Biddulph Old Hall: From Roundheads to Pre-Raphaelites

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Carolyn Simons uncovers the layers of Biddulph Old Hall on a Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Group visit.

Biddulph Old Hall is a most magical place and in October the Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Regional Group had the great pleasure of a private, behind-the-scenes visit.

We were shown round the hall and gardens by the owner, Brian Vowles, who together with his late partner, Nigel Daly and his brother David Daly, has owned it for about 20 years and has carried out a careful repair of the property, rescuing it from the Buildings at Risk Register.

As with so many old buildings, Biddulph has a layered history. What started as just a medieval hunting lodge had a three-storey tower added in 1520, and an Elizabethan square hall added half a century later in the 1580s.

Biddulph old hall

Biddulph Old Hall © Mike Peel, CC BY SA 4.0

Having slowly evolved in this way over many years, the Hall was summarily burned to the ground by Roundheads on a single day in 1644 – the Biddulph family were Catholics and Royalists who found themselves on the wrong side of the English Civil War.

The ruins remained in the possession of the Biddulph family until 1861 when they were sold to horticulturalist James Bateman in 1861 and resold with a lifetime tenancy to his third son Robert in 1871.

Robert Bateman was a pre-Raphaelite painter, mentored by Edward Burne-Jones, and he lived in the Hall until his death in 1922. For anyone with an interest in Arts and Crafts, I would recommend Nigel’s book: The Lost Pre-Raphaelite: The Secret Life & Loves of Robert Bateman.

Most of the garden sits within the ruined walls of the old Elizabethan Hall. Other enclosed gardens surround the hall. They have recaptured the sense of a magical paradise originally created by Robert Bateman. He was influenced by Burne-Jones' series of paintings The Legend of the Briar Rose, and as such roses are planted throughout. A sculpture in the garden by Simon O'Rourke is also inspired by Burne-Jones' Love and the Pilgrim.

The Rose Bower from the Legend of Briar Rose by Sir Edward Burne-Jones (public domain)


Many thanks to Brian for showing us around and to Christine Brooks for organising the visit.

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