Friday 11 December 2015

(199) Ash of Packwood House

Ash of Packwood
In the early 20th century the genealogy of this family was traced back to Richard Ash of Ashby-de-la-Zouch (Leics), who was a billman in the militia in 1539. The family's rise to wealth and social prominence only began, however, in the 19th century, when Thomas Ash (1796-1866) moved from Burton-on-Trent (Staffs) to Birmingham and established himself in business first as a grocer and chemist, and then from c.1840 as a zinc manufacturer. The four sons from his large family who survived to adulthood all went into business, but it was his second son, Joseph Ash (1824-1915) who took over the zinc manufacturing business and in 1864 set up the limited company of Ash & Lacy which is still in business today. By the end of his long life, Joseph Ash had made a substantial fortune and his estate was valued at over £165,000 at his death, even though he had generously supported a number of philanthropic causes in Birmingham in his lifetime. His four sons again followed their father into business, with Thomas Henry Ash (1845-1917) and Alfred James Ash (1858-1925) taking over Ash & Lacy. This was the first generation which grew up in an environment of secure middle-class prosperity, and with the family's increasing wealth they invested in increasingly grand suburban houses around Birmingham. Alfred Ash also developed a passion for horse-racing, and kept a string of horses in training near Newmarket.

Alfred's only son, and the heir to the family's interests in Ash & Lacy, Graham Baron Ash (1889-1980) was very different to his forebears. He was an educated, precise and fastidious man, with a keen interest in history, literature and the arts; it is said to have been he, at the tender age of fifteen, who persuaded his father to buy Packwood House.
Joseph, Alfred and Baron Ash at Packwood c.1905
Image: National Trust images
When he inherited his father's business interests in 1925 he lost no time in realising them and for the rest of his life he lived comfortably on the income from the resulting investments. Between 1925 and 1932 he remodelled Packwood and filled it with architectural fittings and furniture which he rescued from old houses that were being demolished and from the salerooms, bent on making Packwood a perfect 17th century stage set. By the time the Second World War broke out in 1939 the task was complete to his satisfaction, and he persuaded an initially reluctant National Trust to take the house on and preserve it in perpetuity. It remains very much as he left it, a period piece which tells us at least as much about the restoration aesthetic of the 1920s and 1930s as it does about the 17th century. 

After leaving Packwood, Baron Ash (as he liked to be known) took a lease on another historic house, Wingfield Castle in Suffolk, which he also restored, and where he continued to live a bachelor existence until his death, aged 91, in 1980.

Packwood House, Warwickshire

Packwood House: entrance front and the stable range to the north. Image: National Trust
Packwood was built as a rather grand farmhouse and has steadily gone up in the world. The original house was a three storey rendered timber-framed building, built about 1580-90 for William Fetherston, yeoman, who in 1599 conveyed the contents of his 'great mancient howse' to his son John. There is one surviving Elizabethan window in the house, now in an upper internal partition in the north part of the western half of the house, which suggests that the original plan was L-shaped. In the 17th century the family stepped over the line into the gentry, and in the 1660s, the house was made grander for John Fetherston (1593-1670). A new stable block was built in 1663-65 which forms the north side of the forecourt to the house. It is of red brick with blue-brick chequer and other patterns, and also has brick pilasters, moulded cornices, and blank ovals and roundels. The only surviving bill for work on the house relates to the construction of a timber-framed addition of three rooms and two chimneys by Roger Hurlbutt, carpenter, in 1670, and this could relate to the extension of the original L-shaped house to give the present square footprint.

Packwood House from the south-east across the walled garden. Image: National Trust.
A sketch of 1756 shows the house then still had its timber framing exposed, and the pattern was fairly ornate, suggesting it was designed to be seen; the house also still had its original casement windows. By the time it was drawn again in the early 19th century the house had been rendered, and sash windows with pointed Gothick panes had been inserted. Most of the fenestration, including the large window lighting the hall with three transoms, is now 20th century, and, together with the restored gables, dates from the remodelling of the house by Edwin Reynolds (of Wood, Kendrick & Reynolds of Birmingham) for Graham Baron Ash in 1925-32.

