100 Halls Around Manchester Part 83: Haddon Hall, Derbyshire

Haddon has a unique history. Not only is it one of the oldest houses in England, but for much of that time it has stayed within the same family. Moreover, for 200 years until the early 20th Century, it lay empty and became one of the earliest stately homes regularly visited by tourists. Because it lay empty for so long it has retained many of its original features.

Haddon Hall, . AsDerbyshire CCVI NE 1884 © Ordnance Survey

William I gave the manor of Bakewell, including Haddon, to his illegitimate son, William Peverell¹ (c1040- c1115), along with many other domains in the Kingdom sometime between 1081 and 1087. William’s mother was possibly Maud of Ingelric who had been a concubine to William I. She married Ranulph Peverell, who owned land in Shropshire, Suffolk and Norfolk and William took his name. William passed the estate to his son, also William Peverell the younger (c 1080 – aft 1155), who at his house perhaps unwisely poisoned the Earl Of Chester, causing him to suffer an agonising death. As the Earl had recently defected to King Stephen’s side in the war against King David of Scotland, the King was understanably, and Stephen’s heir, Henry II exiled him (or he wisely fled), and seized his properties.

The property whilst in the ownership of the King, was possibly still occupied by the Peverils, as a petition of 1334 to Edward III, notes that the family are tenants of the King and have earned this by performing Knight’s service. The property passed then to the Avenell family and during the 12th century, Richard De Vernon married Alice Avenell, the daughter of William, at Haddon Hall. Richard was responsible for much of the structure of the Hall, apart from the Peveril tower and the chapel, which date from 1170.

His son sir William De Vernon marrried Margaret, the heiress of Sir Robert De Stockport. The dynasty of Vernon of Nether Haddon and Tong lived at the Hall for the next 300 or so years and exercised a great deal of influence throughout the country. Sir William became High Sheriff of Lancashire and Chief Justice of Cheshire. Sir Richard Vernon (1390-1451) marrried the heiress Benedicta De Ludlow, and became Speaker of the House of Commons and Treasurer of Calais. His son Sir William Vernon was Knight Constable of England to Henry VI.

The last Vernon to inherit the Hall was Sir George (c 1503- 1565) who came into its possession aged 9. He had no male heir and so his daughter Dorothy Vernon inherited. She married John Manners. Legend has it as John was a Protestant, and the Vernons Catholics that Sir George forbade the union, resulting in her fleeing under cover of a masked ball down the Dorothy Vernon steps and crossing the bridge to wed her lover.

However, marriage settlements of the time, and the fact that the steps were actually built after her death cast some doubt on this story. Dorothy also inherited the estate on the death of her father shortly afterwards, so he could not have been too peeved. The story probably arises from a wealth of early nineteenth century romantic literature around the subject by Lee Gibbons called King of The Peak, this in turn lead to a light opera by Sir Arthur Sullivan in 1892 called Haddon Hall, a play staged on Broadway in 1903 and two early silent films on the subject, the latter staring Mary Pickford in 1924, who was so enchanted with the story that she expressed a deisre to film her adaptation of Little Lord Fauntleroy at Haddon³. The Earl had no comment to make on the story, but the Guardian hoped it would be filmed in a cardboard replica castle, and not interfere with the warp and weft of the texture of real English History.

Dorothy may have had a convential wedding, but around a century later, one April Saturday in 1672 Lady Ann Manners, daughter of the 8th Earl Of Rutland, eloped with Sir Scrope Howe, after walking the grounds with her maid, she proceeded to the gates where horses were awaiting to take he to be married at Selston.

Dorothy and Sir John Manners are the ancestors of the Dukes Of Rutland who own the Hall to the present day. The main seat of the family was at Belvoir Castle but Haddon remains a property. They are an extremely successful and powerful family, having kept close to monarchs, through the Stuart and Tudor dynasties, through Victorian times and hosting visits from Queen Mary and the Duke of Gloucester more recently.

