The following pages merely give brief details of some of the major Blackett properties. There are several sources available that contain more information, one of which is the superbly written and beautifully illustrated book by A.W. Purdue “The Ship That Came Home”, published by Third Millenium Publishing Limited. This history of the Blackett dynasty covers the major mansions and estates of the family from the 17th century to the present day, as well as many anecdotes about the Blacketts themselves. Copies are still available from a variety of sources, including the gift page at the Matfen Hall website.
In addition, many of the buildings designed by Edmund Thomas Blacket, the eminent New South Wales architect, are listed in Appendix D of Nick Vine Hall’s book My Name is Blacket, sadly now out of print but still available from some libraries.
Due to the large amount of content in this section, please click on the headers below to view more information about them.
If you descend from a Blackett, the chances are that your distant ancestors once lived at Woodcroft Hall, situated between Stanhope and Frosterley in Weardale, County Durham. This was the seat of the Blackett family for several hundred years. The earliest extant records date the Blackett family as living here at the beginning of the 14th century, and probably earlier.
Bishop Hatfield’s Survey of Stanhope (1377-1380) records “Johannes Blakheued ten.j mess.et 1x acr.terrae,voe.Wodcroft,red.p,a.13s 4d”. This Johannes or John was almost certainly the grandson of Richard Blachved (sic) of Woodcroft, who, amongst others, was accused of forcibly entering the Earl of Warwick’s lands on 24 July 1307 (see The Blacketts That We Don’t Talk About). Richard died in 1349, but Woodcroft seems to have been in the possession of the Blakehevedes (sic) for at least two generations prior to that. In an abstract of the title deeds to Woodcroft dated 30 June 1724, following the sale of the property in 1676/77 by William Blackett to his distant cousin, Sir William Blackett, 1st Baronet of Newcastle, reference is made to copies made in 1345 of the Inquisitions Post Mortem, covering the manor of Woodcroft “and other lands held by Knight Service”, taken after the deaths of Richard & Christopher Blakehevede. These are probably the grandfather and father of the Richard who died in 1349, suggesting that Woodcroft was owned by the family at least as far back as the early-mid 13th century.
Archaeological findings indicate that Woodcroft would have been a substantial place. It is, however, now a ruin and very little remains of the ancestral home. Moreover the landscape around the old hall would have looked different to what it is today due to the extensive quarrying and mining that was carried out in the area over the centuries.
The Blacketts’ connections with Woodcroft ceased sometime in the 18th century. It was mentioned in the 1728 Will of Sir William Blackett (2nd Bt.) but by 1792 seems to have been owned by a Charles Shaftoe, who on 17 August that year executed a Surrender of [land at?] Woodcroft Manor to Robert Curry and another.
The eminent historian and genealogist, Robert Surtees, wrote on the 25th October 1810 to The College of Arms that “Woodcroft now belongs by what conveyance of blood or Purchase I cannot say, to Mr Chas. Shaftoe, a solicitor at Hexham”[i]
1841 census shows two families at Woodcroft: Matthew Watson and Elizabeth Cleimson/Clanson.
1851 census again shows two families: Thomas Baty and Mary Harrison
1861 census: Thomas Baty, farmer with 215 acres.
1871 census: Francis P Currah, who held Woodcroft or New Woodcroft until 1901.
A New Woodcroft Farm was built to replace Old Woodcroft Hall, sited elsewhere in the vicinity.
The report on the archaeological findings and history of Woodcroft compiled by The North East Vernacular Architecture Group provides much information on the ancestral home. With their permission extracts from it can be read here.
Available evidence suggests that Woodcroft developed over the centuries into more of a working farm than a comfortable seat. When Sir William Blackett bought it from his distant cousin in 1676 he was already a wealthy man, and had bought Newe House (Anderson Place), Newcastle the previous year. His reason for buying Woodcroft seems likely to have been based on a wish to acquire the ancestral home of the Blacketts, denied to him as an heir through his descent from a younger son. He was not to enjoy it for long, however, as he died in 1680, leaving Woodcroft and much of his estates to his younger son, William, who became a Baronet in his own right a few years later.
It is now possible to stay at this ancient home of the Blacketts in a newly built holiday cottage on Woodcroft Farm, within a short distance of Old Woodcroft. The location is an ideal base for exploring Weardale and many other areas where branches of the Blacketts have lived over the centuries. For more information please visit the Yeka Byre Cottage site.
[i] Surtees papers, acquired by Allan Kirtley.
In 1596 Peter Blackett, a younger son of Thomas Blackett of Woodcroft, acquired from Christopher Wall lands and tenements in Stanhope, a few miles north-west of Woodcroft. This was almost certainly Greenhead, which lies slightly to the west of Stanhope. In a charter dated 1605 Peter is referred to as “of Greneheade [sic], near Stanhope, gentleman”, and in a quit claim dated 1615 as “of Greenhead, Stanhope, gentleman”. On Peter’s death at Greenhead in 1632 the property passed to his son and heir John (1606-1670) and thence on to John’s son and heir William (1643-1699). William had at least four children born at Greenhead between 1677 and 1688, and died there in 1699. After the death of his wife Jane in 1701, however, the property seems to have been sold.
In 1701, shortly after the death of his mother, William’s eldest son, John (1677-1739), married Alice Walton of Ravensfield, east of Stanhope and just across the valley from Woodcroft, and the couple settled there, John dying at Ravensfield in 1739. John’s son William (1711-1792) was described as a yeoman “of Ravensfield” in his marriage licence dated 1747, but the Blacketts seem to have left Ravensfield shortly afterwards and branches of the family settled for a time at the neighbouring farms of Shittlehopeside and Jolly Body, before finally moving to Stanhope.
[i] South Bedburn, in the township of Hamsterley, Bishop Auckland, is situated in a pleasant location on the north side of the Bedburn Beck (Beda’s Beck), from which the name of the township is possibly derived. Bedburn Hall today was built circa 1900, by Fogg Elliot. Also in the locality stands Old Bedburn Hall, a Georgian farmhouse of an earlier date. The exact location of the structure known as Bedburn Hall in the 17th century is not clear.
According to Surtees, Bedburn Hall was converted to the purpose of a saw mill and was the property of J. Fogg Elliot [ii]
In the past, Bedburn was well known for its manufacture of edge tools and agricultural implements. The remains of a cotton mill in South Bedburn are believed to be on the site of a former 14th century fulling mill.
Bishop Hatfield’s survey, 1377-1380 shows the manor of Bedburn Hall in the possession of Robert Emmerson. It passed on to the Eures, then to the Leatons. In the middle of the 17th century a branch of the Blackett family resided here. Jane Blackett of Bedburn Hall, the widow of Christopher Blackett of Wylam, by her Will dated 13 Dec 1677 appointed her sister Rose Blackett as executrix. Jane and Christopher’s children, Christopher, Edward, Alice, Anne and Margaret are also mentioned. [iii] In 1642, Edward Blackett held tenements in Bedburn. In 1702, tythes of Bedburn were conveyed from John to Edward Blackett.
