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Walton Old Hall – Lost Houses of Derbyshire

Walton Old Hall – Lost Houses of Derbyshire
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Walton-on-Trent always strikes me as a pleasant place, and sufficiently off the beaten track to have survived into the 21st century rather well. It is also known for its clockmakers, too, having been the home, almost right through the 18th century, of the Rea family, Thomas Rea (1719-1782) leaving a number of sons, of whom Sampson (died 1817) – also of Burton-upon-Trent – and John both signed clocks there. In fact, it was almost a minor centre of clockmaking, such men going back to William Hosse in 1678 (possibly a predecessor or Thomas Rea) and on to Joseph Baldwin, in the 18th century, John Brearley as we move into the 19th and Samuel and William Smith, Rea’s successors. Indeed, one wonders why Walton attracted clockmakers for that 150 year period in such profusion in what was then a small agricultural settlement.

Walton also boasts a nice pub, a very fine church and a hall set four-square on a grassy knoll not far out of the nucleus: the traditional elements of the English village, in fact.

Yet there were once two halls: a Walton Old Hall as well as the present Hall, and disentangling them is quite challenging. One really has to go back to the Domesday Book of 1086 to get a handle on things. When William the Conqueror’s first dispositions were made to reward his followers, he himself retained Walton. But by the time his commissioners were compiling Domesday two decades later,  it had been granted to Hugh, Earl of Chester, who then also held Markeaton, Mackworth, Allestree and part of Kniveton, which he settled on his follower, Goscelin de Touchet. Indeed, Hugh is thought previously to have held a lot more land in Derbyshire prior to a rebellion in which he was notionally involved in 1073, including some significant chunks of Derby itself.

At Walton, his successors showed the same sort of generosity that Hugh had shown to Goscelin de Touchet, granting the manorial estate at Walton to Robert, son of their seneschal, Sir Roger de Montalt. He granted the manor to Walter de Staunton (Harold), but one hears no more of this family in the context of Walton. Robert de Montalt died childless, and the property reverted to Queen Isabella on his widow’s death. She, however, re-granted it to John Delves of Delves Hall, Cheshire – ancestor of the cuckolded husband and chief suspect in the notorious 1941 ‘Happy Valley’ Kenyan murder case, Sir Jock Delves-Broughton. From John Delves’ heirs it was finally sold in 1349 to Robert, 2nd Lord Ferrers of Chartley.

Ferrers was the son of the disgraced 6th Earl of Derby. Chartley was the one substantial estate they had salvaged from the Earl’s attainder in 1265. His junior descendants, seated at Tamworth Castle, built the Old Hall at Walton in the 16th century. Before that time, all the manor’s lords had held great estates elsewhere, so if there was a capital mansion there (and a moated site near the church very much suggests there was) it would have been sub-tenanted or occupied by a bailiff.

Today, it is very difficult to know what this house – Walton Old Hall – must have been like. By the era of photography, it had been reduced to a one-gabled brick remnant, with more of its accompanying stable block surviving, long ago converted into cottages, and today a stylish residence – than of the house that went with it.

Thanks, however to the survival of two sketches of 1839, we can at last assess the Old Hall. The anonymous pencil sketches are of high quality, and show a house very reminiscent of Somersal Herbert, further west in the County. It also closely resembles the two surviving pictures of Twyford Old Hall before its drastic reduction to a pair of agricultural labourers’ cottages in the third quarter of the 19th century (and, again, today, a stylish and sympathetically restored home).

At Walton, we have a three gabled timber framed front, with another range behind (probably facing west if my reading of the surrounding topography is right) embellished with herring-bone studding with the entrance in the right hand gable, just as at Somersal, although Walton’s gabled bays were more or less symmetrical, unlike the other house, where the gables get narrower as they ascend in height. The difference is that, whilst the FitzHerberts built Somersal Herbert in stages from 1562, here at Walton we appear to have a house built all of a piece.

