Wednesday, 20 February 2013

(2) Abbot of Kidbrooke Park, Barons Colchester

Abbot family, Barons Colchester
Charles Abbot (1757-1829), 1st Baron Colchester, the son of an Anglican clergyman who became a lawyer and MP, and who was Speaker of the House of Commons 1802-17, was responsible for several important Parliamentary measures including the establishment of the decennial census and the Record Commission.  He purchased the Kidbrooke Park estate in Sussex in 1803 and employed Robert Mylne to remodel the house c.1805 and George Dance junior to rebuild the south front with a colonnade in 1814-15. Humphry Repton landscaped the park in 1803-06.  Charles Abbot (1798-1867), 2nd Baron Colchester, who inherited the estate from his father in 1829, entered the navy in 1811 and retired as an Admiral, and also served briefly in Lord Derby’s administrations in the 1850s. He was President of the Royal Geographical Society, 1845-47.  Reginald Charles Edward Abbot (1842-1919), 3rd Baron Colchester, had a notably successful academic career, becoming a Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford and a university examiner in the years before and just after inheriting the title and estate, but he seems to have retired from all these appointments by 1871.  In 1874 he sold Kidbrooke Park and thereafter the family seem not to have had a significant landed estate.  Lord Colchester was a barrister and served briefly as a Charity Commissioner, 1880-83 and as a member of the London School Board, 1891-94, but did not play a prominent part in public life.  The title became extinct on his death as he had no issue.

Kidbrooke Park, Sussex

Kidbrooke Park from a view of c.1740 formerly attributed to George Lambert.
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection, B1981.25.396

Kidbrooke Park was built in 1733-36 for William Nevill, 16th Lord Bergavenny, on part of a medieval hunting park which he acquired in 1733.  Until recently, it was thought that the house he built was a completely new construction, but research by Chris Whittick suggests that there was a house on the site from c.1655, and that a new south-facing triple-pile house was built c.1700 and remodelled to form the central block of the present east-facing house. A date of 1734 appears in the pediment on the entrance front and the stable clock is dated 1736. The house was first recorded in a painting of c.1740, which shows it consisted of a symmetrical five bay two storey main block with a pediment, linked to six bay two storey wings. The architect is unknown, although Roger Morris has been suggested on the basis of Nevill's kinship with the architect Earl of Pembroke, who employed Morris.  It seems more likely, in view of the distinctive Vanbrughian arrangement of chimneystacks on the roof, which is rather reminiscent of Kings Weston (Glos), that the architect was someone, perhaps more provincial, who was as comfortable with the baroque style as the Palladian of the entrance front.  The house was substantially unaltered when drawn by James Lambert in the 1780s, although a semi-circular bow which appears in his view of the north-east front (not illustrated) was probably an addition of the 1760s or 1770s. Despite the symmetrical appearance of the house when viewed from the east, the northern 'pavilion' in fact formed the eastern range of a northern service wing arranged around a courtyard. The southern wing (demolished between 1842 and 1875) was, by contrast, only one room deep.

Kidbrooke Park in c.1780 by James Lambert.  Image: British Library (Add MS. 5676/65).

The interior of the house contains some fine plasterwork.  The walls and ceiling of the entrance hall have Rococo decoration, probably of the 1730s, although on stylistic grounds it has been compared to work by Sir Robert Taylor in the 1750s.  The staircase hall and morning room have further good plasterwork of the mid 18th century.  

Kidbrooke Park: the Vanbrughian chimneystacks on the 1734 block. © Nicholas Kingsley.  All rights reserved.

In the late 1780s the Nevill family restored their ancestral seat at Eridge Castle and let Kidbrooke on a succession of short tenancies while trying to sell it.  In quite a short time the house seems to have become rather dilapidated, and after Charles Abbot bought the estate in 1803, repairs were made to the house and offices, largely by the local East Grinstead builder, James Sanderson.  Robert Mylne was also commissioned to make alterations to the house, although in the end nothing seems to have been done to his designs. Abbot also brought in Humphry Repton, whose proposals for the landscape setting of the house were largely carried out in 1803-06, together with some additional work on landscaping Hindleap Warren, which was added to the estate in 1809.  It is not clear whether he prepared a Red Book for Kidbrooke, but if he did it has been lost.  George Dance junior made further changes to the house in 1814-15, adding the Tuscan colonnade on the west side and throwing the two rooms behind it into one large library, although his decorative scheme for this room has since been replaced. 

