Category Archives: Country Houses

The most haunted pub in Sheffield

Carbrook Hall, Sheffield

Carbrook Hall, Sheffield

Some historians suggest that the fact that Attercliffe is mentioned first in the Domesday Survey of 1086 – “Ateclive & Escaveld” – is an indication that Attercliffe was more significant than Sheffield before the building of the Norman castle.

Certainly there was a manor house belonging to the Blunt family by 1176 and this house was rebuilt in 1462 and became Carbrook Hall.

It was purchased by Thomas Bright, lord of the manor of Ecclesall, in the late-sixteenth century and the surviving stone-built wing was built c1620 for Stephen Bright (1583-1642), bailiff of the Earl of Arundel’s Hallamshire estates from 1622 and later lord of the manor of Ecclesall.

Stephen Bright’s son, Sir John (1619-1688) helped co-ordinate the siege of Sheffield Castle in 1644 from the Hall.

The Brights’ Carbrook estate passed repeatedly through the female line, and it seems that later generations let the building from early in the eighteenth century.

The house was more extensive than the surviving remnant:  it was surveyed by William Fairbank in 1777, and E Blore’s engraving in Joseph Hunter’s Hallamshire:  the history and topography of the parish of Sheffield in the county of York (1819) shows an elaborate jettied timber wing and other outbuildings.

There remain two elaborate interiors with fine oak panelling and plasterwork, possibly the work of the same craftsmen who decorated the Little Keep at Bolsover Castle.

The lower room has an oak chimney piece dated 1623 with Corinthian columns and strapwork and a depiction of Wisdom trampling on Ignorance, with scrolls containing mottoes.  A very similar fireplace, originally at Norton House, is now preserved at the Cutlers’ Hall.

The stone fireplace in the upper chamber is stone, and instead of columns features unusual caryatids.  In a nearly circular cartouche is an image of the pelican in her piety.

Carbrook Hall became a public house sometime in the nineteenth century – all surviving photographs show it without the timbered wing – and in that guise it became an unlikely survivor of the days when Attercliffe was rural:

In recent times it has traded on a reputation as “the most haunted pub in Sheffield”, giving rise to investigations and reports that lose nothing in the telling:

In February 2017 the Carbrook Hall closed as a pub, to the distress of CAMRA and local workers.  The new owner, West Street Leisure, has not yet disclosed future plans for the building, beyond saying that its status as a Grade II* listed building will be respected.  Conservationists are concerned that if it stands empty it will be vulnerable to vandalism: [].

This rare survival, a fragmentary reminder of the days when Attercliffe Common really was common land and Meadowhall was surrounded by meadows, contains one of the finest historic interiors in the city.

I hope it’ll be open for the public to enjoy again very soon.

The Sheffield’s Heritage (October 2nd-6th 2017) tour includes a visit to the former industrial East End of Sheffield.  For details, please click here.


Allerton Castle, North Yorkshire:  Great Hall

Allerton Castle, North Yorkshire: Great Hall

Allerton Castle, just off the A1 in North Yorkshire, is an ideal place for a wedding, though it’ll cost a bob or two.

A dramatic Victorian Gothic pile designed by the little-known London architect, George Martin, for the 19th Lord Stourton, it has a spectacular 70-foot-high great hall, splendid state rooms and a parkland setting.

The contents were sold in 1965 when Lord Stourton’s direct descendant, the 25th Lord Mowbray, died, and two successive religious organisations, neither of which proved capable of keeping it up, leased it.

When Lord Mowbray’s heir, his grandson Edward, inherited in 1985 he resolved to sell it and it was spotted, fortuitously, by the vice-president of the Tandy Corporation, Dr Gerald Rolph, who was driving north to go shopping for a Scottish castle.

Dr Rolph inspected Allerton Castle in the morning and bought it the same afternoon.

He then spent twenty years carefully restoring the building, replacing the roof, rewiring, and filling the place with furniture, some of it original to the house.

