Volunteers page

 

Welcome to a dedicated secret bit of the web for BH volunteers!

Early in 2023 David Bostwick ran an excellent guided tour of Bishops’ House. David is a former curator of social history at Sheffield Museums and we are so lucky to have him onboard as a Trustee of Friends of Bishops’ House. He is also a seasoned guide of historic properties, with a broad range of knowledge spanning architecture, interior decoration but also very specific (and new!) knowledge about the Blythe’s of Bishops’ House.

David very kindly permitted Nick to record a video of his guided tour. Please do not share this; this is a private page just for BH volunteers and this video contains original research that has not yet been published. 
 
The video has a section where filming failed and there was only a poor quality audio recording. You might find this section too inaudible or annoying to make out what David is saying, in which case simply skip ahead 5 minutes to 19 mins in. In time we’ll add subtitles to this section, or possibly get David to the record that bit again.  The whole thing runs over an hour, so average quality is good -sorry about that one wonky bit!   

Notes for the tour can be found below!  Again, not for wider distribution please.

 We hope to add a video of Ken delivering his guided tour too. Ultimately we want to inspire a few volunteers to give it a try. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could offer the public regular (say once a month) guided tours of Bishops’ House?

Bishops’ House: notes for a guided tour by David Bostwick 2/4/23

1. The Name
The Blythe family lived here at Norton Lees from the 14th century until 1753. Another branch of the family lived in Norton and 2 brothers – John Blythe [c.1455-99] and Geoffrey (c.1465-1530] became bishops of Salisbury and Lichfield & Coventry. By 1810 the house associated with them in Norton had been demolished and by the later 19th century a Romantic tale had grown up associating this half- timbered house at Norton Lees-long known to have been a home of the Blythes – with the bishops. So, the ‘Old Hall at Norton Lees’ as it was called in 1823 became officially known as Bishops’ House by 1886.

2. Farm & original house
Until well into the 19th century Bishops’ House was at the centre of a working farm surrounded by barns, cart-sheds, stables and various outbuildings for baking bread andbrewing ale. The house we see today dates from the mid-16th century, but before then there was probably a 3-bay cruck-built single-storey longhouse occupying the same site. The 3 bays, or units, would have consisted of an unheated kitchen at the East end for food preparation; a fire-house in the middle where the family lived, cooked and ate; and a parlour at the West end where the owner and his wife slept. There may have been a loft above the parlour for children to sleep and for food storage.


3. The 1554 cross-wing
In 1554 John Blythe [c.1520-1562] inherited the property from his father. In the same year, from the evidence of tree-ring dating, he demolished the parlour bay of the earlier house and replaced it with the cross-wing which we see today. This cross-wing consists, on the ground floor, of a parlour and a buttery [for storing ale in butts or barrels] and, on the first floor accessed by a steep ladder-stair, a ‘pass chamber’ – a room through which you passed – to reach the ‘parlour chamber’.

4. The 1580 hall & kitchen range
In 1562 John Blythe died and his son, William Blythe I [c.1540-1620], inherited – living there with his mother Agnes, sister Anne and brothers Richard and John. In 1569 William Blythe I married Anne Gill of Lightwood: they would have occupied the parlour as their bedroom, with mother Agnes and sister Anne in the parlour chamber and the 2 brothers in the pass chamber. In 1575 sister Anne married and went to live in Woodseats. Her place at Bishops’ House was filled by William Blythe I’s wife’s god- daughter, Marjory Rotheram from Eckington. William Blythe I and his wife could not have children but by 1578 Marjory Rotheram found herself pregnant by William Blythe I. Their son, John Blythe als [alias] Rotheram was baptized in August 1579. Just over a year later in November 1580, William Blythe I’s brother Richard married and brought his wife to live at Bishops House. The problem of accommodating this extended family was solved by demolishing the old kitchen and firehouse and replacing them with a new hall and kitchen – each with a fireplace – and 2 extra bedrooms above. Tree-ring dating, with a felling date of 1579, confirms that this range of Bishops’ House was built in 1580. The main entrance was, we believe, to the right of the current hall window, marked by the vertical joint in the stonework, and protected by a porch with a tiny porch-chamber above. The curved door-head from the hall-chamber to the porch-chamber is still clearly visible in the wall-plate above.