Kidbrooke Park from the south, 1817, by Cornelius Varley (1781-1873)
View of Kidbrooke Park in 1809 from P. Amsinck and L. Byrne, Tunbridge Wells and its neighbourhood, 1810

In 1842 the architect William Moseley made changes to the house and it was probably at this time that the south wing was demolished, and the original porch removed and replaced by one in a central position on the reduced facade.  In the 1850s and 1860s the house was again let to a succession of tenants, and may again have become rather dilapidated.  When it was sold in 1874 the new owner, Henry Freshfield, solicitor to the Bank of England, employed Frederick Pepys Cockerell to remodel the house again.  He remodelled the north wing and created the present entrance under a tower feature linking this wing with the main block.  He also radically altered the interior layout, moving the main staircase to its present position in the former courtyard of the north wing.  A new kitchen and staff rooms were also added around a small internal courtyard.

When Henry Freshfield died in 1895, his son Douglas built himself a new house nearby at Wych Cross Place, with a garden by Gertrude Jekyll, and Kidbrooke was again let until it was sold to L.P. Kekewich in 1909.  In 1921 Kidbrooke was acquired by the banker Olaf Hambro as a summer residence, and he employed Walter Godfrey to alter and restore the interior decoration of the house and lay out a new formal garden to the west.  The Music Room has a plain Adam-style ceiling of this time, installed when the room was converted into a library.  Godfrey also decorated the Long Room behind the west front, created by throwing two rooms together, in the Pompeian taste, with much dainty painting.  The Hambros were keen gardeners and developed several new areas of the gardens; Godfrey's chief contribution was to construct the pergola backing onto the kitchen garden.  In 1938 the house was sold to the Alliance Assurance Company which used it as offices during the Second World War.  In 1945 it was sold to Michael Hall School, a Rudolf Steiner school formerly at Minehead in Somerset, which still owns it today.  In the 1970s they began a partial reinstatement of the Repton landscape, with grant aid from East Sussex County Council.

Kidbrooke Park: the south front c.1910, from an old postcard

Kidbrooke Park: the east front in 1912 from an old postcard

Descent of the property: Sir Charles Wiseman (1676-1751), 4th bt. sold 1733 to William Nevill, 16th Lord Bergavenny (d. 1744); to son, George Nevill, 1st Earl of Abergavenny (1727-85); to Henry Nevill, 2nd Earl of Abergavenny (1755-1843); sold 1803 to Charles Abbot, 1st Baron Colchester (1757-1829); to son, Admiral Charles Abbot, 2nd Baron Colchester (1798-1867); to son, Reginald Charles Edward Abbot, 3rd Baron Colchester (1842-1919), who let to Alexander Nesbett (fl. 1867) and George Fielder (fl. 1874); sold 1874 to Henry Ray Freshfield (1814-95), who initially let to George Scott (fl. 1881); to son, Douglas William Freshfield (1846-1934), who let and then sold 1909 to Lewes Pendarves Kekewich (d. 1948); sold 1916 to Sir James Horlick, 1st bt. (1848-1921); sold 1921 to Ronald Olaf Hambro (1885-1961); sold 1938 to Alliance Assurance Co.; sold 1945-46 in lots, with house and 145a. being bought by Michael Hall School (a Rudolph Steiner School), who remain the owners.

