Monday, 6 May 2013

(35) Adams of Sprowston Hall, baronets

Adams of Sprowston Hall

Sir Thomas Adams (1586-1667), Lord Mayor of London in 1645-46, was the second son of a minor gentry family at Wem (Shropshire).  After studying at Cambridge, he became a London draper and was prominent in the affairs of the City of London.  He was a strong supporter of the Crown in the Civil War and Commonwealth period, and was created a baronet at the Restoration.  In 1631 he inherited his family property at Wem and expanded it by buying additional farms.  In 1645 he also purchased from the Corbet family Sprowston Hall on the outskirts of Norwich, which subsequently passed to his son, Sir William Adams (d. 1687), 2nd baronet, three of whose sons in turn inherited the baronetcy.  However, Sir Charles Adams (d. 1726), 4th baronet, sold the Sprowston estate to Sir Lambert Blackwell before 1718 and also disposed of the Wem property.  His brother and heir, Sir Robert Adams (c.1665-1754), 5th bt., was a London solicitor.  The last of the line was Captain Sir Thomas Adams RN (1738-70), 6th baronet, who died at sea and left no issue.

Sprowston Hall, Norfolk

Sprowston Hall Hotel. Image Marriott Hotels 

No record has been found of the appearance of the 16th century house owned successively by the Corbets, Adams and Blackwells and described by Sir Robert Southey in the late 18th century as “a very pretty house”.  It was bought by John Gurney in 1869 and rebuilt for him by Thomas Jeckyll (1827-81) of Norwich in 1872-76 in a neo-Elizabethan style.  This present house is of red brick, two and three storeys, and has mullioned and transomed windows and stepped gables.  There were additions in 1880-81 and 1909-11 (by Edward and Edward Thomas Boardman) and in 1973, when it was converted into an hotel.

Descent: Sold 1645 to Sir Thomas Adams (1586-1667/8); to son, Sir William Adams, 2nd bt. (1634-87); to son, Sir Thomas Adams, 3rd bt. (1659-90); to brother, Sir Charles Adams (c.1665-1726), who sold 1718 to Sir Lambert Blackwell, 1st bt. (d. 1727); to son, Sir Charles Blackwell, 2nd bt. (c.1700-41); to son, Sir Lambert Blackwell, 3rd bt. (c.1732-1801)... George Branthwayt Weston (d. 1811)...George Head Head sold 1869 to nephew, John Gurney (1845-87); to son, John Nigel Gurney (d. 1903); to brother, Sir Eustace Gurney (d. 1927); to son, Lt-Col. Joscelyn E. Gurney (d. 1973), who leased and then sold for use as a hotel.

The Adams family of Sprowston Hall, baronets

Adams, Sir Thomas (1586-1667/8), 1st baronet, of Sprowston Hall.  Second son of Thomas Adams (1559-1607) of Wem (Shropshire), farmer and his wife Margaret, daughter of John Erpe of Shrewsbury; born at Wem; baptised 6 December 1586.  Educated at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge (admitted as sizar, 1600, BA 1605/6), possibly with a view to becoming a clergyman.  However, he was also bound apprentice to the Draper's Company in 1604, and after graduating, he went to London and became established as a woollen draper.  He gained his freedom in 1612, joined the livery in 1614 and became Master of the Drapers Company 1640-41.  His business was successful, and he became an assistant of the Massachusetts Bay Company in 1629 and a member of the East India Company in 1641.  He amassed considerable wealth, although the extent of his fortune was limited by his philanthropy.  His business career was matched by a growing civic role.  He was Colonel of the Blue Regiment of the City militia, 1642-45 and President of St. Thomas's Hospital 1643-50, which he probably saved from ruin by discovering the peculations of a dishonest steward.  He was an Alderman of the City Corporation, 1639-49, and served as sheriff, 1639-40 and Lord Mayor, 1645-46, but was purged from the aldermanic bench in 1649.  Although a presbyterian in religion and critical of Archbishop Laud (at whose trial he gave evidence), he was always a moderate, and became increasingly aligned to the Royalist cause.  He was briefly imprisoned in the Tower in 1647-48 after being implicated in London's attempted counter-revolution against Parliament.  In the 1650s  he was suspected of helping to finance Royalist plots and of supporting the Stuart court in exile, to the reputed extent of £10,000.  He was elected MP for the City of London, 1654-55, 1656-58 but was excluded because of his Royalist sympathies; he was the only MP excluded from both Commonwealth Parliaments.  At the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 he was one of the citizens asked by the City to accompany General Monck on his journey to Breda in Holland to bring the King home; Charles II knighted him at The Hague in May 1660, and he was created a baronet, 13 June 1661.  He was subsequently restored to his aldermanry and to the presidency of St. Thomas's Hospital, and in 1662 he was appointed governor of the Irish Society in London.  He married Anne (d. 1641/2), daughter of Humphrey Mapted (d. 1594) of Frinton (Essex) and had issue:
(1) Margaret Adams (b. 1616), baptised 25 October 1616; m. Edward Claget of London, draper
(2) Thomas Adams (b. 1618), baptised 11 May 1618
(3) Richard Adams (1619-61), poet, baptised 6 June 1619
(4) John Adams (b. & d. 1622), died in infancy;
(5) Joseph Adams (1623-24), died in infancy;
(6) Anne Adams (1624/5-28), died young;
(7) Anne Adams (b. 1628), baptised 26 September 1628; m. Edward Pulton of London, draper
(8) Elizabeth Adams (b. 1631), baptised 16 July 1631, m. William Christmas of London, merchant;
(9) Sir William Adams (1632-87), 2nd bt. (q.v.).
In 1631 he inherited his family property at Wem; in 1650 he gave his house there and an endowment for the foundation of a free school.  In 1645 he purchased the Sprowston estate in Norfolk and he also owned property in London and Essex.
He died following a fall from his coach, 24 February 1667/8, aged about 81.  After his death an enormous kidney stone, weighing 25 ounces, was removed from his body and exhibited at the Royal Society; remarkably, according to Pepys, it had occasioned him no pain.  An elaborate funeral, organised by the heralds, was held at St. Katherine Cree on 10 March 1667/8, after which he was taken to Sprowston for burial.  He is commemorated by a fine monument in Sprowston church, attributed to Thomas Cartwright.  His will, proved in April 1668, left legacies to many charities, hospitals, and ministers' widows.

