It is difficult to imagine that what once stood there was a Georgian House built in the Palladian fashion, containing ‘… a handsome entrance hall, a dining room, breakfast room and library, and a Green Room. On the first floor were six handsome lodging rooms with a dressing room to each, together with a water closet.’ (Colin Walton in the Doncaster Free Press 3rd January 1985). It was probably a rebuild of an earlier house for William Woodyeare in the 1740s and may have been designed by James Paine, the architect of Nostell Priory and Cusworth Hall. It was set in about 90 acres of freehold parkland, the house taking advantage of the panoramic landscape towards the Don Valley. Within the park streams were diverted to create a large lake and at least one fox hunt met regularly at the Hall.
According to Hunter Vol 1 P252, Crookhill was in the ownership of Michael Cookson of Wadworth in 1585 and probably passed from that family to the Woodyeares in the early 18th century when "the Woodyeares were brought into Yorkshire by Lord Molesworth, when he seated himself at Edlington, in the vicinity of Crook-hill." This implies that William Woodyeare, probably from a Kentish family, was involved in Whig politics and had preferment from Molesworth.
In the 19th century there was an interesting break in the Woodyeare family line.William’s son, John, who inherited Crookhill, had four daughters and left his estates to the surviving co-heirs. Frances, Mary and Eleanor. Fountain John Elwin, grandson of Peter Elwin of Booton Hall, Norfolk, gained the Crookhill Estate by marrying Frances and obeying the stricture of his father-in-law’s will that he should take the surname ‘Woodyeare’. This he did by royal decree in June 1812.
Confusingly, the eldest and only surviving son of Fountain John and Frances, born 11th March 1809, was called John Fountain, and in 1827 he entered Christ’s College, Cambridge, under his baptismal name, John Fountain Woodyeare Elwin. In 1843, When he married Mary Jane Phillips at Stoke D’Abernon in Surrey, he was Rev. John Fountain Woodyeare Woodyeare, a vicar within the parish of Leatherhead. From his father Rev John Fountain Woodyeare inherited estates in Higham and Hardington in Norfolk and through his wife's mother he had an interest in the Derbyshire estates of the Turbutt Family.
In the 1841 list of clergy John Fountain was not given a parish, but that was the year when his father died and the son was probably expected to return to Crookhill to take charge of the main family property. Interestingly, Rev John Fountain Woodyeare, rather than his father, was named as the owner of the Crookhill Estate in the key to The Commutation of Tithes Map published in 1840. It was unusual that the Woodyeare heir went into the church instead of learning to manage the family estates.
There is some confusion as to how the estate was viewed at this point. In the Leeds Intelligencer, dated 29th June 1839, the Crookhill Farm, but not the Hall, was advertised for sale by auction: Fountaine John may well have been ill and he died in 1841.
It appears that nothing was sold and the house and the estate were let to John Walker, a farmer who was already a tenant of several fields in Clifton. He seems to have given up the Woodyeare tenancy early, as in the 1841 Census Crookhill Hall was recorded as unoccupied. Father and son were then living at Elm Field House, Doncaster, according to the electoral registers. John Fountaine had rented Elm Field House in Doncaster before it was sold in 1843 to the Jarret family. Fountain John’s wife, Frances, who might have had some claim to Crookhill during her lifetime, died in 1844. The deaths of his parents must have freed John Fountain to marry and he decided to settle at Crookhill.
After his marriage in 1843, Rev John Fountain Woodyeare seems to have given up his career in the Church to live at Crookhill as a country gentleman. Unfortunately, his two sons died young and Mary, his wife, died in 1866. He married again in 1868, but his second wife, Emily Jane Preston outlived him and did not produce an heir. She was the daughter of Rev John D’Arcy Jervis of Askham Bryan Hall. Reverand John Fountain Woodyeare was buried with his sons at the old Edlington Church, outside the parish of Conisbrough.
Rev John Fountain died in 1880 and his will decreed that his wife should have the use of the Crookhill Estate in her lifetime under the trusteeship of a number of clerical gentlemen and later her nephew and heir, Lawrence Woodyeare Blomfield. Mrs Woodyeare lived at the Hall with various relatives, including her nephew, Malcolm Bloomsfield (sic 1901 census) who described himself as ‘gold mining shareholder’! She lived in some style with maids, a cook, a gardener, a footman and a coachman.
Older villagers remembered some Crookhill staff ‘walking out’ with youngsters from Clifton. Certainly, Mrs Woodyeare was worried about the spiritual welfare of her staff and tenants. In 1893 she negotiated with the Parish officials of St Peter’s Church, Conisbrough, for a mission church to be provided on land that she gave to the village for that purpose. Her staff could more easily cut across the bridle paths from the Hall than struggle down Clifton Hill and up through old Conisbrough to the Parish Church. Also, the growth of the Denaby Main and Cadeby Collieries with the accompanying expansion of accommodation for miners, probably made Conisbrough an unsuitable place for young women to spend their time, even with the pretext of attending church.