5. Timber-framing
Timber-framed houses, constructed from oak timbers with lath & plaster infill, were designed to protect the structure from the effects of bad weather, especially rain. Local carpenters who could have built Bishops’ House were John Barten [c.1530-1603] of Woodseats Dale and John Rose [c.1530-1603] of Bolehill in Norton. Freshly felled oak trees were shaped on site.
The corner posts are inverted tree-trunks set on pad-stones: the horizontal timbers are known as girding beams at first-floor level and as the ‘wall-plate’ at eaves level. The smaller vertical and diagonal timbers are called ‘studs’ and ‘braces’, and all held together by wooden pegs – often faceted or square pegs – in round holes drilled through the mortice & tenon joints.
Decorative effects are created by diagonal timbers and by ‘jettying’ the upper windows and gables. When first built the windows would have been small and unglazed: there is no rebate for holding glazed panels in several windows. Looking at the large window in the cross-wing, note how it is protected from rain by the overhang of the upper window which, in turn, is protected by the overhang of the gable, which is protected by the overhang of the roof. The horizontal roof timbers, known as ‘purlins’, have their ends protected by scalloped ‘barge-boards’.
As the carpenters shaped each piece of timber, the joints were numbered, and – on the day the house was reared into position – the pegs were driven through the joints. Only after the great wooden skeleton was reared could the wallers infill the framework at ground level with rubble-stone walls; the slaters cover the roof structure with heavy stone slates; and the daubers infill the spaces between the studs with riven oak laths and lime plaster. Local wallers and slaters who could have done the work were William Cutlove of Little Norton, and John Belfeild and George Bullock of Greenhill.

6. William Blythe II
William Blythe I died in 1620, and the Bishops’ House property was inherited by his nephew, William Blythe II [c.1581-1632]. William Blythe I’s son, John Blythe als Rotheram, could not inherit because he was illegitimate. No structural alterations were made by William Blythe II: he continued farming and made a great deal of money by trading locally-made scythes.


7. William Blythe III
William Blythe II died in 1632. His son, William Blythe III [1608-1665], who was living in Dore with his wife, Elizabeth Bright, and their two daughters, inherited. They moved to Bishops’ House in 1633 only after installing long-overdue fireplaces in both parlour and parlour chamber. However, the alterations seem to have resulted in movement of the timber-frame.
The chimney stack, made of ashlar masonry, may have been built with reclaimed stone from Beauchief Abbey. In addition, large new glazed windows were inserted: that in the parlour given an ashlar surround set on a moulded plinth. Inside, the parlour was given a compartmented plaster ceiling enriched with stylized 7-petal double roses [as distinct from the 5-petal double Tudor roses], whilst a decorative plasterwork overmantel was installed in the parlour chamber. These are rare survivals of a once widespread art- form in the Sheffield region. The plasterer, Henry Belfeild of Greenhill [1583-1646] was probably responsible.
From 1633 to 1655 no other changes were made to Bishops’ House. This was a period of Puritan discontent culminating in Civil War in which William Blythe III held the rank of Captain in the Parliamentary army. He was appointed one of the two overseers of the demolition of Sheffield castle in 1649, and was able to purchase small amounts of building materials – boards and plaster – for re- use at the farmstead, or in premises he rented out to scythe makers who worked for him. Like his father before him he was a great trader in scythes and the wealth he amassed was used to enlarge Bishops’ House in 1655 with a new stone extension, providing a cellar, little parlour, staircase and a new chamber.


8. The stone extension of 1655
This is built from coursed rubble stone with corner stones or quoins made from Millstone grit, as are the window surrounds and drip-sills above the windows. The chimney shafts are set diamond- fashion above the stack, to allow the wind to whistle through the gap – thus reducing risk of chimney collapse in windy weather.
Enter through 19th century doorway into the ‘little parlour’, partitioned with oak planks, plaster ceiling and decorative cornice. Doorway, with buttery on right hand side, leads to parlour, furnished as a late 17th century dining room. The carved oak chimneypiece, with the initials of William Blythe III and dated 1655, probably commemorates his alterations to Bishops’ House as well as marking the marriage of his daughter, Constance, in that year to George Shillito. He was the younger brother of William Blythe III’s second wife, Anna Shillito.
The chimneypiece was removed from Bishops’ House in 1878, sold to a local collector whose collection was sold in 1922, the chimneypiece returned to Bishops’ House in 2020. It is carved with local designs, such as the rose on long stem with multiple leaves, which can be seen on the Ellen Torr chest alongside, and beaded columns which can also be seen on the Greenhill Hall overmantel on display in the hall chamber at Bishops’ House.  Note position of the 1554 ladder stair, indicated by dog-leg plaster cornice and sawn-off pegs in beam for securing it.


