|Astley of Dukinfield|
John Astley is said to have been a handsome man - his looks earned him the nickname 'Beau Astley' - but more importantly he was lucky. Shortly after his first wife died, he attended an assembly at Knutsford where he so captivated the recently widowed Lady Dukinfield Daniel that she requested him to paint her portrait, and when it was finished "intimated to him that if he was pleased with the portrait he might have the original." They were married in 1759 and she settled on him an estate at Over Tabley, where he built a new house in the 1760s. His wife died in 1762, however, and no children are recorded from the marriage. Her heir to the main Dukinfield and Daniel estates in Cheshire was her daughter by her first marriage, who was judged to be insane, but Astley's income from the Over Tabley estate and from portraiture was sufficient to allow him to take a lease of Schomberg House in Pall Mall, London in 1769. He divided this house into three, and remodelled the middle section which he retained for his own use as a London home. In 1771 his stepdaughter died, and as a result Astley came into the remainder of the Dukinfield estate, and was thenceforward a much wealthier man. He seems quickly to have built Dukinfield Lodge to his own designs to supersede the old Hall, and laid out the grounds there. He gave up exhibiting pictures, although he apparently went on painting, and seems to have repositioned himself as a gentleman amateur in architecture rather than a professional painter. In 1777 he married for a third time, to the daughter of a Manchester doctor who was a celebrated beauty and 37 years his junior, and in the next six years they produced five children.
John Astley died in 1787 leaving as his heir his young son, Francis Dukinfield Astley (1781-1825). In 1793 his widow married again, but the family continued to live at Dukinfield Lodge, and Francis seems to have taken up his responsibilities as landowner before coming of age, since as early as 1802, when he was 21, he was awarded a medal for planting 40,000 trees. Francis was a young man of great promise: he was rich, relatively good looking, artistic (he was a published poet and amateur artist), and had a deep concern for the welfare of his tenantry and estate. In 1812 he married and the following year he bought the Fell Foot estate in the Lake District, where he could enjoy fabulous views over Windermere. But tragedy was never far away. His first born son died when just a few weeks old from a fall from a window, and in his efforts to develop his estate and protect his tenants from the worst effects of the depression in trade occasioned by war with France he over-reached himself financially, and in 1817 he was declared bankrupt. However, the discovery of coal on his estate restored his fortunes without the loss of his property, and after many barren years his wife presented him with a son and heir in 1825. But just a few months later he died in his sleep while visiting his brother-in-law, Thomas Gisborne, in Derbyshire. There were accusations of murder, made in a scandalously public way at Astley's funeral, but an independent inquiry which Gisborne instigated to clear his name found no evidence of foul play and declared the death to be 'by visitation of God'. Some doubt must remain, however, as there seems to have been no autopsy, and because just a year later Gisborne married Astley's widow, his deceased wife's sister.
The heir to the Dukinfield estate was the infant Francis Dukinfield Palmer Astley (1825-68), who grew up into a young man possessed of all "his predecessors' talents and virtues with the advantage of more practical wisdom". Like his father his star quickly burned brightly: in 1847 he married and the following year he stood as the Liberal candidate for one of Cheshire's parliamentary seats and bought the Arisaig estate in Scotland. Arisaig seems to have replaced Fell Foot as the family's main home, and Fell Foot was sold in 1859. After withdrawing from parliamentary politics following his defeat in 1848, Astley threw himself into estate improvement. Always interested in engineering, between 1847 and 1858 he supervised the digging of a coal pit on the Dukinfield estate which for a time was the deepest mine in the world. He was also a keen yachtsman (childhood holidays on Windermere are probably to blame for that) and after acquiring a ship of his own he sailed for pleasure in Arctic waters and during the Crimean War took his boat to the Black Sea with a cargo of medical supplies and was involved in evacuating wounded soldiers to hospital. The tragedy that dogged his father was not far away, however. His beloved and talented wife soon began to exhibit the symptoms of consumption and died in 1862. He blamed her death on the damp situation of their house in Scotland, but even though he built a replacement on a new and much airier site in 1863-64 to the designs of the young Philip Webb, he too contracted the disease and died in 1868.
