From Yeoman to Gentleman: ‘Peopling’ a 17th Century South Derbyshire Manor House


This post is one of the series that explores everyday life in the early modern period,[i] through an early 17th century manor house in South Derbyshire, which the author recently had opportunity to visit.[ii] This private home, ‘Upper Hall’, is of interest to the historian in both the preservation of early features, and the availability of related written sources.[iii]

This post investigates the early residents of the house, using written evidence to produce ‘family histories’, and to consider social relationships between and within the families that occupied the Hall, and the wider community. This follows on from ‘Living in the Early Modern Past: the 17th Century Home’, which provides a backdrop for this series, outlining the domestic environment and material culture at this time for a smaller early modern yeoman household. Subsequent posts, beginning with ‘A 17th Century Home in South Derbyshire: In at the Ground Floor’, will describe the domestic environment and material culture commonly associated with such households in the middle of the 17th century. These descriptive and interpretative posts adopt an ‘archaeological story-telling’ approach – a method discussed in the preceding post ‘Expedition into the Past: Tales of a 17th Century Derbyshire Manor House’.

Meet the Benskins

Benskin family (variously spelt Benskyn or Benskine – the different forms perhaps used to differentiate between different branches of the family),[iv] prosperous yeoman farmers from at least the mid 16th century (see below), built (or more likely, had built) Upper Hall as built their home.[v] As was typical until the mid 20th century (the explanation for which would be out-of-place here!), the family was large, with each generation perpetuating the names of their forebears (a factor that holds the potential to cause confusion when needing to differentiate between successive family members).

In the late 16th – early 17th centuries, the head of the family within the village was Johannis (sometimes spelt Johannes; often abbreviated as Johis. or Johes.), who shall here be referred to as John I (and highlighted in red on the family tree below). Sometime after the birth of his son Johannis in 1600 (here referred to as John II, highlighted in green, on the family tree below), John I came to be known as Johannis Snr. in the records.

Benskin Family Tree John II

Benskin Family Tree John I

Tentative family trees: John Benskin I, highlighted in red, showing siblings of John II (highlighted in green)

In the years after the death of his father (John I) in 1637-38, John II became known as ‘old’ John, in order to differentiate between him and his own son Johannis (here referred to as John III, probably born in 1627 or 1630, and highlighted in blue on the family tree below).[vi] John III – known in the records as ‘John Jnr.’ – may have had a son called John: the parish records record the burial of a John ‘son of Johannis Juinioris’) in early April 1663. Seven years later, in recording the burial of his (also named John – consequently here IV) mother Maria, she is described as wife of ‘old man’ John, which it must be presumed is John II, who in this year would have reached 70 years of age. (There are also several nephews and cousins named John, who we shall pass over.)

Benskin Family Sam I

Benskin Family Tree Richard I & II

Benskin Family Tree John III

Tentative Benskin family trees constructed from parish records (liable to modification with further investigation of historic records).[vii]

The family had evidently achieved remarkable success over several generations, as tenant farmers of grazing lands.[viii] In the middle of the previous century, the goods of a certain Ralph Benskin were assessed for tax purposes; his payment recorded as the highest in the village.[ix] The exact location of the Benskin household within the manor at this time is uncertain, although the 1616 pew plan for the local church might tentatively be used to investigate the composition of the community, and to consider social hierarchies within the village, between this time and the first records for the church rate assessments in 1619 (see below). The plan does not record the ‘Upper Hall’ as it now stands, which they had not yet built; dendrochronological investigation provides dates from building timbers that support stylistic conclusions of construction in the early 17th century.[x] However, a pew at the front of the church for residents of ‘The Hall’ suggests the presence of an earlier important residency, perhaps on lands in the Upper Hall manor. (Alternatively, ‘The Hall’ is perhaps instead associated with nearby Newhall, formerly the seat of the rectory patrons, the Dethick family).[xi] ‘Ould Hall’ recorded in the 1666 rates assessment (see below)[xii] arguably corresponds to this building.

The plan names most pew occupants; however, although wealthy members of the community (see below),[xiii] it does not record the Benskin family by name. Considered in conjunction with their subsequent construction of Upper Hall manor house, this raises the possibility that they occupied the earlier Hall, and the associated box pew, although one of the other properties named on the plan might alternatively represent the family.[xiv] The plan also records pews for Nether Hall, the adjoining manor that with Upper Hall lands forms the village, and located approximately 1 ¼ miles to the west of the Upper Hall.[xv]

1616 Pew Plan

Plan of the box pews in the nearby church, 1616[xvi]

By 1619, John Benskin (I) pays the highest rates; his son (John II) pays a much smaller amount; and Samuel Benskin (the probable brother of John I; highlighted in orange, on the family tree above) likewise pays comparatively little, at times much less than John Jnr. (II), who was at other times (1628) un-rated.[xvii]

