Monday, 3 November 2014

(146) Annesley of Bletchingdon Park and Camolin Park, Viscounts Valentia, Earls of Anglesey and Earls of Mountnorris - part 1

Annesley, Viscounts Valentia
This senior branch of the Annesley family has undoubtedly the most complex history of any family yet treated in this blog. However, neither in their rise to fortune and high office in Ireland in the 17th century, nor in their bathetic decline into unrestrained libertinism, crime and scandal in the 18th century do they come across as attractive people or a good advertisement for the aristocratic principle. A few, like the 1st Earl of Anglesey or the Annesleys of Bletchingdon Park, showed a degree of circumspection in public affairs or possessed redeeming cultural interests, but the majority were undeniably ruthless, selfish and hedonistic. Not until the 19th and 20th century do they conform more closely to the established social conventions of their class. One is glad not to have had to live alongside men like Richard Annesley, de facto 6th Earl of Anglesey, described by a contemporary as 'the greatest rogue in Europe', but insofar the true course of his life can be determined at this distance in time, it is instructive, and undeniably entertaining!

The founder of the family fortunes was Sir Francis Annesley (1585-1660), later 1st Baron Mountnorris and 1st Viscount Valentia, who was born at Newport Pagnell in Buckinghamshire, where his family had owned land since the mid 16th century, and went to Ireland in the service of Sir Arthur Chichester when the latter was appointed Lord Deputy in 1605. He seems at first to have been Sir Arthur's butler, but he was quickly promoted to lucrative and powerful positions in the administration of Ireland, which meant that he was well placed to secure large grants of land in Ulster during the Plantation. He was knighted in 1616 and made a baronet in 1620, and continued in office when Chichester was recalled to England. Despite building his influence at Court in England as well as in Ireland, however, he ultimately fell foul a later Lord Deputy, Lord Wentworth, in the 1630s, lost all his offices and was placed under house arrest in Dublin for three years. In 1637 he was released and allowed to travel to England, where he spent the rest of his life in a largely fruitless quest for the recovery of his official positions.  Alongside a busy public life, Lord Valentia married twice and sired no less than 22 children over nearly forty years.  When he died in 1660 his titles and estates passed to his eldest son by his first wife, and descended in that line until 1844, when the male line became extinct. The title of Viscount Valentia then reverted to a descendant of his eldest son by his second wife. In 1949, on the death of the 12th Viscount, the line again expired, and the title was inherited by a distant cousin. This account considers only the family history down to the death of the 12th Viscount, since the later holders of the title have not owned country houses.

In 1660, the Viscountcy passed to his eldest son, Arthur Annesley (1614-86), who was promoted to the Earldom of Anglesey in 1661 in recognition of his role in securing the restoration of the monarchy the previous year.  Lord Anglesey had literary interests and the largest private library of the day (30,000 volumes, sold after his death), but he extracted personal profit from public office with the best of them, and was able to invest in the acquisition of further estates. In Ireland, he bought Camolin Park in Co. Wexford in 1662, and in England, he bought Farnborough (Hampshire) and Bletchingdon (Oxfordshire). A new house was built at Farnborough in about 1675 and still largely survives, and he may have altered Bletchingdon too, although that has since been rebuilt.

Arthur was succeeded as 2nd Earl of Anglesey by his eldest son, James Annesley (c.1645-90), who also inherited the majority of his property, although an estate at Totteridge was left to his next son, Altham Annesley (c.1650-99), 1st Baron Altham. James only survived his father by four years, and left three sons, who inherited the title in turn. The Bletchingdon estate passed to his widow and later to his daughter Elizabeth (d. 1725), the wife of Robert Gayer, but was subsequently bequeathed back to the male line of the family. The other estates remained intact, passing to James (1674-1702), 3rd Earl; John (1676-1710), 4th Earl, and Arthur (1677-1737), 5th Earl. Arthur lived when in Ireland chiefly at Camolin Park, where he seems to have built a new house in about 1725. Like his grandfather, Arthur was a scholar and politician, and he was probably the most estimable of the Earls, but his marriage to a first cousin produced no children, and after she died in 1719 he ignored pleas from contemporaries to marry again and produce a family.