Packwood House: the Great Hall from an early postcard view

In addition to restoring the structure, a new staircase was installed and a long gallery built to link the house with a new 'great hall' or music room, created out of a cow byre in the yard in 1925-27; the entrance hall was completely remodelled in 1931. Removal of the external plaster was apparently contemplated, but never realised, perhaps because very little of the original timber frame survives on the ground floor. By the end of the 1930s, Baron Ash was satisfied with the house he had created, and he gave the house to the National Trust with an endowment and a large part of his collection. He wanted nothing changed after his departure, and Packwood remains as he left it: not a home, but a carefully considered work of art. For Baron Ash it was a perfect evocation of a 17th century gentry house, but to modern eyes it is clamantly a creation of the inter-war years. Those who denigrate as 'pastiche' work in historical styles and say we should build something 'of our own time' should perhaps reflect on that fact.

Packwood House: the long gallery created in 1925-27. Image: National Trust.
Baron Ash collected what we now call 'architectural salvage' from old buildings that were being demolished to enhance the interiors of Packwood. He said "I am rescuing whatever I can from other places and preserving it here. Of course, there are many glaring examples of 'over' restoration and I am proceeding with the utmost caution". The chimneypiece in the great hall comes from a house in Stratford-on-Avon that was a wine shop in Shakespeare's day and Baron Ash no doubt enjoyed the thought that Shakespeare himself might have warmed himself in front of it. That he enjoyed a piece with strong associations is evidenced by the fact that he bought from Owlpen Manor (Glos) a bed in which Queen Margaret of Anjou was reputed to have slept the night before the Battle of Tewkesbury. He also acquired tapestries and a great medieval oak refectory table from Baddesley Clinton, the oak floors from Lymore Hall (Montgomerys) in 1929, panelling from Shaftmoor Hall near Hall Green, Birmingham, a chimneypiece from Chipping Norton, and 17th century stained glass from the famous collection at Culham House (Oxon) which was dispersed in 1935. He also moved around the fittings that were indigenous to the house to create the effect that he wanted.

Packwood House: the 'Sermon on the Mount' yew garden. Image: Robert Moore.
Today, Packwood is probably as famous for its garden as anything else. On the south side of the forecourt is a walled garden, which has in its corners four gazebos; that in the NE corner is of c.1680, the SW one is perhaps early 18th century, and the others are mid 20th century. A set of 18th century gates leads south out of the garden and on the outer face of the wall on this side are thirty round-headed niches for bee skeps. Beyond this is the celebrated Yew Garden, said to have been planted by John Fetherston in the 1660s to represent the Sermon on the Mount, with an avenue called the Multitude Walk, then twelve larger Apostles, four even bigger Evangelists, and finally, on a mount, one gigantic yew representing Christ. While some of the planting is undoubtedly early, the concept and the present arrangement feel more 19th than 17th century. A park was created around the house in the 1870s for George Arton.

Descent: William Fetherston (d. 1601); given 1599 to his son, John Fetherston (d. 1634); to son, John Fetherston (1593-1670); to son, Thomas Fetherston (1633-1714); to sister, wife of Thomas Leigh of Aldridge (Staffs); to daughter, Catherine Leigh (d. 1769); to half-nephew, Thomas Dilke (later Fetherston-Dilke) (d. 1814); to brother, Charles Fetherston-Dilke (d. 1831);...the house was let after 1851; sold 1869 to George Oakes Arton (d. 1904); sold after his death to Alfred James Ash (1858-1925); to son, Graham Baron Ash (1889-1980), who gave it in 1941 to The National Trust.

