The capital mansion called Broomhead-hall in the northern part of this chapelry is about ten miles
distant from the town of Sheffield and five from Peniston. It stands at the head of the valley along which
flows the Ewden, one of the tributary streams of the Don, and its front windows command a fine view
down the valley of the woody steep of Wharncliffe.
It is one of the very few specimens of houses built by the substantial gentry of Hallamshire in the reign
of Charles I. In that reign it was built by Christopher Wilson, who was one of those gentlemen in
this part of the county of York who were fined for having neglected to appear at the king's coronation to receive
the honour of knighthood. He had afterwards a captain's commission in the parliament army.
There had been a house on the same site long before. In it resided the father of Christopher Wilson,
of the same name, who took the lead in the opposition which the freeholders of Bradfield made to
Gilbert earl of Shrewsbury in the great tythe cause. And on the same estate the ancestors of the said Christopher Wilson had resided from the time of Edward I. in whose reign a grant of lands was made to Adam
Wilson his scutiger, by Thomas lord Furnival, at Wightwistle in the neighbourhood of Broomhead
for services in the Scottish wars.
But it appears that before the time of this Adam Wilson there had been of the name residing at or near
Broomhead, and that both he and his ancestors married with the families of the best account in this part
The estate of Broomhead was till within these few years the last effort of cultivation in that direction.
The house stood on the edge of an immense tract of moorland; and it is equally difficult to explain how
cultivation should have extended itself so far, and why it should at this point have stopped for a period of six
or seven centuries.
This house has a strong claim on the notice and respect of every lover of Hallamshire topography. It
was the birth-place and the constant residence of John Wilson esquire, a gentleman to whom we owe the
preservation of so much documentary matter, which but for his care it is too probable would have been
entirely lost, leaving this district destitute of that evidence by which alone the character of authenticity can be
given to the history of many of its institutions, and the account of many of its principal inhabitants.
It is to be regretted that no notice was taken of Mr. Wilson at the time of his decease in any of the periodical journals; except that he died
" lamented by a numerous and respectable acquaintance, for in him the
gentleman and the Christian were happily united."
This is indeed the best of praises; but as he was also the literary man and the antiquary, we cannot but wish
that his contemporaries had given us some information respecting his literary habits and pursuits. It is
now too late fully to supply the deficiency, but something may be done.
Mr. Wilson was the great grandson of Christopher Wilson the builder of the present house, and was born
in it on the 28th of April 1719. He was the eldest son of his father. His education he received at the
grammar schools of Sheffield and Chesterfield, and made considerable proficiency in classical studies. His
father died about the time when he left school, and he returned to Bnoomhead to reside with his mother.
Mr. Wilson was not intended for any profession.
While the younger children had been sent into the world in different employments and professions, the family estate, neither much increased
nor' much diminished in the generations through which it had successively passed, had been found sufficient to enable the head of the family to maintain hospitality, and to
take a respectable rank among the neighbouring gentry.
From the age of sixteen, therefore, Mr. Wilson was never long absent from his hereditary seat.
The very circumstance of birth as the heir of a family which has preserved its estate through a period
of five or six centuries, is enough to give a man a taste for that branch of antiquities at least which respects
genealogy. But along with the estate had descended an unbroken series of evidences such as is rarely to be
found, and which of themselves were sufficient to form the foundation of a collection of charters. The hall
too stood in the midst of earth-works of the highest antiquity, and on Mr. Wilson's own estate the plough
was every now and then bringing to light relics of the Roman and the Celtic times. How far Mr. Wilson's
predilection for these studies might be fostered by his mother's brother the Reverend Dr. Cox Macro, the
Suffolk collector and antiquary, does not now appear.
That Mr. Wilson's attention was very early directed to topographical and antiquarian pursuits appears from
this - that in 1741, when he was only two-and-twenty, he had completed a topographical survey of Hallamshire, which, while it contains some things which his more matured judgement would have led him to
reject, is highly creditable to his industry and spirit of research.
From that time Mr. Wilson seems to have made it the business of his life to collect from all quarters
whatever might throw light on the descent of property, on family antiquities, or on the history, manners, and
customs of our ancestors. His taste was known, and his knowledge in such matters was properly estimated
by many gentlemen in the neighbourhood, who took a pleasure in enriching his collection with charters
when they had ceased to be material to the legal security of their estates. Among the principal contributors were Mr. Staniforth of Darnall, Mr. Bosville of Gunthwalte, and Sir Thomas Wentworth of
Bretton. The retired life which he led at Broomhead gave him abundant leisure, which he employed principally
in transcribing in a plain and legible hand what he was not allowed to appropriate.
The strength of Mr.Wilson's collection of manuscript matter lay in its charters. But he had formed
a curious collection of original letters, of inventories, of old books of accompt, of early and unpublished poetry, and a variety of miscellaneous matter pertaining to our general history, and more especially to
the county of York. All these he had carefully perused and sorted, and his finger index appears in all of
them pointing to anything which seemed more peculiarly deserving of notice. Added to these were a transcript of the Domesday book, as far as relates to
the county of York, in his own hand; large notices from Torre's manuscripts copied from the extracts made by his friend Dr. Burton of York; copies of the rates for
the county of York, of the book of the bridges, and large extracts from many of the parish-registers in his
neighbourhood; numerous pedigrees; many valuable church notes in the counties of York and Derby; and
memoranda of occurrences in his own time and neighbourhood, or of what he found preserved by tradition
among the people around him.
