Sunday, 11 December 2016

(243) Attenborough of Catesby

George Attenborough (1755-1826) was a successful yeoman farmer and grazier at Braybrooke (Northants), who by the time of his death was a large enough landowner to style himself 'gentleman' in his will. He left three sons: George Attenborough (1791-1829), who established himself as a farmer and grazier at Blakesley (Northants); James Attenborough (1795-1869), who did the same at Brampton Ash (Northants); and Robert Attenborough (1796-1853), who inherited his father's lands at Braybrooke. Robert was unmarried and lived with his spinster sister Ann, who acted as his housekeeper. When he died, he made provision for his sister and divided the rest of his property between his two brothers and their descendants. James Attenborough (1795-1869) married and produced three sons and three daughters, but in the space of two years between 1848 and 1850 he lost his wife and five of his six children, and his last surviving daughter died in 1858. James had purchased the Catesby Priory estate close to the Warwickshire border in 1847, almost certainly to provide additional land for his sons to inherit. At first he may have had no thought of replacing the rambling old manor house which had been converted from the claustral buildings of a medieval nunnery, but despite the elimination of his family, this had become his intention by 1859. In that year he sought the advice of the Northamptonshire Archaeological Society about whether any part of the old building was worth preserving for its historical or architectural interest, and it is interesting that following a visit to the site the only features which the Secretary of the society recommended should be saved were a medieval piscina and some other carved details from the priory church which had been reused in the 17th century chapel of the house. A new church was built on the site of the old chapel incorporating these elements, but the rest of the house was destroyed and replaced by a new neo-Tudor mansion constructed on a terrace overlooking the shallow valley containing the site of the old house, in which some woodwork from the old house was reused.

The third brother, George Attenborough (1791-1829), who farmed at Blakesley, had died young and left his wife Betsey with seven children and another on the way. Betsey quickly married again, and produced a further family with her second husband Charles Mountfort. They remained at Blakesley until about 1840, when the Attenborough property there was sold to the Duke of Grafton, but there is some evidence that her second husband did not make a welcoming home for his stepchildren. The daughters as well as the sons were sent to boarding schools, and the two eldest sons sought better prospects in London at the earliest possible time, being made free of the spectacle-makers company in 1844. By 1850 the third son was regarded as a ne'er-do-well, whose 'habits and character' were in need of reform, and the youngest son was apprenticed to a grocer in Oxford and then in 1853 emigrated to Australia with his eldest sister. The two eldest sons, George Attenborough (1820-92) and Richard Attenborough (1822-91) set up in business together as pawnbrokers, silversmiths and jewellers. They were no doubt encouraged by the example of their distant cousins, from a branch of the family based at Titchmarsh (Northants), who had established a successful pawnbroking business in the East End of London in the early 19th century.

The brothers' partnership did not last long, and while George developed the original business at 204 Fleet Street (moved to 193 Fleet St in the 1880s), which was as much a pawnbrokers as a silversmiths, Richard moved to fashionable Piccadilly and concentrated more on the jewellery end of the business. He exhibited successfully at the Great Exhibition of 1851 and again at the International Exhibition in 1862, and in 1870 rebuilt 33-35 Piccadilly as a new showroom. But in 1874 he retired from the business and put his capital to work in business sectors which he did not understand so well, in particular in a South Wales coal mine which proved an unwise speculation, and in iron ore mining in his home county. By 1885 he was in financial difficulties, and although he does not appear to have been bankrupted, most of his assets were lost and he left only a small estate at his death.

George Attenborough (1820-92) fared much better. In about 1873 he handed over control of the Fleet Street firm to his son, Henry Arthur Attenborough (1848-1930), who had been trained up in the business, and retired to the estate at Catesby, which his uncle James had bequeathed to him in 1869. At his death, he left an estate worth over £320,000 (the equivalent of some £415m in 2016). The Catesby estate was left to his son, Henry, who extended the house shortly after gaining possession. After 1897 he in turn handed over the Fleet Street business to his son, George Attenborough (1876-1949), who had been educated at Rugby and Oxford, and who developed the jewellery side of the business at the expense of the pawnbroking. George served in the First World War with the Royal Army Service Corps, but returned to the firm afterwards and continued to work until his son, Henry George Attenborough (1904-90) took on the business in about 1930. That was also the year when George inherited Catesby House from his father, and he lived there until shortly before his death in 1949 when it was put on the market. In the post-war climate, a large and remote Victorian house, even one in good condition, was hard to sell, and by 1951 the house had several times failed to find a buyer at auction and was under threat of demolition. Daventry Rural District Council was asked for a demolition licence but dragged its feet, neither wanting to see the wanton destruction of a sound building when housing was at a premium, nor to lose the income from the rates. At the last minute, one of the members of the Council who was also a property developer, came forward to purchase it, and the house was saved from the fate of so many others.  The family jewellery business, now George Attenborough & Sons, continues to trade at 193 Fleet Street.

