The Duke acquires the Manor
Great Chalfield was part of John Hall’s bequest to his heiress, Rachel Baynton of Little Chalfield. She became a very wealthy sixteen year old. Not only was she rich but she was also connected to the Thynnes of Longleat. The whole matter of John Hall’s will, which is in the National Archive, has been the subject of much interest. He took the precaution of having his wishes reinforced by Act of Parliament. His will was dated September 10 th 1708, with a codicil of Feb 7 th 1710 and proved on September 5 th 1711.
The reasons for the problems raised by it and his great care in setting it up seem to be the result of his chosen heiress very possibly being his illegitimate daughter rather than his closest male heir. This was first stated not long after his death. We know her mother’s name was Elizabeth. It was not recorded until 1892 that she was Elizabeth nee Willoughby of Bishopston. Thomas Baynton, who was assumed to be Rachel’s father, was John Hall’s nephew by marriage to his second wife. All very difficult! An otherwise unattested daughter of John Hall named Elizabeth was inserted into the family tree at some stage in an attempt to regularise the situation, which would not have been necessary if Rachel was merely his god-daughter or favourite niece. John Hall’s wife had died in 1683 aged 32 and there is no record of her having had a daughter called Elizabeth. Rachel was born in 1695, twelve years after John Hall’s wife’s death and was baptised in April of the year at Great Chalfield. Her family had moved into Little Chalfield presumably after the demolition of Bromham Hall, their main family home, during the civil war. Rachel’s brother was buried back in Bromham church in the family chapel there in the year that Rachel was born. John aged about 65 must have known Elizabeth Baynton, Rachel’s mother, through the close family connection on his wife’s side. She was 16 when she became a wealthy heiress, though her inheritance had been made conditional in John Hall’s will on her marriage being approved by trustees he appointed. His love for her though was shown by the unusual (though lesser) provision for her if she made an unapproved marriage. She was in fact married straight away to William Pierrepont, the son of the Marquess of Dorchester, later first Duke of Kingston, one assumes with their wholehearted approval. He was young also, she was 15 and he 18 when they got engaged, and a private act of Parliament was needed to allow him to marry. He had though already become Earl of Kingston in 1706 five years before when his father became a Marquess and had been up to Trinity College, Cambridge. Such young couples were not uncommon among the aristocracy at that time.
Rachel as a young Countess had had two children by the time her husband died before his father of smallpox two years later. Crucially though she had provided the family with a son and heir, Evelyn. Rachel was only 18 when William died. She became a very eligible young widow, living in Acton House in London with her two children. She became notorious as the mistress of Lord Lumley, later Lord Scarborough, having two sons by him. She taught her Pierrepont children to call him ‘Papa’. Some said she died of a broken heart when, expecting his third child, she realised he no longer felt committed to her. This was in 1722 when she was 27. Her famous sister in law, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu whose own marriage was not a happy one, blamed Scarborough, In response to the death of another famous mistress, Lady Abergavenny, whose husband at first didn’t mind her affair and then took her to court, Lady Mary wrote a poem mentioning other famous scorned mistresses and included Rachel in it! Lady Mary when ambassador’s wife in Turkey discovered the locals inoculated their children against smallpox and introduced this to Britain when she returned. The Duke of Kingston, bravely following his daughter’s advice and bearing in mind his son William’s death from this disease, had his grandson and heir inoculated the day after he made his will in his favour.
Rachel had taken over the running of the Bath estates she had inherited. Two letters of hers dated 1716 and 1718 to her Bath tenants survive. Her son, Evelyn Pierrepont (b.1711), at the age of fifteen succeeded his grandfather the Duke when he in turn died in 1726. The estates of John Hall (his mother’s supposed father) which he had inherited aged 11, were then combined with those of the 1st Duke. He became the second Duke and the next owner of Great Chalfield which then for the first and only time acquired a very aristocratic owner. John Hall’s thirty eight years gave it the support of his wealth and family connections. His life also serves as interesting evidence for the prosperity and vigour of Bradford in the late 17 th century. This can only have been enhanced by The Countess of Kingston with her great wealth owning The Hall. When the first Duke died in 1726 the Hall was let out for the first time.
