THE WALSALL BRANCH

Shenton

Because Shenton has survived as an estate which has been retained in the family for so long its history has been covered in the histories of old Lnglish families. It would not be amiss however to add something here.

How long is forever? Sometimes not very long. In 1559 QueenElizabeth gave licence to Henry, Earl of Arundel, John Lord Lumley and Lady Jane his wife, "to give the Manors of Ruytun. Kinerley and Melverly and the advowson of the church of Felton (all in Shropshire) to Thomas Younge Archbishop of York and George Lee to the use of His Grace the Archbishop of York and his heirs forever." In 1614 the said Sir George Younge, Knight, alienated all these lands to William Wollaston, Esq., who then became Lord of the Manor of Ruyton.

He married Sara of whom it has been alleged his father disapproved and by whom he had a son Henry in 1618. A William Wollaston married Sarah Bennet in London in 1613. Sara died in 1622.

Although all records had been lost when the vicarage of Ruyton was destroyed by fire, parish registers in any case had not started in West Felton until 1628 or in Ruyton before 1719. However the church at Ruyton XI Towns has in its early Norman chancel a memorial, which is a large brass plaque mounted on a marble slab, inscribed in Latin and bearing the Wollaston Crest and put there by William in memory of his wife Sara.

Her death was too much for William who immediately sold out to Elizabeth Craven, widow, whose son Lord Craven was later Lord of the Manor, and who apparently ran out his estate.

Translated the inscription on the memorial reads:-

Sacred to the Memory
Death, hateful to many but welcome to her, has
returned Sara, a little grieved that her life
has come to an end, to her Father's house. Wept
for by her friends, she has willingly left this
pledge as a consolation for them: a white memorial
plaque newly shining with a brightness given from
heaven. Her loving husband gives this memorial
made of ever-enduring marble so that posterity may
know that she shone among men while she lived with God.
William Willaston dedicates this to Sara Willaston
a most devoted mother and very dear wife who was
joyfully taken from this calamitous life to glory.
(I.M.P.) To the everlasting memory.
Died on Feby 6th, 1622 in her 31st year
(at the age of 31).

This memorial is interesting in that it points to several assumptions that might reasonably be made. In the first place there is no William recorded, other than the son of Henry of London, who in 1614 would have enough money to purchase estates of the proportion he did in West Felton.

Whether William was not responsible for the spelling of the name, or because of the fact that the family name of Willaston taken from the village near Frees in Shropshire, and which is not far distant, may have influenced him cannot be said.

Even today people alter the spelling of their names because they believe it to be the original way. My wife's father added an "e" to his nalne much to the annoyance of his father and other members of the family.

However William chose to spell his name at that period, it is significant that two years after William moved to Ruyton. his father adopted the Arms of the Willastons of Frees, and not those of Perton, which had been 3 pears on a chevron. The pears, thought to come from the name Perton. were the sort of device frequently used in Heraldry.

As Sara is stated to be a mother, then Henry son of William of Shenton could hardly be the son of Anne Whitgreave as stated in Nichols.

William moved back to Oncote Grange and Chebsey which Henry his father had left him and where he married Ann Whitgreave. (Thomas Whitgreave sheltered Prince Charles after the Battle of Worcester). William also recovered the Wollaston Manor from the Astons to whom he may have been distantly related. In the meantime Henry, his father, had purchased Sirescote, but today nothing is left of the original manor house.

William was an Alderman of Billingsgate, City of London in 1627.

He moved into Leicestershire in 1625 and bought Shenton. He rebuilt Shenton Hall in 1629 a fact which he recorded on a great oak beam above an archway and bearing the words "William Wollaston Lord of the Manor 1629."


Shenton Hall was knocked down and rebuilt in 1629 by William Wollaston. Note some of the dark bricked-up windows!
Valerie and Gwenyth Wollaston in the gateway to the coachyard.

Built of red brick this huge building was later enlarged. Some panels of the large upstairs bow windows are still bricked up and painted black - a legacy of the window tax. It is standing today and is being well cared for. It is unfortunate that it has passed out of the family, but over the years and during the war there had been some deterioration of the building. It was during the war that the death of Ann (nee Hargreaves) Wollaston occurred and the Hall was taken over by the Army.

