Crich is really rather a confusing place, not least in respect to its country houses. The descent of the manorial estate since Hubert Fitz Ralph, the Domesday proprietor has been something of a saga, and many of the subsequent lords were non-resident. This phenomenon certainly would have put paid to the original manor house, built, as one might reasonably expect, beside the church. Quite when it was built is not really known. Hubert was a tenant-in-chief of the Crown and was described in several documentary sources as ‘of Crich’ or ‘Lord of Crich’ which would suggest that he was probably seated there. There is, however, some room for doubt as he held 25 manorial estates in Derbyshire alone, of which only eight had recorded sub-tenants holding under him in 1086.
Hubert’s father was a Norman called Ralph de Ryes, and a younger branch of the family were the Ryes of Whitwell. As there is a field to the NW of the church at Crich called Hall Croft, it would seem safe to conclude that this is where one of the FitzRalphs built their capital mansion, although it is not mentioned in any document until it had passed via an heiress in 1218 to Ralph de Frecheville. He certainly, therefore, lived at Crich, but his son, Anker, married the heiress of the much richer manor of Staveley and re-located thence. At this juncture, the house at Crich may have been used either as a dower house or by younger members of the family.
Eventually, the Frechevilles decided they no longer needed the manorial estate and sold it to Roger Belers of Kirkby Park, Leicestershire (hence Kirkby Bellairs) around 1301. They were a branch of the Norman family of d’Albini, so were much out of the same mould as the FitzRalphs. They were also descendants of the FitzRalphs, as Alice de Wakebridge, Roger’s wife had Juliana, sister of a later Hubert FitzRalph of Crich for a mother. Although his son Sir Roger is also frequently described as ‘of Crich’, his brother Thomas seems to have been the one that lived in the manor house.
Despite four wives, Sir Roger left only daughters, between whom the manor was split, but the elder, initially married to Sir Robert Swillington of Swillington, in Yorkshire, had a son, Sir Roger, who managed to re-unite the two halves of the patrimony. One of his two sons may have lived at Crich, but the family by and large remained in Yorkshire.
Eventually, both died without have had children, and the estate passed by marriage to Sir John Gray of Ingleby, Lincolnshire from whom it came to Ralph, Lord Cromwell, Henry VI’s Treasurer, who already owned the South Wingfield estate. Thus Crich became for nearly 150 years, part of the extensive holdings of the Cromwells and their heirs the Talbots, Earls of Shrewsbury. It was without doubt from this point (1467) that the original manor house would have disappeared.
The patrimony of the Shrewsburys was eventually split three ways amongst his daughters, on the death of the 6th Earl in 1616, Two thirds of the manorial estate were sold off by their descendants, a third in 1660 to a group of seven rich local farmers, and another third in 1710 to William Sudbury. From these, the manor was rapidly split into a number of small freeholds.
Nevertheless, under the long sequence of absentee chief lords, there were families who held sub-tenancies of parts of the estate, Anthony Babington of Dethick (the plotter) being one. Just prior to his fall, trial and execution, probably in anticipation of the possibility of the plot to free Mary Stuart failing, he off-loaded some of the family holdings, including an estate at Crich, held under Lord Shrewsbury.
So it was, that in 1584, John Clay, grandson of another John, who held a modest but lead-rich estate at Chappell in Crich, purchased this Babington tenancy, by this date a rich one, through the exploitation of its minerals. He twice married well, obtained a grant of arms at the Heralds’ Visitation of 1569 and died in 1632, by which time he had built himself a manor house, thought to be the one visible on the celebrated early 18th century panoramic painting bought by the late Col. Denys Bower of The Grove and now at Chiddingstone Castle in Kent.
Here we see a stone built L-plan house of two storeys and attics, the gables being coped with ball finials on the kneelers. The windows are clearly mullioned and the house is set in a garden on the SW and a farmyard on the SE with a range of outbuildings to the north. It much resembles houses like Goss Hall in Ashover, Rowtor in Birchover or Allen Hill at Matlock. John Clay’s monument in Crich church establishes that his two sons William and Theophilus, died before him and his daughter Penelope married Thomas Brailsford of Seanor in Ault Hucknall, not far from Hardwick, who duly inherited what amounted to an extensive estate. One of their eight sons was duly named Theophilus after his uncle and the eldest John after old Clay himself.
