March 2022

Dunston Hall’s history in the spotlight

Dunston Hall, Chesterfield, has been in the news lately, as it transforms into an events venue. In this blog we take a brief look at its history and highlight what could be an important discovery.

Dunston Hall east front taken about four years ago – the hall assumed its present form in the 1820s, but has a much longer history. It was originally a three-storey ‘high house’ with two principal rooms on each floor. This structure can be seen embedded in the northern end of the present mansion; the right-hand side in this photograph. (Photograph sourced from ‘Right Move’).

We’ve extracted historical information on Dunston Hall prepared by our county editor, acting as chairman of the Chesterfield and District Civic Society [link –], for this blog. This information forms part of the society’s response to a planning application for conversation of one of the farm buildings into a function room.

The farm buildings to the rear of Dunston Hall incorporate substantial remains of what was once probably a U-shaped range surrounding a farmyard, with the Hall at its north-eastern corner. Some of them date to original construction of the hall c.1600. The conclusion is that survival of these farm buildings is unusually important and warrants further investigation. 

Dunston Hall: an outline history

The property known in recent times as Dunston Hall was built c.1600 on a previously unoccupied site on the south side of a road that then ran from Littlemoor in Newbold village to Four Lane Ends in Upper Newbold. This road is represented today partly by Dunston Lane and (west of the junction of that road with the modern Dunston Road) partly by Dunston Road.

There was another house on the north side of Dunston Road almost opposite the present Dunston Hall, which confusingly was also known as ‘Dunston Hall’. This later became Dunston Old Hall and appears to have been completely demolished in the eighteenth century.

Dunston Hall was built by Richard Milnes, the son of William Milnes of Ashford in the Water in the Peak District. Richard was a lead merchant and wholesale ironmonger. He initially lived in Chesterfield, where he was mayor in 1626, and, like many successful local merchants, moved in later life to a newly built country house just outside the town. A number of such houses survive in the countryside between Chesterfield and the south-western outskirts of Sheffield.

Milnes chose a traditional design for his new house. Dunston Hall was originally a three-storey ‘high house’ with two principal rooms on each floor. This structure can be seen embedded in the northern end of the present mansion, which assumed its present form in the 1820s. Largely unaltered examples of similar high houses can be seen locally at Cutthorpe Old Hall and Barlow Woodseats, as well as further afield. By contrast, Richard’s contemporary (and fellow lead and iron merchant), Godfrey Watkinson, chose a more modern design for his new house at Brampton (i.e. what is now known as Brampton Manor). This also dates from c.1600 but has a symmetrical front elevation, divided into three large gables, an arrangement found in several other local houses of similar date and size.

Dunston Hall remained the property of the Milnes (later Smith Miles) family until recent times. The property was modernised and extended in the 1820s. A new two-storey range was added to the south of the original high house, and the two sections unified by a front elevation carried up to a common eaves-line. At the same time a small park was created around the mansion and the farming activities which would have been a feature of the Hall from when it was built were moved a short distance to the south-west, where a new Dunston Hall Farm was built.

Changes of this sort are a common feature of many gentry houses in the late eighteenth century or early nineteenth, as owners wanted a garden and landscape park, rather than a farmyard full of animals and implements, next to their home, since they were no longer directly involved in farming. Commonly, this sort of transformation meant that older farm buildings were swept away. At Dunston this did not happen and a range of farm buildings that appears to be (at least in part) contemporary with the building of the house c.1600 survived.

The farm buildings of c.1600

Dunston Hall from the 1898 25” to 1 mile Ordnance Survey Map (Derbyshire sheet XVIII.13). The building subject to the planning application is highlighted. (Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland;

This survival of these farm buildings is unusual and makes the buildings that are the subject of a current planning application unusually important. We believe that the farm buildings to the rear of Dunston Hall incorporate substantial remains of what was once probably a U-shaped range surrounding a farmyard, with the Hall at its north-eastern corner.

The main evidence for this conclusion is the survival of what appear from the architect’s sections (contained in the planning application papers) to be four cruck-framed trusses.[1]  The planning application Heritage Statement also refers to the survival of cruck trusses in another building[2] and to evidence that at the northern end of another building there was once a return marking the start of a range running east towards the Hall.