Catesby House, Northamptonshire
Lower Catesby was the site of a small Cistercian nunnery founded in about 1175 and dissolved in 1536. After the dissolution, the site was bought by John Onley (d. 1537), who was the first solicitor to the Court of Augmentations, which was responsible for managing and disposing of ex-monastic property. He paid £400 for it and also gave in part-exchange an estate at Bishops Castle (Shropshire) which he had acquired in 1535. His son, Edward Onley (d. 1582) demolished the church, except for a fragment at the east end, and converted the east, west and south ranges of the cloister to domestic use, adding a small extension (containing the Great Chamber) which was called 'the new building' in 1585; it is thought this stood at the angle of the south and west ranges. 

Catesby Priory: an engraving of the house from the south, published in 1864.

There is limited evidence for how the house was arranged in the 16th century, but the plan suggests that, as at Delapre Abbey, there was no great hall. A long gallery, some sixty feet long, was created in the attic of the south range. In the early 17th century, a chapel was built out on the east side of the house, reputedly on the site of the monastic chapter house, some of the fittings of which are now in the present parish church. The monastic kitchen may have remained in use since an account of 1849 describes it as 'notable'. By the time of the hearth tax returns in 1664, the house contained 20 hearths.

Catesby Priory: drawing of the west front and north service range by Henry Dryden, 1844.
[Image: Dryden Collection, by permission of Northamptonshire Libraries & Information Services]

Towards the end of the 17th century, the west range of the house was remodelled for John Parkhurst, and given a new two-storey front with hipped roofs, cross windows, and a pedimented doorcase which is similar to contemporary work at Bulwick Hall and Dingley Hall. Projecting pavilions were added at either end of the front, creating an eleven bay facade with a recessed seven-bay centre. The doorway in the centre of the west front led into a large paved entrance hall, from which a staircase with twisted balusters led up to a first-floor dining room. Beyond that was a principal suite with a bedchamber, the Cedar Room, a dressing room and a back stair. By 1849 the ground floor had another dining room, a library and a breakfast parlour which adjoined the stair and inner hall. The south range had service rooms on the ground floor and seven bedrooms upstairs. The old house was refurbished in 1844 when James Parkhurst Baxter came of age, but pulled down about fifteen years later except for a service range to the north of the house, which was converted into cottages and still survives.

Catesby House: entrance front of the new house built in 1863

Catesby House: garden front, showing the new landscaping of c.2004.

James Attenborough built a new house in 1859-63 on a fine but previously unoccupied site about halfway between the hamlets of Upper and Lower Catesby. It is set on a terrace overlooking the valley, and is a Tudor-style building with shaped gables; the architect is not recorded, but it seems probable that it was William Gillett of Leicester, who is known to have designed the new church which was built on the foundations of the the chapel of the house in 1861-62. Some fittings from the old house were incorporated in its successor, including a fine staircase with twisted balusters and a set of linenfold panelling in the staircase hall which may even have originated in the priory. The new house was enlarged in 1894 for Henry Arthur Attenborough. 

In July 1949, Maj. George Attenborough moved to London and put the estate on the market. He died soon afterwards, but his son sold most of the land in 1950. The house, however, failed to find a buyer. By 1951, it was proposed to demolish the house, but Daventry Rural District Council deferred granting a demolition licence and at the last minute one of the Council members, the property developer Commander Cyril Colbourne, bought it, ensuring its survival to the present day. In the 2000s, a new landscape setting was created, with works including the formalising the hillside terracing below the house, the creation of new lakes in the valley bottom, and the layout of an avenue to the west towards the site of the old house.