Ash family of Packwood House

Ash, Thomas (1796-1866) of Ashted, Birmingham. Only son of Joseph Ash of Burton-on-Trent (Staffs) and his first wife, Elizabeth Aldritt, baptised at Burton-on-Trent, 20 January 1796. Originally a grocer, tea dealer and druggist in Birmingham; he established a zinc coating and galvanised iron business c.1840 and was subsequently described as druggist and zinc manufacturer. He married, 14 October 1821, Eliza (c.1804-75), daughter of Thomas Freer of Birmingham, and had issue:
(1) Thomas Freer Ash (1823-1909), born 10 February and baptised at St Philip, Birmingham, 7 March 1823; railway agent in Scotland in the 1850s and 1860s and later a manufacturer in Birmingham; lived at "Rookwood", Erdington (Warks); paid for the provision of new pews in Erdington church, 1887; married 1st, Oct-Dec. 1846 at West Bromwich (Staffs), Harriet Hands (c.1820-87) but had no issue; married 2nd, 9 November 1889 at St George's Hanover Square, London, Emma (d. 1941), daughter of John Jackson of Bayswater (Middx) and widow of (Francis Philip) Adolphe Vicarino (d. 1876) of London and Paris, clock and watch importer; died 29 March and was buried at Erdington, 1 April 1909; will proved 15 May 1909 (estate £28,944);
(2) Joseph Ash (1824-1915) (q.v.);
(3) Sophia Ash (1826-1917), born 9 April 1826 and baptised at St Philip, Birmingham, 15 June 1829; married, 20 June 1849 at Aston (Warks), William Scott Goodger of Burton-on-Trent, grocer, and had issue; died 6 April 1917 aged 90; will proved 17 May 1917 (estate £1,256);
(4) James Freer Ash (1828-93), born 17 April 1828 and baptised at St Philip, Birmingham, 15 June 1829; pharmaceutical chemist; married, 27 January 1857 at St Paul, Balsall Heath, Birmingham, Frances Elizabeth (c.1829-1912), daughter of F. Slucock, and had issue; lived latterly at Acocks Green, Birmingham; died 18 November 1893; will proved 2 January 1894 (effects £517);
(5) Eliza Freer Ash (b. c.1830-1913); married, 29 September 1853 at St Andrew, Montpellier, Bristol, Edwin Throsby (c.1827-1914), shopkeeper and had issue; died at Kings Heath, 7 July 1913; will proved 23 July 1913 (estate £166);
(6) Anna Maria Ash (1833-36); buried at St. James, Aston (Warks), 24 May 1836;
(7) George Freer Ash (1837-45), born 29 December 1837 and was baptised at St Philip, Birmingham, 5 February 1838; died young, Jan-Mar 1845;
(8) Lt-Col. Alfred Freer Ash (1841-1921), born 7 August 1841 and baptised at St. Philip, Birmingham, 25 January 1842; clerk to his father and later metal merchant; JP for Birmingham and Warwickshire; Lt-Col. commanding 2nd battn, Royal Warwickshire Regiment, 1897-98; living at Meriden in 1911; married, Apr-Jun 1867, Matilda (1847-1925), daughter of William Clayton of Saltley, Birmingham, and had issue four children; died 1 June and was buried at Harborne, Birmingham, 3 June 1921; will proved 23 June 1921 (estate £2,709);
(9) Louisa Ash (c.1843-1940), born c.1843 and baptised at St Philip, Birmingham, 8 October 1849; married, 1 June 1892, George Henry Machin (c.1842-1921) of Erdington, farmer but had no issue; died 8 April 1940 aged about 96; will proved 1 July 1940 (estate £3,468);
(10) Emma Ash (c.1844-64); born c.1844; died unmarried, Apr-Jun 1864.
He died 22 January and was buried at St James, Ashted, 27 January 1866; his will was proved 8 May 1866 (effects under £2,000). His widow died 18 March 1875.