It is possible that there were once farm buildings on the fourth (eastern) side of the yard, south of the Hall, completing a quadrangular layout. This cannot be demonstrated from surviving remains, since the extension to the Hall of the 1820s now occupies that area. Although these suggestions can only be speculative, it is clear that what survives at Dunston today represents at least a third of a large range of farm buildings probably contemporary with the Hall.

The surviving remains have clearly been altered since they were first built, most obviously by the building up of the walls in stone and the replacement of what were probably originally thatched roofs. As well as the loss of buildings that may once have stood on the northern and eastern sides of the farmyard, part of the southern range has been completely rebuilt.

One of the buildings[3] as described in the planning application Heritage Statement and Technical Note, appears to date from 1713, the date on a keystone over one of the entrances, alongside the initials ‘R.M.G.D.’. This must refer to Richard Milnes, who succeeded his father George Milnes in 1671 and died in 1729. The two other initials are probably those of Richard’s son George and his daughter-in-law Dorothy (Newham).

George and Dorothy may have lived at Dunston after Richard bought a second house at Aldercar in south-east Derbyshire in 1703, which became his main home in his later years. This building has conventional roof trusses made up of tie-beam, principal rafters and collars, which appear from photographs in the application’s Technical Note to be consistent with an early eighteenth century date of construction.

The survival of substantial remains of such an extensive range of cruck framed farm buildings associated with a well-documented gentry house is important, since so often such buildings have been swept away when the main house has been rebuilt or a modern home farm built.

It would be unwise to claim that the buildings at Dunston are unique, but they appear to be the largest range of this type anywhere in north Derbyshire or south Yorkshire.

More than fifty years ago the late Mrs B. Bunker, in a pioneer single-handed survey which has yet to be superseded, located some 80 cruck-framed farm buildings in this area,[4] but none had more than two or three surviving trusses.

At Dunston (which Mrs Bunker was not aware of) there are at least four in one of the buildings and apparently others in a further building. The buildings at Dunston are therefore clearly of regional, if not national, importance.

Chesterfield and District Civic Society have made comments on the application, part of which contains the above history of the house. They have asked that the local planning authority (Chesterfield Borough Council) should impose some conditions on the applicant. These include:

  • The applicant should be required to commission and pay for a detailed survey of all three surviving buildings, undertaken by a suitably qualified and experienced buildings archaeologist, whose appointment must be approved by the county council’s archaeology officer.
  • The survey would include much more detailed drawings than those prepared for the planning application, and the budget should include the cost of publishing a report on the findings in the Derbyshire Archaeological Journal.
  • The applicant should also commission and pay for dendrochronology dating of sample beams from each of the three.
  • If the county council’s archaeology officer so determines, the applicant should be required to pay for limited excavation of some floor areas in the hope of establishing the original use of different parts of the building.

This is not a full list of the society’s recommendations, which can be read in the civic society’s report available to down load.


Dunston Hall and the two ranges of outbuildings were listed in 1977, when much less was known about historic farm buildings, and the use of cruck framing north of the Trent, than is the case today. Fifty years ago any cruck truss tended to be regarded as ‘medieval’, whereas it is now accepted that this method of construction continued in the East Midlands, especially for non-residential buildings, until after 1600.

One way in which this revised chronology was established was by the use of dendrochronology to date medieval and post-medieval timbers, a technique that was in its infancy in the 1970s. As far as we know, none of the timbers at Dunston Hall have been dated in this way.

To read the full application and its associated documents (including the Heritage Statement and Technical Note) visit Chesterfield Borough Council’s planning application on-line search facility and type in Dunston Hall. The application references are CHE/22/00111/FUL and CHE/22/00112/LBC.

The above history is a revised version of that contained in our VCH Newbold draft text.


[1] These four cruck-framed trusses are lettered A–D in what is described as Building A in the Heritage Statement and Technical Note which accompanies the planning application. These documents are produced on behalf of the planning applicant.

[2] Described as Building C in the Heritage Statement and Technical Note which accompanies the planning application. There is apparently evidence that at the northern end of ‘Building A’ there was once a return marking the start of a range running east towards the Hall.

[3] Building C as the described in the Heritage Statement and Technical Note.

