Sunday 13 November 2016

(240) Atkinson of Stowell

Atkinson of Stowell
The fortunes of this family appear to have been founded by Richard Atkinson (d. 1574) of Oxford, draper, who was a leading citizen of the town in the mid 16th century and five times mayor between 1549 and 1559. His family may have been related to the Atkinsons of Temple Sowerby (Westmld) or those of Yorkshire, but his parentage is unknown. He and his first wife produced eleven children, of whom Robert Atkinson (c.1535-1607) was perhaps the eldest and only surviving son. Robert was trained as a lawyer at the Inner Temple in the 1550s and was elected to the Common Council of the city of Oxford and became its legal adviser in 1560. Three years later he was MP for Appleby (which may suggest a connection with the Atkinsons of Westmorland) and in 1566 he was appointed Recorder of Oxford. By the end of the decade, however, he was in difficulties with the authorities over his religious beliefs. His wife was an avowed Catholic, and he admitted to seldom attending Anglican divine service, although he claimed not to have attended any other services. In 1569 he was given a year to demonstrate his conformity and in 1570 when he had not done so the authorities of the Inner Temple excluded him and barred him from practising. He was still excluded in 1577 but would appear to have been quietly allowed to resume his profession sometime after that, as by 1590 he was in practice once more from his house in Chancery Lane. The curious thing is that his exclusion seems not to have affected his position as Recorder of Oxford, even though the city was then controlled by the Puritan faction. His father died in 1574 and it may have been his father's prestige which preserved his position in Oxford, and his wealth which enabled him to purchase the Stowell estate in 1577.

Robert and his wife Joyce produced two sons and five daughters. The two sons inherited Stowell and Robert's other property in Gloucestershire (at Little Taynton and Kilcot) in turn. The elder, Henry Atkinson, seems to have died in 1631, but the younger, John Atkinson, survived until 1662. In 1627, when it was probably clear that both the brothers were likely to die childless, Henry executed a settlement in favour of his nephew Thomas Wentworth, the son of his sister Anne (who had died in 1611) and her husband William Wentworth of Wentworth Woodhouse (Yorks WR). Thomas, who became a prominent supporter of King Charles I during the years of his personal rule, and who was Lord Deputy of Ireland, 1632-40, was made Baron Wentworth and later 1st Earl of Strafford. However, in 1641 he was attainted by Parliament for his high-handed conduct in Ireland and condemned to death. With much reluctance, Charles I signed his death-warrant and he was duly executed on Tower Hill on 12 May 1641.

When Henry Atkinson died, probably in June or July 1631, his Gloucestershire estates passed to his younger brother John, who was educated at Oxford and perhaps later at one of the inns of court. In his father's will he was left a house in Chancery Lane and his father's books, so it seems probable he was a lawyer. Like Lord Strafford, he was a supporter of the Crown and a Royalist during the Civil War. Nothing seems to be recorded of his activities in the war, and I have not found a record of his estate being sequestered, but in the 1650s he was still of concern to the Commonwealth authorities. In 1658, when he was perhaps ailing, he had licence to travel to Spa (Belgium), and he was officially pardoned by the Commonwealth the following year. When King Charles II was restored to the throne the following year, he was knighted, perhaps as a token reward for his support or privations in the preceding decades. He had sold his property at Kilcot in 1653 and Little Taynton in 1656, which may imply that he was in straightened circumstances. He died in 1662, and under the terms of the 1627 settlement the Stowell estate passed to his great-nephew, William Wentworth, 2nd Earl of Strafford (1626-95), who sold it in 1689.

Stowell Park, Gloucestershire

Stowell must be one of the least-known large country houses in the Cotswolds, due largely to its isolated position in the empty country south of Northleach. It incorporates a late medieval stone house, which was extended and refronted in the 17th century and refitted, redecorated and enlarged by Sir John Belcher for the 3rd Earl of Eldon in 1886-98.

