Chilwell Hall, c.1900. The house was demolished in the 1930s and modern housing now occupies the site. The original boundary wall to the grounds, however, survives.
CHILWELL Hall is too near the road to enjoy that seclusion which is regarded as one of the conditions of country life, and its elevation is perhaps lower than is absolutely desirable. But the traffic of the public highway which passes through the village, and beneath a wall which encloses the hall grounds, is neither frequent nor noisy; and if it were both, the principal building in the village would still enjoy comparative privacy. For the shrubs are so thick, the trees are so tall, and the situation of the house is so low that no part of the building is visible from the road, so that strangers to the place pass and re-pass without being conscious of its existence. But if the proportions of Chilwell Hall are not familiar to Nottinghamshire people, they are aware that there is such a house in the county, and they know something of the family residing there. How should it be otherwise, seeing that there has been a county house at ChilweIl before the reign of the Sixth Henry, and that the Charltons have lived in it for more than two hundred and fifty years? It was once owned by the Martels, from whom it descended to the Babingtons—both families of estate and position, and according to worthy authority it passed by marriage to the Delves, of Doddington, in Cheshire, and from them to the Sheffields, Marquises of Normandy, and Dukes of Buckingham. The house has been altered and enlarged by successive owners. Sir William Babington, Lord Chief Justice of the Common Pleas, rebuilt it in the reign of Henry the Sixth. Subsequent alterations were in the Elizabethan style, and in 1652 further additions were made. From Lord Sheffield it was purchased by Mr. Christopher Pymme, and sold by one of that gentleman’s sons to Mr. Thomas Charlton, of Sandiacre, in whose family it has remained to this day. Mr. Charlton at that time had a good house in the neighbouring county, and it was not until 1620 that his son Nicholas made a home of Chilwell. Before they came into Nottinghamshire, the Charltons were among the landed proprietors of Derbyshire, to which county one branch of the family belonged. They formerly, as already stated, had a house at Sandiacre, and estates in different parts of the county. The present head of this family is a landowner in Derbyshire, for which county he is a magistrate as well as for Nottinghamshire. About the reign of Edward VI. Thomas Charlton settled at Sandiacre, before the purchase of the Chilwell estate the family had property in the adjoining county. Investigation and research have shown that the Charltons descended from a John de Charleton, who was M.P. for the City of London as early as 1318, and from that time until the Battle of Bosworth, when Sir Richard Charlton was slain, the family attainted, and their lands confiscated to the Crown, they were large proprietors. They were afterwards restored in blood but never in purse, and it was left for after generations to regain that territorial position which their remote ancestor had forfeited. When the family belonged to Middlesex they were represented in successive Parliaments, and one of them, Sir Thomas Charlton, was Speaker of the House of Commons in 1453. Edward Charlton, who died in 1658, was a commissioner under the Parliament for raising troops at the civil wars, and the present head of the family, Mr. Thomas Broughton Charlton, once faced a very trying contest in order to gain a seat in the Senate. This was on the occasion of the general election of 1841, when Mr. Charlton was a candidate for the borough of Nottingham in the Conservative interest, in conjunction with the late Mr. John Walter. The Liberal candidates were Mr. George Larpent and Sir. John Cam Hobhouse, and the contest was attended with riot and disorder. The tumult which had taken place in the earlier part of the year at the bye-election that followed the decease of Sir R. Ferguson, was repeated in the summer, and both on the nomination and polling days the town was a scene of uproar and confusion. Broken heads and injured limbs were not uncommon, and the mob conducted itself as only a Nottingham mob can do when its worst passions are aroused. At the poll Mr. Charlton and his colleague were unsuccessful, the Liberals being returned by a considerable majority. Mr. Charlton never again sought Parliamentary honours, but Mr. John Walter, a year later, when Mr. Larpent accepted the Chiltern Hundred, defeated Mr. Sturge, the Liberal candidate, by 84 votes.
