What’s in a name? The BARTEN family of Norton Lees, 1589-1668
Bishops’ House, as it is known today, has been variously described as an ‘old Mansion near Norton Lees’  and ‘Old Hall at Norton Lees  in published engravings after a sketch by Edward Blore. By 1862 it had become celebrated locally as ‘an admired specimen of a timbered house’1 H. Armitage, Chantrey Land, (Sheffield, 1910), 78. – without being given a name. However, by 1865 it was called ‘Old House, Norton Lees’, to accompany a carefully posed photograph taken by Theophilus Smith,2
T. Smith (illustrator), Sheffield and its Neighbourhood Photographically Illustrated, (London, 1865). and in 1885 a sketch of the house by R R Pickford was entitled ‘Old Hall, Norton Lees’.3Sheffield Independent, 11 July 1885.
On 29 June 1886 a drawing of the house, which appeared in the Sheffield & Rotherham Independent, was captioned ‘Norton Lees Hall’. This was a little confusing, as the stone-built house known as Lees Hall, at Norton Lees – home to the Parker family for generations – was sited further to the east along Kidnapper Lane. Fortunately, these problems of identification were finally resolved when on 25 October 1886, the half-timbered house at Norton Lees became officially recognised as Bishops’ House.4Sheffield Archives, Younge Wilson Deeds 1117, Conveyance to Sheffield Corporation, 25 October 1886, in
which the plan refers to ‘Bishop’s House’.
Correspondence in the Sheffield Independent in 1881 questioned who had built it, with three local families – the Blythes, Parkers and Bartens – being suggested. One letter writer to the Sheffield Independent for 28 April 1881, who signed himself C.J., talked about Norton Lees Old Hall’, by which he meant the building now known as Bishops’ House. He mentioned that an engraving after a drawing by Edward Blore had appeared in The Northern Star [No.9, February, p.93] 1818, of this ‘old mansion at Norton Lees’. He added that the text accompanying the engraving surmised that the builder of the house had been ‘“perhaps” William Blythe of Norton Lees, yeoman, father of William Blythe a commander in the Parliament army who died early in 1666’. In all of this he was quite correct. The Blythe family did, indeed, live in the ‘old mansion at Norton Lees’ of the 1818 engraving, and their residency there until 1753 is confirmed by carved inscriptions of 1627 and 1655, and well attested in documentary sources. But, throughout this period, the house in which they lived is never given a name: the Blythes are always described as of ‘Norton Lees’ or simply ‘the Lees’.
C.J. then went on to say how this Blythe family association with Bishops’ House had been thrown into doubt by an earlier correspondent to The Northern Star [1818, p.347] who signed herself M.M.M. [identified as Mrs Sterndale]. She expressed an opinion that the building had been built by a family named Parker, citing that the Parkers were ‘continually described as of Norton Lees until about 1630, when the last male possessor died’. This mis-attribution of Bishops’ House to the Parker family arose because M.M.M. had failed to take account of Lees Hall [demolished 1958] at Norton Lees, where the Parker family had actually lived.
Lees Hall was a typical tall and compact house of the late 16th century, and shared certain features with others in North-East Derbyshire, such as Park Hall at Spinkhill. The architectural style of the stone-built 3-gabled Lees Hall, and internal details such as carved staircase pendants, would support the view that it was built in the late 16th – early 17th century. It probably replaced an earlier house on the site. The Parkers were an important local family of considerable status: when John Parker of Lees Hall’s son and heir, John, was baptized on 20 July 1609, the godparents were John, Lord Darcy of Aston; Gilbert, 7th Earl of Shrewsbury; and Lady Cavendish [Catherine Ogle] wife of Sir William Cavendish. The newly-built Lees Hall would have provided an up-to-date venue for the christening party.