There were such pleas because contemporary observers could see that the heir presumptive was Arthur Annesley (1686-1727), 4th Baron Altham, a violent and essentially bankrupt rake who had abandoned his wife and fled to Ireland, then been reconciled with her for long enough to father a son (James Annesley (1715-60)), before turning her out of his house to subsist on the charity of relatives. He racketed around Ireland for a number of years, living on his title and expectations until in 1722 he established a new home in Dublin with a mistress called Sally Gregory who had an income of her own.  Lord Altham's son was persona non grata in this household, and eventually Gregory persuaded Lord Altham - his degree of infatuation with her must really have been pathological - to cast the boy out onto the Dublin streets.  After living on the streets for some time, he found a protector in a Dublin butcher, and later went to work for a solicitor.  At this point, Lord Altham died suddenly, and there is a suspicion that he was murdered, either by his mistress or more probably by his brother, Richard Annesley (1693-1761). At all events, Richard promptly claimed his brother's title and gave out that his nephew had died of smallpox, while employing thugs to hunt him down, kidnap him, and put him on a boat to America, where he was sold as an indentured servant.

If this reads like the plot of a novel, that is precisely what it became: both Smollett's Peregrine Pickle and Sir Walter Scott's Guy Mannering retold the tale. James Annesley twice attempted to escape from his masters in Delaware but was recaptured and had the term of his indentured service extended as punishment. A third escape attempt in 1740 was finally successful, and he managed to travel to Jamaica, where he enlisted in the Royal Navy before revealing his true identity. On reaching England, he secured the philanthropic patronage of a merchant, Daniel Mackercher, who devoted many years to helping him recover his estates. A succession of legal actions in the Irish and English courts led to several decisions in James' favour, but his uncle had deeper pockets and always had another legal route to pursue to defend his interests.  In the end, James - or rather Mackercher - ran out of money, and one final push to get a comprehensive Chancery judgement against Richard was scheduled for hearing just days after James died, penniless, in 1760, to be followed not long afterwards by his only son, Bankes Annesley (1757-63). Richard himself died in 1761, so it was his son, Arthur Annesley (1744-1816) who ultimately reaped the rewards of his father's villainy and inherited the Anglesey estates with an undisputed title.

Another dark aspect of Richard's character was his relationships with women, and he seems to have had at least two bigamous marriages. The complex web of deceit he wove, however, contrived to cast doubt on the legitimacy of all his children, and the Irish and English houses of Lords came to different conclusions about whether Arthur was his legitimate son or not. In Ireland, his claim was accepted and he duly took his seat under the senior Irish title as 8th Viscount Valentia, but in England it was rejected and the Barony of Altham and the Earldom of Anglesey were deemed to be extinct.  In 1793 he was made Earl of Mountnorris in the Irish peerage. Arthur divided his time between Ireland and England, living chiefly at Camolin Park when in Ireland and at the house his first wife inherited, Arley Hall (Worcestershire) when in England; he sold Farnborough Place in the 1760s. His son, George Annesley (1770-1844), 2nd Earl of Mountnorris, inherited these estates but sold the ancestral property at Newport Pagnell in 1801. When he died in1844, the Mountnorris earldom expired, the Valentia viscountcy passed to distant kinsmen, and the Arley and Camolin Park estates passed to his nephew, Capt. Arthur Lyttelton Macleod (1802-82), who took the name Annesley but sold both estates in 1852.

Francis Annesley (b. 1629), the eldest son of the second marriage of the 1st Viscount, inherited an estate at Thorganby in the East Riding of Yorkshire from his father, and purchased lands at Castlewellan (Co. Down). His son, Francis Annesley (1663-1750), who was a lawyer and politician with interests in both Ireland and England, inherited Thorganby and Castlewellan, and he was left the unentailed estates and personal fortune of the 5th Earl of Anglesey in 1737, which he used to purchase Bletchingdon Park from Richard Annesley in 1742. From his younger sons descend both the current Viscount Valentia and the Earls of Annesley, who inherited Castlewellan [and whom I will write about in a future post]; his eldest son was a clergyman in Lancashire who died before his father. The Bletchingdon and Thorganby estates therefore passed in 1750 to his grandson, Arthur Annesley (1732-73) and on his early death to his son, Arthur Annesley (1760-1841), who rebuilt Bletchingdon in 1782-85 to the designs of James Lewis (c.1751-1820), a Welsh architect who travelled to Italy in 1770-72 and published a set of (largely unexecuted) designs for country houses, villas and town houses in 1779-80, which may have been how he came to the attention of Arthur Annesley. A few years later, Lewis built Eydon Hall (Northamptonshire) for Arthur's uncle, the Rev. Francis Annesley (c.1734-1811) and the two houses are amongst his best and most creative works.