Abbot family of Kidbrooke Park, Barons Colchester

Abbot, Rev. John (1717-60), DD. Son of John Abbot of Shaftesbury (Dorset) and his wife Margaret (née Cooper), baptised 4 September 1717. Educated at Balliol College, Oxford (BA 1738, MA 1741, BD 1754, DD 1755; fellow by 1740); ordained in the diocese of Oxford (deacon, 1740; priest, 1742); curate of Market Lavington (Wilts), 1749; rector of Riseholme (Lincs: a Balliol living), 1752-55; headmaster of Abingdon school, 1753-8; vicar of Abbotsley (Hunts), 1755-60; rector of All Saints, Colchester, 1753-60. Married 23 March 1755 at St Botolph without Bishopsgate, London, Sarah (c.1730-1809), daughter of Jonathan Farr of Moorfields, Middlesex, citizen and draper of London (who married 2ndly, 1760, Jeremy Bentham esq., father by a previous marriage of the author and political economist of the same name), and had issue:
(1) John Farr Abbot (1756-94), of Putney (Surrey) and Lincolns Inn; educated at the Inner Temple (admitted 1778); clerk of the rules in the Court of Kings Bench; Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, 1793; married, 13 July 1786 at Finchley (Middx), Mary Pearce (d. 1793, Naples), granddaughter of William Pearce, but died without issue, 22 September 1794 and was buried in York Minster; will proved 1 October 1794;
(2) Charles Abbot (1757-1829), 1st Baron Colchester (q.v.).

He repaired and enlarged All Saints rectory in Chichester in 1759.
He died 29 April or 21 October 1760, and is commemorated by a grave slab in the chancel of All Saints, Colchester (now a museum). His widow died 27 September 1809.

Charles Abbot,
1st Baron Colchester
Abbot, Charles (1757-1829), 1st Baron Colchester, of Kidbrooke Park (Sussex) DCL FSA FRS. Born at Abingdon (Berks), 14 October 1757, the second son of Rev. Dr. John Abbot (1717-60) (q.v.) and his wife Sarah, daughter of Jonathan Farr of Moorfields (Middx). Educated at Westminster, Christ Church, Oxford (matriculated 1775; Chancellor’s Prize for Latin verse, 1777; Vinerian Scholar, 1781; BCL 1783; Vinerian Fellow 1786-92; DCL 1793), University of Geneva (DCL 1778-79), Middle Temple (admitted 1768, called to the bar 1783; bencher 1802; reader 1805) and Lincolns Inn (admitted 1785); FSA 1792; FRS 1793. Joined the Oxford Circuit (Deputy Recorder 1800-01; Recorder 1801-06); Clerk of the Rules in the Court of King’s Bench (worth £2,700 a year) in succession to his brother, 1794; Tory MP for Helston, 1790 and 1795-1802; Woodstock, 1802-06; and Oxford University, 1806-17; sworn of the Privy Council and the Irish Privy Council 1801; Chairman of the Commons Finance Committee, 1797-8; Chairman of the Record Committee, 1800 and subsequently of the Record Commission; Chief Secretary for Ireland, 1801-2; Keeper of the Privy Seal for Ireland 1801-29; Speaker of the House of Commons, 1802-17; Lt-Col., East Grinstead Volunteers, 1803; Trustee of the British Museum 1818-29; Commissioner for Building New Churches, 1818. He was responsible for introducing into Parliament several practical measures for law reform and in 1801 produced a bill which was the origin of the decennial census. On his retirement, 3 June 1817, he was created 1st Baron Colchester, with a pension of £4,000 a year for life and £3,000 a year for his next successor. Abbot eclipsed his predecessors as Speaker in perspicuity, zeal and activity. “His diaries and papers reveal the entire dedication to his office of a complete man of business; and he subjected to analysis his every function, applying to public business a punctilio and a rationalizing spirit which would in other spheres have made him a remorseless reformer.” He married, 29 December 1796 at St. Marylebone, Elizabeth (1760-1847), eldest daughter of Sir Philip Gibbes, 1st bt. of Springhead, Barbados and his wife Agnes, daughter of Samuel Osborne of Barbados, and had issue:
(1) The Hon. Charles Abbot (1798-1867), 2nd Baron Colchester (q.v.);
(2) The Hon. Philip Henry Abbot (1802-35), born 10 June 1802; educated at Christ Church, Oxford (matriculated 1818; BA 1822; MA 1825; BCL 1828; fellow, 1820-30) and Lincolns Inn; barrister; Recorder of Monmouth; married, 31 December 1829, Frances Cecil (d. 1855), daughter of the Very Rev. Charles Talbot, Dean of Salisbury, and his wife, Lady Elizabeth Somerset, and had issue one son and one daughter; buried at All Souls, Kensal Green, 15 January 1835.
In 1802 he undertook improvements in the Speaker’s House at Westminster and in 1803 purchased Kidbrooke Park (Sussex) for £15,375; the surveyor and architect William Inwood was at one time his steward.
He died at Spring Gardens, Whitehall, 8 May 1829 and was buried on 14 May in the north transept of Westminister Abbey.

