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Lost Houses of Derbyshire – Langley Hall, Meynell Langley

Lost Houses of Derbyshire – Langley Hall, Meynell Langley

The history of Langley, just north west of Derby on the road to Ashbourne, is complex to say the least. As a consequence, it is not without its fair share of lost houses, about one of which we have sufficient information to be able to say something about it.

The manor of Langley originally consisted of a knight’s fee and, by 1108 had been granted by the Norman grandee Ralph FitzHubert to one Robert de Meynell, whose father was the Domesday tenant of FitzHubert in the NE of the county. Until the senior male line of the de Meynell’s failed in 1227, and the family’s extensive holdings were divided amongst the husbands of his four daughters, the family continued to hold it entire. At that date however, some family holdings survived the division of land, and a half knight’s fee at Langley was bestowed upon the next brother of the grandfather of the four heiresses, who was called William. Another half knight’s fee at Langley – half the original manor – was bestowed upon William’s brother-in-law, Nicholas son of Ralph of Langley, otherwise Nicholas FitzRalph.

The division was basically made using the line of the ancient Derby to Ashbourne road as a boundary. Nicholas FitzRalph had everything to the south, including Nether Burrows, Langley Common and Langley Green. He also founded the church of St. Michael on his half, for it does not appear in the Domesday Book and is mostly of that date and later. Hence his portion was distinguished by the name of Kirk Langley or Church Langley, the use of the Norse derived term ‘kirk’ suggesting a substantial Danish-speaking population in the area since the fall of eastern Mercia to the Vikings in 874. A new settlement grew up around this church.

Meanwhile, William de Meynell retained everything to the north and east of the road, including the original village, which henceforth became Meynell Langley. It was situated just to the north and east of the present Langley Hall, and was investigated archaeologically in 1980.

William de Meynell, seems to have adopted the place as his chief seat and built a house for his son mentions a ‘capital mansion’ there in a charter drawn up a few years later. Probably he founded a chapel to serve the village, too, and this appears to have become absorbed by the house, as happened at Markeaton Hall in the Medieval period. Once the village had become de-populated, it eventually became the hall’s domestic chapel.

Further evidence for old Meynell Langley Hall dates from 1555 when it is recorded as having a deer park. William Senior’s map of 1640, shows a house, more or less on a similar site to the present hall, orientated NE-SW and set around most of a large courtyard. Now, the chances are that it had once been twice that size by the early 14th century, for the Meynells had become very important figures, two of them (both called Sir Hugo) serving as stewards to the Ferrers Earls of Derby, all holding important administrative posts and two fighting doughtily in Edward III’s campaigns in France. They even briefly inherited a barony from the de la Wardes of Newhall.

They were certainly of equivalent standing to the FitzHerberts of Norbury, a fragment of whose ancient house survives. We know from research carried out in 2010 that originally Norbury Hall was set around two courtyards which was par for the course with important knightly families in our area then. Therefore, the inference must be that the hall at Meynell Langley was similarly laid out.

Meanwhile, the FitzNicholas family at Kirk Langley were followed by the Twyfords, and the Twyfords by the Poles, and until the latter family inherited the place, no one amongst these families with their chief seats elsewhere, needed a house at Langley. The Poles however, did build a house, beside the church, the site of which is marked today by some uneven lumps in the field, called Pool Close, the mutated name deriving from that of the family.

We have seen that in 1227, the senior line of the de Meynells ended with heiresses, leaving a younger branch with a diminished holding – mainly half of Langley and other places. The same thing happened in 1397. Ralph de Meynell died in 1389 leaving four daughters, who all married. His mother, Joan, held the estate until her death in 1397, when she divided it up, mostly between the daughters’ husbands, but part was bequeathed to her brother-in-law Sir William Meynell, whose posterity moved to Willington and Yeaveley.

Meynell Langley went to Reginald Dethick of Dethick, whose only daughter married Ralph Bassett of Blore, in Staffordshire. It remained with their family until 1602, and the Bassetts it was who must have reined in the size of the house. They also rebuilt the chapel in Henry VIII’s reign, the date being confirmed by a pair of Nuremberg jettons found beneath the floor when it was demolished in 1757.

From the Bassetts (who had as well bought Kirk Langley from the last of the Poles in the 1590s, re-uniting the manorial estate) it all passed to Charles I’s most loyal supporter, William Cavendish, 1st Duke of Newcastle, who allowed various relations to live in the hall, and who commissioned the 1640 map. By this time the village had vanished entirely – probably through a combination of the catastrophic climate change event of the 1340s, the consequent Black Death and the creation of the park, though by the 1640s the park too was mainly divided up for agricultural purposes.

In the end, the Duke was financially ruined by the Civil War, and was keen to sell. The buyer was Isaac Meynell, one of three brothers who made colossal fortunes in the City during and after the Civil War; all three were descendants of Sir William Meynell of Willington, and were clearly keen to see the family return to their ancestral acres, despite the passage of 272 years!

It eventually came to Godfrey, son of Revd. Thomas Meynell, another of the brothers whom the Duke of Newcastle had made rector of Langley, but his heirs were once again all female and he re-divided the estate amongst their posterity, so that it all left the family yet again. Langley Hall eventually descended to a family from Derby called Peach, whilst three other parts came to the Wards of Little Chester, whose heiress married Dr. John Meynell, of a branch of the family long settled at Derby. His son Godfrey, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, moved back to Meynell Langley but, having no hall on his portion he rebuilt the rectory his kinsman the Revd. Thomas had built in the 17th century as the present Meynell Langley Hall.

A plan of the original hall at Meynell Langley was drawn in 1757 when the NE wing was partly demolished – essentially the chapel measuring 28 by 40 feet. Its oak panelling, with its lavish display of heraldry was, we are told saved. The remainder consisted of the great hall, by then divided up. The wing parallel to it, was substantial and late medieval, of brick with stone dressings, but the NE extremity was of timber framing, but by then stuccoed over. It sported a gigantic external chimney breast and included a first floor room called a solar, very similar to the surviving one at Norbury. These two parallel ranges were joined by a timber framed gatehouse range facing SW, but this appears to have been demolished along with the southernmost of the parallel ranges at some date between 1757 and about 1800 and replaced by a single storey replacement with Georgian windows and a classical arch giving access to the courtyard.

Thus what was left for the Peach family to live in was just the great hall range with its Norfolk-style crow-stepped gable and the gatehouse range, forming an ‘L’-plan, with the hall farm to the NW, then as now. This was felt not to be at all satisfactory, so in 1834-1836, a new Langley Hall was built alongside and, once completed, the remainder of the old house was taken down.

Fortunately, Godfrey Meynell, who had inherited much of the  southern portion of Meynell Langley, to the SE, was a keen antiquary and an amateur architect to boot, so he undertook to make drawings and elevations of what then remained before it was all cleared away. If he had not done so, we would have precious little idea what this once magnificent old house would have looked like.

In all the Meynells managed to allow the break-up of their estates three times, two of those occasions affecting Langley, which is a unique record in itself. The fact that they managed to flourish over nearly three following centuries from the second division of their land, enabling them to buy it all back in 1669, is remarkable and quite rare in this country. That by judicious marriages they were enabled to re-inherit part of it back yet again in the 1780s is astounding. It certainly saved the connection, but unfortunately, failed to save the old Medieval Hall.


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