High and Low Burnlea Row/Bomley Rawe are described by Surtees as being farmhouses situated to the north of Bedburn Beck. “On the 13th Sept.1610, Edward Blackett, yeoman, obtained a pardon for acquiring from William Lord Eure 4 messuages, 4 cottages, 6 tofts, 6 gardens, 6 orchards, 80 acres of arable land, 140 tofts of meadow, 240 of pasture, 4 of wood and 160 of moor at Bomley Rawe. The edifice known as Low Burnlea was recently the only remaining thatched house inhabited in the parish.”[iv] Edward Blackett (d.1628) of Bomley Rawe, Will dated 6 Nov 1627.
“The Shipleys”, an extract from the Surtees Parish History, mentions the various Shipley farms. “The devolution of the farms known as the “Shipleys” is somewhat obscure as they are called by various names in the palatinate records such as The Vill of Shipley, The Manor of Shipley, High Shipley, Low Shipley, East Shipley, West Shipley and Shipley Moat, which latter doubtless once enclosed a medieval house and is known as Shipley Farm. They are all situated on the promontory enclosed by the Wear and Bedburn Beck”.[v] Some clarification is given in a 1767 document held at Durham University whereby William Blackett mortgaged and demised to Rev. Henry Bland, D.D., a prebendary of Durham Cathedral, lands etc. including “East or High Shipley” and “West or Low Shipley” (which included a manor house). However, there are today (2012) separate properties known as West Shipley Farm and Low Shipley, so some doubt remains.
Research shows the Blacketts as having several holdings in the Shipleys, the earliest being in the mid 16th century. Surtees in his Parish History mentions Richard Blackett de Shipley in 1598 as being seized of his holding there, and in 1653 Henry Blackett of Shipley, yeoman, conveyed tithes at High Wham to Anthony Hodgson. The 1851 census shows Thomas Blackett farming 160 acres at Low Shipley. By the time of the 1861 census, Thomas had died and his wife Isabella is shown as a widow and proprietor of Low Shipley. In 1881, John and his brother, sons of the above Thomas and Isabella, are joint farmers of 160 acres at Low Shipley. By the time of 1891 census it was in the occupation of Charles Proud.
On 28 Dec 1516 Roland Tempest, the father-in-law of Nicholas Blackett (born abt. 1500), settled his lands etc. in Green Shipley, East and West Shipley, Denton and Hunwick for the use of his wife Anne [Radcliffe] in full recompense of her dower. We have, however, found no evidence that the Shipleys were acquired by the Blacketts by inheritance from Anne or her daughter Alice/Alyson, the wife of Nicholas.
More information on Bedburn and the surrounding area is available on the Hamsterley and South Bedburn website.
[ii] Surtees “Parish History, Hamsterley”, page 36.
[iii] The Will of Jane Blackett, transcribed by John Burnell.
[iv] “The History of the Parishes of Hamsterley and Lynesack and Softley”, by Brigadier General H. Conyers Surtees, page 37.
[v] As footnote 4, page 30.
It was described by Surtees as being a district in South Bedburn, consisting of farms known as Mayland, Mayland Hall, East Mayland and Mayland Lee, the latter being occupied in 1861 & 1871 by George Blackett, a farmer of 500 acres.
At varying times over the centuries the Blackett name has been associated with many properties in and around Bedburn and Hamsterley. In addition to the above are the places known as SHULL, KAYSLEE, PODGEHOLE, REDFORD and HOLE HOUSE. (Situation of the latter not yet verified, but “Howle Eele”, a “farmhold at Bedburn, Hamsterley” was sold by Edward Blackett of Newcastle, merchant, to Christofer Blackett of Howle Eele, yeoman in January 1664/5.) The 1891 census shows John Blackett, High Kayslee Farm.
“The Parish Histories of Hamsterley and Lynesack and Softley”, by Brigadier General H. Conyers Surtees gives much information on the township of Bedburn. “Hamsterley and South Bedburn”, an analysis of the 1851 census, published in 1988, is also a creditable and informative compilation.
Hoppyland in its prime
(Courtesy of Beamish Photographic Archive)
Hoppyland, which lies close to the village of Bedburn, west of Hamsterley, was purchased in 1619 by Edward Blackett (1557-1628) (some sources show the purchase as being made by his son William). Edward had leased Hoppyland from Sir William Eure on 3 September 1618. William was a successful merchant adventurer, and in 1631 his eldest son, Christopher, married Alice Fenwick, sole heir to the estate of her father, Thomas Fenwick of West Matfen, Northumberland. This was the beginning of the branch of the Blacketts of Wylam, but Hoppyland continued in the family, passing to Christopher on the death of his father in 1648.
Christopher died in 1675 and Hoppyland passed to his eldest son, William. William was for many years the envoy of King Charles II to the Swedish court. He married Christiana, daughter of the Duc de Bois. In 1811, in a letter to the College of Arms, the eminent historian and genealogist Robert Surtees stated: “I learned today by common report, that a certain Blacket (sic) of Hamsterley married a French Lady who being a Catholic lies buried at her own wish in the garden or orchard at Hoppyland – and that her husband was mad or something like it – The Duchess de Blois (sic) for sixpence.” (Could Surtees have been casting aspersions on the size of her dowry?) No trace of her grave remains, and the only gravestone seen at Hoppyland within living memory was dedicated to a monkey called “Jacky”. The headstone now forms part of a wall at Wislerley Banks, near Wolsingham. Despite the simple folk of the time not knowing what a French person looked like, (during the Napoleonic Wars the people of Hartlepool arrested a monkey that had been washed ashore, and executed it as a French spy), there is thought to be no connection between “Jacky” and Christiana.
William died without issue, and on his death in 1695 Hoppyland, though not certain lands around it, passed to his brother John (1635-1707), then on to John’s son, John (1679/80-1714), and finally to that John’s son, also John (1712-1768). By that time, however, the family were firmly based in Wylam, Northumberland, and Hoppyland was sold in 1768.
In 1793 Hoppyland Hall was destroyed by fire, believed to be arson, (see also The Blacketts of Helmington and Shull) and subsequently rebuilt in the style of Witton Castle, with little of the old house remaining. In his book “My Name is Blacket”, Nick Vine Hall states that a “Hoppland Castle” was still in existence near Hamsterley in 1877, and that in 1950 “Hoppyland Park” was described as a seat, three and a half miles southeast of Wolsingham. It was already in decline, however, and was gutted in 1952. It is now an ivy-clad ruin, “serene in decay”.
For details of a later scandal at Hoppyland please see the details on the Hamsterley Village site.
[With thanks to Edna Maughan, nee Raine, formerly of Hoppyland.]
The Blackett ancestral home of Shull lies in the Hamsterley Forest area to the north-west of Hamsterley village, and is situated close to Hoppyland (to the south), the Shipleys (to the east) and Bedburn Hall (to the south). The property forms part of a cluster of Blackett properties occupied at similar times in this area which must have seen the Blacketts as a particularly prevalent landed family in the area. (see map of area on “Bedburn and the Shipleys” page for location).
Shull was quite substantial, extending in places to three storeys, but by 1976 was in need of substantial repair and probably uninhabited. (See adjoining photograph). The house, however, still stands today having been restored and is now occupied along with an occupied lodge/gatehouse.
Little is known about the building, however the Blacketts seem to have been in occupation from the 1700s through to the early 19th Century.
It has been described as a “picturesque dowager house in the Swedish style” and was once one of two substantial houses (the other St.John’s Hall ) on the Hamsterley and Wolsingham estates of the Backhouse family, the Quaker banking family of Darlington.
