An Old Eyam Family

by Clarence Daniel

This article was published originally in “A Peakland Portfolio”; pp43-48.

Transcribed by Rosemary Lockie, © 2001

PASSING through the village of Eyam during the year 1867, a Sheffield lawyer casually called at the Parish Church to make an inspection of the restoration which was then proceeding. The alterations to the structure aroused his indignation, but he was most shocked by the desecration of ancient vaults beneath the floor of the Church. Among the accumulation of broken masonry, timber, and jaundiced human bones, lay a leaden coffin which had been so abused by the workmen that it resembled “a crushed and battered elongated piece of lead” from which protruded the fragments of a shroud.

This misshapen and dented casket of lead contained the bones of Humphrey Stafford, last male descendant of an old and wealthy Eyam family. A family which had once ranked in importance with the Vernons, Talbots, Foljambes and Eyres, and whose arms had been quartered with some of these families.

The family of Staffords lived in Eyam during the springtime of English history, when life consisted of luxury and leisure for the rich, but only hard work and squalor for the poor. For thirteen generations it remained the most influential family in the district, prominent in public affairs, renowned for great estates and almost fabulous wealth, and commanding the respect of all classes over a wide area. But now only the ghosts of this name are left to haunt the pages of our history books. Almost every trace of the family has disappeared, for scarcely a vestige of masonry has survived the demolition of Stafford Hall; the family pew has been dismantled and the burial vaults violated by the restorers of the Church in 1868; and the lamp which once burned upon the altar of St. Helen - as a condition of tenure by which the Staffords held certain lands - has long since been extinguished. Not even a mural tablet emblazoned with the family crest may be found on the walls of the Church. Nor did the Staffords build any almshouses, or bequeath any charity with which they might perpetuate their name in Eyam, and perhaps one day the sexton, time, will silently bury the dead memory of this once proud name.

According to the Derbyshire chartulary, the Staffords were resident in Eyam at the beginning of the 13th century, for we learn of domestic trouble between Richard de Stafford and his wife, Isabella, one of whom petitioned for divorce. The case was heard at Winster Church in 1213.

The family was located at Eyam from the reign of Richard I to that of Elizabeth, a period which - it has been pointed out - corresponds exactly with the tenure of Haddon by the Vernons, and of Bubnell by the Bassetts.

[Page 44] J. Tilley writes of this ancient family in The Old Halls, Manors, and Families of Derbyshire as follows: “Although the historic family of Stafford never were lords of Eyam, yet from a branch of this family having a residence here for about four centuries, from their holding the Manors of Rowland and Calver, and from having certain moieties of land at Eyam, they will ever be associated with it. Never had a township or village more illustrious residents, for the blood of both Norman and Saxon aristocracy flowed in their veins. On the Roll of Battle Abbey, we find the name of Toenes, cousin of the Conqueror. From him - who changed his name to Stafford on the possession of English lands - sprang the various branches of this famous house. Under the Lancastrian Kings they held the Earldoms of Devon, Wiltshire, and Stafford, together with the Dukedom of Buckingham, besides the mitre of Canterbury. Under the Tudors, however, their splendour expired by the sword and the block. The career of the last senior representative is a theme fit for a novelist. His claims to the Peerage of Stafford were admitted by the House of Lords, but his coronet was refused by Charles I. because the poor fellow was a labourer, and so he died heartbroken.”

“On the flight of the third Peverell, in 1157, the Manor of Eyam temporarily reverted to the Crown, when the Duke of Montaigne (afterwards King John) gave certain lands in Eyam, Foolow, and Bretton (so say the compilers), together with the Manors of Calver and Rowland, to Richard Stafford, on condition (so says Rhodes) that his descendants kept a lamp burning constantly, before the altar of St. Helen, in Eyam Church.”

Dr. J. C. Cox, whose statements were made with great caution, refers to the legend of the Stafford lamp as follows:- “Rhodes asserts that the estate was conferred on the family by the crown in recognition of certain military services, and that it was held on condition ‘that a lamp should be kept perpetually burning before the altar of St. Helen in the parish church of Eyam’. We have taken considerable trouble to try and test the truth of this statement, and all that we can say is that we have hitherto met with no corroboration.”

But in the manuscript department of the British Museum we find unimpeachable proof of the existence of this lamp. Two Latin documents belonging to the 13th century supply us with evidence of three bovates of land in Eyam granted by Eustace de Morteyne to Richard Stafford and his heirs to be held “by hereditary right, free, undisturbed, and intact wholly and severally in their locality and pertaining to the aforesaid village within and without for the sole purpose of providing one lamp burning before the altar of St. Helen, in the Church of Eyam, throughout the year when Divine Service is conducted in the said church. This duty frees them from all other duties to me and my heirs.”