Evelyn Pierrepont, 2 nd Duke of Kingston and, as is generally now assumed, John Hall’s grandson never lived in Wiltshire, though we know he and his duchess visited Bradford on Avon, presumably while in fashionable Bath. We know that both the Duke and Duchess were in Bath in 1773, the year of his death. Their expenses for the visit are all listed in a document that survives. We know from estate documents that she forgot to sign her vouchers and personal rent receipts which were overpaid in the confusion following the Duke’s death. One imagines this was in character. The Duchess especially was not forgotten for a long time in Bradford, as she tended to create a sensation wherever she went.
Great Chalfield sold for a wedding – the impact of the Duchess.
The Duke of Kingston’s seats were Holme Pierrepont Hall and Thoresby Hall in Nottinghamshire where he had been taken by his grandfather when his mother died. He sold Great Chalfield in 1769 the year of his marriage to Elizabeth Chudleigh. 1769 was also the year that her house in Knightsbridge, (which he built for her in 1758 as Chudleigh House when she was his mistress) was renamed Kingston House. The marriage is less likely to have been the cause of the Great Chalfield sale than the cost of rebuilding Thoresby Hall between 1767 and 1772 after a fire, though doubtless the new duchess was indulged over costly furnishing and fittings in both houses. After her death the sale of her valuable possessions and jewellery in Thoresby Hall took four days!
The second Duke died childless in 1773, having just completed in 1772 his fine replacement of Thoresby Hall. He was no stranger to misfortunes, not least his marriage to a very beautiful and wayward wife. A painting of both of them in front of Thoresby Hall survives. Mercifully for him the worst about her was proved only after he died. Her death followed his, fifteen years later in Paris in 1788. Why is it that exceptionally beautiful women so often die alone and far from home? Both of them were childless, just one of their tragedies. The son of his sister inherited and was created Earl Manvers in 1806. By then the Hall in Bradford along with most of the Hall families’ estates in Wiltshire had been sold as had Great Chalfield.
The Manvers Collection of documents, covering all of their land and property over 300 years is vast and much can be learned from it of what happened to Great Chalfield and in the local area in the years after John Hall’s death in 1710. The bulk of it is in the Library of Nottingham University, which has retained some documents relating to Wiltshire but the personal papers of the Pierrepont family including most of those of the Wiltshire estates were given to the British Library in London in 1942. Other parts of the collection can be seen in the Bodleian Library in Oxford and as far afield as the Huntingdon Library in California.
The Duke’s widow was such as to make John Hall turn in his grave though like everyone else, apart from her immediate family, he probably would have smiled first. She was born Elizabeth Chudleigh of an old family of slender means in Devon. When she died The Times declared of her very colourful life, ‘Bigamy, it seems, is a more notorious crime than simple fornication or fashionable adultery.’ She had been blessed and cursed with beauty, wit and charm. She also had expensive tastes. Thus qualified she became Lady in Waiting to the wife of the Prince of Wales and was one of the few who were close to both the prince and his father King George. Her salary was £200 pa, not enough. Her impact on society seems to have had elements of that of Brigitte Bardot, Marilyn Monroe and Maria Callas. Nearer her own time one thinks of Nell Gwyn and Lady Hamilton. Elizabeth Chudleigh’s problem was that she tried to keep her first marriage secret, right from the start and then claim it wasn’t a marriage at all. This claim at first stood up and became the trigger for the second wedding performed in a rush just days after it was upheld. From that much woe.
After her lonely death in Paris her mortal remains were placed without ceremony in a vault in a protestant burial ground, there awaiting a funeral that never took place. When the scandal of her bigamous second marriage began to break after the Duke’s death, she left for the continent never to return except for her famous trial. Her rake’s progress there took in a love affair with a Russian social adventurer and notorious rake himself, thirty years her junior, to whom she gave her albeit small Devon estates, and there was also a cultured polish prince Karol Stanislav Radzewill. She became a close friend of Catherine the Great and an established figure on the St Petersburg social scene. She also bought a large estate in Estonia with 7000 serfs where she planted trees and shrubs exported from Hull, the nearest port to her northern estates. On her second marriage when she was forty nine, to the Duke of Kingston-upon-Hull, she had become very rich indeed, as she had been named as his sole heiress in his will, with a life interest in all his properties.
