A Gothic Elopement

Haddon Hall. The 16th century elopment reached Hollywood with Mary Pickford as the star

“The haunting medieval manor beckons us from the expansive rough pastured hill tops. We climbed to these views from the deep Lathkill Dale with its soothing water scrambles”

Middleton to Haddon through Lathkill Dale : Circular Walk - Map and Directions : Google Earth Tour for this Walk

The writers on the Rural Bliss route:

John Gratton – John Bright – George Herbert – William Adam - Ann Radcliffe – Mary Balmanno - Baroness de Calabrella – Ben Fenton –Elizabeth Champney – Allan Cunningham – Lee Gibbons – Charles Major – Mary Pickford – Arthur Sullivan & Sidney Gurney - John James Manners

With short abridged extracts from The Literary Way, written by Terry Goble and published by The Creative Peak

Haddon Hall

What can be better than a good walk through one of the most picturesque dales in the National Park to a castellated manor. In addition, the historic house is rife with literary connections, and has a wonderful mixture of fact and fiction. But on this walk there is still more. From the quiet dale and the medieval house, we have links with the USA that span the puritans of seventeenth century to the flamboyance of the twentieth century.

But we begin with a man sent to jail for his beliefs, who lived in an isolated dale at an outpost of an old abbey. One of his friends with whom he exchanged letters regularly, became one of the founding fathers of the United States of America. The freedom of speech percolated down to his descendants, one of whom, became one of Parliament’s most powerful orators, and was remembered over a hundred years later by an American President. A quaint village over looks a dale and has a fine old church with an interesting sundial which links us back to the seventeenth century and one of the fishing friends that we have met on The Literary Way.

We leave Middleton-by-Youlgreave along the road past Thomas Bateman’s Lomberdale Hall. We go up the across the fields towards a farm and behind it to the wooded valley. A steep tree covered slope takes us down into Cales Dale and shortly we will follow the stream in this delightful dale, but first, we follow the path up the other side until we reach One Ash Grange Farm, which is about one mile outside of the small village of Monyash.

A Pioneering Preacher

In 1642, John Gratton was born and in his twenties he moved to One Ash Grange. However, his taken religion was of a very different form to the monastic origins of One Ash Grange, although he was as devout as the monks. John rejected the local Anabaptists and became a evangelical convert to the Quakers and began to travel widely in the local area. But his evangelical calling wasn’t popular with the authorities. Even with the more relaxed attitudes of the Restoration period, the same time as William Congreve explored with his plays, John Gratton was a step too far and he was imprisoned for his non-conformist approach. This is what he wrote from Derby jail where is described himself as a prisoner for the sake of truth.

Dear brethren,
I can truly say I am with you in spirit; and my love springs freshly to you, and I should be glad to be with you personally, but could not get leave; so as a token of my dear love and true unity unto you and with you, it was in my heart thus to write. In this I remain your dear friend and brother.

Everlasting praises be given to our God forever. Amen.
Written in Derby jail, where I am a prisoner for the Truth’s sake.

John Gratton
22nd of the Third month, 1683
Journal of the Life of John Gratton
– John Gratton

John became a significant character in the Quaker Movement of the time and one very close religious colleague was William Penn, who was one of the founding fathers of the United States. The state of Pennsylvania was named after him. In one letter from William to John he wishes him to get well after an illness and even suggests his own medicine. One famous descendant of John Gratton was John Bright, who although several generations later, named his new house in Rochdale in memory of Monyash and John Gratton. It is claimed the he frequently visited his relatives in Monyash.

John Bright was part of the new commercial class that had arisen in the wake of the Industrial Revolution. Originally he was factory owner from Rochdale, but later he was elected to Parliament as an MP. He became famous as one of the orators who campaigned for the abolition of the Corn Laws, which established tariffs for the price of wheat. Those on the side of the workers in the factories believed that, if prices were allowed to fall, then the working people would have more income to spend on clothes and other essentials. To be against the Corn Laws at the time was to support the notion of Free Trade. John Bright campaigned for a long time until the laws were successfully repealed. Whilst famous in his own time, along with his colleague Richard Cobden, he is perhaps little known today until he was brought to much higher recognition by Ronald Reagan, when he was President of the United States. The President in a speech said that Richard Cobden and John Bright were two of the most important advocates of free-trade in the history of commerce. As we know from Darley Dale, John Bright was a life long friend of Joseph Whitworth.

