BAKEWELL PARSONAGE AND THE GELLS BY TREVOR BRIGHTON

in Journal of the Bakewell & District Historical Society, 1975.

This is a critique of Marshall Jenkins’ article given in full as c and references given in that are not repeated. Short sections are omitted from this transcription. For the appendices A and B (The 1534 Indenture and 1594 inventory) see the next document - The Parsonage House, Bakewell, by Hodges, Barker and Brighton.

When Mr J Marshall Jenkins wrote his article ‘Old House Museum, Bakewell’ in 1967 he used a number of documentary sources, principally  the Lichfield Cathedral muniments. However, he made no reference to the Gell papers  ….. (2)

First in importance is the original lease of the fee farm of the parsonage lands in Bakewell from the Dean and Chapter of Lichfield to Ralf Gell of Hopton (3). This document, dated November 20th 1534, is a much more valuable source than the general transfer to Ralf Gell in 1540 of the Dean and Chapter’s rectorial or parsonage lands in the Peak. (4)

The 1534 lease … tells us that the Bakewell parsonage land extended well beyond the site just west of the church where the Old House Museum stands. It included other parcels of land within the town and its three fields as well as at Ashford.

However, the land and buildings to the west of the church were the nucleus of the Dean and Chapter’s rectorial holding and it is interesting to note that there were ‘houses, cottages and barns thereon set and builded, viz, the wool house and a barn standing nigh the same …’ These were no doubt the tithe barns for the receipt of corn, hay and wool from the area. A notable omission is the mention of any sizable dwelling house of the yeoman type and one concludes that there was no such house standing on the site in 1534. This is not to say that there had not been a structure there at an earlier date, perhaps a timber- framed rectory or parsonage house, as Mr Jenkins suggests. He cites W A Pantin to support his inference that such a building, in common with similar establishments throughout the country, might have fallen into disrepair through non- residence.

The absence of a suitable habitable house on the site in 1534 is indisputable, since the Dean and Chapter have Ralf Gell ‘covenant and grant … to build and make on the said parsonage a competent dwelling for that ground’. This then gives the first terminal date for the building of the Old House, not 1481 as Mr Jenkins deduces. The house thus belongs to the reign of Henry VIII and should not be termed a medieval house of the 15th century. (6)

The house was erected very soon after the lease was sealed. It was certainly standing by 1585 for John Gell’s Bakewell rental of that year refers to ‘the parsonage house’. This document is entitled ‘A rental of the lands belonging to the worshipful Mr John Gell within the P’sonage of Bakewell for this yer of our Lord 1538. Medowe lett by Christopher Plant’. (7)

On the first page appears the following entry:-

            In the clossur (enclosure)

            The Heald (Yeld) Edmond Adams                                                            £vii xs

            The parsonage house and closes, barnes and other

                        necessary houses to Christopher Plant                                       £viii

            Ralph burton the Crooe (Crowe) hille close                                            £iii xs

            Anthony baslowe moreshull (Moorhall) close                                         xxxis

            Abraham sheldon moreshull Close                                                          xxxiiis iiiid

            The blind pit medowe Thomas dughtey                                                   £iii iiis iiid

            Robinsons close                                                                                          £ii

            Tythe                                                                                                              £xvi

The title of this rental and the entry quoted show that Ralph Gell settled his third son, John, at Bakewell in the first instance, not his second son, Thomas, as Mr Jenkins suggests. It appears that John, who had property at Wingerworth and Duffield, did not live in the house but let it to one Christopher Plant.

The vicars of Bakewell never resided in the house. Indeed they were not always resident in Bakewell, as the lease implies and, in any case, Mr Jenkins has established that the vicarage was quite separate from the parsonage. However, his suggestion that Parsonage Cottage may imply the site of an earlier vicar’s house than the present one is unlikely. Although the word parson had become loose in its usage by the late seventeenth century, the Cottage is so called because it was built on the edge of the parsonage enclosure, not because a parson (ie vicar) ever lived there. The Parsonage Cottage is not shown on the Gell estate map of the beginning of the eighteenth century, though it appears on the Bakewell survey of 1799.

