The 300 year occupancy of the stately home Cannon Hall, near Cawthorne west of Barnsley, by the Spencer-Stanhope family came to an abrupt halt in 1951when it was sold along with the 150-acre parkland to Barnsley Council. Mrs Fraser Spencer-Stanhope made the sale for £15, 750 because of death duties and taxation. Prior to the sale, all the house’s splendid contents were sold.
Daughter of the Hon. John Montague Spencer-Stanhope, Mrs Spencer-Stanhope inherited Cannon Hall on his death in 1944. She had married rear admiral, the Hon. George Fraser in 1921 but the marriage was dissolved in 1934 and afterwards she was granted Royal licence to use the surname and coat of arms of the Spencer-Stanhope family. Described as an unassuming individual, she was the last of the line of Spencer-Stanhopes at Cannon Hall and had been extremely active in Cawthorne village affairs and many other philanthropic causes.
Barnsley Corporation acquired Cannon Hall, in the face of stiff competition from several influential sources. Sheffield Regional Hospital Board wanted the hall to serve as a hospital and Barnsley Corporation, initially, intended to convert the 50 room building into 28 flats.
In 1954, art lovers and conservationists probably breathed a sigh of relief when Mayor of Barnsley Alderman A. E. McVie, speaking at the annual exhibition of the Barnsley & District Art Society, proudly announced Barnsley Corporation had decided to convert Cannon Hall into an Art Gallery and Museum, instead of flats.
Cannon Hall was opened to the public in 1957 with the Rt Hon. The Earl of Scarborough performing at the opening ceremony before an invited audience. Seven of the principal rooms had been re-decorated and furnished in appropriate period style under the guidance of first curator, Alister Campbell.
‘The building up of a museum worthy of the town will of necessity be a slow process. We mean to set a high standard,’ he said.
Most of the exhibits were loaned or given by public spirited benefactors. The Earl of Yarborough, for example, had loaned many fine exhibits from Brocklesby Park.
Shortly after the opening one anonymous writer to a local newspaper said they were not convinced that ‘Barnsley could afford the luxury of having its own country house museum when money is short and there are other matters requiring attention in the town…On my visit I found little over which I could enthuse and nothing that would attract me to make a second of third visit’. This criticism however was very premature.
A house of some description had existed on the Cannon Hall site since the 13th century but in 1650 Sir William Hewitt sold a manor, farm and ‘capital messuage named Cannon Hall’ to Robert Hartley for £2,900. A few years later it was acquired by John Spencer of Montgomeryshire (died in 1681) who arrived in Cawthorne before 1660. The Spencer family had Royalist loyalties and this may have been a main reason for them relocating. Spencer bought the hall from his step-daughter, Margaret, after she had inherited it from her father, Robert Hartley.
This began the Spencer-Stanhope family’s long association with Cannon Hall and in subsequent years the property was rebuilt and remodelled.
A tall central section was constructed around the start of the 18th century and may have been designed by architect John Etty; the interiors by local craftsman John Thornton.
From around the mid 18th century, John Spencer (1719-1776) employed York architect John Carr (1723-1807) to undertake major improvements which stretched over 30 years and cost in the region of £30,000 (over £2 million today). Between 1764-1768, two single storey wings were added on the ends of the old hall. The rooms in the now central section were remodelled, again by Carr, in 1778 and second storeys for the two wings added in 1803-04.
The parkland evolved along with the hall and from 1757 some of the finest surveyors, and landscape gardeners – including Richard Wood and Capability Brown – gave their thoughts on how to create a spectacular setting for the remodelled property.
There were major additions to the Hall towards the end of the 19th century when a Ballroom designed in a Jacobean style was completed in 1891. Also built around the same time were the Victorian Kitchens and Servants’ quarters.
From the late 17th century, the Spencers (the name was changed to Spencer-Stanhope in 1775) became a leading force in Barnsley’s iron and coal industries which brought them immense wealth.
Whilst the family was associated with heavy industry, curiously, throughout the 19th and early 20th century, several family members, by birth or marriage were active in the art world pursuing and developing trends of the day.
They were related through John Spencer Stanhope (1787 -1873), a classical antiquarian, writer and explorer, and his wife, Lady Elizabeth (1795-1873), daughter of Thomas Coke of Norfolk, 1st Earl of Leicester. They had six children: Walter; John Roddam; Anna Maria; Eliza Anne; and Anne Alicia.
Walter’s daughter Gertrude Spencer-Stanhope was a sculptor and painter in the Pre-Raphaelite style while another daughter Cecily helped create the unique Fairylands within the grounds of Cannon Hall.
John Roddam was a major artist who worked under the Pre-Raphaelite influence. He was associated with Edward Burne Jones and George Frederick Watts. After initially working at Hillhouse, Cawthorne, he eventually moved to Florence.
Anna Maria’s daughter Evelyn was another Pre-Raphaelite artist known by her married surname Evelyn De Morgan whose husband was the artist William De Morgan.
Over the last fifty years Cannon Hall’s collections have grown impressively and touring exhibitions are regularly featured making the building a pleasure to visit time and time again, contradicting that anonymous critic’s lack of enthusiasm all those years ago.
And, isn’t it fitting, and a fine tribute to the Spencer-Stanhopes that a fantastic collection of Evelyn De Morgan’s paintings is on a five year sojourn at the Hall courtesy of the De Morgan Foundation.
Peter Tuffrey writes for the Yorkshire Post author of over 75 books. Currently working on ‘Yorkshire Country Houses’ and will appear during the first half of next year published by Great Northern books.
Sat 10th Sep – Sun 18th Dec
A stunning new exhibition of artwork will go on display at Cannon Hall this autumn.
The exhibition examines its landscape, wildlife, unique character and the love affair the people have with it. Cannon Hall Park and its canine visitors take centre stage in a new exhibition in the galleries at Cannon Hall Museum.
Artists James Brunt and Lena Sass have created an intriguing look at our beautiful park from the perspective of our four legged friends. Created over the summer when the artists collected materials, images and data, visitors will enter our indoor park and experience Dog Cam, a view of Cannon Hall as never seen before. The exhibition combines film, photography and materials collected on site to capture a snap shot of the park and the daily routine of the dog walk. This thought provoking exhibition celebrates the importance of green spaces, in providing us with invaluable and treasured leisure time, and the role parks play in the happiness and wellbeing of its visitors.
The exhibition was developed as the HLF/Big Lottery Fund– Parks for People Project
CLICK HERE for opening times.
Very Important Dog Day
Mon 24 Oct
As part of the ‘Park Life’ exhibition and to honour the many furry friends who regularly visit our stunning park lands, we are hosting our first ever Very Important Dog Day.
You and your dog can be one of the first to enter our stunning gallery space in this unique, one-off event. There will be the opportunity to have a doggie family photo, there will be free dog chipping and pooches coming into the exhibition will also receive a specially created rosette!
11am – 3pm, free entry but a minimum donation of £5 for doggie family photos.
We would love to see the images you take in and around our stunning park and so would our friends at the Heritage Lottery Fund !
Follow us on Twitter @CannonHall1760 #HLFNature