John I pays rates in the summer assessment of 1629 on his ‘livings’ (income or revenue, commonly from lands or property), but in the winter is assessed for his new house, which is interpreted as Upper Hall.[xviii] This terminus ante quem for Upper Hall correlates with the dendrochronology dates of 1618-28.[xix] From the information currently at hand, it seems most likely that the house was built on the more substantial manor estate of the two that formed the village (probably on land rented, rather than purchased, from the gentry, though see below),[xx] some time (at most a few years) before or after the death of this first wife, Sarah (obit. 1625). If the above family tree is correct, the surviving children of John would at this time have been in their late 20s (which does not preclude their living with their parents, or father, at this time);[xxi] his grandchildren seem to have mostly been born in the second half of the 1620s.

John’s (I) continued to pay the highest rates in the village through the 1630s, though the amount declines during this time.[xxii] The rate assessments of 1636 and 1637 entries are incomplete, with possible missing pages; but those dating to and after 1638 do not list him, suggesting that he died during this period;[xxiii] his will was proved in 1637.[xxiv] Samuel’s fortunes seem to rise during this decade, as in 1635 he occupies the second manor house in the village, Nether Hall.[xxv] John II appears to have inherited his father’s estate by 1638, residing within Upper Hall, his rates valued at a similar level to that paid by his father during his possible final assessment, making John II the highest ratepayer.[xxvi] The surviving rate assessments suggest that this pre-eminence continued through to the 1650s,[xxvii] despite family involvement within at least one dispute over property in the village. In 1655, when John II and Samuel are still living at Upper Hall and Nether Hall, respectively, there is a chancery case between plaintiffs John (presumably II) and Samuel Benskin (I?), and Richard Compton (and other defendants).[xxviii] An early 18th century ‘history’ by William Woolley refers to a Henry Compton selling manor lands in the later 16th century to ‘Berkins’ (a scribal or transcription error for ‘Benskin’??), who then sold land to ‘Capt. Thomas Colson’, whose son sold the land to the author of the ‘history’.[xxix] This chain of events raises interesting possibilities with respect to this court case, and others that follow (see below).

Though the rates returns are then unavailable until 1663,[xxx] other documents tantalisingly hint at some of the accommodation, activities, and attitudes, of Benskin family members during this time. A James, son of Samuel Benskin (perhaps Samuel Benskin the younger, highlighted in brown on the above family tree), begins a London apprenticeship in 1661-62, at which time his father is described as a ‘gentleman’.[xxxi] The 1662 Hearth Tax payment for seven hearths suggests that John continued to occupy the Hall, or a building in the village of similar proportions; he pays the highest amount behind Thomas Coulson, who apparently occupied a house equipped with one more chargeable hearth than John.[xxxii]

It would be interesting to hear from local historians as to whether the ‘Newhall’ owned by ‘Capt. Thomas Colson’ referred to by Woolley (see above) may or may not corresponds to this building.[xxxiii] The payment of tax by Samuel Benskin may either suggest that Nether Hall was a small dwelling with only a single hearth (which seems unlikely), or that only one Samuel Benskin resided in the village at that time, the elder by then having moved from the Hall; the return does not mentioned Compton.[xxxiv] When the rates records resume in the following year, this change in prominence seems to continue, with ‘Mr Coulson’ paying the highest rates for an unnamed property in the Upper Hall manor (again, perhaps ‘Newhall’ – see above), though only slightly more than John Benskyn and his sons.[xxxv] Samuel Benskin is again associated with the Nether Hall manor, paying the highest rates.[xxxvi] Another property dispute (potentially relating to the Upper Hall manor) is recorded in this year,[xxxvii] between Benskin and ‘Oldershaw’ (who, though not mentioned on the Hearth Tax return,[xxxviii] appears at the top of the rates assessment list in 1665, for an apparently unnamed property: see below).[xxxix]

Upper Hall manor (south-east: below centre right) and Nether Hall manor (north-west: above centre left) sectors of the village (image: Bing Maps). Note the medieval ridge and furrows (wide s-shaped rows of earth) within the curved fields around the village (narrower, straighter ridges usually date to a later period)

Upper Hall (south-east: bottom left) and Nether Hall (north-west: top right) sectors of the village (image: Bing Maps). Note the medieval fields ridge and furrows (wide s-shaped  rows of earth) in fields around the village (narrower, straighter ridges usually date to a later period).

Upper Hall (south-east: bottom left) and Nether Hall (north-west: top right) sectors of the village (image: Bing Maps). Note the medieval fields ridge and furrows (wide s-shaped rows of earth) in fields around the village (narrower, straighter ridges usually date to a later period).

