Old Halls, Manors and Families of Derbyshire

by Joseph Tilley

Transcriptions by Rosemary Lockie, © Copyright 1999-2008

Volume I, The High Peak Hundred
The Greaves, Beeley

SO much interest centres in those Saviles who were resident at Hill Top for almost a hundred and fifty years, and so little is known of them, except to the curious, that we may be pardoned if we enter into some few particulars. They were the direct line of the old Yorkshire family, who were settled at Thornhill in very remote times. One of their cousins became Earl of Sussex; another was the celebrated Marquis of Halifax, Minister of the two last Stuart Kings, and memorable if only for his vehement denunciations of the Press censorship.

When William Savile appeared before Dugdale, the herald, at the house of Mr. Bennett, in Bakewell, on the 13th August, 1662, he described his sires as of Blaby, in Leicestershire, and not Thornhill, in Yorkshire.[1] Hereby hangs a tale. Among the courtiers who attended the public marriage of Henry VIII. and Anne Boleyn, and was dubbed knight for his pains, was Henry Savile, lord of thirty Manors, beside large moieties in fourteen others. His wife had taken as her maid a young lady named Barkston, and the consequence was a liaison between the knight and the maid, and the origin of the Howley Saviles. But fate made some amends to the offspring by allowing them to outstrip their relatives in honours and position. One, however, retired to Leicestershire, and hence the Beeley Saviles. We cannot but feel some sympathy with those men who held this old homestead and ignored their identity from motives of honour. During their tenancy of the Greaves, their cousins were holding three baronetcies, three baronies, one viscountcy, two earldoms, and one marquisate. But the Beeley Saviles did not aspire to be peers of the realm, nor Lords President of the Council, nor to lay their ashes in York Cathedral nor Westminster Abbey; they did not boast of their illustrious lineage (they had a pedigree back to Edward III., as we shall see directly), but chose rather to remain as simple squires, hiding from the world the fault of their ancestor.

Whether the ancient and illustrious family of Savile were descendants of the Anjou branch of the Dukes of Savilli, and whether their founder was in the train of our first Plantagenet monarch (as asserted by certain heralds), is very doubtful. At the Coronation of Richard I., in 1189, we meet with one of them anyway. Their illustrious alliances can be seen from their quarterings. The mother of the gentleman who was knighted by Henry VIII. was Anne Paston, whose mother was Joan Beaufort, daughter of the Duke of Somerset, whose grandfather was John of Gaunt. The Saviles had their mansions at Bradley, Copley, Eland, Howley, Lupset, Methley, Newhall, Thornhill, Tankersley. They still hold three coronets, and seats in the Upper Chamber. The Saviles have enriched our literature, if only to instance that famous knight and bibliophile whose edition of Chrysostom cost him eight thousand pounds. How he was one of the most munificent patrons to the republic of letters; how Oxford erected a magnificent monument to his memory in Merton College; how his great work extorted from his lady the remark “I would I were a book, too, and then you would a little more respect me”, is known to most students. It is not beneath remark that it was one of the Saviles who wrote the once famous ditty, “Sally in our Alley”.

When William Savile purchased the Manor of Beeley in 1687 from the Greaves, his cousin, the celebrated “trimmer” and Marquis of Halifax, was the lord of the manor of Eyam. We have mentioned this fact to direct attention to another. Eyam passed with the heiress of the Marquis to Richard Boyle, Earl of Burlington, and again by heiress to the Cavendishes. Beeley was purchased by the same noble house in 1747, and so the Derbyshire estates of the Saviles (whether legitimate or illegitimate) had passed to the same owner. When George, the last of the Beeley Saviles, died in 1734, he left the Manor to his niece, who had married one of the Gilberts, of Locko. It was evidently sold by the Gilberts in twelve lots (to the Normans, Browns, and Wrights), which the Duke of Devonshire bought up. However irrelevant to our subject, there are two quaint answers of the famous cousin of the last of the Beeley Saviles, reported by Bishop Burnet, that are well worth mention. When the divine tasked him with disbelief - “He hoped that God would not lay it in his charge, if he could not digest iron as the ostrich did, nor take into his belief things that might burst him”. Burnet asked him how he could reconcile his philosophy with his numerous titles - “If the world were such fools as to value such things, a man must be a fool for company, be considered them but as rattles; yet rattles please children, so these might be of use in his family”. Local history records a brave act of this nobleman's mother: In 1645, while Sheffield Castle was held by Sir William Saville for the King, Sir Thomas Fairfax made his memorable attack. “Lady Savile, who was most enthusiastic in her loyalty, lay in the Castle in an advanced state of pregnancy, and application was made to the besiegers to permit a midwife to enter, a request that was brutally refused, except on condition of the capitulation of the garrison. To this Lady Savile would not hearken, expressing herself as willing to sacrifice her life, and that of her infant, rather than be the means of giving up so important a fortress to the enemy, and she was safely delivered whilst the cannon balls ere flying around her and shattering the walls of her apartments”.

