It’s always a pleasure to feature the work of other historians here and this has been a longstanding tradition since the very start of this blog over a decade age: Today, I’d like readers to welcome a new contributor to the Brownhills Blog community, Kim A. Osborn whose article below on a lost great house in Rugeley is fantastic stuff and hints at some terrific material to come.
Hagley Hall (not to be confused with it’s more famous namesake) has an interesting history and I must say I was utterly unaware of it at all. The inimitable Kate Cardigan from Lichfield Lore has covered the matter previously in her wonderful way, and apart from that there’s nothing much out there on a house that was only lost relatively recently.
I ‘d like to thank Kim for this, and my apologies for not publishing it sooner; it really is a terrific and beautifully researched piece of work. It reminds me very much of Stuart Cowley’s explorations of Hilton Park which remain popular.
If you have anything to add to the history here, please do – you can comment on this post, mail me on BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com or tap my shoulder on social media.
Kim Osborn wrote:
Hagley Hall, Rugeley
Hagley Hall was a large country house within Rugeley— or more accurately originally on the outskirts of Rugeley at the time of construction. Gone today, but still much remembered and celebrated, I’d like to give a little discourse on the history of the hall which was quite unique in ways from other such estates in Staffordshire, or indeed, the country.
The original Hagley Hall was situated upon the small ‘island’ that is now in the centre of Elmore Pool, within the towns park. ‘Hall’ may be a bold term, as the site is much smaller than what one many consider conventionally ‘a hall’. The ‘island’ is a deliberate construction, as the brook was diverted at the time to form a moat around the hall which is the reason the pool exists in it’s current form. It is uncertain why the owners of the land chose to do this, or indeed if this was a later construction than the hall itself, but it is evident that it would be purely decorative in nature and would not be designed as any sort of serious defensive structure – the pond is neither deep enough or large enough to warrant such an explanation.
Records indicate the original ‘moated hall’ was constructed around 1392 by Thomas de Thomenhorn, at the time the Keeper of the Royal Forest of Cannock Chase. Indeed it is suggested he “felled over 100 oaks [within the] bishops chase of Cannock’ according to extracts of the Plea Rolls of Richard II. It was primary a timber framed construction that was so typical of the time and as such little evidence remains of the site other than brick footings and some foundation stonework. Due to the park’s current status, natural erosion, (and health and safety legislation) no significant archaeological survey has been done of the island. But, at the time of writing (Jul 2019) the island has recently has the vegetation cut back [in an effort to combat the goose invasion] and some of the afore mentioned brickwork is now clearly visible. More brickwork exists at the sides of the pool, evidencing the nature of the diverted stream, and is clearly visible in the summer when the water levels drop.
The pool, looking at the former hall site:
However, the better known Hagley Hall was a later construction, located on a small rise some 300 yards to the west of the park. This rise now forms the north-eastern boundary of the playing fields on the other side of the Western Springs Road. The hall building itself [and some surrounding stable blocks etc.] is sadly now demolished but several fascinating structures still exist. Many of these are not accessible to the general public but can still be safely seen from the boundary fences.
[sources: ‘A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 5, East Cuttlestone Hundred’. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1959.]
[note: The Western Springs Road is a much later 20th C construction which bisected the lands into the ‘park’ and the ‘playing fields’ at that time, historically they were one and the same.]
The later hall was constructed by Sir Richard Weston in 1636, was extended several times – most extensively in 1752 by Sir Assheton Curzon and again in the 19th C by adding more structure to the east side. The former remodelling included the planting of the gardens and lands below the hall which are the primary above-ground evidence of the hall today. Also an ornamental bridge over the Rising Brook was constructed, which has been kept in good condition by the land owners to date despite recent vandalism. It was about this time the site became known as ‘Hagley Park’. In the more modern age, by extension, the playing fields and nearby high school [renamed later and then closed recently] adopted the same name and are commonly referred to as such today.
[sources: Research done by CCDC for the heritage trial, Historic England]
Steel engraving of the Hall circa 1831:
The ornamental bridge:
Ornamental Bridge, Hagley Hall, RugeleyThis ornamental bridge was built in the 1790s for Assheton Curzon in the grounds of Hagley Hall, Rugeley. It spans the Rising Brook as it runs from Cannock Chase, through Hagley and Rugeley to the River …View Full Resource on Staffordshire Past Track
Apparently, parts of the hall were designed at this time by the much noted architect, James Wyatt. Sadly however I was not able at this time to cite such sources or find further evidence of such – existing sources have been disputed. On the west of the hill was an 18th Century stable block, later converted to cottages, as well as a cylindrical ice-house sunk into the hillside. Also several ranges of brick outbuildings with stone dressings and founding existed as part of the Hagley Farm which utilised much of the lower ground beyond the gardens, now the playing fields.
