|Backhouse of Swallowfield|
Although his younger brothers became London merchants, Samuel Backhouse had been educated as a gentleman. In 1581 he married Elizabeth Borlase, the daughter of a gentry family, who brought him a manor house in Buckinghamshire, and later the same year he bought the Swallowfield Park estate in Berkshire. For reasons which are unclear, but conceivably because he was improving the house at Swallowfield, he is said to have lived for the first few years of his marriage at the Buckinghamshire property, although it is notable that his children were all baptised at Swallowfield. Samuel did not sever his ties with the world of business altogether, and may best be described as an investor: in addition to his role in the New River Company, he and his brother Jonathan were among the original investors in the East India Company, when it was set up in 1600. This again proved to be an excellent investment.
When Samuel Backhouse died in 1626, his heir was his elder surviving son, Sir John Backhouse (1584-1649), who had been knighted at the coronation of King Charles I a few months earlier. Sir John, who in youth had been rather hot-blooded, turned increasingly to learning as he grew older, and his epitaph records his skill in languages. During the Civil War he declared for the King, but he was soon captured and imprisoned in Windsor Castle and his estates were sequestered, although they had been returned to him before he died in 1649. Since his marriage in 1615 had produced no children, Swallowfield and his other property passed to his widow, and then on her death, two years later, to his younger brother, William Backhouse (1593?-1662). William, who had been led via mathematics into the study of astrology, alchemy and Rosicrucian philosophy, was a friend of several important figures of the time, not least Elias Ashmole, the antiquary, whom he treated as an adopted son, and to whom he left the legacy of his alchemical secrets. Any hopes he may have harboured of the philosopher's stone conferring on him eternal earthly life were, however, dashed by his death in 1662. His widow died a year later, leaving their only surviving child, Flower Backhouse (1641-1700), to inherit Swallowfield.
Flower, who was married at fifteen and widowed at nineteen, was still only twenty-one when her father died. At the urging of her family she soon married her second cousin, Sir William Backhouse (1641-69), 1st bt., who was the grandson of Rowland Backhouse (1564-1648), the younger brother of Samuel Backhouse (1554-1626). The hope was no doubt that the couple would produce a family who would perpetuate the Backhouse name at Swallowfield, but they remained childless. After her second husband died, Flower married for a third time, and this time much more grandly, to Henry Hyde (1638-1709), Viscount Cornbury, the son and heir of Charles II's first Lord Chancellor, Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon. Although by the time they were married her father-in-law had been hounded out of office and into exile abroad (where he died in December 1674), Henry still had a place at Court secured by his sister's marriage to the Duke of York, a place that was reinforced when the Duke came to the throne as King James II in 1685. On the back of this connection, Flower became Governess, and later First Lady of the Bedchamber, to the Duke's younger daughter, Princess Anne, but the Princess did not find her congenial and she was replaced with relief when Henry was sent to Ireland as Lord Lieutenant soon after the new king's accession. Although linked by such close ties to King James II, Henry Hyde was not a Catholic and he fell out of favour with the king by 1687. After William of Orange invaded in November 1688, Henry's son and heir (by a previous marriage) switched sides and joined William's forces, and in December Henry himself did the same thing. After James II fled abroad, however, Henry refused to accept that he had abdicated, or to take the oaths to the new Government. As a Tory, and one suspected - probably with good reason - of Jacobite plotting, Henry was arrested and imprisoned in the Tower of London for some months in 1689, and Flower joined him there voluntarily for part of this time. After they were released and allowed to reside on their estates, they rebuilt Swallowfield Park to the designs of William Talman in 1689-91 and laid out new gardens, under the direction of London & Wise, the royal gardeners. Flower died in 1700, and Henry in 1709, and since they had no children, Swallowfield passed to Henry's son by his first marriage, who succeeded him as 3rd Earl of Clarendon. The new earl, always short of money, sold the estate in 1718.