[Page 45] The second deed concerns the conveyance of the above property to Roger, son of the aforesaid Richard, on the condition stipulated by the father that “as long as I live I be allowed to exact and demand afterwards the means for performing the duty I have been wont to perform, to wit, to provide one lamp burning before the altar of St. Helen the Virgin, in the Church of Eyam, throughout the year while Divine Service is conducted in the said Church.”

The Chapel of St. Helen is said to have been founded by one of the Staffords and endowed with a gift of wax to be used in keeping alight the lamp. The chapel occupied the north aisle of the Church.

The Stafford pedigree is so imperfect that it is difficult to trace back the ancestry of the Eyam branch with anything like certainty. Tilley complains that “not one of the compilers had troubled himself to find out, or even assume, from which branch of this illustrious house the Eyam family sprang. On the field of Hastings were two brothers, Robert and Nigel, who both adopted the name of Stafford, and what is curious, came in for 131 manors each of Saxon England though Nigel's share was augmented by thirteen Derbyshire lordships. Among these Derbyshire lordships were Drakelow and Gresley. The ancient family of Gresley are undoubtedly descendants of this baron, but the point is, did the Staffords of Eyam spring from him also, or were they from Robert? The grandson and namesake of Robert died without issue, when his sister, Milicent, wife of Hervey Bagot, became his heiress, and her children retained her name. The son of Milicent and Bagot married Petronilla de Ferrars, and here we fancy, we are getting at something. Not till the union of Petronilla do we find the Staffords located at Eyam. All the authorities (even Dugdale) are silent about the youngest son of this lady beyond his birth; but we take it that the Eyam Staffords were either descendants of this son or of the Drakelow house . . . . . there was a daughter of the ducal house, and fifth in descent from Petronilla, named Mary, who espoused a John de Stafford, but whence he came Dugdale does not say. On referring to what meagre pedigree there is to be got of the Eyam Staffords, we find there was a John living, whose wife may have been Mary.”

Ebenezer Rhodes tells the following story. “In the reign of Richard the Second, a period when the rights of the subject were but inaccurately defined and his liberty but imperfectly secured by law, a violent and outrageous assault was made on one of the Staffords, who was at one time lord of the manor of Eyam. Attacked by an armed force when in the bosom of his domestics, he was forcibly carried away from his home to the residence of his enemy, and there detained close prisoner until he was ransomed by his friends.” The victim of this outrage may have been John de Stafford, for “in the 16th year of the Reign of Richard II, 1393, [Page 46] two messuages of land and 9½ acres in Eyam were transferred from John de Stafford of Eyam and Thomas Ammott of Middleton to John Rankell, Chaplain.”

Among the skilled warriors who drew the bow at Agincourt (1415) was a certain Richard Stafford (man at arms), who probably belonged to the Eyam family. Unfortunately the Agincourt Roll does not give the home towns or villages from whence the men were enrolled, and it is therefore difficult to prove the identity of those whose names figure in this ancient military document. Richard Stafford's name has been singled out from the list along with several others which obviously belonged to Derbyshire families.

Members of the Stafford family witnessed the following conveyance:- “On the 2nd February, 1421, in the reign of Henry V, a piece of land at Eyam called ‘Rylye’ was transferred to John Martyn and Nicholas Martyn. In connection with this transfer the name of John de Stafford Squyer was followed by that of Henry de Stafford of Mydleton Clyff.” Twelve years later, in 1433, we find that “John Stafford de Eyham, was one of the Conservators of the Peace for the County of Derby in the 12 Hen. VI.”

The family accumulated vast wealth, and the hundreds of acres they owned included the townships of Eyam, Foolow, and the hamlet of Bretton, besides which they were lords and sole owners of the manors of Calver and Rowland. When the last male descendant, Humphrey, died in 1560, he left a fortune of nearly £1,000,000 to be divided at the death of his wife, Ann, between their four daughters - Alice, Gertrude, Katherine and Ann. Alice married John Savage, of Castleton; Gertrude was married to Rowland Eyre, of Hassop; Katherine became the wife of Rowland Morewood, of Bradfield; and Ann married Francis Bradshaw, of Bradshaw Hall, Derbyshire. It was the grandson of the latter, also named Francis, who is said to have built the existing Bradshaw Hall as a wing of old Stafford Hall. There had been two sons, Humphrey and Rowland, who had both died in their youth, thus causing the extinction of the family name. Tradition also speaks of an elder sister, Margaret, who was innocently involved in the Babington Conspiracy, and lived as a fugitive in Bretton Clough after her estates had been confiscated. But always, even during her weary years of exiles, she succeeded in keeping alight the lamp which burned upon the altar of St. Helen, in Eyam Church. Her estates were restored, however, after the accession of James I. This apocryphal daughter of Humphrey Stafford is also said to have rebuilt the tower of Eyam Church in 1615, and installed an additional three bells. Strangely enough, there appears to be no historical confirmation to prove the existence of this Margaret Stafford!

