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A HISTORY OF ELVASTON AND THE STANHOPES
By
Mrs Bee Wickens (nee Beasley), Senior Historical Advisor, Friends of Elvaston

At the time of the Domesday Book appearance, Elvaston was a mere hamlet, the most important buildings being the Church, mill and a small manor with but fifty two acres of grassland, owned by the family Aselin, later Bardolphs, then seized by the Crown until such time as the reigning monarch saw fit to award it to the Blounts.

At this period of history, it was quite common for villages, towns, even whole counties to change hands, almost on a whim, according to the favour being given nor was it always from wealthy personages like the king either but, sometimes, as a matter of convenience between members of a family. I recollect that my town of Chesterfield was given away by a sister who preferred the area of Nottingham to that of more bracing Derbyshire!

However, Elvaston was held by the Blounts for some considerable time, despite being ransacked by the Lancastrians during the War of the Roses, Walter Blount becoming prominent as King Edward IV’s Lord High Treasurer. In fact, it is thought that the first manor of Elvaston held the ground which the oldest end of the present building still occupies today, though we doubt in its entirety, as it bears the mark 1633, over its mullioned windows. Probably, after the devastation of attack in 1453, and promotion to a higher status, Walter Blount or his descendants saw fit to improve the structure, albeit it betrays its primitiveness now after later additions.

Meanwhile, the Stanhopes had ‘won their spurs’. In the early 1500’s, Sir MICHAEL STANHOPE and his wife, Ann, had made Elvaston their home, having been knighted by Edward VI and given the rights over Elvaston Church as well as other monastic properties. However, incurring the wrath of the king some time later, becoming entangled in some plot with his brother-in-law, the Duke of Somerset, and was executed in 1552, though his wife lived for some twenty six more years. They had two sons, THOMAS and JOHN. Thomas married Margaret, the daughter of Sir John Port and it is their descendants who formed the two branches that, ultimately gained the Earldoms, John and Mary (nee Knowles) only having one son, CHARLES of whom we hear no more!

However, THOMAS’ son, JOHN, born 1558, evidently married well; first to Cordellia Allington by whom he had PHILLIP, who became the 1st EARL of CHESTERFIELD and head of the BRETBY branch of the Stanhopes. His 2nd son, by Catherine Trentham, was another JOHN, who inherited ELVASTON, and became head of that branch of Stanhopes. His was a sad end, though marrying twice - first to Olivia Beresford then, more successfully, to Mary, daughter of Sir John Radcliffe by whom he had a son, also JOHN, wed to Jane CURZON, daughter of John Curzon of KEDLESTON. Yet another JOHN following, marrying Dorothy Agard), who bore him 3 sons THOMAS, CHARLES, and WILLIAM of whom we will hear more anon.

However, back to the earlier JOHN who died, we feel ,somewhat prematurely in 1638 (before his father I believe) during the Civil War, Elvaston being sandwiched, as it were, between the Parliamentarians rife in Derby and Nottingham! Laid to rest, his effigy clothed in his military garb leaning in dignified manner on one arm with his sword at the ready, in Elvaston Church, dastardly Cromwellians raided the property and smote the nose and sword of the recumbent earl, thus desecrating him in after life! Led by Sir John Gell, who continued his trail of destruction, laying low plants and flowers of the beautiful borders then, setting out to win the favours of the grief-stricken widow, Mary, he wedded her and proceeded to make her life a misery! What a tale of Woe is that; enough to raise the ghosts of Elvaston! Who said we had NO ghosts?!

Never mind, the subsequent Johns they were responsible for, with the help of Jane Curzon and Dorothy Agard (as told above) brought about an interesting situation. WILLIAM (the 1st!), married Ann, daughter of Col Griffiths, and became the 1st EARL of HARRINGTON in 1742 (1692-1760) and the country’s SECRETARY OF STATE. Their son, Thomas, sadly died at 24 years of age (1719-43). Nor have we any record of brother Charles, except also died 1760, but John and Dorothy’s THOMAS brought the two Stanhope branches together by marrying JANE the widow of his Bretby Cousin CHARLES, descended from PHILLIP, whose grandson JAMES (son of Alexander), distinguished himself also holding the office of SECRETARY OF STATE AND CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER!

