Saturday, 17 October 2015

(190) Arthur of Clapton Court

Arthur of Clapton Court
Most of the posts in this blog concern families which were in their heyday in the 17th, 18th or 19th century, but this time I am looking back much further, to a family which died out in the male line in 1617, and which traces its origins to the 12th century. The seat of the Arthurs at Clapton Court, Clapton-in-Gordano (Somerset) was rebuilt in the late 15th century as a nominally defensible manor house, and although only the porch tower and some walling are preserved today as part of a later farmhouse, it is clear that it was a house of some size and luxury by the standards of the time. If this was not quite a country house by my definition, it was certainly one of the precursors of the country house.

The manor of Clapton was held of the honour of Gloucester by a family who took their name from the place, and early in the reign of Henry I, Wido de Clapton held the estate from Robert, Earl of Gloucester. He was succeeded by Arthur de Clapton, who was the owner in 1125/6. His son was Nigel Fitz-Arthur, who is mentioned as resident here in a deed of the reign of King Stephen and who witnessed a Berkeley charter dated 1164x1170. He married Aldena or Alditha, second daughter of Robert FitzHarding, founder of the Berkeley family, who granted the couple the manor of Kingscote (Glos), which became their principal estate. From their son Robert descended the Kingscote family of Kingscote, who held their estate in direct male descent for some 800 years, but it must be presumed that a younger son inherited the ancestral property at Clapton and took the surname Arthur. Certainly by the time of Henry III, William Arthur held one knight's fee in Clapton and Bishopworth of the earl of Gloucester, and from then on something like a continuous descent of the manor can be established. William's son was Sir Richard Arthur, kt., (fl. 1283), who was succeeded by his son Sir William Arthur, kt. of Clapton, who is said to have been constable of Bristol castle, but was probably only the resident deputy to Maurice or John de Berkeley, who held the office in the early 14th century. Sir William married a daughter and coheir of of the Bassets of Winterbourne, by whom he had a son named Richard Arthur (fl. 1370). Richard married Isabel, daughter and heir of Roger Turville of the city of Bristol, and had two sons: Sir Thomas, who succeeded to the Clapton estate, and Edmund, to whom his father gave the manor of Bishopworth in Bedminster, to be held of the manor of Clapton by the service of a red rose, to be paid on midsummer-day yearly. This Bishopworth estate remained with the family until the 16th century, being repeatedly granted to younger sons and returned to the main line when the descendants of the grantee failed.

Sir Thomas Arthur, kt. married a daughter of the Kenn family of Kenn (Somerset) and more is known of his children. He had three sons, of whom the eldest, John (fl. 1432), inherited Clapton, the second, Thomas, was slain in battle in France; and the third, Nicholas, held Bishopworth (and left issue a sole daughter and heir, Alice, who married Roger Kemmys); he also had a daughter, Mary. John was the father of Richard Arthur, who was living at Clapton by 1441, and who married Alice the daughter of James, Lord Berkeley, with whom the detailed genealogy given below begins.

It is clear from this that the fortunes of the Arthurs were intimately connected with those of Robert FitzHardinge and his Berkeley descendants, to whom they were related by ties of marriage and fealty and with whose great estates their own more modest properties at both Clapton and Bedminster marched. Both families also had strong ties to Bristol, and many of the younger sons from Clapton Court became merchants in that city in the 14th and 15th centuries. The marriage of Richard Arthur, in or about 1452, to Alice, the youngest daughter of James, Lord Berkeley, probably marked the high-water mark of the family's fortunes. Judging by the provision made for her sisters, Alice probably brought her husband a dowry of £200, and this perhaps paid for the rebuilding of Clapton Court over the next few years as a suitable home for the daughter of a noble house.

Richard died in the 1480s and was succeeded by his only recorded son, John Arthur (d. 1501). Of his six known children, only his son John Arthur (d. 1522) and two daughters seem to have survived to adulthood. The younger John was succeeded by his son Thomas Arthur (c.1490-1543?), who was active in the post-Dissolution land market, buying former monastic property at Wexham (Bucks). This was perhaps intended as a short-term investment, but the original plan may have been disrupted by Thomas' death in about 1543, when his children were still quite young. The subsequent descent of the Wexham property is not clear, but it was later in the possession of a John Arthur (d. 1606), whose son Edmund sold it in 1610. Where this John fits into the family tree is unclear.