Swallowfield Park, Berkshire
A 'capital messuage' and park is first recorded at Swallowfield in 1316. In the 1350s, the estate came into the hands of the Crown, and the king sent workmen down to repair the house and lodge, enclose the park and till the fields, perhaps implying that it had all become rather neglected. (It may be relevant that this was shortly after the Black Death, when many properties lay abandoned and untenanted because of a shortage of villeins to lease them). The house was already of stone, which in this richly-timbered landscape suggests high status and prosperity. The property remained in the Crown's hands until 1553, although by 1542 the medieval park had been disparked. It seems possible that the Backhouses remodelled or rebuilt the house during their ownership, but there is no direct evidence for this. The only map of the area before the house was rebuilt in 1689-91 is John Norden's map of the forests around Windsor, which has just a conventional and diagrammatic representation of the village and shows no house in the fields where Swallowfield Park now stands. This has led some authors to conclude that the original house stood in the village, but this seems not to be the case. Lord Clarendon's diary makes it fairly clear that the rebuilding of 1689-91 was on the same site as then existing house, and the description in John Evelyn's diary for 22 October 1685 that the house "is after the ancient building of honorable gentleman’s house when they kept up ancient hospitality' seems to imply that the old house was Tudor if not earlier. Evelyn also mentions, though, 'the gardens and waters as elegant 'tis possible to make a flat by art and industry' and attributes these beauties to Lord and Lady Clarendon, so evidently there were improvements to the grounds before the house was rebuilt. The gardens contained orchards, walks, parterres, a kitchen garden, 'two noble orangeries' and a canal 'plentifully stored with fish', but this was not yet the large-scale formal layout attributed to London & Wise which is depicted on John Rocque's map of Berkshire in 1761.
|Swallowfield Park: sketch of the house in 1825, prior to alteration, showing the original form of the facades. Image: RIBA Drawings Collection.|
Shortly after Evelyn's visit, in 1689-91, Lord Clarendon pulled down the old house and built a new, two-storey, H-shaped house to the designs of William Talman. The general form of this building is recognisable today, and a drawing of 1825 shows elevations of the south and east fronts almost as they were first built. (The two late 18th century drawings of the south and east elevations in the British Library which look at first sight like accurate surveys, insert two extra bays into the facades which never existed).
|Swallowfield Park: original doorcase of c.1690 reused as|
a garden gateway in 1827. Image: © Conway Library,
The Courtauld Institute of Art, London.
Photograph by A.F. Kersting.
|Swallowfield Park: the entrance vestibule has the only surviving decoration of the Talman period. The neo-classical scenes over the doors are later additions, and the glazed door is of course not contemporary.|
Changes to the Talman house began remarkably early. Thomas Pitt, who bought the house in 1718, brought in John James, who seems to have been responsible both for making some changes to the interior of the house and for adding the impressive stables and service wing, built in c.1718-23.
|Swallowfield Park: the service range and stable block added by John James c.1718-23.|
The service accommodation consists of two long parallel brick ranges attached to the west side of the house and forming a courtyard which is arcaded on the inside, and has segment-headed windows and parapets with blind panelling. In the middle of the southern range is an archway flanked by giant brick pilasters, with a wooden cupola above. Attached to the west end of the south range is a plain but handsome thirteen-bay two storey stable block, with two projecting bays at either end. John James was also involved in improvements to the gardens, and built the five-arched bridge over the River Blackwater in 1722. The formal gardens and avenues which are indicated on John Rocque's map of Berkshire in 1761, however, were probably the work of George London and Henry Wise, who worked for Lord Clarendon at Cornbury Park and were probably also employed here.
|Swallowfield Park: the south front as remodelled in 1824-26, with an earlier porte-cochere, perhaps of the 1780s.|
|Swallowfield Park: the north front, with the service wing of the 1720s beyond.|
Further changes to the house are recorded in the time of Sylvanus Bevan, after 1782, which seem to have involved moving the main entrance to the south front and building the present portico (itself enlarged in the 1850s when the columns were moved further from the house). It may have been at this time that formal gardens around the house were removed and replaced by the present landscaping. Bevan's changes to the house were, however, largely obliterated by a much more comprehensive remodelling carried out in 1824-26 by William Atkinson for Sir Henry Russell, soon after he bought the house.
|Swallowfield Park: elevation by William Atkinson, showing the north front, with his new connecting corridor between the two wings. Image: RIBA Drawings Collection|
|Swallowfield Park: plan by William Atkinson showing his proposed alterations, 1825. Image: RIBA Drawings Collection|
|Swallowfield Park: drawing room c.1900|
|Swallowfield Park: library c.1900|
The main entrance having been moved to the south side a new entrance hall was made here; the drawing room, dining room and library were given simple decoration of this time, and a new main staircase was constructed. The interiors of the 1820s were largely preserved when the house was sensitively converted into flats by the Mutual Households Association after 1965.