In January 2005 a chimney fire spread into the roof void, gutting most of the principal rooms.  The 5,000-gallon water tank cracked and the resulting flood saved the Conservatory and part of the Library.

Dr Rolph, reasoning that if the place could be restored once it could be restored twice, promptly set about a renewal programme which was completed in 2012.

Much of the carving in both wood and marble and the plasterwork was completed in China, using fibreglass moulds of originals as templates.  Other work was sourced locally:  armorial stained glass was restored or replicated by Paul Lucker of Elland and the wood-carving in the conservatory was carried out by Julie Meredith of York.

Dr Rolph designed and commissioned other reproductions including the Bucharest-made Persian-style hand-tied carpet for the Great Hall and the carpets in the Morning Room and the Dining Room.  For the Library the Pugin wallpaper was printed from the original blocks by Cole of London and the carpet was designed by Dr Rolph and manufactured by Mercia Weavers.

You can visit Allerton Castle on Wednesday afternoons and Bank Holiday Monday afternoons from Easter Monday through to the end of October 2016, though you see rather more of the place (and enjoy a sumptuous afternoon tea) on special tours that run on specific dates through the year:

Or you can hire the whole place if you have enough cash.

The thing is done but nobody did it

Calke Abbey, Derbyshire

Calke Abbey, Derbyshire

Calke Abbey sits oddly in its low lying setting, chosen by Augustinian monks when they built their priory c1131.  (Like Newstead Abbey in Nottinghamshire, Calke was never an abbey until long after it became a rich man’s house.)

The present house was built in 1701-4 by Sir John Harpur, the fourth baronet, whose father had had the great fortune to inherit the estates of his great-grandfather’s various descendants, and the misfortune to die when his son was little more than a year old.

No known architect has been identified for Sir John’s externally impressive but internally inconvenient house.  His neighbour Elizabeth Coke remarked of some misdeed that “like Caulk House, the thing is done but nobody did it”.

Sir Henry Harpur, the eccentric seventh baronet, married a lady’s maid and became so reclusive that he was known as the “isolated baronet”, yet changed his name to Harpur Crewe in the vain hope of reviving a long dormant Crewe barony.

His son, Sir John Harpur Crewe, 9th baronet, was – according to his epitaph – “averse to a public life and spent the greater part of his days at Calke among his own people…”

His son, Sir Vauncey Harpur Crewe, 10th and last baronet, was descended from the isolated baronet through both his parents, and in him the trait towards reclusiveness became extreme.

From inheriting the estate at the age of forty in 1886 until his death in 1924 his only major contribution to local life was to take his turn as High Sheriff of Derbyshire in 1900.

Like the burrowing Duke of Portland he had more time for his tenants and workers than for his peers, and communicated with his children by letter:  eventually he turned his only unmarried daughter out of the house for smoking.

No motor-car passed the gates of Calke Park in his lifetime, and though he repeatedly sacked servants for keeping fires too hot for his collection of stuffed wildlife they were easily re-engaged because he did not know one from the other.

At his death the property passed to his sister, Mrs Hilda Mosley, and from her to her nephew, Charles Jenney, another shy bachelor who changed his name to Harpur Crewe in 1961.

He left his younger brother Henry (who also changed his name to Harpur Crewe) with a tax burden of £8,000,000 when he inherited in 1981.

Henry Harpur Crewe’s determination to save Calke as a unique historic site attracted the support of the National Trust, the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the Historic Buildings Council and SAVE Britain’s Heritage.  Eventually the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Nigel Lawson, promised £4,500,000 towards endowing the house and park in his 1984 Budget Speech to keep the place intact.

The house was substantially as it had been left in 1924;  Sir Vauncey had done little but add cases of stuffed animals since his father died in 1886.

Here was the accumulated bric-a-brac of generations of country-house inhabitants and their servants, yet little of significant artistic value except for the most astonishing survival of all, the State Bed, still in its original packing because no suitable family room had height enough for it.

