The manor of Cowley (Collei) is in the wapentake of Wirksworth and was held by Swan, under Henry de Ferrars, at the time of the Doomsday Survey.Ten different families have held the Manor of Cowley since the Conquest: the De Ferrars, Collegh's, Cadman's, Needham's, Seniors, Bagshaw's, Fanshaw's, Fitzherbert's, Walls, and Arkwright's. A good sprinkling of real old Derbyshire families. In 1269 the Manor of Cowley was given by Henry III. to Gilbert de Collegh but in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, it was held by the the Cadman family, whose heiress, Elizabeth, brought it to the Needham family when she married Otwell Needham in the early part of the 16th century. Otwell and Elizabeth had twelve sons and a number of daughters (2) . In 1613, George Needham ( Otwell and Elizabeth's grandson), and Henry his son, sold the estate to pay off debts accrued through a bad investment in a mine. The estate and hall were soon bought by Richard Senior, of nearby Bridgetown (1) . Richard Senior, who purchased the Manor of Cowley, and resided at the Hall, was evidently an early example of a fox-hunting squire, though of doubtful reputation.
Otwell Needham was the senior member of the Thornsett family, and ninth in descent from the founder. He liked Cowley so much that he made it his main residence and he and Elizabeth had most of their children there. But needs must take pecedent and as George and Henry were disposing of Cowley to the Seniors; simultaneously the junior Needham line became Viscounts Kilmorey - see origins.
Within the Cowley homestead of the Cadman's and Needham's. there were a few vestiges of by-gone days, but the Sorby's, who lived there for many years have given the same appearance to the building as 'we can imagine a lady of four score years would present if given a maiden's countenance' (2).
There has been a homestead at Cowley for at least four hundred years, principally because of its proximity to Haddon, from its facilities for the chase and, from a number of occupants, principally the De Ferrars, having some interest in the near-by lead mines; before then there may have been a shooting-tower of some description (2). The Needham's lived there for nearly a hundred years before it was sold in 1613.
Cowley Hall was the home of John Sorby b.1786 and his youngest son Clement Sorby b.1822. The house may or not have been Johns originally but from John's diary he paid Clement for lodging. John is son of John Sorby b.1755 who started John Sorby and Sons Edge Tool Manufacturers and was actively involved with the business until he moved to Darley. Ref3
'General history: Gentry families extinct before 1500', Magna Britannia: volume 5: Derbyshire (1817), pp. XCIX-CXI
- Old Halls, Manors and Families of Derbyshire by Joseph Tilley