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History of Needham Grange

For hundreds of years, by the Grace of God, Needham Grange has looked out from a ridge sheltering it against North-Easterly winds, twelve hundred feet above sea-level in the Pennines.  It sits by the cross-roads at High Needham on the packhorse way (1) that drops, suddenly, four hundred feet to the vale of the River Dove below.

It is often lost in mist and snow.  Snow falls here when it does not fall elsewhere.  Its existence is almost forgotten by those descended from its medieval inhabitants, for it has a long past. Neolithic man was here, Romans passed by on the road they built to the east, Anglo-Saxons made it their settlement (2).

It is in the ancient Wapentake of Wirksworth and the Parish of Hartington (the home of Stilton cheese) and in the White Peak region of the Peak District National Park in Derbyshire. Nearby is the Roman town of Buxton whose spring-water rises at a constant temperature of 28 degrees Centigrade from a volcanic area below ground, 5,000 years after it fell as rain-water on the people who built Stonehenge and its Peak District cousin, Arbour Low, during the Later Neolithic period.

The house is built of Carboniferous Limestone  quarried from the site.  This rock began to form 345 million years ago (3) when the land lay under a tropical sea and nearby hills, the only true peaks in the Peak District, were coral reefs.  Fossilised sea-creatures appear in gateposts at Needham Grange.

Its existence is recorded in 1244 as Nedham and in 1541 as Nedeham Grange (4).  On early small-scale maps of Derbyshire it is shown as a principal location - as Nedam Grang on Christopher Saxton's map of 1577 (5), John Sellers' of 1740 and Emmanuel Bowen's of around 1750 and as Needham on Thomas Kitchen's mid-eighteenth-century map.  In 1614 it is High Nedham (4) and, by 1817, High Needham (6).  Today, it is not shown at all.

The present house is thought to be 17th-century (the period when the great manor houses of Derbyshire were being built in the late Elizabethan style (7)), if not earlier, judging by very early mullioned windows.  It has a courtyard of 16th and 19th-century buildings.  But there is evidence of the mediaeval structures in adjacent fields.

It was possibly a monastic farm for a time, supporting the Cistercian abbey of Merevale in Warwickshire, and field-boundary patterns from those times remain today (8). Merevale, whose name means 'wonderful valley', was established in 1148 by Richard de Ferrers, Earl of Derby, in a peaceful location for the better spiritual life of the monks.  He provided it with a source of revenue in the form of land for granges in Derbyshire and elsewhere (9).  Such farms were worked by lay brothers who took the same vows as the monks (this was the arrangement at Wincle Grange nearby in Cheshire, leased to the Cistercian abbey of Combermere (10)).  The granges raised sheep for the wool-trade and bred horses for riding and pack animals (11), although this grange may also have been arable.  In due course, monasteries moved from direct demesne farming to letting for rent as a surer source of revenue (11).  Two sites belonging to Merevale were Cronkstone and Pilsbury Granges which are close to Needham Grange (12).

At the same time, however, records show Roger (or William) Fitzwilliam de Stanton, a descendant of William de Stanton, Lord of Stanton in Cheshire, marrying the heiress of the Manor of High Needham, possibly in the mid twelfth-century (13), and Burke gives the first date of Needhams of Needham as 1 Henry II, i.e. 1155 (14). They took the name of de Nedham, and the next generation is Henry de Nedham (13). Adopting the family name of an heiress was not uncommon.  The noble Cavendishes were originally a Peak District family named de Gernon who took the name Cavendish from the Manor in Suffolk that they acquired through marriage before returning to Derbyshire and settling at Chatsworth (15).  The great house of Legh of Lyme Park and Adlington was called Venables until one married the heiress of the Leghs (16).

The family appears in the Hundred Rolls of 1274 (17), and from it are descended the Earls of Kilmorey and other members of the Needham family who moved to Cheshire, Hertfordshire, Suffolk (18), Ireland, America and elsewhere.

