When Mick Stanley and I were researching the first edition of The Derbyshire Country House around 1980 our attention was drawn by a colleague of Mick’s at the Derbyshire Museum Service (of blessed memory) to an item in a north Derbyshire auction. Provenanced from a vendor in Buxton, this was a fine oak 17th century dresser – really a court cupboard – which had come from New Hall, Castleton.
This was identified by a friend who knows his oak furniture as probably being of west Derbyshire origin, although the flowing vine frieze and tubby pilasters were of a pattern which appears to have originated in the Wakefield area.
We were unable to establish anything about this mysterious house at the time, nor to discover a picture of it, which guaranteed that we would not be able to write about it, for our book was an illustrated one, after all.
However, whilst looking into what is known as Sheffield School plasterwork in the late 16th and early 17th century, especially as found in Derbyshire country houses, a colleague at Sheffield Museum sent us a copy of an article in Vol. III of the Transactions of the Hunter Archaeological Society in which a short account of this house appeared. He also found us a fairly scratchy photograph. The house was situated on rising ground on the north side of the road which runs west from the centre of the village, not so far north of the Methodist chapel, build within its immediate surroundings, such a position being favoured by one or two other gentry houses on the edges of the village, like Losehill Hall.
In its last phase, the house was a lowish two storey structure of carboniferous limestone rubble with a single crosswing, itself higher and endowed with chunky ashlar quoins. Indeed, it much resembled a slightly scaled up version of Hazelbadge Hall as seen in a mirror, and the crosswing was probably of similar date – later 15th century. The superimposed five-light mullioned windows had a decorative treatment of their heads of a closely similar style and, after all, Hazlebadge is only just over the hill to the south, and the same mason may well have been responsible for both.
When the house was originally built, the great hall would have been open to the roof with either a central fireplace venting through a hole in the timber roof, or – here more likely given that we cannot trace the house back that far – by a fireplace and stout chimney breast on the long side opposite the door. Here, right of the door would have been a passage from which the kitchen and other offices opened.
Where it differed from Hazelbadge is that the great hall range (missing at Hazelbadge), at right angles to the crosswing, had clearly been demolished at some stage, probably in the very early 19th century and replaced with a simple farmhouse of the most rudimentary architecture. What survived of this part until the demise of the house was a lowish (distinctly lower than the crosswing) two storey range, also of random rubble, albeit latterly harled, with six bays, bays two and four having no fenestration but each a door, the former into the house through a very plain stone surround and the latter into the byre with a re-used stone Tudor doorcase. The windows are all sashes, paired with a mullion in between and set in simple stone surrounds. Both wings had stone slate roofs, and latterly, too, the late Medieval wing had a door crudely inserted at the gable end to the right of the windows.
To the left was what was probably a further part of the original house which may, indeed, have been built round a courtyard. What appeared as a ruined barn rejoiced in a six light mullioned window with similarly decorative head, but with some mullions missing. Probably this was moved when the original great hall wing was taken down and saved, whether out of sentiment or a typically Derbyshire desire not to waste something of use and beauty.
The crosswing held most of the surviving Sheffield School decorative plasterwork, although mutilated re-positioned scraps were also preserved in the ground floor of the main range, which must have been spared later alterations, probably out of sentiment or through merit.
Fortunately, a painting of an unknown house appeared at Bamford’s auctions in December 2003, which we managed to identify, from the topography, provenance and detail, as New Hall, Castleton. Although anonymous, it clearly dated from the Regency period, and the great boon was that it showed the previous range intact.
Several changes were discernable. The crosswing originally was steeper to the gable (which had decorative coping) and boasted attics, lit by a two-mullion window, with decorative coping to the gable itself. This was later lowered and simplified. The main range was the same length but originally had five light windows to the left of the four-centered arched entrance, those on the ground floor with a transom too. Beyond the entrance, the fall of the ground enabled there to be an attic, this section running to two bays again with transoms to the ground floor windows.
This in itself probably represented a later 17th century rebuilding, where the great hall, to the left of the entrance was floored over and rooms made above it, a common change to surviving medieval houses of the period. Indeed, the portion beyond the entrance may have been added at this time.
The house seems to have been built by Thomas Savage, second son of Sir Thomas Savage of Rocksavage, Cheshire, ancestor of the present Marquess of Cholmondeley. Another cadet branch of this family had previously held Tissington, and the senior line were of Stainsby, by Ault Hucknall, until a later Savage sold it to Bess of Hardwick who, needless to say, pulled down their ancient moated manor house.
John Savage increased his estate through marriage to Alice, one of the co-heiresses of Humphrey Stafford of Eyam, and they had eight sons, of whom Thomas was of The Spital, Castleton (where John Wymeslow alias Savage, perhaps a close kinsman from an irregular relationship, was his chaplain), John was of Edale and Henry of Eckington. The eldest son, Humphrey, rebuilt New Hall in c. 1560/70, at which point the exuberant “Sheffield School” decorative plaster friezes over-mantels and ceilings were put in.
Humphrey’s great grandson William inherited at 35 in 1646, but by 1670, the hearth tax returns list no Savages, and it seems clear that the family had lost their estate through their adherence to the Royal cause during the Civil War, or had failed to maintain it afterwards. There is no record of the fate of William’s four sons and one daughter, although it has been suggested that the Henry Kniveton taxed on six hearths under Castleton Parish may have been the husband of the daughter, Anne, by then the heiress and living at New Hall when assessed for tax.
Not long afterwards, we find the house in the hands of Rowland Morewood of Staden and Bradway, whose father, Andrew, was a younger son of John Morewood of The Oaks-in-Norton (now, unfortunately, in Yorkshire). By the late 18th century New Hall had passed from this branch of the Morewoods into the hands of the ubiquitous Halls, prosperous local attorneys and lead mining entrepreneurs whose family can be traced back in Castleton to 1318.
Micah Hall (1725-1804) seems to be the first member of the family definitely to have owned it, but the Halls did not deign to live in New Hall, and were without doubt responsible for adapting it as a farmhouse some time around 1800/1815, before which the painting of it shown here was executed.
The plaster work was allegedly copied by the builders of Losehill Hall on the orders of Charles Matthew Hadfield, the architect, whose client, Robert Howe Ashton had married one of the daughters of Joseph Hall, the owner of New Hall. The only element of this recognisable today is the rabbit frieze in the drawing room, a pattern used in a number of other Derbyshire houses.
In 1889 the trustees of Joseph Hall sold the house, by that time long empty and decaying after a period divided as cottages for agricultural labourers. It was demolished the following year to make way for the building of a Wesleyan Chapel, which was built almost on the site.
Fortunately, this was not quite the end of the story. A few years ago, the Castleton Historical Society, led by Colin Merrony from the University of Sheffield, began a series of month-long excavations on the site each year. These works also included the site of the Spital (the Medieval almshouse-cum-hospital) almost adjacent, which Thomas Savage had presided over in the early Tudor period. Amongst other items, their work has revealed, needless to say, fragments of ornamental plasterwork which a fellow retired Museum officer turned historic buildings consultant, David Bostwick has been working on – one of his areas of expertise.
The 2018 excavation also exposed a number of walls and floors, one of the former including a piece of pearlware embedded in the mortar. As pearlware only began to be produced in the 1780s, it is reasonable to assume that this part of the fabric was an element of the rebuilding of the great hall range to turn it into modest domestic use.