Arthur's son, Arthur Annesley (1785-1863), of Bletchingdon Park, succeeded in 1844 as 10th Viscount Valentia, but he made no effort to prove his title, and some peerage publications recorded the title as dormant until the 14th Viscount finally proved his title in 1959. Nonetheless, he and his successors used the title and it was generally acknowledged. His grandson, Sir Arthur Annesley (1843-1927), 11th Viscount Valentia, was for many years MP for Oxford and Chairman of the County Council, and for seven years was Comptroller of the Royal Household to Queen Victoria and King Edward VII (1898-1905).  In addition to Bletchingdon, he inherited Eydon Hall, which he leased until he sold it in 1923. Bletchingdon passed to his son, Caryl Arthur James Annesley (1883-1949), 12th Viscount Valentia, who had no children or close male heirs, and who sold the estate in 1948, bringing the family's days as significant landholders in the British Isles to a close.

Bletchingdon Park, Oxfordshire

Bletchingdon Park is today a Georgian mansion with a pedimented portico on the south front, which is largely the result of a remodelling for Arthur Annesley in 1782–85 to the designs of James Lewis, who published engravings of it in the second volume of his Original Designs in Architecture (1797).  

Bletchingdon Park in 2012

The history of the earlier house which Annesley's house replaced seems to be complex and obscure. The medieval manor-house of the Poure family seems to have been on or near the present site, but when Francis Poure lived there at the end of the 16th century it was described as lying on the village street. It was lived in by Sir John Lenthall in the 1620s, and was presumably the 'house and lodge in the park', which Sir Thomas Coghill rebuilt in about 1630. The cost no doubt contributed to the financial difficulties which later compelled him to sell his 'new house' to William Lewes. It was clearly on a large scale, for during the Civil War it was fortified and garrisoned by 200 men. It is said to have been partly destroyed in 1644, but as its defenders surrendered without making any resistance, it is doubtful if the damage was extensive. At all events, when the Earl of Anglesey occupied it in 1665 it was one of the largest houses in the county, being taxed on 30 hearths for the hearth tax. It was here that he housed his magnificent library, and this was the house he retired to at the end of his life, where he was 'much visited by his London friends'. Robert Plot, writing in 1676, commented on the rare and ingenious style of the staircase, leading to a gallery overlooking the entrance hall, by which all the rooms were approached.

Bletchingdon Park: the side elevation shows evidence of the form of the early 18th century house.

The 17th century house seems to have been rebuilt in the early 18th century, and something of the form of this building seems to be apparent in the side elevation, with its recessed centre and smaller sash windows.  This was the house so extensively remodelled as to be almost rebuilt in 1782 by James Lewis for Arthur Annesley. The result is a compact square neo-classical villa built of ashlar, with two storeys above a rusticated basement. On the entrance front there is a pedimented four-column Corinthian portico approached by a semicircular flight of steps; the garden front has a similar portico in antis

Bletchingdon Park: garden front. Image: Stephen Richards. Licenced under this Creative Commons licence

Inside, the simple decoration is in the Adam style, with marble fireplaces, enriched cornices and good decorative plasterwork. The drawing room has low relief plaster panelling on the walls and medallions over the doorways, a frieze of leaf scrolls and wreaths, and garlands on the ceiling. A small room leading from it has similar decoration.  The former dining room has a screen of Corinthian columns at either end. The staircase in the centre of the house is lit by a glazed umbrella dome, and has modern plaster decoration on the walls in 18th century style; the staircase balustrade is also modern. 

