Tuesday, February 21, 2012

From the Summer 2010 Friends Newsletter

NEWSLETTER Issue 7, Summer 2010
(This is what appeared in the Friends of Firbeck Hall Newsletter Summer 2010)
Historical Article by Barbara Beck,
a FoFH member living in Las Vegas
Firbeck Hall has a long history of murder,
ghostly tales and unrequited love.
I first learned about Firbeck Hall when I
inherited papers and diaries from my great Aunt
Marjorie. One rainy afternoon I finally went
through those papers and I found a diary from
John Cruso, which mentioned the estate of
Firbeck Hall. John Cruso was a barrister and
an ancestor of Sir Ralph Knight and his eldest
son, John Knight. Sir Ralph, while never
owning Firbeck Hall, was associated with the
property as his relative was murdered there on
the Dark Walk in the Hall grounds.
The legend is that Ralph Knight (my family name
is Knight and Gally) was murdered because he
was in love with the daughter of William West,
the first owner of the Hall, during the Civil War
period. Apparently her lover was murdered by
her brother after a note the girl had written
arranging a meeting with her lover was
intercepted. She was so overcome with grief
at seeing her murdered lover that she threw
herself into the lake. Her body was
recovered the next morning, shrouded in
weeds and green slime from the lake – hence
the green lady.
Thus my family’s association with the Hall
began on a grim note. In 1676 Jonathon
Staniforth of Rotherham bought the Hall.
Jonathon married for the fourth(!) time the
daughter of Sir Ralph Knight of Langold
Hall (now destroyed). My ancestor was the
eldest son of Sir Ralph, John Knight. Sir
Ralph was a great friend of General Monk
and owned Letwell Manor as well as
Langold Hall. A very eccentric owner of
Firbeck Hall was another Jonathon
Staniforth who held a patent for the
‘Rotherham Plough’ and played the violin
for hours at a time.
By 1792, the estate was sold to Henry Gally
Knight of Langold Hall. John and his
brother Henry were both barristers and John
was MP for Aldborough and Boroughbridge.
It seems the existing church of Firbeck was
rebuilt by his wife in 1828 and also the
schools of Firbeck and Letwell.
The estate passed to their son – another
Henry, who was an MP for North Notts
between 1814 and 1831. He was also High
Sheriff of Nottinghamshire and was a famous
poet and architectural writer. He had a very
strained relationship with Lord Byron.
Apparently Byron was a bit jealous of Gally
Knight’s more extensive travel in the Orient.
The fact that they shared the same publisher
didn’t help much. In fact, Lord Byron wrote
a very insulting poem to Henry Gally Knight,
part of which reads, “He hath a Seat in
Parliament, So fat and passing wealthy,
healthy. And surely he should be content.”
The ballad goes on to portray Henry Gally
Knight as a fool with money. It seems that if
my ancestors from Firbeck Hall were not
Henry Gally Knight 1786-1846
murdered, they were made fun of by famous
In 2008, a researcher, Dr Michael J Franklin,
wrote a paper in Language Review’ about the
relationship of Byron and Gally Knight from the
footnotes of literary history.” An interesting
coincidence is that my only brother died on the
same date in December that Henry Gally Knight
was born and was born on the same date in
February that Henry died!
From what I have learned, the Firbeck Hall
estate village was self-sufficient because the 19th
century census returns list a butcher, carpenter,
blacksmith, miller, weaver, teacher, carter,
shoemaker, tailor, shopkeeper and publican.
At some point, Henry Gally Knight gave Firbeck
Hall to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners.
Apparently there was some family feud so he did
not want to leave it to relatives.
After its rise to fame in the 30’s as a country
club, the Hall became an annexe to Sheffield
Royal Infirmary during the war. In 1943 it was
placed on the market and was purchased by the
Miners’ Welfare Commission in 1945 as a
Miners’ Rehabilitation Centre, closing in 1991.
In 1996 it was purchased by Mr G Saint and
remains uninhabited and dilapidated. Another
interesting train of thought is that if it had
stayed in the family it might have been inherited
by my father, as Sir Henry had no children and
the nearest male relative was the elder original
son of John’s family.
Several years ago I went with my mother (whose
family is also English) to England to take a
study course at Cambridge University (all the
Gally Knights and the Crusos went to
Cambridge I found out later)! I rented a car
and drove up to Yorkshire. Staying at the Black
Lion, I enquired about seeing the Hall and
eventually was able to go inside. I found the
state of the Hall alarming. Wallpaper that had
once been beautiful was hanging in tatters on
the walls and trash was everywhere. The
original windows at the time were still intact;
although later they would be stolen or missing.
The Hall had an air of mystery and sadness and
I felt the hairs on the nape of my neck standing
up when I went to Firbeck Hall, feeling
immediate kinship with this beautiful old house.
The Hall has had enough sadness, murder and
mayhem and deserves a future as exciting as its
colourful past.
Barbara Beck, May 2010.