Stowell Park: north front. Image: Nicholas Kingsley. Some rights reserved.
The Stowell estate was acquired by Robert Atkinson (d.1607) in 1577, but although the house is traditionally said to date from c.1600, it looks considerably later. The medieval core of the house lies at its northern end, and was probably a rectangular block with a wing projecting on the south to make an L-shape, but nothing of its 15th or 16th century exterior is recognisable. The north front of the house is now of five bays, of which the end ones project as two-storey bay windows, each surmounted by ball finials on the parapet. The western bay window may represent the hall bay of the previous house. The windows are all mullion-and-transom crosses with straight drip-moulds over, placed so close together that the drip-moulds almost form a continuous string course, and the use of such windows inclines me to date this front to the 1620s or later. 

Stowell Park: west front. Image: Nicholas Kingsley.  Some rights reserved.

Stowell Park: window on the west front.
Image: Nicholas Kingsley  Some rights reserved.
The window details of the west front are almost identical, but whereas the north front has a convincingly Jacobean flavour, the west front seems too poised and cool for the early date usually assigned to it. If one thinks away the battlements and the projecting crenellated summerhouse added later, and imagines instead the hipped roof with dormers which the battlements partly obscure, the façade has an almost post-Restoration sophistication, yet the dripstones over the mullioned and transomed cross windows and the simple stone doorcase with its Atkinson family crest are fairly old-fashioned. The most likely sequence of development is perhaps that work was begun on the north front by Henry Atkinson in the 1620s, and then resumed some years later with the west front under his brother John in the 1630s. The block plan of the house shown on an estate map of 1812 agrees closely with the form of the north and west fronts today. Inside the house, there is now relatively little to recall the pre-Victorian period; the best feature is some dado-height panelling with arched panels having cherubs on the keystones and tiers of Doric and Ionic pilasters, moved from the drawing room to the library in the later 20th century.

In January 1685, the Duke of Ormonde was contemplating leasing Stowell as a residence, and sent Colonel Edward Vernon to look at it. Colonel Vernon reported disparagingly, though not perhaps disinterestedly, that:
“I now remember the place, but never took notice of the house, but it is a very little one; one Mr Stevens dwelt in it, and I fear much too little for your Grace ... The rooms are very little, all but the parlour and hall, which are fit for a country gentleman ... I wish it were your Grace's inheritance, for it is a very fine country and a very fine site to build upon ...”
In about 1689 the 2nd Earl of Strafford sold the estate to John Howe, who was born about 1660, and was then MP for Cirencester. He became one of the members for Gloucestershire in 1698-1705. As a strong Tory, Howe was made a privy councillor in 1702 and was joint paymaster-general from 1703-14. His son, who inherited the Chedworth, Withington and Cassey Compton estates from his cousin, Sir Richard Howe, in 1730, was created Lord Chedworth in 1741. Cassey Compton seems at first to have become the family seat, but the first three Lords Chedworth used Stowell when they were not in London. After the 3rd Baron died at Stowell in 1781, however, the 4th and last Lord Chedworth (d.1804), who disliked his Gloucestershire property, lived in Suffolk. All the household goods were offered for sale in 1782 and, when the whole estate of over 7,600 acres was put on the market in 1811, Stowell was described as 'an ancient mansion, now a farmhouse', and the park was said to contain 'several beautiful sites for building upon'.

The purchaser of 1812 was Sir William Scott, judge of the Admiralty Court and MP for Oxford University. In 1821 he was raised to the peerage as Lord Stowell, but following his death in 1836 and that of his daughter, Lady Sidmouth, in 1842, the estate passed to his nephew, the Earl of Eldon. Like the last Lord Chedworth, Lord Stowell and the Earls of Eldon let Stowell for most of the 19th century, but the 3rd Earl (who came of age in 1866, having inherited at the age of nine) preferred Stowell to the family seat of Encombe in Dorset, and employed Sir John Belcher to carry out a considerable enlargement of the house in 1886-98.