Outside, the stables, also by James Lewis, consist of severe two-storey ranges around three sides of a courtyard with a big rusticated arch and a domed clock turret on the central block. The stable court is closed on the fourth side by a wall which has an entrance with rusticated piers. 

Bletchingdon Park: entrance hall in 2012

Bletchingdon Park: the top-lit staircase hall

The house sits in a well-timbered park near the church, which is recorded as early as 1322, but which was greatly enlarged in the 16th century.

Descent: Vincent Poure (d. 1558); to son, Francis Poure (fl. 1610); to son, Richard Poure, who sold c.1614 to Sir John Lenthall, kt., who sold c.1624-27 to Sir Thomas Coghill, kt., who sold 1656 to William Lewis of Boarstall (Bucks); to widow, Margaret Lewis, who married 2nd, 1661, Charles Stuart (1640-72), 3rd Duke of Richmond, who sold 1666 to Arthur Annesley (1614-86), 1st Earl of Anglesey; to son, James Annesley (d. 1690), 2nd Earl of Anglesey; to widow, Elizabeth Annesley (née Manners) (d. 1700), Countess of Anglesey; to daughter, Lady Elizabeth Annesley (d. 1725), wife of Robert Gayer (d. c.1742); to brother, Arthur Annesley (c.1678-1737), 5th Earl of Anglesey; to kinsman, Richard Annesley (1694-1761), de facto 6th Earl of Anglesey, who sold 1742 to Francis Annesley (1663-1750); to grandson, Arthur Annesley (1733-73); to son, Arthur Annesley (1760-1841); to son, Arthur Annesley (1785-1863), 10th Viscount Valentia; to grandson, Arthur Annesley (1843-1927), 11th Viscount Valentia; to son, Caryl Arthur James Annesley (1883-1949), 12th Viscount Valentia, who sold 1948 to Hon. William Astor, who sold 1953 to Robin Cayzer (1912-96), 2nd Baron Rotherwick, who sold 1966 to Martin McCormack; sold as the Centre for English Studies (fl. 1977)... sold 1990 to John Patterson, who sold c.1992 to Dr. Michael Peagram, who put the house on the market for £20m in 2012.

Farnborough Place, Hampshire

Farnborough Place: apparently a house of c.1675 altered around 1800.

The former manor house of the village, rebuilt about 1675 as a hunting box for the 1st Earl of Anglesey. The general form of the seven bay, two storey double-pile house is of this time, and inside there is a staircase with chunky turned balusters which is right for the date. The house was remodelled about 1800 for Valentine Henry Wilmot (d. 1819), when the three-bay projecting centre was altered, the porch and stucco facing were added, and some internal work was done too.   The house is now St. Peter's School, and further work has been done to the house in the 20th century, including an alteration in the form of the dormers.

Farnborough Place today: the form of the dormers has been altered in the 20th century.

To the north are the rather grand former stables, also of c.1800: a seven-by-three bay brick block with projecting centres on the long facades and round-arched ground-floor openings, originally blind except for lunettes.  The pediment and cupola at the end have been removed.

Descent: sold about 1665 to Arthur Annesley (1614-86), 1st Earl of Anglesey; to son, James Annesley (c.1645-90), 2nd Earl of Anglesey; to son, James Annesley (1674-1702), 3rd Earl of Anglesey; to brother, John Annesley (1676-1710), 4th Earl of Anglesey; to brother, Arthur Annesley (1677-1737), 5th Earl of Anglesey; to cousin, Richard Annesley (1693-1761), 6th Earl of Anglesey; to son, Arthur Annesley (1744-1816), 8th Viscount Valentia, who sold c.1768 to Henry Wilmot; to son, Henry Wilmot (d. 1794); to son, Valentine Henry Wilmot (d. 1819), who sold 1817 to George Pindar...sold by 1845 to George Morant (d. 1875), whose trustees sold to Richard Eve (d. 1900); sold c.1903 to Mrs Matilda Holt (1830-1905); to son, Lt-Col. Harold Edwin Sherwood Holt (1863-1932), who let it for use as a school and later a nursing home; sold for use as an hotel; sold 1950 to Power Jets Ltd as an International Turbine School; sold c.1962 to St Peter's School.

