Friday, 20 May 2016

(217) Astell of Everton House and Woodbury Hall

Astell of Everton
The Everton estate was bought in 1713 by a prosperous London timber merchant, William Astell, who later became one of the directors of the infamous South Sea Company. He had an annus horribilis in 1720-21, when the South Sea Company became a by-word for financial impropriety, his assets were seized by Parliament, and his second wife, a daughter and grandson were all killed in a fire at his London home. The scandal surrounding the South Sea Company arose because some of the directors had systematically talked up its stock price while secretly selling their own shares at the top of the market. When the bubble burst hundreds of shareholders were ruined, while the directors were left with massive profits. Parliament responded to the crisis by seizing the disposable assets of the directors and using them to help reimburse the losses of those who had suffered, but the directors themselves received an allowance - in William Astell's case, £10,000 - which still left them comparatively wealthy. 

The Everton estate was not liquidated, presumably because William Astell had settled it on himself and his children and thus only had a life interest in the property, and his business as a timber merchant continued and thrived in the 1720s and 1730s when he became a contractor to the Navy. At all events in about 1730 he was able to substantially rebuild the house at Everton. The name of his architect is not known, although as a timber supplier to the London building trade he would have had contacts with many of the leading figures in the field; indeed he is known, for example, to have supplied the timber for Hawksmoor's St Anne, Limehouse.

Unexpectedly, in 1731 the Moggerhanger estate at Blunham (Beds) also came into William Astell's hands under the terms of his daughter's marriage settlement, when her husband, Owen Thomas Bromsall, died without issue. Both Everton and Moggerhanger passed at his death in 1741 to his son, Richard Astell (1717-77), who, after briefly continuing his father's timber business, settled down as the conventional country squire and colonel of the Huntingdonshire militia. He married twice but had no children, and at his death Everton went - under the terms of his father's will - to his nephew, William Thornton (1734-1801), subject only to his taking the surname Astell. This was the first of four occasions on which the Astell name has been preserved in this way, which must be something of a record in less than 250 years! The Moggerhanger estate passed to William's younger brother, Robert Thornton (1735-1803), who was not required to change his name, and he sold it to a third brother, Godfrey Thornton (1737-1805) in 1784.  An account of Moggerhanger House is reserved for a future post on the Thornton family, but they must to some extent come into the story of the Astells, if only because when William Astell (né Thornton) died without issue in 1801 the Everton estate passed to his nephew and namesake, the second son of Godfrey Thornton. This second William Thornton was like his uncle required to take the name and arms of Astell, but whereas the first William Thornton simply became William Astell, he was always known subsequently as William Thornton Astell.

William Thornton Astell (1774-1847) was what his contemporaries would undoubtedly have called a man of parts: handsome and dynamic, he not only had a partnership in his family's business as Russia merchants but was also a director of the East India Company for almost fifty years and its Chairman three times. He diversified his interests into shipping and railways, being first Chairman of the Great Northern Railway, was MP for Bridgewater from 1806-32 and for Bedfordshire from 1841 until his death, and held senior appointments in a number of militia and volunteer regiments. He married into another Bedfordshire gentry family in 1800, and produced a large family, most of whom survived to adulthood and achieved successful careers or marriages. It seems likely, however, that this busy life kept him mainly in London, and although he did make some alterations to Everton House soon after he inherited it (to the design of Sir John Soane who was remodelling Moggerhanger for his elder brother Stephen Thornton at the same time), the house appears to have been rather neglected later. In 1835 it was advertised to let, and in 1850 the contents were sold the house was demolished shortly afterwards. 

The owner by this time was W.T. Astell's eldest son, Col. Richard William Astell (1804-64), a colonel in the Grenadier Guards, who was unmarried and childless, and who apparently felt that a large country house in poor condition was an encumbrance he did not require. Col. Astell's younger brother and eventual heir, John Harvey Astell (1806-87), evidently thought differently. He inherited more of his father's outlook and business interests, and in the 1830s spent time in China as the East India Company's last resident agent. He became a Director of the East India Company in about 1852 and also followed in his father's footsteps as an MP, and as a director of various British and overseas financial and railway companies. In 1858, perhaps miffed that he had not inherited or been allowed to buy his brother's unwanted house at Everton, he bought the estate next door, Woodbury Hall, an early 19th century house, which he proceeded to extend and remodel.

John Harvey Astell was the last of his family to have extensive mercantile interests. Perhaps mindful of his own disappointment in the matter of an inheritance of property, he left Woodbury to his eldest son, William Harvey Astell (1860-96), but bought Dale Lodge, Sunningdale (Berks) in about 1877 as a home for his younger son, John Henry St. Quintin Astell (1863-1945), who lived there until 1938.  William Harvey Astell pursued a military career in his father's lifetime, but retired from the army when he married and took over the family estate in 1886. He died young just ten years later, leaving a young son and two daughters, and his widow married again, to Lord de L'Isle & Dudley, with the result that his children were brought up not at Woodbury but in the infinitely grander surroundings of Penshurst Place (Kent). Woodbury was let until the mid-1920s, when the heir, Richard John Vereker Astell (1890-1969), having abandoned a career in the diplomatic service in 1919 and married three years later, moved in. The house was modernised and restored by Philip Tilden (who had worked for his sister at Long Crendon Manor (Bucks)) in 1931. During the Second World War the house was requisitioned, and Richard Astell went into the Royal Artillery for the duration. Sadly, just three days before D-Day, a fire at Woodbury caused major damage to the roof and one end of the building. Restoration had to wait until the 1950s, when the pressure on building licences had eased, and was conducted in 1951-55 to the designs of Sir Basil Spence, whose name is now forever associated with the modernist Coventry Cathedral, but who did a surprising amount of country house work, sometimes - as at Woodbury - in a traditional style.

When Richard Astell died in 1969 he left Woodbury to his nephew, Maj. Thomas Sidney Hohler (1919-89), the youngest son of his sister Laline and her husband, Lt-Col. Arthur Preston Hohler (1887-1919), subject to the life interest of his widow, Joan. Like the Thorntons at an earlier period, the Hohlers are an interesting family and associated with several country houses, and they too will be the subject of a future post. In compliance with the terms of the bequest, Maj. Hohler took the additional name of Astell in 1978, but in the event he died before Joan Astell, who died at the great age of 98 in 1993. As a result the estate passed in that year to Maj. Astell Hohler's only daughter, Isabelle (b. 1955), who had married in 1982 the 24th Earl of Erroll.  Lady Erroll also inherited from her father his own house, Wolverton Park (Hampshire), which he had bought in 1959. But the Errolls have preferred to live at Woodbury, and Wolverton has been let since her father's death. The Errolls have two sons and two daughters, and the intention would appear to be that their younger son will inherit Woodbury, as in 2015 he became the fourth member of the family to take the name Astell in lieu of his patronymic.

Everton House, Bedfordshire

Everton House: survey elevation by Sir John Soane, 1811. © Sir John Soane Museum 35/5/1.

Everton House: partial plan of the house by Sir John Soane, 1811. © Sir John Soane Museum 35/5/2.
William Astell acquired what was probably a 17th century manor house when he bought the Everton estate in 1713. The house stood immediately east of the parish church, and was partially rebuilt and greatly extended for Astell some years later. An agreement in 1729 with Clare College, Cambridge (which owned the rectory) allowed him to take part of the churchyard needed for the extension of the house in return for giving a larger piece of land to the north for the extension of the churchyard, and so the rebuilding probably took place in about 1730. The main block was of seven bays and two storeys with a basement and dormers, clamped between two-storey projecting wings, the irregularity of which suggests that they may have incorporated earlier structures. To the east, the service buildings were arranged around a courtyard to one side of the house and also appear to have incorporated part of the earlier manor house. Comparing Soane's survey drawing above with the view of c.1765 below, it would appear that an extra storey was added to this service range in the late 18th century.

Everton House: south front in c.1765 (artist unknown). Image: Bedfordshire Archives Service Z50/45/7.

A number of 18th and early 19th century drawings survive which collectively give a sense of the subsequent architectural development of the house. The south-facing entrance front seems to have remained largely as built in c.1730, but the north front, facing the park, saw more changes. A drawing of c.1806 appears to show the original arrangement, similar to the entrance side, with a seven-bay centre between two short projecting wings. Soane's plan shows that by 1811 a broad canted bay had been added in front of the two left-hand ground-floor windows, and this is confirmed by a drawing that may be dated to c.1830, which shows that an elaborate new doorcase had also been added, probably at the same time. Another change is that the dormer windows in the attic appear to have been blocked up between c.1806 and c.1830.

Everton House: north front in c.1806 (artist unknown). Image: Bedfordshire Archives Service Z50/45/8. 

Everton House: north front in c.1830 (artist unknown). Image: Bedfordshire Archives Service Z50/45/11.
In 1811-12 Sir John Soane, who was rebuilding Moggerhanger Park nearby for William Astell's older brother, Stephen Thornton, made designs for internal alterations and the addition of a new conservatory between the wings on the north front at Everton. These appear to have been executed, although the pitched roof shown in Soane's design for the conservatory appears in a view of c.1840 to have been replaced by a flat roof.