Descent: John Onley (d. 1537); to son, Edward Onley (d. 1582); ...sold 1664 to John Parkhurst (c.1643-1731)...Rev. John Parkhurst (d. 1797)... James Parkhurst Baxter (b. 1823); sold 1847 to James Attenborough; to nephew, George Attenborough (1820-92); to son, Henry Arthur Attenborough (1848-1930); to son, Maj. George Attenborough (1876-1949); to son, Henry George Attenborough (1904-90); sold 1951 to Cyril Colbourne... Mr & Mrs. Darby (fl. 1979)... Peter Ellwood (fl. 2010); sold 2016.

Attenborough family of Catesby

Attenborough, James (1795-1869). Second son of George Attenborough (1755-1826), gent. of Braybrooke (Northants) and his wife Mary Whitworth (1761-1844), baptised at Braybrooke, 9 April 1795. Farmer and grazier of 795 acres at Brampton Ash (Northants). He married, 15 June 1826 at Clipston (Northants), Mary Ann Sawyer (d. 1850), and had issue:
(1) Mary Ann Attenborough (1828-48), baptised at Braybrooke, 17 August 1828; died unmarried, 2 May, and was buried at Brampton, 11 May 1848;
(2) George William Attenborough (1829-48), baptised at Braybrooke, 2 December 1829; died young, 7 May, and was buried at Brampton, 11 May 1848;
(3) Elizabeth Attenborough (1831-49), baptised at Braybrooke, 13 September 1831; died unmarried, 29 August, and was buried at Brampton, 3 September 1849;
(4) Robert Attenborough (1834-48), baptised at Braybrooke, 23 May 1834; died young, 22 July, and was buried at Brampton, 25 July 1848;
(5) James Attenborough (1835-49), baptised at Clipston, 20 September 1835; died young, 27 February, and was buried at Brampton, 5 March 1849;
(6) Sarah Jane Attenborough (1837-58); died unmarried aged 20, 22 January and was buried at Brampton Ash, 28 January 1858; administration of her goods granted to her father, 29 April 1858 (effects under £600).
He purchased the Catesby estate in 1847. In 1859 the Northampton Mercury reported that "the estate has passed by purchase into the hands of J. Attenborough esq. who is anxious to remove the present house to a higher situation, but is at the same time most desirous that every relic of historic or architectural interest should be preserved. The old house was pulled down about 1861 and a new chapel was built on part of the site. The new Catesby House was built on a different site by 1863. At his death the estate passed to his nephew, George Attenborough (1820-92).
He died at Brampton Ash, 28 January, and was buried there, 5 February 1869; his will was proved 17 February 1869 (effects under £40,000). His wife died 31 March 1850.