We leave One Ash Grange and begin what is fascinating walk along Lathkill Dale. It is important to look for the details of the past as well as the creatures and flora of today. The high limestone crags are becoming more noticeable by this time. As the valley deepens even more, there is, on our left, a high and very majestic limestone crag with the layered beds of limestone and numerous scree falls of rocks and boulders. As we reach the point, where another valley joins from the left, the nature of the landscape changes quite considerably. We are now walking along the valley floor with the river on our right. This is another of the example of limestone water flows. If the river is full, see if you can work out where all the water comes from. It is not obvious. There is a small spring but it is not sufficient to give the amount of water in the main river. It is an area of several intermittent streams that, dependent on the rainfall, either flow on the surface or make various subterranean routes.

It is hard to believe that this valley was almost completely clear of woodland during the peak of the lead mining in the 18th Century. If that seems surprising, it is thought that the valley was cleared in prehistoric times, about 4000 years ago, but woodland had regained the area by the 17th century. The main lead vein called Mandale Rake is further along the valley and there are various remnants of the attempts to mine the area, including the channels, called soughs, which were used to try to drain water from the working areas. Before we reach the remains of the Mandale Rake activities, there are some relics of mining in Palmerston Wood. The mine here not only found lead but also produced chert, a flint link mineral.

We pass many caves and old shafts on our way along the path and there is one final dramatic structure that we come across. It the old Engine House for the mine. It is a large structure tucked away from the valley floor and is now well set with the luxuriant green growth around it. We eventually reach the first house in this valley and it is at the bottom of a lane that comes down from Over Haddon. A climb up the road takes us to the small village of Over Haddon and to its church. There is an inscription on the sun-dial on the south facing wall.


The inscription is the last verse in a poem called Mattens by George Herbert. It was part of a larger collection of his poems published in about 1640, called The Temple. The full collection went through thirteen editions by 1680. George Herbert was born in 1593 and after a short, but distinguished spell at Cambridge University, he became an MP. But with the accession of Charles I in 1625, he decided to enter the clergy and eventually gained a living near Salisbury. Most of his poetry is devotional and he was the subject of a biography by one of the characters we have already encountered on the walk, Isaac Walton. He was always in weak health and died aged forty.

We leave Over Haddon by going past the pub and take a path across the fields towards the small hillock. Having crossed by the tumulus we descend along the path into the Wye valley.


The first glimpses are the crenellated tops of a building. Trees surround it, but the parts of it that we can see make us think of a castle. Let’s set the scene with William Adam, whose book, Gem of the Peak, details a day out in early Victorian times, about 1837.

The sun was fast declining in the ‘far west’ when we attained the eminence near Haddon. This relic of by-gone age, with its weather-beaten towers and battlements, we observed peering from amidst the thick foliage, its numerous turrets and windows gleaming in the sun light; and being in part strongly shaded by its umbrageous envelope, it presented a fine object for the pencil. The situation of Haddon is pre-eminently beautiful.It stands on a shelving, a rather elevated mass of the finest limestone, overlooking the entire dale and its meandering and lovely Wye, backed by extensive woods and surrounded by majestic trees. At first sight it has more the appearance of an old fortress that what it really is, a Hall, chiefly in the Elizabethan style, and without any effectual defences, as we shall show by the following remarks, which we beg to make while we contemplate this interesting structure - a structure which assisted the imagination of Mrs Radcliffe in its wildest flights, when writing the Mysteries of Udolpho.
Gem of the Peak
- William Adam

The view of the hall gradually disappears into the trees as we go further down the hill. Haddon Hall is a fortified medieval manor house dating from the twelfth century, and is the home of Lord Edward Manners whose family have owned it since 1567. The house is part of the estate of the Duke of Rutland. The gate-house, which is hidden behind the bushes on the far side of the road, gives us entry into the Hall’s grounds. The main tower is on a slight rise to our right. After we have passed over the bridge, the stable block is directly in front of us and to our left is a cottage embellished with Wisterias and fronted with topiary.

