Tuesday, 5 March 2013

(9) Abney (later Abney-Hastings) of Willesley Hall

Abney of Willesley
The Abney family came into their estate at Willesley (then in Derbyshire, now Leicestershire) by marriage in the early 15th century, and it passed from father to son until the death of Thomas Abney (1725-90), whose daughter Parnell Abney inherited.  James Abney, who was Sheriff of Derbyshire in 1656, was probably responsible for building the core of the later house, and his son, Sir Edward Abney (d. 1731), for altering it in the early 18th century.   The family are notable for the exceptional longevity of several individuals in the 16th and 17th centuries, a time when life expectancy, even for the gentry, was a great deal lower than today.

Parnell Abney married General Sir Charles Hastings (d. 1823), 1st baronet, an illegitimate son of the  10th Earl of Huntingdon, and their eldest son took the surname Abney-Hastings.  He made radical alterations to Willesley Hall in 1840-45.  At his death in 1858, he bequeathed the Willesley estate to his second cousin, Charles Frederick Clifton, on condition that he took the name Abney-Hastings.  In 1868, on the death of her brother, the 4th Marquess of Hastings, his wife became Countess of Loudoun in her own right, and inherited his estate of Donington Hall and Ashby-de-la-Zouch Castle.  She then planted an avenue of trees of Willesley Hall to Ashby Castle.  At her death in 1874 Willesley passed to her son, the 11th Earl of Loudoun (1855-1920), who sold it in 1919.  His niece, another Edith Maud, 12th Countess of Loudoun (1883-1960), sold the family papers in 1927.

Sir Thomas Abney, Lord Mayor of London in 1700, was a younger brother of Sir Edward Abney and acquired by marriage Abney House at Stoke Newington (Middx) which was begun by his father-in-law, John Gunston.  

Willesley Hall (Derbyshire, now Leicestershire)
Willesley Hall in 1831, from A descriptive and historical guide to Ashby-de-la-Zouch and the neighbourhood

Willesley Hall (historically Derbyshire, now Leicestershire) was an important, vanished house which belonged to the Abney family and their descendants from about 1424, when they married an heiress of the Ingewardby family, until 1919. In the mid to late 17th century, James Abney (1600-93) or his son, Sir Edward Abney (1631-1728), kt. rebuilt the house with a dramatic, completely rusticated, eleven bay hipped-roofed south front with a recessed centre and central doorway with a broken segmental pediment framed by giant pilasters. The facade was crowned by shaped gables – big ones over the three-bay projecting ends and small ones in the middle, the latter known to be an addition of 1840-45. Perhaps the most likely sequence is that the house was built for James Abney in the mid C17 with the shaped gables over the wings, and that the rustication and the pilasters of the recessed centre were changes made for Sir Edward Abney after he inherited in 1693.  

Willesley Hall in the late 19th century, showing the additions of the 1840s.  Picture courtesy of Matthew Beckett

Sir Edward Abney, who was MP for Leicester in the 1690s, was succeeded by his son, Sir Thomas Abney (1691-1750), who rose to eminence as a judge and was also of note as a Derbyshire antiquarian. His son, Thomas Abney (1725-90), had no son to inherit the estate and left it to his only daughter, Parnell, the wife of General Sir Charles Hastings (d. 1823), 1st bt., who took the name Abney-Hastings on coming into the inheritance. He committed suicide in 1823 and the estate passed to his elder son, Sir Charles Abney-Hastings (1792-1858), 2nd bt., for whom the house was altered in 1840-45, probably to the designs of Edward Blore. This was when the small shaped gables over the centre were added, and at the same time the east and west fronts were rebuilt, the latter repeating the motifs of the south front in brick and with mullioned and transomed windows and quoins. The west front was extended by a lower wing to link to the church, which was given a tower at this time. On the north side, between the wings of the old house, was built an extraordinary tall block with a flat balustraded top and four slim square ogee-capped turrets rising above the roof line of the entire house; Tudor-style chimneystacks were liberally sprinkled across the whole building.

On Sir Charles' death in 1858 the estate passed to his kinswoman, Edith Maud Clifton (1833-74), 10th Countess of Loudoun in her own right, who took the name Abney-Hastings in lieu of Clifton. Her son, Charles Edward (1855-1920), 11th Earl of Loudoun, again changed his name (to Rawdon-Hastings), and in 1919 sold the house to a Nottingham solicitor, Major Ashworth, who made the house into an hotel and sold the park in 1921 to the local golf club, which retains it. The hotel closed in 1936, and the house then stood empty and decaying until it was finally pulled down in 1953. The park of 155 acres was laid out in the late 18th century, and included a majestic serpentine lake of 24 acres which reputedly drowned the former village of Willesley. The church, the facade of the stables and the lake still exist, and a statue of Diana still stands near the ninth hole of the golf course.

