The origins of Carnfield Hall can be traced in its old name (in use until 18th century – Carlingthwaite/Carnthwaite). This means, in old Norse, “an old woman’s clearing”, thus denoting Viking origins. The earliest documents relating specifically to Carnfield date from the early 1300’s in a large collection held at the Derbyshire Record office and at the Hall itself.
Parts of the present Hall date from the mid 15th century when it was lived in by the Babington family of nearby Dethick – ancestors of Anthony who was hanged, drawn and quartered for supporting Mary Queen of Scots at Wingfield Manor. Alice Babington married Gregory Page so Carlingthwaite and its 500 acres was her dowry. In 1502 they sold it to their relative Hugh Revell soon after he had kidnapped old Mr Page.
The Hall was much reconstructed in the 1560’s by Edward Revell and his grandsons – Edward and George added the great upstairs parlour and the wonderful do-leg staircases and panelled rooms in the early 1600’s.
During the Civil War Francis Revell supported Parliament, although a warrant was issued by Mr Sitwell for his arrest as a Royalist. Sitting on the fence preserved the Hall intact and in about 1700 his grandson Robert Revell turned the house back to front to use the new park for a great avenue of trees which, sadly, was cut down on 1941/2 for the war effort. He was a close relative (as were his wife and mother) of the wealthy Harpur family of Calke Abbey, and it seems probable that he set about remodeling his house as a smaller version of Calke Abbey.
Delusions of grandeur caused debts and his untimely murder at the age of 46 in his bed at Carnfield in 1714. His granddaughter, an orphan at 14, inherited in 1729 and died a year later after marrying the interestingly named Strelley Pegge (of Beauchief Hall, Sheffield). Smallpox killed her aged 20 in Nottingham causing the estate to pass to her uncle, the Reverend Francis Revell who moved in with his Wife, Mistress (a French lady called only Mademoiselle) and two illegitimate children. Another mistress produced the future heir to Carnfield – Tristram, who was looked after when his father died by his cousin Edward Revell who had inherited the estate.
In 1770 Tristram (Lieut. Colonel of the Derbyshire Yeomanry) inherited and was the squire for 27 years. His rights were challenged by a cousin who, many years before had eloped with the coachman Thomas Jenkin and been disowned by her rather grand relations.
At Tristram’s death it passed to his cousin John Eardley-Wilmot (son of Sir John, Lord Chief Justice of England) a well known lawyer and supporter of worthy causes such as the American Loyalists who supported England in 1776 and were ejected, and the French revolutionary exiles in 1793. His son Sir John Eardley-Wilmot was an MP who got into financial difficulties and sold Carnfield in 1834 for £18,000 (750 acres) to his land agent Joseph Wilson who had lived in the Hall for many years. Sir John was later made Governor of Tasmania to avoid his creditors. Joseph was arrested in 1840 for debt and sent to Derby Gaol. His arrest warrant is still at Carnfield Hall and records more than £24,000 of debts which would equate to millions today. He died in the Hall of “Gaol Fever” in 1840 whilst awaiting trial. His son in law was a relative of the Wilmots and, because the estate was bought with Joseph’s wife’s money, it survived the bankruptcy and eventually passed to Vaughan Radford, his grandson. Born in 1832 he spent his life running his 1000 acres, rarely leaving. His nephew, the heir, ran off to Canada in 1899 to seek his fortune in the gold rush.
vaughan Radford’s nephew abandoned his young family to Carnfield Hall and never returned. At Vaughan’s death in 1912 the estate had to be sold and was bought by its auctioneer, Melville Watson for £6500 He started some much needed repairs but was murdered in 1914 by his ex brother in law. Somehow his widow survived at the Hall until her death in 1949. Subsequently sold to industrialist, Noel Darbyshire, the Hall was modernised without changing the original features.
The Hall was abandoned in 1960. Narrowly surviving an attempt of demolition and a conversion into a 70 bed hotel, the Hall fell into terminal decline until 1987 when it was bought with two acres by James Cartland. He spent the next 22 years restoring the Hall (with a number of experts) and buying back much of the estate land surrounding the Hall, now about ninety acres of park and ancient woodland. He also built up an archive of material relating to the history of the estate of which this is a snippet. From a recently discovered Victorian photo album it seems that Cartland relatives must have visited the Hall thus forging another link between the centuries.
In September 1987 James saw Carnfield for the first time on a wet and windy day. He had been looking for a house to restore and had looked at numerous possibilities. None of them had attracted him, but he knew within five minutes that Carnfield Hall was the one. Although a real challenge, with leaking rooves, broken plumbing etc, this, he knew, was a wonderful house, or could be; full of character and surprisingly untouched. He bought it a few weeks later.
Over the last twenty-two years the house has been completely overhauled and it is, he believes, in better condition now than for 400 years. In 2005 he was at last able to buy the fifty acre park directly in front, on which we occasionally hold various events. In 2008 he was able to acquire another thirty-eight acres of ancient woodlands and fields, thus on three sides a buffer against the modern world. Visitors often comment on its rural feel as we are surrounded by industrial estates and major roads with the M1 only a mile away.
Over the years, the Hall became filled with James Cartland’s somewhat eclectic collection. He arrived here with quite a lot and since then, collected much more, besides inheriting many family possessions. He admitted that it was difficult to fit more in. Soon after he arrived he was lucky enough to be able to buy two large collections of documents relating to the estate going back over 500 years. One of these had been researched and accumulated by Noel Darbyshire. This was the other half of the collection held at the county archives in Matlock. It had been split up in 1912, and other things have arrived over the years, including a wonderful 1860’s photo album of the Radford family and the Hall.
Now James Cartland has moved on to Ashbourne (with all of his wonderful artifacts) and has handed over the serious responsbility of Carnfield Hall to Graham Oliver, an eminent and ground breaking orthopaedic vet. Graham lives with his partner Heidi and her dog Cuthbert, who is lovingly known as Custard by some.
The next project is to restore the woodland which hasn’t been touched for over one hundred years. Three fishponds, one medieval and the others probably dating back to at least 1600 are totally silted up and full of undergrowth. Financial help will be needed. They are shown on the earliest plan of 1693 and the walks and trails on later plans. In May the bluebells stretch for a shimmering mile. It is hoped to be able to open this to the general public in the future.