Ilam History

Ilam village in the Peak District National Park, pronounched `eye-lamb`, lies next to the river Manifold, and has a spacious, attractive appearance, with its swiss chalet style housing. Ilam`s appearance is mainly due to the efforts of a local industrialist Jesse Watts Russell, who had rebuilt the village and hall in the 19th century.

A Tudor mansion once stood on the site of the hall, the home of the Port family. It was sold to David Watts Pike in 1809 and remodelled by Jesse Watts Russel in 1821, the architect being one John Shaw. In 1875 Jesse Watts Russell died, and the house passed to thr Hanbury family, who sold it in 1927 to a restaurateur. He went bankrupt and sold the building to a demolition contractor, who promply moved in and took down two thirds of the building.

The hall and popular country park belong to the national trust now and the hall and grounds are used as a youth hostel, tearooms, shop, information centre, car park and toilets. Whats left of the hall is still an imposing and stately structure, and in the gardens and parkland there is much to see.

The church, which stands in the grounds of the hall, is of Norman origin, and has a distinctive saddle-back tower, but like the hall, much of the church was rebuilt in the 19th century. Some Norman parts remain, and it contains a highly elaborate monument by Chantrey depicting the death-bed of scene of David Pike Watts, surrounded by his only daughter and her children. The church also contains an ornate Saxon font, carved with men and dragons that are supposed to be scenes from the life of St Bertram.

There are interesting memorials to the families of Meverell and Watts.There are also the remains of two saxon crosses and a shrine to St Bertram, about whom legends abound. Bertram whose real name was Bettelin, married an Irish princess and when he left her alone in the forests which covered the area at the time, in search of a midwife to deliver his child, he returned to find that she had been devoured by wolves. Bertram devoted the rest of his life to being a hermit and converting the area to christianity.

A walk along the river Manifold, reached by the steps just past the hall is a very pleasnt way of passing an hour or two, though the area does get busy on fine days particulary at weekends.The river actually reappears at Ilam having disappeared underground at Wetton Mill approximately 4 miles aways. Near the river is the yew-shaded grotto in the cliff where the witty seventeenth century dramatist William Congreve, wrote his comedy,The Old Bachelor.

The cross in the village was erected in 1840 in memory of a Mrs Watts Russell whose family had lived in the hall for generations.

The Dovedale Sheepdog Trials are held here in August.

Closeby are the ruins of Throwley Hall, once the seat of the Meverall family, until the 17th century, when Lord Cromwell, Earl of Ardglass in Ireland inherited the estate from his mother, heiress of Robert Meverill, who is buried in Ilam cemetery. All that remains is a barn and stables.

Directions for Ilam

Ilam can be reached by taking the A515 road out of ASHBOURNE and taking the first left turning, sign posted DOVEDALE/ILAM.Parking is available at the country park.

Photos and information provided by Edward Rokita – see Derbyshire UK