However, another yeoman family of significance – the Bartens – also lived at Norton Lees. When the inventory accompanying the will of John Parker of Lees Hall was drawn up on 4 January 1615/16, two of the four appraisers were ‘Willm Blyth thelder [&] Thomas Barten yomen’. The house in which the Bartens lived has disappeared without trace. However, because of the confusion over the naming of Bishops’ House, a correspondent to the Sheffield Independent on 26 May 1881 quite reasonably assumed Bishops’ House to have been the home of the Bartens. He mis-identified the ‘Old Hall at Norton Lees’ of the 1823 engraving with ‘a messuage called Old Lees Hall in Norton’, which was the subject of a lease in 1655 by Thomas Barten – a reference which had been cited by C.J. in his letter to the Sheffield Independent on 28 April 1881. He writes: ‘This [Bishops’ House] doubtless is the house leased by Thomas Barton in 1655, and called Old Lees Hall’. However, he was quite wrong: ‘Old Lees Hall’ was not the same building as Bishops’ House. Old Lees Hall was sited along Kidnapper Lane near to the new Lees Hall built by the Parker family as noted above.
The Barten family had long lived in Woodseats, as yeoman farmers, carpenters, nail manufacturers and tanners. Thomas Barten, who married Gertrude Wigfall at Eckington church on 18 October 1579, was a tanner at Woodseats. Norton parish register entries record that they lived at Woodseats from 1581-1587, but the entry for the burial of their son Francis on 20 July 1589 gives their place of residence as Lees. When Gertrude Barten died six months later, her burial entry on 17 January 1589/90 calls her the wife of Thomas Barten of Lees, tanner.
So, from at least 1589, Thomas Barten lived at Norton Lees where he carried on the trade of tanner and where he farmed his lands. One of his holdings there consisted of a cottage and lands known as Foxcroft which he had purchased from John Parker of Lees Hall.5
National Archives, C2/Jas I/B41/22, Blythe v Bartin, 1603-25 Other lands there were held on lease from the Bullock family of Greenhill: John Bullock’s Inquisition post mortem, held on 18 June 1609, recited that he owned “1 messuage, 1 oxgang in Lee Lees [sic] in the parish of Norton then in the tenure of Thomas Bartyn”6Sheffield Archives, Jackson Collection, 804, Inquisition post mortem of John Bullocke esquire [28 June 1609].. Several other documents make reference to Thomas Barten, evidently living at Norton Lees. For instance, by his will dated 4 November 1609, George Brown of Norton Lees bequeathed a sum of money to the poor people of Norton ‘to be disposed at the discrecon of William Blythe [&] Thomas Barten’ – men who lived locally. A few years later, on 4 January 1615/16, William Blythe and Thomas Barten worked together again in drawing up the inventory of John Parker the elder of Lees Hall. In 1621 Thomas Barten died: his burial entry on 20 September 1621, describes him as ‘Thomas Bartin de Lees, yeoman’7The description ‘yeoman’ applied only to those who owned most of the land which they farmed, as distinct from ‘husbandman’, the term for those who merely rented theirs.
Thomas Barten’s son, Godfrey Barten [bap. 13 May 1585], succeeded his father at Norton Lees in 1621. He had married Mary Hall at Dronfield church on 25 November 1607, and brought her to live at Norton Lees. Like his father, Godfrey was noted as a tanner in the entry for the baptism of his daughter, Gertrude, on 4 April 1610. But when his son, Thomas Barten, “filius & apparens heres Godfridi Barten” [son & heir apparent of Godfrey Barten] was baptized on 23 June 1611, Godfrey was described as a yeoman, living at Lees.
The parish register notes that the godparents at this baptism were Agnes Edmundson, a widow; Thomas Barten of Lees, yeoman – the child’s grandfather; and their near-neighbour, William Blythe of Lees, yeoman. At the baptisms of all Godfrey Barten’s subsequent children, from 1614 to 1623, he is always referred to as living at Lees. Mary Barten [nee Hall] was buried on 7 July 1624, but Godfrey survived her for nearly 30 years. His burial is recorded on 27 January 1652/53.