Everton House: design for conservatory on north front by Sir John Soane, 1811-12. Image: © Sir John Soane Museum 8/3/4

Everton House: north front in c.1840 (artist unknown). Image: Bedfordshire Archives Service Z50/45/10

This last view suggests faintly a feeling of decay, and it is thus perhaps no surprise that the house was advertised to be let in 1835 (when it was described as a large and excellent mansion), or that Col. R.W. Astell, who inherited in 1847, sold up the contents in 1850 and demolished the house.  A former laundry and service wing were converted into a house and survive. The building materials were apparently donated to Clare College, Cambridge, which authorised their sale in 1852. In 1866 it was reported that the house had been 'levelled to the ground'.

Descent: William Dale (d. 1537); to daughter, Joan, wife of William Wollascott; to son, William Wollascott (d. 1618); to son, William Wollascott (d. 1640); to son, William Wollascott (fl. 1653), who sold to Walter Carey, who sold 1713 to William Astell (1672-1741); to son, Richard Astell (1717-77); to nephew, William Thornton (later Astell) (1734-1801); to brother, Godfrey Thornton (1737-1805); to son, Col. William Thornton (later Astell) (1774-1847); to son, Col. Richard William Astell (1804-64), who demolished the house.

Woodbury Hall, Everton, Bedfordshire

The original house on this estate was Old Woodbury House, which still stands, half a mile to the north-east. Old Woodbury was described c. 1635 as lately built, and as a 'very pretty gentleman like house', but was extended for Lt-Gen. the Hon. George Lane Parker (1724-91) and then remodelled (or perhaps entirely rebuilt, although it appears to incorporate some earlier features) in Tudor Gothic style in 1836-38 for Rev. William Wilkieson. In association with this house, General Parker employed Nathaniel Richmond to landscape the park in a Brownian style in 1764.

What is now Woodbury Hall was built on a new site within the park, north of the parish church and on the edge of the Greensand ridge, in 1803-06 for Rev. John Wilkieson, who bought the estate in 1803. It is said to have been extended in Victorian times, but I have been unable to locate illustrations to document its development. The Victorian additions are said to have been partially removed when the house was restored by Philip Tilden for R.J.V. Astell in 1931; Astell no doubt met Tilden through his sister, Laline Hohler, for whom Astell restored Long Crendon Manor. Soon after this rejuvenation, Woodbury Hall was requisitioned for military use during the Second World War and was badly damaged by a fire on 3 June 1944 which destroyed the south end of the building and the roof. 

Woodbury Hall: entrance front. Image: Orangeaurochs. Some rights reserved.

The house as it currently stands results from the post-fire reconstruction which took place in 1951-55 with Sir Basil Spence as architect. He truncated the south end of the house so that it is now of seven bays on both the front and back elevations, and reduced it to two storeys under a new hipped roof. On the entrance front, the house has an open pediment in the centre and an Ionic prostyle porch, retained from the previous house. On the garden front there is a pedimented centre with quoins and garlands above a canted bay. On the north side there is a loggia between short wings designed by Philip Tilden, and the principal neo-Georgian interiors are his too. There are also some older fittings, moved from Everton House when this was taken down in the 1850s. The house was again restored in the late 1990s after the present owners took possession.

Descent: George Parker (c.1697-1764), 2nd Earl of Macclesfield; to younger son, Lt-Gen. Hon. George Lane Parker (1724-91); to brother, Thomas Parker (1723-95), 3rd Earl of Macclesfield; to son, George Parker (1755-1842), 4th Earl of Macclesfield, who sold 1803 to Rev. William Wilkieson (d. 1839), who built a new house in the park and leased it to Rev. Thomas Shore (1832-37); sold 1838 to Sir William Booth, kt., who sold 1858 to John Harvey Astell (1806-87); to son, William Harvey Astell (1860-96); to son, Richard John Vereker Astell (1890-1969), who came of age in 1911; to widow, Joan Astell (1895-1993) for life and then to great-niece, Isabelle (b. 1955), wife of Martin Sereld Victor Gilbert Hay (b. 1948), 24th Earl of Erroll. 

Wolverton Park, Hampshire

Wolverton Park: entrance front

The present house is a two-storey Georgian building faced in ashlar. The entrance was originally on what is now the garden side, and has seven bays, a balustraded parapet, an Ionic porch with coupled columns, and slightly lower recessed wings. On the present entrance front the centre is of five bays and the wings run forward to embrace an entrance court. The house perhaps took its present form after it was acquired by the 1st Duke of Wellington in 1837, but the core is probably 18th century. It was perhaps built for Sir Charles van Notten Pole, although it could be earlier; the wings are additions of the 1820s.  

Wolverton Park: entrance hall

Inside, the house has a two-storey entrance hall with a cantilevered staircase rising, as a result of the reorientation of the house, from just inside the front door. There is also an exceptionally handsome drawing room with simple plasterwork and a fine marble chimneypiece. 

Wolverton Park: yellow drawing room.

This is an ancient site: there was a royal deer park here in the 12th century, which was granted in 1215 by King John to Peter FitzHerbert, whose descendants owned it until the 15th century. The parish church, which stands above the park, was rebuilt in 1717 in classical style, and the park was landscaped in the 18th century. By 1810 there was a folly summerhouse with a spire in a plantation in the park.
Wolverton Park: folly in the woods, 1810

Descent: Thomas Dyneley (d. 1502); to widow, Philippa for life and then to daughter Elizabeth, wife of George Barrett (d. 1525) and later of Sir John Baker, kt.; to son, Edward Barrett (d. 1586); to grandson, Edward Barrett (d. 1644), 1st Lord Newburgh of Fife; sold by the trustees of his will to George Browne (fl. 1661-69); to son, Sir George Browne; to daughter, Elizabeth (1671-88), wife of Sir Jemmett Raymond; to son, Jemmett Raymond (1688-c.1772); to second cousin, Dame Elizabeth Worsley (d. 1774); to son, Edward Meux-Worsley of Gatcombe House (IoW), who sold 1782 to Sir Charles van Notten (later van Notten Pole), 1st bt. (d. 1813); to son, Sir Peter Pole, 2nd bt. (1770-1850), who sold 1837 to Arthur Wellesley (1769-1852), 1st Duke of Wellington; to son, Arthur Richard Wellesley (1807-84), 2nd Duke of Wellington; to nephew, Henry Wellesley (1846-1900), 3rd Duke of Wellington; to brother, Arthur Charles Wellesley (1849-1934), 4th Duke of Wellington; to son, Arthur Charles Wellesley (1876-1941), 5th Duke of Wellington; to son, Henry Valerian George Wellesley (1912-43), 6th Duke of Wellington; sold 1943 to Mrs H. Andreae of Moundsmere Manor; sold 1959 to Thomas Sidney Hohler (later Astell Hohler) (1919-89); to daughter, Isabelle (b. 1955), wife of Martin Sereld Victor Gilbert Hay (b. 1948), 24th Earl of Erroll. The house was leased by the Dukes of Wellington (tenants included Wallace James Walker) and is leased today.

Astell family of Everton and Woodbury

William Astell (1672-1741)
Astell, William (1672-1741) of Everton House. Son of John Astell* of London, joiner, born 1672. Apprenticed to his father, 1688. Liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Joiners in the City of London, 1697 (Master, 1724 and 1735). A prosperous timber merchant whose yard was at Puddle Dock, London, who provided timber for building several of the new churches built in the early 18th century in London's growing suburbs; in the 1720s and 1730s he became a supplier to the Navy board, initially of timber but later also of ropes and other chandlery goods. He was also a director of the South Sea Company and was one of those whose assets were seized following the 'South Sea Bubble', although he was allowed to keep property to the value of £10,000 and evidently swiftly returned to prosperity. On 7 January 1720/1 "A fire broke out in the house of Mr. Wm. Astell, Merchant, Austin Friars, which destroyed that and another house and damaged several others. Mr. Astell's wife, a Daughter with an Infant Son at the breast and its nurse were all burnt in the house. A Servant maid threw herself out of a window to avoid the flames and was taken up alive, but dy'd in 3 hours of the hurt she received by the fall". He married 1st, 1697, Anne Palfreyman (1677-1707) and 2nd, 17 May 1708, Mary (d. 1720), daughter of John Bagnall, and had issue:
(1.1) A daughter (d. 1720); married and had issue a child, with whom she was killed in the fire at Austin Friars, 7 January 1720;
(1.2) Elizabeth Astell (1703-47?); married**, Owen Thomas Bromsall (d. 1731) of Northill (Beds) but had no issue; living in 1739;
(1.3) Anne Astell (b. & d. 1706), baptised at St Benets, Pauls Wharf, London, 20 July 1706; buried in the same place, 30 July 1706;
(2.1) Mary Astell (1709-14), born and baptised at St. Benet's, Paul's Wharf, London, 26 March 1709; died young and was buried at St Benets, Pauls Wharf, London, 16 May 1714;
(2.2) Sarah Astell (1710-12), born 30 April and baptised 10 May 1710; died in infancy and was buried at St. Benet's, Paul's Wharf, London, 21 June 1712;
(2.3) Anne Astell (b. 1711), born 19 April and baptised at St. Benet's, Paul's Wharf, London, 23 April 1711;
(2.4) William Astell (b. & d. 1713), born 13 May and baptised 22 May 1713; died in infancy and was buried at St. Benet's, Paul's Wharf, London, 18 July 1713;
(2.5) Frances Astell (1714-64), baptised at St Peter-le-Poer, London, 6 October 1714; died unmarried and was buried at Everton, 9 May 1764;
(2.6) Margaret Astell (1715-53) (q.v.);
(2.7) Richard Astell (1717-77) (q.v.).
He lived at Old Broad Street, Austin Friars, London, and built up a considerable estate in Bedfordshire and Huntingdonshire, following his purchase of the Everton estate in 1713 from Walter Carey. In 1731 he unexpectedly came into possession of the Moggerhanger estate under the provisions of the marriage settlement of his daughter Elizabeth, following the death of her husband, Owen Bromsall.
He died 15 October 1741 and was buried at Everton where he is commemorated by a monument; his will was proved in the PCC, 13 November 1741. His first wife was buried at St Benet's, Paul's Wharf, London, 26 August 1707. His second wife died 7 January 1720/1 but her burial has not been traced.
* Burke's Landed Gentry gives his father as Roger Astell (1630-97), but the London records seem to show conclusively that his father was John.
**Early editions of Burke's Landed Gentry refer to a second marriage in 1742 to Sir Humphrey Monoux, 4th bt., but this is erroneous, as Sir Humphrey married in that year Jane Elizabeth Jones (née Sambrooke).