Yet again the Dukinfield estate was inherited by a minor: the last Francis Dukinfield Astley had been born in 1853 and was an Eton schoolboy of just fifteen when his father died. He and his sisters were brought up, chiefly in London, by family friends, and he went on from Eton to Sandhurst and joined the Scots Fusiliers. He resigned his commission in 1880 and went to Canada with a group of friends for a sporting holiday. This time Fate did not mess about, and he was drowned within a few weeks of arriving in Canada while shooting rapids in a boat with two Indian guides. The Dukinfield and Arisaig estates were not entailed, and although there were male cousins who could have inherited (descendants of John Astley's younger son, John William Astley (1784-1860)), the entire property passed to Francis' elder sister, Gertrude (1849-1920), who married a clerk in the House of Commons, Sir Arthur William Nicholson. The Dukinfield estate seems to have been broken up through piecemeal development from this time onwards, but Arisaig passed to their elder daughter, Charlotte Gertrude Astley Nicholson (d. 1961), who lived there (apart from a period during the Second World War when it was requisitioned and became the headquarters of the Special Operations Executive) until she gave it to her friend Miss Joan Becher (d. 1994) in 1955. The house was finally sold in the late 1970s, although Miss Becher built a smaller house to replace it and retained the estate until her death.
Over Tabley Hall, Cheshire
|Over Tabley Hall in 2010. Image: Iain Lees. Some rights reserved.|
The jolly nine-bay Gothick red brick front was built onto a plain earlier house between 1759 and 1771 by John Astley to his own designs. It has two storeys of pointed windows and a raised projecting centre, both centre and angles have clasping buttresses, and in the middle there is a broad arched doorway. The doorcase, window surrounds and buttresses are all decorated by large fat rosettes, and there are crocketed pinnacles on the buttresses and the pedimental gable in the centre. The first floor of the centre has an enormous window that must have lit Astley's studio. References in printed sources to partial demolition and the discovery of cellars at the back of the site suggest that the house may once have been larger; perhaps it was abandoned unfinished when Astley inherited the Dukinfield estate and turned his attentions to building a new house there. The house was renovated and extended to its original width after 2007, when it was converted into flats.
Descent: Piers Daniell (c.1485-1522); to son, Thomas Daniell (c.1503-51); to son, Peter Daniell (d. 1557); to son, Thomas Daniell (d. 1575); to son, Peter Daniell (d. 1590); to son, Peter Daniell (1584-1652); to son, Thomas Daniell (fl. 1666); to son, Sir Samuel Daniell (d. 1724), kt.; to niece, Sarah Parker, wife of Sir Charles Dukinfield (1670-1742), 2nd bt.; to son, Sir William Dukinfield Daniell (1725-58), 3rd bt.; to widow, Penelope (1722-62), later wife of John Astley (1724-87), to whom she gave the estate; it was let from 1784 or earlier; to son, Francis Dukinfield Astley (1781-1825), who sold to Sir John Fleming Leycester of Tabley House, after which it descended with that estate...sold 2007 and converted to flats.
Dukinfield Lodge, Dukinfield, Cheshire
|Dukinfield Lodge: the west-facing entrance front, designed by John Astley for himself, from a Victorian photograph.|
Descent: built c.1771-75 for John Astley (1724-87); to son, Francis Dukinfield Astley (1781-1825); to son, Francis Dukinfield Palmer Astley (1825-68), who let it from c.1833 onwards; to son, Francis Dukinfield Astley (1853-80), who continued to lease it; to sister, Beatrice Emma (1858-1923), wife of John Frederick Cheetham (1834-1916)...demolished 1949.
Fell Foot, Newby Bridge, Lancashire (now Cumbria)
|Fell Foot: the villa from a late 19th century engraving.|
Arisaig House, Inverness-shire
|Arisaig House: as rebuilt by Philip Webb in 1863-64, from a photograph of c.1880.|
It was Webb’s first big country house – the architect later called it “a product of his ignorance” – and was in a simplified style reminiscent of parsonages by Butterfield or Street, rather than the Scots Baronial style that was usual for Victorian mansions in the Highlands. The new house was built in 1863-64 and cost of £12,181, a modest figure reflecting the low cost of labour in the Highlands and the fact that local materials were used as far as possible. Webb braced the house against the hill on the east by a buttressed and battered plinth. To enable the new mansion to fit onto the limited flat area offered by the site, the kitchen and servants' hall were placed in the basement. The main rooms, all of which had access to the gardens on the south and west, were grouped around a large two-storey central hall on the ground floor. Upstairs there were twelve bedrooms and five dressing rooms on the first floor and a further twelve bachelors' bedrooms and Astley's billiard room suite were placed on the second floor.
