A Hall of History

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 1951 when it was sold along with the 150-acre parkland to Barnsley Council.
Cannon Hall 18th January 1950Cannon Hall 18th January 1950
Cannon Hall 18th January 1950

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.

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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.

Cannon Hall collection

Entrance HallCannon Hall collection

Entrance Hall
Cannon Hall collection Entrance Hall

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.

Cannon Hall was opened to the public in 1957 with the Rt Hon. The Earl of Scarborough performing at the opening ceremony. Seven of the principal rooms had been re-decorated and furnished under the guidance of first curator, Alister Campbell.

“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.

Picture  Chris Lawton 25 Jan 2007Picture  Chris Lawton 25 Jan 2007
Picture Chris Lawton 25 Jan 2007
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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...”

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. 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.

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 £2m today). Between 1764-1768, two single storey wings were added. 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.

Cannon Hall collection

Drawing roomCannon Hall collection

Drawing room
Cannon Hall collection Drawing room
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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.

There were major additions to the Hall towards the end of the 19th century when a Ballroom was completed in 1891. Around the same time Victorian Kitchens and servants’ quarters were added.

The Spencers (the name was changed to Spencer-Stanhope in 1775) became a leading force in Barnsley’s iron and coal industries which brought immense wealth.

But 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.

Cannon Hall north side about 1903Cannon Hall north side about 1903
Cannon Hall north side about 1903
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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 while another daughter Cecily helped create the unique Fairylands within the grounds.

John Roddam was a major artist associated with Edward Burne Jones and George Frederick Watts. After initially working at Hillhouse, Cawthorne, he moved to Florence.

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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.

Cannon Hall’s collections have grown impressively and touring exhibitions are regularly featured making the building a pleasure to visit time and time again.

Cannon Hall workmenCannon Hall workmen
Cannon Hall workmen

In a fine tribute to the Spencer-Stanhopes a current temporary exhibition features William De Morgan’s ceramics. A fantastic collection of Evelyn De Morgan’s paintings is on a five year sojourn at the Hall courtesy of the De Morgan Foundation.

Special thanks to Alison Cooper and Devinia Skirrow at Cannon Hall for help with this piece. For more information visit www.cannon-hall.com

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