An immediate impression on passing through the tower gate and into the bare flagged courtyard is that this building will be very different to many historic houses that are open to the public. Its bleakness gives the idea of what it would have been like to live here, when it was at its prime.

Let’s continue our impression of Haddon Hall and pick up on William Adam’s reference to ‘Mrs Radcliffe.’ Horace Walpole, in 1764, published The Castle of Otranto which was to define a new Gothic genre in literature. It would go in and out of literary fashion as times changed, but has always had a dedicated few who follow it. By coincidence, in the same year as the genre was defined, Ann Ward was born. By her mid twenties, she had taken her married name of Radcliffe and developed the form of the Gothic novel. She took isolated Italian castles and gave them a mixture of the sinister and supernatural. To this she added innocent young women and the subsequent romances. It is thought that she did not travel to the mountains of Italy were The Mysteries of Udolpho is set but used a combination of her imagination and the English settings that she had seen.

Ann Radcliffe had many connections with Derbyshire and she visited the area many times. There is no direct evidence about her visiting Haddon, but she certainly visited Derbyshire, and her mother is buried at Wheston, near Tideswell, which about ten miles from Haddon. She saw many castles and houses in the south of England, where she lived, and quite possibly blended several of them together to reach the images in her book.

The Romance of the Forest, published in 1791 and The Mysteries of Udolpho, 1794, established her as a leading writer of her time. As we see in many areas of literature, names and genres can become almost forgotten in future generations, but were the height of popularity at the time and many would have an indirect lasting effect. Ann Radcliffe, although not well-known today, has had a significant impact on writers in different areas that came after her. The Romantic poets, including, Byron drew from her work. In contrast, Jane Austen offers a parody on The Mysteries of Udolpho in Northanger Abbey. The heroine of the story has been reading Ann’s novel when she is invited to Northanger Abbey and builds the picture of a dark and sinister Gothic location. Another famous writer who clearly respected the work of Ann was Sir Walter Scott. It is easier to see how, when standing in the courtyard, with its flagstones, grey walls and turreted towers, it inspired Anne. Especially when this is combined with the view of the house as it emerges from the trees when seen from the hill opposite.

A Local Lass

William Adam goes on to quote ‘the beautiful and touching lines’ from the magazine Bijou in 1828. It should be taken in the context that Haddon Hall was unoccupied for most of the nineteenth century, and it therefore benefited from missing out on the 1820 changes that we have become aware of at many of the country seats on our journey.

Haddon, within thy silent halls,
Deserted courts, and turrets high,
How mournfully on memory falls
Past scenes of antique pageantry.

Haddon Hall – Mary Hudson Balmanno

Mary Hudson was born in Matlock, just down the road from Haddon in 1802. She married a Scottish historian, Robert Balmanno, from Aberdeen and moved to the United States of America where she settled with her family for the rest of her life. The poem, Haddon Hall, appeared in the Bijou Magazine in 1828, under the pseudonym initials HB. Her husband Robert is credited with supplying some of the illustrations for the magazine, which contained contributions from some of the leading writers of the time, such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey. Perhaps as a result of Robert’s involvement it also had many aspects about Scotland. Mary also produced a memoir and selected works of Thomas Moore who lived on The Literary Way at Mayfield.

The Italian Baroness

Catherine Ball Hughes is not normally the type of name we would associate with an Italian baroness. You might well think she married into the title, but no, Catherine did have three husbands, but none of Italian descent. After the death of the last of them she brought a property in Italy and with it a title. After that she was known as Baroness Calabrella. She came from a rich family and was a self styled socialite in the court of the Prince Regent, who then became George VI. She was also an author of many titles, one of which was Haddon Hall. It is an unusual book, in that following the introduction, where a group of people meet at Haddon Hall, each tells a story. The first one sets the tone and its about a knight’s tournament, but but has no direct connection with Haddon. It is similar in style to P G Patmore’s Chatsworth, which we introduced at Matlock Bath. The stimulus for the stories come from a set of drawings and engravings.