|Arisaig House: the drawing room in 1882, with Miss Gertrude Astley seated. Image: RIBA.|
The dark entrance lobby on the north front opened into the high well-lit central hall, which had a fireplace with a large stone hood and a first-floor gallery. In the other reception rooms, Webb was careful not to detract from the magnificent views through the windows by too much architectural splendour; they were provided with window seats separated off from the body of the room by pointed stone arches that supported the upper walls, and panelled to about head-height with white-painted wainscoting.
|Arisaig House, as reconstructed by Ian Hamilton in 1936-37.|
The house was gutted by fire in 1935, but a walled garden of the 1860s survives to the south-east and Webb’s stables also survive. After the fire, the house was rebuilt in 1936-37 on a slightly smaller footprint by Ian Hamilton (of Hamilton & Lindsay) as a handsome but not very distinctive Arts & Crafts manor house. The main survivor of the old building was the austere kitchen wing; little else of the Webb house survived the fire in recognisable form, although much of the walling was reused. The interior is of course all of the 1930s, and has Art Deco touches like the cherrywood panelling of the dining room. The main staircase has a neo-Caroline balustrade; the drawing room simple groin vaulting.
During the Second World War, the house became the headquarters of the Special Operations Executive, which was so secret that its activities have only become public knowledge in recent years. In the 1970s, Miss Becher built a smaller house nearby at Druimindarroch, and sold Arisaig House, which became an hotel in 1982, and after briefly reverting to being a private home in 2002, it is now run as a bed and breakfast establishment.
Descent: sold 1848 to Francis Dukinfield Palmer Astley (1825-68); to son, Francis Dukinfield Astley (1853-80); to sister, Gertrude Susan (1849-1920), later wife of Sir Arthur William Nicholson (1852-1932); to daughter, Miss Charlotte Gertrude Astley Nicholson (d. 1961), for whom it was rebuilt after a fire in 1935 and from whom it was requisitioned by the War Office, 1939-46; given 1955 to Miss Joan Becher (d. 1995); sold late 1970s and again 1982 to Mr & Mrs. Smither; sold 2010 to Emma Weir (b. 1960) and run by her sister, Sarah Winnington-Ingram.
Astley family of Dukinfield Lodge
|John Astley, from a self-portrait|
with his horse
(1.1) Sophia Astley (c.1753-1831); she became the mistress of George Hyde Clarke (1743-1824), a prominent landowner in Cheshire and Jamaica (whom John Astley referred to in his will as an 'execrable villain') and had issue two sons (one born in Jamaica); she married, 20 September 1792 at St Marylebone (Middx), Louis Foncier (1745-1844), a Frenchman, and had issue one further son; buried at Waters Upton (Shropshire), 12 November 1831;
(3.1) Harriet Astley (1778-1858), baptised 26 August 1778 at Ashton-under-Lyne; married, 31 July 1800 at Ashton-under-Lyne, Rev. John Hayes Petit (d. 1822) and had issue ten children; lived latterly at Lichfield (Staffs); died 5 April 1858; will proved 18 June 1858 (effects under £5,000);
(3.2) Maria Astley (1780-1865), baptised 26 January 1780 at Ashton-under-Lyne; married Maj. George Younghusband (1784-1836), son of Thomas Younghusband of Lyham, Elwick & Marden, and had issue; died aged 86 on 28 August 1865 and was buried in St. Helier (Jersey);
(3.3) Francis Dukinfield Astley (1781-1825) (q.v.);
(3.4) Cordelia Emma Astley (1783-1857), baptised at Ashton-under-Lyne, 4 January 1784; married, 18 November 1807 at Stockport (Cheshire), Rev. George Hornsby (1781-1837), rector of Turkdean (Glos), 1807-37, and had issue; died 6 December and was buried at Turkdean, 12 December 1857; will proved 17 February 1858 (effects under £1,000);
(3.5) John William Astley (1784-1860*), baptised 1 January 1785; educated at Rugby; 2nd Lt. in Dukinfield Rifles, 1804; admitted a freemason, 1808; farmed at Cwmllecoediog, St. Tydecho (Merioneths.), where he built a new house and as a consequence ran into debt; an insolvent debtor, 1841; married, 19 January 1805 at Manchester, Mary (b. 1785), daughter of Samuel Barlow, and had issue twelve children; died at St. Helier (Jersey), 28 November 1860, aged 76.