Not that changes were not made. The other picture shows the south and east fronts. The former is clearly a 17th century re-building or expansion in brick with probably timber mullion-and-transom cross windows, and would appear to be identifiable with the last portion of the house to survive. At the back, this 17th century gabled range quickly gives way to a timber-framed part and a longer, lower timber wing with a wavy roofline which might suggests that it was thatched until not so long before the artist came along. In 1664, the house was taxed on a substantial 17 hearths, confirming that it was quite a grand house, larger than Catton then was, and Croxall, another Elizabethan mansion nearby.

The 17th century alterations were made by John Ferrers of Walton, the man who, in 1680, sold a portion of the estate to a former tenant, Richard Taylor, descendant of an old Surrey family, the first of whom had moved to Walton as the Ferrers’ bailiff (we would say agent today). At that time, the Taylors were living in a modest house taxed, in contrast, on but two hearths, but having bought a chunk of the Walton estate, that changed, and they began to build on to it. The house this family eventually created in 1723-1724 is the present Walton Hall.

But whilst the Taylor’s estate expanded and prospered, that of the Ferrers began to shrink.

The reason was, in essence, that the Old Hall estate, once the Ferrers family had failed in the male line, early in the 18th century, it thereafter passed by marriage through the hands of a series of grandees happily settled well away from the Trent Valley. Thus it fell into the hands of tenants, whose absentee landlords were not averse to selling chunks of land in order to settle debts.

Thus Walton Old Hall passed via the daughter and heiresss of Sir Humhprey Ferrers of Walton and Tamworth to Hon. Robert Shirley (happily seated at Staunton Harold), from him to the 5th Earl of Northampton (happily seated at Castle Ashby in that County) and from him to 1st Marquess Townshend (happily seated at Raynham Hall, in north Norfolk). It stayed with the Townshends for two further generations, until the death of the 3rd Marquess in 1855. He was something of a confirmed bachelor, whose wife, faced with an un-consummated marriage, went on to have numerous sons by a local brewer, one of whom actually managed to sit as an MP as Earl of Leicester (the Marquess’s subsidiary title)!

Thus, the Old Hall and its estate, run in absentia by bailiffs, was probably neglected and somewhat asset stripped during the 175 years of having no on-the-spot owner.

How much was left in 1855, when the 3rd Marquess Townshend’s executors sold it, is difficult to know. It was went to its tenant, James Ridgeway. His sons disposed of it in 1875 to Col. Richard Ratcliff (1830-1902), sixth son of brewer Samuel Ratcliff  builder of Cliffe house, Newton Solney (see Country Images October 2014) and co-proprietor of Bass, Ratcliff and Gretton). He lived at Orgreave Hall on the other side of the Trent and was only interested in agricultural productivity, so drastically reduced the house, sundered it from its service wing and stables, and converted the lot into cottages for his labourers.

By the beginning of the 20th century, the house had been abandoned, ‘a mutilated and derelict fragment’ and, by the 1940s, a decade or so after the removal of the entire first floor, leaving only a ‘brick wall to the height of the first storey, a curious madrepore chimneypiece and some old oak panelling’ – our only real clues to the interior of what must have been a fine house. When Mick Stanley and I came to look at it in 1983, it had been reduced to a garage for a nice Jaguar! The cottages, in contrast, were on the market in 1991 for what was (then) an eye-watering £295,000.

The late Barbara Hutton, a respected expert of national standing on timber framed buildings, acting on behalf of the Architectural Section of the Derbyshire Archaeological Society, surveyed the pathetic remnants with her dedicated helpers in 2001. She deduced from what remains, that the house had once boasted a room some 18 ft. 6 ins. by 25 ft., the low (7 ft 9 in) ceiling supported  by a main timbered beam of nearly 20 ft. with 3 in. decorative chamfers and of 13 in. square section, confirming the original the 16th century date. Her team also concluded that the later brickwork was later 17th century, as Mick Stanley and I had concluded in 1983, and all subsequent work seems to have been the result of reducing the house in the 19th century, blocking and replacing windows, and re-using all sorts of elements, including exterior timbers.

All in all, in its day it must have been quite a spectacular house, an impression re-inforced by the drawings, although even in 1839, some reduction may have already gone on.

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