Shull House, however, has not been the main house on its own estate since 1872, when a seven bedroomed mansion house, Dryderdale Hall, was built in the grounds of the property. The original lodge house and estate road to Shull is therefore now also the primary entrance to Dryderdale Hall.
Dryderdale Hall and the Shull estate achieved some fame in 1971 when used as part of the film location for Michael Caine’s cult gangster movie, “Get Carter”, in which the hall, the estate grounds and Shull Lodge clearly feature in the film. By strange coincidence the property had been purchased in 1963 by Vince Landa, the fruit machine king, whose brother Michael was convicted, along with another, of a 1967 gangland murder, on which the film is said to be loosely based.
Our records indicate that the earliest Blackett in occupation was William Blackett of Shull, Shipley and Helmington (1732-1799). He was the grandson of Thomas Blackett of Shipley who had acquired the Blackett home of Helmington Hall from the Trotter family in June 1686 and whose own great great grandfather was Richard Blackett of Shipley, Hole House and Witton Le Wear. Shull does bear a passing resemblance to Helmington.
The ancestry from Richard to the Blacketts of Shull descends through Richard’s son, Christopher Blackett of Shipley and Burnley Row, via the Shipley line of the family.
Records indicate that William’s son, also William (married to Frances Marshall of Witton Le Wear, an illiterate woman), retained Shull, as well as Shipley, but also held property at Hunwick, Chatterley and Wolsingham. It is from this line that the Blacketts of Wolsingham seem, primarily, to be descended, a line which continued to live there well into the 20th Century.
A family tree in our possession suggests that only these two generations of Blacketts held Shull, a suggestion backed up by the sparcity of references to Blacketts of Shull in the Parish records.
William Blackett senior’s grave, which he shares with his son William Stephenson Blackett together with other sons, John and Thomas, and other Shipley descendants of the Blackett family, is located in the Hamsterley Parish Church graveyard where their elaborate tombstone commemorates them as follows:
“Sacred to the memory of William Blackett esq, of Shull, who died September 17th 1799 aged 73 years. Also John, son of the above who died May 13th 1806 aged 19 years. Also William son of the above who died January 5th 1840 aged 68 years. Also Thomas son of the above of Low Shipley who died April 27th 1853 aged 71 years……”
This line of the family, including in particular William Stephenson Blackett, was a colourful one, whose history is examined more fully in The Blacketts of Helmington and Shull.
Shull is yet another indicator of the notable property ownership and position of the Blackett family in the Hamsterley and Weardale area which had continued throughout the area for at least 500 years.
About a mile west of the village of Hamsterley, County Durham stands a cottage now known as Holly Bush, at one time the home of Thomas (“Tommy”) Blackett (1722-1806). Tommy Blackett was the ancestor of several eminent Blacketts, including Lord Blackett (see A Nobel Prize for a Blackett), Sir Basil Philott Blackett (see A Blackett in High Finance) and Edmund Thomas Blacket (see Architecture).
Tommy Blackett was a weaver, the youngest son of James Blackett and Elizabeth Wheatley and a 4xgreat-grandson of Nicholas Blackett of Woodcroft. Although he was baptised into the Church of England, he records in his diary/notebook that he became, somewhat reluctantly, an Anabaptist after witnessing the “fighting of the parsons and people in the [Hamsterley] church” (see paragraph on Thomas Blackett in The Blacketts That We Don’t Talk About). Despite his humble profession he could read and write and possessed a number of books. He is believed to have built the cottage, and over the front door, now largely obscured by a porch, is the inscription “Thomas Blackett May 6 1761”. In addition, in the front garden still stands a pump bearing the inscription “T B 1784.”
The cottage remained in Tommy Blackett’s family for six generations and was finally sold in 1953 by his 4xgreat-grandson John Patrick Murray Blackett (1868-1964), a retired schoolmaster. Thomas, together with his wife and two younger children, is buried in Hamsterley churchyard.
Newby Hall is situated on the banks of the river Ure near Ripon and Boroughbridge, North Yorkshire.
It was once the residence of a branch of the Blackett family. It was purchased by Sir Edward Blackett, 2nd bt. (a descendant of the Hoppyland Blacketts) in the 1690s. He demolished the old manor house which apparently was located nearer to the river. Sir Edward began the building of the main block of Newby Hall which was constructed under the guidance of Sir Christopher Wren. In 1718, shortly before his death, Sir Edward included Newby in the marriage settlement of his 2nd surviving son, John, on John’s marriage that year to Patience Wise. It seems possible that Sir Edward did so through having been displeased at the marriage in 1716 of his heir, Sir Edward Blackett, 3rd bt., to Mary Roberts (nee Jekyll), who was eight years older than Edward, and the widow of a merchant.
Newby Hall was purchased from the Blacketts by Richard Weddell in 1748; external additions were made and it was altered internally, and is a fine example of an Adam house. Newby Hall has remained in the same family since 1748. The present owner is Richard Compton who is descended from William Weddell and also from Elizabeth Blackett, Sir Edward Blackett’s elder sister. It is beautifully located with many interesting features and beautiful gardens. It has its own website which gives much information on its history down to the present day as well as events and opening times. A visit to Newby Hall is a fantastic day out; it is not far from Ripon Cathedral where the Newby Blacketts are buried.[i]
RIPON CATHEDRAL, RIPON, NORTH YORKSHIRE.
Photographs taken of some of the Blackett tombs and memorial tablets inside the Cathedral. Used by kind permission of the Chapter of Ripon Cathedral.
The elaborate tomb of Sir Edward Blackett of Newby Hall, eldest son of Sir William Blackett of Newcastle upon Tyne. Depicted standing at either side of Sir Edward are two of his three wives, Mary Norton and Mary Yorke. Diana, Lady Delaval was his third wife. The Blackett Coat of Arms is displayed between two cherubs at the top. The inscription gives much detail of Sir Edward’s wives and children.
Newby Hall featured as Mansfield Park in the 2007 TV adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel of the same name, which was filmed entirely on location there. Filming also took place there in 2008 for “Robinson Crusoe”, based on the Daniel Defoe classic, starring Sam Neill and Sean Bean.
[i] Details of opening times, etc. can be found on the Newby Hall website.
The Blackett ancestral home of Esholt Hall stands today close to the village of Esholt near Bradford, in the County of West Yorkshire.
The village is understood to date to at least the 12th Century, has its own old hall and is famed as part of the original “Beckindale” film location (from 1976-1996) for the British TV soap series “Emmerdale”. Esholt Hall also featured in the television adaptation of Dame Catherine Cookson’s novel, “The Moth.” The area is believed to have been named after the nature in the area, Esche or Ash and Holt or Wood (i.e. Ashwood). Built by Sir Walter Calverley in 1706, Esholt Hall is a Queen Anne style mansion house with terrace, conservatory and grounds. The property is constructed on the site of a Cistercian nunnery dedicated to St. Mary and St. Leonard where eleven nuns resided there until the dissolution in 1540. Preserved cellars below the current building are believed to be those of the nunnery.
