One of my oldest friends is a great enthusiast for huge spiky Gothic Victorian country houses. He thinks Samuel Sander Teulon (‘the good ship Teulon’ as he always calls him) a genius who far outshines Wren or Adam and considers Damien Hurst deserving almost of deification for buying and restoring vast, inchoate and sprawling Toddington Manor in Gloucestershire, designed by Charles Hanbury-Tracy, 1st Lord Sudeley, for himself and built between 1819 and 1840.
Derbyshire is (in my view) blessedly free of houses like Toddington, or Somerleyton, or Mentmore. Most of our Jacobean is real Jacobean and Victorian prodigy houses have nearly all been demolished. Readers will recall an account of Snelston Hall last year – architecturally the best of them – of Osmaston Manor the year before, and you can still visit Eckington Hall (albeit seized by Sheffield City Council in 1936) in the NE of the County, which is a classic Hollywood ‘haunted house’ of a building. Locko Park although large, is largely Victorian, but harmoniously designed, spread around a fine early 18th century central block, tactfully incorporated.
One particularly lumpish example of eclectic Victorian on a fairly epic scale was Stuffynwood Hall which stood just south of Shirebrook and a short distance NW of Mansfield Woodhouse. Built in 1857-58, it is in French Chateau style – French chateau on speed – with a huge, chunky tower behind and a lower wing to one side, like the main house, steep-roofed and prickling with skinny chimney stacks and pop-up dormers. The entire composition was wonderfully asymmetrical, largely over two lofty floors (plus attics), faced throughout in muscular rock-face ashlar of Permian Magnesian Limestone, and with a main block of three bays to the left and another three, wrapped round a vast canted bay with its own hipped roof, to the right.
To the right was another two bays, the end one breaking forward with a loggia-like run of six ground floor windows to the right of the entrance, all much lower than the main block, with a service wing beyond again ending in a little pyramidally hipped roofed pavilion with a largish outshut behind beyond which was a large stable block arranged round a courtyard and a further service court to its east.
This extraordinarily top-heavy looking house stood in a modest stretch of parkland running to 51 acres, and the entire estate, despite the proximity of numerous coal mines, was well sequestered. The name of the architect has completely evaded my research, but one might expect the culprit to have been a Nottingham man, or even a Chesterfield one.
The estate itself was carved out of the manor of Shirebrook, held by a branch of the Meynell family who took the place as their surname, but sub-let most of it to Alan de Stuffyn around 1270, who was the park-keeper of the hunting park of Pleasley, where the Bec family then had a lodge, long vanished. Their park was stocked and emparkation granted by Edward I in 1288. The family were Bishops successively of St. Davids, Durham and (titular) Jerusalem.
This Alan is almost certainly to be identified with Alan son of Hugh de Glapwell and grandson of Simon de Pleasley, facts which we can be fairly sure of thanks to the survival of the charters of the Woolhouse family, later of Glapwell Hall. By the middle of the fourteenth century Robert Stuffyn, probably great grandson, was of Shirebrook, and before long his name had become attached to the landscape, when a portion of his estate was called Stuffynwood.
John son of Hugh Stuffyn (1615-1695) was the first of the family to be styled ‘gent’ instead of ‘yeoman’. His eldest son, John died aged 55 a year after him without leaving issue and his widow married Gilbert Mundy of Allestree Old Hall. His brothers having predeceased him unmarried, the estate passed to John Hacker of Trowell and by various inheritances and sales to Robert Malkin of Chesterfield.
Having never seen an inventory for any of the Stuffyn family, I cannot really assess what sort of or size of house they lived in, but suffice it to say that when Charles Paget, a member of an old Ibstock family lately grown affluent through business, mainly in Nottinghamshire, bought the 300 acre estate from Malkin, there was a modest Georgian house on the site of the hall. The Pagets had intermarried with the Hollins family, who had acquired the Pleasley Mills from that supreme entrepreneur, Henry Thornhill (1708-1790), and thus Charles was keen that his son Joseph should live nearby with a view to taking a hands-on role at the mills.
