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The Lost Houses of Derbyshire – West Hallam Hall

The Lost Houses of Derbyshire – West Hallam Hall

No native West Hallam resident, of course, would acknowledge being resident of Ilkeston – they are fiercely independent folk – but the loss of the hall caused this unexpected expansion, and the man responsible was bullish Nottingham developer and bigwig, Alderman Sir Albert Ball (1863-1946), as with one of two other lost Derbyshire houses (not to mention Nottinghamshire ones!) 

 The manorial estate at West Hallam came very early into the hands of the Cromwell family, later famous for giving us Lord Treasurer of England, Ralph, Lord Cromwell KG, who built Wingfield Manor in the 1440s. When he died in 1455 his daughter and heiress was long married to Sir Richard Stanhope KB of Rampton, Nottinghamshire, but her daughter Maude, who inherited the West Hallam element of Lord Cromwell’s estates from her mother, sold it in 1467 to Thomas Smith, otherwise known as Powtrell. 

The Powtrells were an ancient Nottinghamshire family, seated since the late 12th century at Thrumpton; a junior branch was at Atlow in Derbyshire in the 13th and 14th centuries, another at Prestwold, Leicestershire a little later. Richard Powtrell had been Receiver General of Edward III, but died without issue in 1399; his heiress Isabella, his brother’s daughter, had by 1420 been long married to Thomas Smith of Breaston, and their son, Thomas, is the man who inherited West Hallam in the right of his wife, and assumed the surname and arms of Powtrell in lieu of Smith.   

 The Cromwells may have had a house there in the very early period – there is a moated site called The Mot, fed by the Stanley Brook, in nearby Fox Holes plantation where Ralph de Cromwell II is said to have established a residence – but seem not to have lived there after their rise to fame and power in the 14th century hence, when Thomas Smith (or Powtrell) decided to build a new house, it would have been an entirely new affair, arranged around a courtyard. In 1670 it was taxed on 20 hearths, which is quite a healthy number for a medieval house, so the house was probably a fairly grand affair of coal measures sandstone.  Like a number of the grander houses in the county, West Hallam Hall also had a domestic chapel, served by a priest, probably the incumbent of the parish church, which stood immediately to the east of the house.  

  This arrangement was only thrown into sharp contrast after 1536 when Henry VIII broke with Rome and declared himself Supreme Governor of the church in England. John Powtrell (died 1544) could not stomach this upheaval and remained staunchly Roman Catholic, becoming classified as a recusant and being fined for non-attendance at church on a regular basis, thus diminishing (as the Crown intended) the family’s financial resources – in the hope that to save their patrimony – Catholic gentlemen would conform. His son Sir Thomas continued this stance after Queen Mary’s death, although the younger son Nicholas, a lawyer, was content to conform and became ancestor of the Powtrells of Egmanton, Nottinghamshire and Chilwell.  

 This persecution intensified after the arrest of Mary, Queen of Scots, Lord Shrewsbury being the chief instigator of various campaigns of suppression in Derbyshire, culminating in the execution of the Padley Martyrs and Richard Simpson at Derby in 1588.    

 Despite this, the Powtrells seem to have managed to keep their heads down until 1680 when the Catholic priest George Busby was arrested at West Hallam Hall, where his predecessor had had a loyal following of 40 local people. He was tried before a grand jury empanelled with the cream of the local (Protestant) landed gentry, and executed in 1681 – this in the wake of the hysteria surrounding the conspiracy called the Popish Plot which came to a head at that very time. 

 By this time, too, the Powtrells had lost the estate, for in 1666 when Henry Powtrell died, the house and lands passed to Sir Henry Hunloke of Wingerworth, brother of Mrs Powtrell (and of the wife of Henry’s brother, John), by deed of gift which allowed the Powtrell family to continue to live in the house, which they did until the death of John’s younger nephew, William, in 1687. This arrangement was almost certainly because the recusancy penalties had finally taken their toll on the family fortunes. 

 The Hunlokes, also recusants, but, with much coal under their estate just south of Chesterfield, were bullet-proofed against the depredations of recusancy fines, used West Hallam Hall as a place for younger sons and widows to live, but by the mid-18th century it was lying empty, and they demolished it a few years after 1770 – except for the chapel which served a flourishing if select Catholic community in the area. 

