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January 2, 1965
The Editor Writes
Rural Rides - No.13

DUTTON HALL , many miles from home, has outlived its great family

Completing our Christmas and New Year excursions into the history of the Duttons of Dutton, this Rural Ride will take us again to East Grinstead in Sussex, where (as I explained to the reader in Rural Ride No,11) the family house now stands, having been removed thither from the village of Dutton in Cheshire in 1933.

How this came about I shall relate here; but before we come so far forward into the twentieth century it will be as well to look at Dutton Hall as it was in 1534, when Sir Piers Dutton of Hatton was declared heir to the property and to the Lordship of the Minstrels after a seven years’ lawsuit.

This was the second benefit - the first was a knighthood in 1527 - that King Henry the Eighth was to bestow upon Sir Piers, who was thus able to unite the Dutton and Hatton properties for the first time, the family having had two distinct branches almost since its establishment at the Norman Conquest.

Locked up the Abbot

The bluff King had a regard for the eighteenth Lord of Dutton. Perhaps they were of like character, fond of good wine, good food, and minstrelsy. (Sir Piers, however, was married not mere than twice.) Whatever the cause, they were on good terms, the King and this knight of the northern shire. In 1536 Henry appointed him one of the commissioners for the Abbey of Vale Royal at the dissolution of the monasteries, and about his time also Sir Piers was Sheriff of Cheshire.

It was in this latter capacity that he sat down at Dutton Hall on October 12, 1536, to write to Sir Thomas Audley, the Lord Chancellor, in London. Two of the King’s commissioners (wrote Sir Piers in his careful script), attempting to carry out their instructions at Norton Abbey near Runcorn, had been resisted by the Abbot.

From their refuge in a tower of the Abbey, the commissioners sent secretly to Sir Piers for help, and he, assembling his friends and servants, surprised the Abbot sitting down with his guests for a feast. "I used some policy and came upon them suddenly," wrote the knight. The Abbot and three canons he arrested and committed to Halton Castle to await the King’s pleasure.

To this loyal letter the King himself replied, thanking Sir Piers for his "wisdom, policy, and good endeavours". The Abbot and canons he recommended should be hanged as "most arrant traitors". (the sentence was not, however, carried out.)

This mark of the continuing Royal favour was doubly acceptable to Sir Piers, for he was under suspicion by his grander neighbours of discharging his duties as a commissioner with too much zeal and some dishonesty. So much so that a power of the Cheshire gentlemen, Sir John Done, Thomas Aston, and Sir William Brereton among them, had lodged a petition against him and he was "outlawed" for a time. But nothing venal in his conduct was ever proved.

Double Wedding in the Family

At the time Sir Piers was living in the original Hall of the Duttons, and it must then have been both vast and ruinous. One of the last festal occasions to be celebrated with minstrelsy in this ancient house was a double wedding in 1539. The bridegrooms were two gentlemen of Chester, Matthew Ellis of Overleigh and Thomas Browne of Netherleigh, the brides two daughters of Sir Piers Dutton, and the date, approximately, June 24, Midsummer Day and the Feast of St.John the Baptist, the day on which traditionally the Duttons held their annual court for the licensing of the Cheshire minstrels.

Accordingly, after the nuptial feast at Dutton Hall, the gay company returned to the city and (according to a contemporary account) were met at Flookersbrook bridge "by the steward of Dutton, attended by the pursuivant and standard-bearer of that family, preceded by all the licensed musicians with white scarves across their shoulders, ranked in pairs, and playing on their several instruments. This procession marched before the gentlemen and their guests quite through the city to their respective mansions, where plentiful entertainment was provided."

Sir Piers Dutton, as I have said, was twice married, and another of his daughters, Elizabeth, married into the Grosvenor family of Eaton. His second wife, Dame Julian, helped him to rebuild Dutton Hall and they began the work after the double wedding in 1539, recorded above, and completed it in some three years or so, as the black letter inscription over the outer door of the porch records. (the inscription is still there and was reproduced in my Rural Ride No.11.)