Godfrey’s son, Thomas Barten [bap. 23 June 1611], was already living at Norton Lees when his father died in 1653. Thomas Barten had married Mary Buckston on 11 November 1635 at Mayfield, near Ashbourne, and by 8 January 1636/37 their only son, Godfrey Barten, was baptized at Norton church. That same year, on 28 November 1637, properties in Norton & Norton Lees which Thomas Barten held on lease from John Bullock & Thomas Bocking were ‘recovered’,8 University of Manchester Library BAG/13/3/439 Exemplification of a plea of recovery by John Bullock, esq., & Thomas Bocking, gent, against Thomas Barten, respecting messuages and land in Norton & Norton Lees, 28
November 1637 a legal process by which the terms of a lease were altered, so that the lands could be re-assigned or purchased by the lease-holder. However, as no further documents pertaining to this transaction appear to have survived, the terms are not known. Nor is it known if Thomas Barten continued in the family business of tanning at Norton Lees, although on 14 January 1639/40 he was a witness to a bond by a fellow tanner, James Atkin of Sickhouse, to George Gill of Lightwood for £400. Many years later in 1658, he was party to a marriage settlement by James Atkin, tanner, on behalf of his son, Samuel Atkin, suggesting a close relationship built up over the years.
Surviving documents seem to indicate that by the late 1640s Thomas Barten was in need of money. On 7 April 1647 he borrowed £124 on bond from Richard Wood9Derbyshire Record Office, D133/T/21, Bond of Thomas Barton of Lees, yeoman, to Richard Wood of Chesterfield, apothecary in £124, 7 April 1647., an apothecary from Chesterfield, and a further £280 from him a day later10Derbyshire Record Office, D133/T/22, Bond of Thomas Barton of Lees, yeoman, to Richard Wood of Chesterfield, apothecary in £280, 8 April 1647. Although his father left no surviving will when he died in 1653, Thomas would have inherited property at Norton Lees and, no doubt, a sum of money. Sufficient funds were available to send his only son, Godfrey Barten [bap. 8 January 1636/37] to university a year later. Godfrey Barten had attended school in Sheffield before, at the age of 17, being admitted to St John’s College, Cambridge – the college favoured by Nonconformists – on 2 May 1654: entry records state that he was the son of Thomas Barten, gentleman, of Norton Lees near Sheffield. He died before completing his degree and was buried at Norton church on 16 April 1655, where a memorial inscription in Latin survives.
With no heir to succeed him, it may be that 1655 was the year in which Thomas Barten began to think about giving up the tanning business. On 11 December 1658 he was seemingly in need of money again, and borrowed £210 from John Bayes, a cutler from Sheffield.11 Derbyshire Record Office, D133/T/23 Bond of Thomas Barton of Lees, yeoman, to John Bayes of Sheffield, cutler in £210, 11 December 1658. By 22 February 1665/6 he acted as one of the appraisers of the inventory of William Blythe of Bishops’ House, where his signature on that document suggests that he was still living at Norton Lees, but within a couple of years he had decided to sell his property there. The purchaser was the son of ‘my good friend Robert Sorsbie’ called Malin Sorsby. Robert Sorsby of Sheffield had been Master Cutler in 1624 & 1628. Malin Sorsby was baptized in Sheffield on 26 May 1607, and married Elizabeth Rawson there on 14 October 1635. Like his father before him, he was a wealthy cutlery trader: indeed, he was Master Cutler in 1647 and 1657. However, he obviously had close links with Norton since the register records that his son, Joshua, was baptized there on 19 September 1649 and his daughter Ann on 25 June 1652: “Ann the daughter of Malin Sorbee of Sheffeld was baptized”. Just as Thomas Barten’s son, Godfrey, had gone to St John’s, Cambridge in 1654 so Malin Sorsby’s son went to St John’s in 1655 – suggesting an attachment to Nonconformity was shared by the two fathers.