[4] B. Bunker, Cruck Buildings: an opinion as to their origin and dating arising from a study of existing and recently demolished cruck buildings in north Derbyshire and south Yorkshire (published by the author, c.1970)

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Hasland’s place name

How did Hasland, Spital, Hady, Boythorpe, Grassmoor, Winsick, Birdholme and Corbriggs get their names? In this blog we’ll take a very brief look at place names associated with our forthcoming book on the former large and varied Chesterfield township of Hasland.

Let’s start with Hasland itself. This name has its origins in ‘Haselont’ (mentioned in 1129-38). It actually means hazel grove. Presumably the township could well have assumed this name which is more associated with of Hazel Grove near Stockport in Greater Manchester.

In this blog we explore the origins of the names of some of the groups of communities who made up Hasland township. As our forthcoming Hasland book relates, the development of the suburb known today as Spital began with the building (at some date between the 1830s and 1870s) of Spring Vale, on the west side of Spital Lane a short distance south of Spital Mills. The area is pictured in this Nadin postcard of around 1900. (Courtesy Lyn Pardo Roques).

Spital is quite clearly named as such due to the the leper hospital, dedicated to St Leonard, from which the modern suburb takes its name. This hospital was first mentioned in 1195.

Hady is not so clear. There’s a le Hady mentioned in 1468 and Had(e)y in 1635. It’s thought the first element may mean headland (‘heafod’). The second element may mean an island or enclosure.

The northern end of Hasland township, between the boundary with Tapton on the north and Calow on the east, the Rother on the west and Spital Brook on the south, became known in modern times as Spital (on the west) and Hady (on the east). The growth of housing on this side of Chesterfield in the 20th century led to the fusion of Spital and Hady into virtually a single built-up area.

The only place in Hasland township mentioned in the Domesday Survey (1086) is Boythorpe – ‘Buitorp’. This is a straightforward name; it is definitely Boie’s outlying farm, i.e. a personal name plus torp (farm), which still has the same modern meaning in all three Scandinavian languages.

Grassmoor‘s name is perhaps a little more complex. It could, of course, simply refer to a grass moor (rough, uncultivated land). Indeed when the area was enclosed in 1781 it was called ‘Grass Moor’. But there was a former Deincourt estate in Hasland, which, in medieval times, included Alvin Wood and Greyhirst Moor. There may have been a transition from ‘Greyhirst’ to ‘Grassmoor’, but there is no etymological (historic word) connection between the two. Greyhirst appears to have been where Grassmoor is now. There’s a 1549 mention of ‘Gresmore’, by 1568 we have ‘Grasmoore’. Alvin Wood, incidently, was definitely in North Wingfield.

Winsick may be identified with Winwell Sick (river or stream) mentioned in 1488. The actual origin of the name is unclear.

Cameron’s three-volume ‘Place Names of Derbyshire’ is still the authoritative source for place name information, though we have supplemented it with new research for our book on Hasland.

Birdholme cannot be easily explained. Cameron in his ‘Place Names of Derbyshire’ mentions two name elements – bridd and holmr. This has been interpreted as (a) a young bird, (b) island, raised land in a marsh, river meadow. We think Cameron thought the name origin was something like ‘riverside meadow with birds’ but he couldn’t find any early forms and neither have VCH in our research. The evidence is therefore not conclusive. Holmr is most commonly thoughout of as ‘island’ (modern Holme, as in Steep Holme, Flat Holme etc.) but doesn’t fit in the the case of Birdholme (nor, for example, in Holmewood).

Corbriggs‘ origin is also unclear. It is possible that the (now unnamed) stream, over which the bridge takes Mansfield Road, could have been the ‘Corr/Caw/Carr Brook’ but there’s no evidence one way or the other. In 1630 we find a ‘Cawbridge Meadowe’. By 1840 Corbridge is mentioned. In the early 1830s Sanderson in his map of twenty miles around Mansfield named the bridge carrying Mansfield Road over the then unnamed stream ‘Corr Bridge’. So, the ‘… briggs’ bit is probably corrupted from bridge. Only part of Corbriggs is in Hasland township – the rest is in Temple Normanton.

Our forthcoming Hasland book will cover the history all the above areas. For more details about place and river names see ‘The Place Names of Derbyshire’, in three volumes, by K. Cameron.

