Earliest records show that the family Kinder were seated at Upper House since at least 1378 and their fate and fortunes, both illustrious and modest, spanned around 350 years there. The core of the house as it stands today is said to be built in the 16th century, on the foundations of its predecessor which had been erected around a courtyard. A John Kinder held it in 1700 and it was disposed of to a branch of the Dakeyne family c. 1718. By 1754 it was recorded that the house was held by a family called Bennet. The Bennets once again rebuilt around the courtyard, leaving date stones at the original front door, now the internal doorway into Upper House kitchen. The fabric of this building can be discerned to the right of the tower on the front span of the house.
THE KNIGHTS HOSPITALLER
From the first census return of the 1800’s, until James Watt’s appropriation at the end of the century, the house was occupied by the Marriotts. In his book, ‘Curiosities of Kinder Scout’, historian Steve Lewis records that the Marriott family were previously tenants of The Knights Hospitallers, a branch of the Knights Templar, at Ughill, near Sheffield, before coming to reside on Kinder. Their honourable code was that of hospitality to be granted to travellers on the road, whether rich or poor. They would be assured of a warm welcome, nourishment, entertainment and a good nights rest. Places such as these were the forerunners of Hotels, Inns and wayside Public Houses, and Upper House’s position at the crossroads of three pack horse routes would certainly lend itself to such a purpose. The arrival of the Marriotts is also linked to the re-erection of Edale Cross and its ‘reinscribed’ date of 1810, which stands at the foot of Swine’s Back ridge at Kinder Low End, south west of Upper House. Markers such as this cross were associated with the boundaries of Knights Templar and Hospitallers communities, and their preceptory and commandaries.
An Ancient Farmstead
An ancient farmstead dating back to at least the 14th Century, Upper House stands isolated on the side of Kinder Scout, at the convergence of ancient pack horse routes from Glossop, Hayfield and Edale.
Neighbouring farms were compulsorily purchased and demolished when Sir James Watts, Mayor of Manchester, sold the land to Stockport Water Authority for the Reservoir in the late 1800’s. Sir James insisted that he retain Upper House as his shooting lodge, and set about improving it with the talented architects, masons and craftsmen that created the municipal works of the day. The estate was then used solely for recreation, with the two woodlands being created to enhance the available game stocks on the moors.
James Watts, as Lord Mayor of Manchester and very wealthy textile merchant, entertained many society figures at his shooting parties. His son, also James, became the brother-in-law of Agatha Christie who enjoyed many stays at the house.
SIR JAMES WATTS
Sir James Watts of Manchester acquired the Kinder estate in the mid 19th Century. He was a hugely successful textiles merchant whose income at the turn of the century was bigger than the GNP of Spain. Manchester was at the heart of the cotton industry, with the suitable damp weather and the proximity of the Manchester Ship Canal creating huge wealth in the city, which was known as “Cottonopolis”. James Watts’ main textile wholesale warehouse was on Portland Street, Manchester, built 1851-56 by architects Travis and Magnell. It was the largest of the many warehouses in Manchester, and was exceptional in its lavish design and quality and is used today as The Britannia Hotel. It is a considerable landmark in Manchester city centre, with its unusual combining of architectural styles on each of the five floors of the building.
As Lord Mayor of Manchester between 1855 and 1857, James Watts was very involved in the Great Art Exhibition held there in 1857, and hosted Prince Albert and Prime Minister Disreali during their visit, both at his home, Abney Hall, and for a shooting party on his Kinder Estate. A certain legend exists in Hayfield about providing the Consort with a hot shower during his stay, as running hot water was not the norm, and protocol needed to be observed!
It was during this visit that James Watts received his knighthood. Afterwards, Disreali wrote that “to see England, one must visit Manchester.” Prince Albert described Abney Hall as “one of the most princely mansions in the neighbourhood”. King Edward VII and Prime Minister Gladstone also visited Abney in subsequent years.
In 1871 Sir James Watts became High Sheriff of Lancashire, a powerful political position, responsible for law and order and military duties. It is the oldest secular title under the House of Windsor in England and Wales, dating back to the House of Plantegenet in 1154. By 1908, under King Edward VII, the position was superseded by that of Lord Lieutenant, and since then the title has become largely honorary.
