For any reader who missed my description of Greenhill Hall, I ought to repeat that although Norton is today a fully integrated suburb of Sheffield, this has only been the case since 1936, when the Sheffield Council, greedy to boost rate income, managed to obtain a large chunk of NE Derbyshire during the local government boundary review of the year before.
Not that it means that Norton wasn’t already effectively a suburb of Sheffield, not a bit of it; that situation was effectively achieved by the 1890s, and indeed the village and very extensive parish always looked to Sheffield rather than Chesterfield or Derby. Because the parish included several townships with separate manorial estates, there were also quite a number of country houses, of which the Hall survives, most recently as flats along with The Oaks. Several others have gone, including Norton House, although there is a replacement on the same site.
If you refer to Samuel and Daniel Lysons’ History of Derbyshire – volume five of their incomplete magnum opus, Magna Britannia – you will find that Norton House ‘was supposed to have been built by the Morewoods’ a claim I find it difficult to substantiate; for the story is a long and complex one.
The house that survived into the age of photography, and was photographed by Richard Keene of Derby sometime in the early 1860s, had a seventeenth century core, resulting in an H-shaped plan. It was constructed of two storeys and attics of local coal measures sandstone ashlared into thinnish blocks with smooth dressings of millstone grit. The central section was recessed between the two wings under straight coped gables, and the house was somewhat similar in build to Carnfield Hall near Alfreton. The windows were mullioned (and probably transomed).
Inside there were oak pannelled rooms, some very richly carved, with a number of Sheffield school decorated plaster ceilings, that in the dining room being of six compartments with a different decorative motif in each. One chimneypiece bore a similarly styled decorated plaster overmantel bearing the armorial crest and initials of Leonard Gill and the date 1623, which we may reasonably take to be the date of building, although there had been a previous house on the site. This had been acquired and built by the family of Bishop Geoffrey Blythe, one of eight sons of William Blythe of Norton Lees, who had bought the site from the Babington family. Quote how it came to the Gills is, however, unclear, for the Bishop sold the estate to Chesterfield apothecary Richard Wood. Presumably his successor sold it on to the Gills.
We get some idea of the appearance of this original house from a drawing in Chantrey Land, presumably done in the nineteenth century, showing wide gables on the projecting wings of the north front and mullioned windows on the principal floors with enhanced (raised) transoms, with string courses along their tops.
In the civil war period, Gill died, leaving a widow who had a life’s interest in the house and paid tax on six hearths in 1670, and an only daughter, who was married to Rowland Morewood of Oakes Park, nearby, hence the Lysons’ remarks. But when he died in 1658, his son and heir, John (married to Leonard Gill’s great niece Elizabeth) went to live at Alfreton Hall, whilst his brother took on Oakes Park so, on Mrs. Gill’s death the house and its estate were sold to Samuel Hallowes, High Sheriff of Derbyshire in 1674. But, as we saw in October’s Lost Houses, he was living happily at Glapwell Hall, and his son Thomas sold Norton House once again to the Radcliffes from whom it passed in short order to the Bramhalls who sold it to John Wingfield of Hazelbarrow Hall (another lost house in Norton parish) in 1712 in order for him to endow his daughter Margaret with it on her marriage that year to Robert Newton of Mickleover.
Mickleover then had no seat (the Old Hall having found its way into the hands of the Cotchetts) and so Newton established himself at Norton House and decided to modernize it, most of which effort was directed at the south (garden) front. He removed the gables and replaced the attics with a half storey and a plain parapet above. The doorcase was given an open pediment on brackets originally with a swagger coat-of-arms in the gap, and the windows were all sashed, and given moulded stone surrounds, that above the doorcase indeed acquiring a somewhat more elaborate treatment. The central attic window was an oeil-de-boeuf set in an oval surround with four keyblocks. The original string courses were mainly suffered to remain, and the sashes did not extend to the north front.
We do not know the identity of the architect. Whilst one might suspect a man from Sheffield being brought in, it is important to bear in mind that Newton had connections further south, and two other country houses in Derbyshire have the same style of pedimented doorcase and oeil-de-boeuf above: Wheston Hall, Tideswell (mainly demolished, see Country Images November 2014) and Winster Hall still, thankfully, extant and lived in by appreciative owners. We do not know for sure who designed either of them – most likely it was John Barker of Rowsley (1668-1727) – except that it looks very much as if they are all by the same hand. All date from exactly the right period, too.
Until the death of the bachelor son, Robert, the Newtons occupied the house longer than anyone else, I suspect. However, as by 1789 Newton had acquired Bearwardcote Hall as well, he left his southerly estates to his nephew Robert Leaper (later Robert Newton) Mickleover, and a life’s interest in Norton House to three other kinsmen all kin to his mother: William Cunliffe-Shaw (great-grandfather of R. Cunliffe Shawe FSA, author of that classic of Dark Age arcana, The Men of the North) his father Joseph and great-grand-daughter Harriet, daughter of Wingfield Wildman whose mother was William Cunliffe Shawe’s daughter Priscilla – all tortuous and confusing to say the least!
None of this motley crew of heirs lived anywhere near and so they installed as tenant John Read, later of Derwent Hall (see July 2016!). Later Norton House was sold to the picturesquely named local businessman, Thomas Beard Holy (1798-1867), whose grandfather had made a fortune in Sheffield as a button maker. He added a new, rather ugly, canted bay with clunky parapet to the left side of the house and can be seen in the garden of the house with his wife – a grand-daughter of Queen Charlotte’s garden designer, Rev’d Christopher Alderson – towards the left in Keene’s photograph. After they had died, Holy’s heir John Unwin sold the house, stripped of its modest estate, ‘to a person from Lancashire’ who had apparently demolished it by 1877 for the materials: a considerable loss.
The site of the house eventually came into the hands of another businessman, Edward Montagu Earle Welby JP (1836-1926), wealthy fourth son of Sir Glynne Welby 3rd Bt. MP of Denton, Lincolnshire, who built around 1882 what appears to all intents and purposes to be a brand new house of two storeys, five rather narrow bays wide under a high hipped roof supported on a cavetto cornice. The upper windows are mullion-and-transom cross ones, but sashes on the ground floor, albeit with plate glass.
Yet, when I saw it, something very familiar struck me: the doorcase was the original one from old Norton House and the stone surrounds of the ground floor windows looked very much as if they, too, were rescued from it. Then, too, the walls are of the same thin ashlar blocks as the originals and the dressings also in the same grit-stone. Even the upper windows are of the same mullion and enhanced transom cross type that survived on the north front of the old house, and the quoins, likewise, look very familiar.
What appears to have happened is that the ‘person from Lancashire’ most likely just stripped the house out, or gutted or even part demolished it before Mr, Welby came along and had a good Sheffield architect (we do not know whom) design a new house in Queen Anne Revival style, incorporating as much as possible of what was left of its predecessor.
After the Welbys left in 1926, the house had a chequered history before being bought by a consortium of local people who established a country club there in 1945, which still, happily, flourishes. The house is, astonishingly, still unlisted, and this important and delightful area of what was Derbyshire seems not even to be in a conservation area, either.
Should have stayed in Derbyshire, chaps!