Stowell Park: Sir John Belcher's new south-west range.
Belcher’s key alteration was to change the approach and entrance to the house. Originally, a drive approached from the north and curved round to a main entrance on the west front. Belcher laid out new terraces before this façade, making it the principal garden front, and created a fairly large new south wing in a Cotswold vernacular style, which incorporated a new entrance next to an impressive ogee-capped tower. The change to the entrance arrangements and the addition of the new wing required radical alterations to the interior of the house, including the remodelling of the 17th century staircase. Most of the interiors were heavily panelled in dark oak, and the entrance hall had stained glass with the coats of arms of the families which have owned Stowell. The work was mainly carried out in 1886-89, but changes continued until 1898 and, when it was completed, Stowell possessed all the accommodation a Victorian gentleman required: porch, outer hall, lounge hall with open timber roof and stone fireplace, study with gun room, side door and private cloakroom adjacent; drawing room, dining room, library, smoking room and nineteen bedrooms and dressing rooms, plus twenty servants’ bedrooms. The richest interior was the drawing room or ‘Tapestry Room’, hung with four panels of Flemish verdure tapestry, where the chimneypiece was framed by an archway supported on blue onyx columns with marble capitals. Additional service accommodation was also created, to the east of the main building, where a new courtyard called the ‘Green Court’ was planned, surrounded by single-storey corridor links and two-storey vernacular buildings, and on the south-west, where the servants’ hall and kitchen lay.
Stowell Park: the design for the Green Court, published in The Builder, 1887.
Belcher made the most of the need to create a new approach to the house by flanking the drive with a fine pair of gatepiers, linked to pyramidally-roofed gatehouses set at an angle of 45° which originally doubled as summer houses. He also created extensive new balustraded and paved terraces around the lawn to the south of the house, and built a grand new stable block with a tower at one corner. The old stables, north of the house and facing the north front of the house at fairly close quarters, were converted into a splendid ballroom and a badminton court in 1913 by Sidney Tatchell, who also made further additions to the house in 1918-20.

In 1923, however, the ageing Earl of Eldon decided that he could not afford to maintain two full-scale country houses, and since his surviving sons were all comfortably settled in smaller properties, determined to sell off his Gloucestershire estate, leaving Encombe to be inherited by his grandson and heir. Despite expectations that the estate would be broken up, as so many others were at that time, the house and 2,379 acres were sold by private treaty to the Hon. Samuel Vestey in September 1923. Much of the remaining 4,000 acres of the estate was sold at auction, chiefly to the occupiers of the properties concerned, but Lord Vestey (as he became on the death of his father in 1940) subsequently bought some of them 
back, including the strategically placed Cassey Compton. The estate, which now belongs to the present Lord Vestey, comprises some 6,000 acres and is in excellent heart.

Stowell Park: the house as reduced in size by Christopher Buxton for Lord Vestey c.1981.
Image: Nicholas Kingsley.  Some rights reserved.
The very Victorian ambience of Stowell, and its excessive provision of service accommodation, meant that it was always likely to be subjected to further alterations, and in about 1981 the house was reduced in size by Christopher Buxton. The main loss was the majority of the south-west wing added by Belcher, although his porch and tower were spared. The new elevations devised to tidy up the south-west corner of the house after the demolitions are unfortunately not to up to the standard of those they replace. Inside the house, the removal of much of the dark and heavy 17th and 19th century panelling was more successful, since the house is now lighter and more cheerful than before.