Sir Walter was married to Julia Blackett of Newcastle, daughter of Sir William Blackett, and a great great granddaughter of Edward Blackett of Burnley Row, Hamsterley. He was also the great grandson of Walter Calverley of Calverley Hall, near Leeds, who is notorious for murdering two of his young sons and attempting the same on his wife there in 1605 and whose sister-in-law, Elizabeth, was the daughter of Ambrose Rookwood, gunpowder plotter. Esholt Hall passed to his son, another Walter Calverley, when Sir Walter died in 1749. This Sir Walter had earlier married Elizabeth Orde (in August 1729), the illegitimate daughter of his uncle, Sir William Blackett of Newcastle, and, as a condition of inheritance, changed his name to Sir Walter Calverley Blackett in order to inherit the Blackett Of Newcastle estates. He remains a prominent figure in the history of another Blackett ancestral home, Wallington Hall, Cambo in Northumberland.
Sir Walter Calverley Blackett sold Esholt shortly after inheriting it
and the building has subsequently been owned by the Stansfield family, by Bradford Corporation and is currently owned by Yorkshire Water who use it as a conference and training facility. The latter have acknowledged its history by naming a suite in the building after the Blackett family. Sir Walter Calverley Blackett died in 1777 and is buried in the Calverley family vault in St Wilfrid’s Church at Calverley village, Leeds, close to the old hall of his murderous ancestor. and to Blackett Street1, thus named after the area’s connection to the Blacketts.
According to church records, his ancestor, Walter Calverley, was buried at St. Mary’s, Castlegate, York, following his execution in August 1605, but legends abound as to where his body now rests . Tales of weighted coffins buried in various locations, (a strategy aimed at putting the mob off attempting to disinter his remains and place them in a gibbet), have perpetuated down the centuries, with stories of clandestine night time movements of his body.
Although he is today entombed in St.Wilfrid’s, Sir Walter Calverley Blackett may have contributed to later versions of these stories. Whilst his death on 14 February 1777 occurred in London, where he was buried at Kensington, his body was to be moved some 18 months later, along with that of his daughter Elizabeth on 29 July 1778 to be reinterred at Calverley on 15 August 1778, reportedly “at midnight by the light of flaming torches”.
The portraits were photographed with permission from Yorkshire Water.
1 Blackett Street was formerly known as Calverley’s Back Lane. In 1756 Sir Walter paid for a workhouse to be erected there.
“Fair Wallington has been decreed by fate,
To be the cap’tal of a large estate;
The wine of Wallington old songsters praise,
The Phoenix from her ashes Blacketts raise."
Situated in Cambo, Northumberland, Wallington is a fine mansion of grandeur, both internally and externally. It is one of the jewels in the crown of Blackett properties still in existence, and is maintained to the high standards worthy of their heritage. Parts of the grounds were laid out by Lancelot “Capability” Brown, who went to school in Cambo.
Wallington was once in the possession of the wealthy Northumbrian Fenwick family and was purchased from Sir John Fenwick (1645-1697) in 1688 by Sir William Blackett, (“the Orator”), (1657-1705), who was created a Baronet is his own right. Sir William demolished the old house, but retained some parts which he incorporated into his new building of Wallington Hall.
Sir William died in 1705, and the house passed to his son, another Sir William (1689-1728), who married Lady Barbara Villiers. The marriage produced no legitimate heirs, and on Sir William’s death a condition of his Will was that his estate went to his nephew, Walter Calverley, on condition he married Sir William’s illegitimate daughter, Elizabeth Ord, and assumed the name Blackett. This was fulfilled.
The only child of Sir Walter and Elizabeth died young, and in the absence of a male heir, after Sir Walter’s death in 1777 Wallington passed to his nephew, Sir John Trevelyan, the son of his sister Julia, Sir Walter having bought the full title to it in 1750.
Sir Walter Calverley Blackett was described as a generous man, renowned for his outstanding acts of charity. While an M.P. at Westminster, he followed an independent line, being styled “The Patriot” and “The Opposer of the Court”. When, in 1771, a Rockingham Whig reproached Charles Jenkinson (the future Earl of Liverpool) over his obscure origin, Sir Walter said: “Every man carries his honour in his own hand, Origin is nothing; it shall never have any weight with me.”[i] He made vast improvements to the house and estate and is credited with much of what is seen of the present day Wallington. There are many other external features of interest, added over the centuries by the Trevelyan family, which only go to enhance and make Wallington Hall a truly delightful place to visit.
Wallington Hall remained in the Trevelyan family for over two centuries. The estate is now part of The National Trust and is open to the public.
The film, “The Black Velvet Gown”, from the novel written by Dame Catherine Cookson, was filmed partly on location at Wallington Hall, as was the TV adaptation of her novel “The Rag Nymph”.
Recommended reading: “Memoirs of The Public Life of Sir Walter Blackett of Wallington, Baronet” by John Straker.
[i] The National Trust Wallington Guidebook, 1976 p. 4.
In 1720 Diana Blackett (1703-1742), the daughter of Sir William Blackett, married Sir William Wentworth and thus became mistress of Bretton Hall, near Wakefield. The Wentworths were long established members of the middle-ranking Yorkshire gentry, and had owned Bretton for over three hundred years. Sir William’s younger brother, Lt.-General Thomas Wentworth, later British ambassador to Turin, in 1720 became the owner, through his wife’s inheritance, of waste land in Surrey that is now known as The Wentworth Estate. The estate includes the world-famous golf course, and is one of the most expensive pieces of real estate in the United Kingdom. Unfortunately Gen. Wentworth’s widow sold it for £60 in 1761. Another member of the Wentworth family, John Wentworth (1737-1820), was the Royal Governor of New Hampshire. In 1772 he made a grant of land which he named Bretton Woods, after the home of his ancestors. Bretton Woods found fame in 1944 as the venue for the conference that established a system of international monetary management and the creation of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), which is now part of the World Bank.
The marriage to Diana brought considerable wealth into the Wentworth family, and Sir William set about designing and building the present hall, demolishing the old house and chapel in the process. On Sir William’s death in 1763, the estate passed to his son, Sir Thomas Wentworth, who established the lakes and parkland that are still a feature of Bretton Hall. In 1777, on the death of Sir Walter Calverley Blackett without a male heir, the vast estates of Sir William Blackett passed to Sir Thomas Wentworth, who duly changed his name to Blackett in accordance with Sir William’s Will. Sir Thomas used some of this inheritance to extend the property.
Diana, an illegitimate daughter of Sir Thomas, inherited his estate on his death in 1792. Diana and her husband, Thomas Richard Beaumont, considerably expanded the house, and Diana, a keen horticulturalist, commissioned a giant domed conservatory, the largest of its kind in the world, which is said to have been the prototype for the Crystal Palace in London. Diana was not the most popular of women, and was often referred to behind her back as “Madame Beaumont” due to her proud and ostentatious nature.
By then a widow, she died in 1831, leaving her estates to her son, Thomas Wentworth Beaumont, one of whose first acts was to auction off many of his mother’s artefacts, including the famous conservatory. He, and later his son, Wentworth Blackett Beaumont, continued to improve the house and its grounds, and the house remained in the hands of the Beaumont family until it was sold in 1948 by Wentworth Henry Canning Beaumont, Viscount Allendale, to West Riding County Council, who converted it into an arts college. In 2001 it merged with Leeds University and in 2007 was sold to Wakefield Metropolitan District Council, thus preserving for public enjoyment the famous sculpture park, which now occupies part of the grounds.