The following years appear to be a time of change for the Benskin family, although without examining the original documents, it is only possible to speculate the extent to which further chancery cases affected this change. The legal dispute of 1664 was within the family, between the plaintiffs John (II?) and Samuel (II?), and John (III, or son of Samuel I?), alongside other unnamed defendants.[xl] The 1665 rate assessment does not mention of Upper Hall, but records a John Benskin as paying rates on the ‘Coppies’ (perhaps the Coppice Farm, to the north-east of the village centre;[xli] if referring to John II (and not his son, or a son of Samuel), this may support the suggestion that Upper Hall was vacant at this time.[xlii] The assessment also mentions payments from Samuel and Richard Benskyn (the latter probably a son of John II; highlighted in purple on the above family tree), although with no reference to their abode.[xliii] Though perhaps by now their occupation of the Upper Hall (though possibly not of the lands: see below) had ended, it might be conjectured that the connections of the Benskin family with the manor aided their ascendant social status. The author has not yet had opportunity to undertake further study of the Parish records, which might determine the extent to which the Bubonic Plague (particularly that of 1665) affected the village (and property ownership or occupation).

Samuel still pays rates for Nether Hall in 1672,[xliv] the year of another chancery case, in which the defendants are Samuel (probably III, as a will for a Samuel Benskin, of the same village, is dated to 1671), John (II or III?), and Richard Benskin (I: see above). Chancery records name the plaintiffs as John Hope, Thomas Greene (who may subsequently occupy the hall: see below, and whose family may have lived in the village at least since the early 1660s).[xlv] Another is John Cantrell, who belongs to a local family, some of whom may have held land outside the village, and whose likely descendants (and perhaps himself), later occupy the Hall (see below).[xlvi] It is uncertain whether this dispute relates directly to manor lands or the Hall, but subsequent developments (see below) perhaps support this possibility.

Despite (or because) of these disputes (it is at this stage unknown to the author whether they increased or diminished family fortunes), the social position of some members of the Benskin family seems to rise, or at least remain stable. In the mid 1670s, Richard (I: see above), like his relative (probably uncle) Samuel before him, is described as a ‘gentleman’, at the beginning of the apprenticeship of his son Richard (II: highlighted in pink on the family tree above).[xlvii]

By 1678, Thomas Benskin (possibly the eldest surviving son of Samuel I, who was perhaps by then deceased: highlighted in yellow on the Benskin family trees, above) pays rates on Nether Hall, and continues to do so for the next two years.[xlviii] After this, the family appear to be absent from the village rates assessments, although they perhaps continue to fight in the courts with local landowners over property within, and possibly around, the village.[xlix]

New blood at the Old Hall

Oldershaw and Greene

Upper Hall had not been mentioned in the rates since 1655 (though as mentioned above, the records between this date and 1663 are missing), and the name remains absent for some time. However, ‘ould hall’ occurs in 1666, on which ‘Mr Ouldershaw’ (see above) pays rates.[l] Although it has been suggested that this building is unlikely to represent Upper Hall,[li] there is perhaps some connection with the Upper Hall manor lands, considering the aforementioned legal dispute between ‘Oldershaw’ and Benskin (see above). If not referring to Upper Hall, ‘old Hall’ might instead represent the building mentioned in the 1616 pew plan (see above). A late 19th century OS map records an ‘Old Hall’ to the north-west of the village, perhaps Nether Hall.[lii] (Local historians with greater knowledge of the area may be able to dismiss or verify this possibility, and comment upon the origins of this building – and whether, instead, the land (and possibly buildings) relates to the ‘Newhall’ mentioned above). By 1668, Thomas Greene becomes the highest rated villager in paying for Old Hall, where he remained until at least December 1671.)[liii]

As noted above, there is a property dispute between the Benskins, Thomas Greene, John Hope, and John Cantrell, in the following year. It has been proposed that Old Hall is partitioned in this year (perhaps indicating the equation of this building and Upper Hall, considering division of the latter seemingly early in its history; otherwise, this change may reflect substantial social changes in the village at this time; John Beighton is named as a tenant.[liv] This surname had appeared in the Hearth Tax return (see above), with reference to a certain Sam. Beighton who paid tax on a single hearth, and to a (petty) constable Samuel Beighton (who was responsible for collecting the tax) – probably either the same person, or close relatives. Chancery records again name Thomas Greene and John Cantrell as plaintiffs (along with a certain John Browne) in a property dispute of 1678, now against Arthur and William Taylor (both alias Leighton).[lv] An Arthur and William Taylor are recorded on the Hearth Tax return, paying 4s and 2s, respectively, the former amount indicating a relatively well-to-do Yeoman dwelling for the time, the latter quite a comfortable house for a successful small tenant farmer or artisan family (see the previous post).[lvi] The William Taylor named c. 1712 as at that time having ‘a good new brick house and estate’ in Nether Hall perhaps represents another family connection.[lvii] Old Hall subsequently seems to disappear from the church rates, and Upper Hall reappears in the assessment for the following year (1679), though without reference to the occupant.[lviii] There is no reference to either Old Hall or Upper Hall in the 1681 assessment.[lix]