Charles Abbot,
2nd Baron Colchester
Abbot, Admiral Charles (1798-1867), 2nd Baron Colchester. Elder son of Charles Abbot (1757-1829), 1st Baron Colchester (q.v.) and his wife Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Philip Gibbes, 1st bt., born 12 March and baptised 10 April 1798. Educated at Westminster and the Royal Naval College; entered the Navy, 1811 (Rear-Admiral 1854; Vice-Admiral 1860; Admiral 1864); President of the Royal Geographical Society 1845-47; sworn of the Privy Council 1852; Paymaster General and Vice-President, Board of Trade, 1852; Paymaster General 1858-59; published an edition of his father’s diary and correspondence, 1861. He married, 3 February 1836, the Hon. Elizabeth Susan Law (1799-1883), second daughter of Edward Law, 1st Baron Ellenborough and his wife Anne, daughter of George Philips Towry and had issue:
(1) The Hon. Reginald Charles Edward Abbot (1842-1919), later 3rd Baron Colchester (q.v.).
He inherited Kidbrooke Park from his father in 1829, and carried out alterations in 1842.
He died at 34 Berkeley Square, London, 18 October 1867, aged 69.

Reginald Abbot,
3rd Baron Colchester
Abbot, Reginald Charles Edward (1842-1919), 3rd Baron Colchester. Only child of Charles Abbot (1798-1867), 2nd Baron Colchester (q.v.) and his wife Elizabeth Susan, dau of Edward Law, 1st Baron Ellenborough, born 13 February 1842. Educated at Eton, Christ Church, Oxford (matriculated 1859, Stanhope Prizeman and President of the Oxford Union, 1863; BA 1864; MA 1864) and Lincolns Inn (called to bar, 1867); Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, 1864-69; Private Secretary to Sir Stafford Northcote, President of the Board of Trade and to the 14th Earl of Derby, 1867; examiner in law and history at Oxford University 1869-71; Member of the Charity Commission, 1880-3; Conservative member for Westminster of the London School Board 1891-94; succeeded his father as 3rd Baron Colchester, 18 October 1867; JP for Sussex and Berkshire; DL for Sussex; FSA 1875. He married, 28 January 1869, Lady Isabella Grace Maude (1846-1927), eldest daughter of Cornwallis Maude, Earl de Montalt (1817-1905) and his wife Clementina, daughter of Admiral the Hon. Charles Elphinstone-Fleming, but had no issue.
He inherited Kidbrooke Park from his father in 1867 but sold it in 1874 and thereafter seems to have lived mainly in London.
He died 26 February 1919, aged 77, when the barony became extinct. His widow died 10 November 1927 and was buried at Forest Row (Sussex)


Burke's Peerage and Baronetage, 1914; S. Brabent, 'Eastern Sussex landscape parks', Garden History, 1989; J. Byford, 'Kidbrooke: the first 800 years', Michael Hall News, 1997; N. Antram & Sir N. Pevsner, The buildings of England: Sussex - East, 2013, pp. 495-97; D. & B. Martin, An archaeological interpretative survey of Kidbrooke Park, 2004;;

Location of archives

Abbot family, Barons Colchester: estate records, personal and official papers of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Barons Colchester, 1613-1919 [The National Archives, PRO30/9];
Charles Abbot, 1st Baron Colchester (1757-1829), speaker of House of Commons: legal notebooks and papers, n.d. [Lincolns Inn Library, Misc 102-132], records of Parliamentary procedure and precedent, c.1780-1820 [Parliamentary Archives HL/PO/RO/1/192], travel journals, 1815, 1827 [National Library of Scotland MS.9815-9816];
Reginald Charles Edward Abbot, 3rd Baron Colchester (1842-1919): addnl corresp and papers, 1859-1916 [The National Archives, PRO30/12]

Coat of arms

Gules, on a chevron, between three pears, or, as many crosses raguly, azure, within a tressure, flory, of the second.

Revision & Acknowledgements

This page was first published on 20 February 2013, and revised 5 November 2014, 25 June, 21 August and 20 October 2018. I am most grateful to David Martin and Chris Whittick for help with this entry.

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