Oakwell Hall: Wikis

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Oakwell Hall
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Oakwell Hall
Type Elizabethan Manor House
Proprietor Kirklees Council
Size 44.5 ha
Main feature Grade I listed house
Other features Period gardens
Public access Yes
Exhibition Yes
Country England
Region Yorkshire and the Humber
UK Grid square SE2127
Address Nutter Lane, Birstall, Batley
Postcode WF17 9LG
Refreshments Yes
Parking Yes
Shop Yes
Website Website
53°44′22″N 1°40′15″W / 53.73944°N 1.67083°W / 53.73944; -1.67083Coordinates: 53°44′22″N 1°40′15″W / 53.73944°N 1.67083°W / 53.73944; -1.67083

Oakwell Hall is an Elizabethan Manor House located in the village of Birstall, West Yorkshire, England and set in period gardens surrounded by 110 acres (0.45 km2) of country park.

The builder of the house was John Batt, a recarved stone with the date 1583 probably indicates the date of construction. The estate had been purchased by his Halifax-born father, a receiver of rents to the important Savile family, who resided at Howley Hall, in the nearby town of Batley.

Oakwell Hall was immortalised in literature by Charlotte Brontë in her novel Shirley.

Contents

Friends of Oakwell Hall

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Founded in 1988, the Friends of Oakwell Hall and Country Park ([1]) are a voluntary support group for the Manor House and its surrounding 110 acres (0.45 km2) of country park. Whilst many join simply because they appreciate the beauty and tranquillity of the Hall and park, others join because of the 'hands on' opportunities available on site. Friends work closely with the Head Ranger and staff at Oakwell and provide assistance both inside and outside the Hall.

The House

The blackened Gritstone building was built to the usual post-medieval plan of a central hall block flanked by crosswings. The entrance to the building is still through a porch and screens passage at the 'lower' end of the house. Oakwell Hall passed into municipal hands in 1928 and today it is owned by Kirklees Cultural Services, and managed by the volunteer group 'Friends of Oakwell Hall' (see section above). The interiors were restored to their early-17th century condition during the time the Batt Family inhabited the Hall. This was done with the aid of an inventory of 1611. During the restoration the original painted panelling of the Great Parlour and the Painted Chamber was revealed from under many layers of varnish and paint.

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Great Hall

The imposing Main Hall was originally two-storeyed but in the mid-17th century John Batt's grandson removed the ceiling and inserted a gallery and a large mullioned and transomed window.

The Hall was a main thoroughfare for the house linking the two wings and would have been the hub of domestic life. It was also intended as a reception room for visitors, tenants and businessmen and was ideal for large gatherings.

It is sparsely furnished and uncluttered to create a large open space, practical to use and impressive to visitors. The table is placed at one end of the room as it would probably have been towards the end of the seventeenth century, rather than in its earlier position of importance in the centre of the room. The size of the room is intended to impress visitors entering the house.

Great Parlour

This was the most important room in the house in the early seventeenth century. According to the inventory of 1611 it had some of the best furniture, and contained the Batts' collection of maps. In the 1630s the Batts added a magnificent plaster ceiling, and they later had painted the oak panelling including a landscape scene above the fireplace. Most of the original panels have survived though several are recent reproductions replacing those lost and decayed. The painting technique known as scumbling was a popular way of decorating rooms to create an air of warmth and grandeur. Few examples of this decorative work survive today.

In the late seventeenth century dining rooms and parlours were the preferred rooms for eating and entertaining guests in private. The great parlour is furnished today with pieces intended to show it as a fashionable and comfortable room of the 1690s.

Great Parlour Chamber

In 1690 this room was probably occupied by John Batt, master of the household. A clue to this is the garderobe or toilet in the outer wall, a "luxury" for the few. The modern rushmatting in this and other family rooms in the house was also a feature of many wealthy households, and was warmer and more comfortable than bare floorboards or stone floors. The fireplace, as with most others in the house, is a nineteenth century addition, though it is one of few interior structural changes made in the house since the seventeenth century. The inclusion of a table and chairs in a bed chamber in the seventeenth century was not unusual. Bed chambers often had a dual purpose and their occupiers thought nothing of entertaining guests in them with wine or cards.

Kitchen

The kitchen was one of the busiest rooms in the seventeenth century home. The mistress would supervise her female servants to prepare food, medicines and sweet-smelling pot-pourris, and there would be a constant stream of visiting tradesmen, estate workers, errand boys and servants of visiting gentry. At mealtimes all the servants would gather there to eat off wooden platters.

When the hall was originally built, food may have been cooked over a large fire at one end of the Great Hall. By the time the Inventory of 1611 was drawn up, the kitchen had already become a separate room, probably sited in the east wing of the house where it is today. The kitchen is divided from the main living quarters of the house by the screens passage so that smells and noise would not so easily penetrate the family rooms.

The original seventeenth century fireplace was replaced by the present one in the nineteenth century, but it would undoubtedly have been much wider and larger. Evidence of previous occupants of the Hall can still be seen by the candle burns on the timbers on the wall opposite the window.