The house at Chilwell, which for so long a period has been owned by the Charltons, forms part of a village whose rusticity has not yet been destroyed by such building operations as those which have gone on in the heart and outskirts of its neighbour Beeston, once extensively owned by the Charlton family. It has retained its village aspect and its village life, and some of its inhabitants have a distinct belief, which sometimes finds expression, that a house standing out in the fields is tenanted by a ghost, which, however, never found its way into their last census papers, and is, therefore, not accounted for. This is the restless spirit of a man who was mysteriously murdered in the locality within the memory of many living, and whose body was never discovered. Persons who have tenanted this house in the fields, have spoken of noises in the night and phantom-play of that kind, but none has ever seen anything approaching the popular notion of what a ghost is like, so that people who hear about the spectre are reasonably skeptical. Between the Chilwell ghost and Chilwell Hall there is nothing in common, except perhaps something which comes of the fact that the principal family in the village is kept au courantconcerning the proceedings of the spirit who might perhaps find that appropriate calm, which would confine him to his own resources when he felt the need of diversion, that now assumes the form of pranks with shutters or windows, if he could be induced to take up his abode in the dark and ancient cellars of the hall. In these cool depths where the wine is kept, there is some old stonework forming walls of tremendous thickness, which in all probability formed part of the original mansion built centuries ago, long before a Charlton ever dreamt of coming to Chilwell. From the cellars to the drawing room is a pleasant transition, for it is a passing from darkness to light. And in the principal room at Chilwell there are pictures and old china and pottery ware, some of it quaint, and showing figures roughly drawn, whilst other pieces are ornamented with designs of great delicacy and exquisite purity of colour. On the wall space between the windows are two paintings by Gaspard Poussin, landscapes which are full of beauty. One of them, perhaps the best, is an Italian scene, with figures in the foreground, and a lake, upon whose surface a stately castle, high up among the trees, casts shadows. On the opposite side of the room are five water colours of considerable merit, but somewhat faded now, of scenery at Bearwood, in Berkshire, the home of Mr. John Walter. In one there is a patch of the lovely purple heather of old Windsor Forest; in another water, and in all of them there is the brightness and the quiet beauty of the scenery of open England. Mrs. Charlton, it may here be mentioned, is sister to the owner of Bearwood, and to Mr. Henry Walter, of Papplewick Hall. The two large pictures at the end of the hall, are very fine copies of the Sibils of Persia and Cumae, the latter of whom is fabled to have been consulted by Aeueas, when that hero was in difficulties, and is known to have formed the subject of a picture by Dominichino. Between them is an exceedingly pleasing painting, by Montagu, of a portion of a Dutch town, and on the carpet underneath are two handsome inlaid chairs of Florentine origin. A very high panelling of dark coloured oak, which completely surrounds the dining room, except where the window recesses are, subdues the light which is admitted into this apartment. The woodwork here, which has a somewhat peculiar effect, originally belonged to the prebendal Rectory Hall, at Sandiacre, which was demolished in 1864. This panelling was then transferred to Mr. Charlton’s house at Chilwell, and put to the use just mentioned. Where it ends, just below the ceiling, a number of china plates of considerable beauty have been arranged in regular order, and these serve to give some ornamentation to the room. In 1592 Thomas Charlton, who succeeded his father in 1578, became the lessee of the rectory at Sandiacre, under a prebendal lease from the Dean and Chapter of Lichfield, and it remained in the possession of the family until the death of Nicholas Charlton in 1704. In the dining room, a table, which was fashioned by furniture makers who lived in the Jacobean period, and which is capable of considerable expansion, serves the purpose of a sideboard. This piece of furniture, which has been in the house for centuries, is interesting no less for its antiquity than for the quaintness of its design. The greatest curiosity in the house is an old iron chest of cylindrical shape. To make it stronger and more secure it is bound at intervals with iron hoops, securely rivetted, and furnished with a lock, the works of which are curiously and ingeniously complicated. The key which opens this remarkable specimen of the locksmith’s art is many-warded and of singular shape, and without its aid it would require something more than the skill of the modern burglar to open the chest. This curious receptacle, which now stands in the hall, was unearthed some time back, and