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Civic Society’s Plaque Marks Education Advances in Chesterfield

Chesterfield and District Civic Society’s latest plaque at the University of Derby’s Chesterfield campus. (Photo Howard Borrell).

The former St Helena Girls’ High School and its architect GH Widdows is the subject of a short note we’ve compiled with the Chesterfield and District Civic Society. This blog contains details about how to access it.

Chesterfield and District Civic Society have run a blue plaque scheme in their area for many years. The plaques aim to highlight buildings and people of note and interest. Their latest addition is pictured here. It was unveiled at the entrance gate piers to the former St Helena Girls’ High School, Sheffield Road, on 7 March 2022. The premises are now the University of Derby’s Chesterfield Campus.

The school was opened in 1911. It was designed by GH Widdows – who became nationally famous as an innovator in school design. It is Grade II listed.

You can read more about the plaque unveiling, the building and its architect by following this link. This will open a news item on the civic society’s website. Towards the bottom is a downloadable pdf with more about the buildings history and GH Widdows – but we’ve also made the same pdf available below.

If you’re interested in the work of the Chesterfield and District Civic Society you can find out more on their website and follow them on their Facebook page.

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Hasland and its boundary

In this blog we take a brief look at why Hasland (the subject of a forthcoming VCH spin-off book) was once a more extensive area than it is generally recognised as being today.
Hasland’s boundary (highlighted) as explained in this blog. This is a map taken from our forthcoming book.

What do we mean by parishes and townships?

We’ll start by explaining about what we mean as a parish.

Our ‘big red books’ are made up of chapters on individual parishes; a ‘parish’ for this purpose means an area which formed a separate administrative unit at the time of the 1831 census. In England north of the Trent, these units frequently do not coincide with the boundaries of ecclesiastical (i.e. church) parishes and so should more accurately be called ‘townships’.

The twelve townships of Chesterfield

The ‘ancient parish’ of Chesterfield (meaning the parish as it existed in 1801) was made up of twelve townships. The smallest was the borough of Chesterfield, occupying 312 acres at the centre of a parish of over 24,000 acres. The others formed a ring round the borough, including (working clockwise from the north) Whittington, Brimington, Tapton, Calow, Hasland, Temple Normanton, Wingerworth, Walton, Brampton and Newbold.

There are two other complications. In the early Middle Ages, because of the distance of some parts of the parish from the parish church, chapels were founded in several of the townships. In three cases – Brampton, Whittington and Wingerworth – the landowners who built these chapels tried to establish the townships they served as independent parishes. This was resisted by the dean of Lincoln (the lay rector of Chesterfield), as it would have reduced his income from tithes. Whittington came closest to being regarded as a separate parish, while Brampton and Wingerworth achieved a degree of autonomy as parochial chapelries.

The Church of England modernised its parochial structure in the 19th century. Brampton and Wingerworth became ‘new parishes’ and most of the rest of the ancient parish of Chesterfield was divided up into similar units.

The former Alma Inn on Derby Road, under demolition in early 1998. Situated amongst Derby Road’s heavy industry and housing, it’s some miles removed from Grassmoor, at the other end of Hasland parish. The building is now the site of the Alma Leisure Park, which took land from the closed Chesterfield tube works.

The second complication arises from the progressive extension of the boundaries of the borough of Chesterfield, which until 1892 were the same as those of the township.  The borough was extended in that year; again in 1910 and 1920. This marched roughly (but not exactly) in step with the expansion of the built-up area. The final boundary alteration in 1974 added two civil parishes to the borough – Brimington and Staveley. The former was part of the ancient parish of Chesterfield but the latter has no historical connection with the town.

Today, most of the ancient parish lies within the borough, although the whole of the former townships (later civil parishes) of Calow, Temple Normanton and Wingerworth, and parts of Hasland, Walton and Brampton, are in North East Derbyshire district.

Hasland’s further complications

Turning to the township of Hasland, there are further complications. Today, the name ‘Hasland’ refers to a densely populated suburban settlement south-east of the town centre. This has developed, mainly since the late 19th century, from an older hamlet at the junction at which a road to North Wingfield branches off from the historic main road from Chesterfield to Mansfield. The township of Hasland, however, covered a much bigger area (see our map above), in which several other quite distinct settlements have come into existence in the same period. The largest of these is Grassmoor but the township also includes Spital, Hady, Winsick and part of Corbriggs (the rest of which is in Temple Normanton).

