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Thomas Bateman - Pioneer Archaeologist

Posted Thursday, May 31, 2007

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Thomas Bateman - The `Barrow Knight’

The Bateman’s of Middleton

Beside the old ex-Congregational Chapel on the road between Middleton and Youlgrave there is a barely discernible footpath through the nettles and tall grass which leads into a field. There, in an overgrown corner at the rear of the Chapel surrounded by a rusting rectangular iron railing, stands a somewhat forlorn and isolated Victorian table-top tomb surmounted by a stone replica of a Bronze-Age cinerary urn.

The vault beneath was hewn out of the solid limestone bed-rock by the man whose remains lie within, alongside those of his wife Sarah.

`nationally famous controversial pioneer archaeologist and Squire of Middleton'

This unique burial chamber in such an unusual - if not bizarre location - marks the final resting place of the nationally famous controversial pioneer archaeologist and Squire of Middleton, the so-called `Barrow Knight’, Thomas Bateman, who was laid to rest in August 1861, aged 40 years.

By all accounts Thomas, who was said to have excavated over 500 barrows or burial mounds during his short lifetime, was something of a law unto himself, and was regarded as both scholar and scoundrel by his Victorian contemporaries.

Local folk lore and historical research is often confused by the fact that there were no less than three Thomas Batemans involved in the remarkable 19th century affairs centred around the 3,000 acre family estate at Middleton-by-Youlgreave.

Built by the industrial power and wealth of the first Thomas Bateman and totally squandered into drunken dissolution by his grandson, the third Thomas Bateman, this magnificent country estate witnessed the rise and fall of a dynasty in the space of just 75 short years between 1820 and 1895.

There have been Batemans in Derbyshire since the thirteenth century, the family seat being at Hartington, where many of Thomas Bateman’s ancestors are buried. One of these fought at Agincourt, whilst another - Roger Bateman - built Middleton Hall in 1626.

Almost two hundred years later the village estate came into the possession of Thomas Bateman Snr., a staunch nonconformist and wealthy cotton magnate who retired to Middleton in 1820 at the age of 60 from a successful business life in Manchester. His son William who was 32 at the time, married Lancashire lass Mary Crompton in that same year and they settled at Rowsley where a year later on 8th November 1821 their only son Thomas Jnr. was born.

The following August Mary died and both William and his nine month old son moved to Middleton where William helped his father to dismantle the old 1626 mansion and to completely rebuild Middleton Hall which was finally completed in 1825. Two years earlier Thomas Snr., despite his protestations, had been made High Sheriff of Derbyshire, and had begun a building programme which saw the construction of most of the present village, including the Congregational Chapel which was built in 1825-26, with a house for the minister at the rear.

Thomas Snr. also provided a fine and well stocked library at the Hall, encouraging both his son and grandson to study.

William developed an interest in history and began digging into the numerous barrows and tumuli on and around the estate taking his infant son with him. He also developed friendships with other local antiquaries Llewelyn Jewitt, founder and editor of `The Reliquary’, and historian Stephen Glover with whom he was writing `The History of Derbyshire’.

In 1830 following publication of some of his findings, William was elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, but sadly died five years later at just 48 years of age, leaving his son, Thomas Jnr. in the care of his grandfather.

The young Thomas Bateman, who had laid the foundation stone at his grandfather’s chapel when just 4 years old, had been forced by life - circumstance to be independent and to think and act for himself. His independent nature was evident when at 13 he was caught poaching with guns on the Duke of Devonshire’s estate!

His grandfather sent him away to a Nonconformist Academy at Bootle, near Liverpool in 1836 and he spent the next seven years completing his formal education. Returning to Middleton in 1843, Thomas continued where his father had left off and devoted himself to excavating tumuli and adding to the burgeoning family collection. He incurred his grandfather’s displeasure by moving into a house at Matlock Street, Bakewell with Mary Mason, a local married woman.

Inheriting his father’s fortune at 21, Thomas built Lomberdale Hall just outside the village in 1844 and moved in with Mary and her younger sister – which caused tongues to wag with rumours of a `menage a trois’.

He was elected local secretary of the British Archeological Association in 1844, and managed to incur the displeasure of the local press who labelled him a `grave-robber’ – especially after removing a hair pin from the skull of Dorothy Vernon when her tomb was opened during the rebuilding of Bakewell Church. A contemporary report states, “….a more unholy grave robber or sacrilegious despoiler never existed than this Mr. Bateman.”

On 26th May 1847 Thomas Snr. died and was buried in the family plot at Hartington. His will was devastating. It required that Thomas Jnr. should `end his criminal connection’ (with Mary Mason), otherwise his `benefit in the estate shall absolutely cease and be void’.

Thomas Jnr, always the epitome of pragmatism, immediately ended his association with Mary – and on August 2nd at Bakewell married Sarah Parker, his best friends sister, who was a maid at the Hall.

His grandfathers executors duly met on August 12th and ceremoniously handed over the keys and possession of the estate to newly wed Mr. & Mrs. Thomas Bateman, now of Middleton and Lomberdale Hall.

The new Squire’s marriage and career prospered. Though modern archeologists would have been horrified by his crude methods, what Thomas lacked in finesse, he made up for in careful notes and pioneering discoveries which earned him a high reputation in academic circles. His discovery of a Saxon helmet and chain mail at Benty Grange, along with the 1847 publication of his `Vestiges of the Antiquities of Derbyshire’ raised his status considerably. His most active digging period was between 1847-51 when he and his men opened up around 300 tumuli, but in his early thirties he became seriously ill and this turned his attention to religion. In 1853 he built a Congregational Chapel at Coldwell End, Youlgreave, and set up a school in the basement of his grandfather’s chapel at Middleton where he and his growing family became regular attenders.

By 1855 the collection of antiquities in the museum at Lomberdale had become so vast that the Hall was considerably extended. A contemporary report stated, `The museum and library at Lomberdale has for some years been next to Chatsworth and Haddon Hall, one of the wonders of the Peak.’

The Barrow Knight’s final publication, `Ten Years Diggings in Celtic & Saxon Grave Hills in Derby, Stafford, and York’ appeared in August 1861 – just two weeks before his early death at the age of 40.

His only son Thomas William inherited the Middleton Estate but frittered all the family’s hard-earned wealth away. A heavy drinker, he finally had to sell his father’s entire collection at Lomberdale to meet his debts and died `incapable and insolvent, (and allegedly pickled)’ in 1895, aged only 43.

Thus in the space of just 70 years the Victorian four-generation Bateman dynasty had risen and fallen, and by the turn of the twentieth century was no more. Three Thomas Batemans had come and gone; but their heritage lives on in the magnificent mansions they built at Middleton.

*The Bateman collection is on permanent display at the Public Museum in Sheffield.

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