Richard Astell (1717-77)
Astell, Richard (1717-77). Only son of William Astell (1672-1741) and his second wife Mary, daughter of John Bagnall, born March 1716/7 and baptised at St Peter-le-Poer, London, 15 April 1717. He continued his father's business as a timber merchant and Navy contractor until about 1744 but then retired to the life of a county gentleman. Lt-Col. of the Huntingdonshire militia; JP and DL for Bedfordshire and Huntingdonshire. He married 1st, 8 April 1740, his first cousin, Sarah (1717-67), daughter of John Bagnall and 2nd, 23 May 1770, Hannah (1737-1807), daughter of Rev. Benjamin Kennett, vicar of Bradford (Yorks), but had no issue.
He inherited the Everton House and Moggerhanger estates from his father in 1741. At his death his property passed (according to the terms of his father's will) to his nephews, William Thornton (later Astell) and Richard Thornton.
He died 23 January 1777 and was buried at Everton, where he is commemorated by a monument. His first wife died 15 June 1767. His widow married 2nd, Thomas Pownall MP (1722-1805), Governor, Commander-in-Chief, and Vice-Admiral of Massachusetts and South Carolina, and Lt-Governor of New Jersey, and died 5 January 1807.

Margaret Astell (later Thornton)
Astell, Margaret (1715-53). Elder daughter of William Astell (1672-1741) and his second wife Mary, daughter of John Bagnall, born 22 November and baptised at St. Peter-le-Poer, London, 15 December 1715. She married, 12 April 1733 at Charterhouse chapel, London, Godfrey Thornton (1701-51) of Clapham (Surrey), a Director of the Bank of England, fourth son of John Thornton of Hull (Yorks ER), and had issue:
(1) William Thornton (later Astell) (1734-1801) (q.v.);
(2) Robert Thornton (1735-1803), born 9 January 1734/5; inherited Moggerhanger Park from his uncle in 1777 (and probably had the use of it before that) but later sold it to his brother Godfrey; married 1st, 10 August 1763 at Hull, his cousin Sarah (d. 1764), second daughter and co-heir of William Thornton of Hull and had issue one son (who died young); married 2nd, 10 February 1778 at St. Andrew Holborn (Middx), Elizabeth (1749-1817), daughter of Joseph Warner of Hatton Garden, London but had no further issue; died 29 November and was buried at St Andrew Holborn (Middx), 7 December 1803;
(3) Godfrey Thornton (1737-1805) (q.v.);
(4) Charles Thornton (1742-64), born 19 January 1741/2; merchant in London; died unmarried, 13 May and was buried at St Mary Aldermanbury, London, 18 May 1764;
(5) John Thornton (1750-77), born 30 May 1750; merchant in London; died unmarried, 28 December 1777 and was buried at St Mary Aldermanbury, London, 3 January 1778.
She and her husband lived in a house on the west side of Clapham Common (Surrey) and also had a house in Kensington (Middx).
She died 2 May 1753 and was buried at Everton. Her husband died 5 December 1751.

Thornton (later Astell), William (1734-1801). Eldest son of Godfrey Thornton of Clapham (Surrey) and his wife Margaret, daughter of William Astell of Everton (Beds), born 27 January 1733/4. He changed his name from Thornton to Astell by royal licence, 1777. High Sheriff of Bedfordshire, 1780. He married, 11 July 1758, his cousin, Elizabeth (1736-1809), daughter of Robert Thornton of Clapham (Surrey), but had no issue.
He inherited the Everton House estate under the will of his maternal grandfather, William Astell, on the death of Richard Astell in 1777. At his death the estate passed to his brother Godfrey Thornton and then to Godfrey's second son, William Thornton (later Astell) (1774-1847). 
He died 6 April 1801 and was buried at Everton, where he and his wife are commemorated by a monument. His widow died 9 March 1809 and was also buried at Everton.

Godfrey Thornton (1737-1805)
Thornton, Godfrey (1737-1805). Third son of Godfrey Thornton of Clapham (Surrey) and his wife Margaret, daughter of William Astell of Everton (Beds), born 16 October and was baptised at All Hallows Staining, London, 14 November 1737. Merchant and a Director of the Bank of England. He married, 31 July 1766 at Edmonton (Middx), Jane (1742-1811), second daughter of Stephen Peter Godin of Cullands Grove (Middx), and had issue:
(1) Stephen Thornton (1767-1850) of Moggerhanger House (Beds), born 14 August 1767; a Director of the Bank of England and the Russia company; undertook a major remodelling of Moggerhanger Park to the designs of Sir John Soane, 1809-12; High Sheriff of Bedfordshire, 1814; married, 27 February 1794, Mary (d. 1846), second daughter of Thomas Littledale of Rotterdam (Holland) and had issue two sons; died 26 August 1850 [the Thorntons of Moggerhanger will be the subject of a future post];
(2) William Thornton (later Astell) (1774-1847) (q.v.);
(3) Claude George Thornton (1776-1866) of Marden Hill, Tewin (Herts), born 20 January 1776; High Sheriff of Hertfordshire, 1838; married, 11 April 1806, Frances Anne, second daughter of Samuel Smith of Woodhall (Herts) and had issue; died 4 August 1866;
(4) Anna Maria Thornton (1769-1834), baptised at St Mary Aldermanbury, London, 5 October 1769; married, 20 March 1800, Thomas Vigne (1771-1841) of Woodford (Essex) and had issue three sons and two daughters; died 5 December 1834 and was buried at Woodford;
(5) Almeria Thornton (1768-1851), born 4 September and baptised at St Mary Aldermanbury, London, 27 September 1768; a childhood friend of the poet Leigh Hunt; described on her marriage as "an accomplished amiable young lady"; married 4 April 1807, William Phillimore (1777-1860), barrister, of Deacon's Hill, Elstree (Herts) and had issue one daughter; buried at Edgware (Middx), 28 May 1851.
He purchased Moggerhanger Park from his elder brother Robert in 1784; altered the house to the designs of Sir John Soane from 1791 onwards, and landscaped the grounds to the designs of Humphry Repton from 1792. He inherited the Everton House estate from his eldest brother, William Astell, in 1801. He also had a house in Austin Friars in London.
He died 5 November 1805 and was buried at Blunham (Beds), where he is commemorated by a monument designed by John Bacon; his will was proved 19 November 1805. His widow died 17 March 1811; her will was proved in the PCC, 2 April 1811.

Col. William Thornton Astell
Thornton (later Thornton Astell), Col. William (1774-1847). Second son of Godfrey Thornton (1737-1805) of Moggerhanger Park (Beds) and his wife Jane, second daughter of Stephen Peter Godin of Cullands Grove (Middx), born 13 October 1774. He had royal licence for his family and himself to substitute the name of Astell for Thornton, 1807. A partner in Godfrey Thornton & Sons, Russia merchants, and a director of the East India Company, 1800-46 (Chairman, 1810-11, 1824-25, 1828-29 and 1830-31); he was also a director of the Russia Co., 1802 and the East India Dock Co., 1805-35, Chairman of the Great Northern Railway and a large shareholder in Kings College, London. MP for Bridgewater, 1806-32 and for Bedfordshire, 1841-47. He was a volunteer officer with the London & Westminster Light Horse, 1797; an officer of the Royal East India Volunteers (Major, 1803; Lt-Col., 1805; Col. 1820-34) and Lt. Col. of Bedfordshire militia, 1841. He married, 15 July 1800, Sarah (1779-1841), only daughter of John Harvey of Ickwell Bury (Beds) and Finningley Park (Yorks) and had issue:
(1) Sarah Thornton (later Astell) (1802-79), baptised at St Peter-le-Poer, London, 6 May 1802; married, 19 December 1851 at Everton, Col. Sir Henry Fairfax (1790-1860), 1st bt., but had no issue; died 23 June 1879; will proved 5 July 1879 (estate under £30,000);
(2) Richard William Thornton (later Astell) (1804-64) (q.v.);
(3) Elizabeth Thornton (later Astell) (b. 1805), born 12 February  and baptised at St Peter-le-Poer, London, 3 April 1805; probably died young;
(4) John Harvey Thornton (later Astell) (1806-87) (q.v.);
(5) Louisa Astell (1811-98), born 22 July and baptised at Holy Trinity, Clapham (Surrey), 27 August 1811; married, 4 September 1832, Thomas St. Quintin (1805-76) of Hatley Park (Cambs) and had issue one son; died 8 June 1898; her will proved 27 June 1898 (effects £357);
(6) Caroline Astell (1812-39), born 19 August 1812; married, 20 October 1836 at Everton, Rev. William Rooper of Abbots Ripton (Hunts) and had issue one son; buried at Abbots Ripton, 18 November 1839;
(9) Harriet Astell (c.1813-95); married, 27 October 1849 at Everton, Capt. Edward Pardoe (c.1819-70) of 15th Regiment, son of John Pardoe of Leyton (Essex), and had issue; died 11 June 1895; will proved 11 July 1895 (effects £5,591).
(7) Henry Godfrey Astell (1815-1903) of Ickwell House, Biggleswade; born 10 November 1815; an officer in the Bengal Civil Service; married, 13 September 1842 at St George's, Hanover Square, London, Louisa Maria (c.1821-82), eldest daughter of Gen. Edward Wynyard of the Grenadier Guards, and had issue two sons and three daughters; died 6 July 1903;
(8) Maj-Gen. Charles Edward Astell (1818-1901) of West Lodge, Puddlehinton (Dorset), born 15 June 1818; an officer in the army (Ensign, 1837; Lt., 1839; Capt., 1848; retired on half pay and appointed a Staff Officer of Pensioners, 1850; Major, 1860; Lt-Col., 1871; Colonel; retired as Maj-Gen., 1878); Lt-Col. of 15th Regiment; JP for Dorset; married, 17 August 1848 at Killaloe Cathedral (Clare), Harriet Dare (d. 1904), daughter of Francis Spaight of Derry Castle (Tipperary) and had issue; died 26 February 1901 and was buried at Everton.
He inherited the Everton House estate from his father in 1805.
He died 7 May 1847 and was buried at Everton; his will was proved 12 June 1847. His wife died 15 May 1841 and was also buried at Everton.