NOW TELL US THAT THE STANHOPES, EARLS OF HARRINGTON & CHESTERFIELD ARE NOT WORTHY KNIGHTS OF THE REALM TO KEEP THEIR SEAT REVERED IN MEMORY OF THEIR ACHIEVEMENTS !

When Cousin Charles had been alive, as 3rd EARL STANHOPE of BRETBY (just East of Derby), he invented the first metal (iron) printing press, a much sturdier piece of equipment than hitherto. An idea that we believe later LEICESTER (1784-1862) of the ELVASTON STANHOPES benefited from when he set up a printing press and founded a school in Greece. Another service he did this country was to save for eternity all the works of Byron which he brought back with that poet’s body, though he was not a particular friend.

However, we must slip back in time to Leicester’s grandfather, the 2nd WILLIAM (son of 1st above) (1719-79), who wed aristocratically, Lady Caroline FITZROY, daughter of the Duke of Grafton, a great beauty of the day. This William was a soldier and politician. He was also the 2nd EARL and BARON OF HARRINGTON (the latter name being chosen from the village from which the ancestors of the family originally came). Before succeeding to the earldom, he had inherited the further title of LORD PETERSHAM, bestowed on his father. His first son and heir, the 3rd EARL, was CHARLES (1753-1829), who married JANE daughter of Sir John FLEMING. He served in the American War of Independence was a great tea lover and, the oldest general in the Army! Then, on retirement, became Governor and Constable of Windsor Castle. However he found time to father two sons, the 2nd being HENRY FITZROY (1758-1829), and five daughters - Caroline, Isabella, Henrietta, Amelia, Anna & Maria!

Perhaps this was the reason that the 3rd Earl felt the need to increase the size of Elvaston greatly and was influenced by fashion conscious daughters? We can assume that it had been greatly enlarged as befitting their station over the years but, maybe it was time for a “make-over”? With five daughters to marry off, it would be important to make a good impression on eligible bachelors if they were going to be able to continue to live in the style to which they were accustomed! Thus, it is not surprising, after his travels and sojourns in Windsor Castle that he fell for the new - fangled Gothic style James Wyatt dangled before him. Conversely, here was a heaven-sent opportunity for Wyatt to really seal his reputation as a leader in the ‘modern’ architectural world. The romance of a castle without the inconveniences of hills and moats to negotiate! I bet the girls were all for it and made his mind up for him! Just imagine all the grandchildren that would be forthcoming in due course, too. What a pity he didn’t survive long enough to see them all enjoy the stairs, passages and secret bowers of the subsequent gardens. The scooped-out yew mounds, that one could hide inside, Once I came upon one and, peeping inside, almost had a fit! There was a naked white body lying as in death! Oh, Miss Marples where are you? What a relief to realise that the arm adrift was cold white marble and the poor child no more than a broken statue! I should have known for had not I produced a head and arms to complete a photographic Venus?

However, what we learn of “BEAU”, the 4th EARL, another CHARLES, it would seem that, by the time he gained his inheritance and could flaunt a beautiful Elvaston before her, he had grown obsessively possessive both of her and his property, and only allowed in those who were working to make it more beautiful. Did he never entertain his sisters or brother and their families? Perhaps, like the aristocracy of his London haunts, they ostracised him and his “floozy”, the young actress, 17 years younger and an unmarried mother! Well she remained faithful to him, maybe because almost held captive and tales were rife in the house, how she terrified the staff when, in frustration, she scattered the maids and cook by riding through the kitchen and up the marble stairs! I wonder whether he allowed the child she had had previously to enjoy the beautiful surroundings? I think not, how sad! They had a son but was it some kind of retribution that his life was “nipped in the bud” when scarcely out of infancy, at four years old?