William Savile, who declared his pedigree before Dugdale, married Dorothy, heiress of the Matlock Stevensons, and had two sons, George and John, who both died with issue. The father of this gentleman was Steward to the Earl of Rutland. His ashes lie in Bakewell Church, where his integrity is set forth:

No Epitaph nede make the just man fam'de,
The good are praised when they are only named.

In a letter of Secretary Sir John Coke to Sir John Coke the younger, dated and January, 1640, this gentleman is referred to:- “I shall be glad to know whether you hear anything from Mr. Savile concerning the exchange or purchase of our Peak lands”. These were situated in Over Haddon.[2]

Among those scholars whose enthusiasm for the study of Oriental literature prompted Archbishop Land to found the Arabic professorship at Oxford was a John Greaves, a scion of an old Derbyshire family located at Beeley from the reign of Henry III. How he travelled to Holland to attend the Arabic lectures of Golius in the University of Leyden; went on to Rome, Padua, and Florence in quest of knowledge and books; visited Egypt to take the measurement of the Pyramids, and astronomical observations that called forth the praise of Halley; how he came back loaded with rare manuscripts purchased from eastern monasteries, and enriched our literature with his own profound erudition, are but so many extraneous items of the interest which centres in the old homestead that is the subject of our paper.

In those remote days of tournament and vassalage, when England had no representative Parliament, and the Barons were measuring their strength with the Throne to rescue the nation from despotism, the family of Greaves were living at Hill Top, in the Chapelry of Beeley. For four hundred years were they resident there, and the old edifice they tenanted in the days of Elizabeth, called the Greaves, remains to us in the days of Victoria. Situated within a mile from Chatsworth, on a verdant upland of the Derwent, it is indeed singular that so few know even the position of the old building. Almost three centuries have elapsed since the Greaves sold it to the historic Howley Saviles, whose tenancy alone was sufficient to make the edifice famous. Apart from its antiquity and sixteenth century carvings - of which there are specimens in the old drawing room - its profusion of wainscoting and miniature courtyard; apart from having been the earliest home of the Greaves of which there is any record, and the residence of the Derbyshire Saviles, it should arrest attention. The present building undoubtedly replaced a previous one, for the cellars which run under a portion of the courtyard - the entrance to which is now made up - present to the eye a much older description of masonry than Tudor. Then the west front of this structure, together with the south wing, has disappeared. We cannot help thinking but that the Georgian window (which would be the centre of the building if intact as well as of the courtyard) has replaced the principal threshold of bygone days. We know from the evidence of genealogy and heraldry that it was from Hill Top that the Greaves of the different counties of England went forth; and their settlement in eleven shires is very easy of trace. Of these branches that of Hampshire has surpassed the other by professional distinction, whether of science, divinity, or medicine. A family which the College of Heralds allows to be of “great antiquity”, with the proud motto of “Aquila not caplat mucas”, must have favourable mention on those rolls which have yet to be dug out of our national archives, waiting perchance for the brilliant researches of a Dr. Cox. We refer simply to the period previous to the establishment of the Protestant religion, for their careers subsequent to that event stand out clear, marked, and famous.

In the year 1560, the Greaves became Lords of the Manor of Beeley. They purchased it from Nicholas, brother of Lord Vaux, whose mother was the heiress of the Cheneys and had it in her dowry. One of the celebrated incidents of the battle of Bosworth was the personal encounter between John Cheney, lord of Beeley, and Richard Plantagenet, King of England. Struck down by the axe of Richard and left for dead, he yet lived to be rewarded by Henry VII. with a peerage and the garter. In the encounter, the helmet of Cheney had been smashed, but near to lay the scalp of a recently slaughtered bullock, with which Cheney covered his head on that terrible August day, and hence the crest of his race. The Greaves of Beeley, like the Eyres of Hassop, were faithful adherents to the house of Stuart, and under the Commonwealth paid dearly for their loyalty. How piteously in some instances is seen in the case of the venerable rector of Brailsford, who had married a daughter of Sir William Kniveton. He was expelled from his living after holding it for forty years, and but for his successor allowing him a small pittance from his stipend he would have starved. Before the Restoration came poor Greaves was dead. Their support of the Royal cause seems to have both scattered and impoverished, if not ruined, them. They sold the Manor to the Saviles, and the last of the Beeley Greaves was buried in the chancel of the Church within five years from the flight of James II. After they removed from Hill Top, they were of Stanton Woodhouse and Birchover, of Rowsley and Stanton, and various other places in the county. From the Stanton branch sprang those of Mayfield, whose representative in our own time - the worthy J.P. and M.D. some of us may have known. There were sons of this old family who prospered gloriously. They have held, and, we, believe, still hold, the Halls of Wadsley and Ford, in the county; Hemsworth and Banner Cross, in Yorkshire; Hesley, in Nottinghamshire; besides a dozen other stately homes in other parts of the kingdom. We are told (in The Reliquary, we think) that Colonel Greaves - who had charge of Charles I. at Holmsby House, and incurred censure by delivering the Monarch up to Ensign Joyce - was a member of this family. We are told also that the famous Annotator of the Pentateuch and Dean of Armagh was another member. We disbelieve both statements, for, irrespective of there not being proof of relationship, there is the evidence of their armorial bearings, which are as distinct as possible. What is far more likely, that the present Lord Graves - whose heraldic charges, crest, and motto are identical with the Greaves', of Beeley - is a descendant of some son who left the old homestead at Hill Top in remote times. What a gleam of splendour such a fact (if substantiated) would throw, for within the last hundred years seven admirals of the English Fleet were members of this family. One scion of the Beeley house has been begrudged his honours even by Sir Bernard Burke: Among the physicians of Charles II. was Sir Edward Greaves, Bart., but the Ulster King at Arms has ignored him. Bah! He sprang from a Derbyshire house, no one will criticise the omission.