Col. R.W. Astell (1804-64)
Astell, Col. Richard William (1804-64). Eldest son of Col. William Thornton (later Astell) (1774-1847) of Everton House and his wife Sarah, only daughter of John Harvey of Ickwell Bury (Beds) and Finningley Park (Yorks), born 9 January and baptised at St Peter-le-Poer, London, 5 March 1804. Educated at Harrow and Trinity College, Cambridge (admitted 1823). An officer in the Grenadier Guards (Lt., 1823; Capt., 1827; Lt-Col., 1838; Col., 1851; retired 1854). He was unmarried and without issue.
He inherited the Everton House estate from his father in 1847, but sold up the contents in 1850 and demolished the house in 1852; the demolition materials appear to have been granted to Clare College, Cambridge and were sold for the college's benefit.
He died 15 May 1864; his will was proved 1 July 1864 (effects under £80,000).

John Harvey Astell (1806-87)
Astell, John Harvey (1806-87) of Woodbury Hall. Second son of Col. William Thornton (later Astell) (1774-1847) of Everton House and his wife Sarah, only daughter of John Harvey of Ickwell Bury (Beds) and Finningley Park (Yorks), born in London, 20 March and baptised at St Peter-le-Poer, London, 9 May 1806. Educated at Haileybury. An employee (Director from c.1852) of the East India Company; he was the company's last agent in China, leaving in 1840. He was also a Director of the London & York Railway (Chairman, 1844), the Netherlands Land Enclosure Company (from c.1852), the Great Northern Railway, the Hatfield & St. Albans Railway (from 1862), the Imperial Life Assurance Co. (from c.1869) and the Trust & Loan Company of Canada (from c.1878) and a member of the committee of the Marine Society. JP for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire; DL for Bedfordshire and City of London. MP for Cambridge, 1852-54 (unseated on petition) and Ashburton, 1859-65. Captain in the Bedfordshire militia. He married, 7 June 1853 at Southbroom chapel, Bishops Cannings (Wilts), Anne Emilie (c.1828-1907), daughter of Robert Parry Nisbet MP of Southbroom House, and had issue:
(1) Annie Louisa Astell (1854-1939), born 1 April 1854; lived with her younger brother at Dale Lodge; died unmarried, 30 January 1939; administration of goods granted 16 March 1939 (estate £12,996);
(2) Henrietta Sarah Astell (1855-92), born 30 March 1855; died unmarried at St. Leonards on Sea (Sussex), 24 January 1892; administration of goods granted 9 April 1893 (effects £148);
(3) Clara Harriet Astell (1856-1933), born 18 June 1856; lived at Dale Lodge with her younger brother; died unmarried, 17 November 1933; will proved 27 December 1933 (estate £14,059)
(4) Alice Caroline Astell (1857-1916), born 12 August 1857; married, 22 July 1884 at St Mary, Everton (Lancs), Cecil Henry Law (1849-1931), 6th Baron Ellenborough, and had issue one son; died 3 November 1916; will proved 6 December 1916 (estate £2,529);
(5) Edith Jane Astell (c.1859-1922); married, 11 July 1890, Rev. Atherton Ernest Wauton (c.1856-1929), vicar of Ivinghoe (Bucks) and later of Ellesmere (Salop), Holwell (Beds) and Bowden Hill (Wilts), (who m2, 1924, Ethel Charlotte Annabella Mary (c.1873-1951), daughter of Dudley Albert Hambrough), and had issue one son; died 23 November 1922; will proved 11 January 1923 (estate £3,468);
(6) William Harvey Astell (1860-96) (q.v.);
(7) John Henry St. Quintin Astell (1863-1945), born 3 January and baptised at Gamlingay, 21 March 1863; JP for Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire; inherited Dale Lodge, Sunningdale (Berks) from his father, but sold it c.1938; died unmarried at Hove (Sussex), 18 April 1945; will proved 20 September 1945 (estate £35,118);
(8) Margaret Julia Agnes Fairfax Astell (1869-1900), born Jul-Sep 1869; married, 2 September 1897, Montagu Egerton Loftus MVO (1860-1934) (who m2. 19 October 1904, Colina Marion, daughter of Charles Hames Hale Munro), third son of Rt. Hon. Lord Augustus Loftus GCB (d. 1934); died 3 June 1900; will proved 4 August 1900 (estate £5,872).
He purchased the Woodbury Hall estate in 1858 from Sir William Booth, kt. and Dale Lodge, Sunningdale (Berks) in about 1877.
He died 17 January 1887; his will was proved 1 March 1887 (effects £136,305). His widow died 13 August 1907; her will was proved 24 September 1907 (estate £19,252).

Astell, William Harvey (1860-96). Elder son of John Harvey Astell (1806-87) and his wife Anne Emilia (d. 1907), daughter of Robert Parry Nisbet MP of Southbroom House, Bishops Cannings (Wilts), born 26 November 1860. JP for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire; DL for Cambridgeshire. An officer in the Bedfordshire militia (Lt., 1879) and the Grenadier Guards (2nd Lt., 1880). He married, 7 December 1886 at St Margaret, Westminster, the Hon. Elizabeth Maria (1861-1958), fourth daughter of Standish Prendergast Vereker, 4th Viscourt Gort, and had issue:
(1) Laline Annette Astell (1888-1969) (q.v.);
(2) Richard John Vereker Astell (1890-1969) (q.v.);
(3) Cynthia Elizabeth Violet Astell (1893-1966), born 10 August 1893; married, 30 March 1922, Sir Thomas Beaumont Hohler KCMG CB (1871-1946), British diplomat (minister at Copenhagen (Denmark), 1928-33) and had issue one son and one daughter; died 6 November 1966; will proved 25 January 1967 (estate £17,943).
He inherited the Woodbury Hall estate from his father in 1887.
He died at Calais (France), 20 April 1896; his will was proved 15 June 1896 (effects £6,432). His widow married 2nd, 12 June 1902, Philip Sidney (1853-1922), 3rd Baron De L'Isle & Dudley, but had no further issue, and died 19 July 1958; her will was proved 3 November 1958 (estate £3,669).

R.J.V. Astell (1890-1969)
Astell, Richard John Vereker (1890-1969). Only son of William Harvey Astell (1860-96) and his wife, the Hon. Elizabeth Maria (d. 1958), daughter of Standish Prendergast Vereker, 4th Viscount Gort, born 7 September 1890. Educated at Eton and Christ Church, Oxford (BA 1912). Entered the Diplomatic Service, 1913 (2nd secretary, 1919; retired, 1919). Served in Second World War as Captain in Royal Artillery, 1939-45. He married, 26 April 1922, Joan Evelyn (1895-1993), daughter of James Fortescue Crichton-Stuart, but had no issue.
He inherited the Woodbury Hall estate from his father in 1896 and came of age in 1911. The house was let until 1926, when he took up occupation. It was requisitioned during the Second World War and damaged by fire in 1944. He employed Sir Basil Spence to restore and remodel the house in 1951-55.
He died 18 June 1969; his will was proved 15 June 1970 (estate £568,303). His widow died aged 98 on 3 October 1993; her will was proved 4 November 1993 (estate £1,697,861).

