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The Lost Houses of Derbyshire – Greenhill Hall, Norton

The Lost Houses of Derbyshire – Greenhill Hall, Norton

When I write about Derbyshire, I do tend to stick to the historic borders of the County, the land of which has been eroded (and less generously replenished) ever since County Councils were first formed in 1888. 

Although we have gained the Seals (Over and Nether) in the south and Fernilee to the north west, we lost all the ‘islands’ of Derbyshire that were once immured in Leicestershire: Measham, Ravenstone, Donisthorpe, Stretton-en-le-Field, Oakthorpe, Clifton Campville and Appleby Parva, not to mention Edingale, Chilcote and Croxall in Staffordshire. Since then, large settlements outside the county have hungrily seized parts of Derbyshire just to increase their rates income: Burton had Stapenhill and Winshill, for instance, and so in the same spirit, Sheffield gobbled up Beauchief and Norton, two of our most historic villages. They tried to get their hands on Dronfield, too, in 1974 but were successfully rebuffed!

Thus, I make no excuses for writing about Greenhill, a township (hamlet) of Norton, in which until 1965 stood a most venerable small manor house called Greenhill Hall. Generally speaking, smaller manor houses which managed to survive the first three decades of the twentieth century have tended to enjoy relatively assured futures, but this has not been the case for those which have fallen within the destructive ambit of Sheffield City Council, as Norton did. Little Norton Hall, Norton Lees Hall and Norton House have all passed into oblivion.

Of these, Greenhill was the most important, although its listing was never higher than II. Although the exterior dated from the later sixteenth century, the house had a much earlier core. This became only too clear as the house was demolished, revealing a three bay timber framed great hall of fourteenth century date, only matched in Derbyshire by West Broughton Hall in Sudbury. 

Samuel de Champlain (centre) surrendering Quebec to Admiral David Kirke, 20th July 1629.

The Tudor exterior boasted a delightfully irregular gabled façade of coursed rubble of Grenoside sandstone from a local outcrop. The Tudor arched door is flush with a gable to the left, whilst two others were to the right, each slightly advanced from the main façade and with fine six-light stone mullion and transom lead paned windows under short hood-moulds. The gables were straight and un-coped, with the usual array of diamond-set stacks above the stone slate roof. The SE front was ungabled, and much plainer, built in two stages, the NE part being fractionally lower than the portion adjacent to the main front, the whole being of four bays with a second (garden) door at bay three and with fenestration all of three light mullions, the lower windows being noticeably deeper than those above and having similar short hood-moulds. The upper windows (or at least some of them) had flat mullions and surrounds instead of moulded ones, suggesting later alterations – perhaps the replacement of the original timber windows. It was within this that the substantial vestiges of the original timber framed house lurked.

Inside there was a beautiful ‘Sheffield School’ ribbed and rosetted plaster ceiling in the parlour, called the ‘Oak Room’ from its lavish period panelling, which indeed stretched to other parts of the house. Indeed, the Oak Room ceiling went to Cartledge Hall not so far away in Holmesfield and can still be admired. There were also fine period over-mantels, one armorial. To the NW was a later, nineteenth century wing of no great pretension, but sufficient to make the house reasonably spacious and to afford an element into which modern (for the late 19th century!) plumbing could be inserted.

Greenhill Hall, garden fton 1910 engraved after a drawing by Charles Ashmore (1851-1925)

The earliest certain family to have a capital mansion on the site was the Mowers, also of Barlow Woodseats, William de Mora (as the name was originally spelt) being in possession in 1384. He was a tenant of the Abbey of Beauchief, nearby. A descendant left a daughter and heiress, Joan, of Newbold, who married James Bullock of Unstone in 1586 as his second wife. James was a local man, his father John, living on The Green at Greenhill but, despite the Mowers actually having long held a lease on Greenhill Hall, John had actually acquired the lease (of twenty one years) from the Abbey in their stead in 1533. However, the Dissolution of the Abbey came about within three years, and he promptly bought the freehold as well.  

James Bullock’s father died in 1579 at a great age, and seems to have undertaken the first stone rebuilding in the 1560s. His son and heir, another James (1580-1632) inherited in 1598 and added the gabled front and also extended the SE side. On his death it passed to his son John and from him to another John, who died without issue in 1699.