Many thousands of items had to be catalogued, photographed and removed for safe-keeping while the structural restoration of the building was carried out.  Alongside heavy engineering to stabilise the building, enormous care was taken to retain the largely undisturbed patina of the nineteenth century.

In the Drawing Room the chairs had been covered for almost their entire lives, so their textiles were revealed in superb condition, but the curtains, continually exposed to daylight, simply disintegrated and had to be woven anew to the original pattern.  The original linen-backed wallpaper, dating from around 1855, had to be stripped and then put back on the wall.

When the little pot pug dog with the broken foreleg was returned to his place in the entrance hall, the matchbox that had been found propping him up went back into place also.

Calke is a memorable place to visit [], now restored in “as found” condition like the much smaller Mr Straw’s House in Worksop.

Boot’s Folly



Boot's Folly, near Strines, Sheffield

Boot’s Folly, near Strines, Sheffield

I dislike the term “folly”, referring to extravagant and apparently useless buildings and structures.

Quite often, the constructors of eccentric buildings had a purpose, and knew exactly what they were doing.

The Wentworth Marquises of Rockingham and Earls Fitzwilliam constructed what are now called the Wentworth Monuments to embellish the landscape and to commemorate important events.

Eye-catchers such as Deer Park Lodge at Scampston Hall, North Yorkshire, and Sir Thomas Tresham’s famous Triangular Lodge at Rushton, Northamptonshire though decorative, doubled as functional estate buildings.

Boot’s Folly, a plain square tower, 45 feet high, that can be seen across the hills north-west of Sheffield between Bradfield and Strines, is unambiguously a folly.

It stands over a thousand feet above sea-level, and is built of the stones of three demolished farms.

Its builder was the canny construction magnate Charles Boot (1874-1945) who lived at Sugworth Hall in the valley below.

He was the son of Henry Boot (1851-1931), who founded the family company and built it from nothing. Charles took over from his father just before the First World War, made a fortune from military contracts during the war and then continued to grow his wealth through post-war construction, particularly housing in Britain and on the continent. He was also the founder of the Pinewood film studios.

In the spirit of all the best follies, there’s no clear reason why he built his tower. A customary explanation is the desire to provide employment for the unemployed, like Joseph Williamson at Edge Hill or the 5th Duke of Portland at Welbeck. A more distinctive story is that Charles Boot wanted a vantage point within sight of Bradfield churchyard where his wife was buried in 1926, the year before the tower was built.

Originally, a staircase led to a panelled room at the top of the tower, but this was dismantled – so the story goes – after a cow strayed up the stairs and had to be rescued with difficulty.

There is a fine set of images of the tower at

Lafite, 2014

Joanna Vasconcelos, 'Lafite, 2015' (one of a pair), Waddesdon Manor, Buckinghamshire

Joanna Vasconcelos, ‘Lafite, 2015′ (one of a pair), Waddesdon Manor, Buckinghamshire

I’m habitually suspicious of modern art, sensing that some of it is a repository for rich people’s spare capital and much of it is artists’ scratching their imaginative itches in preference to providing pleasure for non-artists.

On the contrary, I took an immediate liking to a pair of sculptures that I found installed at the entrance to Waddesdon Manor, the great French-style chateau that Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild built on a bare hilltop in Buckinghamshire between 1874 and 1889. Though Waddesdon was given to the National Trust in 1957, it is run by a Rothschild family trust, and the contiguous subsidiary house at Eythrop is the residence of Jacob, Lord Rothschild.

Joanna Vasconcelos’ Lafite, 2015 celebrates the family’s connection with wine and their great Bordeaux estate, Château Lafite Rothschild. It consists of a pair of giant candlesticks composed of over a thousand magnums, neatly connecting the magnificent Rothschild fine art within the house with the produce of the family vineyards:

At night the candlesticks light up.