The document concerning the sale of the property at Norton Lees to Malin Sorsby survives, and although formulaic in its language, gives a general description. It consisted of “4 messuages, 2 cottages, 4 gardens, 40 acres of land, 40 acres of meadow, 40 acres of pasture, 20 acres of woods and common of pasture with appurtenances in Norton [parish]”, and was sold for £160 on 10 June 1668.12University of Manchester, John Rylands Library, BAG/13/3/440, Exemplification of a final concord between Malin Sorsby, gent., plaintiff and Thomas Barton, gent., and Mary his wife, deforciants, respecting messuages etc., in Norton, 10 June 1668. Just over a month later, on 28 July 1668, an Indenture [which has not been traced] was drawn up whereby a sum of £700 was entrusted to ‘my four trusty friends’ – one of whom was John Froggatt and another Malin Sorsby – to invest, in order to provide an income for Thomas Barten and his wife, Mary, ‘during our joint lives’. This Indenture is carefully and prominently mentioned in the will of Thomas Barten, dated 21 May 1678. He and his wife Mary may have continued to live at Norton Lees by agreement after the 1668 sale but, before making his will in 1678, Thomas and his wife had moved to Greenhill: in his will he is described as ‘of Greenhill, yeoman’. On 5 September 1678, as ‘Mr Thomas Barten’, he was one of the appraisers of the inventory of John Parker of Little Norton, but a few months later he died and the parish register entry for his burial on 20 December 1678 describes him as ‘generosus de Greenhill’. The parish register entry for the burial of his widow, Mary Barten [nee Buckston] on 20 April 1685 nonetheless recalls their long association with Norton Lees: “Maria Barton vidua Thomae Barton nuper de Lees [lately of Lees]”.
The property in which they lived at Greenhill after the move from Norton Lees is not named in Thomas Barten’s probate documents. However, an inventory drawn up on 8 January 1678 describes a sizeable house consisting of Hall, Little Parlour, Great Parlour, Great Chamber, Buttery Chamber, Little Chamber, Garrett, Buttery, Dairy, Kitchen. It may have been part of Greenhill Hall since Thomas Barten appears to have had some connection with Godfrey Froggatt of Greenhill who had married Elizabeth Bullock of Greenhill Hall in 1630. Godfrey Froggatt came from Mayfield, near Ashbourne – the very place where Thomas Barten had married Mary Buckston in 1635. In his will of 21 May 1678, Thomas Barten appointed supervisors – ‘trusty friends’ – of whom John Froggatt, son and heir of Godfrey Froggatt [deceased] was one. Like his father before him John Froggatt lived at The Hagge at Middle Handley, near Staveley, where he was steward to Lord Frecheville. So, Greenhill Hall – or part of it – may have been available to be rented out to Thomas Barten.
The only evidence for the name of the property at Norton Lees – Old Lees Hall – in which the Bartens lived, comes from the statement made by C.J., the correspondent to the Sheffield Independent on 28 April 1881. He noted: ‘In 1655 Thomas Barten leased to Thomas Roper “a messuage called Old Lees Hall in Norton”, and two closes, with a pingle adjoining, for 21 years..’. Old Lees Hall seems to have been the name not just of that particular building but also of the adjoining cottages on the site, and it appears to have been one of these that Thomas Barten leased to Thomas Roper. In Chantrey Land, Armitage writes: “…it is necessary to be cautious in assuming that all who are given in the [Norton parish] Register as being of Lees Hall were the occupiers of the Hall itself, for labourers and domestic servants, or even people living in neighbouring cottages, are sometimes given as coming from a hall.”13 H. Armitage, Chantrey Land, (Sheffield, 1910), 56. Indeed, the 1899 OS map shows ‘Leeshall cottages’ on the Meersbrook by Car Wood, quite some distance from Lees Hall itself.
Any documents which would confirm the 1881 reference to Thomas Barten’s lease of Old Lees Hall to Thomas Roper in 1655 seem not to have survived. However, the reference would appear to be genuine. The Norton parish register records that Thomas Roper married Mary Michell on 4 March 1656 and, on 22 November 1657 their son was baptized: “Thomas the sonne of Thomas Roper & Mary michell was borne dwelling at Leese”. Confirmation that Thomas Roper lived at Old Lees Hall occurs on 1 July 1660 when the register records “Phillip the sonn of Thomas Roper and of Mary his wife was borne dwelling at Leese old halle”.