At the time of his second marriage his wife settled on him the estate of Over Tabley (Cheshire). On the death of her insane daughter by her first marriage in 1771, he also inherited the Dukinfield estate, where he built Dukinfield Lodge to replace the old semi-timbered Dukinfield Hall. He also benefited from a legacy of £10,000 from his brother, Robert Astley.
He died 14 November and was buried 21 November 1787 at Dukinfield Old Chapel, where he is commemorated by a monument designed by Fishers of York in 1802; his will was proved 4 January and 20 February 1788. His first wife was perhaps buried at Wem, 19 April 1758. His second wife died 31 January 1762. His widow married 2nd, 28 January 1793, Rev. William Robert Hay (1761-1839), later vicar of Rochdale and Prebendary of York, and had further issue; she died 18 February 1832.
* Many sources give his date of death as 1823, but this is incorrect and I have been unable to trace the source of the error.
|F.D. Astley (1781-1825)|
(1) John Dukinfield Astley (b. & d. 1813), born March 1813; killed by falling from a window, aged 16 weeks, 18 July 1813; buried at Dukinfield Old Chapel where he is commemorated by a monument designed by G. Napper;
(2) Francis Dukinfield Palmer Astley (1825-68) (q.v.).
He inherited Dukinfield Lodge from his father in 1787, and came of age in 1802. In 1813 he bought Fell Foot, a late 18th century villa on the edge of Lake Windermere.
He died unexpectedly in the night on 29 July 1825 at the house of Thomas Gisborne and there were public accusations at his funeral at Dukinfield Old Chapel (where he is commemorated by a tomb designed by John Palmer) that he had been poisoned by Gisborne. Although there was no Coroner's inquest, Gisborne arranged for local doctors and magistrates to enquire into the circumstances of the death with a view to clearing his name. The enquiry concluded that the death was natural, but the press reports avoid much detail and it seems unlikely that the body was exhumed and a post mortem held. Thomas Gisborne subsequently married Astley's widow, who was the sister of his deceased wife Elizabeth (1789-1823), on 25 September 1826 at Newchurch (IoW); she died 22 January and was buried 26 January 1878 at Hampstead (Middx).
|F.D.P. Astley (1825-68)|
(1) Gertrude Susan Astley (1849-1920) (q.v.);
(2) Constance Charlotte Astley (1851-1935), born about January 1851; a traveller and diarist, whose diary of a journey to New Zealand in 1897-98 has been published; died unmarried, 19 November 1935; will proved 2 March 1936 (estate £51,270);
(3) Francis Dukinfield Astley (1853-80) (q.v.);
(4) Beatrice Emma Astley (1858-1923), born 1 October 1858; married, 11 October 1887 at St Margaret's, Westminster (Middx), John Frederick Cheetham MP (1834-1916), cotton manufacturer and banker, but had no issue; lived at 33 Princes Gardens, Kensington (Middx) and later at Dukinfield Lodge, Bournemouth; died there, 23 April 1923; will proved 31 May 1923 (estate £101,994).
He inherited Dukinfield Lodge and Fell Foot from his father in 1825 and came of age in 1846. Dukinfield Lodge was let to Charles Hindley MP from c.1833 until c.1850. Astley sold many of the paintings from Dukinfield Lodge in 1851 and the house was later occupied by his agent, William Bass until c.1860, when it was let to Thomas Cheetham. Astley bought the Arisaig estate (Inverness-shire) in 1848 and rebuilt the house there in 1863-64. He sold Fell Foot in 1859. A proposal that he should sell Dukinfield Lodge and its grounds to the town council as a cemetery was rejected in 1864 but the grounds were subsequently acquired for this purpose and the cemetery opened in 1866.
He died of tuberculosis at Torquay, 26 March 1868 and was buried at West Dean (Sussex); his will was proved 9 April 1868 (effects under £16,000). His wife died of tuberculosis, 31 October 1862 and was also buried at West Dean.
|F.D. Astley (1853-80)|
He inherited Dukinfield Lodge and Arisaig House from his father in 1868 and came of age in 1874. He lived at 33 Princes Gardens, South Kensington (Middx). At the time of his death it was reported that his income was between £40,000 and £50,000 a year. By his will he provided each of his sisters with £25,000 and left Arisaig House and the remainder of his real estate to his eldest sister, Gertrude.
