Since 1192 the tithes or church taxes of the large parish of Bakewell in the High Peak went to the Dean and Chapter of Lichfield diocese.  Tithes had their origins in the early Church when Christians made voluntary gifts towards building a church, relieving the poor and sick and paying a priest.  In England following the Norman Conquest, parishioners had to make annual payment of a tenth, or tithe, of produce or income.  Most of these payments were made in kind – hay, corn, wool, lead, geese, honey, etc.  Tithes were known in Latin as ‘persona’, hence the recipient was the parson.  Many parishes had a parsonage house and a tithe barn for storing tithes before sale.  The Dean and Chapter also appointed the vicar of Bakewell, (the parish priest) who had no control over the tithes.  A priest who also controlled the tithes of a parish was known as a rector.  Tithes were abolished in 1936.

What facilities, if any, the Dean and Chapter had before 1534 for collecting and storing the tithes is uncertain.  There were barns on the parsonage land, but there is no mention of a parsonage house or a resident steward.  Collection was proving difficult so in 1534 the Dean and Chapter decided to lease the  task to Ralph Gell of Hopton near  Wirksworth and pay him from the proceeds.  He had to ‘ build and make on the same parsonage a competent dwelling house for that ground’  and was granted the lease of  ‘the wolle (wool) house and a house standing nigh the same’  together with all the houses and barns on the site.

Ralph Gell’s house was a small, two storey, vernacular building, constructed entirely from materials immediately available in the locality.  It forms the four southern rooms of the present  museum.  The ground floor included a parlour and adjoining parlour closet (rooms 1 and 2) divided by a wattle and daub screen with two shallow-arched doors.  Directly above were a solar or principal retiring room, with a servants’ bedroom next door (rooms 11 and 10) and divided by the same screen.  A common flue served the large fireplaces on each floor.


As a lawyer, Ralph Gell belonged to a prospering profession. Monastic and church property came cheaply onto the market as the Reformation in England drew closer.  From his manor house at Hopton he had built up a profitable estate in the High and Low Peak.  His growing prosperity was reflected in the enlargement of the Parsonage House, in or just after,1549.  In that year the Dean and Chapter drew up a second agreement strengthening Gell’s hold on the tithes. This eventually allowed him to buy outright  the rights to collect them.  The Parsonage House was considerably enlarged to the north.  On the ground floor this consisted of a house-place or hall (room 4) with a great fireplace, beyond which were the buttery and kitchen (room 5), perhaps with a bake oven.  A screens passage (now lost) led from the porch (room 3) to the stairs.  Upstairs an upper screens passage (now lost) led to the porch chamber (room 9) and through a left hand door into the Tudor central bedchamber (room 8) above the houseplace.  Beyond an arch (now incomplete) in another screen led to the garderobe chamber (room 7) The privy in the corner is over a pit with a clearance hole at ground-floor level.  The second phase of the building of the Parsonage House was thus complete, probably by 1564, the year of Ralph Gell’s death.

The Parsonage House, along with the rest of Ralph’s estate, passed to his three bachelor sons, Anthony, Thomas and their half brother John.  John may have lived in the House.  Thomas survived his brothers and married late to produce an heir.  His first wife died childless and in 1588 he remarried and produced two sons, John and Thomas.  The Parsonage House continued to prosper, not only from the tithe income, but also as the base for a farm.  At Thomas Gell’s death in 1596 a substantial farm was managed from the Parsonage House.                                         

This is part of an inventory of his goods giving numbers of farm animals: 12 draught oxen, 14 cows and 10 calves as well as 533 sheep.  (A hogge is a young sheep before the first shearing).

On attaining his majority Sir John Gell (1595-1671) was one of the richest of the gentry in Derbyshire.  He probably added, in about 1620, a short, two storey bay to the east, presumably because  storage facilities in the kitchen and buttery were too cramped .  An internal stair led to servants’ accommodation on the first floor. 

As the Civil War loomed in the late 1630s the religious and political sympathies of John Gell inclined towards Presbyterianism and parliamentarianism.  He accepted the ‘bribe’ of a baronetcy from Charles I but quickly joined the parliamentary cause in 1642.  He raised a regiment of horse and foot and was made Governor of Derby by Parliament.  The Gell estates were seized by the royalists and his rents and tithes were diverted to the service of the King.  In frustration he eventually converted to the King’s cause and was briefly confined to the Tower for plotting to bring back Charles II.  He died in 1671 as a Gentleman of the Bedchamber!


Following Sir John’s death the fortunes of the Gell family slowly declined.  In 1730 the Bakewell property passed to the Eyre family of Holme Hall, Bakewell, who took the name of Gell.  Tithes had depreciated in value and the Parsonage House was becoming outmoded as a residence and surplus to requirements.  The property was leased to various tenants.


Sir Richard Arkwright was seeking cheap accommodation for his mill workers and the Parsonage House offered the possibility of conversion.  He divided its ground floor into five partitioned tenements, each with a stair to a bedroom on the first floor.   New cast iron windows were inserted into some rooms and a sixth dwelling was built on to the south east corner of the  parlour.  The Tudor garderobe privy was sealed off .  More families were accommodated in the adjacent tithe barn.  In 1860 the Arkwrights sold the mill and their holdings in Bakewell (including the Parsonage House tenements) to the Duke of Devonshire.  He sold nearby parcels of land for new houses.  The House itself was sold to Edward Cunningham, the workhouse master, and was renamed Cunningham Place which remains its postal address today.

By the end of the Second World War several of the tenements had become unfit for habitation. Bakewell Urban District Council made a demolition order and in 1954 invited tenders for the demolition of two of them.  However, Charles Bradbury, a local builder, found interesting features including the great fireplace the wattle and daub screen wall and the Tudor cupboard.  He involved local people in a campaign to save the building.  John Marchant Brooks, an estate agent and auctioneer in Bakewell, led them to success and became the first chairman of the Bakewell and District Historical Society.

ROOM NAMES with numbers on guide book plan

See also document H

  •  present                                                        former
  • 1          parlour                      
  • 2          parlour closet                                           buttery
  • 3          porch
  • 4          houseplace                                                  
  • 5          Victorian kitchen                                      Pitts’ kitchen
  • 6          cellar                                     
  • private rooms:
  •             office                                                        Harrison’s living room, toy room
  •             members’ kitchen and toilet
  •             back stairs
  •             work room                                                Harrison’s bedroom, former office
  •             textile store
  • 7          garderobe chamber                                  Pitts’ bedroom
  • 8          central bedchamber                                  withdrawing chamber, landing or long bedroom
  • 9          porch chamber                                          Bowman room
  • 10        small bedchamber                                     small bedroom
  • 11        solar                                                           large bedroom, costume room
  • 12        industrial gallery
  • 13        privy