Thomas Arthur's heir, another John Arthur, was of age by 1551 and married Joan Gorges from Wraxall, but died in 1558 before any children were born. The Clapton estate therefore descended to his brother Thomas Arthur (d. 1590), who had two sons: Edward Arthur (d. 1595), who inherited Clapton, and Thomas Arthur (d. 1617) who lived at Clevedon (Somerset) but also had interests in Bristol.  Edward, who was married in the 1570s, produced only daughters, and so on his death his property passed to his eldest surviving daughter Mary Arthur (1578-1632), an heiress who was quickly snapped up by William Winter of Dyrham (Glos), whose descendants held Clapton until the end of the 17th century, and whose story will be told in a future post. Although some of the Winters lived at Clapton, it seems probable that by the end of the 17th century much of the 15th century manor house had been demolished, and what exists today is a substantial farmhouse that dates mostly from several phases of rebuilding in subsequent centuries.


Clapton Court, Clapton-in-Gordano, Somerset


Clapton Court in 2008. Image: Sharon Loxton. Some rights reserved.


Clapton Court as it exists today comprises the north wall and porch-tower of the mid 15th century manor house of the Arthur family, attached to a farmhouse of various later dates. It is built of the most beautiful rich rusty-red sandstone and there is an undeniable romance in its warm colour and fragmentary preservation that does not compromise the impression of strength, permanence and domesticity given by the porch-tower. The tower is three-storeyed and embattled, with a broad moulded entrance arch and windows of two cusped arched lights on the first and second floors.  To the right of the porch-tower is a stair-turret, which rises from the first floor to the roof.  Above the doorway is a panel with a coat of arms commemorating the marriage of Richard Arthur and Alice Berkeley, which probably took place in about 1450, and the tower no doubt dates from a remodelling or rebuilding of the house for which they were responsible.

Clapton Court in the 1920s.

Next to the stair-turret is a small, white-painted 15th century window, and then there is the broad chimney-breast of the former hall, but the hall itself was demolished long ago, for the room built behind the chimney breast had a mullioned window, blocked in the 17th century by the addition of a rear kitchen. 

On the other side of the porch there is a 15th century window with a straight lintel and two cusped ogee-headed lights and similar blind panels below a transom. Below that is another window with plain round-headed lights, which must be later, perhaps of the late 16th century. But again this wall is just a facade, and the range behind it dates from the mid 19th century.


Clapton-in-Gordano church: the 13th century screen moved from Clapton Court in 1860. Image: Dawson Heritage

In the nearby parish church is a remarkable oak tower screen, dated to c.1280-1300 (and reputed to be the earliest wooden screen surviving in any English church), but it was only put in its present position in about 1860, and is recorded to have come from Clapton Court, where it was doing duty as the hall screen. It seems unlikely that it was originally made for a domestic setting, although it was apparently in the Court (and later in its grounds) for centuries, and it perhaps came originally from the church in which it now stands once again, or from a grander church elsewhere.

Descent: Wido de Clapton (fl. c.1100); to Arthur de Clapton (fl. 1112/13); to Nigel Fitz-Arthur (fl. temp. Stephen)... William Arthur (fl. mid 13th cent.); to son, Sir Richard Arthur, kt. (fl. 1283-1305); to son, Sir William Arthur; to son, Richard Arthur (fl. 1370/71); to son, Sir Thomas Arthur; to son, John Arthur (fl. 1432/3); to son, Richard Arthur (fl. 1441-80); to son John Arthur (d. 1501); to son John (d. 1522); to son, Thomas Arthur (c.1490-1543?); to son, Thomas Arthur (d. 1590); to son, Edmund Arthur (d. 1595); to daughter Mary (1578-1632), wife of William Winter (d. 1632) of Dyrham (Glos); to son, William Winter (fl. 1636); to son Henry Winter (d. 1685); to son, Henry Winter (d. c.1685-90), whose executors sold the estate 1690 to meet his debts to Thomas Edwards of Bristol (d. 1727); to son, Thomas Edwards (c.1673-1743); to daughter Sophia, wife of Alexander Ready (later Colston) (d. 1775); to son, Rev. Robert Ready (1730-91)... 


