Hoar Cross was part of Needwood Forest, the 11th-century lands of Henry de Ferrers. The land was passed down to Henry’s son and subsequent various people over the course of 500 years ending with the Webb family, around the 1730s, who bought the land and house known as the Manor of the Cross. This was quite a large house built on a hill near Yoxall (which is the village next to Hoar Cross). In 1740 the manor house was demolished and later the Hon. Charles Talbot bought the estate for £17,000. Eventually, it was sold to Hugo Meynell, who already owned huge amounts of property all over the county.
The Meynell family claim to be descendants of the Norman baron, Hugo de Grand Mesnil, who came over with William the Conqueror. He is said to have died in Leicester in 1093 and his descendants settled in Derbyshire and Yorkshire. Sir Hugo de Mesnil of Langley Mesnil represented his county under Edward III in five parliaments and thus started a long line of descent for the Mesnil family, eventually changing the name to Meynell in the 1600s.
In 1782 Hugo married Elizabeth Ingram Shepheard, daughter and co-heiress of Charles Ingram, 9th Viscount Irwin and Lord Ingram. Temple Newsam in Yorkshire was their family seat and through the marriage, the Meynell family inherited the Ingram estates in Lincolnshire. When the Hall was built in 1871 it was actually modelled on a wing of the Temple Newsam house, which is why they look so similar. In 1793, after buying the Hoar Cross estate from the Talbots, Hugo built a house which he used as an occasional hunting lodge. He called it Old Hall and this was built around a small courtyard about half a mile away from where Hoar Cross Hall would later be built. Hugo and Elizabeth had six children and eventually, their grandson, also called Hugo, married the Hon. Emily Charlotte in 1863 and together they built the present Hoar Cross Hall to be their family home.
The Hall took nearly 10 years to build and was completed in 1871, although Hugo and Emily had already moved in before that. The house was south facing and built-in extensive grounds covering many aces. Various cottages were also built on the estate for the workers to live in along with kitchen gardens and a stable block.
But tragedy was to strike; Hugo had had a horse riding accident some fourteen months previously which had left him bed-ridden. However, they moved into the house but he sadly died in May of 1871. As they had no children, the Meynell line (of Hoar Cross) became extinct. Emily inherited the Temple Newsam estate along with many other estates around the Midlands and became a very wealthy woman – they say she was a millionairess twice over!
Although she was now on her own, she had a lot of support from her family and her brother Frederick moved in with her. Emily turned Old Hall into a boys home called ‘The Home of the Good Shepherd’ and this eventually became a mixed children’s home run by a Mr and Mrs Glass in the seventies. It is now a nursing home.
Upon Emily’s death in 1904 Frederick changed his name from Wood to Meynell, thus keeping the name in the family.
The last Meynell couple to live at the Hall married in 1936 and raised a family of five children; they left in 1952 to move to a smaller property in a nearby village. The house was then rented to a local consultant and his wife who stayed for nearly 10 years. After they left in the sixties a monastic community took on the Hall intending to turn it into a Christian Community Centre but were unable to raise the required funds and had to leave in 1969. In 1970 William and Gwynyth Bickerton-Jones bought the Hall and settled there for nearly 20 years, opening the house to the public and running Mediaeval Banquets.
It was then sold to the present owners, Mr and Mrs Joynes, who have made it the Spa Hotel that you see today.
If you’d like to know more about what it was like living at the Hall, the daughter of the Bickerton-Jones family, who lived there during the seventies, has a blog published about her family life there, taken from her own diaries which she kept for many years. Please follow the link to read more about it: My Dad Bought A Mansion!
Thank you to the Bickerton-Jones family for writing this article for us and for providing the photos.