In earlier years, being a dandy and fashion setter of no mean talent, we tend to overlook the fact that he was also a soldier and distinguished himself on the battle-field. It seems difficult to marry the two life-styles but, scoff as we may at this love of beauty, regarding him effeminate, remember his childhood had been surrounded by sisters and maybe their tastes had rubbed off and he’d thought if he couldn’t beat them, he’d join them. Certainly, he knew how to please the ladies - he’d had enough practice from birth! The results of his taste is still the hall-mark of Elvaston and what singles it out as different from all the other stately homes, of which one of my foreign visitors wearily said to me, “Oh, when you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all!” One may not agree, but there is a grain of truth in that remark, one must admit but NOT AT ELVASTON! Whatever feats the others performed to make us proud, it is the foresight and vision of the 4th Earl and his father DARING TO BE DIFFERENT, that makes Elvaston too unique to be changed! Learn of these individuals so far and realise the living, breathing atmosphere we share with them and they, at one, with us.

Also, think on that the effect of this family is still playing its part today, though I have not yet spoken of the characters from the setting of that Fair Star into our own century! Yet still we speak of, and use Petersham as his influence directed; snuff boxes he designed are now collectors’ treasures, still business men wear his coat style and his hat is worn with tails for weddings, even as the Prince Regent did.. Still, in London is Stanhope Gardens, Petersham Mews, Harrington Square and Elvaston Place in SW7 and the lightweight phaeton and Stanhope gig that Fitzroy designed can still be occasionally seen in London, I am told and, most likely at these veteran rallies where they put horses through their paces. The Stanhopes commanded the attention of royalty and their opinions and ideas not only respected but copied, particularly the 3rd & 4th earls even as, today, one of their descendants is a member of the Royal Household: Viscountess Linley, wife of Princess Margaret’s son, Serena Stanhope is grand-daughter of the 83-year-old earl who kept an eye on Elvaston throughout the war, when my college was in residence.

However, I am missing out some important members that continued the work of the 4th earl or, at least saw that his work was kept in good order. Anyone who has had a house and/or garden to care for knows how repetitive and demanding that is, so a word about those who came after and made sure it was kept in fine state for us many years later. Brother LEICESTER, Fitzgerald, Charles became the 5th EARL, (1784-1862) after spending some years in the Army and as a politician, as said earlier, he went out to Greece in 1823, where he built a printing press and founded a school. He was in his sixties when he succeeded to the earldom and found the debts incurred by his brother crippling. Thus a reversal of action was needed and the gardens thrown open to paying visitors and, it is said, that people came in their thousands and special trains were laid on. Even visitors from Europe at a time that such travel was only for the wealthy. However, the Topiary garden, especially themed, was a very new fashion, so would probably bring experts wishing to explore the methods etc for their own development.

We are told Holker Hall was the first topiary garden but one has to remember that the 4th earl had kept Elvaston so private and “under wraps” that it was not known about till Leicester opened it up after 1851. After his death, his sixteen year old son, Seymour Sydney (1845-66) inherited, but only lived four more years, when the son of Leicester and Beau’s younger brother Fitzroy - Charles Wyndham, (1809-81) - took over. He was about 57 years old by this time and more a man of studious nature, enjoying making and playing violins. His father, Fitzroy, had been a keen sportsman and talented engineer and designed the carriages popular in London. He had married Elizabeth Peasall and they had possibly the liveliest, most memorable son of them all! The 8th EARL, CHARLES AUGUSTUS, (1844-1917) - nicknamed “Old Whiskers” in later years, due to his full bushy white beard, said by many to be “the most popular man in the Midlands” and possibly the only keen huntsman and Master of the Hunt that has ever gone to the meet in a horse and cart! Well, what do you do when your motorised vehicle breaks down? At least the well worn cart and its hardy horse was more reliable!

He married the Hon. Elizabeth Carrington, daughter of the 2nd Baron Carrington and served in the Cavalry. He was also a keen amateur engineer, spending many hours in his workshop emulating some of his forbears who had inventions to their name. However, it was there he met a tragic death when there was an explosion in the workshop and he was killed. Still spoken of with bated breath, is an incident at his funeral when the hounds he so loved were, at his earlier instruction, released to run their course and, bounding towards the churchyard as he was lowered into his grave, their baying sounding as he had wanted, they all checked their flight as they reached the grave! All had a warm spot for this straight and kindly man and his son, the 10th EARL, CHARLES JOSEPH LEICESTER STANHOPE (1887-1929), seems to have been equally revered despite only reigning in the inheritance for little more than one year! Again, a very keen horseman and Master of the Hunt, he had been Captain and Major of the 155th Hussars.