Bretton Hall was the location for part of Ken Russell’s 1969 film, “Women in Love”. It was also the subject of a lengthy poem, The New Way of Courting Concerning Bretton Hall, written by Jimmy Mann. A handwritten copy of this dated 2 January 1874 is held by Nigel Aspdin, to whom we are indebted for the information, and whose ancestors hail from Wakefield, near to Bretton. It seems, however, that this was a copy of the original poem, as the ballad was referred to in an article by Mrs. S. C. Hall in St. James’s Magazine published in 1867. None of the Wentworth Blacketts who owned Bretton Hall appear to fit the subject of the ballad, which may therefore be apocryphal and based on earlier folk lore.
In 1725, five years after Diana Blackett became mistress of Bretton Hall, her first cousin 1 x removed, also Diana Blackett, (1703-1737), daughter of William Blackett and grand-daughter of Sir Edward, 2nd Bt., married Henry Mainwaring, and became mistress of Peover Hall, Over Peover, Cheshire. (Peover is pronounced “Peever”.)
The Mainwarings were an old Norman family and had been granted substantial lands around Peover after the conquest. The current house was built by Sir Randle Mainwaring in 1585 with alterations being made c. 1653-6. Diana’s marriage into the family would have brought a considerable infusion of wealth as she was the only child of William and his wife Diana Delaval, who enjoyed a considerable fortune herself. It was not until 1764, however, 27 years after the death of Diana Mainwaring, that a large extension to the property (since demolished) was built.
Diana had been married for less than a year when Henry Mainwaring died in 1726, leaving a posthumous son, Henry, born on 7 November of that year. He immediately inherited the family baronetcy, his uncle, Sir Thomas Mainwaring, 3rd Bt., having died without issue seven weeks previously. Diana married in 1734 her second husband, Thomas Wettenhall, Rector of Walthamstow, Essex. In 1797, her son by her first marriage, Sir Henry Mainwaring, died without issue, and the title passed to his uterine half-brother, Thomas Wettenhall, who changed his name to Mainwaring in accordance with Sir Henry’s Will, thus continuing the Mainwaring name, if not the blood-line. The estate continued in the ownership of the family until 1919, when it was sold to Mr. John Peel, and it was sold again in 1940 to Mr. Harry Brooks, in whose family its ownership still remains (2009). The Mainwaring Baronetcy died out in 1934.
During World War II the house was requisitioned, and became the headquarters of the American Third Army under the command of General George S. Patton. In the Church of Saint Lawrence, immediately behind Peover Hall, is mounted an American flag presented to the church by General Patton. This permanent display of the Stars and Stripes in an English church is believed to be unique.
Peover Hall was among a number of country houses featured in the Granada Television series, “Sherlock Holmes”, and was featured in the 1970 film, “Patton”, starring George C. Scott.
Photographs taken with kind permission from the Peover Estate.
Situated in a lovely location on the north side of a loop of the River Tees, near Darlington, Sockburn Hall has extensive grounds in which part of a pre-Norman Chapel still stands. An earlier manor house, which was for many years occupied by the Conyers family, existed in the grounds at the time the Sockburn estate was purchased by William Blackett (who later became Sir William Blackett) in 1682 [i], but this was long gone by the time that the historian Robert Surtees visited Sockburn in 1823. Sir John Conyers was the hero of the legend of the Sockburn worm. The legend and its possible origins are explained in a fascinating booklet by Paul Telfer, copies of which can be obtained by post as outlined in the Sockburn Hall website.
The principal Blackett estates lay elsewhere, although a junior branch of the family seems to have lived in a small farmhouse on the estate. A larger farmhouse, which still exists, was where the poet William Wordsworth courted Mary Hutchinson while staying at the farm in 1799. (They were married in Brompton by Sawdon, Yorkshire, a few miles to the south, in 1802.) Wordsworth’s friend Samuel Taylor Coleridge, famous for his “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” also stayed at the farm and fell in love with Mary’s sister, Sara, although he was married at the time. It was at Sockburn that Coleridge wrote his ballad-poem “Love”, dedicated to Sara, which mentions a knight, based on a mailed figure on the Conyers tomb in the ruined Sockburn church.
The present Sockburn Hall, a grade II* listed building, is built of ashlar stone and is of Jacobean style. The date, 1834, is shown above the main entrance. The house was built by the Blackett family for the occupation of Henry Collingwood Blackett, a younger son of Sir William Blackett (1758-1816), and the Blackett coat of arms is engraved above the main entrance. Incorporated into the internal decoration are examples of French and Spanish panelling reputed to be taken from French monastic document chests which were purchased by Henry Collingwood Blackett in Antwerp in 1830[ii].
The 1851 census shows Henry Collingwood Blackett (head of household) and his wife Theophania living at Sockburn. With the death of Henry without issue on 27th May 1856 the estate would have passed under his father’s Will to his elder brother, Sir Edward Blackett, but Theophania seems to have been allowed to continue living there and the 1861 census shows her as head of the household. The 1871 census shows only servants living at the hall and Theophania may have been out of the country. She died on the 6th June 1877 and for many years the estate was rented out, finally being sold in 1920 by Arthur Edward Blackett (1874-1959), a younger son of Sir Edward William Blackett, the eldest son and heir of Sir Edward. Henry and his wife are buried in the graveyard of the redundant All Saints’ Church at Sockburn Hall.
In 1870 Theophania had a bridge built about half a mile downstream from the hall to allow worshippers to cross the Tees to All Saints Church in Girsby, built in 1838 by the Blacketts to replace the original Sockburn church, which they had largely demolished. Her motives seem to have been less that purely philanthropic, however, as she had been taken to court by the Darlington Highway Board for blocking parishioners’ access to the church across her land by the ancient crossing/ford close to the hall [iii]. The parishioners thus gained a bridge to the church and Theophania gained her privacy.
(An ode to Theophania’s bridge, included in “Tapestry of Time – Twelve Centuries at Sockburn” which can be ordered through the Sockburn Hall website.)
An earlier bridge across the Tees at Sockburn had been built by Henry Collingwood Blackett in 1836-1838 for his private use. The local press reported on 9 January 1837 that the river, much swollen by ice breaking up, had “carried away the new wooden bridge”, but the reports of its demise were premature. Although part of the temporary structure erected for use in the construction of the bridge was damaged, the bridge itself had not yet been erected and “not a single piece of timber of the intended structure had been prepared for the purpose” [iv]. The wooden bridge lasted from 1838 until 1890/91 and was then replaced by a suspension footbridge built c1910, which itself was destroyed by floods in 1985.
Sockburn Hall is privately owned and in need of much restoration. The owners are working extremely hard to retain the heritage and history of what was, and hopefully will be again, a place of beauty and interest. The archaeological remains and educational value of the site as a whole are irreplaceable and should not be lost. If you would like to help save Sockburn Hall, and would like to find out more about the house, please visit the Sockburn Hall website or email them.
Photography by K Longbottom, and used with permission from Sockburn Hall.
[i] Sir William Blackett married Julia Conyers in 1685. She was the daughter of Sir Christopher Conyers (1621-1693), 2nd Bt. of Horden, County Durham. The relationship to the Conyers family of Sockburn is not known.
[ii] Information kindly supplied by Erik Matthews.
