Ashover is a most interesting, beautiful and large parish in central Derbyshire, situated just south east of the main road from Matlock to Chesterfield (A632). The parish is home to several minor country houses – Eddlestow, Goss, Marsh Green and Stubben Edge Halls, not to mention Eastwood Grange – but also includes a lost house, Eastwood Hall, albeit that its ruins are still a prominent feature of the landscape.
South of the village, there is a lane linking Hard Meadow Lane with Stubben Edge Lane called – you guessed it – Eastwood Lane. Although Google StreetView has never bothered to venture along it, it is a pleasant drive, and its main feature is a substantial agglomeration of farm buildings, rising up amongst which appears a tree seemingly of extraordinary and vast bulk. This is the remaining vestige of Eastwood Hall.
When Mick Stanley and I first visited, in winter 1980/1981 whilst researching the first edition of The Derbyshire Country House, it was moderately visible, standing gaunt to a considerable height; when Carole and I revisited to make a more up-to-date photograph for my forthcoming book on lost Derbyshire houses (from Amberley, expected early next year, thanks to Covid delays) we found it utterly invisible, despite it being April 2021: it was completely swathed in greenery – a huge shapeless lump. As the ruin is a grade II listed building, this is not good news, for such a plenitude of growth will inevitably weaken an already damaged structure in ruins for 376 years: one can imagine it collapsing entirely in one of the sort of storm we enjoyed in February this year. This, of course, might not be particularly good news for the owner, as a later west wing, built out of the rescued fabric, is still inhabited and a collapse could quite easily flatten it! Fortunately, these storms tend to come from the west, so they may feel confident that any collapse will fall eastwards. So profuse is the growth, indeed, that it may be holding the poor old thing together.
At the time of Domesday Book (1086) two manorial estates at Ashover, previously in the possession of a pair of Saxon thegns called Leofric and Leofnoth, had been bestowed upon one Serlo, who held it as the subtenant of the Norman grandee Ralph son of Hubert of Crich. Serlo’s great-grandson, Serlo of Pleasley, left two daughters and heiresses and, through marriages over the two following generations one daughter’s share had descended to Ralph de Willoughby and the other’s to Isidore de Reresby of Rearsby, Leicestershire and Thrybergh in Yorkshire.
Presumably, Serlo had lived on the estate, if only because by 1302, the Willoughbys had built a fresh house, and called it New Hall, presumably to differentiate it from its predecessor. Part of their estate eventually was acquired by the Reresbys, too. This was the house that later became Eastwood Hall. Sir George Sitwell claimed, to Derbyshire archaeologist S. O. Addy, that the ruins in his day included ;
‘The arch over the east doorway…a very fine and interesting specimen of Norman architecture at the early part of the 12th century, and the interior of the hall or vestibule also shows traces of the same style…the early English windows and masonry in the western tower probably date from about 1220’
Addy, however, could not verify any of this on the ground and, whatever had been built in the 13th and 14th centuries seems, in reality, to have been obliterated by a mid-to-late 15th century rebuild.
This rebuild took the form of a five storey tower house which, after Prior Overton’s Tower at Repton (1437) and the High Tower of Wingfield Manor (1444) must have been the earliest residential tower house in the Midlands, a region which, in the Tudor age, became famousfor them. The house is constructed of Ashover Grit or Chatsworth Grit (types of millstone grit sandstone) roughly squared and brought to course, with dressings – quoins, fenestration and so on – of the same.
The initial build, which may have been intended as a hunting lodge for occasional use, was a free-standing tower of five storeys; the ‘battlements’ noted in the 18th century were probably decorative Tudor merlons put on later in the 16th century to add a bit of dash to the house’s appearance, for no licence from the Crown to crenellate the house has ever come to light. The east front had the highest part at its south end and a later, lower, three storey range was added, probably in the 16th century to form a five bay east front with miniscule two light mullioned windows below a thin string course lighting the upper floor, with some mullion and transom windows for the ground floor. This range probably included something of a great hall. The central bay was deeply recessed but later acquired a porch to infill the space.
Sir Thomas Reresby married Mary Monson, who brought him a Lincolnshire estate and £2,000 which he spent turning this slightly adapted hunting lodge into a proper residence for a landed country gentleman. He added a new range to the south west and carried this round to form a west front, adding a short service wing to the north and a single storey parlour range to the east side of the high tower. The interior, it would appear, was enriched with ornamental plasterwork, but Sir Thomas eventually over-stretched himself financially, vesting the estate in trustees. In the end, he was obliged, in 1612, to mortgage it to Samuel Tryon, a London merchant who foreclosed in 1623.
Tryon then split up the estate by sale, and sold the house to Revd. Immanuel Bourne (whose family came from Whirlow, near Sheffield) the vicar of Ashover, who adapted it as a very grand and eccentric vicarage.
When the Civil War broke out, Bourne attempted to temporize and in so doing got the worst of both worlds. At first the Royalists held much of the County, and in 1643 he was visited by a detachment of them. Needless to say, when he had finished standing there telling their commander that he could ‘never bide such a war’, they pillaged the house and took as much forage as possible from his land. Doubtless, the good parson took time thereafter (when control shifted to his preferred option, Sir John Gell Bt. of Hopton for Parliament) to repair and consolidate, but on his refusal to co-operate with Sir John in 1646, he was considered a traitor, and the house was again pillaged and reputedly slighted by gunpowder. It has been a ruin ever since.
Bourne, tail between his legs, retired in high dudgeon to Chesterfield, where he lived thereafter. His heirs and successors the Nodders, decided not to repair the old house but to build a new one, Marsh Green Hall, nearer the centre of the village. They sold the old house and its remaining land in 1762 to Queen Anne’s Bounty to augment the impoverished living of Brimington. Another part of the estate, retained by the Nodders (who were also ultimately from Sheffield) was sold in the 19th century to William Chesterman JP who in 1870 built, higher up, a vast new mansion in a rather watered-down version of Hollywood Jacobethan called Eastwood Grange, designed by Giles and Brookhouse of Derby (who also gave us much of Derby city centre). It was later sold to Sir George Kenning and survives now as a special school.
Meanwhile, the old hall was allowed to moulder gently away, although one range was demolished and the stone used to build, in three distinct stages and at dates which remain unclear, an extension to the west, which is today the only portion not enveloped in growth.