The Kitchen Chamber

In contrast with the warmth and luxury of the New Parlour Chamber across the landing, this room, where the servants would probably have slept and food was stored, is unpanelled and has no ceiling. Its position next to the back stairs and immediately above the kitchen, made it easily accessible for the servants in this wing of the house. Many local houses used their kitchen chambers for storage and household junk.

In 1611 this room had five arks for storing meal and grain. Today it has one great ark and a collection of food chests for storage. Lack of a fireplace and unpanelled walls would have made this room a cold place in winter though the warmth rising from the kitchen below would take off the chill and keep the stored food dry.

Little Parlour Chamber

The inventory of 1611 for Oakwell Hall records seventeen beds of different types within the household. Some of these were truckle beds for the servants; others were grand tester beds used by members of the family. Sometimes older beds were relegated to less important rooms in the house to make room for newer and grander pieces. This chamber is furnished with older furniture and would probably have been used as a second best bedchamber. Reproduction tapestries are hung from the walls.

In the nineteenth century this room was transformed with the addition of the stairs and passage through which you have just come. The wall to your right is an addition, and the room would have been larger. The original timber studding can clearly be seen on two walls, showing the lath and plaster structure.

The New Parlour

The layout of this room shows typical features of a modest seventeenth century dining room. Servants would place food on the side table, and serve it to the family. The food did not have far to travel from the kitchen, so there was no risk of it being spoilt and going cold. The fine court cupboard, a feature of many homes in the seventeenth century, was used to house the family pewter and plate which could be kept under lock and key, while the same principle lay behind the small food or spice cupboard in the corner, the key to which was kept by the mistress, as spices were valuable commodities. The family would eat in here in private or with one or two guests.

New Parlour Chamber

A gentry household in the seventeenth century had to be able to accommodate visitors. This room, displayed as a second best bed chamber, may have been occupied by the nursemaid and her charges, or other members of the household.

The screen at right angles to the doorway was intended to prevent draughts wafting through the bed curtains. There is also an adjoining dressing room or closet, this is now used to display reproduction costumes.

The warm colours of the panelling and bed curtains are echoed in the carpet on the table, a usual feature of wealthier seventeenth century houses. Tables or beds were ideal places to display a fine carpet which was too valuable to walk upon.

Painted Chamber

This room is furnished with reproduction furniture to show what oak furniture looked like when new (i.e. not dark with age and polish). The painted panelling in this room has a larger design than that the Great Parlour, and is slightly less decorative. It was discovered under several layers of emulsion paint and is thought to date, like that downstairs from the seventeenth century. The room is displayed as the mistress's, chamber; the small table is drawn up to the window to obtain the maximum light for sewing, which would fill a large part of the mistress’s day. The furniture is entirely reproduction. It may at first look too "modern", new oak furniture looks very pale and lacks the discolouration of three centuries of use.

The floorboards have been re-laid in a seventeenth century manner. In 1609 a floor was laid at a cost of five shillings and tenpence for seven days' work, as recorded in the Account Book.

The painted panelling creates a three dimensional effect on entering the room. A closer look reveals that it was painted to imitate the grainy effect of wood. The wild ‘squiggles’ all over it were intended to imitate walnut, a wood which was becoming more fashionable than oak in the later seventeenth century. It was expensive, but this did not stop fashion conscious people from painting walls and furniture to imitate it. The paint had a linseed oil base, and tools such as feathers and combs were dragged over it to create the grained effect.

The Study

A very small room located off the gallery above the Main Hall. The 1611 inventory of Robert Batt of Oakwell Hall shows him to have over 60 books at a time when books were very expensive and few people could read. Robert studied at Oxford University and eventually became rector at Newton Tony in Wiltshire.

The Grounds

Formal Gardens

The exterior of the hall

On leaving the Hall you arrive in the gardens to the rear. Surrounding the Hall are the formal gardens including a herb garden at the side of the Hall. Herbs and flowers were essential ingredients for the housewife and cook. Not only were they both distilled to produce scented oils and form the basis of herbal remedies but they also had an important culinary role. Although Oakwell's herb garden is small in comparison to seventeenth century originals it gives an impression of the range of herbal plants available. Over 80 different varieties of herbs are to be found in this garden with many more to be found planted amongst the flowers in the formal gardens behind the hall.

Recent restoration work has been carried out to bring the formal gardens back to how they would have been in the 1690s. This includes using plants popular at the time. The garden contains a parterre of compartments, with topiary specimens and clipped box hedging. The patterns of the box were taken from furniture and plaster work in the Hall and features the lozenge design local to the area. The trellis used has been made using locally sourced original materials and 17th century carpentry skills. Even the shade of green used to colour the woodwork is typical of the period.

Park Land

With 110 acres (0.45 km2) there are many diverse environs that make up the Country Park. Woodland, streams, pasture land, ponds and bridleways. It is a major attraction for nature lovers to visit the Park all year round to see the changes in seasons. There are several walks around the Park with clearly visible nature trail markers. Along the walks you can find many information points giving details of the flora and fauna. One walk out of the park leads to the site of the Civil War Battle of Adwalton Moor, another to Red House Museum.