[iii] Ironically, the ancient ford was reputed to have been used by a distant ancestor of Henry. In “A Sketch of the History of the Parish of Sockburn”, compiled by Bertha Clegg in 1910, she states that around 1066 the Saxon Princess Margaret travelled by that route on her way to be married to Malcolm Canmore, King Malcolm III of Scotland. Bertha Clegg’s 1910 book was reprinted in 2010 and copies can be ordered through the Sockburn Hall website.
[iv] Extract from The Civil Engineer and Architect’s Journal, No. 8, May 1838, p178 included in an article on the Sockburn bridge by Don Whitfield for The Cleveland Industrial Archaelogist No. 32 (2007). We are indebted to Owen Evans, a descendant of the Thompson family who bought Sockburn from Arthur Blackett in 1920, for a copy of the article.
Situated on the outskirts of Hunwick, near Bishop Auckland, Co. Durham, it was described by Brigadier General H. Conyers Surtees in his “Parish Histories” 1923 as follows:
“Helmington Hall, which stands close to the village, is now in a ruinous condition. It occupies two sides of a yard, and over the doorway leading into the house is the inscription “IVNE MDCLXXXV1” [ii] (i.e. June 1686 – see below)
Neville Whittaker in his book “The Old Halls and Manor Houses of Durham" describes Helmington Hall, partly demolished, as having possessed elaborate ornamentation above the kitchen fireplace – four figures denoting the four quarters of the globe and animals. “Lost Houses of County Durham” states that the hall was "a substantial nine-bay house of c.1687. Entrance and windows had scrolled pediments”. [iii]
The first Blackett connection to Helmington Hall is found in 1684.
“Township of Hamsterley”[iv] "On 16-17th Feb 1684. Lease and release of Shipley by William Collingwood of Eslington Esq., and others to Thomas Blackett of Helmeden Hall and High Shipley Gent. Isabella his wife, Henry Blackett, Gent. His younger son and other parties to the marriage of Henry Blackett and Elizabeth Nicholson The marriage did not take place until 1723, and therefore this document was probably dated around that time, though making reference to the 1684 one.
The Blackett name is mentioned again in 1686. Thomas Blackett, (son and heir of Shipley, descendant of Hugh Blackett of East Shipley), purchased Helmington Hall and estate by Ind.of lease and release in 1686. The references to two different dates suggest that Thomas was probably leasing the property prior to buying it. The inscription over the door translates as “June 1686”. Perhaps that suggests that Thomas rebuilt or extended the hall after it came into his ownership that year.
It passed down to his son Henry, from him to his son William, in whose possession the Hall remained until the late 18th century. William Blackett sold Helmington to Ralph Spencer (1736-1805) in 1793. It was then considerably enlarged by the addition of two handsome Gothic rooms and gardens “were laid out with great taste.” The hall was destroyed by fire in 1895
Rev. Robert Spencer (1786-1836) is described as being of Helmington Hall, and the 1841, 1861 and 1871 censuses show Helmington Hall occupied by Margaret Spencer.
[i] Taken from the Flashback Collection, courtesy of Bishop Auckland Town Hall.
[ii] Surtees “Parish Histories, Hunwick and Helmington”, page 6.
[iii] “The Old Halls and Manor Houses of Durham” by Neville Whittaker, page 27.
[iv] John Burnell research, taken from Surtees “Parish History of Hamsterley”.
Anderson Place, Newcastle upon Tyne, situated within the city walls near the ruins of a Franciscan Friary, was built in the 16th century by Robert Anderson, and was also known as Grey Friars or the Newe House. Standing in extensive grounds, with a tree lined avenue leading to the house, the gardens of beautiful walkways and greens extended down to the main entrance of Pilgrim Street. It was purchased in the late 17th century by Sir William Blackett (1657-1705) of Matfen and Wallington, who extended the house. It passed down to Sir Walter Calverley Blackett (1707-1777) who married Sir William’s granddaughter. (Sir Walter also inherited Wallington Hall, Cambo.) It was sold to George Anderson in the 1780s, and later renamed Anderson Place. It was sold again to Richard Grainger around
1830. Grainger demolished it, and began his creation of what is now known as Grainger Town. King Charles I stayed at Newe House during his captivity in Newcastle (1646-1647) under General Leven, who later broke with parliament to support Charles II before being defeated by Oliver Cromwell’s army at Dunbar in 1650. [ii]
Situated near Old Eldon Square, Blackett Street was constructed in the 1820s in recognition of John Erasmus Blackett (1728/9-1814), son of John Blackett and Patience Wise. John married Sarah Roddam and was the father-in-law of Admiral Lord Collingwood (see Naval Blacketts). John Erasmus held the honourable position of Lord Mayor of Newcastle four times, in 1765, 1772, 1780 and 1790, and was one of the original partners of the Newcastle upon Tyne Fire Office, established in 1783, which now forms part of the Aviva group. According to his brother-in-law, the noted autobiographer Rev. Dr. Alexander Carlyle, “John Blackett was called Erasmus after Erasmus Lewis, who was secretary to Lord Oxford in Queen Anne’s time, and an intimate friend of his father’s, John Blackett of Yorkshire.”
[i] Copy from personal reprint of Anderson Place.
[ii] The History Today Companion to British History.
Around 1774 Sir Edward Blackett, 4th Bt., came to live for part of the year at Thorpe Lea House, near Egham in Surrey, having purchased land at Thorpe Lea some three years earlier. Although he had acquired the considerable estate at Matfen, Northumberland through his marriage to Anne Douglas, he seems to have preferred to spend most of his time in Surrey, and in 1802 he sold Thorpe Lea House and built an even larger villa, also called Thorpe Lea (or Lee) House, nearby. The original Thorpe Lea House remained a private house until World War II when it was requisitioned by the War Office. After the War it reverted to private ownership, but never recovered its former glory. A fire subsequently destroyed much of the property but it was rebuilt in its old style. It is now a business headquarters and is known as Thorpe Lea Manor.
The new villa that Sir Edward built was a grand affair, and he spent most of his time there until his death in 1804. His only surviving son, Sir William Blackett, 5th Bt., carried on the tradition, and at least three of his six children were born at Thorpe Lea. Following Sir William’s death in 1816 his heir, Sir Edward Blackett, 6th Bt., devoted most of his time to his northern estates, including the rebuilding of Matfen Hall, and Sir William’s youngest son, John Charles Blackett, a naval officer, eventually came to occupy Thorpe Lea House when not away at sea. As with his father, most of his children were born there. Although some sources maintain that the house was sold after his death in 1896, his widow continued to live there until her death in 1899, and it seems to have remained in the family until at least 1911, as portraits of his great-niece, Vera Katerina Blackett and her husband, Baron Octave George Lecca, who married in 1911, at one time hung in the house. (They are now held by Egham Museum.) The Blacketts were not, however, occupying the house at the time of the 1911 census.
By the 1930s, however, it had become a hotel and during the Second World War it too was requisitioned by the War Office. Its decline continued after the War, and in the late 1970s it was demolished to make way for the M25 motorway.
The death of John Charles Blackett did not bring to an end the family connection with Thorpe. In 1785 Anne Blackett, Sir Edward Blackett’s only surviving daughter, had eloped with her 2nd cousin, Major (later General) William Scott, the son of Julia Blackett and Benjamin Scott, and great-grandson of Sir Edward Blackett, 2nd Bt. They were married at Gretna Green, Scotland, but went through a further ceremony in Stamfordham, Northumberland.