[sources: ‘A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 5, East Cuttlestone Hundred’. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1959.
A notable resident of the hall in the 19th Century was the Honourable Robert Curzon, a captain of the local volunteer regiment. During his tenure, the hall was used as their offices and the grounds were used for parades as well as open for the leisure of local residents. This link with local military would continue for some time – up to World war One when the hall was used as a centre for the Officers Training Corps. Later the hall came into the hands of the South Staffordshire Waterworks Company – in line with many other structures along the Rising Brook even up to the nearby hamlet of Slitting Mill to the north-west.
[sources: Alan Roderick Haig-Brown – the O.T.C and the great War, p 39]
A good image of the hall at about this time (1900 ish) can be found here:
The Home Guard stationed at the hall:
It was during this time that the hall came to the most severe of neglect and the structure was deemed to be unsafe and unsound. Over a period of time, most notably in 1932, successive demolitions of parts of the hall left little of the original structure remaining by 1967—when ownership passed to the Town Council. Most of the impressive decorations of the hall, both internal and external were gone by this time, as were the extensions built in the 18th century. Plans available during the 1932 demolition show gabled wings at the rear which may have represented portions of the original 17thcentury house before the later remodelling.
[sources: In addition to the above, mainly local parish/town council records]
This remaining part saw various community uses for a time, housing the local ruby club and even as an arts centre, until the remaining surface buildings were demolished entirely in the eighties. The site is now developed for housing, the cul-de-sac road that would formerly been the main approach to the hall being named ‘Bank Top’.
A now sadly much reduced hall, shortly before final demolition:
Hagley Hall, RugeleyIn 1941, Hagley Hall was bought by Mr C.J. Whieldon, proprietor of the Green Bus Company, Rugeley. Due to the War effort, he could not occupy the Hall until the Military had exited the property in 1945. …View Full Resource on Staffordshire Past Track
As much of the hall, even neglected, was still extant within living memory, many accounts exist amongst long-time residents of the town about the hall. And due to the grand status of the hall in it’s time, many pictures and photographs exist on the Staffs Past Track website which clearly highlight what a loss to local history and architecture the demolition of the hall has been.
You may have noted that I referred several times to ‘surface’ buildings. This deliberate remark is due to a very specific curiosity of the hall site. Underneath the hall are a series of interconnecting passages and small rooms, often collectively known as ‘the catacombs’ [though strictly speaking they do not qualify such a moniker]. Local legend and tales vary wildly as to their purpose, as does indeed historical and archival descriptions of their construction and possible purpose. Dismissing the completely ridiculous suggestions still leaves many questions as to why these were built. Some have dismissed them as a folly. Some claim they served as war-time storage. But there is little ‘hard evidence’. While they are blocked off from access today due to safety and vandalism — a local team did get permission to enter by the local authorities and took many photos showing a fascinating range of architecture as well as the impressive size of the tunnel network. If this article proves interesting, I shall attempt a second about these tunnels alone.
Another interesting piece to mention is the aforementioned grounds. These have been subject to recent vandalism and the elderly owners of those ground have struggled to pay for repairs or maintenance. A local group has been set up to support those efforts and many seek to open them up to the public for future generations to enjoy.
[Disclaimer: I am not part of these groups and were not asked to promote them.]
Please note that at the time of writing (Jul 2019) that much of the usually publicly accessible site is off-limits due to the recent construction of flood defences under the playing fields.
An ideal visit would be in the autumn or winter months where a lack of vegetation allows clear views of the gardens and ‘catacomb’ entry portals from beyond the boundary fence.
The site itself is private land and in the writing of this article I do not wish to encourage trespassing upon these grounds.
Written by Kim A. Osborn in July 2019, using various local sources and texts. Authors have been cited where possible. Please feel free to redistribute but please leave original credit to the sources in the interests of those respective authors. Not to be published for profit. Copyright is held respectively by the content creators where appropriate. All sources were used with permission