Even more confusingly, Hasland is the only township in Chesterfield ancient parish to include land both east and west of the river Rother, which otherwise, from Whittington in the north to Wingerworth in the south, forms a township boundary.

Anglicans in Hasland were served by the parish church in Chesterfield until 1850, when a chapel of ease dedicated to St Paul was consecrated. This stands on the east side of Chesterfield Road about half a mile south of Hasland Green and a mile north of Grassmoor, the two villages it was intended to serve. Religious history will be thoroughly dealt with in our new book on Hasland.

West of the Rother the township included the suburb which grew up in the late 19th century on either side of Derby Road between the junction of Lordsmill Street and Hasland Road in the north and the bridge over Birdholme brook just beyond the junction with Langer Lane in the south. This settlement was simply known as ‘Derby Road’ when it first developed. But in the 20th century came to be called Birdholme. Much of the land of the township west of the A61 was used to build a large local authority housing estate in the 1920s, near the church of SS Augustine, which explains why part of the district is sometimes called ‘St Augustine’s’.

Complications with medieval manors

Lastly, it’s impossible to explain modern place-names without touching on the complexities of medieval manors within Chesterfield ancient parish.

As Chapters 1 and 2 in our book will explain, Hasland is the only township in the parish which does not appear in Domesday Book as either a manor in its own right or an outlying member of a manor. What later became known as the ‘manor of Hasland’ was in fact part of the manor of Chesterfield in the Middle Ages. This included most of the land of the township east of the Rother.

All the land on the other side of the river, and a small portion on the east as far as Hasland Road and Storforth Lane, lay within the manor of Boythorpe. In the opposite direction the lands of the manor extended to the township boundary at Boythorpe Road, but did not include the area between there and Walton Road. This was also developed for housing in the 1920s, when it became known as Boythorpe. The modern suburb, however, was not part of the medieval manor of the same name and lies entirely in the historic township of Walton.

We hope you’ve found this overview as to why Hasland’s boundaries have changed over the years. It’s mainly taken from the preface to our new book on Hasland which we hope to publish in May.

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Why Hasland for our newest book?

This blog looks at why we have chosen Hasland for our new book

An early mock up of our forthcoming Hasland book cover. The illustration is from a watercolour sketch
of Spital House of about1800 and is reproduced by courtesy of Derbyshire County Council

For some years our Chesterfield research group (and its predecessors) have been meeting at Chesterfield Library. Able to use the extensive resources of the local studies collection there, supplemented by work at the Derbyshire Record Office and The National Archives (Kew), their work has been drawn together by our county editor – Philip Riden – into our new book.

Research usually comprises examining various published and manuscript information into A5 sized slips (an example is shown in this blog). From there it is possible to bring together a chronological account of a parish, using various standard VCH topic headings.

Sometimes we will publish our draft text on this website. As is the case with Hasland, where work is quite advanced, we intend to publish a ‘spin-off’ book. Whether it’s draft text or a spin-off book, the aim is the same; to get our research findings out into the public domain. This is so that any mistakes or omissions can be identified. We also hope that publication makes available our research to local people interested in the area’s history. Ultimately we plan a series of ‘big red books‘ on the Chesterfield area, making further use of our research – but this is some way off. Whether it’s draft text or a spin-off book they are written following the conventions of the Victoria County History, an imprint of the University of London.

So why Hasland?

A typical A5 research slip. This one records a royal visit made to Brambling House in 1944 then an annexe to Chesterfield Royal Hospital.

We have chosen Hasland as work on this formerly large and varied parish was advanced. We also wanted to make available this research as soon as we could. For example we’ve been able to chart the history of some of the larger industrial concerns on Derby Road and at Birdholme. These include the tube works, Donkins and lessor known concerns such as the former Reema concrete system building manufactory at Storforth Lane and the Broad Oaks furnaces there. We also chart the religious history of the area, look at the growth and contraction of the parish (which at one time included Grassmoor), local schools and remnants of now disappeared important properties – such as Spital House – which is on the cover of our book.

We hope that the book will be a rounded attempt of the area’s history. It’s currently scheduled for publication in May, with a launch event in Hasland.

In a future blog we will look at how the boundary of Hasland came about.

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