Whilst John Manners was the second son of the first Earl Of Rutland, the Earldom passed to the Haddon branch in 1641, and John Manners, the son of the 8th Earl, scandalised society³ by divorcing his wife in 1668, the first such action since the Reformation. His sisters married the founders of the Whig party and supported the Revolution of 1688 that brought William Of Orange to the throne and Queen Anne made the Earldom a Dukedom. The Third Duke, John was Lord Steward of the Royal Household. The Third Duke, the Marquess of Granby was Commander In Chief of The British Forces during the Seven Years War, and gave his name to more Public Houses than any other man.

The Marquess of Granby

The family changed political tack during Pitt The Younger’s days and became prominent Tories. The Fourth Duke, Charles, was Lord Privy Seal, and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, as well as serving in Pitt’s cabinet. The 6th and 7th Dukes, Charles and his brother John were reformist Tories, John served in Parliament from 1841-1892, being in every Conservative Cabinet for 40 years from 1852. He was paternalist, and along with Disraeli, aimed to regenerate the North by concentrating on museums, recreation and education.

John Manners, The 7th Duke

By the time of the 9th Duke, the family had moved away from Politics, and for the first time in hundreds of years in 1921 he decided to move back into Haddon, which had lain empty. This caused severe consternation locally, for Haddon had been a popular tourist destination, and was littered with footpaths which visitors enjoyed wandering.

Tourists used to visit nearby Chatsworth, but Haddon was a popular destination as well. In 1838 a guidebook extolled the place:

The situation of Haddon Hall in the midst of the most part of one of the most picturesque and romantic counties in England cannot but augment its claims to the notice of the curious traveller but this antique structure exhibits peculiar features of attraction as a singular specimen of the habitations of the higher orders of the people in this country at a period when the state of society as to civil and religious affairs and the manners customs and modes of life which prevailed were widely different from those existing at present…..a noble mansion of the olden time which is believed to be the only perfect edifice of the kind now remaining in England The celebrated antiquary Mr Edward King more than fifty years ago drew up a description of the Hall as it then appeared and he most impressively deprecated any attempts to alter the character of the building by any fancied improvements or repairs which could not fail to destroy all the interest belonging to it Fortunately the good taste of the noble owners of Haddon rendered them sensible of the importance of preserving so curious a relique of antiquity and through their liberality Haddon Hall remains precisely in the same state as when seen by Mr King and such is the substantial structure of the masonry and the nature of its foundation on the solid rock that it promises long to bid defiance to the destructive of time But the attention of the public has been already drawn towards this ancient mansion by Mr Rayner’s recent publication to which we shall have repeatedly to allude and numerous visitors during the favourable season of the year have resorted to Haddon as a place affording a genuine exhibition of the domestic arrangements of the nobility and gentry of England during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries ……… Haddon or Nether Haddon so called in contradistinction to Over Haddon at a short distance to the south west is not a village or township but an extraparochial liberty in which at present there are no inhabitants except the family of the person who has the care of the Hall and who reside in an adjacent cottage This place is situate very near the turnpike road that leads from Matlock through the village of Rowsley to Bakewell To the visitor from the south the vicinity of Rowsley to Haddon presents every accommodation that a comfortable house of entertainment can afford for this rural hamlet embosomed in hills though inconsiderable in point of size may boast of an excellent inn the Peacock whose proprietor Mr Severne deserves to be commended for paying every requisite attention to the convenience and gratification of the occasional guest The Author has only to regret that description must fall short toward communicating with effect the unparalleled and delightful scenery in the vicinity of this house Cattermole Lewis Cox and others of equal celebrity in the world of art have at various times enriched their sketch books with scenery in this part of the country and through the exhibition of their beautiful works its attractions have been generally felt and acknowledged The country around Haddon presents a diversified prospect of hills wood and water The river Wye which rises a little to the north of Buxton and passes by Bakewell taking a meandering course through the meadows and winding along at the foot of the eminence on which the mansion is situate at a short distance tance from it joins a small stream from the west and the united waters soon mingle with those of the Derwent Here the scenery is strongly contrasted with the bolder and more rugged features of the landscape at Matlock and instead of bare craggy peaks abruptly towering to a great height we have undulating grounds clothed with tufted trees and verdure to their summits Haddon Hall stands on a tabular projection or terrace of limestone rock on the side of a hill by which it is sheltered to the east and north from the wintry blasts The ancient approach to this place from the opposite side of the Wye was by a stone bridge still remaining the passage over which is so narrow that it might be advantageously defended against the advance of a hostile force in that direction There is now however a convenient modern bridge which affords ready access for carriages from the turnpike road A path from it leads up the hill to the Lower Entrance to Haddon Hall secured by a massive portal which opens into the Lower Court A broad flight of angular steps commencing within the doorway seems to have been designed to prevent or obstruct the entrance of carriages or horsemen and these steps are obviously of very ancient date perhaps coeval with the oldest part of the walls now standing Though Haddon Hall exhibits some characteristics of a castellated edifice yet in its present form it could never have been properly adapted for a military fortress nor does it appear from history that it was the scene of any military operations