“Thomas Roper de Lees” was buried on 8 August 1684 and his will dated 1 August 1684 survives in which “Thomas Roper of Leese, syethsmyth” mentions his sons, Philip and Henry and his niece, Mary Roper, whom he appoints executrix.
Thomas Roper’s son, Philip, evidently continued to live at Old Lees Hall for a short time after his father’s death. The burial of his daughter, Phoebe, is recorded on 8 August 1687: “Phebe filia Philippi Roper de Lees”, but when his twin sons Charles and Thomas were buried on 5 May 1692, he is noted as living at Bradway. The 21 year lease granted in 1655 by the Bartens to the Ropers would have expired in 1676 but, seemingly, an extension had been agreed by the new owner, Malin Sorsby [bur. 8 December 1680, Sheffield], for Philip Roper still to be living at Lees in 1687.
Thomas Roper’s inventory, dated 22 August 1684, which accompanies his will reveals that Old Lees Hall was a small building consisting of House, Parlour, Chamber over house, Chamber over parlour, and Buttery. In addition there was a Smithy and a Tempering house for the manufacture of scythes. The small size of the house ill fits its description as Old Lees Hall, but suggests that by 1684 the house described was the surviving portion of what had been a larger building, or was but part of a larger building, or was a separate dwelling within the curtilage of Old Lees Hall. Where precisely this property stood in Norton Lees is not known, although the correspondent to the Sheffield Independent of 28 April 1881 was able to add further information which might help identify its location: “In 1509 John Parker, of Lees Hall, gentleman, purchased of Thomas Barten, of Lees, some closes called Pease Croft and Broomfield.” He adds, “Are there fields of this name still near the old house?”
I have not been able to trace documents concerning this purchase, nor been able to identify ‘Pease Croft’. The field-name ‘Broomfield’ occurs in 1668/9 in a lease by Sarah Bullock et al to Godfrey Watkinson & John Clay,14D369/G/ZT/27 but there are three fields with the name ‘Broomfield’ listed on the 1805 Norton parish map.15I am most grateful to Ken Dash for sharing the fruits of his research into the maps and field names of Norton One of these [No.785] is sited midway between Lees Hall and Back Moor, and this may be that of the 1509 reference above. However, the date, 1509, is suspect, as the Bartens do not appear at Norton Lees in other records until 1589. Perhaps the writer mistook the year 1589 for 1509. It is quite possible that Thomas Barten did, indeed, own lands at Norton Lees before 1589 and that in order to help finance the cost of the new Lees Hall, John Parker sold the former Lees Hall – probably a half-timbered house – to Thomas Barten. Thus, by 1655 the Barten property was correctly known as Old Lees Hall and, again, in 1660 as Lees Old Hall.
A photograph of Lees Hall before its demolition in 1958 shows how the main frontage faced uphill, so that the house turned its back against a cluster of farm-buildings lower down the hill. These farm-buildings probably mark the site of Lees Old Hall. An estate map of 170116 Derbyshire Record Office, A Description of Leese Hall in the parish of Norton and County of Darby, January Anno Do 1701, Mr G Revell. I am most grateful to Mr Ken Dash for drawing my attention to this map., which delineates Lees Hall and its surroundings, would seem to suggest the same. Down the slope from Lees Hall, the map shows what appears to be a farm-yard, with a building at the top left-hand corner drawn with a pitched roof and 2 windows. This would accord well with Thomas Roper’s 1684 inventory description of a small house with 2 rooms downstairs and 2 rooms upstairs – perhaps the surviving cross-wing of a timber-framed house. Dotted lines, surrounding a rectangle to the right, might indicate the former extent of a much larger dwelling – Lees Old Hall – on the site.
