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Other Country House: Eccles House, Derbyshire

PUBLISHED: 14:01 29 April 2010 | UPDATED: 11:38 28 February 2013

Eccles Hall

Eccles Hall

The country around Chapel-en-le-Frith is wildly romantic and impressively mountainous. The hinterland of the town consists of a number of edges - Bowden, Bradshaw and Combes - scattered over which are many small townships, or hamlets as we would n...

On Bradshaw Edge is the township of Eccles, the place-name of which clearly implies the existence at one time of a Roman and post-Roman Christian place of worship predating the arrival of the Saxons, as it is derived, like the Welsh eglwys, from the Latin ecclesia, a church. Such place names survive elsewhere in our county - at Tideswell, Hope and in the name of the River Ecclesbourne, itself thought to attest the antiquity of the church at Wirksworth, conceivably the site of the lost Roman town of Lutudarum.

This speculation gains conviction when one remembers that even in the mid seventh century, a British King - Cadwallon of Gwynedd - seems to have held sway over the western Peak, until his adventuring brought him foul of the Northumbrians, after which they established their own hegemony over the area, even as far south as Derby.

That aside, an estate here seems to have come into the hands of the Mold, or as later spelt, Moult, family as early as the 13th century. Here I have been much aided by the researches of a descendant, who claims for them kinship with Sir Roger de Montalt, seneschal of the Earls of Chester, although in nearly all Derbyshire charters known to me his interests seem to lie further south, at Rosliston and Walton-on-Trent.

Certainly, by the time of the Hearth Tax in 1670, there were several farming families of this name in NW Derbyshire and a Robert Mold is attested as of Bradshaw Edge in a charter of 1345, and two at Eccles in the 1381 Poll Tax.

Eccles House as such reaches the record in 1509 when it came to Thomas Molte and the will is extant of another Thomas, of Eccles, in 1578. It was probably then a simple stone built farmhouse, for John Moult was taxed on just two hearths there in 1670.

In late March 1683, apparently, Thomas Moult of Eccles and his young son both died of cholera, leaving a daughter and heiress who later married German, son of German Buxton, a third son of the Brassington branch of that family. He is said to have rebuilt and enlarged the house, no doubt to reflect his status, for the Moults were never then of greater status than yeomen, and their name is conspicuously absent from the Heralds' Visitations of the County, unlike the Buxtons. He also purchased land to build up an estate around the house.

German's son William died unmarried, the heir being his sister Martha, married to a probable kinsman, Thomas Moult of Chinley. Moult seems to have been an amateur craftsman of some talent, if a pedimented breakfront bookcase, included in the 1983 house sale, is anything to go by - he is said to have made it from oak felled on the estate.

Thomas Moult died in 1751, leaving another under-age heiress, Sarah, then but four. She is said to have met and fallen in love with her future husband, Thomas Goodman, when as a teenager, she called at the local pub for supplies and he was staying there, en route for a cousin's house in Manchester, a fugitive from debt. They married at Chapel-en-le-Frith on 2nd December 1765, by licence, Sarah being still under age. Her mother is said to have been ignorant of George's alleged circumstances until after the marriage, a fact which I find highly unlikely, given the positively forensic attention such matters merited in that era!

George was a Derby man, from St Alkmund's parish, accorded the style of gentleman, according to the marriage lines. The only Goodmans in the town then were William, father and son, stockiners, the elder of whom is registered in the 1734 poll book as of South Normanton and Derby. They do not stand out as likely kinsmen and I suspect the family origins need further research.

Certainly, one doubts if George was a washout, for he was able to buy a John Whitehurst II mahogany angle barometer in 1789. This was sold with the original receipt by Sotheby's Chester, with the remaining house contents in 1984, a sale, incidentally, which included several family pieces, quite apart from Thomas Moult's bookcase: a plank chest dated 1535, a coffer dated 1668, a Charles II chest-on-chest and a japanned long case clock by John Whitehurst the elder.

Furthermore, when his son Thomas succeeded in 1791, he was able to afford to completely rebuild the house in typical late 18th century style. Indeed, what Goodman built is essentially what Jackson-Stops & Staff was offering for sale last October, with five and a half acres: a two storey stuccoed mansion of five bays with a parapetted roof. Approached up a fine drive equipped with a contemporary castellated gateway half way along, the entrance is under a Doric portico and through a fine fan- and side-lit door into an entrance hall with a fireplace.

It is clear that the house contains within it much of its predecessor, for no new villa of the era would have had the entrance offset in the second of five bays, nor have omitted the first floor window of the left hand end bay. Behind the dignified Georgian faade, too, there is much irregularity, most obvious externally from the side facing Eccles Pike. There are other signs, too, like a spacious kitchen incongruously situated on the entrance front, with a second staircase behind, perhaps the core of the farmhouse rebuilt by German Buxton at the beginning of the 18th century. Indeed, this end of the house has a gabled roof, whereas the western end the roof is hipped.

The grandfather of Brigadier Sir Godfrey Davenport Goodman KCB married another Moult, and the Brigadier, who was an infantry GOC in the Great War and ADC to George V, was succeeded by his second son, Major Andrew Gawen Goodman who sold up in 1983.

Eccles is a fine, interesting and delightful house, in an incomparable setting, with an interesting history and probably on or near an ancient Christian site; what more could one ask of a residence in Derbyshire?

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