by Maxwell Craven
Lea Hall is a sequestered little paradise, half lost between the villages of Tissington and Bradbourne which, as readers will probably know, lie in the White Peak, almost east-west of each other, although the road between the two villages, south of which Lea Hall lies, is something of an adventure, taking one high over the intervening moor and down through the Bradbourne Brook via a ford, before gaining the main road from Ashbourne.
Today all there is to see is an agreeable 17th century farmhouse (in which you can stay, should you feel motivated – see their website) with a late Regency hipped roof, all enlivened by original chamfered mullioned windows of millstone grit, contrasting well with the light grey carboniferous White Peak limestone from which the house was built. Nearby, however – surrounded by much newer such structures – is a large two storey barn of random rubble limestone with a tall gabled roof and with angles sporting almost cyclopean quoins, the walls penetrated here and there by inserted windows, interspersed with traces of others, long since blinded. Both gable ends have kneelers and coping, rising to stone finials, all very reminiscent of Dethick Manor Farm, which is a similar survival of a similar period, but less heavily disguised by centuries of agricultural use. Historic England’s list (on which it is listed grade II) claims that the barn at Lea Hall is 18th century, but even on a cursory examination (which I made about 40 years ago, I must admit) that is clearly quite wrong. However, it would take a detailed examination to be precise about its origin. Both, incidentally, are grade II listed.
Lea Hall (which took its name from the hall which, from its name, must have been built prior to the scatter of other houses which make up the hamlet) was once an outlier of the Domesday manorial estate of Bradbourne and was long an extra parochial township, until tidy-minded bureaucrats in 1887 decided to transfer it to the parish of Tissington, on the eastern border of which parish it then lay. We know that from Domesday Book until 1268, Bradbourne was one of the 100 or so Derbyshire manors held by Henry de Ferrers and his heirs, the de Ferrers Earls of Derby, but the book fails to name Ferrers’ under-tenant. However, by about 1180, we become aware of Robert de Bradbourne and his brother Godard, both sons of Gerard de Bradbourne, who must have been in his prime about 1150 and, bearing in mind that Gerard took his surname from the place of which he was the Earl of Derby’s sub-tenant, the likelihood is that he was a direct descendant or heir of the Domesday holder of the manor.
Lea Hall, The present farmhouse
Godard de Bradbourne’s grandson, Sir Roger, before 1296, managed to purchase Hough Park, in Hulland (which we have yet to look at) and married Philippa, daughter of Thomas Ferrers of Loxley, Staffordshire, a member of the family of the recently disgraced Earls of Derby. He also had a house in Ashbourne and was father to six sons and three daughters, the eldest of whom married Henry de Meynell of Langley.
Of the sons, the eldest, Henry, was executed at Pontefract in 1322 for having rather rashly backed Edward II’s cousin, Thomas, Earl of Lancaster’s rebellion, and having thus been on the losing side at the Battle of Boroughbridge. Mind you, it was fairly natural that Henry should have supported Thomas, for Thomas’s father had been granted all the de Ferrers family’s expropriated land by Edward I, his brother. This made Thomas of Lancaster Henry de Bradbourne’s feudal lord at Bradbourne: the latter was thus hardly in a position to refuse to support him in his bid for the throne against the unfortunate and unpopular Edward II. Neither of his two sons lived long enough to be disinherited as a result of their father’s treasonable activities, both having died relatively young.
Sir Henry FitzHerbert, 3rd Bt., as painted by Ashbourne born William Corden (1797-1867) [Private Collection]
Prior to this, the second brother of the unfortunate Henry was living at Lea Hall and was still there in 1331 when the attainder on Henry de Bradbourne was revoked and Bradbourne itself was returned to the family. Yet only the youngest of his three sons survived his father, and is recorded as having been as of Brassington at his death around 1383. It was the rebel’s third brother’s posterity who ended up with Bradbourne (having previously lived at Parwich), Roger Bradbourne being MP for Derbyshire 1397 to 1405, but Lea Hall only re-surfaces on the record in 1439.
It was then home to one of this Henry’s younger sons, passing back in 1519 to his descendant Humphrey Bradbourne. It is not at all clear to what use Lea Hall was put during these years, as the family lived at Bradbourne Hall (which is still there), but one suspects that The Hough and Lea were granted to one or other of the plethora of younger sons produced by each generation of this family.
However, in 1594, William Bradbourne sold all his estates to Sir Humphrey Ferrers of Tamworth Castle and, despite having married two wives, seems to have dropped from record. However, one can see the logic, as William’s youngest sister, Anne, was Sir Humphrey’s wife. The Ferrers family, apart from Tamworth Castle, also held the (old) Hall at Walton-on-Trent and cannot have had any use for Lea Hall, and if the ancient hall there had not decayed completely by the date of the sale, it must have done so soon thereafter. It was probably his descendant John Ferrers (or more probably his father) who built the present L-plan farm house, which would originally have been gabled.
This John Ferrers also eventually sold Lea Hall and its modest estate (essentially two upland farms) to Samuel Swann of Hurdlow in 1679. The property was with the Swann family for three generations, until it came to the sister of Edward Swann, who brought it to John Sandars of Basford (1746-1825). His family are not known to have been related to the prolific Derbyshire Sandars family but had been settled at Beauvale, Notts., two generations before. Nor did they show much inclination to keep Lea Hall, for although recorded by the Lysons brothers as owning it in 1817, on Sandars’ death in 1825 it was sold to Sir Henry FitzHerbert 3rd Bt. of Tissington.
At the time of the sale, the tenant of the farm at Leas Hall which contains the remains of the ancient house was Thurstan Dale, a member of a very old Ashbourne family which had once owned the estate at Flagg Hall. Sir Henry FitzHerbert, who died in 1858, did much to improve his estates. He also had James Wyatt draw up plans to much enlarge and classicise Tissington Hall which, perhaps mercifully, were never implemented. His acquisition of Lea Hall would have been a logical move to consolidate his estate at Tissington, and it may well be he who had the farm house, which replaced the ancient hall, rebuilt with its present hipped roof.
The estate at Lea Hall has remained part of the Tissington estate ever since, and is now in the care of the present squire, Sir Richard FitzHerbert. But apart from that big solid-looking listed barn, no trace of the Bradbournes’ medieval house remains.