Life at Hickleton Hall

From ‘Fullness of Days’ – Edward Wood, Earl of Halifax published 1957.

Memories of his life at Hickleton Hall from the late 19th to the mid 20th century.

“Hickleton village stands almost midway between Doncaster and Barnsley, near the crest of the limestone ridge that surmounts the valley of the Dearne, and in what before the days of colliery development must have been attractive country. The house is a solid eighteenth century building of grey stone with a pediment, to the central block of which had been added on each side a low supporting wing, containing chapel and dining room. As I first remember it, the short drive ran through a grass field, in which the house itself stood, and which after the hay was off was periodically fenced with hurdles for sheep. Shortly after the first was my father converted the field into a formal forecourt with enclosing walls and outer lawns, which certainly gave a great air to the place and set off the standing and stature of the house. But I have never quite lost my nostalgic regret at the disappearance of the field outside the front door, where we used often to hear corncrakes while we did our lessons, and where we had lovely games in the hay, and hounds used occasionally to meet, and where I remember, on a day when old Lord Fitzwilliam had brought his hounds over for an invitation meet, my sister Agnes was kicked off her pony Robin in the full view of the assembled multitude”.

“………what I first remembered as the conservatory at Hickleton had been converted into a chapel, in which we attended Mattins every morning, with the canticles sung, and Compline on Sunday nights. For many years we had a resident chaplain, and my mother used regularly to play the organ in church, gardeners, footmen, and stable helpers being encouraged to join the choir, for which their was a weekly practice in the House chapel. Every morning we used to repeat to my mother certain allotted texts that we had learnt, and she would give us instruction either on some passage from the Bible, or out of Vernon Staley’s book ‘The Catholic Religion’…………, and it was as much of an excitement for us as it was for anybody else when at Hickleton people turned out from all the cottages with tin cans and drums to drown the oratory of an open air meeting organised by the followers of Mr. Kensit at the time that the Protestant agitation was at its height”.

“There has been immense development since those days. Then we all had ponies which, except for bullock carts and hammocks, were the only means of getting about the cobbled roads. Today the bullock cart survives but only as an attraction for the tourist; and the hammock which was the other method employed by ladies for their transport has wholly disappeared. Motor cars are now moving at high speeds up the steepest hills and round the sharpest corners”.

“At Hickleton, lawn tennis was never allowed, croquet was; card games in the evening were taboo, but letter games, halma (similar to draughts) , and chess were all right; for my sisters it was legitimate to knit, but not to sew. We might occasionally be taken for Christmas to Hoar Cross (near Burton upon Trent) or Temple Newsam (near Leeds), but generally this was spent at Hickleton. Here the family year came to be regulated a good deal by the Church seasons and the racing calendar: there might be a short visit to London in February, but the normal thing was to get back to Hickleton for Lent and Easter”.

“One of our great interests when we were little was to go into the kitchen and watch the joints being roasted before a huge open fire and having gravy ladled over them by one of the kitchen maids, as the joints revolved on spits by some kind of clockwork. There would be about twenty for dinner and everybody combined to make it look gay. The gardeners came in after tea to do the table, the flowers being chosen so far as might be to match the silver or silver gilt plate; all the plate that could be used was produced; and dinner was a serious affair of six or seven courses – soup, fish, entrée, joint, possibly game, vegetables, sweet, savoury, toast and butter, and dessert; most of it off silver plates on hot water containers which must have weighed a ton to carry up and down from the pantry. People from the village, stables and gardens used to come in and help in the carrying (very necessary as there were two flights of stairs and a long passage from the kitchen) and washing-up; and no doubt ate a good deal that came out of the dining room. There was, I believe, in addition a regular spread in the servants’ hall when the work was finished, washed down with plenty of Hickleton beer”.

“There were no bathrooms and every guest therefore having cans of hot and cold water carried up to their bedrooms for a hipbath in front of a coal fire, and the bath water emptied with slop-pails; lamps for the sitting rooms and passages when it got dark, taken away by the footmen when the bell was rung to signal that everybody was going to bed, which they did taking one of the silver hand candlesticks set in rows at the foot of the stairs; wicks of lamps and bedroom candlesticks to be trimmed and cleaned next morning; no wonder it had to be a pretty considerable household to cope with it all”.

“Quite often there would be a servants dance, to which each servant was allowed to invite a friend, and fro which in addition there were certain ‘corporate’ invitations, such as any young persons in the village not otherwise covered, the principal farmers and their wives, Doncaster tradesmen, and a selection of servants from the neighbouring houses. There would be music and dancing, my father dancing with the house-keeper, and my mother with Smith the Butler. There would also be a Hunt Ball at Pontefract and a Infirmary Ball at Doncaster”.