Henry's descendants, Thomas and  his brother William, having survived the Black Death, acquired additional manors through marriage around 1350.  William obtained Cranage in Cheshire.  Thomas, the elder, obtained Thornsett, part of the vast manor of Thornsett and Longdendale (19) in the High Peak Hundred, and his family became centred there.  From then until the 16th century, they were Foresters, officials acting for the King, in the Campana, a part of the Royal Forest of the High Peak, and this is reflected in the bucks' heads on the various Needham coats of arms (14, 20).  Needhams of Thornsett are listed among the gentry of Derbyshire in 1360, 1465 & 1603 (21).

The Forest was a wild place.  From Mellor "for fifteen miles south, and twelve miles east, did its sylvan shades extend, but all that remains of it now are the historic mansions in which its officials dwelt. ... The scenery, or rather the formation of the land, between Mellor and Hayfield will give a better idea of the old Forest than all the books ever written; The distance is six miles.  What a glorious sight, and how exciting too, must have been a stampede of the animals ... along ... rugged and precipitous paths apparently leading to the clouds.  Of those Old Halls of the Peak - homes of the Forest officials - which mark the spots where the earliest of the Peak families were located, how many have we remaining?  Who knows where the Savages lived at Castleton, or the Daniels at Tideswell, or the Foljambes at Wormhill or the Needhams at Thornsett....?" (22).

During the sixteenth-century, Needhams of Thornsett acquired the manors of Snitterton and Cowley, also in the High Peak Hundred.  All three manors had been recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086.

These acquisitions were through the marriage of Otwell Needham to Elizabeth Cadman in the early 1500s (24). Their children and later descendants married well; to the Dakyns of Snitterton, the Wednesleys of Wensely (the last male in the line of that distinguished and wealthy family) (23), the Radcliffes of Mellor, the Garlicks, relations of the Catholic martyr (24) and the Eyres of Hassop (another very wealthy family whose lead-mining interests provided for the building of magnificent Hassop Hall (25).  The Eyres were descended from Stephen Eyre, living in 1488, who had married Catherine Dymoke of the family of the Champions of the Kings of England (26). One descendant, Henry Needham of Thornsett, was granted a licence in 1599 by the Duchy of Lancaster to mine for coal, evidence of a coalfield in North West Derbyshire in Elizabethan times (27).

Cowley is the only manor in Derbyshire to have been occupied by the same man before and after the Conquest; Swein, who owned it in 1066, occupied it still under Henry de Ferrers in 1086.  From him it came to the Cadmans (28).  Tilley wrote, "Ten different families have held the manor of Cowley since the Conquest: the de Ferrers, Colleghs, Cadmans, Needhams, Seniors, Bagshawes, Fanshawes, Fitzherberts, Walls and Arkwrights.  What a goodly sprinkling of real old Derbyshire houses." (29)

Snitterton had been held by the Shirleys, the Sacheverelles and Colonel John Milward who built the present hall; "one were knights as early as the twelfth-century, barons in the thirteenth, and from distinguished marriages quartered the Royal arms of Plantagenet and Valois; another…obtained a knighthood on the Field of the Cloth of Gold…a third, who also held their gold spurs and a judgeship, fought conspicuously among the Cavaliers" (30).  The Shirleys were heroes of Crecy, Poitiers and Agincourt.  The Sacheverelles were held in high regard by Henry VIII.

The manor had been split into two moieties by the Shirleys (31).  The Sacheverelles owned one and sold it, together with the  Manor House and Hall, to Colonel Milward (32), who built the present-day Snitterton Hall.  The history of the other is less clear.  It may be that this is the manor owned by the Needhams.

Documented connections between the Needhams and Snitterton are:

Otwell's daughter Dorothy married John Dakyn in 1541 and lived at Snitterton Manor House (33).  In the Dakeyne pedigree, she is described as of Cowley, Snitterton and Thornsett and he as of Biggin Grange and Snitterton (34).