Ralf Gell’s second son Thomas may have inherited John’s Bakewell lands on the latter’s death; he certainly succeeded to them on the death of his older brother Anthony in 1583. Mr Jenkins states that Thomas was ‘settled in Bakewell’ in 1562  but he produces no evidence to support this, nor is any yet available to show that he lived in the Parsonage House. It is interesting, however, that the first account of the House’s furniture and effects is to be found in Thomas’s inventory of 1594. (11) First of all his goods and chattels at Hopton Hall, his chief residence, are given. Then follows a list of ‘Goods, cattells and household stuffs at Bakewell’.

Although the Parsonage House is not mentioned by name … the items obviously belonged to what is now the Old House. Having listed his livestock, the inventory then goes through the principal downstairs rooms which are still to be seen in the Old House – the kitchen (ie the houseplace, not Pitt’s Kitchen), the parlour and the buttery – and so gives us the first account of the House’s interior furnishings.

The bedrooms are not itemised, but this is not unusual. It was common practice to move furniture downstairs for ease of assessment.

It is notable that there is nothing of great value among the effects. They are typical of those found in a yeoman’s house of the period. Conversely, the list at the beginning of the inventory for Hopton Hall contains utensils of silver and silver gilt as one would expect. At Bakewell they are of pewter and brass. All this points to a bailiff or a lessee residing in the house, not one of the Gells. (12)

Three canopied beds are listed. These would presumably be four posters and would be placed in each of the large upstairs rooms with fireplaces, on the south side of the house. The smaller beds may also have been arranged in some of these rooms as well as well as in the room over the porch … and in the north bedroom with its adjacent garderobe. It was common, too, to place a small bed in the parlour. 

The 1594 inventory gives an impression of the rooms of the T –shaped house built in, or soon after, 1534 by Ralf Gell. The later extension, built on the north east front of the house, is not mentioned and leads us to conclude that it had not been erected by 1594. Mr Jenkins, though he labels the extension as ‘Elizabethan’, leaves the matter open as to whether the work is late Elizabethan or Jacobean. The present writer favours the latter period, dating the extension as around 1620.

If the extension had not been erected by Thomas’s death, as his inventory seems to imply, then it is hardly likely that it was commenced in what was left of Elizabeth’s reign, or for some years into that of James I. After Thomas’ death, his widow took his two infant sons, John and Thomas, to Kedleston following her marriage to John Curzon … Presumably the Gell estates were administered by agents during the minority of the brothers. John Gell returned to Hopton some time between 1617 and 1620. (14) It may be that the extension belongs to this period when he began to administer his estates.

Mr Jenkins does not exclude this possibility but suggests that the extension was possibly carried out during the residence of Thomas Gell (1595 – 1657). Again he gives no evidence to support this, nor has any been found by the present writer. Rather, the Gell manuscripts at Matlock and Hopton tend to show that Thomas Gell never lived at Parsonage House. Having gone from Kedleston to the Inns of Court, he was called to the Bar of the Inner Temple in 1620. He became the family’s lawyer and had rooms in the Inner Temple, where he appears to have resided until the outbreak of the Civil War in 1642. (15) He made a reasonable income from litigation, not from the Bakewell estates, which are listed in the rentals of his brother John. (16) Indeed, he spent some of that income in purchasing as estate at Stebbingly Park, Bedfordshire. (17)

Mr Jenkins goes on to say that John Gell ‘practiced a vindictive brutality towards his own kinsmen in the Civil War – (they appear to have been Royalists to a man)’.  This is an unacceptable statement based on an unreliable and unquestioned quotation from secondary sources. (18) In fact all Sir John’s (he became a baronet in 1642) relatives were fellow Parliamentarians. …..