Possibly due to Anne’s children being the only grandchildren of Sir Edward for seventeen years, or perhaps merely due to his well-known generous nature, he seems to have forgiven his daughter and her husband, and in 1789 he bought for their occupation Thorpe House, a short distance from his own property. The house was bought by Sir Edward in the name of his grandson (and godson) Edward Scott, guardianship resting with the child’s father, William. Edward died in December 1794, before attaining his majority, and the house was transferred to his brother, William Henry Scott. Alethea Rianette Anne Scott, the second daughter of Major-General Sir William Henry Scott, spent most of her childhood at Thorpe House. In 1880 she married the elderly Sir Edward Blackett, 6th Bt., thus cementing the links between the Scott and Blackett families. The discovery of a manuscript written by her and containing many photographs and drawings of the Blackett houses formed the inspiration for Bill Purdue’s book, “The Ship That Came Home”.
Althea’s marriage to Sir Edward may have caused some tensions within the family as she had some years before been jilted by his son, Major-General Sir Edward William Blackett, 7th Bt. A distinguished soldier, he lost a leg in the Crimean War during the siege of Sevastopol 1854-55, and was treated by Florence Nightingale. His wooden leg remained in the attic at Matfen for many years.
The grounds of Thorpe House were increased over the years by the purchase of adjoining properties, and it remained in the occupation of members of the Scott family until 1942, when it was used by the War Office for specialist military training. It passed out of the ownership of the family in 1950 and has been part of The American School in England since 1976. It has featured in at least two films: “The Creeping Flesh”, (1972) starring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing and “Craze”, (1974) starring Jack Palance.
The excellent book, “The Heart of Thorpe”, by James Lander, contains a wealth of detail on the history of Thorpe House. Copies can be obtained from James Lander. Also recommended is “Thorpe House and the Scott Estate” by Desmond Mills, published by Egham by Runnymede Historical Society and available from Egham Museum.
[With thanks to Piers Blackett, Barry Wintour on behalf of the trustees of the Oliver Collection, Richard and Jill Williams of Egham Museum, and Jim Lander and Eddie Cross of the American School in England.]
Unlike his father and grandfather, Sir Edward Blackett, 6th Bt., preferred to devote most of his time and considerable energy to his Northumberland estates, though he kept a substantial town house in London. In 1829, shortly before his first marriage, he decided to build what he described as a “shooting box” on his lands to the north of Hadrian’s Wall. That description is akin to referring to an Aston Martin as a “runabout”: the shooting lodge had eight bedrooms plus large servants’ quarters, a dining room, drawing room and study, together with a coach house and stables.
After initial teething problems with the roof, Sir Edward came to stay at Bonny Rigg each August for the shooting season, a tradition that was maintained down the generations. The 1914 edition of Kelly’s Directory of Northumberland refers to Bonny Rigg Hall as “the residence during the shooting season of Sir Hugh D. Blackett bart. of Matfen Hall, who is the lord of the manor.” The tradition, seems to have died out in the early 1930s however, before being revived in the 1950s and continued until the sale of the property in the late 1960s. The house was severely damaged by fire in 1985 and subsequently demolished. Only two cottages, formerly the stable block, remain.
Willimoteswick Castle, a fortified manor house in a remote corner of West Northumberland, was the seat of Sir Edward Blackett, 2nd Bt., until his wife, Mary Norton, inherited her father’s manor of Langthorne in Yorkshire. The property remained in the ownership of the Blacketts until the 20th century, and is a working farm. Bishop Ridley, who was burned at the stake by Queen “bloody” Mary in 1555, along with his friend Thomas Latimer, was born there.
Prior’s House, Hexham (also known as Hexham Abbey, Abbey House, or Hexham Priory) was purchased by Sir William Blackett (1657-1705) in 1688 from the impoverished Sir John Fenwick as part of the same transaction that included Wallington. (See entry above.) Although the much grander Anderson Place and Wallington were the principal seats of Sir William, and of his son, they did spend time at Hexham Priory, as subsequently did Sir Walter Calverley Blackett after he inherited the estates. Sir Walter had trees planted and walks laid out in the grounds of the Priory, and allowed the local population to use them. He had extensive alterations to the house carried out in 1736. After a serious fire in 1775 the house was rebuilt at great expense, but after further fires in 1817 and 1818 the rebuilding was carried out on a more modest scale by Col. Thomas Richard Beaumont, whose wife, Diana, the illegitimate daughter of Sir Thomas Wentworth Blackett, had inherited much of the Blackett fortune. After the rebuilding, the family ceased to occupy the house and it was finally presented by the Beaumont family to Northumberland County Council.
In the nearby Market Square stands a colonaded piazza now known as The Shambles, which was presented to Hexham by Sir Walter.
Whitfield lies in the area of Tynedale in South West Northumberland. A tenuous connection with the Blacketts is thought to have existed through Whitfield having being owned before the Norman Conquest by the family of King Malcolm III of Scotland, and certainly the manor of Whitfield was granted to the Whitfield family in the 12th century by Malcolm’s great-grandson, King William I of Scotland.
The present connection is far more recent, however. In 1750 the manor was sold by the Whitfield family to William Ord of Fenham, now part of Newcastle Upon Tyne. In 1855, on the death of his grandson, also William Ord, who left no surviving issue, Whitfield passed to his niece, Anne Jane Hamilton. In 1842 Anne had married John Alexander Blackett, Vicar of Heddon-on-the-Wall, who, following the inheritance, changed his name to Blackett-Ord.
(There were other connections between the Blacketts and Ords. Anne was a first cousin to William Henry Ord, whose widow, Frances, became the second wife of Sir Edward Blackett, 6th Bt. And in 1711 Elizabeth Ord had borne to Sir William Blackett, 2nd Bt. an illegitimate daughter, Elizabeth, who became the wife of Sir Walter Calverley Blackett.)
Whitfield Hall is still in the ownership of the Blackett-Ord family. It is a Grade II listed building built in 1785 but incorporating the remains of an earlier pele tower. An additional floor was added in 1856, shortly after John Alexander Blackett-Ord acquired it.
In 1751 Sir Edward Blackett, 4th Bt., married Anne Douglas, sole heir of Oley Douglas, whose father had acquired the estates of the once powerful Carnaby family. This brought into Blackett ownership Halton Castle, a pele tower close to Hadrian’s Wall, north of Corbridge, Northumberland.
The pele tower was first recorded in 1382, but a manor house was added to it in the 15th century. This latter building was largely demolished in 1696 by John Douglas and replaced by the present house, in part using masonry from a nearby Roman fort.
Sir Edward spent most of his time at Thorpe Lea in the south of England, but today Halton Castle is the principal residence of Sir Hugh and Lady Blackett. It is a Grade I listed building.
On his marriage Sir Edward also acquired Aydon Castle, about a mile from Halton Castle. The Castle is a particularly fine example of a 13th century English manor house, but was rarely used as such by the Blackett family, instead being used as a farmhouse until its transfer to the Ministry of Works in 1966. It has since been restored by English Heritage to reveal what remains of the 13th century fortified manor house and the 14th century additions.