The tragedy of his death moved everyone who knew him, for it was an accident of his horse stumbling at a jump, causing him to be plunged head first and break his neck, and nothing could be done to save him. He was particularly well thought of by the local farmers who planned a memorial tablet to mark the place he met his death. A most sudden and unexpected end to a most promising life and valuable member of the community, his funeral was attended by so many people, that almost a hundred stood outside in cold and rain, the church being filled to capacity long before the service. Again the silence was broken by the baying of the hounds; this time from their kennels in the courtyard.

However, there were three older Stanhopes not yet mentioned, two younger brothers of Charles Augustus, FITZROY WM. (1845-1913) missing the inheritance by but 1year, but dying sooner than the 8th earl and LINCOLN EDWIN (1849-1902), so the son of Charles Wyndham, the 7th earl, ie. DUDLEY, HENRY, EDEN STANHOPE (1859-1928), became the 9th EARL (before CHAS JOSEPH above). There seems almost a guilty air of disappointment whenever a report is printed on him, because he was evidently a very good man, courteous and pleasant; helpful, kind and dutiful, but seems to have lacked the spark of the sporty ones. A great supporter of charities and local hospitals, being president of the Hospital for Sick Children etc and formerly Lieutenant in Derby Militia, Captain and Major of the 15th Hussars, but had poor health in later life and was referred to as a man of quiet tastes.

As the 10th earl inherited at 42 years old and only reigned a year, his heir, WILLIAM, HENRY LEICESTER STANHOPE, 1922 (Aug 24th), was only a wee lad of seven years old! Far too young for responsibility and his mother, Margaret, daughter of Major Trelawney, plunged so early into widowhood, a Trust was formed to help, advise, and administer the estate business. At seventeen, another big upheaval as war was declared and it was decided to evacuate with the valued string of race horses, which I believe was a major source of the Estate income. Following the movements of the young earl, it would seem that he was loath to turn his back on the troubles and in the fine Army tradition of his family, wanted a “piece of the action” and we read a report in the newspaper of the day that this 17-year-old left his studies at Eton and tried to join up but his under age was detected and he was rejected, However, not to be beaten, he joined the Derby Militia and tramped the beat for six days a week until old enough to be accepted in his father’s old regiment.

He has been married three times, the first to Eileen, daughter of Sir Foley-Grey a descendant of Lady Jane Grey, one of Henry VIII’s more unfortunate wives, when he was still only a lance-corporal. By the time he was 21years of age and had his coming-out parties at Elvaston and the Harrington Arms for estate staff and families and fellow officers, he was a lieutenant. They had JANE (1942), ATHENA (1944) and CHARLES, HENRY and LEICESTER (1845), who IS Viscount Petersham and heir to the earldom. At sixty years old, like many others, it looks like being an added responsibility at a time of life one usually hopes to have less commitments! His father will have had the longest reign of the lot of them - from 7years old to….? already, 76 years. VISCOUNT PETERSHAM’S son is WILLIAM, HENRY, LEICESTER, bap. at Elvaston (1945), of which I tell elsewhere. His sister, Jane, too, in 1943. William put in a bid for Elvaston with some business friends, has let the Estate have an album of photographs to help record how the gardens used to look and generally takes an interest in its future. He married 2/3 years ago and I believe lives in Scotland ( a friend sent me newspaper cuttings).

William’s sister, the daughter of VISCOUNT PETERSHAM, is SERENA, VISCOUNTESS LINLEY, wife of Princess Margaret’s son, and they now have one, if not two children. Meanwhile, our prolific present 11th Earl marrying a 2nd time: ANN THEODORA ARENBURG-CHUTE, had STEVEN who is married with BEB (1978) & TARA (1979). Marrying for a 3rd time: PRISCILLA, MARGUERITE, CUBBITT, they had JOHN FITZROY (1965) now aged 40. Suspect at least two more generations by now of little Elvastonian Stanhopes!

However, I think this Roll Call has been very impressive, showing many prestigious family connections, reading like Debrett’s, to equal any stately home in the country and cause us to be proud of this family’s achievements and attention to duty in the old tradition. Surely, we should be proud and resolved to keep this home as a tribute to all their service to our country and, ultimately, for us and coming generations.

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