But his attention was not confined to the collecting of charters and other manuscripts. He improved the
library which had been collected by his grandfather the vicar of Sheffield, by the addition of many choice
printed volumes; he formed a cabinet of coins of considerable value; and he had a little museum
consisting of rare prints, a few paintings, and other objects natural and artificial, ancient and modern, of different
degrees of curiosity and value.
Frequent attention to the written character in use at different periods gave Mr. Wilson great skill in
de-cyphering ancient records; and I have heard that his numismatical knowledge
might justly vindicate for him a claim to the name and character of an antiquary. As his collection increased, his acquaintance with
the antiquaries of his day extended. His correspondence was sought by some of the most eminent among
them. He was not a fellow of the Society, but we have seen that his name was coupled in an honourable
manner with a communication which in the opinion of the President was one of the most valuable that the
Society had ever received. With Bishop Percy Mr. Wilson had a long correspondence on matters connected
with his publication of the Reliques of English Poetry, and with the bishop's descent maternally from a family of the name of Wilson.
With Mr. Whitaker the historian of Manchester he was in frequent
correspondence; as he was also with Mr. Watson the rector of Stockport, and with Brooke, whose untimely death he
did not live to deplore.
He also reckoned among his friends Dr. Pegge the rector of Whittington, and Beckwith, whose edition of Blount's Ancient Tenures owes something to the assistance he received from Mr. Wilson.
But his memory must not be flattered. That he collected some things which were scarcely worth preservation ; and that he consumed time in laborious transcription from books which at all times were easily accessible, that might have been much better employed in digesting into some regular and connected form what he had collected, in arranging, for instance, his
materials for the history of his own and the neighbouring parishes, it would be wrong to deny.
In fact, he arranged and composed nothing, saving his early survey of Hallamshire, and a genealogical account of his
own family, which he compiled with great exactness from the body of evidences in his possession, and from
such foreign authorities as he was able to procure.
With this aversion to arrangement and composition, it is not surprising that he published scarcely anything.
Indeed nothing is known to be from his pen except a few communications to the Gentleman's Magazine
and I much doubt whether he could have been prevailed upon by his friend the Somerset herald to have
taken the part assigned him in the scheme which was much canvassed in the year 1775 for dividing the county
of York, or at least the west riding, into portions, to be allotted to distinct antiquaries
by whose joint labours it was hoped that a general history of the county, on a scale of proper extent, or at least of the riding, might
have been accomplished.
The zeal of Mr. Wilson for collecting continued with unabated ardour to the last. He died at the age
of sixty-three on the 3d day of March 1783, and was buried with his ancestors in the chancel of the church
After his decease his coins and library were sold. His manuscript collections remained entire. A room was appropriated to them in the hall at Broomhead, even when the family had ceased to reside
there, and it was inhabited by the tenant of the farm.
The room was rarely opened; and in 1808, when by the favour of the present possessor I was first allowed to have access to them, I found them nearly in the state in which they had been left by him of whose assiduity and care they are so honourable a memorial.
The engraving of Mr. Wilson which is here given is a faithful copy from a portrait now in the possession of his son Mr. William Wilson of Sheffield.
It remains that we add the pedigree as collected by Mr. Wilson himself with some later additions.
Among the manuscript collections made by Mr. Wilson were the following articles:-
An old copy of Kirkby's Inquest for the county of York.
Inventory of the furniture of Sir William Cavendish's house at North Awbrey near Lincoln.
The steward's account of the expenses of Sir William Saint Lee's journey from Chatsworth to London,
and attendance on the Queen from August to October 1560.
Original manuscript of one of the voyages of a Cavendish in the time of Elizabeth,
since published in Purchas's Pilgrims.
Depositions respecting the divorce of Anne of Cleves.
An account-book of Richard Bunny of Newland when he was receiver of the northern counties/containing many original letters of
Edward VI., Queen Elizabeth, and their councils, with matter pertaining to the life of Bunny.
The accompts of Sir John Travis master of the King's ordnance in Ireland in the reign of Henry VIII.
Sale and Inventory of goods belonging to the priory of Christ Church in Canterbury.
A narrative of the proceedings of the earls, of Essex and Southampton, in a contemporary hand.
The Liberties and Customs of the Lead Mines, in verse, by Edward Manlove.
A treatise on Bail and Mainprize by Sir Edward Coke.
The genealogy of the family of Rockley of Rockley in Woreboroughdale, collected by Mr. Robert Rockley, the last of that ancient name.
A book of husbandry in the manner of Tusser, a Fatherly Farewell, and other Poems,
by John Kaye of Woodsome esquire, in the time of Elizabeth,
with an account of the transactions of that family from 1660 to 1642.
A collection of poetry made in the time of Charles I.
An unpublished descriptive poem entitled ' The Moors,' by Godfrey Bosville of Gunthwaite esquire.
Copy of the Rev. Mr. Garlick's collections for the history of Wakefield.
A Catalogue of the curiosities, manuscripts, early printed books, ancient deeds and writings,
collected by Dr. Cox Macro of Norton in Suffolk.
From the book Hunter's
Hallamshire .. scanned to CD
by Colin HINSON , an absolute "must buy" if you're
interested in this area.