The memorabilia of the Manor of Beeley are worthy of note, but we will simply state its possession. Under Edward the Confessor it belonged to Godric, the Saxon, and at the Conquest became Royal demesne. In the reign of Richard I. it was held by the De Beeleys. This family gave Harwood to the Abbey of Beauchief, where the monks soon had a grange. The next holders of the Manor of whom we know anything are the Cheneys, and then began its illustrious ownership. At the famous meeting of Henry, VIII. and Frances I. at Ardras, or the Field of the Cloth of Gold, the knight selected as the champion of England to fight all French comers was the lord of Beeley. The last Cheney who held a peerage was one of the noblemen who sat on the trial of Mary Queen of Scots. It is indeed singular that of the nine earls, one, viscount, and fourteen barons who formed that tribunal, there should be but one represented at the present moment by direct issue of his body, and curious to say, that nobleman is the Premier of England. The Cheneys who resided at Ashford and Monyash as recently as the last century were offshoots of this famous family, as is also the present squire Edward Renshaw Cheeney, of Gaddesby House. Nicholas Vaux no sooner held the Manor than he sold it. Then the Greaves held both homestead and lands, but for how long? They had other residences at Stanton and Birchover, and for these, they forsook Hill Top and disposed of it to the Saviles. They had a Court Leet over Beeley, which they sold to the Manners, of Haddon, with whose noble. descendants, the Dukes of Rutland, we believe, it still remains. Rather more than a century and their lordship, lands, everything had passed from them, and the last of the senior line of fifteen generations passed away too. That indefatigable antiquarian, Mr. John Sleigh, rummaged out an old document, which implies great services rendered by the Greaves to the Crown, and sets forth large grants of land in consideration of very small payment, but they never held the lands, neither was the deed, from its extreme improbability, ever meant to be valid. As divines, justices of the peace, sheriffs, lawyers, or scholars, the Greaves have added great honour to the county.

The Court Leet, which, if we mistake not, the Manor of Beeley still possesses, is a vestige of the ancient law of frankpledge, by which the preservation of the peace was secured, every man of twenty-four years being compelled to find a bond for good behaviour or go to prison. As every ten householders were individual security for each other and their families, this bond was no difficulty. Courts Leet, now used for local purpose simply, were originally vested with criminal jurisdiction. The Manorial Court was the lowest form of judicial organisation, the lord having magisterial power only, but where the Manor had a Court Leet there came prelates, peers, clergymen - no one was exempt who was above the age of twelve and under sixty. This was prior to the reign of Henry III., for by the Statute of Marlbridge (1267-8) the nobility and clergy became exempt, and so the authority of these courts passed over to the Quarter Sessions, though long afterwards we find several Derbyshire landlords claiming to have a gallows whereon to execute their criminals. This is a feature of Constitutional history, both graphically and minutely described by Bishop Stubbs.[3]

The next tenants of the old homestead of the Greaves, after the Saviles, were the Lees; and surely their name will go down to posterity for more reason than one. Witness their ruthless hands about the porch of Beeley Church when Churchwardens, and witness the hideous disfigurement of the wainscoting at this Elizabethan residence. We have never seen rooms in which the wainscoting is richer, excepting the edifice was baronial, and then by comparison the Greaves would have the favourable opinion. In the drawing-room it covers the four walls, the ceiling alone is visible. This beautiful black oak, which, when polished, must have presented a glorious sight, has been completely covered with coats of paint. We do, indeed, feel thankful that the dear old edifice is now tenanted by a gentleman and his family (Mr. Edwin Morten), who are just as anxious to preserve as some of their predecessors have been to spoliate and destroy. Among the upper chambers there is one denominated the “Unicorn Room”, from the royal arms (Stuart period) over the mantlepiece. Within this room, perchance, many a goblet has been quaffed “to the King over the Water”, and its appearance suggests many an incident that has no doubt taken place. We must, indeed, acknowledge our obligation for being allowed to inspect the interior of an old homestead that is a veritable one of the days of Queen Bess, and linked with so many historical associations of the Saviles.

[1] Visitation of Derbyshire - Dugdale, 1662.
[2] Hist MSS. Commission XII. Report, Part II., p. 249.
[3] Constitutional History, Vol. I., p. 95, 117, 431, 453.

Extract from Old Halls, Manors and Families of Derbyshire, 1892.
Transcribed by Rosemary Lockie in April 1999.

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