James Watts married Margaret Anne Buckley on 16 December 1832 and had five children who survived. His eldest son, James, born in 1878, married Madge Miller, Agatha Christie’s sister, in 1902 and they had a son born in 1903, also James, and known affectionately as Jack, who continued to live in the north and become the MP for Moss Side in Manchester. The Watt’s line ended in 1961 with the death of Jack.
JAMES WATTS & UPPER HOUSE
Sir James remodelled and extended his home Abney Hall, in Cheadle, in the early 1850’s. He changed architects at the end of the redesign to incorporate the highly detailed Gothic elements of the fashionable Pugin and Minton. He used Farlands, down the road from Upper House, as his country retreat until the reservoir was built and Upper House began to be redesigned in collaboration with his eldest son, James, in 1905. The house received a much simpler treatment than Abney, as was the fashion at the time.
They set about transforming it, adding, amongst other things, the castellated Gate House, and incorporating most of the woodwork from a late Medieval church, apparently from Cheshire, into the Great Hall, where it forms a highly eccentric piece de resistance. The tower to the front stands in the centre of a long range. They took great pains to erect the tower so that the sundial in its centre is accurate at the time of the summer solstice. The angles in the architecture of Upper House’s entrance hall bear witness to this feat, as indeed the detail and flourishes over whole house are testimony to their ideal of the perfect country retreat. The entire setting of the house, the levels, castellations, and its vistas, are studiedly connected to its environment, which is magnificent in the extreme.
Upper House is one of the most unique properties in Britain, fashioned by a man with great confidence in his own style, a wealth of personal highly connected friends to entertain, and a serious interest in art and collectables. The remaining Arts and Crafts stained glass in Upper House, seen prominently in the Game Keepers Cottage and the Medieval Banqueting Hall, bear the names and crests of landed gentry, local nobility, and wealthy industrialists, all of whom got invited to Watt’s shooting parties.
By the mid 20th Century, James’ son Jack had little time for traditional hierarchies, and Hayfield testimonials describe him as more likely to share a sandwich with the beaters than join in with the guests for lunch at Watt’s shooting parties. In 1958 he sold Abney and Upper House and moved to London. He was elected Conservative MP for Manchester Moss Side and entered Parliament on 8th October 1959. He died suddenly in office on 7th July 1962. During his short office he campaigned against wasteful expenditure in the public sector, supported chiropody in the National Health Service and spoke out against unfair dismissal of women in public employment.
When Abney Hall and Upper House were sold in 1958, the remarkable antiques and furnishings of both were auctioned, the catalogue of which can be seen in the Victoria and Albert Museum. Some pieces were distributed amongst Stockport’s other great houses, including Lyme Hall and Bramhall Hall. Any sold today are sold with the provenance, and are very expensive.Abney Hall was sold for £14,500 to Cheadle and Gatley Urban District Council which adapted it to become the Town Hall. Today it is used as offices, and is open to the public under the auspices of the Civic Trust’s Heritage Open Days scheme, usually in the third week of September every year. The grounds are open all year round and have recently been granted a licence to hold outdoor fitness classes and bootcamps, as an alternative to leisure centres and gyms.
Upper House sold for £7,000 and was owned for a year after the sale by a gentleman with his wife and family.
It was then owned from 1960 by Moosia and Yol Von Achten, who undertook the expensive task of bringing mains electrics from the nearest settlement and making it more habitable. Moosia was a goddaughter of Tsar Nicholas I of Russia before escaping to England, where she met her German husband while working in a Manchester bank. Paul and Nicola Hudson bought the house in 2000 and have spent years lovingly updating the interiors.
MARY AUGUSTA WARD
Mrs Mary Augusta Ward’s novel “The History Of David Grieve”, published in 1892, was written during her stay at Upper House in the late 1880s. Set in the mid 19th century, it charts the lives of Hayfield farming families and their Christian values, a theme prominent in Mrs Ward’s works. It succeeded her bestselling book “Robert Elsmere” and established her as the bestselling author in both Britain and the US at the turn of the century.
