The present manor was built by the architect John Johnson. It sits on the site of an old hall, once the seat of the Lords of Rokeby but this was pulled down in 1872 to build the current house. Born in Scotland, J Johnson is credited with some of the first industrial dwellings in London. In the early 1840’s he became Clerk of Works for George Gilbert Scott who famously designed St Pancras Station. By 1855 Johnstone had settled in Newcastle. He was elected President of the Northern Architectural Association in 1875 and was commissioned to build West Layton Manor by the owner John Easton who made his fortune in coal mining in the North East of England. John Easton died not long after in 1880 and left the manor to his sister Miss Emily Easton. This included 700 acres, two farmhouses and a few cottages for the employees of Miss Easton. She died on Christmas day 1913 aged 95 and left just over one million pounds in her will, roughly £68 million pounds in todays money.
The Old Hall in Black / Present Manor in Red (1860)
More Curious and Interesting history for those interested…
The owner, John Easton lived at West Layton Manor with Emma Easton his younger Daughter. She had a fortune of £200,000 so she could have enjoyed any pleasure or comfort that anyone could desire. But instead, she spent her final years in misery — and there was widespread unease over the way she died in a locked room at the age of 36. Early in 1880 John, who was 40 years older than her, was heard ordering her up to her room in an angry tone. She went upstairs and did not come down. She stayed in her room for a week, and a maid took meals up to her. But then one morning she did not answer when the maid knocked on her door. After repeated visits there was still no answer. When John was told he replied: “Perhaps she may be dead.”He banged on the door without any response before sending for John Hardy, a joiner who lived more than two miles away at Caldwell, to come and open the door.When the joiner arrived John was eating his dinner, so there was a delay of ten minutes before the task of opening the door started. It took some time to break it open as it had been locked from the inside and the key was still in the lock. Once in they found Emma dead in bed. When all this was reported to an inquest, the jury foreman expressed disgust.He said there were men around the house who could have broken open the door instead of sending for a joiner from a distance away.He thought that if the door had been opened earlier, the life of the young woman might have been saved.“If this had taken place in an uncivilised country among a lot of savages it might have been excused,” he added.He said she was a lady worth £200,000 and she might have been saved to live a happy life. But instead she was “hurried off to the churchyard at Kirby Hill like a dog.”Dr George Walker told the inquest he had been treating Emma for the past eight or nine years for indigestion and nervous debility. She led a secluded life at the manor, rarely seeing anyone. This had affected her bodily and mental state of health. He had sent her away with a lady companion for a break at times and this had helped her. But in recent months, she had suffered restless nights and he prescribed her chloral, a sedative and painkiller. A bottle of the medicine was found beside her body with less in it than there would have been if she had taken the proper doses.If she had taken too much it could have caused her death, though a post-mortem examination showed she died from suffocation.
The coroner, Dr Walton, said one feature was the strange manner in which the poor creature had been allowed to remain in the room. As head of the house John Easton was responsible. As such, he might have been expected to take instant steps to have the door opened. His conduct amounted to shameful neglect, and the inhuman way he had behaved could not be allowed to pass unnoticed. His position and wealth could not absolve him more than anyone else.
He recorded a verdict that Emma was suffocated, but without evidence to show if it was accidental or intentional.
John Easton died eight months later at the age of 76, and his unmarried sister, Emily, took over the mansion. She became a regular worshipper at Hutton Magna Parish Church and paid for high quality stained glass windows to be installed there in memory of Emma and John. She provided a second memorial for Emma — an attractive marble reredos, a type of screen, placed behind the altar. She also met the bill for a new organ, bells and vicarage.
ACTUAL COPY FROM THE NEW YORK TIMES 1880
The Last of the Easton’s – Owner Miss Emily Easton
Miss Easton was born on 18th November 1818 and died aged 95 on Christmas Day, 1913. She had income from coal mining (the Oakwellgate Colliery in Gateshead among others was owned by her brother James and her elder brother Thomas – Thomas Easton & Co). She owned West Layton Manor in addition to Nest House on Tyneside.
In 1901 she lived at West Layton Manor with her niece, Emma Embleton, her companion, Edith Parkes and five servants. These included a cook/housekeeper, a parlour maid, a housemaid, a kitchen maid and a coachman.
Her death merited a piece in the New York Times saying she left over 5 million dollars, with generous legacies to her servants as well as to various educational and charitable institutions, including Newcastle Medical College and Armstrong College of Science (both now part of Newcastle University). Her lady’s companion of many years Edith Parker received over £8,000 and her gardener Jonathan Milner, £3,000.
Miss Easton never married and she founded the Emily Matilda Easton Trust in 1908, still in existence today, set up to help single women over 60 who are baptised in the Church of England and on basic state pension.