Firbeck Hall is a 16th century country mansion. It lies approximately 12 miles south of Doncaster and was once the home of William West who built the hall in 1594. West had made a fortune practicing law and serving as an associate to Gilbert Talbot, 7th Earl of Shrewsbury from 1580 to 1594. The hall falls in the Worksop postal district and so you might wonder why I have included it here.
The initial reason for me writing this article came from the ‘Conisborough Castle’ piece that I wrote recently. In that article I made reference to Sir Walter Scott’s novel, Ivanhoe. As we know, Scott reputedly stayed in the building that is now the ‘Boat Inn’ in lower Sprotbrough and took inspiration from his surroundings to write the novel. Well, thanks to one of the Friends of Firbeck Hall, who recently made contact, I have learned that one of the owners of Firbeck Hall, the 19th century architect and writer, Mr Henry Gally Knight, was the principal source of information for Sir Walter during the writing of Ivanhoe.
The Friends of Firbeck Hall have been investigating a journal from one of the halls inhabitants, namely, Amelia Stanyforth, who kept this diary between the years 1782 to 1785. The journal gives a fascinating insight into the life of this lady as she went about her day to day business. Several references are made to Doncaster, in particular, regular visits to the town for both business and pleasure (but mainly pleasure). The journey was made by horse drawn coach and, according to Amelia, took 2 hours and 10 minutes.
Trips were made to visit friends, attend the theatre, purchase clothes, and even to dine and dance in the Mansion House which in those days would have been a relatively new building with clean white masonry having only been in existence for about 40 years.
The following extracts are taken directly from Amelia Stanyforth’s journal and are transcribed (including spelling errors) in chronological order.
8 July 1782
Monday morning ¼ before eight Henrietta, Amelia and George Lambert set out to Doncaster got to Mrs Whites about ten, after they had breakfasted went to Mr Gooddy’s, Mr Gills etc and back soon after one’. Before two Mrs Hall came to dinner, afternoon Henrietta and Amelia went with her to see her house, and all back – after that chose gowns etc from Mr Gooddy’s, drank tea, soon after seven came away.
29 August 1782
Thursday morning, ¼ after ten, Henrietta and Amelia set out to Doncaster. Met Mr and Mrs Farrer and stopt to speak to them. Stopt to speak to Mr Gill, and got to Mrs White’s about ½ past twelve had things from Gooddys to look at, dined and before five came away and Mrs White and M Kelk with them. After tea play’d at Troisdril.
9 October 1782
Wednesday morning before ten Henrietta and Amelia set out to Doncaster and got to Mr Farrer’s before 12. Mrs Hall called to settle about the Play, Mrs Marsden with her – they dined with Mr and Mrs Farrer, Miss Sugden and went to the play ¼ after six, sent for Coach from thence to fetch Mrs Hall and her Company, Miss Farrers, Mrs Hewet, Mrs Bower and Mrs Hobblethwait, sat near them – the Play began soon after seven the School for Scandal and entertainment. Ended about eleven, the Coach went first to carry Mrs Hall etc, George Lambert was there and came back with them, they sup’d with Mrs Farrer and Miss Sugden.
16 October 1782
Wednesday morning Mr and Mrs G Barr walk’d here and had horses to go to Worksop Manor, Amelia saw them. Amelia walk’d. About five Sir Thomas Fowke walk’d here from Doncaster in his way from Newcastle to Wallingwells, his horses came before him, he sat a little and went in the Coach with Henrietta and Amelia to Langold, just went in saw Mrs Gally and rode on to Wallingwells, soon after that Mrs and Mr Gally, Henrietta and Amelia sat down to quadril, afterwards Mr Knight in Mr Gally’s place, who play’d her Cards a little, they stay’d till ¼ before ten.
29 July 1783
Tuesday morning about nine all five set out in the Coach to Doncaster, stop’t at Mrs Halls door to speak to her and on to the Inn where they stay’d till a chaise was got ready, which Henrietta and Amelia saw Mrs Worsley, her son and daughter set out in. Soon after went to Gills and Gooddy’s and Mrs Faseys, from whence Henrietta went in a Chair to Mrs Halls. About two Amelia walk’d, first to call at Mrs Whites and went after her to Mrs Halls to dinner, afternoon all went into her garden where Mrs White came to them, they went in and play’d quadril and drank tea, play’d again and about seven came away, Mr Bower called there and just came in to speak to Henrietta.