Cantrell and Cant

The next recorded occupant of Upper Hall is John Cantrell. The Cantrell family appear to have resided in or near the village for some time, with a Thomas Cantrell named on the 1616 pew plan (see above). A John Cantrell pays relatively low rates in the 1619 assessment, though this value very gradually rises over the years.[lx] (This person is perhaps equated with or related to the yeoman John Cantrell who is recorded as owning land in nearby Kings Newton, in his will, proved 1616.)[lxi] He paid only a shilling Hearth Tax, suggesting that he occupies a small house;[lxii] in the following year, he appears on the assessment for the Nether Hall part of the village.[lxiii]

It might be conjectured that John Cantrell did not do badly in the 1672 property dispute mentioned above against the Benskins (which it is presumed sought to establish ownership of manor lands or dwellings). By the early 1680s, the Cantrell family were wealthy members of the local community, the men referred to as ‘gentlemen’ by the early decades of the following century.[lxiv] In 1681, John Cantrell (presumably the elder, suffixed hereafter I) is rated for Lea Wood, located to the west of the Upper Hall village; though the occupant is not recorded, Nether Hall is listed below this entry; John continues to be associated with this manor for several years after.[lxv] The younger John Cantrell (suffixed hereafter II) is described as heading the list for Hartshorne, although the assessment neglects to mention either Old Hall Upper Hall.[lxvi] Upper Hall and Lea Wood lands are assessed together by 1688, though separately from Nether Hall; it is been noted that, though the occupants are not specified, John Cantrell I is involved with approving the accounts.[lxvii] If this comment refers to Nether Hall, this may indicate that by this time, John I either no longer, or had not previously, occupied the Netherhall house, despite paying rates on surrounding land. John (presumably II) paid by far the highest poor rates in 1690 (which assessed land and buildings, rather than goods); the assessment also records Nether Hall, though its occupant is unnamed.[lxviii] The suggestion that John II occupied Upper Hall in the 1681s has been tempered by his marriage settlement of 1694 not mentioning the house.[lxix]

Woolley’s History of Derbyshire records that by 1712, ‘John Cantrell’ (I) occupied Upper Hall, ‘a good brick and stone house’ (note the attempt to play-down the timber-frame construction, which was by this time unfashionable), who owned much of the manor lands, and had done so for some time.[lxx] (Due to apparent OCR conversion inaccuracies in the detailed summary from which most of the information in this section derives; the following reading is therefore likely to be imperfect, and will be modified when mistakes become known.)[lxxi]

In this year, John Cantrell (II), a ‘gentleman’, granted consent for Robert (the younger son of John I, and younger brother of John II) to receive a 500-year lease of the manor house and lands (including receipt of their revenue); John I devised this scheme in order to provide Robert with a share of £1000.[lxxii] The elder John was to continue to hold the manor until his death, when it would transfer to Robert and his trustees for what was left of the 500-year lease, unless John II paid £1000 within 6 months of his father’s death, thereby cancelling Robert’s lease.[lxxiii]

John II died in late 1722 or early 1723, leaving his lands in trust.[lxxiv] His will provided his daughter Anne (born c. 1705: see below) with an annual allowance of £30 derived from their revenue, until her marriage or coming of age, after which she would receive a portion of the £1000.[lxxv] His eldest son John (III, born c. 1704: see below) – again described as a ‘gentleman’ – inherited what was left of the revenue from the estate, which if he had no heirs was to pass to Anne, and if she had no children, to Robert.[lxxvi]

Several chancery cases involving the Cantrell family may have either derived from, or were a cause of, John the elder’s scheme to provide for his dependants. A case of 1722 lists the defendants as John (presumably III), aged 18, Anne, aged 17, and Robert, ‘an infant’, and Robert Orton, the guardian of Anne and Robert, suggesting that by this time their father (John II) had died.[lxxvii] One plaintiff is John Browne – apparently the same person named as plaintiff with John Cantrell in a 1678 property dispute (see above); the others are a Joseph Ragg and one Leonard Piddock.[lxxviii]

