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Dutton Hall



December 19, 1964
The Editor Writes
Rural Rides - No.11

THE DUTTONS OF DUTTON - and the ancestral home that moved south

The tables were drawn, it was idlesse all;
Knight and page and household squire
Loitr’d through the lofty hall
Or, crowded round the ample fire ...

So it was at Dutton Hall, quadrangular, moated, black-and-white timbered, overlooking the River Weaver in the Vale Royal of England, in the stirring times of Sir Piers Dutton in the sixteenth century and, for centuries before that, in the original semi-baronial hall on the same site dating from the Norman Conquest.

The lines of the opening of Sir Walter Scott’s The Lay of the Last Minstrel, and are, I trust, more than merely romantically relevant, for the great Cheshire family of the Duttons of Dutton were for more than five hundred years lords and licensers of the Cheshire minstrels.

That story began at the Chester Midsummer Fair in the year 1216 and ended at the last minstrel court held at the Eagle and Child tavern in Northgate Street of the city in the year 1756, just nineteen years before the Chester Chronicle was first published. Five hundred and forty years - a long time for a piece of privilege and patronage to last: but before I finish this Rural Ride in quest of the Duttons we shall travel a long road together, in time and distance, and arrive back at where we start - at Dutton Hall. Only it isn’t any longer at Dutton. Of that mystery more presently : this story of the Duttons cannot be told in one Ride but will occupy two or three over this Christmas season.

In the Minstrel’s gallery

In Sir Piers Dutton’s great hall, 42 feet long, 21 wide and 25 high, there was a capacious minstrel’s gallery and here the fiddlers and violers and pipers played for the dancing and feasting that went on constantly in this hospitable house.

Sir Piers kept fifty servants, at least half of whom, one may guess, were skilled in "the noble art, worthy science, and high misterie of musique and minstrellsie " (to quote the Tabley manuscripts of Sir Peter Leycester, the Cheshire antiquary, who was himself related by marriage to the Duttons).

The family were tenacious of their ancient jurisdiction over the Cheshire minstrels (how they came by it I shall relate in Rural Ride No.12 next week) and in the fifteenth century successfully resisted a challenge to their authority by the Crown. The annual minstrels’ court and the service at the Chester church of St.John the Baptist (where the concluding words were " God bless the King and the Heir of Dutton " ) outlived the family itself into the eighteenth century, when, at the last, the jurisdiction was exercised by a Lord of Dutton who had purchased the title. By that time the virtue had gone out of it.

Bloody Duel on Calais Sands

Of all the Duttons (and in this part of the world the name is familiar and notable) this was the founding family. They came in, of course, with the Conqueror. There was a Dutton in the Crusades (he was the ancestor of the Warburtons of Warburton and Arley); at the Battle of Poictiers; at the side of Henry Percy called Hotspur; in the border wars against the Welsh prince Owen Glendower; with the Cheshire archers at Agincourt; and there were Duttons on both sides in the Wars of the Roses, slaughtering each other without mercy.

The family settled in Dutton and at Hatton, near Chester, and branched to Chester, Holt in Denbighshire, Cloughton in Yorkshire and Sherborne in Gloucestershire. Fulk Dutton was Mayor of Chester in 1537 and 1548 and Richard Dutton in 1567 and 1573. It is on record that this Richard " kept house at the White Friars, and in all the twelve days of Christmas kept open house for meat and drink at meal-time for any that came and all the Christmas-time there was a Lord of Misrule ".

Sir Piers Dutton built or rebuilt Dutton Hall and was Sheriff of Cheshire and one of Henry the Eighth’s commissioners for the dissolution of the monasteries. Sir Richard Dutton was Governor of Barbados, 1680-1685, Sir Thomas Dutton served as a soldier in the Low Countries and survived a bloody and barbaric duel with a superior officer on Calais Sands.

Thomas Dutton (1507-1581), a collateral descendant, purchased the manor of Sherborne in 1551and entertained Queen Elizabeth for six days in 1574. His son, William Dutton, similarly entertained the Queen in 1592. The fortunes of the Duttons of Sherborne were still in Royal favour after the Restoration, when, in 1678, Ralph Dutton was created a baronet by Charles the Second.

Something more than a century later George the Third made James Dutton Baron of Sherborne. Today the title is held by Charles Dutton, seventh Baron Sherborne.

Female line to a Dukedom

The numerous, long, descended family which twice faced extinction by failure of the direct male line also lives on today in the Dukedom of Hamilton. To get at this complex lineage I must go back to old Sir Peter Leycester, who, writing about Dutton and the Duttons in the seventeenth century, observed :

" Seated here in the Conqueror’s time, they have continued ever since to this present 1666,about 600 years: a family of great worth and antiquity, and as it were almost a constant succession of knights; but now, alas! ready to change its name, being devolved by a daughter and heir unto the Lord Gerard of Gerard’s Bromley in Staffordshire. "

The meaning of this is (follow carefully the pattern) that in 1609 Eleanor Dutton, daughter of Thomas Dutton, last of the direct male line succeeding from Sir Piers Dutton, became the Dutton heiress and married the Hon. Gilbert Gerard at Great Budworth Church. Gilbert eventually became Lord Gerard, whose successor, Eleanor Dutton’s great-grandson, had a daughter who became the wife of James Douglas, Duke of Hamilton. The Duke in 1711 was created Baron of Dutton by Queen Anne. The Dutton link with the Douglas family continues in the present Duke of Hamilton, fourteenth of the line, who is also Baron Dutton. The Duke’s ancestor who married into the Dutton family fell in a Hyde Park duel that, like the earlier affair of Sir Thomas Dutton and his opponent on Calais Sands, rang through England. These desperate affrays will have their place in my story.

