North Lees Hall was built by the Jessop family, associates of George, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury, probably in the 1570s. Lord Shrewsbury was staunchly Protestant, and had a political need to distance himself from the Catholic captive queen, Mary, Queen of Scots, whom he guarded for fourteen years. The pressure to demonstrate adherence to Queen Elizabeth’s Protestant settlement was at its most intense in the late 1580s, the period of Mary Stuart’s execution and the Armada, and Lord Shrewsbury made a particular point as Lord Lieutenant of enforcing the recusancy laws that oppressed practising Catholics.
The resulting atmosphere of paranoia and persecution must have been akin to modern totalitarian regimes.
At that time North Lees was leased to Richard Fenton, one of the original Twelve Capital Burgesses of Sheffield and a Mayor and alderman of Doncaster who lost influence in the late 1570s because of his Catholicism. By 1580 he had chosen to retire to obscurity at North Lees: on his way through Sheffield his baggage was searched and revealed “books and other furniture for Mass”, a discovery which aroused no immediate comment but was doubtless carefully noted.
On Candlemas Day, 1588, acting under the Earl’s orders, one Roger Columbell –
…went to the Northelees and took Mr Fenton, and searched his house, but found no suspicious persons. He used himself very obediently and came with him willingly to Haddon where he shewed a protection and desireth if it may stande with your Lordship’s pleasure, to have the benefit thereof for the liberty to be in his owne house,…And if this cannot be graunted him then his humble request is that he maye have respit to goe to his own howse for a week to take order for his things, and, chiefly, to comfort his doughter [sic], who was broughte in bed the same morninge and seemed amazed at his soden apprehension.
It seems likely that Richard Fenton was not released to return to North Lees until he left detention in London late in 1589. He was repeatedly imprisoned until his death around 1604.
A couple of miles away, Padley Hall, outside Grindleford, belonged to Sir Thomas Fitzherbert, a recusant who in 1588 was found to be harbouring two priests, Nicholas Garlick (c1555-1588), Robert Ludlam (c1551-1588), who along with a third priest, Richard Simpson (c1553-1588), were subsequently martyred at Derby on July 25th of that year. These three – energetic and determined men in the prime of life – were beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1987.
Sir Thomas Fitzherbert, who was also arrested, died in the Tower of London in 1591.
Padley Hall itself gradually declined until in the late nineteenth century much of it was ruinous. In 1933 the remaining barn was converted into a Roman Catholic chapel to commemorate the Padley Martyrs by the Sheffield architects, Hadfield & Cawkwell.
Padley Chapel is usually open to visitors on Sundays through the summer. Its website is still under construction but details of opening arrangements are at http://www.derbychurch.net/find/detail.php?OrgRef=padleychapel. The nearest Tourist Information Centres are Bakewell [01629-816558] and Castleton [01433-620679].
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.