A Tourist from Sheffield

Benjamin Fenton was a merchant from Sheffield and his father was a colonel in the local volunteers. Ben wrote only occasional verse and the poems were often published in a local magazine. His sole collection, simply entitled Poems, was published in 1843. He lived in Sheffield and many of the works are the result of his visits to different locations and his observations. In his book there is a poem entitled Haddon Hall. The reason for him writing the verses he gives as a preface to the poem.

The Author of the present lines had gone with some near relatives to visit the scenes of which they are the recordance. He had been so often within the walls, that whilst his party, to whom it was new, explored the interior, he remained to perambulate without; he did so, till, weary of waiting, he bethought himself of scribbling, on the ruins around, a sonnet – usually understood to consist of fourteen lines. How far, what he them commenced, has swelled beyond his original intention, the piece will shew. He offers no excuse; they who were with him, wished him to print the lines, to put them in a more legible form, and he has been obedient to their wish. Those who like the subject, may probably excuse the lines; those who like neither, will of course, in the reading, deem their time misspent.
Haddon Hall
– Benjamin Fenton

Two of our last three contributors have been local people, Benjamin Fenton came from Sheffield, just to the north east of the Peak District, and Mary Balmanno came from Matlock, but moved to the USA, and it’s now time to pick up another thread of our American theme.

The Vassar Girls

Elizabeth Champney graduated from Vassar College in the USA in 1869. The College still exists today and is a top co-educational liberal arts college situated in the Hudson Valley to the north of New York City. It was founded 1861 as a women’s college. Lizzie, as she preferred to be known, toured Europe extensively and wrote ‘travelogue novels’ about the experience of three young American ladies following similar tours. The books cover many parts of Europe and also include South America. She also wrote a number of ‘romance’ books. The touring books were known as the “Three Vassar Girls” novels. In 1884, she wrote A Holiday Excursion of Three College Girls through the Mother Country. In addition to her view of Haddon we shall also let Elizabeth Champney tell you the story of a famous elopement that took place from Haddon Hall.

The King of the Peak, the last of the name of Vernon who owned the castle, had two daughters, Margaret and Dorothy. Margaret was betrothed with her parent’s consent to the son of the Earl of Derby; but Dorothy had formed an attachment, for some reason not approved by her father, for young John Manners, son of the Earl of Rutland. On the very night of the marriage of the elder daughter, John Manners, who had been lurking about the place for some days in the disguise of a forester, caused his horses to be brought to the confines of the park, and just when the merriment in the castle was at its height, when the beacons blazed on the turrets, the tables in the great hall groaned with wassail, and the minstrels were playing their gayest wedding march, Dorothy, stealing out of the banqueting hall, joined her lover at the foot of this terrace.
Holiday Excursion of Three College Girls through the Mother Country
- Elizabeth Champney

This has introduced the famed elopement, which many associate with Haddon Hall. As with many of these old stories the exact facts can often be questioned, but it does add to the Gothic nature of the Hall.

The Love Steps of Dorothy Vernon

Before we continue with our trans-Atlantic theme let us return to our antiquarian writers in this country. We have already said, on The Literary Way that Eliza Meteyard contributed to Llewellyn Jewitt’s first edition of The Reliquary, the antiquarian journal. Her very first article was called The Love Steps of Dorothy Vernon. In modern-day parlance we would call the article a dramatic reconstruction interpreting such facts as are available. However, along with Eliza and Llewellyn, let’s not be too pedantic about the mixture of fact and fiction as it is such a wonderful story that still endures to this day. The opening of Eliza’s contribution sets the tone. It was written in 1860.

