Playground of the rich and famous

FIRBECK, between Worksop and Rotherham. It's 1935, and a lithe lady in her stylish bathing suit smiles coyly for the camera.

Stretching out in front of her is a sparkling swimming pool, complete with a then state-of-the-art water filtration system, and behind her is a stunning art deco fountain.

Welcome to Firbeck Hall Country Club which, in the 1930s, was one of Britain's most glamorous hotspots.

Even prestigious fashion magazine Vogue published a supplement on the club, with sections on the decadent leisure activities the great and the good could pursue.

A Golfing at Firbeck feature showed two models posing with their golf clubs on the hall's 18-hole course.

It's not surprising Vogue chose Firbeck for its photoshoot. These, after all, were its Glory Years, and this was Europe's most exclusive country club – a medieval manor house converted into a pleasureground, complete with its own fairway, swimming pool, tennis courts and a horse riding circuit. It even had its own airfield.

And that was just the outside.

Beyond the Jacobean threshold was the hall's stunning interior, redesigned in the fashionable art deco style by architect Robert Cawkwell of Sheffield firm Hadfield Cawkwell Davidson.

The inside was a triumph, winning acclaim from specialist journals including Architecture Illustrated, which published pictures of the hall's la mode zebra prints, sweeping plaster work and streamlined ocean liner-esque fittings.

The glamour of the club was such that even Edward, the Prince of Wales, flew in for a visit on his royal Dragon aircraft, bearing the royal insignia.

His connection with the club came through Tom Campbell-Black, joint winner of the Mildenhall-Melbourne Air Race in 1935. Campbell-Black also supervised the construction of Firbeck Hall's aerodrome, which allowed guests to be flown into the club.

Julia Colver, honorary secretary of the newly-formed Friends of Firbeck Hall – and whose mother was the lovely lady by the swimming pool - said: "Firbeck Hall was the most exclusive club in Europe. It was extremely glamorous."

The club was opened by Cyril Nicholson, a Sheffield stockbroker whose success was attributed to his use of 'visual aids' – the names of shares and prices displayed on walls, with young ladies to alter them as they changed.

Cyril – who also owned Sheffield's Grand Hotel – wanted to use Firbeck Hall to entertain his clients, though it was his brother who suggested he open a country club, thereby entertaining clients and making money at the same time.

No expense was spared. Cyril invested 80,000 – almost 800,000 in today's money – and spent more than a year converting the club into a lavish haven. Guests could enjoy late-night pool parties, sample exotic American cocktails at the curvaceous art deco bar, eat in the grillroom, dance in the ballroom, or play in the card room. Cyril even appointed a barman from The Piccadilly Hotel in London.

Cabaret acts would travel to Firbeck to entertain, and American band leader Charlie Kunz was a regular. The BBC broadcast its weekly Saturday night show – Late Night Dance Music – from the hall.

A surviving copy of the club's Boxing Day 1935 dinner menu sums up the lifestyle perfectly – foie gras, bouche de caviar, madril en tasse and fillet de sole coquelin.

A first-hand account, given in 2000, by former club-goer Luke Seymour, a director of estate agent Henry Spencer and Sons, recalls: "Evening parties were very popular – and dangerous in the pool.

"John Bowett – who had never dived in his life before – and Ted Tylden-Wright both dived off the high board in their morning suits after a Bowett wedding."

But Firbeck Hall's hedonistic lifespan burned bright and short, lasting only for five years.

When the Second World War was declared the huge stately home became an annex of Sheffield's Royal Infirmary, and the grounds were used for agriculture.

The Air Ministry placed a ban on all civilian flying for the duration of the war, and the club's private aerodrome became home to RAF Firbeck, comprising four squadrons from 1940 to 1944.

At the end of the war the Miners' Welfare Commission bought the hall and transformed it into a rehabilitation centre for injured miners. But by the mid 1980s, as the mining industry declined, the centre was closed.

During its life as an infirmary and rehabilitation centre the Grade II listed building was maintained properly, and – despite it being private property – locals could continue to enjoy the grounds of the house on weekend walks.

Julia, who has lived in Firbeck all her life, says: "From Monday to Friday it was used by the miners but during the weekends we would walk in the grounds. We always took the house for granted."Elegant country home built in 1594

FIRBECK HALL began life as the elegant country home of William West, a barrister who built the property in 1594.

West wrote a legal book called Symbolaeographia, and was succeeded by his son, William.

William's son John West died in 1638, leaving a sister and co-heir, Elizabeth, who married Lord Darcy, son of Michael Darcy and Margaret Wentworth. She went on to wed a second time, marrying Sir Francis Fane, who inherited Firbeck after Elizabeth's death.

Firbeck Hall was also the seat of the Knight of Langold, Gally-Knight and the Stanyforth family, until it was purchased by Frances Harriett Miles – ne Jebb – in 1853.

Upon her death the Firbeck Estates formed the Miles Trust which was inherited by Sydney Gladwin Jebb on the death of Henry Gladwin Jebb in 1898.

In 1934 the Jebb family sold the house to Cyril Nicholson – who converted Firbeck into the exclusive country club it became during its Glory Years.

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