A case of the following year (1723) indicates that John II died in debt. The defendants of the previous case are named as plaintiffs in this writ, and referred to as creditors of the recently deceased John Cantrell (II): Joseph Ragg and John Brown are described as yeomen (of a nearby village, and as a previous resident of the manor, respectively), Leonard Piddock is a ‘gentleman’ (of a nearby small town).[lxxix] The defendants were William Orton, Thomas Broad, Anne Cantrell, and Robert Cantrell (both Cantrells still minors at this time).[lxxx] Another case in the same year names as plaintiff, Anne as ‘spinster, an infant (by Richard Orton)’, as she has not yet reached her majority; the defendants are Thomas Broad (described as ‘gentleman’), William Orton, Robert Cantrell and John Cantrell.[lxxxi]

The dispute continues with a case in the next year (1724). Anne is defendant, still an ‘infant’ and acting under the guardianship of Richard Orton, and described as ‘spinster (daughter of John Cantrell, deceased …)’; the plaintiffs are John Cantrell ‘son and heir of said John Cantrell’ (also still legally ‘an infant’), ‘William Orton and Thomas Broad (executors of said John Cantrell, deceased)’, and Robert Cantrell.[lxxxii] Anne (by then aged 20) yet again seeks justice in the following year (1725), bringing a case against William Orton and John Cantrell, ‘an infant aged 18 years, ([acted for] by William Noon)’; the age of this John suggests the possibility that he may not be her brother, but another family member.[lxxxiii]

Perhaps in the following year, John III and the executors of his father’s estate (named in the above mentioned chancery case of the previous year as William Orton and Thomas Broad)[lxxxiv] mortgaged Upper Hall manor house, lands, and buildings, paying Robert his share of the £1000, ending his lease on the property. The chancery records document what seems to be a final case in this year (1726), between the defendants Ann (evidently unmarried, and before her 21st birthday, as still a ‘spinster’ and ‘infant’), with Robert Orton, against Robert Cantrell.[lxxxv] Other chancery cases might provide further information on the property.[lxxxvi]

It seems that John I lived at the Hall until 1729[lxxxvii] – at which time (it might be speculated) perhaps he died. By early 1729 or 1730, a Cantrell ‘heiress’ (most likely Anne) had married William Cant, a ‘gentleman’ of Nether Broughton, Leicestershire.[lxxxviii] At around this time, John Cantrell III (who was then also residing in Broughton) mortgaged the manor and hall to his ‘brother-in-law’ ‘as security’ of his sister’s share of the £1000, and it is assumed that the couple took up residency of Upper Hall.[lxxxix]

William Cant still held the Hall and lands in 1765, named as ‘Lord of the Manor’ when giving consent ‘for a cottage to be set up for Abraham Harvey’, dated to 17 May.[xc]

Upper Hall: a reward for defending against despotism, or for supporting treason?

A final note that may be of interest to modern readers is the (albeit distant) link between the Hall and international politics (and recent TV period drama!). According to 19th century directories, William Bayley Cant – a grandson of William Cant, who died in 1800 – bequeathed the manor to the Lord Thomas Erskine.[xci] The intended recipient was a lawyer, to whom Cant made the bequest in acknowledgement of his defence of John Horne TookeThomas Hardy, and John Thelwall, who were tried for high treason in 1794. The case, an important test for British constitutional rights, was portrayed in the superb (though not always entirely accurate historically) BBC series, Garrow’s Law (Series 1, Episode 4). However, a legal error with the will resulted in John Murcot, Esq. holding the manor, through a certain Miss Partridge (cousin and heiresses of Cant).[xcii]


Now familiar with the characters that lived in and were involved with Upper Hall during the first two centuries after construction, the reader is invited to look inside the dwelling, to discover what home life was like in the 17th century for the families discussed above. The next post, ‘Living in the Early Modern Past: A 17thcentury South Derbyshire Home’, explores the everyday existence of the Benskin family, by exploring their home.


[i] In the UK, archaeological studies generally define the Early Modern period as the time after the late medieval era, and before widespread industrialisation, i.e. most commonly mid 16th – mid 18th centuries. For a discussion of the term, see the preceding post ‘An Expedition into the Past: Tales of a 17th Century Derbyshire Manor House’.

[ii] For information on the circumstances of access to the property, see ‘Expedition into the Past’ (op. cit.).

[iii] In order to retain the privacy of the occupants, the full address of this property is withheld.

[iv] The names of the occupants of Upper Hall, and approximate dates when the property changed hands, were initially obtained from a small pamphlet on the property compiled by South Derbyshire Conservation Officer Philip Heath, printed by SDDC in 2000, revised 2011, provided by the owners of the property during the visit. Further information from Daniel and Samuel Lysons, 1817 Magna Britannia, pp. 176-77; and with regard to the family and estate in the 16th century, the village Parish Council website.

[v] Ralph Benskin was given the status of ‘Yeoman’ in the mid 16th century (Parish Council, ibid.), which is also given to John Benskin (perhaps his son or grandson) of in his 1637 will (National Archives, Prob. 11/175/408).