Lawrence Woodyeare Blomefield was the son of Emily Anne’s sister, Sophia, and the Reverend John Blomefield, a son of Sir Thomas William 2nd Baronet Blomefield of Attleborough, Norfolk. The couple spent some time in India, where several children were born, and also in Leeds, Lawrence’s birthplace. By 1881 John was Vicar of All Saints Church, Knightsbridge and the family was living in the prestigious Rutland Gate, next to the London house of Viscount Enfield. Two of the sons had the second name ‘Woodyeare’, in preparation for the Woodyeare inheritance!
Despite of his duties as trustee and heir, Lawrence appears to have taken little interest in the Crookhill Estate as he grew up. In 1889, aged 18 years, he was a 2nd Lieutenant in the Yorkshire Light Infantry, which was a reserve regiment. In 1899 he married Celia Nora Caldwell, daughter of the innkeeper of the Northern Railway Hotel on the Isle of Man. She was 22 years old in 1901 and was the mother of Sophia Emily (his mother and aunt’s names) who was 8 months old at the time of the census. At that point Lawrence was 30 years old and claimed to be a gentleman of independent means. The Douglas Shipping Register, however, registered him in 1899 as a fish merchant and joint owner of a sailing ketch, 'The Lily of the West'. By the 1911 census he had returned to London and was recorded as the storekeeper of a motor garage. He had two daughters and a son.
Had he run out of ‘means’? Had he been drawn to the Isle of Man by fast cars? The first car race, the trials for the Gordon Bennett Cup, was in 1904 and the Tourist Trophy began in 1905. These were held in the Isle of Man because speed was restricted to 20 MPH in the United Kingdom. The men who raced were from the same strata of society as the Woodyeares and the development of the early touring automobiles encouraged sportsmen to live the ‘High Life’ of the post-Victorian era on the Isle of Man. Later the island would become the venue for TT motorbike racing. If he was drawn to the automobile and was short of money, London would be the place to get employment!
1914 –1918 saw a change in the lives of the gentry. Female servants found less restrictive employment while male servants and farm workers on the wider estate joined up for ‘the war to end all wars.’ It will be difficult to assess how this affected Crookhill until the results of the 1921 Census are available, but soon after Emily Anne Woodyeare died in 1919, Lawrence Woodyeare Blomefield nearly ended the Woodyeare association with Clifton by offering the Crookhill Estate for sale in 1924.
The post War depression was not a good time to sell. When the maximum offered was £3,750, the sale was abandoned. At some point, Crookhill became jointly owned by Lawrence and his son, John, but it is unlikely that either lived at the Hall. Coal Magnate, Joseph Humble, took the tenancy for a short time in the 1920s but found its poor condition unworthy of his status. After the sale of Crookhill Hall and the surrounding gardens in 1926 Lawrence Woodyeare Blomefield retired and took several trips to South Africa (There are passenger records for 1928, 1929 with his wife, and 1931). It is likely that they decided to settle there as there is no record of his death in the UK.
The West Riding County Council had paid £6,500 for the Hall, its outbuildings and cottages and just over 90 acres of land. This was part of the attempted post war recovery when attempts were made to improve the health and living conditions of towns like Doncaster. Crookhill Hall became ‘The latest and most modern home for consumptives in the West Riding…’, (Doncaster Gazette 7th Jan 1927), and was transferred to the Doncaster Hospital Management Committee on the introduction of the NHS in 1948. On local history pages of the Internet there are records and memories of children who were isolated there for TB and other infectious diseases before it was deemed no longer necessary. The Hall was closed in 1963.
In the 1980s, one of my colleagues at Rotherham College of Arts and Technology, who had been a school friend of Ted Hughes’s sister, Olwin, told me that Mexborough, Denaby and Crookhill had been more influential on the poet’s work than his early days in Mytholmroyd. Ted had spent many days with a school friend, John Wholey, whose father was under gardener and then head gardener at Crookhill from 1927. The family lived in one of the Lodges until 1965, allowing John and his friends free range of the park when it was hardly used by the hospital. It must have been a haven for the observation of nature, the essence of Hughes’s poetry. There were pike and roach and perch in the lake when Hughes and his friends fished there. It was fed by redirected streams and springs and was probably used for duck shooting in the days of sporting weekends.
Maintenance of the park declined after the house was left empty and vandalised, culminating in two fires in September 1968 and the subsequent demolition. The water courses have become clogged over time and the lake is now hidden among self-sown trees and full of reeds and mud. At least Crookhill Park is now open to the public, although few golfers are aware of the history of the Hall, its gardens and park. Local people still seek out the lake on country walks, especially if they have read Steve Ely’s book ‘Ted Hughes’s South Yorkshire: made in Mexborough.’