Joanna Vasconcelos’ trademark is to construct artworks from everyday forms, such as Piano Dentelle, 2008-2011 [], Pavillon de Thé, 2012 [] and Call Centre, 2014 []. For more illustrations of Joanna Vasconcelos’ work, see

Waddesdon Manor is one of the National Trust’s most popular sites, and is best visited at off-peak times:

You can treat yourself to a bottle of wine if you’ve a bob or two to spare:

Stately pre-fab

Hill Bark, Frankby, Cheshire

Hill Bark, Frankby, Cheshire

Robert Spear Hudson (1812-1884) was the man who first popularised soap powder, working from his modest shop in West Bromwich. He eventually moved his business to a factory in Bank Hall, Liverpool, and went to live in Chester.

His son Robert William Hudson (1856-1937) became extremely wealthy and sold the business to Lever Brothers in 1908.

He commissioned the distinguished local architect Edward Ould to build a Black-and-White Revival house in 1891 on a site near Bidston Hill on the Wirral.  It bears more than a passing resemblance to Little Moreton Hall, near Macclesfield – but built in reverse. It was named Bidston Grange.

Typically of its time and its style, Bidston Grange contained sumptuous glass by William Morris, and architectural bric-a-brac with antique associations – dining-room doors from a tea-clipper and a fireplace dated 1577 reputedly from “Sir Walter Raleigh’s former home”.

It was apparently the model, or at least the inspiration, for Cecelianhof, the Potsdam residence of the Crown Prince Wilhelm, son of Kaiser Wilhelm II, built c1911 and subsequently the site of the signing of the Potsdam Agreement of 1945.

In 1921 Bidston Court was sold to Sir Ernest Royden (1873-1960), one of a dynasty of shipbuilders and shipowners.

Because Lady Royden disliked the way its setting was encroached by housing [] the 1891 structure was dismantled and re-erected a property she had inherited five miles away at Frankby.

There it replaced a house of 1868-70, originally built for Septimus Ledward JP, which took its name ‘Hillbark’ from a stone barn that had stood for several centuries.

The Roydens’ transplanted residence became known as Hill Bark.

The original site at Vyner Road South, Bidston, is now a public garden.

When Sir Ernest Royden died in 1960, Hill Bark was purchased by Hoylake Urban District Council and converted into a residential home for the elderly.

It was sold in 1999 for £300,000 and converted first into a catering-facility specialising in weddings, opened in 2000, but using only the ground-floor rooms. In 2002 it was restored as a luxurious 19-bedroom five-star boutique hotel:

For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lecture Survivals & Revivals:  past views of English architecture, please click here.

Leasowe Castle

Leasowe Castle, Cheshire

Leasowe Castle, Cheshire

One of the most distinctive places to stay on the Wirral is Leasowe Castle, which was in fact never a castle, though it has been put to many uses in its four-hundred-year history.

Leasowe Castle is identified with the “New Hall” built by Ferdinando, 5th Earl of Derby in 1593, the year of his accession to his title, possibly as a stand from which to watch horse-racing on the flat shore.

A datestone bearing the Stanleys’ triskelion, the three-legged symbol of the Manx kingdom, is now in the Williamson Museum & Art Gallery in Birkenhead.

Ferdinando, Earl of Derby’s original structure was an octagonal tower with walls three feet thick, to which were later added four square towers, possibly by William, 6th Earl, in the early seventeenth century.

By the late seventeenth century the building was derelict and known locally as “Mockbeggar Hall” and for much of the eighteenth century it was used as a farmhouse.

In 1802 was sold to Margaret Boole, “the kind old lady of Leasowe Castle”, which she had made a refuge for the victims of shipwrecks and wreckers on the Wirral coast.

She set up Dannet’s Rocket Apparatus on the shore in an attempt to prevent shipwrecks and the pernicious activities of the local wreckers, who would show false lights in an attempt to lure vessels ashore.

Margaret Boole died in 1826 as a result of a carriage accident, and the Castle passed to her daughter and heir, Mary Anne, the wife of Col Edward Cust.

