The Pagets. Stuffyn Wood.


Stuffynwood Hall (photograph courtesy of Grant Pearcy). More information is available on Grant's Stuffynwood website.

THE Pagets—I do not mean those who have a marquis at their head, nor the Pagets of Worcestershire, nor of Somersetshire, but those whose estates lie chiefly in Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire, and Derbyshire—are a numerous family. They belong to Leicestershire, in which county their property is principally situated, though they have acquired a landed interest in other shires, and their possessions are extensive. They have been located at Ibstock, in Leicestershire, for upwards of two centuries. I find that as far back as 1678 the Master and Brethren of Wigston’s Hospital granted to Thomas Paget a lease of certain land and cottages. The present head of the family, Mr. Tertius Paget, Member of Parliament for the Southern Division of Leicestershire, has property there now. The ancestors of this gentleman, who are also the ancestors of the Nottinghamshire branches of the family, were county gentlemen of considerable position. One of them, of Ibstock, seems to have been an eminent agriculturist. Long before the days of steam ploughs and sewerage farms, he made successful experiments in scientific agriculture, and Marshall, in his survey of the Midland Counties, published many years ago, makes special mention of what he saw in the way of agricultural improvement at Ibstock. He speaks of Mr. Paget’s proficiency in the art of watering grass lands on a modern principle, and adds, “He cuts a considerable quantity of hay annually from the lands which have received no other manure than the water during the last forty years.” He then speaks of Mr. Paget as a representative of the highest class of yeomanry, who has made himself a master of the art, taught it to his labourers, and practised it on an extensive scale upon his own estate. Having taught the young men of his village the art of draining the land, he sent them into various districts, there to spread the system which he had found to be so profitable and so worthy of adoption. “How fortunate for rural affairs,” says the surveyor of the Midlands, “when genius is assisted by science and self-practice!”

Does it not occur to those who have read the above sentences that the late Mr. Charles Paget inherited in some degree this side of his ancestor’s character? The name of Paget is known in this county as well as in that of Leicester, and this must be my excuse for bringing the family into a series of articles, which indeed could hardly have been complete, did it not contain some account, however imperfect, of a family, one of whose representatives at any rate, has done so much for Nottingham and for the county of which it is the chief town. The other members of the family who are settled about here, are Mr. Joseph Paget, of Stuffynwood; Mr. G. Ernest Paget, of Sutton Bonnington, one of the directors of the Midland Railway Company; Mr. William Paget, of South Field ; and Mr. Frank Paget, of Birstall—the first three of whom are magistrates for Nottinghamshire. The late Mr. Charles Paget, who lived at Ruddington Grange, was, as I have already intimated, descended from the Pagets of Ibstock. He was first returned to Parliament as Member for Nottingham in 1856, on the elevation of the late Lord Belper to the peerage, practically without opposition. At first be declined to accept the honour which was pressed upon him by some of the most influential members of the Liberal party, for a reason which indicates a certain lofty independence of character, not always to be met with in candidates for Parliamentary honours. Mr. Paget had got it into his head that some views he held concerning the Sunday Question, were distasteful to a certain section of the party whose battle he had been asked to fight, and the following extract from a letter written by Mr. Paget in 1856, to one of the leaders of the Liberal party in Nottingham, may be interesting:—

“Since the conversation at Ruddington, in which you and Mr. Birkin (the late Ald. Birkin) enquired how, if I were in Parliament I should vote on a bill for opening places of instructive amusement, such as the British Museum and the National Gallery on the Sunday, to which enquiry I replied that I should vote in its favour, I have been honoured by a visit from Messrs. Heymann and Mundella, requesting to know if I would consent to become a candidate if the Liberal party generally wished it.

I replied that if I were called upon by the great Liberal party which supported Mr. Strutt, I should think it my duty to respond to that call, but that I would not do anything which would weaken us by dividing us.

The question upon which I differ from many of my friends amongst the Reformers appears to me to be of the highest importance.