Astell, Laline Annette (1888-1969). Elder daughter of William Harvey Astell (1860-96) and his wife, the Hon. Elizabeth Maria (d. 1958), daughter of Standish Prendergast Vereker, 4th Viscount Gort, born 1 October 1888. She married 1st, 9 April 1910, Lt-Col. Arthur Preston Hohler DSO (1887-1919) and 2nd, 3 February 1927, Col. Stanley Leonard Barry CMG CBE DSO MVO (d. 1943), and had issue:
(1.1) Henry Arthur Frederick Hohler (1911-2001), born 4 February 1911; educated at Eton and Royal Military College, Sandhurst; served in Grenadier Guards, 1931-33; diplomatic service, 1934-70 (early postings to Hungary, Switzerland, Finland and the USSR; Minister in Rome, 1956-60 (where he hunted with the Campania Hounds); Ambassador to Vietnam, 1960-63; British minister in Paris, 1963-66; Ambassador to Switzerland, 1967-70; retired 1970); appointed CMG 1954; emigrated to America after his retirement; married 1st, 10 May 1932, Mona Valentine (d. 1944), only daughter of Lt-Col. Arthur Murray Pirie DSO and had issue two sons; married 2nd, 31 October 1945, Eveline Suzanne, second daughter of Lt-Col. the Hon. Neville Albert Hood CMG DSO and had issue two daughters; died at Gloucester, Virginia (USA), 19 May 2001;
(1.2) Edward Christopher Hohler (1917-97), born 22 January 1917; educated at Eton and New College, Oxford; served in Second World War in Royal Signals and with military intelligence in Baghdad; historian and art historian; lecturer at Courtauld Institute of University of London, 1947-79 (Reader, 1964-79); married 1st, 14 November 1939 (div. 1961), Mary Alice Olga Sofia Jane, only child of Sq.-Ldr. Robert Charlton Lane of Glebe Manor, Havant (Hants) and had issue two sons and two daughters; married 2nd, 3 November 1961, Erla Karine, elder daughter of Erling Bergendahl of Oslo (Norway) and had further issue two sons and one daughter; after his retirement in 1979 he moved to Norway; died in Oslo, 15 February 1997;
(1.3) Thomas Sidney Hohler (later Astell Hohler) (1919-89) (q.v.).
On the death of her father-in-law in 1920 she inherited Long Crendon Manor (Bucks), which remained her home for the rest of her life, and which she restored with the help of Philip Tilden.
She died 22 April 1969; her will was proved 6 October and 10 November 1969 (estate £60,000). Her first husband died 7 March 1919; his will was proved 17 July and 6 September 1919 (estate £80,642). Her second husband died 22 December 1943; his will was proved 6 October 1944 (estate £23,693).

Hohler (later Astell Hohler), Maj. Thomas Sidney (1919-89). Third son of Lt-Col. Arthur Preston Hohler DSO (1887-1919) and his wife Laline Annette, daughter of William Harvey Astell of Woodbury Hall, born posthumously, 30 November 1919. Educated at Eton. Major in the Grenadier Guards; served in Second World War, 1939-45; awarded MC, 1944. Director of King & Shaxson plc, a discount house, 1946-89 (Chairman, 1965-84) and of Henry Sotheran Ltd., antiquarian booksellers and the Britannia International High Income Fund Ltd.  Chairman, London Discount Market Association, 1972. Liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Grocers, City of London, 1956-89. He had royal licence to take the name and arms of Astell in lieu of Hohler, 1978. He married, 15 May 1952, Comtesse Julie Marie Isabelle Jeanne Jacqueline de Jouffroy, daughter of the Marquis de Jouffroy d'Abbans of Chateau d'Abbans, Doub (France), and had issue:
(1) Isabelle Jacqueline Laline Astell Hohler (b. 1955) (q.v.).
He bought Wolverton Park, Basingstoke (Hants) in 1959 and also kept a flat in London. At his death Wolverton passed to his widow and then to their daughter.
He died 29 April 1989; his will was proved 26 April 1990 (estate £4,370,293). His widow died 13 July 1996; her will was proved 26 February 1997.

Astell Hohler, Isabelle Jacqueline Laline (b. 1955), Countess of Erroll. Daughter of Thomas Sidney Hohler (later Astell Hohler) (1919-89) and Comtesse Julie Marie Isabelle Jeanne Jacqueline de Jouffroy, daughter of the Marquis de Jouffroy d'Abbans, born at Brussels (Belgium), 22 August 1955. High Sheriff of Bedfordshire, 2015-16. A trustee of the Moggerhanger House Preservation Trust since 1989 (Chairman 2009-). She married, 8 May 1982 in Winchester Cathedral, Martin Sereld Victor Gilbert Hay (b. 1948), 24th Earl of Erroll and Lord High Constable of Scotland [whose family will be the subject of a future post], and had issue:
(1) Harry Thomas William Hay (b. 1984), Lord Hay, born 8 August 1984;
(2) Lady Amelia Diana Jacqueline Hay (b. 1986), born 23 November 1986; suffers from Down's syndrome; educated at Grange School, Kempston (Beds);
(3) Lady Laline Lucy Clementine Hay (b. 1987), born 21 December 1987; educated at London College of Communication (BA); graphic designer with Bolter Design;
(4) Hon. Richard Merlin Iain Hay (later Astell) (b. 1990), born 14 December 1990; received royal licence to take the name and arms of Astell in lieu of Hay, 2015.
She inherited the Woodbury Hall on the death of her great-aunt in 1993. She inherited Wolverton Park on the death of her mother in 1996.
Now living.


Burke's Landed Gentry, 1965, pp. 392-3; Burke's Landed Gentry, 1969, pp. 22-23; P. Tilden, True remembrances, 1954, pp. 60-62; M. Bullen, J. Crook, R. Hubbuck and Sir N. Pevsner, The buildings of England: Hampshire - Winchester and the North, 2010, p. 729; J. Brown & J. Musson, Moggerhanger Park, Bedfordshire, 2012, passim; C. O'Brien & Sir N. Pevsner, The buildings of England: Bedfordshire, Huntingdonshire & Peterborough, 2nd edn., 2014, p. 165. The Astell family portraits  shown above mostly come from copies in Bedfordshire Archives Service Z50/141.

Location of archives

Astell of Everton and Woodbury: papers relating to alterations to Woodbury Hall by Sir Basil Spence, 1951-55 [Bedfordshire Archives Service, AD3939]. No substantial accumulation has been deposited in a public repository, but it is possible that some papers remain with the family.

Coat of arms

Gules, a lion passant per pale or and argent, between four cross crosslets of the last.

Can you help?

Here are a few notes about information and images which would help to improve the account above. If you can help with any of these or with other additions or corrections, please use the contact form in the sidebar to get in touch.

  • Can anyone supply illustrations of Old Woodbury before its rebuilding in 1836-38?
  • Can anyone supply illustrations of Woodbury Hall before its reconstruction by Sir Basil Spence in the 1950s?
  • Can anyone supply portraits or photographs of members of the family for which they are not shown?
  • Any further details of the career of William Astell (d. 1741) would be gratefully received, as would any suggestions about the identity of the architect of Everton House.

Revision and acknowledgements

This post was first published 20 May 2016.

Thursday, 12 May 2016

(216) Assheton of Downham Hall, Whalley Abbey, Great Lever and Middleton Hall, baronets and Barons Clitheroe - part 1

Assheton of Downham Hall,
Barons Clitheroe
The first part of this post provides an introduction to the Assheton family and its estates, and describes the houses they owned. Part 2 gives the detailed genealogy of the family. 

The Ashton or Assheton (as the name came to be spelled) family are one of the most important and oldest gentry families of central Lancashire. They take their name from Ashton-under-Lyne near Manchester, where they are recorded as holding the manor from the 12th century onwards. It descended to Sir John de Assheton (d. 1427), a knight who fought at Agincourt and was employed as an administrator in France in his later years. His eldest son, Sir Thomas Assheton (c.1403-60), who inherited the Ashton-under-Lyne estate, was bred up as a knight but had very different interests, and in 1446 was given a licence to practice alchemy. His descendants held Ashton until the early 16th century, when it passed to the Booth family by marriage.

Sir John's younger son, Sir Ralph Assheton (c.1425-88), the half-brother of Sir Thomas, was a Yorkist knight with an unenviable reputation for violence and brutality, who held high office under King Richard III but seems to have avoided being present at Bosworth field, when Richard was killed and Henry Tudor seized the throne. His first wife was heiress to the Middleton estate, but he seems to have lived in the early part of his career mainly at Fryton (Yorks NR) where he held appointments in the Honour of Pickering, and later on at Westenhanger (Kent), where his second wife brought him property and he had grants of land from the Crown.

From Sir Ralph the Middleton estate passed to his eldest son, Sir Richard Assheton (d. 1507) and grandson, Sir Richard Assheton (c.1482-1549), both of whom were knights in the military service of the Crown. The younger Sir Richard distinguished himself at the Battle of Flodden in 1513, and commemorated his part in that devastating English victory against the Scots through the remodelling of Middleton church and the installation of a window depicting his troop of archers. Both men, however, received royal pardons for civil offences, suggesting they may have inherited some of Sir Ralph's lack of self-control.

Sir Ralph's second son, another Sir Ralph Assheton (fl. 1501) married Margaret, the daughter and heiress of Adam Lever of Great Lever near Bolton, and they established a junior branch of the family at Great Lever. This Sir Ralph was succeeded his son, Ralph (fl. 1509) and eldest grandson, Ralph Assheton (d. 1559), whose younger brother, Richard Assheton (d. 1579), no doubt a lawyer by training, became one of the senior officials of the Court of Augmentations. Through his position there, he was able to acquire former monastic properties in three counties, including the site of the Cistercian abbey of Whalley, where he converted part of the conventual buildings into a house. In 1558 he also purchased the manor of Downham, which had always been in lay hands. Having no children of his own, he divided his estates between his great-nephews Ralph Assheton (c.1552-1616) of Great Lever, who received Whalley, and his younger brother Richard Assheton (fl. 1595), who received Downham; this established a third branch of the family.