Camolin Park, Co. Wexford

Camolin Park, from a Victorian photograph.
A seven bay two-storey early 18th century house with a steep central pediment over the central three bays, and a good central doorcase with a segmental pediment.  It was presumably built for Arthur Annesley, 5th Earl of Anglesey, who is known to have spent much of his time in Ireland at this property. Sir John Soane made proposals for the addition of wings and a large portico in 1814-15, but they do not appear to have been executed, perhaps because of the death of the 1st Earl of Mountnorris the following year. The house was burnt in 1913 and thereafter fell into ruins and was demolished altogether in about 1974. 

Camolin Park from the 1st edition Ordnance Survey of Ireland 6" map
The only substantial survival is the large U-shaped stable block of the 1770s, which was remodelled in 1904 and restored in 2003, although proposals for residential conversion since 2009 would, if executed, compromise its historic value.

Descent: sold 1662 to Arthur Annesley (1614-86), 1st Earl of Anglesey; to son, James Annesley (c.1645-90), 2nd Earl of Anglesey; to son, James Annesley (1674-1702), 3rd Earl of Anglesey; to brother, John Annesley (1676-1710), 4th Earl of Anglesey; to brother, Arthur Annesley (1677-1737), 5th Earl of Anglesey; to cousin, Richard Annesley (1693-1761), 6th Earl of Anglesey; to son, Arthur Annesley (1744-1816), 8th Viscount Valentia and 1st Earl of Mountnorris; to son, George Annesley (1770-1844), 2nd Earl of Mountnorris; to nephew, Capt. Arthur Lyttelton Macleod (later Annesley) (1802-82), who sold 1852 to James Foster (d. 1853); to nephew, William Orme Foster (1814-99); to son, William Henry Foster (b. 1846), who let the house as a College of Forestry and sold it in the early 20th century; burnt 1913 and demolished 1974.

Arley Castle (formerly Arley Hall), Worcestershire

Arley Castle, from a Victorian photograph

The castle stood on high ground, commanding a view of the Severn Valley and the Wyre Forest. The earliest part of the house lay to the south and was a 16th century two-storeyed block, extended in the reign of James I, which was the dower house of the Lytteltons of Frankley and Hagley Hall. In 1843-44, the last year of his life, the 2nd Earl of Mountnorris added to this old house an enormous Gothic castle consisting of a high square tower, huge lower towers flanking a great gateway and a monumental wing stretching away at the rear. 

Arley Castle: the monumental Gothic additions to the house by R. & J. Varden of 1843-44

The architects were Richard Varden of Worcester (1812-73) and J. Varden, perhaps his brother. At the same time the old wing was completely refurbished and only the two staircases – one Elizabethan, the other Jacobean – were suffered to remain. Early 17th century woodwork was reused in the old block, especially in the library, but the new block was cheaply finished internally, perhaps because the Earl died before it was finished. Arley was sold to the Woodward family in 1852, and after the death of Robert Woodward in 1921 the house was let to a girls’ school. This was a case where the anticipated heir had been killed in the First World War; Sir Chad Woodward, who inherited on his father’s death, was a surgeon and divided his time between his duties as a landowner and in the operating theatre. He moved to Arley Cottage on the estate, which remained in the family until recently. In 1959 the estate was bought by Roger D. Turner, a Black Country businessman, who demolished most of it in 1962-63; part of the gatehouse survives. In 1967-68 a new long low house (Arley House) was built to the designs of D.H. Blantern Radford of Birmingham on the southern part of the site out of reconstituted stone, with some weatherboarding and continuous timber balconies. Lord Mountnorris began making one of the first arboretums at Arley after 1796, when he was deserted by his wife. He built up a magnificent collection of American oaks, maples, caryas and conifers. This collection was augmented after 1960 by R.D. Turner, and the grounds are now open to the public as the Arley Arboretum.