Richard de Wednesley, husband of Lettuce Needham, another daughter, purchased the Chantry of Snitterton which may have been attached to the Manor House and of which a gable remains in an adjacent farm (35).

"Here is an old edifice…the homesteads of Cavaliers who fought at Edgehill and Naseby; the rooms in which gathered the Dakeyns, Cowleys, Needhams, Brownes, Wednesleys, Sacheverelles; where Sir Aston [Cokayne] quoted his own epigrams over his wine…"(36)

By the time that armorial claims were verified during the Visitation of Richard St. George, Norroy Herald, to Derbyshire in 1611, the year of the King James Bible, the family was recognised as Needham of Needham, Thornsett, Snitterton and Cowley and twelve generations are described (37).

Yet in 1613, just two years later, the family was selling Snitterton and Cowley and a moiety in the manor of Darley (38).  By the time of the next Visitation, by Norroy Herald William Dugdale in 1662/3, Needhams are no longer recorded (39).

Meanwhile, the descendants of William had prospered in Cheshire.  They had married with other gentry families such as Savage, Brereton, Bromley and Talbot and acquired large land-holdings, to the extent that they were recognised as one of the older land-owning families in Cheshire, a county renowned for the large number of its knightly and gentry families and estates (40), although they sold Cranage Hall in 1660 and the manor in 1760 (41).  They held high office in the judiciary and were Members of Parliament and Sheriffs.  Fifteenth-century tombs of Needhams are recorded in the parish church of Holmes Chapel near Cranage (42).

So, as Thomas's descendant was reducing his assets, William's was prospering, and he was created Viscount Kilmorey in 1625.  His descendant was created Earl of Kilmorey and Viscount Newry and Mourne in 1822.  The family flourishes still, with the present incumbent continuing the family's service to Parliament and the Nation.  Seats were held at Shavington Park in Shropshire and Mourne Park in Ireland.  Mourne Park is in the Kingdom of Mourne, Northern Ireland (43) and, like Needham Grange, is in a mountainous setting.  It is a beautiful estate through which the Whitewater runs to the sea at nearby Greencastle.  At its height, it extended to 35,000 acres, almost 60 square miles, until reduced by Gladstone's Irish Land Act at the end of the nineteenth-century (43).   A further 20,000 acres were held in England (43). Members  of the family still live at Mourne which has been in the same family for over 400 years, one of the last 'big-house families' of Ireland (43).

A final detail.  John Brereton of the Breretons of Hurdlow, was 'the first navigator to make a direct voyage to America, the first Englishman to tread the shores of New England at Cape Cod … [and a] subsequent voyage “resulted in the planting and colonisation of America”' (44).

Hurdlow, the Anglo-Saxon Treasure Mound (45), is thereby a key site in American history.  It is the manor adjacent to High Needham, one mile by footpath North East across the ridge where Needham Grange stands.

Questions remain……

Burke says that the original forebear was William de Stanton, but the Lysons, the nineteenth-century antiquarians, insist that the Needhams are descended from one of the same name in Cheshire (46). Another, Tilley, names him as William de Needham, Lord of Stanton in Cheshire living in 1102 (47).  Where was Stanton?  It is not in the Domesday Book (though not all settlements were recorded), nor does the name exist today.  It might be the present-day Stanthorne, a village strangely coincidentally close to Cranage, acquired by William Needham in the mid-fourteenth-century.

High Needham was a manor in the twelfth-century, with the family remaining there until the mid-fourteenth century, but how could it also have been, from around 1200, a monastic farm occupied by men who had taken vows of chastity?  Perhaps ownership of the manor remained with the Needhams, or perhaps it was not granted to Merevale after all; it is not listed amongst the lands granted to Merevale by the de Ferrers (48), and, although one source cites adjacent Cronkston Grange as belonging to Merevale, it does not say this of Needham Grange (49).  Or, perhaps, there were two settlements over the large area of the original site.

Who was the heiress of High Needham?  Adjacent lands were owned by the de Ferrers.  Could she have been of this noble house?  Or was she of Anglo-Saxon descent?