The Sunday is an invaluable blessing to us all, particularly to the labouring man, and I cannot consent to any legislation which will prevent his using in the way he believes to be the best for his religious, moral, and intellectual improvement, that day which by universal consent Christendom has adopted as a day of religious worship and repose from labour.

On the proper mode of passing this day great difference of opinion exists, and I do not think I should bejustified in endangering the Liberal representation of Nottingham on this ground.”

The difficulty, however, was not an insuperable one, and Mr. Paget was induced to come forward in the Liberal interest. Mr. Paget retained his seat as a Member for the borough for a period of ten years, and Nottingham never had a more worthy representative. He was thrown out at the election of 1865, and Parliament lost the services of one of the ablest, most respected, and most influential private members. Mr. Paget now turned his attention to matters immediately affecting the welfare of the town, obtained a seat on the first School Board, and his wide experience and sound knowledge were of great service in the working of the new Education Scheme. He was, indeed, a most valuable acquisition to the School Board, as indeed he was to every other public body with which he was connected. He continued to live a useful and active life until one day in August, 1873, when he had attained a ripe age, the waters of the deep gathered about him, as he sat upon the rocks at Filey enjoying the wild beauty of the Yorkshire coast, and he and his wife were swept away never to be heard of more.

Stuffynwood, the residence of Mr. Joseph Paget, although only four miles away from Mansfield is not in this county. It belongs to Derbyshire and is just over the border line. The division of the two counties is marked by a turbulent little stream, taking its excited course through the picturesque grounds which form an approach to the mansion, and is called the Meden. The scenery at this dividing point, if it may be so described, is exquisitely pretty— might fairly be called romantic, for it reminds one of the softer aspects of the Peak of Derbyshire. The stream has not the width of the Dove, but it has some of its graceful curves and sparkling eddies, and it threads its way along a ravine, which is sheltered by masses of limestone rock of picturesque formation, and by overhanging foliage. The name “Little Matlock” has been given to it. The house which has the advantage of an elevated situation commanding extensive ‘views in both counties, is a large, handsome building, of fine architectural proportions, and a conspicuous object from certain quarters, though as it is away from the population—its name does not stand for any parish or village—it is not much known. It was built by Mr. Charles Paget upwards of twenty years ago, and as its substantial walls are composed of the hard magnesian limestone so abundant in the neighbourhood, it is likely that it will last for many generations.

Living at Stuffynwood, a drive of a few miles brings you in the midst of all the glories of Sherwood Forest; in another direction you may soon get amongst some of the scenery for which the adjoining county is so famous. On clear days, Mr. Paget, by an instantaneous process, takes photographs of the surrounding scenery from his grounds. From his dining room window you may see the trains passing along the Manchester, Sheffield, and Lincolnshire line, giving life to the landscape, and these with the smoke outpouring from the funnel of the engine as the train rushes along, he has photographed successfully. The large and well-lighted rooms, decorated with quiet taste and furnished in a befitting manner, without any appearance of display, contain many beautiful things. In the hail there are curious cabinets and quaint pieces of furniture which once belonged to a Roman noble, and are, I should think, very valuable. One of the cabinets is said to have been designed by Michael Angelo; the other pieces are curiously inlaid, and quaint illustrations of proverbs and episodes in sacred and profane history are introduced to form part of the work. A fine picture of Gilbert’s hangs in the hall, and faces the entrance. It is a Scotch landscape, suffused with the light of an evening sun. A dusky haze is gathering over a reedy lake from which the wild fowl are rising—a picture that would always arrest one’s attention. The principal pictures, I gathered, were mostly chosen by the late Mr. Charles Paget, who had rare taste in matters of art. If the pictures at Stuffynwood are not numerous they are all of them, good, and they would brighten any room in which they were hung. The room of an indiscriminate collector of pictures—I mean of a man who makes a practice of buying the works of great artists whenever they are offered to him, and who cares more for the autograph of the painter than for the subject or character of the painting, are sometimes the very reverse of cheerful. But the incongruity of arrangement to which I allude is only to be observed in houses where works of art are got together, either from a love of possession or to gratify a mania for collection. The owner of Stuffynwood is not an art collector in the accepted sense of that term, but he would be justified in pointing with some degree of pride to the few works of the painters’ and sculptors’ art which his house enshrines.