For the genealogy of this famous family I have fairly accounted, if briefly. In 1614 their Cheshire property consisted of two great houses (Dutton and Hatton), 37,000 acres, 1,000 messuages, 1,000 gardens, eight salt mines in the Northwich area, six mills, three dovecotes, and much else besides.

This was after Sir Piers Dutton of Hatton, continuing the line upon the death of Laurence Dutton of Dutton without heir male, had brought the two properties of Dutton and Hatton together and rebuilt the two halls. Of Hatton Hall, a quadrangular plaster and timber manor house inside a square moat 20 yards wide, nothing now remains. On the site is a farmhouse, and the neighbourhood is notable as the home, at Hatton House, of Sir Harold Woolley (President of the National Farmer’s Union) and Lady Woolley.

All this area is historic ground, fought over every yard in the Civil War. Lady Woolley tells me that fields in the neighbourhood are still known as the Prince’s Field and the King’s Field.

Dutton Hall - we go in search

But what of Dutton Hall itself, for centuries one of the most frequented and most famous houses in Cheshire? When all that was left of Hatton Hall was the moat and the drawbridge, Dutton Hall was still standing, though much diminished in size and no longer glorious as the hall of the minstrels.

Ormerod, the diligent historian of Cheshire who serves as guide for many of my Rides, described Dutton Hall as he saw it in the early nineteenth century:

" Dutton Hall stands in a very sequestered part of Cheshire, on the ridge of a steep declivity, commanding a finely wooded country... and looking immediately down upon some beautiful reaches of the Weaver. The entire site, excepting one part protected by the slope of the hill, has been surrounded by a broad and deep moat. The east side only of the quadrangle is standing, composed of timber and plaster.

" In the centre a doorway opens to a passage leading through the building, on the right side of which were the buttery and other offices... and on the left the great hall, forty feet by twenty. This apartment is separated from the passage by a screen and ornamental pilasters, and other pilasters run up the sides, ending in octagonal capitals, supporting a covered ceiling, under the edge of which is an inscription in black lettering.

" The outer doorway of the hall porch is a broad arch, over which are several fanciful borders, with arabesques and various devices, including S.P.D.K. and the letters P.J. tied together with a true lover’s knot, and this inscription in black letter:

Syr Piers Dutton Knight Lorde of Dutton, an my Lady Dame Julian hys wife made this Hall and buyldyng, in the year of our Lorde God a MCCCCCXLIIm who thanketh God for all.

" The door with the porch is studded with nails and divided into six panels with tracery in the upper part. Over it are several shields, and on each side the arms of Dutton and Hatton quarterly... The whole is an unusually rich fragment of the domestic architecture of the sixteenth century, and causes a vain regret that so little has been preserved of this venerable pile..."

With this ‘vain regret’ very much in mind and a foreboding that, after nearly another century and a half, this ‘rich fragment’ might have disappeared altogether, we set out, photographer Kenneth Evans and I, to find Dutton Hall.

Resettled - in the South

We found Dutton Farm, a fine, comparatively modern farmhouse, in the occupation of Mr. and Mrs.Denis Platt. We saw that the justly celebrated view and an old wall which has obviously been there before the farmhouse, but of Dutton Hall, no trace. We looked in perplexity all round this historic site, where was Dutton Hall?

After much inquiry and research and a long journey south we found it doing duty as a boys’ school in East Grinstead, Sussex, and devotedly cared for by the headmaster and matron, Mr. and Mrs. Shelford.

For many years Dutton Hall was a farmhouse, and its last Cheshire occupant was a Mr. John Dolan. In 1933 it was bought by Mr. J.A. Dewar, nephew of the Lord Dewar who died in 1930, and transported stone by stone, timber by timber, to a Sussex valley on the fringe of what was once Ashdown Forest, and there reassembled and built on to another old house, the two having the name of Dutton Homestall.

During the Second World War it was used first as an evacuation hostel, then as a hospital, and last as a place of rest and recuperation for fighter pilots. It had associations in those days with the famous Dewar racing stable and the names of Cameronian and (appropriately) Tudor Minstrel. Upon the death of her husband, Mrs. Dewar sold Dutton Homestall for its present use as a school, and there it stands, porch and all, just as it did in Dutton, Cheshire. The solar id the dining-room and the great hall is still the great hall - of the school.

To the theme of Dutton Hall as it is today and of its removal from Cheshire I shall return. Next week’s Ride will take me to Rhuddlan Castle in Flintshire for the story of the Duttons as Lords of the Minstrels - a true, romantic tale for Christmas.

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