Attenborough, George (1791-1829). Eldest son of George Attenborough (1755-1826), gent. of Braybrooke (Northants) and his wife Mary Whitworth (1761-1844), baptised at Braybrooke, 15 September 1791. Grazier and farmer at Blakesley (Northants). He married, 1 January 1818 at Broughton (Northants), Betsey (1793-1870), daughter of Thomas Smith of Hillmorton (Warks), and had issue:
(1) Mary Attenborough (1818-76), baptised at Blakesley, 22 October 1818; emigrated to Australia with her brother Thomas, 1853; died unmarried in Cheltenham, Victoria (Australia), 22 June 1876 and was buried in the Old Cemetery there, where she is commemorated by a tombstone;
(2) George Attenborough (1820-92) (q.v.);
(3) Richard Attenborough (1822-1901), baptised at Blakesley, 9 June 1822; silversmith in London, at first in partnership with his brother George but by 1849 in Piccadilly and Portman Street; member of the Worshipful Company of Spectaclemakers; freeman of city of London, 1844; exhibited successfully at the Great Exhibition, 1851; rebuilt 33-35 Piccadilly as shop premises, 1870; he moved before 1861 to Whitley Grove, Reading (Berks) and retired from the jewellery business in 1874, becoming an officer in the 1st volunteer battalion of the Royal Berkshire Regiment (Capt.; retired 1885); an unwise investment in Lower Resolven Colliery in south Wales, coupled with extravagant living, led him into financial difficulties by 1885; lived latterly at Horton Manor (Northants), where he apparently owned or leased ironstone quarries; married, 17 July 1849 at Titchmarsh (Northants), Elizabeth Coales (1829-1914) and had issue three daughters; died 19 May 1901; will proved 6 December 1901 (effects £5,827);
(4) Betsey Attenborough (1823-56), baptised at Blakesley, 27 September 1823; married, 9 August 1849 at St Mary, Bryanston Square, London, William Thomas Portal (1815-89) of Springfield (Northants) and had issue one son and two daughters; died 10 January 1856;
(5) Anne Attenborough (1824-66), baptised at Blakesley, 28 May 1824; married, 27 December 1849 at Marylebone (Middx), William Attenborough (1821-89) of Braybrooke, farmer, and had issue one son; buried at Braunston (Northants), 11 January 1866; 
(6) James Attenborough (b. 1825), baptised at Blakesley, 9 July 1825; evidently regarded as a ne'er-do-well, as provision was made for him in his uncle Robert's will conditional upon his 'having become reformed in his habits and character'; apparently living in 1850;
(7) Jane Attenborough (1827-90), baptised at Blakesley, 28 September 1827; married, 1855, John Branson (1833-1901) of Rockingham (Northants), farmer and later examiner for Civil Service Commissioners, and had issue two sons and four daughters; died 29 December 1890; will proved 21 January 1891 (effects £177);
(8) Thomas Attenborough (1829-99), born posthumously and baptised at Blakesley, 1 May 1829; educated at Wellingborough Grammar School and apprenticed to William Way of Oxford, grocer; emigrated to Australia with his sister Mary, 1853; farmer at Dingley Grange, Cheltenham, Victoria (Australia); JP in Victoria; returned more than once on visits to England and married, 28 February 1883 at Hinton Martell (Dorset), Jane Mary (b. 1847) (who m2, by 1901, as his second wife, Hugh G. McKenzie (b. 1847)), daughter of Harry Stokes, accountant, but had no issue; died 10 August 1899 and was buried at Cheltenham Old Cemetery, Victoria; 
His farm at Blakesley (Northants) was sold in 1840 by the trustees of his will to the Duke of Grafton.
He was buried at Blakesley, 16 January 1829; his will was proved 4 July 1829. His widow married 2nd, 13 March 1832 at Blakesley, Charles Mountfort (1797-1850) and had further issue one son and three daughters; she was buried at Blakesley, 21 May 1870.

Attenborough, George (1820-92). Son of George Attenborough (1791-1829), yeoman, of Blakesley, and his wife Betsey Smith, born 4 January and was baptised at Blakesley (Northants), 19 January 1820. Pawnbroker and silversmith at 204 Fleet St., London and later at 193 Fleet St.; member of the Worshipful Company of Spectaclemakers; freeman of the city of London, 1844. He married, 6 November 1844 at Brighton (Sussex), Sarah Emma (1824-97), daughter of Thomas Annis Parsons, and had issue:
(1) George Frederick Attenborough (1845-47), born 4 September and baptised at St Dunstan in the West, London, 12 December 1845; died 1 September 1847;
(2) Henry Arthur Attenborough (1848-1930) (q.v.);
(3) Emma Attenborough (1850-1914), baptised at St John, Hampstead (Middx), 6 November 1850; married, 14 October 1874 at Hornsey Rise, Gilbert Richard Redgrave (1844-1941), architect, bibliographer and Assistant Secretary of the Board of Education; died 14 January and was buried at Sanderstead (Surrey), 17 January 1914; administration of goods granted to her husband, 30 March 1914 (effects £423).
He lived at Grove Lodge, Muswell Hill, Hornsey (Middx) and inherited the Catesby estate from his uncle in 1869. 
He died 22 January 1892; his will was proved 20 February 1892 (estate £321,002). His widow died 5 August 1897; her will was proved 30 August 1897 (estate £9,440).

Attenborough, Henry Arthur (1848-1930). Son of George Attenborough (1820-92) and his wife Sarah Emma Parsons, born 18 October and baptised at St Dunstan-in-the-West, Fleet St., London, 21 December 1848. Educated at Highgate School and Cologne. Pawnbroker, jeweller and silversmith at 193 Fleet St., London; member of the Worshipful Company of Spectaclemakers; freeman of the City of London, 1873. Chairman of the National Pawnbrokers' Association and a trustee of the Metropolitan Society of Pawnbrokers. He married, 14 January 1875, Amy Eleanor (1851-1918), daughter of Robert Borras and had issue:
(1) George Attenborough (1876-1949) (q.v.);
(2) Maud Attenborough (1877-1957), born 27 May 1877; married, 27 November 1901 at Trinity Church, Paddington (Middx), Edmund Gerald Burton (1872-1947) of Hampstead (Middx) and The Lodge, Daventry (Northants), gent., and had issue; died 4 January 1957; will proved 11 June 1957 (estate £1,328).
He inherited Catesby House from his father in 1892 and extended it in 1894.
He died 9 October and was buried at Highgate Cemetery, London, 17 October 1930; his will was proved 28 February 1931 (estate £277,443). His wife died 18 September 1918; her will was proved 25 November 1918 (estate £12,891).