[vi] Recorded in the 1662 Hearth Tax return, available online for the village, here; see below.

[vii] The family tree, constructed from parish records, is at this stage only tentative; the names and dates used here are therefore for the time being provisional.

[viii] Village Parish Council (op cit., note iv.).

[ix] Rated at £20 (ibid.), which according to the National Archives Historic Currency Calculator, is approximately equivalent to £4000 in today’s money (which seems a reasonable estimate), and could pay the wages of a builder for three days (which seems less reasonable!).

[x] ‘Tree ring’ dating of timbers from the hall provide a bracket of 1618-28 (Heath, op cit., note iv.).

[xi] See William Woolley, c.1712, History of Derbyshire (Trans. & ed. Catherine Glover and Philip Riden 1981, Derbyshire Record Society, Vol. 6, pp.153-5Date accessed: 16 October 2014)However, legal records perhaps allow for a transcription error, whereby the ‘Berkins’ of this text (who held property in Newhall before selling to Thomas Coulson – another named that appears several times in a variety of records: see below) might instead be read as ‘Benskin’, the family might still be associated with an earlier Hall, before Upper Hall was built. The numerous chancery cases, including several involving members of the Benskin family, that dispute property ownership in the villages, will be discussed briefly below.

[xii] Parish Council (op cit., note iv.).

[xiii] Ibid..

[xiv] Ibid..

[xv] Bagshaw’s Trade Directory of Derbyshire, 1846.

[xvi] Photo: copy of a document on display in the parish church.

[xvii] John I was rated at 8s.10d. in 1619, more than twice as much as the next highest payer (James Royle); 9s.4d in 1620; and in 1627 at 10s.6d. and 10s.5d., in the summer and winter assessments, respectively. John II is first rated in 1627 at 5s., appearing in only in the summer (earlier) rates assessment. In 1628, his relative Samuel Benskin was rated at 2d. (Parish Council: op cit., note iv.).

[xviii] The 1629 Mr Benskin (it must be presumed John I) is recorded as first paying 16s. rates on his livings, and then 8s. for his new house; in addition he paid £l.l0s.ld. rates on beasts and sheep – again the highest for the village. Samuel Benskin paid 12s. on his house (though lower than John I, only one other person paid this amount, with others paying no more than 9s.4d.), and 7s.2d. on beasts and sheep; John II was un-rated for this assessment (ibid.).

[xix] Heath (op cit., note iv.).

[xx] Woolley records that the Upper Hall manor land was held in the early 16th century by a daughter (under William Abbot) of John Ireland, after the death of their father; the Compton family is described as owning land from the mid 16th century (op cit., note xi.). However, this source is scanty, confused, and perhaps inaccurate, and ownership of the lands in the 17th century is uncertain within one local history (Parish Council: op cit., note iv.). Legal records perhaps allow for a transcription error, whereby ‘Berkins’ might instead be read as ‘Benskin’.

The complexities of land and / or property ownership in the villages is complex and frequently contested (with several chancery cases involving members of the Benskin family, potentially indicating their ownership of some manor land, as well as dwellings), as will be seen below. The attribution of some family members as ‘gentleman’ in the second half of the 17th century may also suggest land ownership: see below.

[xxi] It was common at this time for the children of even wealth families to die young, and the Benskin family was no exception: see the putative family trees (op cit., note vii.).

[xxii] In 1630 John I continued to pay the highest rates, though this had dropped to 8s.10d.; Samuel Benskyn paid the next largest amount at 3s.2d (with no one else paying above 2s.lld.); John II is again rated, but at only a few pence. John I is recorded as paying 4s. rates on the Upper hall in 1635 and 10s.4d. on his goods or beasts and sheep. His son John (II) paid 5d. for the residue of the ‘Halls and Roes’ tenements (on part of which one Thomas Mellor paid 16d.), with a joint payment of 16d. for goods (Parish Council: op cit., note iv.).

[xxiii] Ibid..

[xxiv] National Archives (Prob. 11/175/408).

[xxv] In 1635, Samuel Benskyn paid 3s. for the Nether Hall, with his goods rated at 3s.3d. (Parish Council: op cit., note iv.).

[xxvi] During and after 1638, now the head of the family, John II paid 4s.8d. on his living and 9s.4d. on goods; Samuel Benskyn was paying 3s. and 4s.6d., respectively (ibid.).

[xxvii] In 1655, John II paid 7s.7d. and Samuel Benskyn 4s.3d. (with only one other paying more than 3s.); the assessment from 1655 to 1663 are missing (ibid.).