Previous owners: John Abney (c.1476-1505); to son, George Abney (d. 1578); to son, James Abney (d. 1620); to son George Abney (1550-1645); to son, James Abney (1600-93); to son, Sir Edward Abney, kt. (1631-1728); to son, Sir Thomas Abney (1691-1750); to son, Thomas Abney (1725-90); to daughter, Parnell, wife of General Sir Charles Hastings (later Abney-Hastings), 1st bt. (d. 1823); to son, Sir Charles Abney-Hastings, 2nd bt. (1792-1858); to second cousin, Charles Frederick Clifton (later Abney-Hastings); to Charles Edward Rawdon-Hastings, 11th Earl of Loudoun (1855-1920), who sold 1919 to a Nottingham solicitor; park sold 1921 to Willesley Park Golf Club.

Abney House, Stoke Newington
Abney House on the eve of demolition in 1845, from Old & New London

A three storey five bay house with a high basement and single storey two bay wings, begun c.1695 for Thomas Gunston, a London merchant, and finished after 1700 for his sister Mary and her husband, Sir Thomas Abney. 
Watercolour by T.H. Shepherd of workmen removing the panelling
from Dr. Watts' bedchamber during the demolition of Abney House, 1845
One room contained panels with paintings of Ovid's Metamorphoses and paintings of flowers by Isaac Watts, the hymn-writer, who was a friend of the family, on the shutters and door.  The house was rented by the Wesleyan Methodists as the preparatory branch of their theological institute from 1839-43, but then sold to the Abney Park Cemetery Company and demolished.

Descent: Thomas Gunston (d. 1700), who formed the estate from smaller plots; to sister Mary (1676-1750), wife of Sir Thomas Abney (1640-1722); to daughter, Elizabeth Abney (c.1704-82); sold to Jonathan Eade (d. 1811), whose Trustees sold 1814 to James William Freshfield (1774-1864), a London lawyer, who sold 1838 to Abney Park Cemetery Co.

The Abneys of Willesley

Abney, John (?1476-1505) of Willesley Hall.  Son of William Abney (b. 1440?). He married Mary (née ?) and had issue including:
(1) George Abney (d. 1578) of Willesley Hall (q.v.)
Lived at Willesley Hall.
Died 1 December 1505 and was buried at Willesley, with his wife.

Abney, George (d. 1578) of Willesley Hall.  Son of John Abney (?1476-1505) (q.v.).  Married 1st, Ellen Wolseley (d. 1571) of Wolseley (Staffs) and 2nd, Mary (fl. 1578) and had issue including:
(1.1) James Abney (d. 1620) (q.v.). 
(1.2) Robert Abney (d. 1602) of Newton Burgoland (q.v.), from whom descended the Abneys of Measham
(1.3) Edmund Abney (d. 1604), mayor of Leicester in 1599, m. 1587, Catherine Ludlum and had issue
(1.4) Ann Abney (fl. 1578), m. Mr. Hawsey and had issue
(1.5) John Abney, m. 1583 Elizabeth Trowell and had issue
(1.6) Thomas Abney
(1.7) Walter Abney (fl. 1570) of Packington (Leics)
He inherited Willesley Hall from his father in 1505. 
He died 1 March 1578

Abney, James (d. 1620) of Willesley Hall.  Eldest son of George Abney (d. 1578) (q.v.) and his wife Ellen (née Wolseley).  He married Mary Milward and had issue including:
(1) George Abney (1550-1645) of Willesley Hall
(2) Ellen Abney, m. Richard Adderley (d. 1641) of Coton Hall and had issue
He inherited Willesley Hall from his father in 1578.
He died 1620; will proved 7 April 1620

Abney, George (1550-1645), of Willesley Hall.  Son of James Abney (d. 1620) of Willesley Hall (q.v.) and his wife Mary (née Milward).  He married Margery Lowe and had issue including:
(1) Michael Abney, bapt. 2 June 1592 at Elford (Staffs)
(2) Susan Abney, bur. at ‘Tutenhill’ (Staffs), 1594
(3) Philip Abney, bur. 16 July 1595
(4) James Abney (1600-93) of Willesley Hall (q.v.)
(5) Elizabeth Abney (fl. 1645)
(6) Bronthil Abney (fl. 1645)
(7) Mary Abney (fl. 1645)
He inherited Willesley Hall from his father c.1560.
He died in 1645, aged about 95.