Attenborough, Maj. George (1876-1949). Only son of Henry Arthur Attenborough (1848-1930) and his wife Amy Eleanor, daughter of Robert Borras, born 20 April 1876. Educated at Rugby and University College, Oxford (MA). Jeweller and silversmith at 193 Fleet St., London; member of the Worshipful Company of Spectaclemakers; freeman of City of London, 1897. Served in First World War with Royal Army Service Corps (Major). He married, 4 June 1902, Bessie (1873-1965), daughter of John Swayne Pearce of Hinton (Glos), and had issue:
(1) Constance Maude Attenborough (1903-76); married 1st, 18 July 1933 at Catesby, Ernest Howard Proctor Dawbarn (1903-38), son of Edward Proctor Dawbarn of Harrow (Middx), and 2nd, Jan-Mar 1949, William Wilson Blackstone (1907-85), son of Arthur William Blackstone of Purley (Surrey), merchant; died 4 February 1976; will proved 22 March 1976 (estate £64,603);
(2) Henry George Attenborough (1904-90) (q.v.).
He inherited the Catesby estate from his father in 1930 but put it on the market in 1949.
He died 7 December 1949; will proved 23 February 1950 (estate £167,325). His wife died 12 April 1965; her will was proved 9 July 1965 (estate £31,852).

Attenborough, Henry George (1904-90). Only son of Maj. George Attenborough (1876-1949) and his wife Bessie, daughter of J. Swayne Pearce of Hinton (Glos), born 10 August 1904. Educated at Tonbridge and University College, Oxford. Jeweller in London. Served in the Second World War with the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve. He married, 21 October 1930 (div. by 1948) at St. Matthias, Richmond (Surrey), Kathleen (1909-97), younger daughter of Alfred Stephen John Stocken of Lancaster House, Richmond, solicitor, and had issue:
(1) Richard George Stephen Attenborough (1933-99) of The Old Vicarage, Stadhampton (Oxon), born 17 February 1933; director of R.G.S. Attenborough (Tools) Ltd.; married 1st, 1958, Valerie S. Mitchell (b. 1935), and had issue one son (who died in infancy) and one daughter; married 2nd, 1974, Diana Rosemary Dobell (b. c.1944), and had issue two sons; died 29 April 1999; will proved 14 September 1999.
He inherited the Catesby estate from his father in 1949; much of the land was sold in 1950 but the house and grounds remained unsold until 1951, when they were sold to a property developer, Commander Cyril Colbourne. 
He died 8 May 1990; his will was proved 4 December 1990 (estate £114,236). His ex-wife married 2nd, Jul-Sep. 1948, Ian Archibald Hamilton (1918-87) and died 11 January 1997; her will was proved 25 June 1997.

Burke's Landed Gentry, 1952, p. 75; Rev. T. James, 'On Catesby Priory', Reports and papers of the Associated Architectural Societies, 1863; J. Heward & R. Taylor, The country houses of Northamptonshire, 1996, pp. 139-41; B. Bailey, Sir N. Pevsner & B. Cherry, The buildings of England: Northamptonshire, 3rd edn., 2013, pp. 166-67;

Location of archives
Attenborough of Catesby: deeds and estate papers, 1608-1904 [Northamptonshire Record Office, uncatalogued]
George Attenborough & Sons, pawnbrokers, jewellers and silversmiths: sales book and pawnbroking receipt books, 1846-97 [London Metropolitan Archives, CLC/B/094]

Coat of arms
None recorded.

Revision and acknowledgements
This post was first published 11 December 2016.


  1. Fascinating. I was at the same school from 1947 as Richard, David and John, so have always had an interest in them. Tried a trace but did not get far, these were from ordinary family in Nottinghamshire. If there is a direct connection it might well be a long way back, but when?

    1. Attenborough is an uncommon name and so the same thought had occurred to me, but I looked back through several generations and was unable to find an obvious connection. As you say, if there is one, it must be a long way back.


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