Ash, Joseph (1824-1915). Son of Thomas Ash (1796-1866) of Birmingham and his wife Eliza, daughter of Thomas Freer of Birmingham, born 30 June 1824 and baptised at St Philip, Birmingham, 15 June 1829. He took over his father's zinc coating business and in 1864 went into partnership with John Pierce Lacy as Ash & Lacy; he also set up a separate business, Joseph Ash & Son, to manufacture galvanized roofing and metal storage tanks, and was a director of the Birmingham Wagon Co. He had extensive philanthropic interests in Birmingham, including the Blue Coat School, the General Dispensary, the Blind Asylum, the Deaf Institution, and the Harborne Industrial School. A Conservative in politics. He married, 4 July 1848 at Aston (Warks), Mary Ann (c.1825-1918), daughter of Henry Genders of Walsall (Staffs), office clerk, and had issue:
(1) Sarah Eliza Ash (1849-1928), baptised at St Philip, Birmingham, 8 October 1849; married, Jul-Sep. 1870, Enoch Shufflebotham (1845-1913) of Fiery Hill, Barnt Green, oil and colour merchant and refiner, and had issue two daughters; died 28 May 1928; will proved 3 August 1928 (estate £21,289);
(2) Thomas Henry Ash (1851-1917) of The Mount, Richmond Hill Rd., Edgbaston, Birmingham, baptised at St James, Ashted, 11 May 1851; director of Ash & Lacy of Birmingham, zinc manufacturers; JP for Warwickshire; married, 12 February 1880 at West Bromwich (Staffs), Annie Jane (1861-1931), daughter of Josiah Guest and had issue; died 26 September 1917; will proved 24 November 1917 (estate £56,745);
(3) Joseph Lathbury Ash (1853-1917), born 23 May 1853 and baptised at St James, Ashted, 17 October 1855; plumber and ironmonger in Birmingham; retired to Minterne Magna (Dorset); married 1st, 31 October 1877 at St Martin, Birmingham, Mary Louisa Jenkins Clark (c.1855-1902), daughter of John Clark, ironmonger, and had issue; married 2nd, Jul-Sep 1907 at Totnes (Devon), Lucy Davis (b. c.1873) but had no further issue; died 21 October and was buried 25 October 1917 at Minterne Magna; will proved 9 February 1918 (estate £1,218);
(4) Clara Elizabeth Ash (1855-1939), baptised at St James, Ashted, 17 October 1855; married, 18 October 1903 at St Mark, Leamington (Warks), David Balfour (1839-1914), civil engineer, of Myre Hall, Houghton-le-Spring (Durham), but had no issue; died 9 January 1939; will proved 25 February 1939 (estate £967);
(5) Louisa Harriet Ash (1857-), born Apr-Jun 1857 and baptised as an adult at St Martin, Birmingham, 23 April 1876; married, 23 February 1881 at St Mary, Moseley, Birmingham, Ernest Frank Stevens (c.1856-94) of Shifnal (Shropshire), bank manager, son of James Stevens, gent. and had issue eight children of whom two died young; living in 1911;
(6) Alfred James Ash (1858-1925) (q.v.);
(7) Edward Ash (1860-85), born Oct-Dec 1860; perhaps the person of this name who died Oct-Dec 1885;
(8) Laura Ellen Ash (1862-1946), born Jul-Sep 1862 and baptised as an adult at Yardley, 13 February 1882; married, 8 July 1885 at Yardley (Worcs), John Ebenezer Hoskins (1856-1916), of The Grange, Yardley (Worcs), bedstead manufacturer, son of Ebenezer Hoskins, and had issue seven children of whom one died young; died 1 April 1946; will proved 21 August 1946 (estate £7,246);
(9) Edith M. Ash (b. c.1865; born about 1865; living in 1881;
(10) Ernest Frederick Ash (1866-1949), born 12 July and baptised 18 October 1866; wire netting manufacturer; married, 8 September 1892 at Yardley, Ada Florence (1868-1961), daughter of Charles Joseph Parsons, gent., and had issue two daughters; died in Bournemouth, 4 October 1949; administration (with will annexed) granted, 8 March 1950 (estate £38,856);
(11) Amelia Mary Ash (1868-1966), born Apr-Jun 1868 and baptised as an adult, 11 April 1888 at Yardley; married, 4 April 1903 at St Mark, Leamington (Warks), Charles John Astbury (1873-1955), barrister-at-law, son of Frederick James Astbury, chartered accountant; died 28 July 1966 aged 98; will proved 28 October 1966 (estate £3,824).
He lived at Acocks Green until 1885 and then moved to Gaveston, Milverton, Leamington (Warks).
He died 1 August 1915 aged 91 and was buried at Milverton, 4 August 1915; his will was proved 2 October 1915 (estate £165,503). His widow died 10 February 1918; her will was proved 19 April 1918 (estate £10,293).