19 November 1783
Friday about three Gen. St Leger came to dinner, after tea a Rubber at whist, and he went away before eight, after that Pope (card game) and Doncaster oysters.
29 September 1784
Wednesday morning ¼ before 10 Mrs Wilbraham Henriettta and Amelia set out to Doncaster got there before 12, stopt at Mrs Worsleys lodgings, Henrietta and Amelia got out to speak to her, and just saw Mr Worsley, then on to Mrs Whites. Mrs White, Miss Fanny White, Miss White and Miss Sally were with her for the Races, Henrietta and Amelia went to speak to Mrs Hall, saw Mrs Ward there and Captain Buck called – after the consert Mr Worsley came to Mrs Whites, Henrietta and Amelia sat a little in the little room with her, afterwards went to the rest of the Company and she sat a little –afterwards all saw the Company go the Course and come back. After tea the Ladies went to dress for the Assembly, Amelia walk’d to speak to Mrs Hall and at seven Mrs Worsley, Henrietta and Amelia came away, and home after nine.
Oct 27 1784
Wednesday morning a little before 12. Mrs and two Mr Worsleys, Henrietta and Amelia went to Doncaster to the Mayor’s feast – the gentlemen went to dress, and the Ladies to Mrs Ellokers and Miss Tyas an hour, had Broth and about three went to the Mansion House, the Drawing-room very full, after four went to dinner in the long room, sat at the Mayors Table – musick at dinner, a Table in the Drawing-room and one below, the Ladies went from dinner after six into the Drawing-room and went to tea about eight – Amelia at a different table from Mrs Worsley and Henrietta, they saw a great many of their acquaintance. Mrs Edmunds stay’d to talk to them a good while, Minnets began about half past nine and Country dances after tea, a very full crowded room, a great many Couple danced, about 12 they went to Supper, the dancers after, the then Company danced after supper and they came away a little before three home about five –
17 October 1785
Monday morning quarter before eleven Henrietta and Amelia set out to Doncaster, got there about one, stop’d at Mrs Allens Amelia got out and went upstairs to see her while Henrietta spoke to Mr Sherwood, they went on to Mrs Hall’s, Mrs Ward and Miss Butler dined with them there, Doctor Mashot call’d twice, after dinner Amelia walk’d to see Mrs Hall, sat a little and walk’d into the garden with her, after that William came with some mirtles etc for Henrietta to see and she bought some of him, after tea before six Miss Butler went with Henrietta and Amelia to the play which began quarter before seven which was The Belles Stratagon, after it the Quaker, and the Frolick or Harlequin in the Village, all well acted, over, ¼ after ten, a quite full house, got to Mrs Hall’s about eleven, sup’d and came away about one, home ¼ after three.
As you can see, Amelia Stanyforth lived the high life. She enjoyed tea with friends, all manner of different card games, clothes and trips out to Doncaster, Langold and other places. She went to the Mayor’s feast and if the journal is to be believed, had a most enjoyable time there. If it wasn’t obvious from the above:
- Henrietta is Amelia’s older sister.
- George Lambert was probably one of the coachmen.
- Mrs White of Wallingwells Hall, North Nottinghamshire, is probably in lodgings or has a house in Doncaster. Her daughters are Fanny, Betsy (Miss White) and Sally.
- Mrs Worsley stays with the Whites and also with Henrietta and Amelia at Firbeck Hall, she is related to the Worsley’s of Hovingham Hall.
- Gooddy’s may be a gown shop.
- Gills are also retailers of some sort.
- Mrs Hewet is from Shireaoks Hall.
- Mrs and Mr Gally live at Langold.
- Oysters are often eaten in the evenings when playing cards.
- Quadril, Troisdril, Deuxdril and Pope were card games.
- The Belle’s Stratagem is a romantic comedy of manners that premiered in 1780; it was the most successful work by Hannah Cowley.
- The School for Scandal is a play written by Richard Brinsley Sheridan. It was first performed in London at Drury Lane Theatre on May 8, 1777.
Sadly, Amelia died in 1792, she was born in 1722. Henrietta died around 1787.
With grateful thanks to Valerie Oxley, member of the Friends of Firbeck Hall who furnished me with the information for this article. The Friends are always looking out for new members, if you would like to find out more, please click here.