Colonel Cust converted the Castle to a hotel with the intention of establishing a resort in the grounds, and when this ambitious project failed in 1843 he turned back it into a residence which he kept until his death.

Edward Cust added most of the features of the building as it now stands –

  • the perimeter wall and entrance gateway
  • the Battle Staircase, its 84 wrought-iron balusters each carrying a painted nameplate commemorating a British victory
  • the dining room panelled with wood ostensibly taken in 1839 from the original Star Chamber in the Exchequer Buildings of the Palace of Westminster
  • the supposedly haunted library fitted with oak timbers from the submerged forest at Moels

– and possibly the oak Canute’s Chair, now lost, which stood above the high-water line, carved with the motto “Sea come not hither nor wet the sole of my foot”.

One of Col Edward Cust’s successors sold the Castle in 1891 to the Leasowe Castle Hotel company.

The original Star Chamber panels are reported to have been sold in the contents sale which took place on September 16th-20th 1895: the existing ones may be reproductions.

In 1910 the Castle was bought by the Trustees of the Railway Convalescent Home and, apart from an interlude during the First World War when it housed German prisoners of war, it remained in their hands until 1970.

In 1982 it returned to hotel use:

For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lecture Survivals & Revivals:  past views of English architecture, please click here.

Sitwell Sitwell

Renishaw Hall, Derbyshire:  east wing

Renishaw Hall, Derbyshire: east wing

The Sitwell family have lived at and owned Renishaw since the 1301. Of the owners who built and embellished Renishaw Hall, the one who aggrandised the house most was Sir Sitwell Sitwell.

The male line of the Sitwells ended with the death of the second of two bachelors in 1777 and the property, said to be worth half a million pounds, passed to a nephew in the female line, the lively, musical Francis Hurt of Mount Pleasant, Sheffield, who took the surname Sitwell.

It happened that Francis had already named his heir Sitwell Hurt, so that he duly became Sitwell Sitwell. (There was a younger son named Hurt Sitwell.)

Sitwell Sitwell, who inherited an income reputed to amount to £40,000 a year, immediately began extending the house with the help of the Sheffield architect, Joseph Badger, adding the pillars which widened the Jacobean hall, and in 1793 building the apsed dining-room extension with its chimneypiece by John Platt of Rotherham. Badger also constructed the Dairy, the Gothick Temple and other estate buildings.

In 1803 the east wing was begun, including the drawing room, which contains the earliest plasterwork attributed to Sir Francis Chantrey and a chimneypiece by Sir William Chambers, originally in the Albany, Piccadilly, which Sitwell Sitwell purchased from the Duke of York.

He erected the stables to the north-west of the house (also by Joseph Badger) to accommodate his racing stud, his hunters and the hounds which in November 1793 had famously chased and captured a “Royal Bengal Tiger” escaped from a nearby menagerie.

The Prince Regent visited Renishaw with his daughter, Princess Charlotte, in 1808 and made Sitwell Sitwell a baronet. The ballroom, which contains another of the Albany fireplaces, was completed for this occasion:  its ceiling is embellished with the Prince of Wales’ feathers.

Sir Sitwell Sitwell died, of gout or of its treatment, aged 41, in 1811.

Dames to the rescue

Sulgrave Manor, Northamptonshire

Sulgrave Manor, Northamptonshire

In the summer of 1914, as a great war approached, British, American and Canadian public figures were preoccupied with celebrating the centenary of the end of another war, the War of 1812, the last time that Britain and the United States were in conflict.

Peace Centenary Committees on both sides of the Atlantic resolved that commemoration of the signing of the Treaty of Ghent on Christmas Eve 1814 should include the purchase and restoration of George Washington’s ancestral home, Sulgrave Manor in Northamptonshire.

The manor house was built in the sixteenth century by Lawrence Washington, the great-great-great-great-great-grandfather of the first President of the United States of America.