[Page 47] Stafford Hall was built during the reign of Henry VI, and is described as having had narrow windows, black oak floors, and a flat roof covered with lead. One very large room had beams upon which family crests were painted, and a fine window filled with tracery. A circular stone in the south wall was carved with the Stafford arms - a chevron between three martlets. The arms and crest are described in the dead language of heraldry as follows:- Arms: Or, a chevron gules, between three martlets sable. Crest: Out of a ducal coronet per pale or and gules, a boar's head and neck sable.

The Staffords built no almshouses, nor did they bequeath any charity by which to perpetuate their name in Eyam, and if they need an epitaph then why not the solemn words of Kipling:- “Lo, all our pomp of yesterday is one with Nineveh and Tyre!”?

After the name of Stafford had been absorbed by the marriages of Humphrey's four daughters, the traditions of the old family - though not its religion were carried on at Eyam by the Bradshaws. They were Protestants, whereas the Staffords had been staunch supporters of the Catholic faith. But even the name of Bradshaw has perished from Eyam, and the old hall, built by Francis Bradshaw as an extension to Stafford Hall, remains like a living memory of the dead past. It is a shell of architecture in which the kernel of domestic history has crumbled to dust. Centuries ago it was stripped of its furnishings, its floors, its staircases, and tradition tells of tapestries lying in heaps until they rotted away. Once it listened to music and song, laughter, and the proud rustle of silken gowns, but now it hears only the grunting of pigs, the lowing of cattle, the clucking of hens, and the shrill crow of the cockerel.

When the Bradshaws left Eyam the glory of their ancestral home went with them, even thought it was afterwards inhabited by several other families. In the springtime, when the building is emptied of hay, the carved sandstone fire-places may be seen. Another will be noticed on the outside of the west wall, proving that adjoining buildings on this side have been subsequently pulled down. And surely the original doorway would have been more ornate, and in harmony with the general proportions of the mansion, than the very plain doorway which at present gives access to the building. To appreciate the original grandeur of Bradshaw Hall the visitor must devote his inspection to the south and east walls, with their graceful windows, now patched up with masonry. The stone mullions, transoms, and dripstones still give strength and character to the structure. The Bradshaw crest - a stag beneath a vine - may be seen carved in relief upon a round stone medallion between two windows in the south wall. The Bradshaw heraldry is described as follows: Arms: Argent, two bendets, between two martlets sable. Crest: A stag at gaze under a vine tree fructed proper.

[Page 48] Apart from the ruin of their home, and such place-names as Orchard Bank, Hawk Hill, Hall Hill, and perhaps, Hall Roods, we have little to remind us of this once important family.

Francis, eldest son of Godfrey Bradshaw, of Bradshaw Hall, near Chapel-en-le-Frith, was married to Ann, the ten years old daughter and co-heiress of Humphrey Stafford, exactly a century before the plague came to Eyam. His father was brother of Henry Bradshaw, of Marple Hall, Cheshire, whose grandson, John, is often branded by historians as a regicide because of his presidency over the committee which condemned Charles I to death. When his father died, Francis took up residence at the ancestral home near Chapel-en-le-Frith, which he considerably enlarged, and where a stone archway bears his name, the date 1620, and the Bradshaw arms impaling those of Stafford. His son, Francis, who was high sheriff for Derbyshire in 1630, was married twice, but died without issue in 1635. He was succeeded by his brother, George, who continued to live at Eyam, where he had pulled down the old hall of the Staffords after building the existing Bradshaw Hall.

Francis, son of the above George Bradshaw, was born in 1630, and succeeded to the Abney, Bradshaw, and Eyam estates. He married the heiress of the Vesseys, of Brampton, in Yorkshire, where he resided, and where his two sons - John and Francis - were born. The latter was high sheriff for Derbyshire in 1717, and had succeeded his brother in 1677. His son and heir, George, died without issue, whereupon the Abney, Bradshaw, and Eyam estates, together with those in Yorkshire, descended to his nephew, Pierce Galliard, of Bury Hall. One of his two daughters and coheiresses, Mary, was married in 1774, to Charles Bowles, who was high sheriff for Surrey in 1794. He was the son of Humphrey Bowles of Wanstead Grove, Essex and Burford Manor, Salop. By arrangement, the Stafford estates at Eyam passed to Anna, wife of Eaglesfield Smith, but were sold in 1882 on the death of her grandson, Bradshaw Smith, who was the last of his line.

And so Bradshaw Hall remains like a stone coffin in which the flesh and bones of history have dissolved into dust. It is a living memory of the dead past.

This is a Genealogy Website
URL of this page:
Logo by courtesy of the Open Clip Art Library