and a Manchester Guardian article in 1907 described another visit.

I struck across the park to Haddon Hall…..As I plodded through the soft dust, which every passing wheel threw round one like a blanket, the temptation came to turn into a cool glade to sleep, but that would have been to desert my duty as a tripper. I found the slope round Haddon Hall occupied by a besieging army of picnickers, waiting their turns to go through the wicker gate. Fresh from Chatsworth, Haddon was a contrast, indeed it was to come from a place splendid and shining in its newness into a mellow haunt of age. Again I was one of a gentle flock , but not even a trippers Bank Holiday could rub the bloom off Haddon. It was deliciously cool in the worn rooms and galleries, and it was compensaion for a dusty pilgrimage to lean on the broad sills and watch the sunlight on Dorothy Vernon’s stair and the swift olive green river. There were touches of excursionalists’ humour on the round when a matron said she would never believe Queen Elizabeth got a wink of sleep in the state bed – “it’s too lumpy.” Another budding archaeologist approached the Norman font in the chapel explaining to awe struck friends ” This is where the monks washed their hands” The gargoyles over the door seemed to wink and grin in the unwonted heat.

Queen Elizabeth’s Bed

There was a long campaign to reinstate the rights of way over the Estate, during which time locals walked the paths and brought down barriers that the Duke had set up. He did not make a good start, he also closed the Hall to public access, wishing to make it his private residence, spending a great deal of money to bring a medieval house up to modern standards with electricity. The case over footpaths went to the Court of Chancery, the Duke claiming that there was no ancient right of way over the grounds, and that a permissive path could not exist and that valuable fishing rights would be damaged should the public be allowed to walk along the riverside. His counsel added that Haddon was a private place, and even though the previous Duke had invited visitors for a fee, this was only to reduce the numbers visiting.

A settlement was reached out of court where the right of way over the bridge to the Duke’s private quarters was closed, but in return new paths were opened up for the use of the public. More disappointing to the locals was the closure of the Hall as a tourist attraction, and in 1927 it became a private house once more.

The Duke did allow the occasional special visit, and in 1927 he allowed people in to see the result of his modernisation work, where the tourists were allowed to gaze at the new electric stove in the kitchens, alongside the old wooden chopping blocks, fireplace and spit. Gone were the wax lit candelabras in the ceilings replaced with electric counterparts, walls, bar those which had panelling were newly plastered. The house was no longer preserved in aspic, it was a home, and had a better chance of survival by having live in owners. He even bravely allowed a group of architects to visit and report on his work in 1932, showing off the Long Gallery – one of the most beautiful and human rooms a traveller is likely to meet – and small details such as a seventeenth century mousetrap, still in operation.

Gradually the house was opened up more and more to the public, but it remains to this day a private residence occupied by Lord and Lady Edward Manners who continue to care for the Hall.

One of the more recent unsavoury visitors

Let’s see some pictures:

¹ Whilst it is his castle in Castleton, he is not the Peveril of the Peak. That was a stagecoach named after the novel written by Sir Walter Scott, about Sir Geoffrey Peveril, his son, Julian, and their role in the Popish plot of 1678.

² Alas she never visited, it was filmed at the Pickford – Fairbank studios and Busch Gardens in Pasadena.

³ They’re still at it. That’s the Belvoir clan, not the Haddon ones.


The History and Antiquities of Haddon Hall, Simeon Rayner: R Moseley 1836

A Visit to Haddon Hall in 1838, GU : H Mozeley, 1838

The Dukes Of Rutland

© Allan Russell 2022.


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