Sir Samuel Sleigh 1603-1679

by Roger Dalton - (2016)

The Derbyshire branch of the Sleigh family was well established in the upper Dove valley by the early sixteenth century holding estates at Pilsbury to the north of Hartington and nearby at Broadmeadow in Sheen in Staffordshire. The Sleighs were successful fellmongers and dealers in minerals, which, combined with opportune marriages, secured for them wealth and position. Towards the end of the sixteenth century members moved to the Derby area. Among these was Edmund Sleigh (1551-1615) who became significant in the Derby scene as a merchant stapler and a supplier of lead to the London market. He was followed by his lawyer cousin Gervase Sleigh (1560-1626) who in 1602 married Elizabeth Cholmondley of Ashby de la Zouche. In 1603 he purchased the manor of Ashe with its Hall to the west of Derby as a family home.  The first of three sons, Samuel, the subject of this paper, was born in 1603 followed by Gervase (1607-1641) and Hugh (1627-1641). Like his cousin Edmund, Gervase was prominent in Derby Society serving as bailiff, MP in 1604 and alderman in 1612.

As the eldest son Samuel went up to Cambridge in 1621 and then to Gray’s Inn in 1623 to follow his father as a barrister at law. His subsequent career was closely associated with Derby and Derbyshire and demonstrated political astuteness in plotting his way through the Civil Wars and the Restoration. He acquired a number of Derbyshire manors. He inherited Ashe from his father in 1641, the year in which he was knighted, and next he purchased Etwall from Sir Edward Moseley for 8,910 followed by Burnaston from the Bonningtons and then Dalbury and Dalbury Lees. In 1647 and 1650 he disposed of properties in Sheen in Staffordshire but acquired manors of Snelston and Parwich, lands in Dethick and tenements at Thurvaston and Ostleton.

Samuel married three times. His first wife was Judith Boys of Betteshanger in Kent, for whom he bought Pool Hall near Hartington as a marital home. Judith bore him two sons, who both died young, while Judith herself died in 1634 aged 28. His second wife was Margaret Darcy daughter of Sir Robert Darcy of Blackfriars who died in 1647 having given birth to two sons and four daughters. Only the fourth daughter, Margaret (1645-1703) was to outlive Sir Samuel having married James Chetham of Turton near Manchester. In 1677, then aged 74, Sir Samuel married his third wife Elizabeth. She was the  daughter of the Rev John Harpur of Morley and she died in 1738. Their daughter Mary was born after Samuel’s death in 1679. Thus Sir Samuel was survived by only two of his nine children, Margaret Chetham and Mary who was marry Rowland Cotton of Bellaport in Shropshire. Consequently Samuel’s line of the Sleigh family died out and in the settlement of his estate Margaret inherited Ashe Hall and manor while Mary had Etwall and Burnaston which then passed to her husband Rowland Cotton. Later Cotton was to receive Ashe from Samuel Chetham son of Margaret and James. Ecclesiastically Ashe was associated with the parish church of St Michael at Sutton on the Hill which is distinguished by memorials to Sleigh family members including a notable alabaster monument to Samuel Sleigh’s first wife Judith.

Sir Samuel’s legal and public service career took place against the backdrop of the Civil Wars (1642-1651). Samuel nominally supported Parliament being a prominent Roundhead and Presbyterian. However, he avoided active involvement in the conflict and is described by Turbutt as one of those who ‘found the political and economic climate congenial in which to operate’. In 1648 he was Sherriff of Derbyshire and in 1654/5 MP for Essex. Although a Parliamentarian he opposed the Protectorate and is said to have advocated Restoration as early as 1653. He also facilitated   the legal and financial affairs of Royalists. His path was thus cleared for further office under Charles II enabling him to become MP and High Sherriff for Derbyshire in 1666.

Following Samuel Sleigh’s purchase of Etwall in 1646 he initiated the first major reconstruction of the presumed tudor Etwall Hall of the John Ports using stone from the slighted Tutbury Castle. Further rebuilding was to take place in the early eighteenth century at the instigation of Sleigh’s grandson Samuel Chetham. As no architectural record seems to have been made of Etwall Hall at its demolition in 1955 detail of earlier buildings is unclear. It is likely that Sleigh moved from Ashe to Etwall when rebuild was completed. Certainly his library was at Etwall at the time of his death in 1679.

As Lord of the Manor of Etwall Sleigh was to take a close interest in the alms houses willed by the second John Port at his death in 1657. Seemingly Port’s executors had taken some time to build the alms houses the construction date and nature of which is uncertain.  However, they were in use well before 1621 in which year a Corporation was formed to administer the alms houses, otherwise Etwall Hospital, and also the school established at Repton under the aegis of the hereditary governors. These were of the families Gerrard, Huntingdon and Stanhope direct descendants of the husbands of the second John Port’s three daughters.

