North Lees Hall, near Hathersage in Derbyshire, is a highly significant building, built for the Jessop family of Broom Hall who belonged to the sphere of influence of George, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury, custodian of the captive Mary, Queen of Scots and long-suffering husband of Bess of Hardwick.
Many of the Earl’s associates built “high houses”, with tall turrets, gridiron mullioned windows and skied chambers and galleries. The plasterwork at North Lees Hall includes the arms of the Rodes family of Barlborough Hall; other families with Shrewsbury links and comparable houses included the Sandfords of Thorpe Salvin Hall and the Hewitts of Shireoaks Hall.
Because North Lees Hall was more or less continuously let from the mid-seventeenth century until after the Second World War it was hardly altered, but at times unoccupied. Sometime before 1792 the tenancy came to one Thomas Eyre, whose descendants stayed here until 1882. Their occupation had an interesting effect: a whole procession of scholarly visitors assumed a quite spurious connection with the ancient and prolific Catholic family of Eyre. The resulting legends are extremely attractive.
A more famous connection came from the 1845 visit of Charlotte Brontë, who is often assumed to have based Thornfield Hall at least partly on North Lees in writing the novel she entitled Jane Eyre – “…three stories high, of proportions not vast, though considerable…battlements round the top gave it a picturesque look. Its grey front stood out well from the background of a rookery.” She may have taken her heroine’s family name from the occupants, and named the nearby fictional village Morton after the actual landlord of the George Inn, Hathersage.
After the Second World War the house was neglected, and at one stage was used for storing grain. It was converted it into holiday accommodation by Lt-Col Hugh Beach. It was purchased by the Peak Park Planning Board in 1971, and in 1987 it was leased to the Vivat Trust, who restored and reopened it as self-catering holiday apartments in 1989. A further restoration took place in 2002, and it is now let as a residence.
Other sites associated with Jane Eyre are described and illustrated at http://walk2read.com/books/jane_eyre.html.
The 80-page, A4 handbook for the 2016 The Derbyshire Derwent Valley tour, with text, photographs, maps and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £10.00 including postage and packing. To order a copy, please click here or, if you prefer, send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.