Lawrence Washington’s grandson, also Lawrence, had a younger son, himself also Lawrence, whose son, Colonel John Washington, emigrated to Virginia: his great-grandson was George Washington, the first President.

Sulgrave Manor’s tenuous connection with international history saved the building, which had become dilapidated by the beginning of the twentieth century.

Eventually, after the end of the intervening Great War, Sulgrave Manor was opened by the Marquess of Cambridge, the brother of Queen Mary, in 1921 as a centre to commemorate and celebrate what a generation later we learned to call the special relationship between Great Britain and the United States.

The principal financial supporters of Sulgrave Manor are the members of the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America, all of whom descend from an ancestor “who came to reside in an American Colony before 1750, and whose services were rendered during the Colonial Period”:

The manor is modest, partly Tudor and partly eighteenth-century. Much of the Tudor house had vanished, and to bring symmetry to its main front Sir Reginald Blomfield designed a convincing pastiche as a director’s house.

Lying in a quiet corner of Northamptonshire a few miles from the National Trust’s Canons Ashby [], Sulgrave Manor provides a rare opportunity to examine an unpretentious Tudor manor house, carefully conserved, which relates the vicissitudes of a landed English family whose descendant change the face of America:

For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lecture Survivals & Revivals:  past views of English architecture, please click here.

Mrs Ronnie

Polesden Lacey, Surrey:  detail

Polesden Lacey, Surrey: detail

Polesden Lacey is one of the National Trust’s most popular country houses, an idyllic place to visit, rich in the atmosphere of the age of Edwardian entertaining, and a commemoration of a gifted hostess.

Margaret Greville was the illegitimate daughter of a wealthy Edinburgh brewer, William McEwan, and a boarding-house landlady, Helen Anderson.  Her parents married when she was twenty-one and, carefully screening her origins, she rose without trace in English society to become the valued confidante of three kings, Edward VII, George V and George VI.  (The Prince of Wales, briefly King Edward VIII, thought her a “bore”, which she seems to have regarded as no great loss.)

A vital step in her ascent was her loving, childless marriage to Ronald Greville. They commissioned Charles Mewès and Arthur Davis, the architects of the Ritz Hotel, to redesign Polesden Lacey in 1906 but Ronald Greville died two years later.

As “Mrs Ronnie”, she entertained at Polesden Lacey and in London, travelled the world, and seemed to know almost everyone of significance in English high society.

Siân Evans’ biography, entitled Mrs Ronnie:  the society hostess who collected kings (National Trust 2013) shows how Margaret Greville used her father’s wealth and her husband’s status to impress the highest in the land.

She endeared herself to King Edward VII while he was still Prince of Wales:  she provided varied, interesting company, the standard of luxury to which he was accustomed, and consummate discretion:  “I don’t follow people into their bedrooms,” she said.  “It’s what they do outside them that’s important.”

After her father’s death in 1913, recognising that she had no family member to whom she could bequeath her substantial wealth, she intimated to King George V and Queen Mary that she would leave her estate to one of their descendants, with a presumption that it should go to their second son, then known as Prince Albert.

This may indicate why the prince brought his bride to Polesden Lacey for part of their honeymoon in 1923:  the thought may have crossed their royal minds that one day all this would be theirs.

Mrs Ronnie lived until 1942, sitting through the Blitz in her penthouse at the Dorchester, teasing her friends who cowered in the basement.  She was buried in the garden at Polesden Lacey near to the house.

Her will revealed that she had left Polesden Lacey to the National Trust, and among her many bequests she willed “with all my loving thoughts all my jewels and jewellery” to Queen Elizabeth.  The Queen took this surprise philosophically, writing to the King, “I am not sure that this isn’t a very good idea because it is a very difficult place to keep up, terribly expensive I believe and needing a millionaire owner”.

Among many other bequests, large and small, Mrs Ronnie left £20,000 to Princess Margaret and £10,000 to Osbert Sitwell.

Her net estate amounted to £1,505,120 5s 10d.