North Lees Hall

 Charlotte Brontë paid 'two or three visits' to North Lees Hall when staying with her friend Ellen Nussey in Hathersage. Such was the impression the Hall made upon her that in her novel Jane Eyre (first published 1847) she used it as the model for Thornfield Hall, home to her Byronic hero, Mr Rochester.
 
The name of the fictional Hall clearly stems from its factual counterpart: 'thorn' is an anagram of 'north' and 'field' stems from the Anglo-Saxon word 'leah', later 'lee', meaning woodland glade or field.
 
Brontë describes many features of North Lees in the novel, including the battlemented façade, the view from the roof and the Apostles Cabinet, a unique item of furniture belonging to the Eyres - see photo below - (and now in the Bronte Museum at Haworth).

It is said that there was even a "mad woman" who was kept in a locked upstairs padded room, who later died in a fire (just like Betha Mason in "Jane Eyre"). This woman is said to have been Agnes Ashhurst, the wife of William Eyre. Agnes was born in 1440 (the daughter of Edmund Ashurst). She married in 1463 and their only child Edmund (Edward) Eyre (b 1465)  founded the Brookfield Manor branch of the family. (Brookfield Manor is featured in "Jane Eyre" as Vale House - the home of Mr Oliver, the proprietor of a needle factory. There were indeed several needle factories in Hathersage at the time of Charlotte's visit).

The Eyres who were a local family, resided at North Lees during the 15th century. They took up the tenancy again in 1750 and lived there until 1882. 
North Lees Hall, nr Hathersage - one of the many Eyres homes - pictured above - and still standing in 2012  
 

This imposing tower house is located in the Peak District National Park. With the craggy face of the famous gritstone cliff at Stanage Edge as its backdrop, the setting is as spectacular as the architecture of the Hall itself.


Pictured below -  The "Apostles Cupboard" - which Charlotte Bronte had seen when she visited North Lees Hall - is now located at The Bronte Museum in Haworth Parsonage.



 The Hall is thought to have been designed and built by Robert Smythson  Born between 1535 and 1537, Robert Smythson was one of this country's first practitioners. Among his most notable achievements is the remarkable Wollaton Hall (Nottinghamshire) and it is likely he was also responsible for the final form of the great house at Longleat in Wiltshire.


No documentation survives to verify the identity of the architect of North Lees Hall, but the attribution to Smythson has been made on stylistic grounds. Especially characteristic of Smythson is the building's ingenious split-level interior layout which uses a variety of floor and ceiling heights, providing a combination of halls and great chambers to the front in conjunction with smaller domestic rooms to the rear. 

 

Further support for the ascription lies in the putative connection of Smythson with William Jessop who, in the 1590s, is thought to have commissioned the late Elizabethan tower house we see today at North Lees. 

(Jessop was certainly know the the Eyres - his daughter Ann had married Thomas Eyre of Highlow Hall)

Jessop may well have become acquainted with the work of Smythson through his professional relationship with George Talbot, sixth Earl of Shrewsbury  who had asked Smythson to design and remodel his house at Worksop Manor, Nottinghamshire. Smythson was also responsible for the design of Hardwick Hall, built in the 1590s for Bess of Hardwick, the wife of George Talbot.

above - all that remains of the Eyres private chapel at North Lees Hall

Aside from its recognisably Smythsonian characteristics, North Lees Hall is of particular architectural interest in that it incorporates elements of a regional building style now referred to as the North Midlands High House, the characteristics of which are height, compactness of plan and a turreted
outline. Examples include Old Chatsworth, Lord Shrewsbury's house at Buxton and Queen Mary's Tower at Sheffield manor (built 1574).