We had a family outing to Ilam Hall the other day. A stunning place I never even knew existed and pretty much on my doorstep.
Ilam is a 158 acre country park, situated on the River Manifold just northwest of the village of Ashbourne in Derbyshire. For centuries it has been an important settlement, although never a very large one and dates back to the days of the Saxons. Originally the land belonged to Burton Abbey, but after the Reformation the estate was divided among three families, the Ports of Ilam Hall, the Meverells of Throwley and the Hurts of Castern. Of these, the Meverells no longer exist and Throwley Hall is now a ruin and the Hurts still live at secluded Castern Hall.
The original hall at Ilam was built in 1546 although what we see today only dates back to the 1820’s, the time in which the Hall and estate was sold by the Port family. By the 1930’s the hall had been sold off yet again for demolition, which was in the advanced stages when it was purchased by Sir Robert McDougal for the National Trust in order that what remained (the entrance hall, the Great Hall and the service quarters) be used as a youth hostel.
In the background of the photo below you can see the old church. Originally Saxon, the church today is 17th century built with 13th century foundations, although there are still a two fragments from Saxon crosses.
Inside you will find the Chapel of St. Bertram which was built in 1618 and houses the shrine of said Saint. St. Bertram was an 8th century son of a Mercian King who renounced his royal heritage for a life of prayer and meditation after his wife and child were killed by wolves. Back in the Middle Ages his shrine was a point of pilgrimage after it was reputed to work miracles.
Although the village of Ilam dates back to Saxon days, most of the houses only date back to the last two centuries. When the Port family sold the village estate, along with Ilam Hall, in 1820 to wealthy industrialist Jesse Watts-Russell, it is said the surrounding valley and hills reminded him of the Swiss Alps and so he decided to knock down most of old Ilam and build new cottages for the villagers in a Swiss style to complete his vision. Granted, the village is picturesque in every way, however the history lover in me would still have loved to see the old village.
If you are in the Southern Dales then make sure to pay a visit to Ilam and explore the beautiful gardens and surrounding landscape, especially if you fancy walks into the heart of Dovedale and the Manifold Valley.