Mary Ward (1851-1920) was born in Tasmania into a highly connected family of Victorian intellectuals, poets and philosophers that included Matthew and Thomas Arnold, Aldous, Thomas and Julian Huxley. Her social circle reads like a literary and political Who’s Who. She used her husband’s name, Humphrey Ward, to write, but was a highly successful and hugely intellectually active person with her own distinguished literary, journalistic, educationalist, fundraising, theological and philanthropical career. She founded two education centres for women that are still operating; the first of the two Oxford colleges for women, Somerville Hall, and The Mary Ward Centre in Tavistock Place, London.
At these colleges she instigated the first play centres for children and from this she championed the first childcare in Britain. She also undertook the first childcare for handicapped children in the UK, who until then were largely left neglected at home in working families. She directly influenced a clause in the 1902 Education Bill appertaining to childcare provision within Local Authorities, added a clause for physically handicapped children in the Education Act of 1917 and in 1919 urged that German children be included into the work of the Save The Children’s Fund.
Ironically, to the modern mind, she was also one of the first founders of The Anti Suffrage League and opposed womens’ participation in national politics, saying that war and economy were mens problems that should be left to men. However she agreed with voting at a local level and became one of the first seven English women magistrates. After her direct experience in the Great War, as the first female journalist to visit the trenches, she perhaps altered her stance, but this was probably too late to win her popularity with other literary figures in the 20th Century and her considerable fame and success were quickly forgotten.
She espoused a unique spirituality which went against the mores of the day, and was greatly influenced by philosopher Thomas Hill Green (1836-1882). She believed that Jesus was a prophet but not in the literal interpretation of miracles, she stood apart from both the supernatural and science and had faith in a universal Divine consciousness. She used many of her 30 novels to express her beliefs and ideas in an indirect way, and indirect feminine influence was a theme she often referred to. Her memoirs recall that places she visited, such as Upper House, set the stage for the influential people of late Victorian Britain to really exchange ideas, and ultimately influence each other.
The Kinder Trespass
Locally and nationally, the Kinder Trespass of 1932 is annually remembered and recognised as the significant moment in the history of rambler’s rights, and the creation of National Parks. How the event is remembered locally may be somewhat different to the reaction at the time, as is the case with moments of change in society. The trespassers were a well organised, highly motivated group from Sheffield, with support from The Manchester Ramblers, and had little to do with the dynamics of Hayfield per se, but they made their point on the memorable “Forbidden Mountain” of Kinder Scout, which, at 2,088ft, is the highest point of the Peaks, and the most accessible summit to many urban areas.James Watt’s letters on the subject in The Times are contained in the house history file, and perhaps display a certain diplomatic reserve. He was owner of one of the six estates on Kinder at the time and the disturbances did not take place on his land, although he was no doubt affected by the harm done to his gamesman, Edward Beever, on the day.
JAMES, AGATHA & DERBYSHIRE
Sir James’ eldest son, James, was born in 1878. He worked in the family business and married Agatha Christie’s sister, Madge Miller, in 1902. They had a son also James, and known as Jack, born in 1903. Like his father, James was interested in architecture and extended Abney Hall with architect and interior designer George Faulkner Armitage in the 1890s. As manager of the Kinder Estate, he was an active president of The Peak District and Northern Counties Footpaths Preservation society in 1921, and utilised Upper House to a much greater extent than his father due to Madge’s active interest in her dogs and country pursuits. James and his sister-in-law Agatha formed a lifelong friendship that often influenced her work. Agatha’s daughter Rosalind spent much of her childhood with them and her cousin Jack.