Why was Nedham not in Domesday despite having an Anglo-Saxon name?  Perhaps because it was a farmstead rather than a settlement?

How was Snitterton acquired?

What caused the family to sell its manors in 1613?

Whatever the answers are to these questions, in the words of the architectural historian Maxwell Craven, describing the Needham genealogy:

"...this distinguished family have had a long and honourable history in [Derbyshire] (as well as elsewhere) and those who bear the name of that windy west Derbyshire cross-road hamlet can well be proud of their ancestry” (50).

You can see pictures of Needham Grange and High Needham today by clicking on Images of Needham Grange.

Notes and References (These are principal references for the purpose of this text; other authors who agree are not cited.)

1       Peakland Roads and Trackways, by A.E. & E.M. Dodd (Landmark Publishing 2000) pp. 84 ff.  This became the Hassop to Newcastle Turnpike.
2       This is one of the only two Anglo-Saxon names in Derbyshire ending in `ham' - see A History of Derbyshire by Gladwyn Turbutt (Merton Priory Press 1999) p. 253, an excellent book (Turbutt).
3       Turbutt, p. 18.
4       It is also recorded in 1251, 1284 and 1306.  See The Place-Names of Derbyshire by Kenneth Cameron, English Place-Names Society Vol. XXVIII (Cambridge University Press, 1959), p.366 (PN).
5       Christopher Saxton's 16th Century Maps by William Ravenhill/Chatsworth Library (Chatsworth Library 1992) pp.70-71.
6       Magna Britannia by D. & S. Lysons Vol. 5 (1817), p. i. (Lysons 1817).
7       Turbutt, p. 1191.
8       The Peak District by John Barnett and Ken Smith (B.T.Batsford/English Heritage 1997) p. 69.
9       Merevale Church and Abbey by John D. Austin (Studley Brewin 1998) (Austin), pp. 5, 149.     Lands in Derbyshire given by Richard were 'Hedevike in the Peake of Derbyshire unto Cranokeloune; with common pasture in Hertenbon and Pillesburie, for Sheep and other Cattell' (Ibid. p.149).  Cronkstone was Crannokesdune in 1149; Hartington was Hurtendun in 1203 and Hertendone in the 13th-century PN pp.364-5.
10     Living Edge June 2002, p.78.  Article by Evelyne Sansot.
11     Turbutt, pp. 744-5.
12     Lysons 1817, p. 175.
13     Burke's Peerage, Earls of Kilmorey, p. 1580, 106th edition (Burke's Peerage and Baronetage, 1999).  Needham is the modern spelling.
14     Burke's General Armory p.725 (Burke's Peerage, 1884).
15     The Old Halls, Manors and Families of Derbyshire by Joseph Tilley Vol. I (1892) (Tilley Vol I), p.157.
16     Tilley Vol I, p. 165.
17     Tilley Vol I, p. 103.
18     Including Needham Market, founded by a Needham.  It is believed that Needham, Massachusetts is named after Needham Market.
19     The Derbyshire Country House by Maxwell Craven and Michael Stanley (Landmark Publishing 2001), p. 175 (Craven & Stanley).
20     Turbutt, p.578.
21     Turbutt, pp. 916-7 & 1419.
22     Tilley Vol I, p. 153.
23     Tilley Vol I, p. 109.
24     Derbyshire Life March 1982 p. 42, article by Maxwell Craven (DL).
25     Turbutt, p. 999.
26     `When a Monarch of England is crowned it is the duty of a Dymoke to ride into Westminster Hall and challenge the world against the rights of his Sovereign.  He is mounted on his charger, clad in armour, with all the necessary trappings of his horse embroidered with two lions passant (the arms of his race), together with other relics of past pageantry.  He is supported on either side by noblemen and heralds on foot, and having advanced a certain distance, he throws down his gauntlet, uttering the while his challenge to mortal combat with anyone who denies his Sovereign's right.  The challenge runs after this manner: - “If there be any manner of man, of what state, degree, or condition soever he be, that shall say and maintain that our Sovereign --------,this day here present, is not the undoubted and rightful inheritor to the imperial crown of this realm, and that of right he ought not to be crowned King, I say he lieth like a false traitor, and that I am ready the same to maintain with him whilst I have breath in my body, either now at this time or at any time whenever it shall please the King's highness to appoint, and thereupon I cast my gage.”  For this duty he gets a gold cup.'  Tilley Vol I  p. 54.
27     Turbutt, p. 1442.
28     Turbutt, p. 477.
29     Tilley Vol I, p. 103.
30     Tilley Vol I, p. 116.
31     Craven & Stanley, p. 198.
32     Tilley Vol I, p. 116-7.
33     Tilley Vol I, pp.111.
34     College of Heralds.
35     Tilley Vol I, p. 109-10, 117.
36     Tilley Vol I, p. 118.
37      Burke's General Armory describes Christopher Needham, sixth in descent from Thomas and Maud, as ancestor of Needham (i.e. the present Needham at 1611).  Lysons 1817 pp.clxi-ii says that the Visitation describes six generations of this family, implying six back to Christopher.
38     Lysons 1817, p. 100, Tilley Vol 1, p. 104.
39     DL
40     Magna Britannia by D. & S. Lysons, Vol. 2 Part II (1810), pp. 347-8, 355, 373 (Lysons 1810).
41     Lysons 1810, p. 772.
42     Lysons 1810, p. 771.
43     The Sunday Times Magazine, February 3, 2003, pp. 46 ff., article by David James Smith.
44     The Old Halls, Manors and Families of Derbyshire by Joseph Tilley Vol. II (1893), p.ix.
45     PN, p.366
46     Lysons 1817, pp. clxi-ii.
47     Tilley Vol I, p. 104.
48     Austin p. 149.
49     PN, p.365.
50     DL.