Three centuries are nearly past and gone, three hundred gilded summers have waned into russet autumns – and autumns brought their winters rough and cold – and yet no drear oblivion has fallen on a sweet old story; it is as new as though of yesterday, and hallows Haddon Hall.
The Love Steps of Dorothy Vernon – Eliza Meteyard

Two Kings of the Peak?

Eliza was not, however, the first writer to dramatise the elopement of Dorothy Vernon. About 1820 there were two publications, one a journal article and the other a novel in three volumes, and both were called The King of the Peak. Let’s look at the journal article first. It was written by a Scot who had an intriguing life. Allan Cunningham wrote his interpretation of the story of Dorothy in an article called The King of the Peak, which was published in The London Magazine.

Allan was born in a remote part of southern Scotland, and it was under the influence of his father, who had been a neighbour of Robbie Burns, he gained an interest in poetry. At first, he combined writing a few verses with an apprenticeship as a stone-mason. But like many young men, the bright life of London attracted him, and so at the age of twenty-six, he moved to the city, where he was fortunate to change careers, and he became a journalist. This lasted for four years and then he took the role of the clerk of works for the studio of the sculptor Francis Chantry. It was a job he would keep for the next twenty-six years. He also published several novels and non-fiction works such as The Lives of Eminent British Painters, Sculptors, and Architects. Allan’s apprenticeship as a stone mason stood him in good stead and it is beleived that he assisted Francis on some of his works. Francis was a prolific sculptor and there are many key examples of his works in the major cathedrals and squares in this country and abroad.

So how do we get a Scotsman, his employer, a famous sculptor, linked with Haddon. Francis Chantrey was born into a family lacking money in the village of Norton, which at that time was in Derbyshire about four miles outside of Sheffield. It has now been subsumed as part of the City. Although Francis went to London as a young man, he retained a friendship in Sheffield which would have brought him to Haddon. His friend was Ebenezer Rhodes, who was at one time a Master Cutler, and later the editor of the Sheffield Independent, but, above all, he is known for one book called Peak Scenery, which was published in 1819. And as you might well have guessed, the drawings for the book were completed by Francis Chantry and they include a very notable one of Haddon Hall.

Allan’s King of the Peak appeared in the magazine a month after a poem about the the same topic, the elopement of Dorothy Vernon, which was called The Seven Foresters of Chatsworth, again written by Allan. Not much unusual about that you may think, but let’s now look at the Preface of the other King of the Peak, by Lee Gibbons.

In February, 1822, having a mind to fix upon some work of this kind, I visited Haddon and the adjacent country, to lay in a stock of materials, and returned to my cottage with a tolerable budget full of particulars. On entering my study, I found on the table The London Magazine for that month, which, as I then thought, unfortunately, contained an article, a poem, and a very fine one, called “ The Seven Foresters of Chatsworth,” which embraced my very subject. I found, on perusing it, which I did several times over, and every time with renewed pleasure, that the author had forestalled part of my tale, that he had visited and beautifully described my scenery, drawn some of my characters, and altogether had written a much finer ballad than any which had appeared in modern times. In faith, Sir, this discovery staggered me no little, and I began to be somewhat mortified, not only that my subject was pre-ingrossed, but that I had been at the expense and trouble of a journey at that time of the year, which was likely to be of no service.
The King of the Peak – Lee Gibbons

However, the reticence expressed by Lee did not hold him back for long, as his three-volume version was published the following year in 1823. Just to add to the mystery a little more, Lee Gibbons was a pseudonym and while there are a couple of likely names for the real author, it has only recently been clarified. We will return to Lee later on The Literary Way.