The Dancing School

To this elegantly reconstructed Dutton Hall Sir Piers’s grandson, John Dutton, eventually succeeded, and here we have, unexpectedly, a perfect little picture from the past. John Bruen, the Puritan country squire of Stapleford Hall (whose story I have told in Rural Ride No.7, published August 22, 1964), was (as his biographer says) "allied to many of the most ancient and worshipful houses and families" of Cheshire, including the Duttons. Thus it came about that young Bruen, before he went to Oxford, found himself from 1571 to 1574 in the care of John Dutton at Dutton Hall, and Bruen’s biographer, the one-time Bunbury preacher William Hinde, has left us this scene of life at Minstrels’ Hall in the sixteenth century:

"John Bruen, in his tender years, for want of a schoolmaster at home, was sent by his parents to his uncle Dutton of Dutton, there to be taught and trained up under one John Roe, where he continued a scholar and tabler for the space of three years: a great family and of great liberty: something he got for grammar learning, a little it may be for civil education, but nothing at all for nurture and information in true religion.

"There and then, by occasion of musicians and a chest of viols kept in the house, he was drawn by desire and delight into the dancing school, where he profited so well in that kind of youthful activity that he did not only please himself too much but his parents also much more than was meet, with those tricks of vanity..."

When in due time John Bruen came into his estate and Thomas Dutton succeeded his father John Dutton as master of Dutton Hall, the cousins and their families exchanged frequent visits, and it was the custom of the Duttons to pass Sunday forenoon and afternoon at Stapleford Hall.

By this time Bruen was famous through all the countryside for his good works and Puritan principles and, remembering his early school days, he could not forbear to influence his "cousin Dutton", who was, of course, master of the Cheshire minstrels, like all his ancestors. The pious zealot succeeded in getting a dispensation for the Sabbath Day at least:

"My cousin Dutton being pressed and charged by some of great place to maintain his royalty of minstrelsy for piping and dancing on the Sabbath Day, my minister, myself, and my family were earnest against it, and prevailed so far with my cousin Dutton that he promised that all piping and dancing should cease on the Sabbath Day..."

Rapier and Dagger

This "cousin Dutton" had a son John who, at the age of 14, was killed on his wedding day, being thrown from his horse on the return from the ceremony. When therefore Thomas Dutton died in 1614 there ended, for the second and last time, the direct male line of this great family, which survives today through the female line in the Dukedom of Hamilton and, through a collateral line, in the Barony of Sherborne. Presumably also all the numerous Cheshire Duttons, of whatsoever degree, may claim some form of kinship.

The Duttons of Chester have contributed much to the city’s history as Mayors, council men, and merchants. One of their sons, Thomas Dutton, knighted upon the accession of James the First in 1603, had friends at Court through his relationship with the Egertons and Lord Chancellor Ellesmere, and was given a captaincy in the Low Countries.

In June, 1610, he was at the siege of Juliers and in the heat of the action exchanged some wounding words with his superior officer, Sir Hatton Cheke. The two had long been at enmity. After the fashion of those times - and of these - the quarrel could be settled only in blood, Five months later they settled it, each armed with dagger and rapier, on a wintry morning on Calais Sands. The bizarre scene is preserved for us by Thomas Carlyle, writing nearly a century later in his Miscellanies:

"After some brief flourishing and flashing, the gleam of the swift clear steel playing madly in one’s eyes, they, at the first pass, plunge home on one another: home with beak and claws: home to the very heart. Cheke’s rapier is through Dutton’s throat from before and his dagger is through it from behind: the windpipe miraculously missed; and in the same instant Dutton’s rapier is through Cheke’s body from before, his dagger through his back from behind: lungs and life not missed; and the seconds have to advance, pull out the four bloody weapons, disengaging that hell - embrace of theirs... Cheke reels down dead in his rage and had a bloody burial there that morning."