One feature of Shenton rarely seen in England today is a dovecote 12 or 15 feet square and about 30 feet high with provision for some 2,000 nests. Two ladders built out on a frame swivel round a centre post to allow for the gathering of eggs or birds. Free access to the building allows pigeons free range and a cheap method of feeding the birds, though not a practice endearing one to neighbouring farmers who did not possess dovecotes. In the outskirts of Edinburgh there is a circular dovecote the only remains of Corstophine Castle and outbuildings, the home of the Foresters of Corstophine. A plaque states that "Because of the meat shortage in the 16th century Scottish landowners were obliged to build dovecotes and severe penalties were imposed for pigeon stealing and shooting as a result that pigeons increased so much that in 1617 the ownership of dovecotes was restricted to men of property " i.e. those possessing land producing ten chalders of grain a year."

I have no knowledge of what laws pertaining to, or restricted the building of dovecotes in England or where they might still be found, but the circular one at Dunster is claimed to have oven built in the 13th century, and is the only other one I have seen although there are others.


Rear portion of Shenton Hall.

When William bought the Manor of Wollaston in 1622 Sir Walter Aston conveyed to him a free fishery in the water of Wollaston, Church Eaton. Little Onne, Bradley and Lapley which descended with the Manor until at least 1774.

The Hall, together with a few acres of land, was sold by Hubert and the present owner has restored the building.

The village and surrounding farms still remain in the family and are being cared for by F. W. (Sandy) and Valerie Wollaston. The William who owned both Finborough and Shenton lost Finborough and dissipated many of the assets at Shenton. He was not above having copies made of some of the Hogarths and Gainsboroughs so that he might dispose of the originals. There still remain some family pictures the most valuable being that of the Wollaston family on loan to the Leicester Gallery. Painted by Hogarth in 1730 it was valued at about 120.000 in 1968. The picture is of the family of William 1693-1757 of Finborough Hall and St. James Square, London.


Painting of the Wollaston Family (1730) by William Hogarth (1697-1764) lent by Captain H.C. Wollaston to the Leicester Art Gallery.

There are other interesting item such as Admiral Arbuthnott's medals (his daughter married Frederick Wollaston) and ribbons as follows:-

    Sir Alexander Dundas Young Arbuthnott Gentleman of H.M. Most Honorable Privy Chamber.
  1. Queen Victoria's medal for Trafalgar.
  2. Knight Commander of the Royal and Distinguished Order of Charles III.
  3. Spanish medal for Agradicida 1836.
  4. For subduing the strong fortress of Trun and thereby finishing the Carlist War.
  5. Gold Medal from the Sultan for the "Taking of St. Jean de Acre."
  6. Four crossed swords from the Queen of Spain for killing two men with his own sword whilst in her service.
  7. The Order of St. George for executing an important mission for the Emperor of Russia.
  8. Star of the Military Order of San Fernando from the Queen of Spain for services in the Carlist War.
  9. Collar and Cross of the same Order.

William who was Sheriff of Staffs, when he moved to Shenton in Leicester, had to seek special permission to retain that office when he moved to another county. In 1633 he became Sheriff of Leicester. William's son William, heir to Shenton. was the last male of that line as his only son died young. He had two daughters and concerning one of them the following. "Mr. Wilkins of Ravenston in Derbyshire which he lately bought from the heirs of Wolsey. His father had a small estate about 40 per annum delt in coals as this gent does and has done for many years having taken a lease of my Lord Beaumont's Pits at Cole Orton. He was Lieut. or Cornet to ye Ld Beaumonts troop and married a daughter and Coheir to Mr. Wollaston of Shenton Co. Lcr to whom she may be worth 20.000. Mr. Wollaston is about purchasing Thrumpton in Notts for her though Mr Wilkins stole her. He had taken a grant a little before." (On Dec. 10, 1685 John Wilkins of Ravenston married Rebecca daughter of William of Shenton d. 1688).

William who followed his father at Shenton was educated at Cambridge, admitted to the Inner Temple and called to the Bar in 1653. He was appointed a Steward for the Readers' Dinner of the Inner Temple in 1672, an honorary office for long service.