When Knighthood was in Flower

Let’s return to our trans-Atlantic theme to meet an American writer, who also used the events of the elopement of Dorothy Vernon in one of his novels. Charles Major was born in Indianapolis in 1856, and to put this date into a historical context, the Crimean War ended in that year, and in the United States, tensions were becoming strained. These would lead to the American Civil War by the time Charles Major was five years old. In adult life, he became a successful lawyer, but his interest was always in literature and so 1898, he published his first novel. It was set in the times of Henry VIII, and was entitled, When Knighthood was in Flower. It would go on to make his name famous throughout the United States. It was a romantic novel and the readers took a liking to it. This made it a good subject for the growing theatrical audiences and it was turned into a play and performed on Broadway. Charles, following his first success, carried on his historical romantic theme, and in 1902, Dorothy Vernon of Haddon Hall, was published. It is a good swashbuckling story with Charles adding extra characters to the main historical participants. He also made some changes to the historical facts, for example, Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots visiting Haddon, which did not take place. In the epilogue to his book he does detail the changes he made to historical events and the extra characters he added.

The book was a success and was again performed on the stage, starring Bertha Galland in the leading role. Further posthumous success would come for the author when the book was made into a film in 1924. The film was entirely made in Hollywood and was directed by Marshall Neilan, who was a top director for many years. It starred the famous Mary Pickford in the leading role.


The source of Dorothy Vernon’s elopement as basis for dramatic productions was not confined to Charles Major and Mary Pickford. In London, in 1892 an Opera opened at the Savoy Theatre, it was called Haddon Hall and loosely followed the story of the elopement, although the writer Sydney Grundy moved the rendition forward by a hundred years to the age of the cavaliers, and made some other changes to the family structure. The music for this light opera was composed by Arthur Sullivan and this was his first work after his collaborations with Gilbert. Grundy would have been a natural choice, after Gilbert and Sullivan separated, as he was already a successful writer of a number of plays. The opera ran for two hundred and eight performances with the soprano, Lucille Hall, playing the role of Dorothy Vernon.

John Manners on John Manners

We have not be any means included all the poems and references to Haddon Hall and the Dorothy Vernon elopement. Both the hall and the fable intermixed with facts have inspired writers across the centuries. Whether Haddon is unique may be doubted, but it is certainly an inspiring Gothic manor, that is so different from many of our country houses. You will remember from the elopement story that it is John Manners, who is courting Dorothy Vernon, so it is very apt to finish with a poem written by John Manners. Unfortunately, it is not the one who stole across the plains of the Wye to secretly meet with Dorothy. It is the John James Manners who, on the death of his elder brother, became seventh Duke of Rutland. He was born in 1818 and, being the younger son, would not expect to inherit the title. After Eton and Cambridge he chose a career in politics being elected to Newark along with William Gladstone. Whilst his political career did not emulate his polls partner, he held a number of offices and was awarded a knighthood for his services, especially as Postmaster-General. He succeeded to the Dukedom 18 years before his death in 1906. He published two books of poems, the latter being English Ballads and Other Poems in 1850, which contains the poem, The Legend of Haddon Hall.

The King of the Peak in his gallery sate,
In his wonted pomp and pride,
And he looked on the terraced gardens below,
And the maid who stood by his side.

But his look it was stern, his brow it was bent,
As he gazed on her pale wan face;
Oh! why on those youthful features fair
Should sorrow have left its trace?
The Legend of Haddon Hall
– John Manners 7thDuke of Rutland

Let’s rest awhile at Haddon’s Stable Block

Haddon Hall is one of the highlights on The Literary Way and is one of the richest spots on our route for literary prowess. Most of the works are based on Dorothy Vernon and John Manners. The extra mystique that is engendered, given the scantiness of true information, has only added to the stories with writers all taking their own perspectives. The supposed elopement is a grand story and as we have seen set near to the time of Mary, Queen of Scots and in the reign of Elizabeth I, both of which add to the grandeur and setting of the story.

Also let us not forget the reflection of individualism at the remote One Ash Grange. John Gratton spoke out against the laws of the lands in adherence to his beliefs and his descendant campaigned for the repeal of laws, which he saw restricting the work class. By the time John Gratton was born our religious divine whose verse adorns the aesthetic memorial sun-dial at Over Haddon had completed his life’s work. Adding to the literary variety we have seen in this chapter, we have also been privileged with a wonderful walk through the national nature reserve of Lathkill Dale.