Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Denton Hall (NZ198657)


 © Copyright Phil Thirkell and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Built in 1622, Denton Hall is one of the few surviving examples of Jacobean architecture in the region. And what a fine specimen it is.

The mighty edifice was built by Anthony Errington, the estate’s owner at the time and a big player in the early coal industry of the area. He lived with his wife Dorothy and two sons at his new hall for a mere ten years before his death in 1632 – the property passing to his first-born, Lancelot. During the English Civil Wars the Erringtons supported the king and, as a result, ultimately lost their Denton estate by degrees over the ensuing years. Their catholic sympathies did them little good, either, of course.

Ownership of the hall slid to the Rogers around 1700, then onto the Montagu family in the late 1750s – more specifically, Edward, who took possession along with his wife, Elizabeth, a woman who was to become the most famous figure in Denton Hall’s history.

At first apprehensive of her husband’s recent acquisition – and especially its northerly latitudes – Mrs Montagu soon took to her new environment. They would stay at the hall in the summer months – Edward attending to his coal, farming and other business interests in the area, with Elizabeth throwing herself into various social and charitable tasks. In time, these duties grew and expanded as she further integrated herself into the local community. For example, she founded a school at Denton for the children of the pitmen, and was always attentive to the needs and demands of the local workforce.

Mrs Montagu was an accomplished writer and was interested in all manner of topics, from the literary to the scientific, as well as moral matters (among many others). Visitors to Denton Hall included the likes of Dr Samuel Johnson, Dr Joshua Reynolds and David Garrick, and several others of note. She was considered something of a leader of society, and was regarded as the ‘first woman’ for literary knowledge in England. Elizabeth was also a prominent figure in the so-called ‘Blue-Stocking Society’.

When her husband died in 1775, Elizabeth inherited all of his property. She carried on running his old affairs with great efficiency and cared a good deal for her ‘black friends’, the term she employed for the pitmen and their families. She continued visiting her ‘Gothick Mansion near Newcastle’ almost every summer until 1789, after which old age began to get the better of her. She died in London in 1800, aged 80.

During the 19th & 20th centuries the hall passed from the Montagus to the Rokebys and beyond – though for much of the past two centuries it has been tenanted (its most famous occupant being that of ‘Silky’, the resident ghost). Eventually it fell back into the hands of catholic ownership, becoming a nunnery in recent decades – indeed, today it is the official residence of the Roman Catholic Bishop of Hexham & Newcastle and is formally known as ‘Bishop’s House, East Denton Hall’.


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