[xxviii] National Archives, C 5/406/122; other cases may relate to the relevant Derbyshire families, though this possibility needs verification, e.g. .a case in 1652 (C 6/118/123), regarding property at nearby Melbourne and Kings Newton, involving one Thomas Benskin – perhaps son of John II (Rivett v Rivett. Plaintiffs Theodore Rivett and John Bucknall; defendants William Rivett, Mary Rivett, Bryan Beanly and Thomas Benskin), is particularly interesting, and could provide insight into the location and extent of lands farmed by the Benskin and Cantrell families (see below).

[xxix] See Woolley (op cit., note xi.).

[xxx] The church rates assessments are missing 1655-63 (Parish Council: op cit., note iv.).

[xxxi] In January of 1661 or 1662, Samuel Benskin [of the village in which Upper Hall is located] is described as a gentleman, when his son James is taken on as an apprentice distiller, James Etwall, in London (John Palmer, n.d. The Wirksworth Website).

[xxxii] For information on the Hearth Tax, see ‘Expedition into the Past: Tales of a 17th Century Derbyshire Manor House’. Thomas Coulson (perhaps the ‘Captain Thomas Colson’ recorded as owing property in Newhall during or after the late 16th century in Woolley’s History of c. 1712, op cit., note vi.) pays the highest amount, at 8s.. This compares to John Benskin’s payment of 7s., suggesting that Coulson’s house had an additional hearth, and therefore may have been either larger, or better appointed. The odd amount is due to this being the first collection: in subsequent years, two yearly collections were made, resulting in a payment of 2s. for each hearth p.a. (1662 Hearth Tax return, op cit.: note vi.). Thomas Coulson is perhaps the ‘Captain Thomas Colson’ recorded as owing property in Newhall during or after the late 16th century in Woolley’s History of c. 1712  (op cit., note xi.).

[xxxiii] Ibid..

[xxxiv] Parish Council (op cit., note iv.).

[xxxv] John II and his sons pay 8s.10d.; Coulson pays 9s. (ibid.).

[xxxvi] Samuel Benskyn pays 7s.10d. (ibid.).

[xxxvii] National Archives, C 9/31/100.

[xxxviii] Hearth Tax return 1662, op cit. (note vi.).

[xxxix] Parish Council (op cit., note iv.).

[xl] National Archives, C 6/39/33 & C 6/39/41, the documents seemingly only differing with regard to spellings of the surname.

Family disputes continue in the 1680s, though most likely regarding land or other property outside the village. A writ is issued (ibid.: C 6/279/15) regarding the personal estate of the deceased Robert Granger by ‘Elizabeth Granger ‘widow’ (likely to be the daughter of John II: see family tree, above) and her possible brother, Thomas Benskin, in 1685 against William Tomlinson, Walter Bagnold and Alexander Walthall. At least one the defendants had married a Benskin daughter: the parish records record that Jana (an abbreviation of Johanna) Benskin married Walter Bagnold in the village, on 23 January 1611 (Parish Council: op cit., note iv.).

[xli] Later maps record a ‘Coppice Farm’ to the northeast of the village (OS 1:2500 1st Ed. Sheet).

[xlii] John Benskyn pays 4s.10d. (Parish Council: op cit., note iv.).

[xliii] Samuel pays 7s.10d., and Richard 2s.8d. (ibid.).

[xliv] Ibid..

[xlv] One Robert Greene is listed as paying a shilling Hearth Tax in the 1662 return (op cit., note vi.).

[xlvi]  National Archives, C 6/209/13, and C 22/238/13.

[xlvii] In 1675, Richard Benskin [of the village in which Upper Hall is located] is recorded as ‘son of Richard…gentleman’ being apprenticed to the Waxchandler Paul Ridly, March 1675 (London Apprenticeship Abstracts, 1442-1850).

[xlviii] Thomas paid 7s.10d. (Parish Council: op cit., note iv.).

[xlix] The exact dates of some disputes, recorded as taking place between 1558 and 1714, require verification at the National Archives, e.g. between Benskin and Cantrell: C 22/236/53; C 22/238/13, and C 22/329/41; also with Royle (C 22/418/23).

[l] Mr Ouldershaw is recorded as paying 2.10d. (Parish Council: op cit., note iv.).

[li] Ibid..

[lii] Ordnance Survey, op cit. (note xli.).

[liii] Thomas Greene pays 7s.8d. on this property (Parish Council: op cit., note iv.).

[liv] John Beighton paid 5s.; the Old Hall is rated at 7s.7d. in 1679 (ibid.).

[lv] National Archives, C 6/209/13. Though perhaps a coincidence, the similarity between the uncommon alias, and name of the Old Hall tenant, the conjecture of either an early spelling mistake in the records, or later transcription error, and the same family (Beighton) being involved in litigation, tenancy, and taxation might be looked into further.