Alfred James Ash
Ash, Alfred James (1858-1925). Third son of Joseph Ash (1824-1915) of Milverton (Warks) and his wife Mary Ann, daughter of Henry Genders of Walsall (Staffs), born 27 October 1858. Iron manufacturer at Birmingham; Chairman of Ash & Lacy Ltd. Appointed OBE. His principal enthusiasm was horse-racing, but he also appears to have enjoyed indulging the aesthetic and antiquarian tastes of his son and heir. He married, 19 September 1883 at Yardley (Worcs), Emily Hannah (1857-1918), daughter of John Barker of Fern Bank, Acocks Green, Birmingham, and had issue:
(1) Graham Baron Ash (1889-1980) (q.v.);
(2) Beryl Holroyd Ash (1893-1986), born 9 October 1893 and baptised at Yardley, 20 January 1894; married, 4 January 1917 at Packwood, Capt. John Leslie Mellor OBE (1886-1958) of Lapworth (Warks), director of Ash & Lacy Ltd, son of John Firth Mellor; died 9 April 1986 aged 92; will proved 31 December 1986 (estate £762,095).
He purchased Packwood House in 1904, reputedly at the request of his son.
He died 19 July 1925; his will was proved 19 August 1925 (estate £100,087). His wife died 8 January 1918; her will was proved 12 March 1918 (estate £1,832).

Graham Baron Ash,
from a portrait by D.W. Dring, 1943
Ash, Graham Baron* (1889-1980). Son of Alfred James Ash (1858-1925) and his wife Emily Hannah, daughter of John Barker of Fern Bank, Acocks Green, Birmingham, born 18 August 1889. Educated at Radley; did not attend University but undertook an eight month world tour, 1910. Served in WW1 with the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Air Force, 1914-18 and again in WW2, 1939-40. On inheriting his father's estate he sold his holdings in Ash & Lacy and invested the proceeds. High Sheriff of Warwickshire, 1938; JP for Warwickshire, 1941. A precise and fastidious but ultimately remote and rather lonely man. He was unmarried and without issue.
He inherited Packwood House from his father in 1925 and remodelled it. In 1941 he donated the house and gardens to The National Trust, although he continued to occupy the house until 1947. From c.1943 until his death he leased Wingfield Castle (Suffolk) from the Adair family.
He died 20 February 1980; his will was proved 18 March 1980 (estate £839,233).
* Baron is here a forename, not a title.


Burke's Landed Gentry, 1952, p.63; VCH Warwickshire, vol. 5, 1949, pp. 129-32; Sir. N. Pevsner & A. Wedgwood, The buildings of England: Warwickshire, 1966, pp. 370-71; National Trust guidebook, 1989; M. Hall, 'Packwood House, Warwickshire', Country Life, 19 October 1989, pp. 108-13.

Location of archives

No significant archive is known to survive.

Coat of arms

Argent, two chevronels sable, the upper one charged with a cross pattée 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.

  • Can you supply an illustration of Packwood before it was restored in the early 20th century?
  • Are you able to fill in any of the gaps in the genealogy of the descendants of Thomas Ash (1796-1866) or Joseph Ash (1824-1915)?

Revision and acknowledgements

This post was first published on 11 December 2015 and was updated 14 December 2015, 7 March 2022 and 27 June 2023.


  1. Hi Nick,

    Thomas ASH (1796-1866)third son James Freer ASH wife born:
    Frances Elizabeth SLUCOCK

    Ref: FreeBMD Mar 1857 Kings Norton 6c 427



    1. Many thanks for this - I have now found a press report of the marriage which confirms it, and have added the details above.