Life, in comparison to that of today, was sedate, unhurried, and traditional. Such was the very enjoyable routine of all our Hickleton life. The road from Hickleton to Doncaster mounts a ridge east of Marr through woodland on both sides, and our imagination as children was fed with tales of how in my grandfather’s young days on approaching this place in the carriage, the footmen standing behind were accustomed to loosen the pistols in their cases in order to be prepared for attack from highwaymen!

We’ll finish with a poem written by John Davison, formerly of Thurnscoe.

Wot The Missin.

Uppert ickey* dwelt the Wood’s,
[Halifaxes in their official ‘duds’]
Livin ont royalties from ickey pit,
A tanner er ton woh quite er bit !
 Norroani coal med these fat cats,
King James knew t’alifax bureaucrats,
Tho’ mebby not in that noble name,
But they woh theer just the same.
Wonneram i sanctimonious mood,
Thinkin t change miner’s attitude,
Wen in bad need er sumweer ‘oly,
Built er church foh them at Goley,**
Orl i concrete reinfoorced,
First i Europe clerics endoorsed.
Two ickey gameys we knew well,
Wohr Harrison an Edward Helewell,
An tho Harrison did iz job sincere,
Eddie brewed iz lordship’s beer,
Orliz staff enjoyed it too,
Er bit special wohr Eddie’s brew !
On Sundi mornins i St Wilfrid’s Church,
Thad find ‘alifax onniz faivrit perch,
An at iz feet wud be iz terrier, Gyp,
Causin’ many er jokey, kindly, quip,
Wen t’dog an im fon t’service boorin,
Congrigation cud ear ‘em snoorin !
An wen Gyp deed wiorlt sad regard,
Halifax wud bury im int churchyard,
But clergy wunt avit, norratorl,
Gyp woh burrid agen t’surroundin wall,
Iz gravestone’s theer t this day,
Anniz master’s too, just feet away.
Oh, the times wi climbed that wall,
T ramble int orchard at ickey ‘all,
Apples, pears an blud red cherries,
Tart goosegogs ‘n’ sweet raspberries,
Orl divoured int grounds up theer,
Underert statue of iz ‘faivrit’ deer.
[Anno it seems sumwot savij,
But wi did no malicious damij]
Wid seh goodbye to t’lych gate skulls,
An guh t weer t’next adventure pulls.
Oh, what joy in reminiscin,
Tellin t’grandkids wot the missin ?
*Hickleton **Goldthorpe.
John Davison.

7 responses to “Life at Hickleton Hall

  1. John Davison’s peom reflect my families sentiments from back in the 1930’s 40’s, in Thurnscoe, so well written.
    As a young boy in those early war time years often roamed with our Windsor Street ‘gang’ to see the Hickleton 3 Skulls, Barnborough Cliffs, Cat and Man Church, and as far as visiting the ruins of Conisborough Castle.
    My sister Elain’s first husband was killed down Barnbrough Pit aged just 20.
    Dennis Job Flavell, former Master Mariner, Cambridgeshire.

  2. I would also be very interested in finding anything relating to servants who worked at the Hall between 1851 and 1857. I did contact the Borthwick Institute – they hold the Wood papers there, but they could find nothing relating to servants.

  3. Lovely to read about Hickelton Hall, I was a boarder when it was St Hilda C of E school. I was a pupil1951 hoping to find a friend Adele Ferguson her parents owned Doncaster Race Course at that time. Also a very dear teacher Miss Peterson who left and lived in Weston Super Mere where she was married.
    My maiden name Helen Ralph

  4. Clare Edwards

    Brilliant read. I personally find Hickleton hall
    Enchanting.

  5. This is very interesting for me because my great grandfather lived and worked at Hickleton Hall (I think he was farm bailiff or estate manager) and my aunt was still room maid before she married in the 1930s. I was brought up on tales of life at the hall. She was very happy there and Lord Halifax was very good to his staff.
    Years of scrubbing the stone floors on her knees, though, left her with such bad arthritis in later years that she spent her last twenty years unable to walk.
    She was our family’s maker of all important cakes (Christmas, wedding etc) using the skills she had learned from years of watching the Hall cook.

    • Very interesting read. My mother in law used to deliver groceries on a push bikes when she was helping out at her Mums and Grandparents fruiterer’s shop in Goldthorpe. The name of her grandparents was Walton. She did say that Lord Halifax was kind to his staff and providers of groceries such as herself and said that one had to be dressed respectful, so no Summer shorts allowed when arriving at the Hall!

    • Hi Linda I believe my great grandfather Charles Thorpe was a gamekeeper at Hickleton Hall. Do you know of any records that list staff members? David Thorpe.

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