Even more unacceptable is Mr Jenkins’ assumption that Thomas Gell was compelled to adapt the garderobe  in the Old House as a ‘secret chamber’ to serve as ‘a hideaway during those unsettled years’. The discovery of a candlestick, candle and bottle (along with numerous other items) hardly allows one to make such a conclusion. Nor does it allow others to suggest conversion of the garderobe to a priest’s hole. This latter assumption is all the more improbable when one realises that the Gells were loyal protestants in the sixteenth century and rabid Presbyterians in the seventeenth. They would hardly have harboured a priest in their estates. Would it not be too simple to suggest that the garderobe had been filled in, just as were many old wells, with an assortment of rubbish?  

In short, it is not possible, on the evidence available at present, to show that any of the Gells ever lived in the Parsonage House for any length of time in the sixteenth or seventeenth centuries. They are even less likely to have lived there in the eighteenth century, when Hopton Hall itself was being extended and embellished, whilst the antiquated Parsonage House was probably falling into decay. Mr Jenkins wondered if the gift of a bell to the parish church by Philip Gell in 1719 indicated that the house may have been ‘used as the Bakewell house of the family at that time’.  Again the Gell manuscripts do not support such a hypothesis. The correspondence concerning the bell was conducted by Sir Philip Gell at Hopton and … the bell founder ….

Finally, it is interesting to refer to the oldest surviving estate map of the Gell parsonage lands in Bakewell. This rough sketch map was compiled for Sir Philip Gell, son of Sir John II, very soon after 1703. (27) It covers the town and three fields of Bakewell and in the section shown (appendix C) the ‘Parsonage Yard’ is clearly marked. Two footpaths traverse the field behind the House; the one to the south is still open. The whole enclosure is marked as being 8 acres, 0 rods, 20 perches in area.       

As for the Parsonage House at the east end of this enclosure it is clearly marked in a small perspective drawing which is the earliest known illustration of the building. The entrance porch can be seen together with windows and chimney stacks and the approach to the House runs up from Church Lane, perhaps a little to the north of the present footpath beside the Parish Rooms (now called the Old School House)  The protruding wing of the earlier seventeenth century extension is clearly visible too. The barns and outbuildings are not clearly defined nor labelled, though the cluster to the north may well be the site of the wool house and the tithe barn mentioned in the 1534 lease.

The map compares very closely with the extracts from the Bakewell survey of 1799, the Duke of Devonshire’s survey of 1860 and the plan accompanying the deed of sale of the Old House in 1861. These last three are published in Mr Jenkins’ article.

NOTES

2          9th report Vol.II 1884 (H C Pole Gell)       

3          DRO. Gell Ms. 35/113

4          Lichfield Muniments D26

6          Garderobe and screens of a similar date to those in the Parsonage House can be seen at Haddon Hall

7          DRO Gell Ms. 38/20

11        DRO Gell Ms. 67/10b (see appendix B) The fine plank cupboard at present in the parlour is not itemised in the inventory, though it is old enough to have been in the house.

12        Anthony and John were dead and Thomas must have lived at Hopton as the sole male survivor until his own death in 1594. His son John had just been born, whilst his son Thomas had only just been conceived.

14        He had come down from Magdalen College, Oxford, without a degree to live with his young wife, Elizabeth Willoughby at Kedleston. Their children were baptised there – Millicent in 1611, John and William in 1613 and 1615, and Bridget and Elizabeth in 1612 and 1917. However, his last child, Eleanor, was baptised at Carsington (near Hopton) in 1620.

15        Numerous references in the Gell Mss. Show that he was active in London in the 1620s. In the 1630s he kept an eye on his younger nephew who was sent to London to be apprenticed to a city merchant.

16        Rentals of John Gell at Hopton Hall near Wirksworth.

17        DRO Gell Ms. 30/10 and 30/11.

18        The statement derives from ‘The Gells of Hopton’ by M Waldo. DAJ XXXIV (1912) p.107.

27        DRO Gell Ms. 61/32e. The map can be roughly dated from internal evidence. The Duke of Rutland is mentioned and, since the ducal title was granted in 1703 – that gives us one terminal date. A pencilled date on the map is 1709.