Historic Buildings and Sites – The Great Hay


Abridged from a booklet by Janet Doody and Shelagh Hampton / Madeley Living History Project.

The Hay Farm lies above Coalport to the south of Blists Hill and commands enviable views along the Severn valley. It is a Grade II listed building which, for over four hundred years, has been connected with many of the most important families in the area and with many of those who played a role in the industrial revolution.

The existing building dates largely from the late 17th and early 18th century with major later 18th century alterations. It faces east and has a symmetrical frontage with projecting hipped wings on either side of a central recess housing the entrance door between sash windows. The massive brick chimney stacks with their blind round-headed arcading are a notable feature of the building. Internally some original panelling and chimney pieces of ca. 1700 still survive.

The farm buildings date largely to the 18th and 19th centuries. The red brick stables form a two-storey block with a hay loft above and have distinctive ventilation openings of patterned brickwork. One of the barns dates in part from at least the 17th century and has interesting timber roof trusses.

In the 13th century the manor of Madeley was held by Wenlock Priory and, in 1283, Edward I granted permission for the monks to enclose their wood of Madeley and to create, in part of it, a ‘haia’ or deer enclosure. The names Deer Park, Rough Park and Park Lane date from this period.

After the Dissolution in 1544 the manor, including the Hay, was sold to Sir Robert Brooke who built himself a new house at Madeley Court. There must have been a house at the Hay by this time or shortly after as various tenants are listed as living there during the 17th century including Basil and Thomas Brooke (Robert’s grandson and great grandson) who, perhaps, lived there while Madeley Court was undergoing one of its many periods of remodelling.

In 1705 the Madeley Manor Estate was sold by Comberford Brooke and the Hay Farm was bought by John Ashwood and William Phillips. The following year it was resold to the trustees for the heirs of John Purcell whose family had been tenants there since at least 1683.

The Darby family and Great Hay

In 1758 half of the Hay Farm was purchased, as an investment, by Abraham Darby II and, in 1771 his son, Abraham III, purchased the other half. It was leased to a tenant (Thomas Sparrow) but Darby planned to move there himself which he did in 1780. In the intervening period he embarked on an extensive programme of rebuilding and alteration of the house and stocking of the garden. A number of accounts survive from this period and we know that his some of his expenditure covered wages and involved sawing, smithing, tiling and work to masonry and limestone. Some of these sums may have related to the building of the stable block which has a circular cast-iron plaque, in its end gable, bearing the date AD 1775. Abraham Darby III involved himself in the farming of the Hay which provided grazing and fodder for the horses used in his Coalbrookdale operations in addition to allowing him to have some control over the local grain trade.

Abraham Darby III died at the Hay in 1789 following an attack of scarlet fever. Shortly before his death he sold some of the farm’s Severnside meadows to Richard Reynolds whose family had recently driven through a canal to serve the East Shropshire Coalfield and had connected the canal to the River Severn by building the Hay Inclined Plane. This created an important transport hub and, by 1793, new industries were being established in the meadows and were soon followed by housing. The new settlement became known as Coalport in recognition of its importance as a junction where coal was transferred from canal to river.

The Hay continued to be occupied by Abraham Darby III’s widow Rebecca for some time and then by his son, Francis, until 1805 when it was taken over by Francis’s sister, Anne, and her husband, Barnard Dickinson, who remained there for five years. The Hay remained the property of the Darby family until 1858 when it was sold by Henry and Adelaide Whitmore (the heirs of Francis Darby) to Joseph Reynolds. For much of the 19th century the house was tenanted with its most famous tenants perhaps being John and Thomas Rose.

Later History of Great Hay

Joseph Reynolds bought Great Hay in 1858 and enlarged the farm leaving it in his will to the Anstice family, owners of the Madeley Wood Company. In the early years of the 20th century it became the property of private farmers before being sold in the 1970s to Telford Development Corporation who developed much of the land as a golf course at a cost of £150,000. The course opened in 1976 and became a private club in 1980. Since then it has changed hands a number of times and is now owned by Q hotels who operate the site as a Spa Hotel and Golf Resort with the original buildings forming part of the hotel complex.