It seems unlikely that the Brailsfords altered the house and it was taxed on six hearths in 1670 when it appears to have been let to the Wood family, the Brailsfords being still ensconced at Seanor. Towards the end of the 17th century (certainly before 1712) it passed to the Flint family of Crich and they seem to have rebuilt the house fairly extensively. This seems to have taken the form of demolishing the cross wing and extending the hall range by three bays, but in a fashionable classical style, with vertical mullioned and transomed cross windows (later adapted as sashes). A new entrance was included where this new range joined the 16th century or early 17th century work, so that to the left there was this new two storey range, and to the right the old three bays, which included the original attics. Hence the windows were lower, with a considerable amount of blind eaves above the first floor ones, albeit with an oculus over the bay to the right of the door. The original end gable also suffered much re-fenestration, and gained two further oculi above the two-light mullioned windows in the attic.
These alterations must have been done after 1728, the approximate received date of the estate painting, and included rusticated quoins at the angles to give a more classical air. Inside the only hint we have is a view of the ceiling in the main reception room, which was of typically provincial Baroque stucco forming a single coffer centered on a roundel set in a cruciform pattern with ornamental panels on each side, rather like a contemporary one at Tupton Hall. A boss from it survives. The date of the ceiling might suggests one somewhat earlier than 1728, so the estate painting may need to be re-dated to c. 1690/1700. In the room above, apparently, there was a frescoed overmantel with a riot of fruit and foliage..
Thomas Tudor in his 1926 epic High Peak to Sherwood wrote:
“The Crich Manor House just below Edge Moor, known in more recent times as the ‘Pot House’ had a room in it called the ‘Queen’s Room’. This had an ornate plaster ceiling and elaborate wall panelling and, it was said, was prepared to receive Mary when she escaped from Wingfield Manor.”
The above remarks about the date of the ceiling render the tale about Mary, Queen of Scots entirely spurious, and the Babington connection is reflected in the tale, albeit rather back-to-front. He also added that it was
“…A rather stylish old place of eighteenth-century characteristics, with a beautiful plaster ceiling, sometimes called Crich Manor House.”
Sometime in the mid-18th century Thomas Dodd acquired the house and began the manufacture of earthenware pottery, leading to the building being called the Pot House. He went bust in 1763, and the house, stock, works and grounds were sold by auction, the advertisement reading:
“A large commodious Dwelling House…together with the Garden walled round, and planted with Wall Fruit, and a Summer House within; and all the Outhouses, Barns and Stables, Cowhouses, Workrooms, Pot furnace, Warehouses, and other Edifices thereto belonging….”
The Dodds continued at the house and Dr. Dodd, a son, contemporaneously well known as the former tutor to Lord Chesterfield and the author of The Beauties of Shakespeare, was reduced to fraud in the wake of the family’s financial problems and was arrested at the house in 1777. The potworks were bought separately and continued by George Bacon, succeeded by his son, Edward, who eventually turned the works into a brickworks, which closed about 1810. The pottery made was supposed by Llewellyn Jewitt to have resembled Brampton salt-glazed stoneware, but he (writing some 150 years ago) had never actually seen any.
It was then bought by John Saxton, a farmer, but described in documents as ‘Gent,’ suggesting a superior status. He seems to have sold some of the grounds for house-building. He was succeeded by his son Leopold Richardson Saxton around 1850 and by the 1870s only his widow lived there but a mortgage foreclosure led to its being transferred to John Holmes of the Moorwood Moor Colliery who offered it for sale with 16 acres in 1875. In 1891 it was occupied by a mysterious William McCheane but it was thereafter sold to Vaughan Taylor, who farmed at The Mount and also ran a butchery. He sold to the Moores, farmers at Westhouses, who let it in 1910 to retired electrical engineer George Frearson, who rather daringly put in electricity and farmed the 47 acres.
At some stage after this, it is thought in the 1950s, the house seems to have been demolished and a new house built approximately on its footprint. If it did last until the 1950s, it is astonishing it never got onto the statutory list, but I can find no trace of it in the original county greenback.
As a footnote, it is worth noting that another so-called manor house, more likely that of the Beresford family, who were stewards to Lord Shrewsbury, stood in the Market Place. In the 17th century under Hon. Henry Howard as joint Lord of the Manor, it was the house of his man Ralph Smith whose descendant sold the much reduced and rebuilt remnant to the local Baptist congregation to build a chapel in 1874. This house was never properly recorded and thus it is impossible to assess the highly dubious claim that it was of 14th century origin. That it was the house shown in Denys Bower’s painting seems highly unlikely.