Descent: Thomas Lyttelton, 2nd Baron Lyttelton (1744-79); to sister, Lucy Fortescue Annesley, Viscountess Valentia (later Countess of Mountnorris); to son, George Annesley, 2nd Earl of Mountnorris (1770-1844); to nephew, Capt. Arthur Lyttleton Macleod (later Annesley) (1802-82), who sold 1852 to Robert Woodward (1801-82); to son, Robert Woodward (1840-1921); to son Sir Alfred Chad Turner Woodward (1880-1957) (let as a school in 1940s); sold 1959 by his three daughters to Roger D. Turner; to R.D. Turner Charitable Trust.

Eydon Hall, Northamptonshire

Eydon Hall: the entrance front

The present attractive five bay house, of two storeys above a basement, was designed by James Lewis and built for Rev. Francis Annesley, 1789-91. It replaced an earlier manor house which stood east of the church and was demolished in the late 18th century. Like his earlier remodelling of Bletchingdon Park, the house was illustrated in the second volume of Lewis's Original designs of 1797. The house is built of local dark ironstone, which lends a richness in contrast with the understated elegance of the design. The four facades of the house all have a different design.  The entrance side has the three central bays stepped forward beneath a pediment, and a parapet pierced at intervals to provide light to the attic rooms behind. The front door is approached by a stone bridge across the area which lights the basement, and above the doorway is a frieze of thin garlands.  The ground-floor windows at either end of the facade are set in blank arches. On the west side the basement is revealed and there is a full-height curved bay in the centre. The south-facing garden front has a distinctive four-column portico of widely-spaced and attenuated Ionic columns, so designed because the client was afraid of darkening the rooms behind. The departure from correct classical proportions means this is perhaps the least successful elevation. The portico has a straight entablature with a frieze of acanthus scrolls and a balustrade with a stone panel in the centre carved with the Annesley arms. The east side overlooks the service court and is severely plain.

Eydon Hall: a Victorian photograph of the west and south fronts.

The house has a square plan with the entrance hall on the north side, flanked by a study and a dressing room which seems curiously isolated from any bedroom. In the centre is a top-lit staircase hall; the large drawing room and dining room face south and south-east. Behind the bow on the west front is a charming oval parlour.  The interiors are delicately decorated, with a maximum of restraint: no display is made anywhere, even in the staircase hall, which has a simple cast-iron stair balustrade and glazed oval dome, but several rooms have fine neo-classical marble chimneypieces.  The service rooms were originally all in the basement. Apart from some minor internal alterations made about 1930 to the designs of Sir Herbert Baker, the house is substantially as built in the late 18th century.

Eydon Hall: the portico from the garden in 1914. Image: The Lotus magazine

The stables were rebuilt in 1923-24 to the design of C.H. Biddulph-Pinchard, and in 1983-85 curved buildings in the stable court were converted to create further stables and an estate office to the designs of Quinlan Terry. In the fine well-timbered grounds there is an orangery of four bays, altered by Sir Herbert Baker in c.1930 and restored by Terry in 1985-87. At the park entrance in the village are late 18th century gatepiers and a gabled lodge of the early 19th century, with an odd tower ending in four pointed gables.

From 1982 the house became the centre of a successful racehorse stud run by Gerald W. Leigh; after his death the house was sold for a reported £17m to the present owner, video game pioneer, Tim Stamper.

Descent: sold 1788 to Rev. Francis Annesley (c.1734-1811); to nephew, Rev. Francis Annesley (d. 1831); to brother, Arthur Annesley (1760-1841); to son, Rev. Charles Annesley Francis Annesley (1787-1863); to great-great-nephew, Arthur Annesley (1843-1927), 11th Viscount Valentia, who apparently leased to Col. Henry Cartwright (d. 1890), T. Wilkinson Holland (fl. 1914) and Lady Fermor-Hesketh; sold 1923 to David Margesson; sold 1929 to Robert Henry Brand (1878-1963), 1st Baron Brand; to daughter, who sold 1982 to Gerald (d. 2002) & Anna Leigh, who sold 2004 to Timothy David Joseph Stamper (b. 1961).

Full genealogical details of the Annesley family are given in part 2 of this post.

Revision and acknowledgements
This post was first published 3 November 2014 and updated 4 February 2017.

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