Abney, James (1600-93), of Willesley Hall.  Son of George Abney (1550-1645) (q.v.) and his wife Margery (née Lowe).   Participated in the Royalist defence of Ashby Castle, but later served as a county commissioner for sequestrated estates and as High Sheriff of Derbyshire 1655.  He married Jane Mainwaring of Whitmore (Staffs) and had issue
(1) James Abney, who d.s.p. in the lifetime of his father
(2) George Abney, who d.s.p. in 1662, in the lifetime of his father;
(3) Sir Edward Abney (1631-1728) (q.v.);
(4) Sir Thomas Abney (1640-1722) (q.v.);
(5) Abigail Abney, who married Ralph Cotton of Bellaport (Salop) and had issue
He inherited Willesley Hall from his father in 1645, and was probably responsible for the original building of the later house.
He died in 1693, aged about 93.

Abney, Sir Edward (1631-1728), kt., of Willesley Hall, lawyer.  Son of James Abney of Willesley Hall (1600-93) and his wife Jane (née Mainwaring).  He received a Presbyterian upbringing, and was educated at Ashby School, Measham School and Christs College, Cambridge (BA 1652/3; MA 1656; Fellow 1655-61, 1669-70; LLD 1661).  One of the six Clerks in Chancery 1670-92; knighted at Whitehall, 2 April 1673, made a freeman of Leicester in 1690, and of the Fishmongers Company in London in 1696.  High Sheriff of Derbyshire; stood for election to Parliament for Leicestershire in 1685 but was defeated; elected MP for Leicester Borough 1690-98; commissioner of public accounts 1694-95.  In letters to his father about his proposed marriage, Abney comes across as earnest and expansive.  He is bold and often direct on “this business, which has caused the greatest trouble and perplexity of mind to me”. Earnestness turns to despair as his father seems to dither over the question of consent and he emphasises the social and intellectual qualities of his proposed bride, “a very comely and descreet person neither hath she any of the too common defects of lameness or crookedness” and “who has been piously educated”. He got his way and married 1st, 20 July 1661 in London, Damaris (d. 1687), dau of Thomas Andrewes, fellow of Christs College, and 2nd, 18 December 1688, Judith, daughter and co-heir of Peter Barr of London, merchant and had issue:
(1.1) a son, who died in the lifetime of his father
(1.2) Frances Abney, m. 1st, Sir John Parker of Fermoyle (Longford) and 2nd, after 23 March 1696, James Butler, son of Sir Thomas Butler, 3rd bt. and had issue
(1.3) a dau
(1.4) a dau
(2.1) James Abney, considered insane
(2.2) Sir Thomas Abney (1691-1750) (q.v.).
He inherited Willesley Hall from his father in 1693 and was probably responsible for remodelling the house with a new rusticated entrance front.
He died 3 January 1728, aged 96, having been blind for the last twenty years of his life

Abney, Sir Thomas (1691-1750), of Willesley Hall, barrister and judge.  Son of Sir Edward Abney (1631-1728) and his second wife, Judith, dau of Peter Barr.  Educated at Wadham College, Oxford (matric. 1707) and Inner Temple (admitted 1707; called to bar 1713; KC 1733); settled in Middlesex and was appointed Chairman of Middlesex Quarter Sessions 1731; KC 1733; Attorney General of Duchy of Lancaster 1733; knighted, 1735; Judge of Marshalsea Court, 1735; Baron of the Exchequer 1740-43; Judge of Common Pleas, 1743-50.  As an antiquarian, in the 1720s Abney made substantial additions to the text of William Woolley's manuscript history of Derbyshire.  He married Frances, daughter of Joshua Burton of Brackley (Northants) and had issue including:
(1) Thomas Abney (1725-90) (q.v.)
He inherited Willesley Hall from his father in 1731 and also had a home in Middlesex.
He died of gaol fever in 1750 

Abney, Thomas (1725-90), of Willesley Hall.  Son of Sir Thomas Abney (1691-1750) and his wife Frances, dau of Joshua Burton of Brackley (Northants).  He married Parnell Villiers (1718-98), daughter of George Villiers of Hanbury (Staffs) and had issue:
(1) Parnell Abney (b. c.1760), m. General Sir Charles Hastings (later Abney-Hastings) (d. 1823) (q.v.)
He inherited Willesley Hall from his father in 1750.
He died in 1790

Abney-Hastings (né Hastings), General Sir Charles (d. 1823), 1st bt. of Willesley Hall.  Illegitimate son of Francis Hastings, 10th Earl of Huntingdon (1729-89).  General; Col. of 12th Regiment of Foot; GCH, 1819. Created 1st bt. of Willesley Hall in 1806. He married Parnell Abney, dau and heiress of Thomas Abney (1725-90) (q.v.) of Willesley Hall and had issue:
(1) Sir Charles Abney-Hastings (1792-1858) (q.v.);
(2) Frank Abney-Hastings (1794-1827);
(3) Selina Hastings, d. young.
He inherited Willesley Hall in right of his wife in 1790.
He committed suicide in 1823.