The Corporation members enjoyed an annual dinner and for that held on October 26th 1658 the Master of the Hospital, Jo Jackson, sought from his friend Jon Gill a menu comprising  ‘a leg of boiled mutton, boiled beef and turnips, roast beef, a fat goose, three rabbits, four chicks and a good dish of apples and a piece of cheese. All the meat to be very good.’ However, while the Corporation members enjoyed occasional high living in 1660 they found themselves petitioning the Hospital Governors ‘to relieve ye poor Corporation from ye oppression and tyranny of Sir Samuel Sleigh of Etwall’. On November 7th of that year Jo Jackson noted that ‘six almsmen had been forcibly added to ye then number by Sir Samuel according to ye letters patent’. John Port’s will stipulated that 12 poor men be placed in the hospital six of whom were to be of Etwall parish. It was failure to ensure this last provision which was at the root of Sir Samuel’s actions. In 1669 he was still agitating for the terms of Port’s will to be properly enacted but made a positive gesture by offering land for the construction of new alms houses providing that six poor men from Etwall were housed. The land in question is that of the present alms houses which enabled expansion of the original site adjacent to Etwall churchyard. In December 1669 Jo Jackson and the Head of Repton School travelled to London to obtain orders from the Governors. However, it was not until 1680 that the Governors commissioned the pulling down of the original inadequate alms houses and the erection of new ones. It is possible that the architect George Eaton of Etwall was engaged to design the new houses. These remain an important feature of the Etwall village life and are a direct legacy of Sir Samuel’s time as manorial lord. In 1701 additional land was obtained to enable a wing of four more houses to be added which were first occupied in 1714.

The building of the new Etwall alms houses took place after Sleigh’s death in 1679. His will, witnessed by Jo Jackson and others, valued his possessions at 887/15/10. Sleigh sought burial alongside family members in the chancel of St Michael’s at Sutton on the Hill. This part of his estate was to be disbursed to family, local gentry, deserving servants and members of the local community. The poor of Sutton, Dalbury and Etwall were to receive 5 each while his house servants had one year’s wages and personal servants Thomas Berkyn and Joseph Baker, respectively a farm and a house in Etwall  and 4 yearly for life. For family and close friends there were a range of bequests. John Curzon, German Pole and Lady Hugh Bateman of Hartington, William Woolley and wife, his wife’s brothers and sisters each received a mourning ring valued at 20/-. Barbara Sleigh, Elizabeth Sleigh, James Chetham of Turton and wife, John Harpur of Littleover and wife, John Jackson vicar of Etwall, his cousin Ralph Sleigh and son Gervase were each to receive mourning rings worth 10. The vicar of Sutton on the Hill was to receive 25 annually. The Chetham family into which his daughter Margaret had married variously benefited. The tithe rent from Sutton on the Hill, Ostleton and Thurvaston and Ashe with its Hall and Manor  went to Margaret. His grandchildren Samuel, George and Abigail Chetham were to receive 10 each. Samuel as the eldest grandson was also to receive Sleigh’s library in Etwall but if the child Sleigh’s third wife Elizabeth was carrying was female he would also receive lands in Etwall, Hardwicke, Ashe, Dalbury and elsewhere in England. In the event Sleigh’s posthumous child was his daughter Mary so Samuel benefited from the lands stipulated while the residue of the estate was willed to his wife Elizabeth.

Craven and Stanley describe Samuel Sleigh as a good rogue reflecting perhaps his ability to swim with the changing political and economic tides of the times in which he lived. In so doing he demonstrated that he shared with other family members an ability to develop a successful career enabling him to deal in land and property. He was active in Derby affairs for a number of years and as manorial lord of Etwall was concerned with   the proper implementation of the will of the second John Port in relation to the alms houses so as to benefit the Etwall community.


1 A.F.C.Sleigh, The Sleighs of Derbyshire and Beyond: the History of an English family, 1992. For the Sleighs of Ashe and Etwall see especially chapter3.

 Derbyshire Record Office DRO D2827, D157/MT/1387.

 Arthur Smith, Etwall: Portrait of a Derbyshire Village, 1990 p34.

 G. Turbutt, History of Derbyshire, 3,1999 p1105.

 M.Craven and M. Stanley, The Derbyshire Country House, 2004, p96.

 Roger Dalton, The Ports of Etwall, Derbyshire Miscellany, 2014 pp 66-71.

 R. Bigsby, Historical and Topographical Description of Repton, 1854 pp156-164.

 Derbyshire Record Office DRO 2375 M/46/1, A Schedule of ancient and modern orders and other memorandums made by the Governors of Etwall alms houses 1660-1800. This is the basis of the discussion of Samuel Sleigh’s involvement in the occupation and reconstruction of Etwall alms houses.

 C. Hartwell et al, The Buildngs of England: Derbyshire, 2016 p 394. Anna Hallett, Alms Houses, 2004 p26 shows a photograph of the alms houses at Cossall in Notts which are very similar in  design to those at Etwall.

 Will of Sir Samuel Sleigh, City of Birmingham Reference Library W264.

 Craven and Stanley op cit.


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