Adams, Sir William (1632-87), 2nd baronet, of Sprowston Hall.  Youngest but only surviving son of Sir Thomas Adams (1586-1667/8), 1st bt. and his wife Anne, daughter of Humphrey Mapted of Frinton (Essex); baptised 10 June 1632 at St. Leonard, Eastcheap, London.  He married first, Anne, daughter of John Rushout esq and sister of Sir James Rushout of Northwick Park (Glos), and second, Jane, daughter of - Burnet and widow of Alderman Allington of London, and had issue, with five other sons and one daughter:
(1.1) William Adams (b. 1653), m. Mary, daughter of Sir John Maynard and widow of Capt. Butler of Saltash (Cornwall) (who m.3, Sir Rushout Cullen, bt.), and had issue a daughter; died in the lifetime of his father;
(1.2) Sir Thomas Adams (d. 1690), 3rd bt., educated at Clare College, Cambridge (matriculated 1678) and Middle Temple (admitted 1682); died unmarried, August 1690;
(1.3) Sir Charles Adams (c.1667-1726), 4th bt. (q.v.)
(1.4) Sir Robert Adams (c.1668-1754), 5th bt. (q.v.).
He inherited Sprowston Hall from his father in 1667/8.
He died in 1687 and was buried in St. Andrew, Holborn, London, 18 November 1687.

Adams, Sir Charles (c.1667-1726), 4th baronet, of Sprowston Hall.  Younger son of Sir William Adams (d. 1687) and his first wife Anne, daughter of John Rushout; born at Isleham (Cambs), c.1667.  Educated at Norwich School and at Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge (matriculated 1683, BA 1686/7; MA 1690).  High Sheriff of Norfolk, 1694.  He married Frances, daughter of Sir Francis Rolle but died without issue.
He inherited the Sprowston Hall estate from his elder brother in 1690, but sold it before 1718.
He died 12 August 1726 and was buried at Ealing (Middx.)

Adams, Sir Robert (c.1668-1754), 5th baronet, of London.  Younger son of Sir William Adams (d. 1687) and his first wife Anne, daughter of John Rushout; born c.1668.  There is no evidence that he attended a university or the inns of court, but he became a solicitor, probably through apprenticeship to a London attorney.  He married first, Dorothea, daughter and co-heir of Piercy Wiseman esq. of Wimbish (Essex) and second, Diana (surname unknown), and had issue:
(2.1) Capt. Sir Thomas Adams, 6th bt. (1738-70) (q.v.);
(2.2) William Adams (d. before 1754).
He lived at Wandsworth (Surrey).
He died in 1754.  His will was proved in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, 24 October 1754.  His widow died at Wandsworth (Surrey), 1765.

Adams, Capt. Sir Thomas (1738-70), RN, 6th baronet.  Only surviving son of Sir Robert Adams, 5th bt. (c.1665-1754).  He entered the Royal Navy in 1757 (Lieutenant, 1757; Commander, 1759; Captain, 1760), and saw considerable service during the Seven Years War (to 1763); in 1766 he took Joseph Banks on a voyage to Newfoundland, but the story that he there introduced Banks to Capt. James Cook, who was surveying the coast (thus laying the foundation for their future voyages together) would appear to be without foundation as their visits only overlapped by one day.  In 1764 he obtained a licence to marry the Hon. Frances Anne Evens (d. 1802), daughter of George Evens, 2nd Baron Carbury, and widow of Ralph Warter Wilson (d. 1756), but the marriage apparently never took place and in 1766 she married Eleazer Davy in London. He died unmarried and without issue.
He died on the Virginia Station, 1770, and was buried at sea.  At his death, the baronetcy became extinct.


Burke's Landed Gentry, successive editions; Burke's Extinct and Dormant BaronetciesJ. Kenworthy-Browne et al., Burke’s & Savill’s Guide to Country Houses: vol. 3, East Anglia, 1981, pp. 189-90;  Sir N. Pevsner & B. Wilson, The buildings of England: Norfolk 1 – Norwich and North-East, 2nd edn., 1997, p. 672;  D. Clarke, The country houses of Norfolk, pt 3: the city and suburbs, 2011, pp. 89-91.

Where are their papers?

Adams family of Sprowston Hall, baronets: no significant archive is known to survive.

Revision and acknowledgements

This post was first published 6 May 2013 and was revised 24 May 2016. I am grateful to John Robson (see comment below) for his input.


  1. thanks for the page and information.

    There is a record of a marriage licence for Sir THomas Adams in Dublin in 1764 but no evidence they actually married. Frances Anne Warter Wilson married Eleazar Davy in London in 1766 and died as Mrs Davy in 1802.
    Sir Thomas never married.
    Nor did he introduce Joseph Banks to James Cook. Cook and Banks only overlapped for one day in St. John's, Newfoundland and there is no evidence they met on that occasion. Cook was still too lowly to have been invited into Banks' presence.
    John Robson
    Hamilton New Zealand

    1. I am grateful to you for your mythbusting! Will edit my piece accordingly.


Please leave a comment if you have any additional information or corrections to offer, or if you are able to help with additional images of the people or buildings in this post.