The upshot was the building of Stuffynwood Hall, which was to enjoy a short and really rather unhappy existence. Photographs of the interior have proved elusive, although some may exist in the family papers lodged at the LSE. Fortunately my copy of Leonard Jacks’s account of the country houses of Nottinghamshire (1881) strays over the border here so that he can continue to flatter the Pagets, who also owned Ruddington Grange. He tells us that the house was greatly extended by Joseph Paget from 1873-1880, adding the rear wing, the hulking great tower (complete with skied water tank to improve the domestic economy) and a domestic (Catholic) chapel.
Joseph married Helen, daughter of Revd. Edward Abney of The Firs, Derby. He was a great friend of W H Fox-Talbot, the photographic pioneer who was married to a Mundy of Markeaton. They are known to have made Talbotypes of several Derbyshire houses in the late 1840s early 1850s. Abney also encouraged Derby’s pioneering Victorian topographical photographer Richard Keene (1825-1894). Would that we still had any photograph Joseph’s father-in-law might have made of Stuffynwood!
Jacks notes that the house boasted ‘large and well-lit rooms, had a separate billiard room with an adjustable frosted glass roof (to let out the fragrant vapours of the contestants’ Havanas no doubt) and that the house was very early fitted with self-generated electricity, hence the billiard players’ ability to utilise an electric scoreboard! The electrical apparatus would have been supplied by Cromptons of Derby and Chesterfield. His detailed inventory of the family’s furniture (a cabinet in the hall by Michael Angelo must be taken with salt) and paintings is something of a disappointment after the hype he gives the family: all ‘also rans’: not a single accepted ‘old master’ – even the Guido Reni turns out to have been a copy!
When Joseph Paget died in 1896, the house was let by his widow to Chesterfield grandee, Sir Arthur Markham 1st Bt., MP for Mansfield (1866-1916), whose stay there ended in 1907, when Joseph Paget’s brother-in-law and heir, Staffordshire lawyer Hubert C Hodgson, took it on, although even before Sir Arthur had moved out a report on mining subsidence had been prepared, the culprit being the newly opened (1895) Shirebrook Colliery. Other alleged disadvantages were cited as drunkenness and lawlessness among the miners, an outbreak of cholera and general pollution.
In 1913 the freehold was sold by the trustees of the Pagets and was bought by their company, William Hollins Ltd. as a home for director A R Hollins, who lived there until 1926 when it was again sold with 200 acres remaining for £4,300 most going to one H F Reddish who presumably lived there, although the house disappears from the directories from this period, and it may be that the colliery subsidence had made the house uninhabitable. From Reddish it passed to B M Wright who is said to have removed the lead from the roof (or some of them) in the war. Being, as ever, charitable, I would imagine this was his contribution to the war effort.
In 1955 the empty house was sold to Richard Scales and Andrew Myers for £3,500 who not only took down the service wing and the tower, but made a good profit, despite inflation in re-selling it in 1972 for £10,000. The part-demolition was achieved on the grounds of subsidence, and the building was never statutorily listed, so there was little to protect it, or encourage the owners to seek compensation from the Coal Board.
Only five years later, local people were interested to learn that there was a proposal to use the remaining part of the house (the grandest, it has to be said) as a leisure centre, but the proposers of the scheme, the purchasers (for £19,000) in 1977 seemed to have a hidden agenda, for they were Cast Developments, a quarrying firm, eyeing up the potential of the site! However, years of applications to the Bolsover District Council were to no avail, and the remaining wing of the house decayed quietly.
In 1988 it unceremoniously came down and in 1992 the site was finally sold for eventual re-development, one of the last true country houses in the County to suffer this fate.
Readers keen to know the saga in more detail should resort to Grant Pearcy’s commendably detailed website www.stuffynwood.com – it helped me with the details, acting as a corrective to a couple of errors in the account of the house in 3rd edition of The Derbyshire Country House (Ashbourne 2001) Vol. II 311-312.