Nearly everyone who came into close contact with Sir Richard Arkwright seems to have found him a difficult man: his wives, his business associates and the Cromford canal promoters all found him awkward.
It will occasion no surprise then, to learn that his only son experienced similar problems. Richard Arkwright junior married in 1780, the same year as his half-sister Susannah, but although his fiancée Mary, daughter of Adam Simpson of Bonsall, was the daughter of a local entrepreneur who had made a fortune, Sir Richard did not think her suitable.
Why then did Richard’s father – a man himself of modest origins – object to his son’s marriage? Adam Simpson came from a line of Bonsall miners which would appear to go back at least to a copyholder (manorial tenant) in that village who bore the same name. They were humble folk, for the first Adam’s son Anthony paid tax on only one hearth there in 1670.
They were regarded as respectable enough though, for Anthony’s son James, of Westhouses in Wirksworth, married Grace Wigley (1665-1724) in 1692, the daughter and heiress of Ralph Wigley, the son of a tanner at Cromford, but a grandson of Henry Wigley of Wigwell and Middleton-by-Wirksworth, who had made a fortune in lead and been granted a coat of arms. James’s son John Simpson married a girl from Weston-on-Trent on 13th August 1725 and their offspring included John, Dorothy – whose husband eventually inherited Adam Simpson’s estate at Bonsall – and Adam himself, the eldest, born in 1726. Thus Simpson’s background much resembled that of Arkwright, except that the life of a lead miner was financially very uncertain, exceedingly dangerous and extremely hard physical work.
Yet Adam had endured all this and had vastly enriched himself. By the time his daughter married, he had assembled an estate at Bonsall centred around the old manor house and owned lead mines or shares of lead mines at Bonsall, Middleton-by-Wirksworth and Matlock, he also ran a smelting plant at Lumsdale in Tansley. Typical of his interests in the local mines was the 12/24ths of the Mouldridge Mine he owned at Mouldridge Grange with Henry Thornhill; indeed with the latter and Philip Gell he had several other such investments At one time he had also served as Barmaster at Wirksworth Barmote Court, a Crown appointment, made by voting amongst active lead miners, which carried a great deal of influence in deciding mining disputes with the help of an elected jury.
Simpson’s first wife was Bonsall-born Elizabeth Robinson, who bore him a son, Adam, but died in childbirth a few years later. He then married Elizabeth Oldham from Shirland, who was Mary Arkwright’s mother. She was also mother to John and Samuel Simpson, who were to loom large in the affairs of the Arkwrights, thanks to the connection. It was probably the marriage which was the spur to Simpson’s rebuilding and enlarging the Manor at Bonsall (later re-named The Study) in exuberant Gothick style. if George Rawlinson was the architect, as seems highly probable, he would have come on Arkwright’s recommendation.
It is thus hard to fathom Arkwright’s objection to Richard’s marriage, unless he was hoping he would choose the daughter of a landed gentleman, bearing in mind that his daughter Susannah was even then about to marry Charles Hurt. Perhaps he thought that Mary’s two younger brothers were potential spongers and unlikely to emulate their father’s success or perhaps he just didn’t like Adam Simpson.
If so that problem evaporated just over two years later when Simpson died just ten months after his wife. In the event, as with Sir Richard at Willersley, the grand house he was building at Bonsall was left unfinished, although like Willersley, it was completed by his son, Mary’s half-brother, Adam, who also continued his lead business. Adam Simpson’s house was a drastic rebuilding of an earlier edifice. The manorial estate at Bonsall had originally been in two portions, later united as part of the Duchy of Lancaster estates in 1296.
However, when Charles I was in need of ready cash in 1630, the manor was sold, and eventually ended up being run by trustees set up by the former tenants who had clubbed together to buy it. Before 1630, the manor house was probably the place where the Duchy’s agent and chief tenant lived but from that date there was always one family pre-eminent in the parish. At first it was the Hopkinsons, but by the end of the 17th century, it was the Fernes, whose heiress brought it to the Turnors of Stoke Rochford.
They had no use for a large house in Bonsall – it appears to have been rebuilt by the Fernes as a three bay two story early Georgian farm house – and sold it to Simpson. Simpson used the farm house as the core of his new house, adding three ranges to the west, one contiguous and parallel to the original house, another also parallel but divided from it by a further range at ninety degrees and set well back, forming a deep cour d’honneur, centred upon a remarkably unpretentious entrance. On the east side of the old house was an irregular three bay range with a longer lower part, set slightly back which constituted the service wing.
The entire building was given Gothick fenestration with cranked hood moulds, a string course between the floors and another above the upper storey windows, and the flat roof of the extensions as well as the high hipped roof of the original build were set behind a crenelated parapet which united the entire house. From this roof emerged a forest of skinny chimneys. We have little idea of the interior unfortunately, but we might reasonably assume a Hopton wood stone cantilevered staircase with a wrought iron rail.
The gardens and pleasure grounds were laid out with additional planting to embellish the setting and relieve the stark treeless hills amongst which the very romantic house was set. We are not sure if the new house was called the Manor House or the Study during this early period but it was certainly called The Study from the 1840s, allegedly because from the 1820s until 1841 it was let as a 24-pupil boarding school. However, the name might have an earlier etymology in the area and could be ancient, perhaps combining the Olde English stod-, ‘a herd of horses’, with –ge, ‘an area’, perhaps a district, hence ‘place where horses live’, albeit that this combination seems to produce the implied ancient spelling, stodge!
We neither know the name of the architect nor the landscaper, but the former may be guessed at. As the building appears to have closely followed Mary Simpson’s marriage to Richard Arkwright, it might be reasonable to attribute it to George Rawlinson of Matlock Bath (1734-1823) who is associated with a number of Arkwright’s building projects between 1777 and 1790. He also undertook much work at Matlock Bath; the Towers and the Upper Towers there firmly attributable to him are miniature versions of The Study.
He is also believed to have worked for another associate of Arkwright’s and Simpson’s, Philip Gell (entrance front of Hopton Hall, c1796) and probably designed Alderwasley Hall and The George at Wirksworth for Francis Hurt, Simpson’s brother-in-law. The landscape probably came later and could conceivably have been by John Webb, a follower of William Emes who was landscaping Willersley Castle for Richard Arkwright Junior 1789-1796.
The younger Adam died relatively young and left a complicated will, in which the Bonsall house and lead-rich 250 acre estate went to the residual legatee, Henry Flint husband of his aunt Dorothy, thus bypassing his two younger half-brothers, who were busy managing various Arkwright mills. Flint left two daughters both of whom successively married Bonsall lead merchant Samuel Prince, by then also dead. Thus the latter’s eldest son, another Samuel (1781-1861), duly inherited it on his grandfather’s death, when quite a young man. At that time he was running a prosperous grocery business in Manchester, so let the house until his retirement at 60 in 1841. Prince was succeeded by his son Revd. Samuel Prince (1819-1865) and he by sons Samuel III, born 1851 and Henry Flint Prince, who had succeeded Samuel III by 1895.
At the end of 1870 work was done to the house by Samuel III, probably including the addition of the large canted bay visible in the well-known Edwardian postcard view of the house. Ironically, today the bay is all that survives, for on the death, unmarried and aged 73, of the last of H F Prince’s sisters Annetta in 1927 the house was left empty, during which time it mysteriously caught fire. The successor building, Study Farm, run by the third generation of the Allsop family, incorporates the bay. Unfortunately, apart from part of the stable block which is now an attractive holiday let, little else remains of this enigmatic and romantic seat in its incomparable setting.