Arthur family of Clapton Court



Arthur, Richard (fl. 1441-80). Son of John Arthur (fl. 1432/3) of Clapton Court. He was granted the wardship of John Kenn, but this was disputed by John Newton. He married, 1452?, Alice (b. 1432), daughter of James, Lord Berkeley of Berkeley Castle and had issue:
(1) John Arthur (d. 1501) (q.v.).
He inherited the Clapton Court estate from his father before 1441.
He died between 1480 and 1490. His wife's date of death is unknown.

Arthur, John (d. 1501). Son of Richard Arthur (fl. 1441/2) of Clapton Court and his wife Alice, daughter of James, Lord Berkeley of Berkeley Castle. He married Joan, daughter of Roger Hyett of Framilode (Glos) and had issue:
(1) John Arthur (d. 1522) (q.v.);
(2) Thomas Arthur; died without issue;
(3) Edmund Arthur; died without issue;
(4) Margaret Arthur; married, before 1505, Roger Porter (d. 1523) of Newent (Glos) and had issue;
(5) Isabel Arthur;
(6) Julian Arthur; married Richard Mead of Mead's Place, Wraxall (Somerset).
He inherited the Clapton Court estate from his father.
He died 13/16 January 1500/1 and inquisitions post mortem were held into his lands in Gloucestershire and Somerset, 1501-02. His wife's date of death is unknown.

Arthur, John (d. 1522). Eldest surviving son of John Arthur (d. 1501) and his wife Joan, daughter of Roger Hyett. He married Margaret, daughter of John Boteler (or Butler) of Badminton (Glos) and had issue including:
(1) Thomas Arthur (c.1490-1543?) (q.v.);
(2) William Arthur (b. c.1494); married and had issue a daughter (Julian(a) Arthur (1520-92), who married 1st, Robert Hicks (1524-57) and had issue two sons, including 1st Viscount Campden, and married 2nd, Arthur Penne (d. 1577));
(3) Elizabeth Arthur (d. by 1554); married, by 1533, Thomas Lansden (c.1500-71), of Bristol, haberdasher, sheriff and alderman of Bristol and MP for Bristol, 1554 (who m2, by October 1554, Barbara [surname unknown] and m3, Juliana, widow of John Bysse of Publow (Somerset)); died before 1554;
(4) Jane Arthur; married John Oldmixon (fl. 1533), gent.;
(5) Edmund Arthur (fl. 1544).
He inherited the Clapton Court estate from his father.
He died 30 January 1522. His wife's date of death is unknown.

Arthur, Thomas (c.1490-1543?). Son of John Arthur (d. 1522) and his wife Margaret, daughter of John Boteler of Badminton (Glos), perhaps born about 1490. He married, 1st, [forename unknown], daughter of John Shipman of Bristol, merchant, and 2nd, 1539, Anne, daughter of William Wykes, and had issue:
(1.1) John Arthur (d. 1558)under 21 in 1542; married Joan, daughter of Sir Edward Gorges, kt. of Wraxall (Somerset), but died without issue, 1558;
(1.2) Thomas Arthur (d. 1590) (q.v.);
(1.3) George Arthur (fl. 1542); under 21 in 1542;
(1.4) Anne Arthur; married Richard Hopkins.
He inherited the Clapton Court and Bishopworth estates from his father in 1522. In 1540 he bought the manor of Wexham (Bucks) which had belonged to the Priory of St Thomas Overy in Southwark until the Dissolution, and also a farm called Woodhouse there which had belonged to Merton Priory. At his death his elder son John inherited his Somerset estates, but after his death in 1558, Bishopworth was then sold and Clapton Court passed to his younger brother, Thomas Arthur (d. 1590). The descent of his Buckinghamshire property is unclear.
He died shortly after 7 October 1542, when his will was written, and he was probably buried in the chancel of Portishead church (Somerset) in accordance with his will, which was proved in the PCC, 7 July 1544. His widow married 2nd, 1545, Richard Pomeroy (d. 1570); her date of death is unknown.