In the dining room, over the mantelpiece, there is a large Scriptural painting—an Old Testament subject—showing all the soft beauty of an Eastern landscape, by Marco, a Hungarian painter of considerable repute. It represents the meeting of Laban and Jacob, and it is flanked on either side by an example of Herring’s exquisite art, full of bright, transparent light and of atmospheric vitality. On the opposite wall there are some half-dozen portraits, two of them at once recognisable. These are of the much lamented and much missed public man, whose name will ever occupy a prominent place in local history, and of his son who inherited his estates, and who is the present owner of Stuffynwood and Ruddington Grange. The ceiling in the drawing room is ornamented with a very fine centre piece. It is a reproduction of one of the masterpieces of Guido, and was painted by Italians. On the walls of this room are a number of fine water colours, chiefly of the scenery of Italy.

One of them is the Largo di Gardo, by Vandervelde, formerly Geographer Royal to the King of Holland, and who made the first famous map of the Holy Land. In recesses at opposite sides of the large window, are two chaste pieces of white marble statuary— Pasterella, from the chisel of Wolff, and Cupid, disguised as a shepherd, designed by Gibson, and executed by one of his pupils. There is a finer piece of statuary than either of these, in the library upstairs. This is Beuzoni’s “Diana,” a lovely figure, which the sculptor executed as a commission for the late Emperor of Russia, at the time of the Crimean War. The statue was not, however, destined to adorn the Imperial Palace. His Majesty was probably too much occupied with the disastrous event in which his country was involved, to indulge in art cravings, and the statue remained in Rome until it was seen by the late Mr. Charles Paget, who purchased it and sent it to England. It now graces the library of an English country gentleman, and is safe from dynamite and the machinations ‘of Nihilism. But the effect of this beautiful figure would hardly have beet’ lost among the splendours of the home of Russian Royalty. It is of more than life size; the superb goddess holds in her shapely fingers an arrow which she has just taken from the quiver; the head is slightly towards the exquisite shoulders, showing a clear cut and perfect profile, when the statue is moved in the certain position ; the drapery is backward-fluttering, and one delicate foot is lifted, suggesting progression and swift movement. It is beautiful as an ornament, perfect as a work of art, and not easily to be forgotten by one who has bad an opportunity of studying it for any length of time.

Almost every good country house has a billiard room. Billiards is a game which never loses its fascination, and in these country houses the room where the board of green cloth is set, is frequently used. The game is generally played under the most favourable and favoured conditions. The board is of the very best make, the cushions are kept in perfect order, the cues carefully selected, and of the best description, and the room very comfortable. The billiard room at Stuffynwood is just what a private billiard room ought to be. It is detached from the other principal rooms in the house, but is quite easy of access. It is lofty, and is well lighted both by windows and by a skylight arrangement of diaphanous glass, which modifies the effect of the sun’s rays when that orb is shining. The progress of the game is marked by electricity; by touching one of the nipples set in the polished ledge on every side of the board, the players register their strokes upon a figured disc without any further trouble. If this arrangement is generally adopted, billiard marking may possibly become an obsolete calling. If my visit had happened earlier in the year, I might have had a better chance of seeing the gardens and the beautiful things in the way of orchids and other showy exotics that are grown in the extensive ranges of glass that are attached to the gardens, which cover a large area of ground. These visits are much pleasanter in summer—they are made pleasant in the winter by the unvarying kindness which is shown to me by the heads of the various families representing the great houses of this county, but after spending several hours amid internal comforts, such as are alone to be met with in residences of this class, on a cold and boisterous day, one is not anxious to pass much time in flowerless gardens and leafless pleasure grounds.