He was High Sheriff for Leicestershire in 1672 and a J.P.

He left his estates to William, author of "Religion of Nature," passing over his two daughters to the great disappointment of his wife Elizabeth Cave who came from a distinguished line of ancestors.

The Battle of Bosworth Field was fought on Ambion Hill about a mile away from Shenton and midway between there and Market Bosworth, but this was in 1485 and long before William arrived there.

Richard's Yorkists took up a position on Ambion Hill. Henry's Lancastrians marched through where the village of Shenton stands today across Sence Brook. Remnants of Richard's army were pursued across Sence Brook as far as Stoke Golding where Lord Stanley presented Henry as King, with the Crown which had been snatched from Richard's body and hidden in a hawthorn bush. This spot is still known as Crown Hill. Little wonder that there are still odd reminders of the battle being turned up in the fields of Shenton.

It was interesting in 1969 to visit a market held in the square in Market Bosworth - the first held under a charter issued 300 years before to the Dixie family.

In 1601 Sir Wolston Dixie (note the name) who inherited a fortune from his uncle, a Lord Mayor of London in Queen Elizabeth's day. gave to Market Bosworth Grammar School a new lease of life, and it was to this school that Dr. Samuel Johnson came as a poor usher to teach the boys grammar. It is stated his duties included acting as a sort of private chaplain to Sir Wolston, the latest of the Dixies. He stayed only a few months under "this tyrannous man." William's son Henry and his cousin George attended the school.

In 1677 William Wollaston and Beaumont Dixie were appointed Deputy Lieutenants of Leicester.

I have with W. Henry Wollaston's permission used excerpts from his book to trace briefly the families which lead finally to "Glen Hill," Walmer in Kent, still in possession of a member of the family.

Thomas, brother of William of Shenton, educated at Cambridge and Inns of Court, inherited Bretts Manor at West Ham, a farm at Plaistow and an estate at Abbot's Langley in Herts. William also purchased for him at a cost of 1200 the office of Philazer in Yorkshire. A Philazer was an official who issued writs in the Court of Common Pleas - a very remunerative office. Including this amount Thomas received from his father 2000. William the eldest son 1500 and Henry 1000.

So Thomas started out with money, estates, the profitable office of philazer and his first wife Philadelphia's dowry. "The story of Thomas' life now turns to his dramatic fall from wealth to poverty, a story thai would have delighted Victorian moralists."

He spent money lavishly, naturally attracting companions willing to help him. "One of his drinking companions was paid a single hill of 1400 an enormous sum for those days."

His father, who is reported to have been dissatisfied with his eldest son's first marriage, and had intended leaving most of his estate to Thomas, evidently became disenchanted with his behaviour, and just before his death made a fresh will in favour of William. This was the cause of friction between the brothers with William offering to pay Thomas 1000. How much of this William paid is not clear, but Thomas took the case to the Court of Chancery and recovered 400.

Within five years he had spent his money, sold his profitable office of philazer which he had neglected, run down his estates and was begging from William. His first wife having died he had married again - Sabine daughter of Sir George Aldrich.

In 1631 he fell foul of the Star Chamber, borrowed money from William and fled to Ireland, leaving his wife to sell everything to pay their debts, and leave nothing in the house for the Star Chamber to seize. Sabina had five children under twelve and was pregnant. Again William came to her help, but was not pleased when Thomas returned sooner than expected having spent his money and wishing to see his wife. After this he is reported to have "lost his liberty" and by trying to use friends in high places and bribes to have the Star Chamber fine remitted, his petition was finally granted. However there was still a bill of 125 to pay as well as another debtor which William paid and packed Thomas off to his Oncote estate where he provided for him and his family. Thus ended the life of a man who had every opportunity and nothing to his credit.

It was indeed fortunate that William of Shenton was a capable and successful man for not only had he to pay the numerous debts of his brother but he continued to help each member of the family.

William the son of Thomas had three sons, Henry, William and Thomas. Henry failed in his business as mercer in Lichfield and went to London where he incurred further debts and finished up in prison. All these debts were finally paid by William of Shenton. Thomas also relied on William to pay his debts and support him.