Updated 8 May 2002

WIRKSWORTH Parish Records 1600-1900

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Hopton Hall

This interesting info about Hopton Hall was sent by Barbarann K Ayars and comes from "The Derbyshire Country House", Vol 1, page 123 (Maxwell Craven and Michael Stanley). Thanks to all concerned.
See also more info about Hopton House.

Hopton Hall II

The Gell family are recorded as holding an estate at Hopton since at least 1327, and can be traced with varying degrees of certainty back to Robert Gyll, a juror at Wirksworth in 1209; his posterity grew rich on the proceeds of marketing lead. Ralph Gell, grandson of the Ralph recorded in 1327, who died in 1433, is designated in a charter as tenant in chief of Hopton. This fact raises puzzling issues, for the Gells claim to have married an heiress of a cadet branch of the de Hoptons who held the manor from c 1200, it having been divided at some stage. It is clear, however, that the elder branch of de Hopton ended in an heiress who married Nicholas de Rollesley of the Rowsley family c 1320, and that their heiress ultimately transmitted a portion of the manor to Sir William Kniveton. The congruence of date rather suggests that the de Hopton heirs, the Rollesleys, sold up to the Gells in the mid 14th C.and that the Gell's claim to a descent from the de Hoptons was a polite fiction. The Gells also claimed a wholly fictional descent from a Roman soldier called Gellius ( a perfectly respectable Roman gentilicium, as it happens). This came about in the late 18th C when Philip Gell unearthed a Derbyshire ware Romano-British pot during work to divert the road further from the front of the hall. In it was allegedly found a fragmentary inscripton with the words: 'I F C/GELL/PRAEIII COH/VI BRIT LEG' thereon. Even if the inscription had been earlier than the date of find, it does not stand up to critical prosopographical scrutiny; it makes a good yarn, however.

Clearly, a seat must have stood on or near the site of the present house for quite some time. The origins of the present house, however are said to lie in an H shape manor house built in the later 16th C by Thomas, son of Ralph Gell who died in 1594. Yet there were but 13 hearths liable for tax in 1670, which altho generous by some standards thereabouts, was not that many. The projecting wings of this house between which was built a four-bay, two storey infill topped by a giant segmental pediment in ashlar, are today brick, but contain fragmentary portions of stonework. The stone itself is Millstone Grit sandstone, probably Ashover Grit from either Alport or Kirk Ireton; the roofs are largely slate and old tile. The pedimented range has often been compared to that at Brizlincote Hall, yet it does not appear on a 1784 plan of the house, and with the two gabled bays either side of it, with their Venetian windows each awkwardly placed over simple sash, represents an infilling between two earlier projecting ranges.

There is much more detail about the structure and arrangement of this house, but the following is more interesting as it relates to the Gell family:

Although the house passed, with its estate-which stood at 3,744 acres in 1883- through the Gells for over 600 years, all has not been plain sailing. When Sir Philip Gell, 3rd Baronet died in 1719, it passed to his sister Temperance, a lady of some munificence, who died unmarried in 1730, whereupon it all went to John, son of her sister Catherine who had married William Eyre of Higlow. He asumed the surname and arms of Gell in 1730, and Philip Gell, who rebuilt the house, was his grandson. When he died there was a sale of contents and he left the estate to his daughter and heiress Isabella, who married William Pole Thornhill of Stanton Hall, Stanton in Peak, MP for Derbyshire 1856-68 and they took the surname of Gell in 1828, but lived at Stanton and let Hopton. It stood empty from 1849 to 1863 when Thornhill's heir, Henry Pole moved in, taking the surname and arms of Chandos-Pole-Gell.

Henry Gell died 1902, and his son Brig. Henry Anthony Chandos Pole Gell did not live there long, being squeezed by rising costs. He let in 1904 to Philip Lyttleton Gell, 8th in descent from John Gell of Shottle, brother of Thomas, the father of the first baronet. This branch of the family had for some time been seated at Gatehouse, Wirks. and their fortunes were in the ascendancy through diverse business interests, The lease of Hopton expired in 1918 when Gell sold up, the purchaser of the house and 800 acres being George Kay, a local colour merchant, who in 1926 sold on to P.L.Gell, the former lessee, but who died shortly after, leaving it in turn to his nephew, P.V.W. Gell. He died 1970 and his widow in 1986, having adopted a philosophical attitude to the threatened encroachment of the Carsington Reservoir. Then, after three years of hesitation, Mrs. Gell's two chldren who were both settled in Worcs. decided to divide the house and contents. The former was sold to Mr. Keck in 1989 and the latter were disposed of in a great sale which included most of the furniture and all the relics of Sir John Franklin, the Artic explorer, whose daughter was the mother of P. L. Gell. Much of the estate had been lost in 1978 to the Severn Trent Water Authority in order to be flooded for the vast reservoir then planned. The family retained the remainder, and the connection of this ancient Derbyshire family with their historic seat has been largely ended, to the benefit, mainly, of Messrs Sotheby. The house was sold again for 1.2 million pounds in 1995.

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