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Lost Houses – Wheston Hall

I realise that knowledgeable readers will read this heading and exclaim that Wheston Hall is not a lost house at all and still stands. Yet the rather mauled remnant which survived the collapse of much of the fabric in a gale in 1952 is largely a new house which made ingenious use of some surviving parts of the original.
In truth, the house was never a modest affair and although we have no idea what it originally looked like before the 18th century, the house that emerged from a thorough rebuilding in 1726-1727 does provide us with some clues.

The earliest person of some standing to have been recorded as living at Wheston was Thomas Browne in 1362. We do not have much information about him, although it would be safe to assume he held some royally-appointed regulatory post relating to lead extraction.  After that there is a lacuna of over a century before we encounter Thomas Alleyne there, whose wife Elizabeth may well have brought him the estate at Wheston, in which case she may have been the Browne heiress. Thomas himself was the third son of John Alleyne of Stanton-in-Peak, descended in all probability from Robert Alyn of Winster living in 1277.  The elder branch of the family continued at Stanton Woodseats and elsewhere in Stanton for many generations.  Thomas’s son Thurstan was Bailiff and Receiver of the High Peak and by his wife, a Garlick of Glossop, was progenitor of the Alleynes of Wheston along with junior branches at Derby and Loughborough.

The family grew rich in the unpredictable business of lead extraction and trading.Sometime in Queen Elizabeth’s reign, but before 1592 when they were fined for Catholic recusancy, they appear to have built a new house.  A substantial fragment of this house remained embedded in the building that fell in 1952.  It was a rectangular tower house of carboniferous limestone rubble brought to course with millstone grit long-and-short quoins, similar dressings to the mullioned windows with cranked hood moulds and for the string courses. It was at least three storeys and may have had a gabled top, like that surviving at Cutthorpe Old Hall, or parapeted like a larger version of North Lees in Hope, not so far away.  A similar tower house is thought to form the core of the hall at Great Longstone too.

In photographs of the main façade of the house it can easily be identified as the left hand projection, with its much more irregular quoins, asymmetrical window spacings and greater dimensions than its right hand counterpart. Behind it latterly, was a jumble of near-irreconcilable fragments, extraordinarily difficult to interpret.

The Alleynes were Catholics and adherents of the Dukes of Norfolk, at that time major landowners in the Dark Peak and also major investors in the lead trade. The house may have been again rebuilt, in order to enlarge it, in the years preceding the Civil War, for the very striking baroque façade put on in the 1720s strongly suggests that a second tower was probably built with an intervening perhaps gabled range, with two stair towers inwards from the end-towers which probably featured crenelated tops like those at Wingerworth Old Hall and Barlborough Old Hall, both seemingly designed by John Smythson (of Bolsover Castle fame) or someone closely associated with him.

Soon after this, the family divided into two lines and it is possible that the house was also divided with both families living under one roof, a common compromise at the time. With two staircases, the house was certainly suitable for division. Yet early in the 18th century, both branches failed virtually simultaneously and half the property, along with its lead-rich estate, passed to a kinsman, Thomas Alleyne of Loughborough (a scion of the Derby branch of the family) and half to the two daughters and co-heiresses of the other Alleyne branch. Of these, one was married to a Fleetwood and the other to a wily Sheffield attorney, Thomas Freeman. He set about uniting the estate in his own person, elbowing Thomas Alleyne aside on the grounds of his Catholic faith and likewise neutralising Fleetwood, whose mother was a Catholic Eyre of Hassop.

Freeman thereafter set about modernising his new seat at Wheston, unifying the building with a new Georgian façade which receded in two stages from the corner pavilions to incorporate the old stair towers and culminating in a centrepiece of two bays flanking a rather inconsequential and marginally off-centre entrance; the visual strength of the remainder, marked only by an oeil-de-boeuf on the parapeted upper storey. A pair of Baroque gate piers marked the entrance from the road, topped by pineapples (long a symbol of welcome) flanked by an ornamental timber fence on a dwarf wall.

The anonymous person who designed this clearly had flair, but probably lacked formal architectural training, as he would have made much more of the centrepiece. Probably it was an experienced builder recruited from Sheffield. If so, his hand can be seen elsewhere in the Peak, at Winster Hall (c1715), Shallcross Hall (1723-35) and certainly at Norton House, Norton (1733) as all share characteristics of Wheston. Unfortunately we have no record of the interior, but no doubt it had some pretension, as witness accounts of the saloon at Winster.

Freeman also laid out an avenue from the front door into a small park that he formed from his own land, ending in a further pair of gate piers, although today the avenue has mainly long gone and few trees survive from the avenue itself which is now is a narrow wall-flanked lane.

When Thomas’s son Robert died unmarried in 1763, the property passed through heiresses of the Charltons and then the Maxwells of Meir, Staffordshire, who let it, as did the Dukes of Norfolk to whom the house and estate were eventually bequeathed about two centuries ago.  The Duke made it the home of the agent for his White Peak estates, John Allen but in 1827 sold it all to the 6th Duke of Devonshire as part of a rationalisation of the two ducal estates in this part of the county.

Following a period let to a lawyer called William Henry Cheek, the Devonshire estate turned it into a farm which it has remained to this day. In the 19th century it was farmed by the Wrights and then the Bradleys. Unfortunately, the post 1929 depression and then the second war meant that maintenance was at first a fiscal challenge and thereafter an impossible one and in one of the great gales of the winter of 1952 the whole of the North West portion of the house collapsed, fortunately without any injuries.  Apparently the tenants lived mainly in the older part of the house, which remained standing, probably because its Tudor fabric was constructed in a much sturdier fashion that the later west part.

The house, although then but recently listed, was partly cleared and the rest patched up in rather an ad hoc fashion but, in 1960 it was sold. The new owners used some of the standing walls to build a replacement house, although oddly the solid old Tudor tower was mainly removed along with most of the collapsed section, including the top floor,. The west stair tower (which had been damaged in the collapse) was shortened and retained, but the east projection was elided and the house today stands as a fairly plain two storey building with a pitched roof and six irregular bays. Part of the Tudor fabric was retained to form a byre and equipment store.

Although not technically a completely lost house it still deserves a place in this series as the original house bears little resemblance to the replacement, having been greatly reduced in size as you can see by comparing the pictures. However, it is refreshing that some of its history has been preserved.


  1. My father lived in Wheston Hall from the age of 11 with my grandmother and great aunt- he carries a photo of the house with him still; he is 92.

    1. Hi Fiona I am related to the Macclesfields of Maer (not Maxwell as stated above). Robert Freemans sister married Ralph Macclesfield which is how the 3 Macclefied daughters inherited, the last dying in 1817. Iwould love to know more about the Hall and see the photo your grandfatgher has as some of the photos and plans I have dont tie in with the descriptions. Th story of the Freemans usurping from another RC family on religious ground is also untrue as theFreemans were also RC. thanks Tony

  2. My great great aunt Hannah Westwell and joseph Henry Dakin lived there my aunt in Canada is doing a history search into it so will pass on anything we find


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