9. The Hall
Passing the door to the cellar enter the hall. Along with the stone extension the
ceilings/floors above the hall and kitchen were replaced in 1655, as evidenced from tree-ring dating. Main feature is the panelling dated 1627 – the very year that Elizabeth Bright of Dore’s father died and she became heiress. It possibly marks the year of her betrothal to William Blythe III: they had to wait until he was 21 for them to marry in 1629. The panelling, at the head of the hall, may have had a fixed wooden bench for diners at a long table.
Right of the fireplace is a fitted cupboard of the later 17th century and, above, a re-used carved beam which may have been a door-head in the [now vanished] porch.

The main bearer beam in the hall has a metal strap strengthening a spliced joint. This is evidence for an original smoke hood or canopy over the fire which was removed when the present chimney stack was built in the later 17th century.

William Blythe III died in 1666, and was succeeded by his son, William Blythe IV [1639-1676]. He went to Cambridge University in 1656, and returned with a deep interest in matters of religion and no interest in his father’s scythe trade. He was granted a licence in 1672 to hold Nonconformist services with preaching at Bishops’ House, and these services would have been held in the hall where we stand. He was evidently content to subsist on the income from his farming. Had he made money from scythe trading then he might have been inclined to replace Bishops’ House with a brand new building.


10. Upstairs
Landing partition probably made from re-used spars of timber that had formed the smoke hoods above hall and kitchen fires.

Kitchen chamber noted as having a fireplace in 1676.
Hall chamber: door-head in wall plate marks doorway to porch chamber. Greenhill Hall overmantel made c.1610 for James Bullock, removed when Greenhill Hall demolished by Sheffield City Council in 1964. Note the corn-on-the-cob carvings – Bullock family involved in the 2nd Virginia Company of 1609 when North American Indians helped the English settlers to survive the winter by giving them sweetcorn.
Doorway through to the 1554 cross-wing. Note squint window on rhs to view down into the housebody of the earlier building from the pass chamber. Pass chamber: floor of broad planks set on parallel joists – exceptionally rare surviving feature, as is the plank and muntin screen separating the pass chamber from the parlour chamber.
Parlour chamber: main feature is the decorative plasterwork overmantel of 3 arcades with grapes and figs – Christian emblems. The Etruscan lady’s head is cast from a mould used at Renishaw Hall in 1625 and Barlborough Old Hall in 1633.
‘New chamber’: so called in an inventory of 1666, now furnished as a late 17th century bedroom. Main feature is the plasterwork overmantel with design of ‘dogs heads’. These may be badgers – Badger family of Dore for whom the design may have been created.
Certainly not reclaimed plasterwork from Sheffield Castle: these are not Talbot hunting dogs. Possibly an emblematic design of fruitful Virtue transcending base animal passion.


11. Later family members

With the death of William Blythe IV in 1676, the property passed to his widow, Mary Blythe who re- married a Nonconformist teacher called Robert Fern from Wirksworth. They brought up Samuel Blythe I [1673-1735], aged 2 when his father died, and his brother, Nathaniel Blythe [1675-1713]. As heir, Samuel – who became a Nonconformist minister serving the congregation at Attercliffe chapel – inherited in 1694.
With the death of Samuel Blythe I in 1735, Bishops’ House passed to his son, Benjamin Blythe of Derby [c.1710-1758] and then to his brother Samuel Blythe II [1719-1796] – who became a minister in Birmingham. Samuel Blythe I’s wife, Mary, continued to live at Bishops’ House until her death in 1753. She was the last member of the Blythe family to live at Bishops’ House. Samuel Blythe II sold the estate to Benjamin Roebuck in 1759, who built Meersbrook House and let Bishops’ House.