The author acknowledges the following as sources and thanks the publishers for their kind permission to make reference to this material.

Burke's Peerage and Baronetage  106th edition (© Burke's Peerage and Gentry, 1999)  See also the web-site where there is a summary of this article in Burkes's electronic newsletter, Atavus, Issue 2, March/April 2003.       
Burke's General Armory (© Burke's Peerage, 1884)
Magna Britannia by D. & S. Lysons, Vol. 2 Part II (1810) and Vol. 5 (1817)  (Cadell and Davies)
The Old Halls, Manors and Families of Derbyshire by Joseph Tilley, Volume I, The High Peak Hundred (1892) and Volume II, The Appletree Hundred and The Wapentake of Wirksworth  (1893) (Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent and Co)
A History of Derbyshire © Gladwyn Turbutt (Merton Priory Press Ltd, 1999)
The Derbyshire Country House © Maxwell Craven and Michael Stanley (Landmark Publishing, 2001)
The Place-Names of Derbyshire by Kenneth Cameron, English Place-Names Society Vol. XXVIII (© Cambridge University Press, 1959)
Peakland Roads and Trackways, © A.E. & E.M. Dodd (Landmark Publishing, 2000)
The Peak District © John Barnett and Ken Smith (B.T.Batsford/English Heritage, 1997).
Merevale Church and Abbey © John D. Austin (Studley Brewin Books, 1998).
Christopher Saxton's 16th Century Maps © William Ravenhill/Chatsworth Library (Chatsworth Library, 1992)
Cheshire Life March 1962
Derbyshire Life March 1982 Article © Maxwell Craven
Living Edge June 2002 Article by Evelyne Sansot © Living Edge
The Sunday Times Magazine 3 February 2003, article by David James Smith © The Sunday Times

The author is very grateful to John Barnett, Senior Survey Archeologist, Peak District National Park Authority and to Philip Riden, Secretary and General Editor of the Derbyshire Record Society, for additional material.  He also thanks his wife and son for their assistance with this project.