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Lost Houses of Derbyshire – Brizlincote Old Hall

Lost Houses of Derbyshire – Brizlincote Old Hall

The present hall at Brizlincote is visible for miles around, set on its dominant hill and looking for all the world like an inverted helmet-type coal-scuttle with its legs in the air, represented, of course, by the chimneys and the giant segmental pediments which ensign the facades on all four sides. I have argued in the past that this extraordinary Baroque house was designed by Nottinghamshire’s famous ‘wrestling baronet’, Sir Thomas Parkyns of Bunny, for Lord Stanhope, eldest son of 2nd Earl of Chesterfield, and in the 22 years following, nobody has yet proved me wrong! 

Here, however, we have to consider the history of its long-vanished predecessor and although the parish (created from Winshill in 2003) is deemed to be in Staffordshire (since 1888) the hall still lies in Derbyshire.

Originally, Brizlincote was part of the holdings of the great abbey of Burton, given as part of the foundation charter by the Saxon grandee Wulfric Spot in 1004. By the early twelfth century, the estate there was tenanted under the Abbot by one Mabon de Brizlincote, whose grandson Richard acquired the estate by grant of the Abbey c. 1175. The heiress of the Brizlincotes brought it to the Leicestershire family of Cuilly and the heiress of that family, Elizabeth, married John Stanhope of Rampton, newly arrived in Nottinghamshire from his native Northumberland in 1349. 

The de Brizlincote family probably built the first seat there, within a moat, substantial remains of which remain, slightly to the north of the present house, off Brizlincote Lane. These earthworks, which have never been investigated archaeologically, are said locally to hide vestiges of the house, too. 

British (English) School; William Paget (1505/1506-1563), 1st Baron Paget de Beaudesert, KG; National Trust, Plas Newydd; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/william-paget-150515061563-1st-baron-paget-de-beaudesert-kg-102126

The Stanhopes did not then have an interest in Derbyshire and thus they disposed of the estate to Robert Horton of Catton who died in 1423. Over a century later, his descendant Walter Horton sold it yet again to William, 1st Lord Paget of Beaudesert KG, an enormously rich courtier of Henry VIII, who had managed to engross almost all of Burton Abbey’s holdings at the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539.  Paget clearly felt he needed a house near the epicentre of his extensive new holdings, Cannock Chase (in which Beaudesert lay) being some distance away, so having acquired the estate from Walter Horton, in January 1546 he obtained a licence from the king to ‘empark and crenellate’ the house. 

Thus, the land now lying between Ashby Road, the Beaufort Road/Violet Way estate, the A444 and the north west edge of Newhall (the clue is in the name: Park Road, Newhall) became Lord Paget’s parkland (something like 40 acres, if the size of the later farm is any guide) and his house, no doubt erected around a substantial courtyard, was suitably defensive in appearance, with plenty of – essentially ornamental – battlements, probably in the form of merlons. Although we have no illustration of the house (as we found with Bretby Castle: see March edition of Country Images) a 17th century writer said of it that it was ‘a large stone house that was set in its moat on a bleak ridge’ – probably cold and windy in winter but with incomparable views towards Needwood Forest and the Trent Valley! Lord Paget appears also to have walled the house round in stone, too, for we have 18th and earlier 19th century accounts of surviving stone walls but none remain today..

William Paget retired from state business in 1555, having survived his perhaps injudicious signing of Edward VI’s will – leaving the throne to the ill-starred Queen Jane – and the consequent obloquy heaped upon him by Queen Mary, to be re-instated by Elizabeth I. He died in 1563, having sold Brizlincote to a London merchant, John Merry in 1560.

John Merry, of a Hertfordshire family, was a merchant tailor whose father had been clerk to the spicery of Henry VIII; he was a Roman Catholic, too. By 1560, recusancy was becoming an un-safe position, and expensive in fines, as well. His reason for buying in Derbyshire may have been influenced by Sir Christopher Alleyne, who had acquired the nearby estate of Gresley Old Hall only four years before. The fact that Merry’s wife Agnes was an Allsopp may also have been an influencing factor. Despite its prominent position, however, the recently rebuilt and fortified house may have enabled him to feel safe from the depredations of such as Lord Shrewsbury, bent on weeding out recalcitrant Catholics.

Not that Brizlincote was his only acquisition. He also bought the estate of Barton Blount from the financially challenged Lord Mountjoy, as well as substantial land at Stanton-by-Bridge and at Sutton-on-the-Hill. 

John Merry appears to have lived at Barton, where he created a priests’ hole. His son John appears to have been settled at Brizlincote by about 1565. Meanwhile, his elder brother Henry of Barton Blount had four sons, of whom the third, Edmund left issue, settled at Radbourne where in 1670 his son Valentine paid tax on but two hearths, so was presumably farming as a tenant of the Pole family. The second son, John, succeeded his uncle at Brizlincote, but was a stout Royalist in the Civil War; he and his wife Anne found their estate sequestrated by the Commonwealth authorities in 1650 and he died not long afterwards. 

This Royalist left two sons and a daughter, the elder son, Gilbert, managing to recover Brizlincote Hall by compounding for his estate with Cromwell’s commissioners, but he then demised it to his younger brother, John Merry who was described as ‘late of Brisslincoate Esq.’ when he came into his brother’s other lands at Kniveton and Stanton-by-Bridge.

 John Merry left two sons, Gilbert of Stanton-by-Bridge, and George, the younger son, who had married Dorothy who, after his death in 1657 continued to live there with her second husband, William Dakin ‘of Brisslincoate, yeoman’ who seems to have farmed there. They were gone by about 1685, for we find it had a new tenant in the person of Worcestershire-born William Barnes, a grandson of Lady Elizabeth Stanhope, a daughter of the 1st Earl of Chesterfield.. 

Gilbert Merry eventually sold both house and estate to Lord Chesterfield in 1707, who without much delay began to build his new house which we still see on the hilltop to this day. The old hall continued to be tenanted until the Barnes family moved out in 1709, when William – married only five months to a Derby lady – died in the January. His widow was still there when Philip, the elder son was born in May that year, but they were gone to a house in Stanton-by-Newhall soon afterwards and the old mansion was unceremoniously pulled down, although one wonders what happened to the stone; there must have been an awful lot of it.  

There may have been some effort made to return the land surrounding the house to park, for the new house, although very compact, was built with the main reception rooms on what is now the first floor – a piano nobile – as was the convention for elite houses then. The rooms are higher than those below, and some of the original elaborate decorative plaster work and panelling survive there. More to the point, the capacious cellarage includes a late Tudor chimneypiece and there is another elsewhere in the more formal part of the house, strongly suggesting that either  were rescued from the Merrys’ house. 

The new house was supposedly finished in 1712, but in two places bears the date of 1714 – along with two Latin inscriptions – which is the year Lord Stanhope’s father died and he succeeded as 3rd Earl and moved out to Bretby. All the reference books tell you that the house then became a farm but, bearing in mind that someone went to the effort of carving new dates, mottoes and making other alterations, it seems likely that it became, in the following year when he came of age, the home of the future 4th Earl – the diplomat and man of letters who famously twice refused a dukedom – until he himself succeeded to the earldom (and Bretby) in 1725. The house was then let to Philip Barnes, ironically the son of William the last resident of the old hall, and his wife, Anne Trafford, once the secretary of the Derby County Assembly, referred to by her successor, Countess Ferrers, as ‘Blowzabella.’

Only when they left after 1779 did the new house become a 42-acre farm under the Nadin family.


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