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The Ferrers family roots possibly go back to Norsemen from Orkney and Ireland who eventually conquered Normandy in 871AD and are also linked with those of William the Conqueror.
The family name was initially Ferrieres or de Ferrariis. A Norman name deriving from 'ferrum' (iron) because for centuries, the family owned largeironworks in France. One of the great French Baronial Families, the Ferrers were allied to the then Duke William of Normandy. Henry de Ferrer came with him to England in 1066, bringing a large contingent of his own Ferrieres' soldiers. These were important in the subjugation of the Saxons after King Harold was killed in the Battle of Hastings.
Now, as King William I (the Conqueror) of England, he kept most of the royal manors that belonged to King Edward the Confessor as well as those of the Lords of Mercia.
Most of the rest of the England and Wales was given to four of William's followers (the four great baronial families). One of these was Henry de Ferrers. Henry received 210 grants of land making the Ferrers, one of the richest families in England and Wales. 114 of these manors were in Derbyshire. The descendants of Henry de Ferrers were created Earls of Derby.
The first six Earls were the most powerful but the Earldom and all the Ferrer's estates were lost, when the 6th Earl, Robert de Ferrers of Derby, sided with the Barons, and lost against Henry III (1207-1272). The Ferrers family now had a lower status.
There are many connections between the de Ferrers' descendants and English Royalty. These include Henry II, King John Lackland (Magna Carta), and William de Ferrers 3rd Earl of Derby who fought with King Richard I (Lionheart) and died at Acre in 1289 in the Crusades.
Staunton Harold is a beautiful Manor House. In 1066, Amongst the 210 grants from William the Conqueror, Henry de Ferrers was given land at Staunton. Henry could not properly manage all of his estates and so, by about 1141, he leased Staunton to Alan de Lecha, from near Nottingham, who was a wealthy Saxon (before the Norman Conquest). Alan's son Harold changed his own name to de Staunton and became Lord of the Manor. Staunton then became known as Staunton Harold. Since at least 1144, Staunton Harold had a chapel, paid for its chaplain and supported its poor. It was part of the Breedon Parish.
The name 'staunton' comes from 'stoney town', most of the land around here being coal, clay, sandstone and limestone. By the early 12th Century three families were associated with Staunton. The de Ferrers, de Lechas and Sewalus. The latter are interesting because they had retained old Saxon names like Sewalus, Fulcher, Matilda, Ralph and Eldred. This is unusual because very soon after the Norman Conquest, most of the old Anglo-Saxon and Mercian names (Æthelred, Egbert, Æthelstan, etc.) were lost and French names became de rigueur. The Sewalus took the name Shirley around 1240. They too provided knights who fought valiantly in the Crusades earning the right to the Saracen's Head as part of their Coat of Arms.
The first Manor House at Staunton was built by Sir William de Staunton in 1324. Sir Ralph Shirley (from Shirley in Derbyshire) married Margaret de Staunton (heiress to the Staunton family estates) in 1423. Their son, John, liked the place so much that he made it his main Shirley family home.
Between 1306 to 1336 Sir William de Staunton worked coal and ironstone seams to the west of Staunton Harold.
George Shirley purchased a baronetcy from James I for a cheap £1095, in 1611. (So buying titles is not a 20th century thing.) King James was raising money to civilise and colonise Ulster. A symbol of this subjugation is believed to be a red hand. A red hand is present in the Shirley crest.
Sir Robert Shirley (4th Baronet) was George's grandson. He replaced the mediaeval chapel with a new (Anglican) one in 1653, next to the Staunton Harold house, to. As a committed royalist and therefore opposed to Cromwell in the civil war, he refused to provide an army on Cromwell's order, and was jailed in the Tower for the seventh time, and died there in 1656 -aged 28. After his death, the future king, Chares II sent a letter of condolence to Robert's widow and promised to restore the Shirley lands and titles.
Robert's death (4th Baronet) prevented the fulfilment of his plans for Staunton Harold. His will provided for the completion of the work, by his second son (6th Baronet), also called Robert, who continued the work, adding a large wing. The house we see today was built in the 1700's. It contains parts of two earlier houses. There are many representations of horseshoes on walls, tombs, gates and doors. These could hark back to the pre-10th century Ferreires' ironworks.
The chapel still remains as it was, and is now owned by the National Trust. Within it are some of the Shirley monuments, a wonderful painted ceiling and a beautiful wrought iron chancel screen.
Over the church door an inscription reads:
"In the year 1653 when all things sacred were throughout the nation either demolished or profaned, Sir Robert Shirley, Baronet founded this church; whose singular praise it is to have done the best things in the worst times and hoped them in the most calamitous. The righteous shall be had in everlasting remembrance."
A later Sir Robert Shirley was the grandson and heir of Dorothy, the third Earl's sister. This Robert Shirley was created Baron Ferrers in 1677 and 1st Earl Ferrers and Viscount Tamworth in 1711. Thus, the Ferrers title was adopted by the Shirley family.
In the late 18th and early 19th Centuries, the Ferrer's coal interests extended into Newbold with the lease of land to the Collieries, and the involvement of this part of the Ferrer family with the development of tramways and the extension of the Coleorton Railway.
The lavish lifestyles of the family at Staunton Harold, came to an end with the 10th Earl (1847-1942). He spent hugely, building the Orangery, Brewery and Ale Cellars. A true gentleman, he died in near financial ruin.
In WW2 the Hall was used, by the British Army. It was used as a barracks and then as an Italian and German POW camp. After the war's end, it was in such a state that the Ferrer family could not live in it and, receiving insufficient compensation, were forced to sell. The 12th Earl Ferrers died in October 1954 the day before the sale auction. Eventually, it was purchased and became a disabled people's home. In 1981 the Ryder Cheshire Mission established themselves there. The disabled people were moved to better, purpose-built premises, in the grounds.
Upon this sale, in 1954 the 13th Earl moved away to Ditchingham Hall In East Anglia. He died in November 2012 and was succeeded by his son Robert William Saswalo Shirley, now 14th Earl Ferrers