In 1614, Radclyffe Assheton (1582-1645), a younger son of Ralph Assheton (c.1552-1616), joined with his father to buy the manor of Cuerdale near Preston, and there established a fourth branch of the family, so that at the outbreak of the Civil War the family were established on estates all over south and central Lancashire: Sir Ralph Assheton (1579-1644), who was made a baronet in 1620, inherited Great Lever Hall and Whalley Abbey, but sold the former in 1629 to the Bishop of Chester and lived thereafter at Whalley. Another Ralph Assheton (1606-51) had inherited Middleton Hall as a minor in 1618, and was to play a leading role in the Civil War in Lancashire as one of Parliament's Major-Generals. Radclyffe Assheton (1582-1645) was at Cuerdale Hall, and Richard Assheton (d. 1657) was at Downham Hall.

In 1657 Richard Assheton of Downham Hall died without issue and left his estates to Sir Ralph Assheton (c.1611-80), 2nd bt., of Whalley. Sir Ralph also had no surviving children, and since he was on poor terms with his half-brother and heir, he settled the Downham estate on his cousin Richard Assheton of Cuerdale in 1678, while Whalley, which was entailed, passed to the half-brother, Sir Edmund Assheton (1620-95), 3rd bt., a London lawyer. Sir Edmund contested the settlement of Downham, but to no avail, and since he was unmarried and without issue, when he died Whalley passed briefly to his brother, Sir John Assheton (1622-97), 4th bt., and then to his sister's son, Sir Ralph Assheton (1657-1716), 2nd bt. of Middleton Hall. When Sir Ralph died without sons, the Middleton Hall estate passed with the baronetcy to his nephew, Sir Ralph Assheton (1692-1765), 3rd bt., but Whalley was left to his youngest daughter, Mary (c.1694-1776) and her husband, Sir Nathaniel Curzon (1675-1758), 4th bt. of Kedleston (Derbys), and passed out of the family. In 1765 the same fate befell Middleton, when the 3rd baronet died without sons, and the estate passed to his eldest daughter Mary (1741-1823) and her husband, Sir Harbord Harbord, 2nd bt. and later 1st Baron Suffield.

So with hindsight, the Civil War - when four branches of the family held five estates between them - was the highwatermark of the family fortunes. By the late 18th century only Cuerdale and Downham were left in Assheton hands. William Assheton (1758-1833), who inherited the estate as an infant, came of age in 1779 and immediately embarked on a remodelling of the old house at Downham. Perhaps because of a shortage of funds, however, his transformation was abandoned unfinished, and he lived in York rather than on his estates. It was left to his son, William Assheton (1788-1858), to bring in George Webster to complete the remodelling in 1834-35, and from this time onwards at least, Cuerdale Hall seems to have been used as a farm only. William was succeeded by his son Ralph Assheton (1830-1907) and grandson, Sir Ralph Cockayne Assheton (1860-1955), 1st bt., who had business interests in the coal and banking industries which brought new wealth to the estate. Downham Hall was restored and remodelled in the years either side of the First World War, creating the house that exists today. Sir Ralph's son and heir, Ralph Assheton (1901-84), combined even wider business interests with a career in politics which saw him serve as MP for three different constituencies between 1934 and 1955. The high point of his ministerial career was three years as Financial Secretary to the Treasury, at what must have been a very demanding time, 1942-45. On his retirement from Parliament in 1955 he was created a peer as 1st Baron Clitheroe, and on his father's death a few months later he inherited the family baronetcy and the Downham estate. In 1984 the titles and estate passed to his elder son, Ralph John Assheton (b. 1929), 2nd Baron Clitheroe, who handed the estate over to his son, the Hon. Ralph Christopher Assheton (b. 1962), in about 2012.

Ashton Old Hall, Ashton-under-Lyne, Lancashire

The medieval seat of the Ashtons was a large house occupying high ground between the parish church and the River Tame, but after it passed to the Booth family in the early 16th century it seems to have passed out of regular use as a gentry house and was eventually converted to tenements. In 1795 John Aikin described it as a building of great antiquity and said it had been erected in 1483, but gave no specific reason for assigning that date to it. At that time, part of the house had until recently been used as a prison and the part which was in use as tenements had been altered to create separate entrances to each dwelling. According to Aikin, "It has two courtyards, an inner and an outer, with strong walls. Over the outer gate was a square room ascended to from the inside by a flight of stone steps and very ancient. It has always gone by the name of the Gaoler's Chapel . . . [but] was taken down in 1793. The house to the inner court is still standing, and in tolerable repair. . . . The front of the old hall adjoining the prison overlooking the gardens and the River Tame [has] a beautiful prospect. On this side of the building are strong parts of immense thickness with numbers of loopholes." When first recorded on a plan in 1824 the house had ranges around three sides of a courtyard, but whether it was ever as extensive as Aikin describes is unclear. The first Ordnance Survey 6" map, surveyed in 1845, suggests that there may not have been room on the site for more than one courtyard.

Ashton Old Hall: Ordnance Survey 6" plan of 1845 showing the surviving fragment of the house.

Ashton Old Hall, Ashton-under-Lyne: west front, shortly before demolition in 1890

The house was repaired and modernized in 1838 for the occasional residence of the Earl of Stamford, to whose family it had descended, and a good deal of old fabric was probably lost at that time; certainly the L-shaped footprint in 1845 was smaller than in 1824. In 1862 John Higson, a local antiquary, wrote a description of the house. The long west wing overlooking the valley had then two small bays and projecting chimney-shafts in its west front, and an apparently 17th century two-storey porch, but was covered with rough-cast coloured black. On its east side the greater part was also rough-cast, but a portion at the south end was of timber and plaster. The roofs were covered with stone slates. The east inner elevation had doors and windows with semicircular heads, and over the door was an escutcheon with the arms, crest, and supporters of the Earl of Stamford, so all this part was probably altered in the 1838 remodelling. The hall is thought to have had a floor inserted in the 16th century, but a portion of the medieval roof remained in 1862, with shaped braces forming quatrefoils in the spaces between the principals and the purlins. 

Ashton Old Hall, Ashton-under-Lyne: south front, a reconstruction drawing of 1910.
Image: Victoria County History/University of London

Higson thought the south wing was probably early 16th century. In his day it had three square-headed windows on each floor of two trefoiled lights, and was flanked at each end by a round tower standing a little in advance of the main wall, and rising considerably higher than the roof. The walls of the towers were about 2 ft. 6 in. thick at the bottom, and the interior was square to the height of two stories, above which it finished off as a circular tower. The roofs were of stone with a central finial, and the towers had evidently served the purpose of garderobes. In the late 19th century the south side of the south wing appears to have had larger three-light windows inserted, with pointed heads on the first floor.  In 1824 part of the east wing also survived, but this had been demolished by the time of Higson's description. 

By the late 19th century the house was surrounded by railway lines, and it was pulled down in 1890 by the Manchester, Sheffield, and Lincolnshire Railway Company, to make way for improvements to Park Parade Station, unfortunately without being properly recorded.

Descent: William de Kirkby granted temp. Henry II (1154x1189) to Orm, from whom by descent to Sir John de Assheton (d. 1427); to son, Sir Thomas Ashton (c.1403-60); to son, Sir John Ashton (d. 1484); to son, Sir Thomas Ashton (c.1447-1514); to co-heirs in the Booth and Hoghton families...Sir George Booth (d. 1652), 1st bt., acquired both moieties c.1596; to grandson, Sir George Booth (d. 1684), 2nd bt and 1st Baron Delamere; to son, Henry Booth (d. 1693), 2nd Baron Delamere and 1st Earl of Warrington; to son, Hon. George Booth (d. 1758); to daughter Mary (d. 1772), wife of Harry Grey, 4th Earl of Stamford; to son, George Harry Grey (d. 1819), 1st Earl of Warrington; to son, Hon. George Harry Grey (d. 1845); to grandson Hon. George Harry Grey (d. 1883); to kinsman, Harry Grey, 8th Earl of Stamford, who sold to Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway Co.

Great Lever Hall, Lancashire

Great Lever Hall stood on high ground between the River Croal and the Bolton to Manchester road, close to the former town. The site was a naturally defensive one, being directly accessible only from the west.

Great Lever Hall: shown on 1st edition 6" OS map surveyed in 1846.

Of the house of the Levers and Asshetons probably little or nothing survived the 17th century rebuilding by Bishop Bridgeman about 1630 and later changes, and much of the Bishop's house is said to have been demolished in 1760. By 1911 the house had a very irregular plan and the greater part of the building was then said to be of modern construction, with elevations of brick or stucco. The house was divided into three portions, the oldest of which was used as the rectory for the parish of Great Lever. The eastern wing was entirely modernized and used as a Conservative Club, while a north-west wing, at right angles to the older part of the house, had been converted into cottages. 

Great Lever Hall: watercolour of the house in the 19th century, Image: Trustees of the Bradford Estates.

