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Lost Houses of Derbyshire – Eaton Dovedale Hall

Lost Houses of Derbyshire – Eaton Dovedale Hall

by Maxwell Craven

Neither Eaton Dovedale, which sits adjacent to Sedsall, are exactly well known locales, even to keen followers of local history and topography, but they lie just north of the much better known village of Doveridge, in which parish they lie. About thirty years ago I visited to attend a clay shooting tournament, but a quick recce failed to discover any real traces of the old house, but confirmed the belief that Eaton was a deserted medieval village (DMV) as indeed is Sedsall to its north. Whilst Sedsall is only recorded from c. 1200 (the name means ‘Secq’s corner of land’) Eaton Dovedale is recorded in Domesday Book, wherein it was a portion of Doveridge held under Henry de Ferrers by one Alcher, displacing the Saxon Wulfric.  Alcher is also known as the lord of Sudbury, and was the ancestor of a Shropshire family called FitzAer.

Subsequent record of Eaton resurfaces when it was held in 1231 by the Norman, William de St. Pier(re), who was succeeded by his son Nicholas in 1251. Whether they had a house at Eaton is not clear, but it is possible. There were, however, two daughters and co-heiresses of Nicholas, and the estate was split between them, Sedsall going to the Marshall family of Upton whilst the Eaton part and the original St. Pier house went by marriage to the Cokesay family.

They certainly did have a house at Eaton, and a small park by all accounts. In 1356, Sir Walter Cokesay was living there and his daughter and sole heiress eventually brought the estate to the Russel family. They had estates elsewhere, and it may be that the original house was, at this stage abandoned or cleared away. As it was undoubtedly of timber, the structure would have been re-used, as was then invariably the case. 

Duffield Hall in the 1840s, before rebuilding in 1871: a very similar type of house although, it seems smaller

Sir John Russel died in 1556 and after an interval, the estate and lordship of the manor were bought by William Milward. He was already living in the locality, his father Robert having acquired land there in 1471. This Robert was fourth in descent from one Owen Milward, living in 1374, and one gets the impression that the family’s rise to the gentry was greatly helped by their having survived the Black Death (1347-1349 locally) when they doubtless bought up property being sold cheaply by the heirs of grander families decimated by the plague. The name Milward (mutated to Millard in their later US branch) means guardian of keeper of a mill, so they may have made their money in just such a manner, although we do not know where the family lived prior to buying land at Eaton-in-the-Dale as it was then sometimes called; circumstantial evidence suggests Staffordshire.

The Milwards became very numerous and indeed successful, marring local heiresses: Palmer of West Broughton Hall, in Sudbury, Beresford of Alsop and Fleetwood of Calwich (Staffs.). Sir Thomas Milward (1575-1658) was a successful lawyer and served as Chief Justice of Chester 1638-1647, when the civil war cut his tenure short, for he was a staunch Royalist, in 1651 helping to rescue Charles II’s Garter regalia from falling into Commonwealth hands after the escape from the Battle of Worcester.

Sir Thomas’s father William seems to have built the house – judging by a datestone of 1576 recorded as having been set above the door – probably at about the time he was born in 1575; perhaps his parents’ marriage was the spur. What we know of it from a drawing done by (or for) Joseph Tilley in the mid-19th century shows a typically Derbyshire manor house of three gabled bays, quite steep ones, with prominent kneelers, the house being of two storeys with attics. It was presumably of brick, had a string course between the main floors and eight-light mullioned and transomed windows on both main floors at the central bay and the right hand one, but the left bay boasted only a six light window above a rather inconsequential looking door. The engraving also suggests that this left bay was actually the end of a cross wing, perhaps added later, for no roof ridge appears between the left and central gables, which later seem to have acquired Georgian sashes.

The first floor windows also appear deeper in the illustration, suggesting that the first floor included the loftier state rooms and that only family rooms inhabited the ground floor. That there were state rooms is reinforced by at least one visit by King Charles I, who left behind (or more likely gave Sir Thomas) a pair of embroidered doeskin gauntlets which have miraculously passed down amongst his descendants.