Descent: Thomas Limerick (d. 1486); to daughter, Agnes, wife of William Tame and later Sir Robert Harcourt (d. by 1504); to son, Thomas Tame (d. c.1545) to widow and then daughter, Elizabeth, wife of Edmund Horne (d. 1553); to daughter Elizabeth, wife of Anthony Bourne, who sold 1577 to Robert Atkinson (c.1535-1607); to son, Henry Atkinson (d. 1631?); to brother, Sir John Atkinson (d. 1662); to great-nephew, William Wentworth (1626-95), 2nd Earl of Strafford, who sold 1689 to John Grubham Howe MP (d. 1722); to son, John Howe (d. 1742), 1st Baron Chedworth; to son, John Thynne Howe (d. 1762), 2nd Baron Chedworth; to brother, Henry Frederick Howe (d. 1781), 3rd Baron Chedworth; to nephew, John Howe (d. 1804), 4th Baron Chedworth; to trustees who sold 1812 to Sir William Scott (1745-1836), 1st Baron Stowell; to daughter, Marianne (d. 1842), wife of Henry Addington (1757-1844), 1st Viscount Sidmouth; to kinsman, John Scott (1805-54), 2nd Earl of Eldon; to son, John Scott (1845-1926), 3rd Earl of Eldon; sold 1923 to Samuel Vestey (1882-1954), 2nd Baron Vestey; to grandson, Samuel George Armstrong Vestey (b. 1941), 3rd Baron Vestey.

Atkinson family of Stowell Park

Atkinson, Richard (c.1500-74). Parentage unknown. A draper in Oxford, who was in business on his own account by 1526 when he took his first recorded apprentice. He was a member of the Common Council from 1530-46 and Alderman, 1546-74; Chamberlain, 1533; Bailiff, 1539; Mayor, 1548-50, 1553-54, 1559-60, 1567-68; Coroner, 1549. He was mayor at the time of Queen Mary's coronation and may have performed the traditional role of the mayor of Oxford as butler at the coronation feast. He married 1st, Agnes [surname unknown] (d. 1569) and 2nd, 3 September 1570 at St Peter-in-the-East, Oxford, Joan Barton, and had issue by his first wife five sons and six daughters, including:
(1) Robert Atkinson (c.1535-1607) (q.v.).
He lived in Oxford, but by 1568 was living in the suburbs of the town.
He died 31 May 1574 and was buried at St. Peter-in-the-East, Oxford, 2 June 1574, where he was commemorated by a marble tomb with a brass inlaid in its top; the brass survives in the church which is now the library of St. Edmund Hall. His first wife was buried at St Peter-in-the-East, 18 May 1569. His widow's date of death is unknown.

Atkinson, Robert (c.1535-1607). Only surviving son of Richard Atkinson (d. 1574) of Oxford, draper, and his first wife Agnes (d. 1569), born about 1535. His father having been mayor of Oxford five times, he was made a freeman of the city in his teens, in 1549. Educated at the Inner Temple (admitted, 1554/5; called to bar, 1561). Barrister at law; A member of the Common Council of the city of Oxford, 1560/61; MP for Appleby (Westmld), 1563. In 1570 he was expelled from the Inner Temple with others who had refused to conform to the Elizabethan religious settlement, and his reinstatement is not recorded but apparently did not take place until after 1577. He continued to be under suspicion of recusant sympathies, perhaps largely because his wife was an avowed Catholic, but he managed to steer a middle line between conscience and conformity, and in his will made his property legacies to his children conditional on their conforming. Mysteriously his exclusion from legal practice in the 1570s does not seem to have affected his position as Recorder of Oxford, which he held 1566-1607 (although he acted by deputy after 1580), even though Oxford was then a Puritan stronghold. As Recorder he also made the official speech of welcome when Queen Elizabeth visited the city in 1592. He married Joyce, daughter of Humphrey Ashfield of Heythrop (Oxon), and had issue:
(1) Anne Atkinson (c.1567-1611); married, 1590, Sir William Wentworth (c.1562-1614), 1st bt. of Wentworth Woodhouse (Yorks WR) and had issue eight sons and three daughters including Thomas Wentworth (1593-1641), 1st Earl of Strafford, whose son inherited the Stowell estate in 1662; died 22 July 1611 and was buried at Wentworth, 23 July 1611;
(2) Mary Atkinson; married, before 1598, Sir Francis Trappes (later Trappes-Byrnand) (1570-1643), kt. of Harrogate and Nidd (Yorks WR) and had issue six sons and ten daughters;
(3) Joyce Atkinson; married 1st, 15 July 1595 at St Dunstan in the West, London, as his second wife, Richard Josselyn (1564-1605) of Hyde Hall, Sawbridgeworth (Herts) and had issue one son; married 2nd, 30 January 1605/6 at St Olave, Hart St., London, William Bennett; 
(4) Henry Atkinson (d. 1631?) (q.v.);
(5) Eleanor Atkinson (d. c.1605); married, 6 December 1600 at St Dunstan in the West, London, Sir Thomas Bold (d. 1612), kt. of Bold (Lancs) (who married 2nd, 9 April 1607, Bridget, daughter of William Norres of Speke (Lancs)), illegitimate son of Richard Bold of Bold, but had no issue; died before 1607;
(6) Sir John Atkinson (d. 1662), kt. (q.v.);
(7) Elizabeth Atkinson; married, 4 April 1597 at St Dunstan in the West, London, Sir John Leake (fl. 1609), son of Jasper Leake of Wyre Hall, Edmonton (Middx) and had issue two sons and five daughters; died before 1605.
He purchased the Stowell estate in 1577 and the manors of Little Taynton and Kilcot, Newent (Glos) in 1604.
He died before 17 September 1607; his will was proved in the PCC, 10 November 1607. His wife died before 1605.