The rectory did, however, retain on the south front a portion of the 17th-century timber facade built by Bishop Bridgeman, bearing his initials and the date 1631 in two ornamental panelsthe timber construction of the house also showed on the north side. The timber front of the rectory facing the court was coved at the first floor, and there was also a cove under the gable. The black and white 'timbering' of the gable was just paint on plaster, but the walls were genuine half-timbering. On both the ground and first floors, the house had long strip windows of thirteen lights, with the sills of the three outside lights at each end being higher than the rest; by 1911, most of the windows had been replaced but a few were still old. The lead of the diamond quarries was very broad and painted white, with a white fillet painted on the glass on each side. The roofs of the old portion of the house, as well as of the chapel, were of grey stone slates, and the chimneys were of red brick.  

Across the courtyard from the south front was a detached building containing the domestic chapel built by Bishop Bridgeman in 1634 and consecrated two years later, with a house attached. The position of the chapel could imply its having originally formed part of the south wing of a courtyard house, but there seems to be no other indication that the house was so planned. By 1911 the chapel was entirely detached and the court open at both ends, and it was probably always so. 

Great Lever Hall: the west front of the hall in 1939, when it was clearly derelict, and perhaps in the process of demolition.

The interior arrangements of the house had been so much altered that the original plan could not be determined in 1911. The ground floor had low rooms with old oak beams running across the ceilings, those in the kitchen being very massive and of great length. The floors both upstairs and down were very uneven owing to subsidence caused by local mining. The dining-room had some oak panelling under the window, and high up on the wall over the fireplace were two small shields, one on each side, with the arms of Bridgeman. Upstairs, the library was a handsome room running across the house and lit by a long window at each end. This room, which was under the timber gable facing the courtyard, was richly wainscoted on the west side and at the two ends, the detail consisting of pilasters framing square panels, with a richly carved frieze along the top under a classical cornice. The fireplace had Ionic pilasters, and the ceiling was of plaster divided by beams into four bays, the two end ones having ornamental plaster-work, and the middle ones being plain. In the bay at the west end of the ceiling were the arms of the see of Chester on a large shield surrounded by strap-work with four smaller shields, one at each corner, bearing the arms of Bridgeman. Another room on the first floor was also panelled in oak, but was less rich in detail.  Samuel Pepys, writing under date 10 November 1662, refers to some heraldic glass in the windows at Great Lever, but this had disappeared by 1911.

Great Lever Hall: the house and chapel in 1907. Image: Bolton Libraries & Museums.
The chapel was built of brick on a stone base, and was separated from the house by a courtyard paved with cobbles. It formed the eastern half of a building the rest of which is thought to have been used as a house for the chaplain. A stone wall at one time inclosed the court on the east side, but later gave way to a lattice screen. The brickwork of the outer walls of the chapel was yellow-washed, and the roof was covered with grey stone slates. Inside the chapel was quite bare in 1911, and it was lit by an eight-light window at the east end with stone mullions and double transoms, and square-headed six-light mullioned and transomed windows on the north and south walls. A description of the chapel in 1787 says it had then fallen out of use, although marriages had been held there as late as 1767. 'At the end, opposite to the altar' says the writer, ' is a gallery formerly for the use of the family, and a bench runs round the chapel below.' By 1911, the gallery no longer survived, but its position was marked by coupled roof-trusses about 5 ft. apart at the west end. The ridge of the roof did not coincide with the centre line of the chapel, but was slightly to the south of it, making an irregular gable at the ends. The ends of the two roof-trusses rest on the wall in the usual way on the south side, but on the north they projected in front of the wall and carried the roof in the form of a penthouse further forward over the entrance doorway. This may have served originally as shelter to a doorway higher up in the wall, giving access to the gallery from the outside, the bricked-up opening of which was still visible in 1911. 

Great Lever Hall fell into very poor repair and it was finally demolished in 1939 or just afterwards. Efforts were made to find a way of preserving the chapel but this was also taken down just after the Second World War. Even the site on which the house stood has gone, quarried away for the widening of the A666.

Descent: Adam Lever (d. c.1450); to daughter, Margaret (d. c.1483), who later married Sir Ralph Ashton, kt.; to son, Ralph Ashton (fl. 1509); to son, Ralph (or Richard) Ashton (fl. 1533); to son, Ralph (or John) Assheton (c.1523-87); to son, Ralph Assheton (c.1552-1616); to son, Sir Ralph Assheton (1579-1644), 1st bt., who sold 1629 to Rt. Rev. John Bridgman (d. 1652), Bishop of Chester, who rebuilt it.... Earl of Bradford (fl. 1939), who demolished the house.

Middleton Hall, Lancashire

Middleton Hall was situated a little to the south of the church in the centre of the little town; it was a house of some size, taxed on 18 hearths in 1666. It was already dilapidated in the late 18th century, and after being partially rebuilt it was used as a house for Lord Suffield's agent until it was pulled down in 1845, when a cotton factory (Albany Mill) was built on the site. 
Middleton Hall: shown on the 1st edition 6" map surveyed in 1844-45, on the eve of its demolition.

An account of the house written immediately before its demolition describes it as an ancient structure erected at different periods, the oldest part being of timber and plaster, with later additions in stone. A south front, which was of brick, was added at the beginning of the 19th century by the first Lord Suffield. The house contained some good panelling and plaster ceilings, and a large stone chimneypiece with the date 1587. The original timber house is said to have been built round two spacious courts, and was approached by bridges over a moat. The great entrance was described about the year 1770 as 'resembling a ship turned upside down,' from which it appears that it had rested on crucks. A sculptured chimney-piece from the hall was acquired by Middleton Corporation and presumably installed in the Town Hall, but the latter was rebuilt in 1964-65 and the present whereabouts of the chimneypiece are unknown; some of the panelling which was moved to Turton Tower in 1844 is still there.

Descent: John Barton; to daughter, Margery (fl. 1480), wife of Sir Ralph Ashton (c.1425-88); to son, Sir Richard Ashton (d. 1507); to son, Sir Richard Ashton (c.1482-1549); to son, Richard Ashton (c.1511-50); to son, Richard Ashton (1536-63); to son, Sir Richard Assheton (c.1558-1617); to son, Richard Assheton (c.1578-1618); to son, Maj-Gen. Richard Assheton (1606-51); to son, Sir Ralph Assheton (1626-65), 1st bt.; to son, Sir Ralph Assheton (1651-1716), 2nd bt.; to nephew, Sir Ralph Assheton (1692-1765), 3rd bt.; to daughter, Mary (1741-1823), wife of Sir Harbord Harbord (1734-1810), 2nd bt. and 1st Baron Suffield; to son, William Assheton Harbord (1766-1821), 2nd Baron Suffield; to brother, Edward Harbord (1785-1835), 3rd Baron Suffield; to son, Edward Vernon Harbord (1813-53), 4th Baron Suffield, who demolished the house in 1845 and sold 1848 to Peto & Betts, railway contractors; on their bankruptcy in 1861 the estate was broken up and sold.

Whalley Abbey, Lancashire

Whalley Abbey: view by Samuel and Nathaniel Buck, 1727

In origin a Cistercian monastic house, established in 1296 and dissolved in 1536. In 1553 the abbey buildings were sold for some £2,151 to John Braddyll of Brockhall and Richard Assheton of Great Lever, and the latter converted the abbot's lodgings into a mansion called Assheton House. There were alterations in 1588 and again in the early 17th century, and when Ralph Assheton came to live here in the 1660s he demolished the church and other buildings, retaining the chapter house range, and may have laid out formal gardens around the house. Edmund Assheton who inherited in 1692 was responsible for further alterations, but thereafter little seems to have been done to the house until John Hargreaves altered it in the 1860s. Assheton House and most of the abbey ruins were acquired by the diocese of Manchester in 1923 for an education and conference centre, and the RC diocese of Salford acquired the west range and adjoining lands in 1922, with the intention of converting it into a Catholic church, although in the end it remained the church hall for a temporary church of 1926 in the grounds.

The house is approached from the west by two medieval gateways; the outer gate of c.1320 and the inner gate of 1480, which appears to have been altered in Elizabethan times. The house itself incorporates substantial parts of the abbot's lodgings, which appear (from dendrochronology) to have been largely built c.1480-1510, but there are several post-Reformation stages as well, when medieval fragments, including windows and doors, were re-used and mixed with new work. The principal rooms are at an upper level, over an undercroft.

Whalley Abbey: north front of the Assheton house, from an old postcard.

On the north front, a block to the left of the entrance has at ground-floor level a window of three lights with cinquefoil tops beneath a flat head and hood-mould, probably reset. Beside it is a door, perhaps also reset, looking 15th century. The mullioned and transomed windows above, and the full-height embattled bay around the corner on the east side, are, however, Victorian. Back on the north side, the principal entrance is at first-floor level. A handsome flight of steps leads up to a porch with round arches. This is obviously 17th century, probably the work of the 2nd baronet who inherited in 1644. It was he who built the long gallery on the east front. Immediately west of the entrance is a projecting wing with a shaped gable with ball finials and a horizontally-set oval. This is the work of Sir Edmund Assheton, who inherited in 1692, with a Victorian bay window added. A second porch, probably re-set, leads into the ground-floor rooms. The adjacent wings with shaped gables appear to be the work of the Hargreaves family in the later 19th century.