Arthur, Thomas (d. 1590). Second son of John Arthur and his first wife [forename unknown], daughter of John Shipman of Bristol, merchant. He was under 21 in 1542 but apparently of age in 1551. He married Cicely (fl. 1575), daughter of John Agard of London and had issue:
(1) Edward Arthur (d. 1595) (q.v.);
(2) Thomas Arthur (d. 1617), of Clevedon; married Elizabeth [surname unknown]; buried at Clapton, 18 October 1617;
(3) Agnes Arthur; married, 4 November 1574, Lawrence Swettenham (fl. 1594?).
He inherited the Clapton Court estate from his father.
He was buried at Clapton, 13 August 1590. His wife's date of death is unknown.

Arthur, Edward (d. 1595). Elder son of Thomas Arthur and his wife Cicely, daughter of John Agard of London. He was apparently of age in 1575. He married Mary (fl. 1598), daughter of Erasmus Pym of Brymore, Cannington (Somerset) and had issue, perhaps among others:
(1) Cicely Arthur (d. 1577); buried at Clapton, 1 March 1576/7;
(2) Sybilla Arthur (b. 1577), baptised 13 January 1576/7; died before 1595;
(3) Mary Arthur (1578-1632), baptised 4 January 1578/9; married, c.1596, William Winter (d. 1632), son of George Winter of Dyrham (Glos) and had issue five sons and six daughters; died 17 February and was buried at Clapton, 20 February 1632;
(4) Elizabeth Arthur (b. 1581), baptised 25 March 1581; died before 1595;
(5) Dorothy Arthur (fl. 1619); married Hercules Holworthy (d. 1620) of Kiddesbury near Bridgwater (Somerset);
(6) Margaret Arthur (fl. 1595).
He inherited the Clapton Court estate from his father. At his death his heir was his daughter Mary, through whom it passed to the Winters of Dyrham.
His was buried at Clapton, 31 March 1595; his will was proved in the PCC, 26 May 1595. His widow married 2nd, before October 1596, Thomas Weekes.


Sources


Rev. J. Collinson, The history of Somersetshire, 1791, iii, pp. 177-9; W.J. Robinson, West country manors, 1930, pp. 58-61; B. Wells-Furby, A catalogue of the medieval muniments at Berkeley Castle, 2004, especially vol 1, introduction; A. Foyle & Sir N. Pevsner, The buildings of England: Somerset - North and Bristol, 2011, pp. 458-9.


Location of archives


No significant archive is known to survive, although there are miscellaneous papers in Bristol City Archives and the Somerset Heritage Centre.


Coat of arms


Gules, a chevron argent, between three clarions, or.


Can you help?


Here are a few notes about information and images which would help to improve the account above. If you can help with any of these or with other additions or corrections, please use the contact form in the sidebar to get in touch.

  • There are many deficiencies in the genealogy of this family. If you can fill in any of the gaps with information from deeds, wills or other sources, please get in touch. I should be particularly interested to know the parentage of John Arthur (d. 1606) of Wexham, and how he relates to the main family line.
  • Clapton Court cries out for a detailed archaeological investigation to determine the building sequence and the dates of different parts of the present structure, but as far as I can ascertain, no such study has ever been made. I should be very interested to hear from anyone with more information about the development of the house.
  • The 13th century tower screen in Clapton church is a striking and mysterious object. I should be interested to hear any theories as to where it originated.

Revision and acknowledgements

This post was first published 17th October 2015 and was revised 21st October 2015.

2 comments:

  1. Interesting post, greeting from Belgium

    ReplyDelete
  2. Many thanks for clearing up a long held suspicion the Nigel Fitzarthur was not a grandson on one Ansgerus as stated in Burkes peerages. For us laymen it is a pleasure to see the work you have done on your Family tree set out so clearly.

    Wonderful, regards, Arthur A Kingscott of Kfam2

    ReplyDelete

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.