Her first marriage had been to the Hon Augustus John Hervey, grandson of the Earl of Bristol, whose sickly elder brother did not look as if he would last long. So, though very poor, he had prospects (which in the event were fulfilled but by then she had bigger fish to fry). He was a sea captain and was persuaded to keep the marriage secret mainly so that Elizabeth would not lose her position, with its much needed salary, as a Lady in Waiting. This post was barred to married women. They quickly tired of each other, perhaps because his spells ashore were largely spent settling her debts. She increasingly avoided him. The Duke of Kingston was devoted to her. He left her everything when he died childless after his long relationship with her, first as his mistress then his ‘wife.’ His sister’s family deprived of their inheritance ferreted around and got conclusive proof of her first marriage, despite her attempts to get it legally set on one side before she had married again. She was summoned back from the continent to stand trial for bigamy, in front of the King’s Bench, in Westminster Hall.
Robert Fuller’s guide to Great Chalfield after his restoration of the manor, with Edwardian understatement, described her trial before the House of Lords as ‘a social event of the first magnitude.’ It took place early in 1776, a ticket only occasion with up to 5.000 present. Ladies attended in full court dress and soldiers were placed at the doors to regulate the entrance of the crowds that pressed in. A trial of a member of the aristocracy was a rare event and on such a charge virtually unprecedented. Mrs Hannah Moore who was there described it for a friend. ‘Garrick would have me take his ticket to go to the trial, a sight which for beauty and magnificence exceeded anything that those who were never present at a coronation or a trial by peers can imagine. Mr Garrick and I were in full dress by seven. When all were seated and the King at Arms had commanded silence on pain of imprisonment (which however was very ill observed), the Usher of the Black Rod was commanded to bring in his prisoner. She was dressed in deep mourning, a black hood on her head, her hair modestly dressed and powdered, a black silk saque with crape trimmings, black gauze, deep ruffles and black gloves. The Duchess has but small remains of that beauty of which kings and princes were once so enamoured. She is large and ill shaped. There was nothing white but her face; and had it not been for that she would have looked like a bale of bombazeen.’
The trial lasted for five days with the family proving the bigamy but failing to get the money. After it the Duchess technically became a countess, her title from her first marriage, but the will was proved in her favour after nearly ten years of litigation. Deeds survive in the Manvers Collection which show her in the year of her trial as transacting her affairs with the title of Dowager Duchess. Soon after it she established herself on the continent where she insisted to the end of her life on being called the Duchess of Kingston. She was always generous to the young members of the Manvers clan. She could afford to be. Just a few years before she died she bought a chateau from the Duke of Orleans near Paris for £50,000 (modern £3 million)! At that time the English aristocracy was the richest in Europe. The end of her life came as she had latterly lived, in August 1788 aged sixty eight. She had insisted on being given two glasses of Madeira and then expired holding her maid’s hand.
The Hall in Bradford was sold by Earl Manvers in 1802 and the new owner allowed it to fall into decay. A revealing, anecdote about the Duke at this time was widely circulated in the Broughton Gifford area, where the Duke owned the manor of Moncton iuxta Broughton with its manor house now known as Monkton House, inherited from John Hall’s estate and well documented in the estate papers. John Hall had bought a share in it from his wife’s brother Thomas Thynne, an extravagant man who was always short of ready cash (known as ‘Tom of ten thousand’ from the annual worth of his many properties) and had inherited the manor through the family connection when Thomas Thynne was murdered in London. The Duke was complaining in 1768 to his steward that he too was short of money because of the need to buy his bride a wedding dress! The steward bought the manor from him to solve the problem. A few weeks later the Duke was hunting in the area, saw the manor house, admired it and asked about it. On being informed he had just sold it to his steward he swore he would never again sell anything without having seen it! This story provides at the least evidence of the costs to the Duke of his Duchess at this time and makes it very likely indeed that the cause of the sale of Great Chalfield in the following year was the same. The cost of rebuilding Thoresby Hall was the bigger call on him financially at that particular time.