Whalley Abbey: east front of the Assheton house from an old postcard

Moving to the east side, there is masonry probably of medieval date, large mullioned and transomed windows, and a buttress with the date 1588. The 19th century door has beside it a partially blocked archway, and there are other obvious signs of disturbance as the junction with the abbey ruins is approached. On the west side of the house are large mullioned-and-transomed windows once filled with very fancy glazing bars, perhaps of the 1830s, which can have admitted rather little light; these seem now to have been removed.

Whalley Abbey: west front, showing the windows with elaborate early 19th century glazing bars.

Things are not a great deal clearer inside. The first-floor entrance hall is later 19th century in tone and very handsome, with two tall stone arches forming a screen to the east and another framing the stair on the south. The drawing room on the east side is lavishly fitted up in Jacobean style. On the west side the hall also looks Victorian, and very impressive, with a huge fireplace, screen with gallery above, and much panelling. However close inspection shows that the roof-trusses and timber-framing of the east wall in the gallery are probably 16th century; the trusses are arch-braced with collars and kingposts. The soffits of the principals are deeply moulded, and the trusses are braced on each side of the ridge. The purlins and carved wind-braces are, however, 19th century. There is timber-framing in the other walls, but it is not clear how much of it is original.

Whalley Abbey: the Victorian gallery of the hall, also showing one of the 16th century roof trusses.
Image: Dr Kate Ash-Irisarri

Downstairs, two large rooms beneath the hall and drawing room are divided by a corridor reached from a splendid 15th century archway with a deep hollow moulding. On the east side is the chapel, formed in 1970 by Lawrence King and John Hayward, who were working together on Blackburn Cathedral. On the west side is a huge room with very large, closely-spaced and roughly-chamfered ceiling timbers. A big stone fireplace is probably 19th century but it has a beautiful re-set 15th century window beside it. Following acquisition by the diocese, the east wing was converted into a residence for a warden by Robert Martin and later adapted as guest accommodation; some of the rooms have timber-framed walls.

North of the house is a spacious outer courtyard. Its north range, by the inner gatehouse, looks Elizabethan. The earliest evidence for it is the Buck engraving, which shows it incomplete, with a gap between a building attached to the gatehouse and a range further east. This gap range was completed and converted to stables in the 19th century and then further converted into visitor facilities and offices in 1990-91 by Gordon Thorne. The attached east range, also shown by Buck, was converted to staff accommodation in 1981.

Descent:  Richard Assheton (d. 1579); to great-nephew, Ralph Assheton (c.1552-1616); to son, Sir Ralph Assheton (1579-1644), 1st bt.; to son, Sir Ralph Assheton (c.1611-80), 2nd bt.; to brother, Sir Edmund Assheton (1620-95), 3rd bt.; to brother, Sir John Assheton (1622-97), 4th bt.; to nephew, Sir Ralph Assheton (1651-1716), 2nd bt. of Middleton Hall; to daughter Mary (1695-1776), wife of Sir Nathaniel Curzon (1675-1758), 4th bt.; to second son, Assheton Curzon (1730-1820), 1st Viscount Curzon; to grandson, Richard Curzon-Howe (1796-1870), 1st Earl Howe, who sold 1836 to John Taylor of Moreton Hall in Whalley, who bequeathed it to his business partner, John Hargreaves (1839-95), whose son sold it about 1900 to Sir James Travis Clegg (1874-1942), kt, who sold 1923 to Diocese of Manchester; transferred to Diocese of Blackburn, 1926.

Downham Hall, Lancashire

Downham Hall: the entrance front of 1834-37 by George Webster of Kendal. Image: Pendle Heritage
A seat of the Assheton family since the 16th century. An H-shaped house, which at first sight seems early 19th century, although research by Giles Worsley has shown that elements of a 17th century structure survive, while a stone tower recorded in 1779 may point to medieval origins. A survey drawing of 1779 shows mullioned windows and large external stacks, the plan a typical hall-and-cross-passage arrangement, with the stone tower attached to the parlour. The transformation which began in 1779 included the demolition of the tower, the insertion of sash windows etc., but the work was not completed and the house may have been uninhabitable until 1834-37, when George Webster of Kendal completed the job by remodelling the main (north) front with a single-storey portico of unfluted Greek Doric columns and a tripartite doorway to the projecting pedimented centre. This is flanked by projecting two-bay wings. The old carved shields let into the wall above the porch carry the arms of Henry Lacy, Earl of Lincoln, and John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, and are reputed to have come from the ruins of Sawley Abbey.

Downham Hall: garden front, 18th century with a 20th century porch. Image: Angus Taylor/Historic England.

At the back, the window details change, perhaps suggesting they belong to the 18th century alterations. The masonry indicates Elizabethan walls, with traces of mullioned windows, and the classical porch is a modern one designed by Tom Mellor. The schoolroom wing was added in 1880, and the whole house was thoroughly restored and improved in 1910, possibly by Mervyn Macartney, who was rebuilding the church for the Asshetons at the time. The interiors were partially redecorated in Adam style by Miss Frith, either at the same time or a few years later, in the 1920s; as part of these changes, the drawing room was enlarged and a dining room created from two smaller rooms; the latter is used as the setting for a continuous sequence of Assheton portraits from the 16th century to the present day. A fine library survives from the Webster period, with Grecian bookcases of alternating height and projection painted dark green and gold. The staircase is of plain oak and mahogany. The early 19th century buildings of the Home Farm stand close to the hall and there is a 17th century barn among them. The small park was laid out on rolling land with beech avenues of 1721 and clumps of trees of 1805 and later.

Descent: Henry Dyneley sold 1545 to Richard Greenacres and Nicholas Hancock; sold 1558 to Richard Assheton (d. 1579); to great-nephew, Richard Assheton (fl. 1595); to son, Nicholas Assheton (c.1590-1625); to son, Richard Assheton (d. 1657); to kinsman, Sir Ralph Assheton (c.1611-80), 2nd bt. of Great Lever and Whalley; to cousin, Richard Assheton (c.1642-1710); to grandson, Ralph Assheton (1696-1729); to son, Ralph Assheton (1720-58); to son, William Assheton (1758-1833); to son, William Assheton (1788-1858); to son, Ralph Assheton (1830-1907); to son, Sir Ralph Cockayne Assheton (1860-1955), 1st bt.; to son, Sir Ralph Assheton (1901-84), 2nd bt. and 1st Baron Clitheroe; to son, Ralph John Assheton (b. 1929), 2nd Baron Clitheroe.

Cuerdale Hall, Lancashire

The house is now a two-storey farmhouse of brick and stone, with slate roofs. The present building is said to date from a rebuilding in 1700 for a junior branch of the Assheton family, but it may incorporate some elements of the earlier hall house (which was taxed on 12 hearths in 1666) and was much altered and extended later. The house is now roughly T-shaped, and the earliest work is in the west wing. Inside, the house preserves two fine dog-leg staircases and one small panelled room upstairs. An 18th century sundial, formerly at Cuerdale, is now at Downham. The house has long been let as a farmhouse and divided into two dwellings, and is now surrounded by modern farm buildings, but still belongs to the Asshetons.

Descent: Radclyffe Assheton (1582-1644); to grandson, Richard Assheton (c.1642-1709); to grandson, Ralph Assheton (1696-1729); to son, Ralph Assheton (1719-58); to son, William Assheton (1758-1833); to son, William Assheton (1788-1858); to son, Ralph Assheton (1830-1907); to son, Sir Ralph Cockayne Assheton (1860-1955), 1st bt.; to son, Sir Ralph Assheton (1901-84), 2nd bt. and 1st Baron Clitheroe; to son, Ralph John Assheton (b. 1929), 2nd Baron Clitheroe


J. Burke, Extinct and Dormant Baronetcies, 2nd edn., 1841, pp. 19-22; Burke's Peerage and Baronetage, 2003, pp. 827-29; F.R. Raines, The journal of Nicholas Assheton of Downham, 1848; T.D. Whitaker, An history of the original parish of Whalley, 1876, passim; VCH Lancashire, vol. 4 (1911), pp. 338-47, vol 5 (1911), pp. 151-61, 182-87 and vol. 6 (1911), pp. 381-88, 552-58; J.M. Robinson, The country houses of the north-west, 1991, pp. 178, 187, 221; A. Taylor, The Websters of Kendal, 2004, pp. 103-04, 195-97; C. Hartwell, M. Hyde and Sir N. Pevsner, The buildings of England: Lancashire - Manchester and the south-east, 2004, p. 159; C. Hartwell & Sir N. Pevsner, The buildings of England: Lancashire - North, 2009, pp. 277-78, 691-97; Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entries on Sir John Assheton (d. 1427); Sir Ralph Assheton (c.1425-88), Sir Thomas Assheton (c.1403-60), Nicholas Assheton (1590-1625) and Ralph Assheton (1901-84), 1st Baron Clitheroe; History of Parliament biographies of Ralph Assheton (d. 1559), Richard Assheton (d. 1579), Richard Assheton (1654-1705), Sir Ralph Assheton (c.1606-80) [sic], and Sir Ralph Assheton (1652-1716), 2nd bt.

Coat of arms

Argent, a mulled sable pierced of the field.

Can you help?

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  • If anyone can supply further illustrations of Ashton Old Hall, Great Lever Hall or Middleton Hall, or any further evidence about the development of these houses, I should be very pleased to hear from them.

Revision and acknowledgements

This post was first published 12th May 2016.