There are three books that are closely associated with Agatha’s northern trips and visits to Abney Hall and the Upper House Kinder Estate, (‘The Mystery Of Hunter’s Lodge’, ‘Hercule Poirot’s Christmas’, and ‘The Adventure Of The Christmas Pudding’), and others that are directly influenced by her cajoling and affectionate relationship with James Watts. They are fondly dedicated to her brother-in-law in the novels after the publishing credits, and make interesting reading.Agatha also dedicated several books to James and Madge’s only son, born in 1903, her nephew Jack, including “The Secret Of The Chimneys” in 1925. The inspiration of Abney Hall with its considerable hexagonal chimney collection is evident!Hercule Poirot was introduced in Agatha’s first book, ‘The Mysterious Affair at Styles’, in 1921. By 1924 he had become a detective genius through the collection of short stories, ‘Poirot Investigates’, in which he solves a grisly Derbyshire murder from his London bed, where he is confined with influenza, entirely by deduction from remote feedback via his trusty sidekick, Captain Hastings.The ingenious tale, ‘The Mystery Of Hunter’s Lodge’ (televised in 1991), was set at a grouse shoot on the Derbyshire moors near Elmer’s Dale, a thinly disguised Edale, on the other side of Kinder from Upper House.Indeed, Agatha draws on many names in the Derbyshire county for places in her novels. Poirot’s friendly rival, the hapless Mr Japp, stays during the Hunter’s Lodge case at the Matlock Hotel, while the shadowy character around whom the plot revolves is Mrs Middleton (derived from the nearby Stoney variety!). Lady Frances Derwent, the Cavendish family, Jack Hartington, Evelyn Hope, Mary Dove and Sylvia Dale, Tommy and Tuppence Beresford, are all names borrowed from the Peakland. Most famously, the name Miss Jane Marple, who made her debut in ‘Murder At the Vicarage’ in 1930, was confirmed by Agatha, that her name was indeed derived from the town of Marple, which she passed through (sometimes on the train) on her way to Hayfield to stay at Upper House.With the 1926 publication of the blockbusting ‘The Murder Of Roger Ackroyd’, Agatha declared herself a “professional writer”, saying that meant she wrote even when she didn’t want to! It rocketed her to celebrity status, part of the pressure perhaps that lead to her 1926 disappearance. This classic, with arguably the most famous ending in crime fiction, is shot through with Derbyshire spirit, for the fiendishly cunning plot (some say downright unfair!) was suggested by James Watts himself after he said that Agatha’s early works were becoming too predictable.
In 1938 she wrote a detective novel especially for James, after he had teased her that she had become “too civilised”. “I want a good violent murder, with lots of blood” he said, and she duly obliged with ‘Hercule Poirot’s Christmas’. The book carries a long dedication to Watts as ‘one of my most faithful and kindly of my readers,’ and finishes, ‘so this is your special story, written for you…your affectionate sister-in-law…Agatha’.
The ‘Adventure Of The Christmas Pudding’, written in 1960 after James’ death in 1957, she dedicates to “all the happy Christmas’s I spent with the Watt’s in the North”. A mischievously macabre Agatha inflicts Christmas Day malaise on an already restless Hercule Poirot via an anonymous letter sent to his room: “Don’t eat none of the Christmas pudding. One who wishes you well.” Even the dialect becomes distinctly Derbyshire.
The peace and inspiration of Kinder inspired her the whole of her celebrated life as “The Duchess of Death”, as she liked to be referred to! Her daughter Rosalind wrote of Upper House in a letter of May 2000, “I do of course remember it well – it’s a beautiful place and looks much the same as far as I can see as it did when I was a child”. As well as those “happy memories” made at Upper House, Agathas’ relationship with the Watt’s is never made more evident than by the fact James Watts took the mystery of Agatha’s disappearance to the grave with him. Their friendship endured a lifetime, both inspired by a moorland landscape which will undoubtedly inspire many more.
AGATHA CHRISTIE 1890-1976
All of Agatha Christie’s 84 novels and 157 short stories remain in print. There were 19 plays, including The Mousetrap, which has been playing continually in the West End since 1952. It is estimated that over four billion of her books have been sold in more than 45 languages, making her the best selling author of all time, according to the Guinness Book Of Records.
Agatha Christie, born Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller, was born on 15 September 1890 in Torquay, Devon, youngest sister to Madge and brother Monty. Agatha often refers to her status in the family, as it was her parents will that she was not to be educated or marry, but to stay at home to care for them. However, in 1901, when Agatha was 11, her father died, leaving the family in some financial difficulty. Her sister married James Watts in 1902.
