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Fulwood Castle

Fulwood Castle

Fulwood’s Castle has always intrigued me. It must have been one of the shortest-lived country houses in the region, being lived in for no more than 45 years at best. Only Bradshaw Hall at Eyam outstrips it, never having been lived in at all – or even finished but that is for another occasion! Today even less remains of Fulwood’s Castle (otherwise Middleton Castle) in a field on your left as you enter Middleton from Youlgreave, than when the late Frank Rogers took his photograph in 1941. On either side of the late Mrs Rogers, a slender and precarious column of roughcast carboniferous limestone seems to be held up by a leafless tree.

There is a terrific amount of uncertainty about the history of this house, although the history of the family that built it is reasonably well known. The Fulwoods were originally a Warwickshire landed family descended from a man called Drogo the Norman, originally granted land at Whitley also in Warwickshire. His immediate posterity took their name from the place, but a descendant assumed the name of Fulwood on inheriting a portion of that Staffordshire estate in the later Middle Ages. Reginald, a younger son, settled in Nottinghamshire in the early Tudor period and his son Thomas is described in three separate county visitation pedigrees as being ‘of Middleton[by Youlgreave], Derbyshire’. Thus when the mainstream county histories inform us that the estate by the side of Bradford Dale was only purchased in 1598 by this Thomas’s grandson, Francis Fulwood, one is faced with a suspicious discrepancy.

Thomas’s second son Humphrey was certainly settled at Hognaston and married a Kniveton of Mercaston, which rather confirms that by then they were living in Derbyshire. The suggestion of one source that their presence was through marriage with an heiress of Cokayne of Harthill may well be true, but the Visitations do not record such a marriage as early as the 1540s, although one of Thomas’s great aunts had married a Harthill of Woodwall in Parwich, of the surviving junior line of Harthill. Certainly the subsequent family estate ran to parts of Harthill, Brassington Moor and Elton. Either way subsequent events suggest that like many incomers to the region – one thinks of the Coffyns of Youlgreave and Wellses of Holme, both from the lead producing Mendip area – they seem to have been heavily and profitably involved with lead extraction, smelting and marketing.

The 1598 date may well reflect a distinct enlargement of his estate at Middleton by Francis Fulwood. With Thomas his brother who lived at Hurst, in Hathersage he paid Edward Cockayne £1,280 for the land as part of a lead deal. Nevertheless despite a marriage to Mary daughter of Richard Coke of Trusley, he may have overstretched himself, for in 1621 both brothers sold the entire estate to their wealthy middle brother, Sir George Fulwood (1558-1624), a Holborn lawyer who had obtained a confirmation of the family arms in 1579, galled no doubt that father John had previously been described as a yeoman, despite his old knightly descent. Sir George’s first wife had been a kinswoman and heiress of Ford Hall in Warwickshire which was inherited by his sons from that match.

The son of his second marriage was Christopher, born in 1590, later also a lawyer and he had the Middleton estate settled on him when his father died. I suspect that from the evidence, there must have been a family house somewhere on the estate from the earlier 16th century. We are told that the final dwelling was ‘embattled’. I also suspect it was probably built in the 1620s or ’30s as a compact tower house, a type popular in the East Midlands at the time, by Sir George after the manner of Holme Hall at Bakewell, Stydd Hall, Yeaveley or The Hagg, Staveley, which was attributable to John Smythson, the architect of Bolsover Castle.

Unfortunately, that is the sole hint of what the house was like and probably is why it was styled, long after its destruction, as a Castle. Its downfall was due to the Civil War. Sir George’s son Christopher, knighted by the King and a JP, was widely renowned for his fairness. On the outbreak of the conflict (in which he aligned himself with the King) he retained a strong cross-party following amongst the more ordinary folk in his area, especially the lead miners, who had been badly treated by Sir John Gell of Hopton, the man who had emerged almost overnight as the Parliamentary strong man in the county.

Sir Christopher and a powerful mining agent called Thomas Bushell had rallied 3,000 lead miners for the King in 1642 and although Fulwood subsequently remained on his estate as a non-belligerent, a third of his force of ‘stout men’ were eventually constituted at Shrewsbury as part of the King’s Life Guard under Lord Lindsay.The result was that Gell felt that his hold on the county was insecure, with Fulwood embedded in his rear, fortified by loyal miners, plenty of funds and a defendable house – possibly even a tower house of sorts – in a defensible position. In November 1643, he mounted a raid on Middleton to capture and neutralise Fulwood, but the squire was tipped off and hid in a rocky cleft in the dale below. The house was ransacked and one suspects badly damaged but worse was that Fulwood was eventually betrayed, shot in a struggle and apprehended.

Gell arranged for him to be taken to Lichfield, but he died of his wounds at Caulton in Staffordshire. House and estate were sequestered and we are told that two of his daughters retired to London and later died ‘in obscurity’. He also left four sons, one also a lawyer at Grays Inn, but they seem not to re-surface after the war, so they could have died in exile on the Continent or in the fighting. Lady Fulwood is said to have lived on in the house until the end of 1644 after which it was abandoned. I personally suspect that only a small part was habitable after the raid by Gell’s men for in 1670 it was only taxable on one hearth.

In the Hearth Tax list it is described as ‘the hall’, but as Mr. Bateman is taxed on 6 hearths two entries below, it is clear that the six hearths refers to the Old Hall, replaced by the present house in 1824, and the one hearth must therefore refer to the ‘castle’ – then of course, not so called. Nor do we know who paid the tax, although Tilley suggests the site was bought by the Batemans, so perhaps they kept it on as a farmhouse. All we know is that it was largely dismantled in 1720, leaving only two sections, both originally supported by chimney breasts. What is surprising is that no element of the interior survives, as when houses were demolished even in that era, re-usable things like panelling, staircases and fireplaces were acquired and re-used elsewhere, like the chimneypiece from Swarkestone Old Hall now at Calke Abbey. If anything was saved I have heard no whisper of it. The estate itself was subsequently purchased by the Howes of Langar and from them passed to the Curzons, now Earls Howe. It has always struck me that it would make a capital locale for a Time Team excavation, but with that admirable programme on the scrap-heap, I fear the opportunity has been lost.

Alistair Plant


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