  2. Sir,

    The following, primarily based on census records and corroborated using birth records etc, may go some way to filling the gaps you mentioned in the genealogy:

    The children of Thomas Ash (1796-1866)- Sophia Ash (1826-1917) had a daughter, Ellen Sophia (b. 1852); I was unable to find any more detail on James Freer Ash or his children; Eliza Freer Ash (1830-1913) had Rose Allicia Throsby (1854-), Walter Edwin Throsby (1859-) [a railway carriage fitter who m. Mary E. - and had issue Edwin Thomas Daniel Throsby (1888-), Walter Albert Throsby (1892-) and Dorothea Eveline H(elen?) Throsby (1896-)] and Helen Eliza Throsby (1870-); Alfred Freer Ash (1841-1921) had Percy (1867-), Ada A./Harriet (1869-), Thomas C(harles? 1872-), and Reginald Harvey Freer Ash (1879-). A grandson by one of these children was John B. W. Ash (1893-1959), born in Scotland.

    The children of Joseph Ash (1824-1915)- Sarah Eliza Ash (1849-1928) seems to have had three children, Mary Shufflebotham (c. 1876-), 'Bl?' (as marked on the census transcription) Shufflebotham (c. 1877-), and Edith Shufflebotham (c. 1879-); Thomas Henry Ash (1851-1917) had Wilfred (J.?) Ash (1881-), Florence Irene Ash (1883-), Harry Arnold Ash (1884-) and Cecil Clive Ash (1889-); Joseph Lathbury Ash (1853-1917) had Ada Mary or Maria Ash (1877-), Evelyn M(aud?) Ash (1880-), Winifred M. Ash (1882-) and Hilda Gwendoline Ash (1884-); for Louisa Harriet Ash (1857-) I could only find confirmation of the following six children (those missing being, most likely, those who d. inf. as per your account), Guinevere Emilie (1882-), Frank Kingsley (1883-) Victor Gordon (1887-), Cyril Stanley Geoffrey (T.), Capt. 1st/2nd Bn Lancashire Fus., k.i.a. in Belgium 1917, Dorothy Mary Muriel (1889-) and Louisa Lynette Stevens (1891-1975). Similarly, for Laura Ellen Ash (1862-1946) I could only confirm six children, again presumably the missing one is he/ she who d. inf.: John Stevens (1887-), Kathleen Mary (1888-), Herbert Ronald (1889-), Cyril (1890), Doris Marjorie (1893-), and Hugh Gilbert Hoskins (1894-). Ernest Frederick Ash (1866-1949) had Marie Kathleen (1893-) and Marjorie Genders Ash (1897).

    There are of course very probably numerous further descendants, but in the interests of filling the 'gaps' the above is, I hope, a reasonable start!

    Best regards

    1. Many thanks for your hard work on this. 'Bl?' in the census probably stands for Blind.

    2. I have done alot of research on my family tree. Send me an email. I give you all my Ash relatives.
      Dupont, WA.

  3. Where was Fern Bank in Acocks Green?

    1. It was a villa on the west side of Yardley road (B4146), approximately where Beeches Avenue is now.

  4. I am a direct descendant of Thomas Ash (1796-1866), and would love to hear from anyone whose name is Ash or Freer-Ash.

  5. We have a good photo portrait of Joseph hanging in our boardroom in Halesowen. Being under glass it’s a bit tricky to photograph but anyone is welcome to try!
    Steven Hopkins
    Managing Director, Joseph Ash Ltd

  6. I believe that Baron Ash, who died in 1980, bought Caisteal Nan Con, Castle of the Dogs, on Lochaline, from his brother to help him pay off his debts, and that it is now in the possession of his widow. However, you record him as being an only son, and a batchelor.

    1. Thank you for this intriguing comment. I am confident that Graham Baron Ash had no legitimate brother but this does not preclude the possibility that he assisted another relative. If anyone can help with a source for the ownership of Caisteal Nan Con in the 20th century, I should be most grateful.


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.