Adventure Playground

The Park also features a state of the art play area, designed so that disabled children can play alongside their able bodied friends and family

Colliery Field

The pasture land in the middle of the park is of very great size and was the former site of the spoil heaps of Gomersal Colliery, which closed in the 1970s. The nutrient poor soil has been ideal for re-seeding with meadow plants such as Red Clover, Ox-eye Daisy, Self Heal and Yellow Rattle. These nectar rich flowers attract great numbers of insects, particularly bumblebees. On a day to day basis it is used as a dog exercise area (extremely popular with the locals). It does however also get used for historical English Civil War - battle re-enactments, horse shows and country fairs.

Colliery Pond

Colliery pond was created when the Coal Board constructed a concrete road to help with tipping. The road is still there concealed beneath the grass and acts as a dam. Water plants living there include Water Forget-me-not, Bogbean and Purple Loosestrife. Large numbers of creatures are attracted by the pond, such as; toads, Moorhens, Smooth Newts, Swan Mussels plus varieties of damselfly and dragonfly.

Nova Meadow

A damp area containing moisture loving plants including Lady's Smock, Common Tussock Grass, Meadowsweet, Ragged Robin and Yellow Flag Iris. A pond was created in 2003 to attract wildlife and the southern part of the meadow has been allowed to revert back to scrubland to create a habitat for birds such as the Yellowhammer and Linnet. In autumn the scrubland attracts Thrushes, Fieldfares and Redwings which feed on the Hawthorn berries.

Nova Wood

Much of Nova Wood was felled for pit props to service the local Gomersal Colliery but the trees have been regrown using coppicing techniques to produce multistemmed Sessile Oaks and Birch. Nova Wood is carpeted by Bluebells during spring and is a habitat for summer migrant birds such as Chiffchaff and Blackcap.

Nova Beck

Nova Beck is one of two streams that run through Oakwell, both running north to south. Nova Beck forms the western boundary of Nova Wood and flows through areas of dense wildflowers. Many of the species present such as Yellow Archangel, Wood Anemone and Wild Garlic are good indicators of ancient woodland. Hard Shield Fern, Red Campion and Herb Bennet are also in abundance.

Oakwell Beck

Oakwell Beck winds its course along the southern boundary of Colliery Field. Along its length can be found exposed coal seams and fossilized 'ripples' from ancient seas. Oakwell Beck does not support the same diversity of plants as Nova Beck, though in spring and early summer the wooded areas are thick with Wild Garlic, Lesser Celandine and Bistort. Occasional patches of Lords and Ladies survives in shadier parts. Ash, Alder and Willow make up the majority of the tree cover and provide habitat for Tawny Owls.

Stone Ram

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This Stone Ram statue stands proudly on the lawn in front of the Hall. Its origins are unknown, there is rumour that it once stood above the gates to Dewsbury Brewery, this has unfortunately not been confirmed as yet and the search into its background goes on.

The Ghost of Oakwell Hall

Oakwell’s most famous legend concerns the ghost of William Batt, owner of the house in 1684. He was a young man of 25, a bachelor whose widowed mother, Elizabeth, lived at Oakwell. The best account of the ghost story comes from the Victorian writer Mrs Gaskell in her "Life of Charlotte Brontë"(1857). Her account is as follows:

"Captain Batt was believed to be far away; his family was at Oakwell; when in the dusk on winter evening, he came stalking along the lane, through the hall and up the stairs, into his own room, where he vanished. He has been killed in duel in London that very same afternoon of December 9th 1684."

The legend also states that he left a bloody footprint behind in a bedroom.

The historical facts behind the story are as follows:

  • A bond surviving in the archives shows that William was at the Black Swan, Holborn in London on December 9th, where he borrowed money.
  • Local diarist Oliver Heywood has two entries recording the death of William; one that he died ‘in sport’; the other that he was ‘slain by Mr Gream at Barne near London’.
  • William was buried in Birstall on December 30th 1684

Oakwell Hall and The Brontë Sisters

For a time during the 19th century the Hall was used as a girls school, Charlotte's closest friend Ellen Nussey attended the school. Charlotte Brontë visited the Hall and was inspired to use Oakwell Hall as the setting for the Manor House - Fieldhead, in her novel Shirley.

This excerpt from chapter 11 of Shirley is her description of Oakwell Hall.

" If Fieldhead had few other merits as a building, it might at least be termed picturesque: its irregular architecture, and the grey and mossy colouring communicated by time, gave it a just claim to this epithet. The old latticed windows, the stone porch, the walls, the roof, the chimney-stacks, were rich in crayon touches and sepia lights and shades. The trees behind were fine, bold, and spreading; the cedar on the lawn in front was grand, and the granite urns on the garden wall, the fretted arch of the gateway, were, for an artist, as the very desire of the eye." Charlotte Brontë; Shirley (1849)

Archaeological Work

View Images Archaeological excavations have been carried out over a few years by WYAS with help from 'South Leeds Archaeology', a community group based in Rothwell. May 2008 say the lawn immediately in front of the hall excavated to reveal post holes probably left from a farm which resided at the site and disappeared from maps between 1834 and 1844.

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