Abney-Hastings, Sir Charles (1792-1858), 2nd bt. of Willesley Hall.  Born 1 October 1792, elder son of Gen. Sir Charles Abney-Hastings (d. 1823) and his wife Parnell, dau of Thomas Abney (1725-90) of Willesley Hall (q.v.).  Succeeded his father as 2nd bt. in 1823.  MP for Leicester 1826-31.   
He inherited Willesley Hall from his father in 1823, and also lived at 6 Cavendish Square in London. At his death the estate passed to his second cousin, Charles Frederick Clifton (later Abney-Hastings), whose wife Edith later became Countess of Loudoun in her own right. 
He died unmarried and without issue, 30 July 1858, when the baronetcy became extinct.

The Abneys of Abney House, Stoke Newington (Middx)

Abney, Sir Thomas (1640-1722), kt., linen draper of London.  Born January 1640, son of James Abney (1600-93) and his wife Jane (née Mainwaring).  He was educated at Loughborough (Leics) and became a Freeman of the Fishmongers Company in London (freeman 1666; assistant, 1691; prime warden 1704); he served as a Common Councilman of the City of London 1689-90, and was appointed alderman 1692, sheriff of London and Middlesex 1693-94 and Lord Mayor of London 1700; MP for City of London, 1701-02; one of the founders of the Bank of England, 1694 and a Director 1694-1722; president of St. Thomas' Hospital, 1707-22.  He was a Dissenter, and a leading spokesman for the Dissenting interest, but chose not to worship publicly so that he could continue to hold office; knighted 2 November 1693.  Married 1st Sarah (d. 1698), dau of the ejected Independent divine Joseph Caryl and had issue seven children all d. by 1704; married 2nd, 21 August 1700, Mary (d. 1750), daughter of John Gunston and had issue four children, who all dsp; three daughters survived him, the last of whom, Elizabeth Abney of Tilford House (Surrey), died in August 1782, aged 78.  She purchased Tilford House in 1760 and at her death bequeathed it to her chaplain, Rev. Thomas Tayler.
He inherited the manor of Stoke Newington (Middx) in right of his wife in 1700, with a newly built house and grounds (later Abney House), and had a summer retreat at Theobalds (Herts).  At his death Abney House was bequeathed to his surviving daughters, who sold it probably c.1760.
Died 6 February 1722 at Theobalds, aged 82, and was buried 16 February 1722 at St Peter, Cornhill, London


Burke's Peerage & Baronetage, 1924, pp. 1455-57; R. White, 'Records of a disappearing suburb: Stoke Newington, north-east London', Country Life, 8 July 1982, pp. 116-17; M. Craven & M. Stanley, The Derbyshire country house, 2001, vol. 2, pp. 237-39; VCH Middlesex, vol. 8, 1985, pp. 178-84; Country Life, 8 June 2011, pp. 146-47; http://www.captainfrank.co.uk/article/willesley-hall; http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/a2a/records.aspx?cat=176-ware1487&cid=-1#-1

Location of archives

Abney-Hastings family of Willesley Hall: deeds, manorial records and estate papers, 12th-19th cents. (Huntington Library, San Marino, California, HU); family executorship and trust papers, 1829-65 (Derbyshire Record Office D2496); family trust papers, 19th-20th cents (Arundel Castle Archives).  In the late 19th century the papers of the Abney-Hastings family became part of the archive of the Hastings family, Earls of Huntingdon, which was dispersed by sale in 1927.  For a complete list of holdings, see the National Register of Archives.

Coat of arms

Or, on a chief gules, a lion passant argent.

Revision and acknowledgements

This post was first published 5 March 2013 and was revised 2 January and 22 December 2016 and 15 April 2018.


  1. I really appreciate the effort you put into these posts. This one in particular mentions my direct male ancestor (1.3) Edmund Abney (d. 1604). You would delight a rather large contingent of American Abney/Abners if you could dig up additional details on his line.

    All the best!

  2. I am descended from Danette Abney. From what I read he did not pursue his inheritance in England as he was now an American. Proud he was. He is our Gateway Ancestor, said to be descended from Saer De Quincy, signer of the Magna Carta, First Earl of Winchester.


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.