying without issue, left the homestead to his nephew, Thomas (then a rising barrister with a large family), the celebrated Lord Chief Justice. The Parliamentary career of this famous lawyer will furnish a distinct chapter for some future Hallam or Stubbs. How tenaciously he adhered to the political views he attempted to propound would make a good study for several of the statesmen of these days. His life is too well known to need any remark, though one or two little facts may be new. When a boy at Eton (we believe it was Eton) his schoolfellows insisted on his making a speech, which he refused to do, and so they branded him with a poker. From his being Solicitor-General for Queen Charlotte, and from certain classical allusions in his great speech in her defence, he embittered George IV. against him (as that monarch took the reference to Nero to himself, which was never intended), who would not allow him to don the silk gown of Q.C. Thus Denman was debarred from accepting many lucrative and important positions. At length Wellington asked the King to grant it, and how he succeeded is best told in his own words: “By G-d, it was the toughest job I ever had.” The peroration of Denman's great speech on the Queen's trial has ever amazed us. Why he mixed up the story of the woman taken in adultery with a lady he was defending, who was not guilty of the crime, we never could conceive.[3] From this peroration arose the epigram:-

Most gracious Queen, we they implore
To go away and sin no more;
Or, if that effort be too great,
To go away, at any rate.

The grandfather of Lord Denman was a surgeon at Bakewell, where he was residing with his wife, Elizabeth Buxton, early in last century. The father of the surgeon, who was of Bevercoats, in Nottinghamshire, where his family it is supposed were located in the reign of Edward III., is the first of the house of which there is any trace. The father of the Chief Justice was educated at the Bakewell Grammar School, but at the age of twenty he went to London. and became Apothecary to St. George's Hospital. From here he entered the navy, and attained to the rank of surgeon. After he left the service he applied himself to that branch of his profession in which he acquired such distinction. He graduated M.D. at Aberdeen, and began practice for himself at Winchester. This was the critical period of his life, for ill-fortune attended him which prompted hum to again seek employment in the navy. But he simply got an appointment to a Royal yacht. About this time (1765) he commenced his celebrated lectures on “Midwifery”, from which resulted his being selected Physician Accoucheur to the Middlesex Hospital. Then followed a splendid practice, and so he bought his country house at Feltham. There is a portrait of him extant, which shews a remarkable forehead projecting over his eyes. We believe that certain treatment of patients which he first suggested is still adhered to, among which was vapour baths. His “Aphorisms” on the use of the forceps was his great work, though he was the author of various others of very great merit. His wife was Elizabeth Brodie, and he lies buried in St. James', Piccadilly. We have heard it said that the birthplace of his celebrated son, the Chief Justice, was Bakewell. We would distinctly say that it was Queen Street, Golden Square, London. There are many incidents of the life of Lord Denman which deserve to be better known than they are, but we will simply select two. When Denman became Chief Justice the emolument of office was ten thousand pounds, though a committee of the Commons had suggested the reduction to eight. Denman never accepted more than eight, though the statute for the reduction was not passed until twenty years after his elevation to the Bench. There was the celebrated case of Stockdale v. Hansard which came before him. The action was for libel. Hansard pleaded that the report was by the authority of the House of Commons. Denman gave judgment for Stockdale. Parliament sent Stockdale to Newgate, and arrested the Sheriffs of London who had distrained upon Hansard. Finally the victory remained with the Judge, for the case produced the Printed Paper Act, 3 and 4 Vict., c.4. Here it is clear that Denman's conception of justice rose above privilege, above authority, above law, though undoubtedly it needed a masterly grasp of right, and a fearlessness too, to give such a judgment. Lord Campbell has since said that Denman wished to pose as a champion of liberty, but we think the remark not only untrue but derogatory to the Chancellor.

The estate of Stony Middleton which the heiress of the Fynneys brought to Joseph Denman, M.D., appears to have long been distinct from the manor, for we believe that it remained with the Bernakes after they had sold the manor to the Furnivals. Tradition says that the fifteenth century tower of Stony Middleton Church (which adjoins the Hall) was built by Robert Eyre, not only in gratitude to God for his preservation in the fight at Agincourt, but to mark the spot where his loving Joan, as a girl, had so often met him in spite of bolts and mandates. This is some comfirmation, but the fact that the Ashtons held it is much greater; for they no doubt acquired it with Padley, which remained with the Bernakes and passed to the Eyres.

The Peploes were an old Lancashire family like the Ashtons. One of the lads was Bishop of Chester in 1726. He had been Vicar of Keddleston, County Derby, though his monument in the Cathedral asserts his ancestors to he of Shropshire. His son married Annie Birch, the daughter of the Roundhead Colonel. The Peploes are now of Garnston, County Hereford.

One of the most celebrated of classical critics is associated with Stony Middleton. True, Bradway, in the Parish of Norton, claims his birthplace, but his father and his family had long been of this ilk. Ashton was one of those profound scholars who prefer their researches to be attributed to others rather than parade their erudition. His literary contributions were in many cases anonymous. He matriculated at Queen's College, Cambridge, where he obtained a Fellowship. After he became Rector of Rattenden, in Essex, and Chaplain of Chelsea Hospital, he was advanced to a Prebendary Stall in Ely Cathedral, and made Vice-Chancellor of the Cambridge University. Whiston has left it on record that he asked the great Bentley, “Why they did not banish Ashton as they had done him for Arianism, since he had published the grossest book extant in all antiquity, as this treatise of Origen is known to be. He replied that the notes are orthodox. To which I answered, Will orthodox notes make an Arian book other than Arian”.

The ashes of Ashton lie in the chapel of that College (Jesus), where so many years of his life were given to researches which have placed him in the front rank of the most celebrated critics of classical literature.


[1] Constitutional History. Stubbs, Vol. I.
[2] See Appendix.
[3] Since this was written Lord Denman has kindly informed us that his father always regretted this peroration.

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

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