In 1664, the family had to pay tax on no less than fifteen hearths, but what we see in Tilley’s woodcut suggests that the house had later been much reduced. What remained then much resembles contemporary Duffield Hall, which was only taxed on nine hearths. The suspicion is that it boasted a cross wing at either end of the façade, of which only part of one remained. Quite where the ceremonial entrance once was remains something of a mystery.

That the house ended up being reduced so drastically was down to the implosion of the Milwards. Sir Thomas’s son Robert was equally successful as his father, despite being a second son, for the eldest William, was settled at the family’s estate at Chilcote, on the Staffordshire border.

Robert was born in 1616, was called to the bar (being made a KC in 1668) and was appointed a Justice in the Chester circuit, like his father, in 1661 (probably as a reward for the family’s loyalty to the exiled Charles II during Cromwell’s ‘crowned republic’); he was also Recorder of Stafford and was elected MP for that borough in 1661, serving until his death in 1674.

Unfortunately, his wife, Isabella, daughter and co-heiress of Sir John Zouche of Codnor Castle, died without having had children and Robert took up with another lady, unnamed, but called his wife in the History of Parliament, by whom he had four sons and four daughters. However, it is clear they were not married, for, on his death at 58, the estate passed to his sister Elizabeth, who had married Godfrey Clarke of Somersall Hall, Brampton, near Chesterfield. Clearly Robert’s offspring were regarded as illegitimate and thus incapable of inheriting without specific legal provision. 

Unfortunately, neither Clarke nor his descendants needed the house at Eaton, for after the family left Somersall, they inherited Sutton Scarsdale, a succession of heiresses steadily marrying up so that by the early nineteenth century, the head of the family was the Hon. Charles Butler-Clarke-Southwell-Wandesford, who inherited it from his elder brother, the 1st Marquess of Ormonde. He sold Sutton Scarsdale to the Arkwrights and settled at Kirklington Hall in Yorkshire, another of his numerous inherited estates.

Needless to say, Sir Thomas Milward’s rather grand house at Eaton Dovedale was completely surplus to requirements and was probably then reduced to a manageable size and let as a tenanted farm of more than 150 acres. Yet in 1789, the house was described as ruinous, and in 1821, a new house was built over part of the site, incorporating the cellars of the old hall, as Bulmer’s directory (1895) avers. This, added to in the 19th century, is now listed grade II, but Tilley recorded in 1891 that the last vestiges of the old hall were the other week’ carted away.  

Tilley’s illustration shows the house not particularly ruinous but divided, with a lesser dwelling to the left, implying that it was drawn whilst at least some of it was in use, or copied from an illustration taken when it was. 

Strangely, the tenants in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were called Mynors. Now, Sir Thomas Milward’s aunt Mary had married Edward Mynors, a Staffordshire based scion of a very ancient family from Burghill, Herefordshire, of which John de Miners had been constable of St. Briavel’s Castle, Gloucestershire in 1316 and his son Sir Roger later fought in France at Creçy. The family were later (and still are) seated at Treago Court, a numinous Medieval house at St. Weonards, Herefordshire.

Thus, we find John Mynors (latterly increasingly spelt Minors) as the farmer at Eaton Hall in 1801, whilst his father was of Knypersley Hall in Staffordshire. John’s like-named son succeeded him and his grandson William was tenant by 1864. If they were the same family, descended from Edward, then it may be that Robert Milward had, on his death in 1674, left his Mynors cousins some kind of interest in the old house, which might explain that family’s long connection with it and indeed the termination of that connection when the estate was later sold. 

The estates of the Butler (or Wandesford) family were sold up on the death of Charles, the last male heir in 1881 and the departure of the Mynors family seems to have followed the sale of the estate; they went to live in Ashbourne.

The new farmhouse, flanked on two sides by modern farm buildings, is shown on the 1879 OS map which, however, marks the site of the old hall a little to the south east. It may be that the latter site, marked on the 1879 OS, is that of the house of the Cokesays, and that the present house does indeed rest on the footprint of the old hall. Yet the precise date of the loss of this important Elizabethan house remains uncertain, despite Joseph Tilley stating in 1891 that the last vestiges had been removed ‘only a few weeks ago.’

This also suggests that the house must have survived into the age of photography, but so far, no one has come up with a print of it, which is a shame. 


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