He died in a drowning accident in Canada, 2 August 1880 and his body was recovered four days later; his will was proved 25 October 1880 and 14 April 1881 (effects under £70,000).
Astley, Gertrude Susan (1849-1920). Eldest daughter of Francis Dukinfield Palmer Astley (1825-68) and his wife Gertrude Emma, daughter of Lt-Gen. Sir Henry David James GCB, baptised 1 January 1850 at Cartmel. She married, 30 April 1883 at Holy Trinity, Brompton (Middx), Sir Arthur William Nicholson KCB (1852-1932), Clerk in the House of Commons, son of Capt. William Smith Nicholson, and had issue:
(1) Francis (k/a Frank) Astley Stuart Nicholson (b. 1884), born 14 July and baptised 19 August 1884 at Holy Trinity, Brompton (Middx); living in 1920;
(2) Charlotte Gertrude Astley Nicholson (1886-1961), baptised 5 May 1886; inherited the Arisaig estate on her father's death in 1932 and gave it in 1955 to her friend, Miss Joan Becher (she sold the house in the late 1970s but retained the estate until her death, unmarried and without issue, in 1994); died 8 March 1961;
(3) William Dukinfield Nicholson (1888-1915), born 13 May 1888; served in WW1 as Lt. in Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders; married, 8 June 1914, Barbara Florence (who m2, 2 October 1923, Marcel Charles Koechlin), daughter of Rev. John Martin, but had no issue; killed in action in Flanders, 23 February 1915 and was buried at Dickebushe New Military Cemetery (Belgium);
(4) Arthur Stuart Nicholson (1889-1914), born Jul-Sept 1889; educated at Winchester; served as 2nd Lt. in Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders from 1911; killed in action, 14 September 1914; his body was never recovered;
(5) Helen Constance Nicholson (b. 1893), baptised 22 January 1894 at Funtington (Sussex); unmarried and living in 1949.
She inherited the Arisaig estate from her brother in 1880. After her husband's death in 1932 it passed to their elder daughter.
She died 4 September 1920; her will was proved in Scotland and sealed in London, 9 December 1921 (estate £93,985). Her husband died in 1932.
Burke's Landed Gentry, 1894, vol. 1, p. 44; The Ashton Weekly Reporter, and Stalybridge and Dukinfield Chronicle, 28 March 1868 - obituary of F.D.P. Astley; T. Middleton, Annals of Hyde and district, 1899, passim; M. Girouard, The Victorian country house, 2nd ed., 1979, p. 430; P. de Figueiredo & J. Treuherz, Cheshire country houses, 1987, pp. 230-1, 261; J. Gifford, The buildings of Scotland: Highlands and Islands, 1992, p. 229; S. Kirk, Philip Webb, pioneer of Arts and Crafts architecture, 2005, pp. 104-11; M. Hyde & Sir N. Pevsner, The buildings of England: Cumbria, 2010, pp. 552-3; C. Hartwell, M. Hyde, E. Hubbard & Sir N. Pevsner, The buildings of England: Cheshire, 2nd edn., 2011, pp. 337, 522; https://ntfellfootproject.wordpress.com/2014/09/23/history-and-significance-of-fell-foot-park-part-i/.
Location of archives
Coat of arms
Azure, a cinquefoil pierced ermine.
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 anyone supply internal photographs of Over Tabley Hall before its conversion into flats in 2007?
- Can anyone provide further information about the development of Dukinfield Lodge or any illustrations of the interior prior to demolition in 1949?
- Can anyone provide additional views of Fell Foot, especially any showing the entrance front of the house?
- Can anyone provide an illustration of the James Gillespie Graham house at Arisaig?
- Does anyone have more information about the dispersal of the Dukinfield Lodge estate in the 20th century?
- Does anyone know more about the lives of the children of Gertrude Susan, Lady Nicholson and why her eldest daughter inherited the Arisaig estate rather than her son?
- Can anyone supply a portrait or photograph of Gertrude Susan, Lady Nicholson?
Revision and acknowledgements
This post was first published 25 May 2016 and revised 31 March and 7 April 2019 and 29 January 2020. I am grateful to Edward Beaumont and the Rev. Peter Dyson for additional information.