Yet the second James Bullock became involved in iron smelting at Staveley, where, on the death of his grandson, John Bullock (1627-1699) the enterprise passed to a cousin by marriage, Godfrey Froggatt. As a result, the hall at Greenhill was let to Thurstan, third son of Arnold Kirke of Whitehough Hall, Chapel-en-le-Frith, for he had married Francesca daughter of Jerome Blythe of Norton Hall, nearby and produced a large family, of whom Gervase, the eldest went to London and became a successful merchant of the Staple, trading at Calais. He married a French lady and had five sons, four of whom continued their father’s business whilst the youngest, James, ran the estate at Greenhill and occupied the Hall.

The eldest three sons, David, Lewis and Thomas, led an expedition to Canada in 1628, in which they were up against the wily French leader Samuel de Champlain, eventually wresting  Quebec from him and David receiving a personal grant of Newfoundland from the King.  His relations with de Champlain, though were formidably courteous, de Champlain calling him ‘Capt. Quer’ and indeed, with the family being semi-domiciled in France, this is how they were spelt there, too, just like the Williamses who served the Kings of France in  a later era, whose descendants are called Quilliams! 

This Canadian enterprise was later referred to as the ‘First British colonisation of Canada’, but the advantage was let slip by the impecunious Charles I, who was obliged to hand Quebec back to France to pay off the outstanding amount of Queen Henrietta Maria’s jointure. Nevertheless, David and Lewis were both knighted and the former allowed an augmentation to the family arms, in the shape of a canton bearing the arms of Admiral de Roquemont, who he had defeated at sea.

After the following generation of the Kirkes, all of whom died in London or ‘beyond the seas’ and their lease was surrendered to the last Bullock. The Froggatts, once they inherited, had no use for the place, and once again sold a lease upon it. 

Confusingly there was, in 1910, a stone in the garden, possibly a stray from the fabric of the building, carved: 




This represents the marriage of Thomas Bullock, a younger brother of the last John Bullock of Greenhill, who in 1667 married a lady called Elizabeth and had by her a son, Thomas, baptised in Norton in 1669. By this date the Kirke’s tenancy must have been surrendered, and the couple would have been family tenants who took up residence there on their marriage.

William Armstrong in 1910 reported various rather nebulous ghost stories of the type that invariably used to attach to very old houses, including 

‘Lupton’s Bull, a terrible animal…better remembered as a more tangible and even more terrifying feature of the hall nearly eighty years ago.’ That is around 1830. This arose from the eventual sale of house and rather modest estate to the Yorkshire Luptons, the last of whom, John, seems to have been the owner of the notorious bull. His executors let the house to Capt. Charles Dawkins, and in the 1850s to Lupton’s son-in-law, William Lister (of another Yorkshire gentry family) who was agent to the Norton Hall estate and a surveyor, he built the additional wing and was succeeded by his unmarried daughters. One wonders if the present life peer, Lord Lupton of Lovington, Hants., who in 1998 co-founded an investment bank, is not perhaps a descendant, in view of the name he bestowed upon his firm: Greenhill Europe. 

The Listers were succeeded by C. W. Crawshaw who sold to James Smith Andrew in 1900, who, Armstrong noted with satisfaction,

…is not aching to pull the old place down and build upon its site a commonplace modern mansion.’ 

He hopefully added: 

May he and his successors continue to see that Greenhill Hall is more valuable than anything else that could be erected upon its site.

He should, of course have known better. Mr. Andrew eventually sold to Mrs. Buxton, whose executors sold the house in 1948 to Sheffield Corporation. It was, needless to say, left quietly to decay and was eventually unceremoniously demolished in 1965 to make room for a vast housing development.

Its loss was incomparably the most serious of this type of house in the (historic) county and is to be most emphatically deplored. Mind you, not content with demolishing fine and historic houses, Sheffield council has recently set about even removing those most ecologically friendly of embellishments to suburban living: street trees. 5,500 have been removed at great cost since 2012! 

Norton should have stayed in Derbyshire, that’s for sure!


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