[lvi] Hearth Tax return, 1662, op cit. (note vi.).

[lvii] Woolley, op cit. (note xi.).

[lviii] Parish Council (op cit., note iv.).

[lix] Ibid.

[lx] The 1619 assessment records 15 rate payers in the village who pay less than John Cantrell, though this is likely to be a comparatively small amount; in 1629 he pays 2s., and in 1638 he pays only 6d. on his living, and ls.8d. on goods (ibid.).

[lxi] National Archives, Prob 11/127/261; the author will transcribe a digital copy of this document as soon as possible, and post the information it contains.

[lxii] Hearth Tax return 1662, op cit. (note vi.).

[lxiii] Parish Council (op cit., note iv.).

[lxiv] Woolley (op. cit., note xi.).

[lxv] Parish Council (op cit., note iv.)

[lxvi] Ibid..

[lxvii] Ibid..

[lxviii] Cantrell paid 17s., nearly twice the amount of the next highest occupier, who paid 9s.6d.; 7s.10d was paid on Nether Hall (ibid.).

[lxix] The entry for Nether Hall, which has no name provided, follows that for Lea Wood; John Cantrell Jnr. pays 7s.7d. (ibid.).

[lxx]  Woolley (op cit., note xi.).

[lxxi] This author has found it difficult to interpret the series of events regarding ownership and lease of manor lands from the online summary, which appears to contain textual (apparently OCR recognition) errors; differentiating between the many and various ‘Johns’ is also at times difficult! For example, difficulties derive from the comment that John Cantrell the elder still occupied the Hall in 1792, and was still living in 1796 (Parish Council, op cit.: note iv.).

[lxxii] Robert is described as previously abiding in the City of London, but at that time being a Hartshorne haberdasher, and John II as at that time living in Cirencester (ibid.).

[lxxiii] Ibid..

[lxxiv] The author is about to begin transcribing a digital copy of John Cantrell’s will of April 1723 (National Archives, PROB 11/590/423), the details of which will be posted when completed.

[lxxv] Parish Council (op cit., note iv.).

[lxxvi] Ibid.; the text reads ‘1796’ for this act, though it is anticipated that inaccurate OCR recognition is at fault for converting what should be 1726 to this figure – see note lxxi.

[lxxvii] National Archives, C 11/475/54; a William Orton, presumably relative of the Cantrell guardian, is also named as defendant.

[lxxviii] Ibid..

[lxxix] National Archives, C 11/475/53.

[lxxx] Ibid..

[lxxxi] Ibid., C 11/2686/45.

[lxxxii] Ibid., C 11/2771/22.

[lxxxiii] Ibid., C 11/2387/27. A further dispute (C 11/525/12) regarding property within the region may or may not involve the young John mentioned in the previous chancery case (a person called Piddock is also mentioned: see above); if relevant, it provides names and other details for members of the extended Cantrell family.

[lxxxiv] Ibid..

[lxxxv] National Archives, C 11/2392/42.

[lxxxvi] For example, C 11/2168/14, which refers to a nearby village.

[lxxxvii] Parish Council (op cit., note iv.).

[lxxxviii] Ibid..

[lxxxix] Ibid..

[xc] National Archives; held at DRO (Q/SB/2/1116).

[xci] Daniel and Samuel Lysons (op. cit, note iv.).

[xcii] Ibid.; John Murcot possibly continues to own the manor for some time, being mentioned three decades later as a property owner (though not resident) in Derbyshire, Stephen Glover (Thomas Noble ed.) 1830 The Peak Guide.

2 responses to “From Yeoman to Gentleman: ‘Peopling’ a 17th Century South Derbyshire Manor House

  1. You say “the head of the family within the village was Johannis (sometimes spelt Johannes; often abbreviated as Johis. or Johes.)” which is nonsense. His name was John, which was recorded in Latin as Johannes (often abbreviated to Johes), and when used in the genitive form, meaning ‘of John’ appeared as Johannis (abbreviated to Johis).

    • Post-Med Archaeology

      Thank you for visiting the LIPCAP website, and for your comment.

      Apologies for the delay in responding to your message – the project has been on hold for some time, due to ill health.

      The sentence that you quote is indeed unclear. Although this person is in the same sentence referred to as John (I), bearing in mind that many readers have little or no specialist historical knowledge, it should be made clearer that Johannis (and the abbreviations mentioned) are Latin forms of the name, as expected in legal documents of this date. The word ‘spelt’ is also imprecise, and should indicate that this form reflects different grammatical function.

      With no Latin scholars on the project team, we rely upon those with knowledge of the language, such as yourself, to contribute information that might elucidate meaning, and possibly enable further discussion. The blog post will be amended accordingly as soon as possible, with gratitude.

      Thank you for your contribution.