in it were found a large number of parchment deeds, most of them being dated at the beginning of the seventeenth century, and relating to a portion of the family property; and a number of old Bibles, which the owner was anxious to preserve from the sacriligious touch of those into whose hands he feared they might fall. It is supposed—and the supposition is perfectly reasonable, that the chest was made to be placed in the earth, and to secure valuables in times when the country was agitated by civil strife, from which it is well known these parts were not exempt. The Bibles and the deeds found in the chest were carefully preserved the documents remain there still, and the books have been transferred to the shelves of the library, where is carefully preserved the original letter, written to Mr. Thomas Charlton by Major-General Ireton of the Commonwealth army, a distinguished Republican, who took an active part in the contest between Charles the First and the Parliament. This remarkable man, who had very great influence in the councils of the Protector, was the son of a Derbyshire gentleman. The superscription is “to my honored ffriend, Mr. Thomas Charleton, at his ffather’s house, in Chilwell, near Nottingham.” and it is dated “Colchester League, August 14th, 1648.” The handwriting is still easily decipherable, and the letter is as follows:–
I have sealed and deliverd. the Conveyance of Carver’s fflatte unto you, & a letter of Atturney for makeinge lyvery of seisin; There is noe alteration from the draughts wch yr brother brought me, save in the time limitted for deliveringe up to you all writeings concerninge that lande, wch is altered from Michaelmas next unto Lady Day followeinge Michaelmas, through the delay of sealeinge, beeinge soe neare, & my employmt soe farre of & the prsent troubles such, as I could not have pformed covenante wth you in that poynte, if it had beene limitted to that time, all though the mayne & most materiall of the writeings I delivered to yr ffather at Addenborow last springe, wch I prsume you have allready. I desire you to paye the wholle price to my mother Ireton, & her Receipt for it shall bee yr sufficient discharge, but at any time afterwarde I shall be ready (upon yr deliveringe in of that) to give you an Acquittance for the monye under my owne hand & scale. The deeds now sealed are committed into yr brother Mr. Nich: Charleton, his hande, in truste betwixt us, untill bee shall deliver to mee a Receipt or letter from my mother Acknowledgeinge the Receipt of the monye & a counterpte of the Conveyance to bee sealed by you; wch I desire you hasten, & lett the counterpte bee deliverd allsoo to my mother, whose acknowledgemt of the Receipt of it shall serve wth out yr trouble of sendinge it to mee. An hundred pounde of the monye I intend for the discharge of soc much due from mee to yr uncle, Mr. Edw: Charleton upon bonde ; if you bringe & deliver in that bonde to my mother wth the Rest of the price, shee may give you a Receipt for the wholle price; I know not certaynly what Interest may in strictnesse bee due to yr uncle, but my mother doth; I hope hee will upon the payeinge in of the principall, consider the troubles & difficultyes of the times since I had it & not exacte full Interest upon the Acct. for the wholle time, but make a conscionable abatemt & Acct. what the full Interest (for the years bee hath Receivd it) does exceed the yearly Rate hee thinks reasonable to take for the wholle time in satisfaction for the time in arrears, wherein I pray you (wth my service) presnt my desires to him.—I remayne, yr assured ifriend and servt.,
Colr. League, Aug. 14th, 1648.
The interest of uncle’s £100, from the time you entered upon the lande, I prsume you will be soe reasonable as to discharge, over and above the price; at least consideringe, that very soone after the bargayne, I desired ffather, or self to pay £100 of the price unto him, and take in the bond into your hande, until I should seal the writings; wherein I assure you there bath been noe witting delaye on my parte. My humble service to ffather, mother, lady and ffriends with you, I pray you presnt.”
In the hall are some good cases of birds, one of which contains a very fine specimen of the kite—milvus vuigaris, a bird of prey which is rarely seen in the Midlands. This one was killed in the parish by one of the keepers between thirty and forty years ago. What family portraits Mr. Charlton has are hung in the hall, and there is one of Mr. William Charlton, his ancestor, who was High Sheriff of the county in 1824. The grounds outside the house, if they are not extensive, are picturesque and pleasing, and the fatal frosts of the past few winters, destructive as they have been, have left some noble trees on the estate. In front of the east side of the house, its fan leaves almost brushing the walls and windows, is a mighty horse chestnut, whose branches sweep to the ground in graceful curves and tower up aloft to a proud elevation. This is said to be the largest tree of the kind in the county, and it is certainly the dominating glory of the Chilwell pleasure grounds.