It was at the wedding that Agatha met Nan Watts, James’ cousin, and they formed a life long friendship. At 18, Agatha went to live in the genteel Anglo-Egyptian community in Cairo for a while with her mother, and later returned to Torquay to polite English society. When she was 22, she met Archie Christie at a dance and embarked on a tumultuous relationship of which her mother disapproved, and married him suddenly two years later, on Christmas Eve, 1914, before he returned to duties in the Great War. She saw him very little over the next four years. Agatha worked first as a volunteer nurse, and then in the hospital dispensary, where she acquired her knowledge of poisons, which she would use to great effect later in her novels.
Agatha’s family home of Ashfield in Torquay became seriously threatened by financial difficulties by 1916 and it was then she resolved to put her imagination to work, and to create her first crime novel, “The Mysterious Affair At Styles”.
Agatha created her imaginary world by talking through all the characters, going over and over plots while walking or bathing, and her writing developed from speech, which is considered contradictory by those who knew her, to her shy and reserved nature. She sent her work for critical analysis to a successful local writer, and was encouraged by this and also by the support from her mother, sister and brother in law, James Watts.
Her daughter Rosalind was born in 1918, but a month after, Agatha left her with her mother at Ashfield and went with Archie into rented accommodation in London. In 1921 they went on a round the world tour with The British Empire Exhibition and Rosalind stayed with the Watt’s. While she was away her second novel, ‘The Secret Adversary” was published. After her return in 1922 she continued to write a book a year, with some being serialised in newspapers.
By 1926 she had written six novels and her name was well known. However, the next few years were to prove difficult. Her mother died in the spring of 1926 and Agatha was devastated, losing her closest confidante. Her marriage was experiencing difficulties and Archie was unable to support her grief. Clearing out forty years of memories at her childhood home Ashfield was a trial for Agatha, and she started to lose her sense of self. Archie agreed to come to Torquay for Rosalind’s eighth birthday, and then for a family holiday in Italy. However in the event he told her he had fallen in love with Nancy Neele, a secretary where he worked, and he wanted a divorce as soon as possible.
Agatha struggled through the next few months, but on December 3rd 1926 she disappeared. Her abandoned car was found a few miles from home, which made headline news for several days, with much speculation circulating. Eventually it appears that a maid in a hotel in Harrogate recognised her, and that she had been staying in the hotel for about ten days, under the name of Miss Neele. Archie collected her, and an explanation of amnesia was given to the newspapers.
She divorced Archie in April 1928, and had been making steady creative and psychological progress by that time. In the Autumn of 1928 she embarked on a major trip on the Orient Express from Calais to Istanbul, and across the desert to Baghdad.
On a return journey to Baghdad in 1930 she met Max Mallowman, a young archeologist, and they married soon after. She entered a period she describes as utter happiness and contentment. In 1938 she bought Greenaway in Brixham, Devon, another house she adored. It was left to the National Trust by her daughter Rosalind in 2001.
Agatha travelled extensively with Max and became very involved with digs on archeological sites in Syria and Iraq, which she wrote about semi autobiographically in the book ‘Come, Show Me How You Live’ published in 1946.
She continued to visit James Watts with Max over the following years, both at the Watt’s family seat Abney Hall in Cheadle, and at their shooting lodge on Kinder.
Agatha Christie’s mystery books have been outsold in the western world only by Shakespeare and the Bible. She also wrote poetry and romance under the pseudonym Mary Westmacott. She died on 12th January 1976, aged 86, but her spirit lives on in nearly 70 mystery novels and over 100 short stories.
Agatha’s daughter Rosalind was born on 5th August 1919 in Cheadle near Manchester. She spent much of her early years with her uncle James Watts and aunty Madge, visiting Upper House in Hayfield with them often. Rosalind married Hubert Prichard in 1943, who died in active service in 1944. They had a son, Matthew, born in 1943. She then married Anthony Hicks in 1949. They worked hard on The Greenway Estate house and gardens until 2000, when they gave them to The National Trust. Rosalind played a very active role in directing her mothers estate and intellectual property. She became president of the newly formed Agatha Christie Society in 1993. She passed away on 28 October 2004, leaving Matthew as the sole survivor of the family.