Atkinson, Henry (d. 1631?). Elder son of Robert Atkinson (d. 1607) of Stowell and his wife Joyce, daughter of Humphrey Ashfield of Heythrop (Oxon). There is a suggestion in his father's will that the two men may not have been on good terms, as provision was made for him to forfeit his inheritance if he disputed the provision made for his siblings. He married Ursula, daughter of Sir Francis Stonor of Stonor Park (Oxon), and had issue:
(1) Robert Atkinson; died in infancy;
(2) Mary Atkinson; died in infancy.
He inherited the Stowell and Little Taynton & Kilcot estates from his father in 1607.
He died in 1630 or 1631, and is probably to be identified with the Henry Atkinson of Drury Lane, London, whose will was proved 8 July 1631 and whose only legacy was to his brother John. His wife probably predeceased him.

Atkinson, Sir John (d. 1662), kt. Younger son of Robert Atkinson (d. 1607) of Stowell and his wife Joyce, daughter of Humphrey Ashfield of Heythrop (Oxon). Educated at St John's College, Oxford (admitted 1603). His father left him his house in Chancery Lane, London, and his books, so he was probably trained as a lawyer, but I have not traced his admission to any of the inns of court. He acted as an arbitrator for the borough of Northleach in 1625 and was later one of the feoffees of the borough. He was evidently a Royalist during the Civil War and remained of concern to the Commonwealth authorities until he was pardoned by Parliament in 1659. This may explain why he was knighted after the Restoration, 22 November 1660. He married [name unknown] but had no issue.
He inherited the Stowell and Little Taynton & Kilcot estates from his brother Henry in about 1631. He sold Kilcot in 1653 to John Bourne and Little Taynton in 1656 to Charles Pitfield of Hoxton (Middx). At his death the estate passed to his great-nephew, William Wentworth, 2nd Earl of Strafford.
He was buried at Hampnett (Glos), 3 April 1662. His wife endowed a charity school at Northleach for a limited period.


VCH Gloucestershire, vol. 9, pp. 208-17; vol. 12, pp. 46, 328; Visitation of Glos in 1623, p. 5; E.R. Delderfield, West Country Historic Houses: vol. 3The Cotswolds, 1973, pp. 92-95; N.W. Kingsley, The country houses of Gloucestershire, vol. 1, 1500-1660, 2001, pp. 210-11.

Location of archives

No significant accumulation is known to survive.

Coat of arms

Azure, a cross patonce between four lions rampant argent.

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  • Can anyone provide further genealogical information about this family from original sources, and in particular the name of the wife of Sir John Atkinson?
  • Can anyone provide a portrait of Robert Atkinson or either of his sons?

Revision and acknowledgements

This post was first published 13 November 2016.

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