Arbigland, an estate lying on the Solway Firth in Scotland is a relatively recent addition to the Blackett family properties. The present mansion house was built in 1755 by William Craik, whose family had acquired the estate in 1679, and in 1852 it was sold to the Balfour family. Robert Balfour Stewart inherited Arbigland in 1869 but died in 1872, leaving it to his mother, who that year gifted it to her husband’s nephew, Colonel Christopher Edward Blackett. On his death without issue in 1904 it passed to his nephew, Captain William Stewart Burdett Blackett, who died of war wounds in Belgium in 1914.
William’s widow, Kathleen, who had legally changed her name to Blackett-Swiny following her 2nd marriage to Brig.-Gen. William Frederick Swiny in 1918, supervised the building of her dower house (“The House on the Shore”) in the grounds of Arbigland between 1934 and 1936, and lived there until her death in 1974, following which ownership of the estate passed to other members of this branch of the Blackett family.
In 1747 John Paul, later to be known as John Paul Jones, and regarded as the father of the American navy, was born in a cottage on the Arbigland estate, where his father was a gardener. John Paul Jones Cottage has been preserved and is now a Category A listed building.
[With thanks to Geoff Blackett for informing us about this property.]
No connection has been found between Arbigland and Blacket Tower at Blacket House, Middlebie, about 20 miles north-east of Arbigland and south of Lockerbie. The tower is now a ruin, possibly part of the original “Blackethouse” which was mentioned as long ago as 1584 when the Blacketts were still mainly based in and around Woodcroft, Co. Durham. Blacket Tower was said in old folklore to be haunted, and in “The Spectre of Blackethouse” is recorded:
“Of Blackett’s towers strange tales are told,
The legendary lore of old, —
That dread belief, whose mystic spell
Could people Gothic vault or cell
With being of terrific form.
And superstition bound the charm.
‘Tis said, that here, at the night’s high noon.
When broad and red the eastern moon
eams through the chinks of its vast saloon,
A ghastly phantom takes its stand
On the wall that frowns o’er wear and strand,
A bloody dagger in its hand,
And ever and aye on the hollow gale
Is heard its honorie and wail
Dying along the distant vale.
The nighted peasant starts aghast
To hear its shriekings on the blast ;
Turns him to brave the wintery wind,
Nor dares he lingering look behind,
But hurries across the moaning flood.
And deems its waters swollen with blood —
Such are the tales at Lyke-wake drear,
When the unholy hour of night draws near.
When the ban-dog howls, and the lights burn blue.
And the phantom fleets before the view ;
When ‘Red-cap’ wakes his eldritch cry.
And the winds of the wold come moaning by.
Beamish Hall, a grade 2 listed building, is an elegant country house hotel situated ten miles north of Durham City on the A693 between Chester le Street and Stanley, and a mile from the Beamish Open Air Museum, which sits within the grounds of the manor of Beamish. Beamish came into the possession of a branch of the Blackett family around 1683.
The history of Beamish Hall can be traced back to the Norman Conquest, being a fortified manor through the middle ages and Border Wars. Many notable North East families including the Blacketts owned and lived at Beamish over the centuries.
The hall itself has been added to over the years and is now a very fine hotel, with many of the beautiful rooms named after its former notable occupants such as the Charrons, Monboucher, Shafto and Eden families.
The Beamish estate was held in earlier centuries by the Charrons, whose daughter married into the Monboucher family, and eventually came into the Wray family. Thomas Wray sold Beamish Hall and estate in 1671 to the Christian family of Ewenrigg, Cumberland, from whom William (later Sir William) Blackett (1657-1705) acquired it around 1683 for the benefit of his brother-in-law Timothy Davison. (For details of the purchase of Beamish, which was by no means straightforward, please click here.)
Timothy Davison was married to the eldest child of Sir William Blackett (1621-1680), Elizabeth, who bore him seventeen known children before dying in 1694 aged forty eight. From the age of seventeen Elizabeth’s life must have been one of continuous child bearing, her last known child being born only two years before her death. It is not known if the family then lived at Beamish, though later generations of the family did, including Timothy’s eldest surviving son William, whose first wife Elizabeth bore him five children. They lived at Beamish Hall, as did William’s second wife, Dulcibella, who bore him a further five children.
The second daughter of William and Dulcibella was Mary Davison, who married Sir Robert Eden (see The Eden Line). The hall was occupied by the Eden family until 1904 from whence it passed to the Shafto branch of the family, in whose ownership it remained until 1952. Following the death of Mr Robert Shafto the Estate was disposed of and some of the two hundred and fifty year old furniture was presented to the Merchant Adventurers Guild Hall in Newcastle. The hall was later leased and used by The National Coal Board as head office for Mid West Durham. It was later bought and used as a residential college by Durham County Council. After its use by DCC, Beamish Hall stood empty until the year 2000, when it opened as a conference centre. In 2004 the current owner Mr David Craggs bought the estate and restored Beamish Hall to its original state of splendour, incorporating the many features that depict the past notable occupants of this splendid stately home.
The present house seems to have origins dating back to the early 15th century; the main part was built circa 1737, with extensions being added in 1813 and 1901.
Images by Thomas Longbottom with permission from Beamish Hall.
In 1631 Christopher Blackett, the eldest brother of Sir William Blackett, married Alice Fenwick, the daughter and sole heir of Thomas Fenwick. On Thomas Fenwick’s death in 1659 the manor of Wylam passed to Christopher Blackett, and on his death in 1675 to his second son, John Blackett.
John Blackett increased the size of the estate, but it was his great-grandson, Christopher Blackett who was responsible for Wylam’s chief claim to fame through his commissioning of “Puffing Billy” (see Railway Blacketts).
The Blacketts owned two large houses in Wylam, Wylam Hall (the surviving part of which is now divided into flats) and Oakwood House, still a private residence. The Blacketts’ ownership of the estate came to an end, however, following the death of Christopher John Walter Blackett without an heir in 1971. Nevertheless, the Blacketts and their involvement in the development of the village are still recognised in Wylam through addresses such as Blackett Court and Blackett Cottages, together with Woodcroft Road, Wylam, which may possibly be named after the ancient ancestral home of the Blacketts (see Woodcroft). In addition, Squire Blackett Beer is brewed by Wylam Brewery Ltd. (see A Blackett Beer).
Of all the major Blackett houses, Matfen is one of only three in England still in the ownership of a member of the family. This impressive country mansion, now a multi award-winning hotel incorporating a spa and championship golf course, stands in acres of beautiful parkland, and is situated twelve miles north-west of Newcastle upon Tyne, Northumberland. It is close to the River Pont and Hadrian’s Wall, and the area is steeped in Roman history and archaeology.
Matfen is a grade II listed building and was built incorporating part of an earlier 17th century house for Sir Edward Blackett in 1832. The hall today still retains much of its original character, and the terraces and beautiful gardens have changed little since Sir Edward’s day.
Nearby is the village of Matfen, a picturesque 18th century estate established by the Blacketts. In 1961, after the death of Sir Hugh Douglas Blackett, Matfen Hall became a nursing home until it was converted in 1999 by Sir Hugh and Lady Blackett into the luxurious hotel that it is today.
The history of Matfen, Wallington and other imposing properties and their occupants from past to present is beautifully presented in the recommended book, “The Ship that Came Home”, by A. W. Purdue. Copies are still available from various sources, including the gift page on the Matfen Hall website