One other significant feature shown in the photograph and marked on the plan is a large fishpond situated some short distance from Lees Hall – and clearly delineated on the 1894 OS map. Ponds such as this were an essential source of water used in the tanning process – the very business activity in which the Bartens had been engaged.17A similarly sited fishpond can be seen in a picture of Norton Nether Hall – with the house reflected in the pond – where William Blythe als Rotheram’s right to draw water for his tanyard there was acknowledged in a clause of the sale particulars in 1651
1. The Blythe family lived at Bishops’ House – called ‘an old mansion near Norton-Lees’ , ‘Old Hall at Norton Lees’  & ‘Norton Lees Hall’  – in unbroken succession from before 1554 until 1753. 2. The Parker family lived in the old building at Lees Hall from at least the 15th century until the erection of their stone-built hall c.1589. This new building assumed the title of Lees Hall, where the Parkers and their successor lived until its demolition in 1958. The old building became known as Old Lees Hall.
3. The Barten family lived at Old Lees Hall from 1589 until they moved to Greenhill shortly before 1678. They leased some premises at Old Lees Hall in 1655 to the Roper family who were still living there in 1687. It was sold to Malin Sorsby on 10 June 1668 to help provide income for Thomas Barten and his wife in their old age. What became of Old Lees Hall thereafter is not known. Thomas Barten’s will of 21 May 1678 makes no mention of it, nor is it mentioned by his brother, Joseph Barten, of Woodseats Dale, cutler, in his will of 30 September 1680. Nor does Malin Sorsby, make mention of it in his will dated 2 November 1680 [proved 4 August 1681 at York].
David Bostwick 9 August 2022
- 1H. Armitage, Chantrey Land, (Sheffield, 1910), 78.
T. Smith (illustrator), Sheffield and its Neighbourhood Photographically Illustrated, (London, 1865).
- 3Sheffield Independent, 11 July 1885.
- 4Sheffield Archives, Younge Wilson Deeds 1117, Conveyance to Sheffield Corporation, 25 October 1886, in
which the plan refers to ‘Bishop’s House’.
National Archives, C2/Jas I/B41/22, Blythe v Bartin, 1603-25
- 6Sheffield Archives, Jackson Collection, 804, Inquisition post mortem of John Bullocke esquire [28 June 1609].
- 7The description ‘yeoman’ applied only to those who owned most of the land which they farmed, as distinct from ‘husbandman’, the term for those who merely rented theirs.
- 8University of Manchester Library BAG/13/3/439 Exemplification of a plea of recovery by John Bullock, esq., & Thomas Bocking, gent, against Thomas Barten, respecting messuages and land in Norton & Norton Lees, 28
- 9Derbyshire Record Office, D133/T/21, Bond of Thomas Barton of Lees, yeoman, to Richard Wood of Chesterfield, apothecary in £124, 7 April 1647.
- 10Derbyshire Record Office, D133/T/22, Bond of Thomas Barton of Lees, yeoman, to Richard Wood of Chesterfield, apothecary in £280, 8 April 1647
- 11Derbyshire Record Office, D133/T/23 Bond of Thomas Barton of Lees, yeoman, to John Bayes of Sheffield, cutler in £210, 11 December 1658.
- 12University of Manchester, John Rylands Library, BAG/13/3/440, Exemplification of a final concord between Malin Sorsby, gent., plaintiff and Thomas Barton, gent., and Mary his wife, deforciants, respecting messuages etc., in Norton, 10 June 1668.
- 13H. Armitage, Chantrey Land, (Sheffield, 1910), 56.
- 15I am most grateful to Ken Dash for sharing the fruits of his research into the maps and field names of Norton
- 16Derbyshire Record Office, A Description of Leese Hall in the parish of Norton and County of Darby, January Anno Do 1701, Mr G Revell. I am most grateful to Mr Ken Dash for drawing my attention to this map.
- 17A similarly sited fishpond can be seen in a picture of Norton Nether Hall – with the house reflected in the pond – where William Blythe als Rotheram’s right to draw water for his tanyard there was acknowledged in a clause of the sale particulars in 1651