If one parks one’s car in the car park in the centre of the historic village of Eyam, one cannot help but noticing the untidy and folorn ruin of a building, the remains sporting some low mullioned windows, the whole enveloped in weeds, nettles and a couple of small trees. Or at least that was the situation when I last visited. What one is seeing, however, is all that remains of one of the two major country houses in Eyam, Bradshaw Hall.
The story is a long and ultimately dispiriting one. The estate came to Richard de Stafford, believed to have been a younger son of Hervey Bagot alias de Stafford of King’s Bromley, Staffs., before the end of the 12th century. He received a confirmation from King John on his accession. It was a large manorial holding, rich in lead, and originally included Leam, which was separated from the main holding by bequest to Richard’s younger son Ingram de Stafford. It was, however, not long after amplified again by the marriage of the heiress of the de Eyam family, which had a section of the parish separate from the Staffords’ demesnes.
The Staffords undoubtedly had a capital mansion there – on the site of the car-park ruin – for it occurs in several Medieval charters. It is thought it was rebuilt in contemporary Tudor style by Humphrey Stafford, although the evidence for what he actually did to the structure is ambivalent. The thinking is that he rebuilt an existing great hall, and added a new cross-wing containing his private apartments. There may also have been a second cross-wing, for his family included five daughters.
Unfortunately Humphrey left no surviving son, so on the death of his widow, she decided that her executors should ‘Dystrybute and equally devyde…[the estate – which included many holdings elsewhere than at Eyam] to my sayd children…’ It was actually divided between the husbands of the daughters, ladies being held in law to be incapable of inheriting property per se.
Thus the extensive lead-rich estates of Humphrey became divided up amongst John Savage of New Hall, Castleton, Rowland Eyre of Hassop, Francis Bradshaw of Bradshaw Hall, Chapel-en-le-Frith and Rowland Morewood of The Oakes, Norton (now gobbled up by Sheffield) with one unmarried girl. One of these portions, later owned by Sir George Savile, included about half of Eyam, and the remainder of the Eyam holdings went to Bradshaw. Sir George sold his portion to John Wilson, who moved it on to Thomas Wright, a younger son of the Great Longstone Wrights who built the present Eyam Hall.
Thus in 1565 Francis Bradshaw, came into the property, which included lands at Bretton and Foolow as well as much of Eyam ‘including ye auncient manor house…’ Some have taken this wording to imply that Francis Bradshaw actually did the modernizing of the house and not Stafford, but that is perhaps not wholly relevant. When it received the name of the family is not clear, but it is to be presumed that it came about when the present Eyam Hall was built in 1670.
Be that as it may, in 1635, George Bradshaw, newly inherited from his childless elder brother, set about building a new house, or at least rebuilding the existing one, to bring it up to the standards of the day and perhaps also to show off his standing. Rowan May of ARCUS, who undertook a brief survey of the remains for the Peak Park in 2006 suggested that Bradshaw added just a wing, but it seems to me that the works included substantially more than that.
With the outbreak of the Civil War in 1642, however, work, which had clearly proceeded rather gradually (a single wing would have long been done and dusted in the time-frame) stopped entirely. The problem was complicated when Bradshaw, in exile, died in 1646. The son and heir married Elizabeth, daughter and heiress of John Vescy of Brampton Yorkshire, but died aged only 28 in 1659 before he could reclaim the hall at the Restoration, and it was left to his widow on behalf of their two sons.
We have no idea if work was resumed, but accounts inform us that the family moved back in, so we presume it was at least made habitable. Unfortunately, their sojourn there was brief, for, on the outbreak of plague in the village in 1665, they removed themselves discreetly back to Brampton in Yorkshire – not to be confused with Brampton by Chesterfield, where there was, confusingly, another branch of the Bradshaw family.
Having done that, however, they never ever returned, although at first, they presumably left a bailiff or similar in residence to collect the lead revenues and oversee the estate, for it was assessed for Hearth Tax in 1670 on 7 hearths, which would imply that more than a single cross- wing was then in use. That situation no doubt ended after the death of the last male heir John Bradshaw of Great Hucklow, in 1726, when the property passed to the Galliards of Edmonton, Charles Jennens of Gopsal (Handel’s librettist for The Messiah) and thence to the Smiths of Ecclefechan in Scotland.
The house itself was at first let as a farmhouse, but some time in the mid-18th century was sub-divided as a tenement for ‘three or four families’. By 1791 it had been further reduced, many windows blocked up to avoid window tax, and was being used as a cotton spinning mill, but had become a barn by the mid-19th century. Writing in 1862, the Eyam historian Peter Furness reported fowls roosting under collapsing Jacobean chairs and remarked of the by then largely deserted house that
‘…it was intended to be hung with tapestry, which came to the place but was never put up, and that an old man who was born in this part of the hall informed [Furness] that when as a child he saw the tapestry lie in a heap in a corner of the chamber where it rotted away.’
One suspects that it did not rot away entirely, for Eyam Hall boasts a Tapestry Room, no large space, but covered comprehensively in 17th century tapestry which was clearly not intended to be hung there, for it had been at some stage hacked about considerably to enable what we now see to fit and (to some extent at least) to make sense. It would seem highly likely therefore, that one of the 18th century Wrights probably struck a bargain with the factor of the Bradshaw estate and acquired what had not rotted away to embellish his own home!
The Wrights had the last laugh, in any case, for in 1883 the Wrights bought what remained of the estate, and the ruins of the hall (on which a carved stone Bradshaw armorial then remained visible) came with it.
There are not too many clues as to what the house looked like. The surviving cross-wing, which collapsed in a storm in 1962, had clearly not had its roof completed or had had it simplified when the place was down-graded to a farmhouse, as with the right hand wing of Highlow Hall, a contemporary house. The fact that the quoins end with a simple gabled roof without copings, suggests that originally it had a parapet, possibly battlemented, or embellished with curved merlons, as at Holme Hall, Bakewell. Indeed, the house might have been more ambitious than Eyam Hall, for it seems to have had mullion-and-transom cross windows on the ground floor, whereas the later Eyam Hall has only mullions on its front.
Yet the first floor windows were unusually low, suggesting that there had been superior accommodation in the lost block to the left, possibly rebuilt by George Bradshaw as a tower house. But whereas Eyam has straight string courses over the windows, at Bradshaw Hall, there were only cranked hood-moulds. Making sense of what remains of the interior is hopeless, for much must have been stripped out during the cotton mill phase. Furness’s account however, would suggest it was at least intended to be grand.
The 2006 survey was done for the Peak Park, current owners, to assess the possibility of the listed ruin being brought back to life as a house. Since the financial crisis of 2008, however, this idea may have become less attractive. One notes that similar thoughts about Sutton Scarsdale were entertained at about the same time. So, unless my absence from the site since I came up to do an Inside Out film on Richard Keene for the BBC in 2005, has seen some developments, the vestiges of what might have been a second spectacular 17th century house in Eyam will continue to moulder away, contributing, no doubt on occasion, to the beautification of peoples’ rockeries and such like.