Sir Thomas survived both the duel and the discredit that followed it and lived to tell the tale to his relatives at Dutton Hall.

A Duel in Hyde Park

A few graphic, conversational phrases by an even greater write, Jonathan Swift himself, record for ever another stricken field of honour in the history of the Duttons. James Douglas, fourth Duke of Hamilton and first Baron of Dutton, and Lord Mohun killed each other in a duel in Hyde Park arising from some high words over a lawsuit.

Swift, in his Journal to Stella, under date November 15, 1712, wrote: "This morning at eight my man brought me word that Duke Hamilton had fought with Lord Mohun and killed him... I immediately sent him to the Duke’s house in St.James’s Square; but the porter could hardly answer for tears, and a great rabble was about the house. In short, they fought at seven this morning. The dog Mohun was killed on the spot but, while the Duke was over him, Mohun shortened his sword, stabbed in at the shoulder to the heart. The Duke was helped towards the cake-house by the Ring in Hyde Park and died in the grass before he could reach the house; and was brought in his coach by eight, while the poor Duchess was asleep..."

The "poor Duchess" was the daughter of Lord Gerrard. who in turn was the great-grandson of Eleanor Dutton, the Dutton heiress way back upon the death of her father Thomas Dutton at Dutton Hall in 1614.

Close of a Long Story

And now, at the close of the long story, to Dutton Hall itself, in its Sussex valley. How does it come to be thus transplanted? Out of two very old cottages which he found there when he bought the site, near East Grinstead, Lord Dewar made one house which he called the Homestall.

Lord Dewar died in 1930 and his nephew, Mr. John A. Dewar, succeeded to the Homestall. One day some two years later Mrs. Dewar was in a London bookshop when she came across The Duttons of Dutton, an anonymously written account of the Cheshire family, published in 1901. So fascinated was she by the photographs of Dutton Hall which the book contained that the idea of buying the property and building it on to The Homestall came into her mind.

At this time Dutton Hall had been for many years a farmhouse and only the east side of the original quadrangle and the great hall remained of Sir Piers and Dame Julian’s house. The Dewars visited Cheshire and found that they could buy the Hall and take it away, provided that a new farmhouse was put up in its place.

So it was agreed. Under the supervision of Mr. Wood, an expert from Bath, Dutton Hall was carefully taken to pieces, all the stones and beams were marked and numbered and moved to Sussex, and there re-erected. By 1933 Dutton Homestall was in being.

The removal and reconstruction enabled the openwork roof of the great hall to be stripped of its plaster ceiling, thus revealing the fine single span of oak coved and ribbed, supported by three cathedral-like arches and moulded shafts. At the end is the minstrels’ gallery. The porch and the massive inner door with its moulded mullions, iron studs, and the six shields bearing the arms of the Dutton and Hatton families, stand exactly as they did in Cheshire. Likewise, the solar, leading directly from the great hall.

Some alterations were, however, made to the front of the house, which, as depicted in a photograph before its removal from Cheshire, had three large irregular gables in addition to the porch. For the rest, it was not possible to preserve the old fireplaces and only one of the great oak beams had to be replaced - by a ship’s beam from the old wooden battleship Arethusa, launched 1849 and the last of the Royal Navy’s men-of-war to sail into action.

Today the old house has reached another stage in its seemingly indestructible life. It is, as I have said in a former article, a boys school, the address of which is Brunswick Private School, Dutton Homestall, Ashurst Wood, near East Grinstead. The headmaster and matron, Mr. and Mrs. Shelford, welcomed my colleague Kenneth Evans, who took these photographs (and many more for which I have not room) a few months ago. The boys of Brunswick School have history all around them, very fitting in an establishment which, long before its removal to Dutton Homestall, had one Winston Churchill among its pupils.

This then, is the story of the Duttons of Dutton in Cheshire.

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