 Once the hall had been demolished, a two and a half storey brick farmhouse was built to replace it, yet with the chapel still attached. What did for it, the last surviving fragment of the old hall, was the Duke of Wellington’s Catholic Emancipation Act, passed in 1829. From thence the local Catholics could worship openly again for the first time in 300 years, and could travel to Chapels in Derby, Ilkeston and Nottingham to worship on Sundays and feast days. Hence, in around 1833, the old building was finally taken down.  

 Its stained glass, some of which is claimed to have been rescued by the Powrtrells from the dismantling of the Abbey of Dale nearby, was installed in the parish church next door. The very ancient cruciform sandstone font had, much earlier, found its way to Holy Trinity, Mapperley, but in 1815 it was identified and recovered by Revd. Thomas Bloodworth, who gave it to Sir Robert Wilmot, Bt., of Chaddesden Hall who, in turn, presented it to Revd. William Hope, a Derby bigwig, who bequeathed it to the Museum at Derby. It was subsequently presented to St. Barnabas, Radbourne Street, Derby on its consecration in 1885 where it remains. 

 Meanwhile, the Hunlokes had sold the estate in 1822 to the Newdigates of Arbury Hall, Warwickshire, a younger son of which had acquired the Kirk Hallam estate in the late 17th century (and another lost house, watch this space) – hence the family’s interest in expanding into West Hallam. Arbury, of course, is the superb Georgian Gothick house to which estate the family of  pioneer Derbyshire novelist George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans) had moved from Norbury.  

 In 1875, with an agricultural depressing in full swing, they decided to sharpen up their act with regard to their 2,058 acres estate at West Hallam, and built a new hall, in typical Victorian style, of brick with coal measures sandstone dressings but incorporating the west facing late 18th century farmhouse as a cross-wing. The architect of this house was John Parkin of Idridgehay who had an office in Derby’s St. Mary’s Gate. He was described as ‘Architect and builder, land agent and surveyor’, having been born in Belper in 1831. He also designed the Master’s House at Anthony Gell School in Wirksworth (1887) and worked in tandem with his son, John Robert Parkin. 

 The house was essentially of two storeys, brick with a central gabled full-height canted bay, the latter having a hipped roof under the barge-boarded gable, all under a roof of rectangular and fish-scale tiling, laid in horizontal rows. The windows were plate glass sashes, as was then fashionable. However, at the west end, the taller cross-wing marked the incorporation of the later 18th century farm house, with a first floor projecting oriel window over a paired sash, whilst the west side itself was Victorianised with a further projecting gable, giving a slightly unbalanced impression when viewed from the south lawn. The interior was not notable for its grandeur, but still managed to include 14 bedrooms. 

The house was built for a younger son, Lt. Col. Francis William Newdigate (1822-1893) who remained there until he moved to a grander family property, Allesley Park in Warwickshire, in 1888 when it was let to His Honour Judge Samuel Bristowe of the Derbyshire (Twyford Hall) branch of the family, the senior branch of which had been long settled at Besthorpe Hall, in Nottinghamshire. He was followed, by 1895, by Roger Bass, a younger brother of 1st Lord Burton then, by 1898, dog breeders Mr. & Mrs. W. Griffiths-Foster but, in 1903, Sir Francis Newdigate-Newdegate GCMG KGSTJ sold house and estate to Sir Albert Ball, who proceeded to asset-strip it and build houses. He let the house itself to Henry FitzHerbert Wright of the Nottingham banking family and a director of the Butterley Company, and after him it became the home of vintner and hunting enthusiast Spencer Henry Rook. 

Rook, who became ill in 1932, tragically committed suicide in the house on 5th September 1932 by shooting himself with a revolver, but his widow continued to reside at the house, which suddenly became beset with tragedy for both her stepsons, Philip and Stanley, died young in 1934 and 1937 aged 34 and 29 respectively. She then forsook the house, but lived on until 1968. The house failed to find another tenant and was soon afterwards demolished with the intention of using part of the site for housing which only came to fruition well after the war with the building of Hall Court. 


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