Descent: Crown leased from 1542 and sold in 1553 to Christopher Litcott (d. 1554); to son, John Litcott, who sold 1581 to Samuel Backhouse (1554-1626); to son, Sir John Backhouse KB (1584-1649); to brother, William Backhouse (1593?-1662); to daughter, Flower (1641-1700), wife of Sir William Backhouse (1641-69), 1st bt., and later of Henry Hyde (1638-1709), 2nd Earl of Clarendon; to son, Edward Hyde (1661-1723), 3rd Earl of Clarendon, who sold 1718 to Thomas 'Diamond' Pitt (1653-1726); to son, Robert Pitt (d. 1727); to son, Thomas Pitt, who sold 1739 to John Dodd (1717-82); to son, Col. John Dodd, who sold 1783 to Sylvanus Bevan; sold 1788 to Timothy Hare Earle (d. 1816) of Moor Place (Herts); to son, Timothy Hare Altabon Earle (fl. 1832), who sold 1820 to Sir Henry Russell (1751-1836), 1st bt.; to son, Sir Henry Russell (1783-1852), 2nd bt.; to son, Sir Charles Russell VC (1826-83), 3rd bt.; to brother, Sir George Russell (1828-98), 4th bt.; to son, Sir George Arthur Charles Russell (1868-1944), 5th bt.; to brother, Sir Arthur Edward Ian Montagu Russell (1878-1964), 6th bt.; sold after his death to Mutual Households Association, who divided the house into flats; sold 2004 to Sunley Group.
Backhouse family of Swallowfield Park
Backhouse, Nicholas (d. 1580). Son of Thomas Backhouse of Whiterigg Hall, Bowness-on-Solway (Cumbld) and his wife Eleanor, daughter of John Parkyn of Hartloe (Cumbld). Citizen and Grocer of London. Alderman of the City of London, 1577-80; Sheriff of London, 1578. He married, 1st, Anne (d. 1573), daughter of Thomas Curzon of Croxall (Derbys; now Staffs), and 2nd, c.1575, Emma (d. 1587), daughter and sole heiress of John Jordan alias Cator, and widow of Owen Waller of London, and had issue:
(1.1) Samuel Backhouse (1554-1626) (q.v.);
(1.2) Sarah Backhouse (1556-1619), baptised 31 March 1556 at All Hallows, Honey Lane, London; married, 18 January 1573/4 at All Hallows, Nicholas Fuller (1543-1620) of Chamberhouse Castle, Crookham (Berks) and Grays Inn, a leading Puritan barrister and MP, and had issue seven children; died 1619;
(1.3) Phoebe Backhouse (1557-58), baptised 8 June 1557 at All Hallows, Honey Lane, London; died in infancy and was buried 2 August 1558 at the same church;
(1.4) Miles Backhouse (1559-84), baptised 20 November 1559 at All Hallows, Honey Lane, London; grocer in parish of St. Christopher le Stocks, London; died in 1584; administration of goods granted 1584;
(1.5) Richard Backhouse (b. 1560), baptised 14 November 1560 at All Hallows, Honey Lane, London; died young before 1576;
(1.6) Deborah Backhouse (1562-63), baptised 1 February 1561/2 at All Hallows, Honey Lane, London; died in infancy and was buried 20 September 1563 at the same church;
(1.7) Mary Backhouse (1563-1625), baptised 25 April 1563 at All Hallows, Honey Lane, London; married, c.1585, Sir William Borlase, kt., MP (d. 1629) of Medmenham (Bucks), and had issue; died of plague and was buried at Little Marlow (Bucks), 18 July 1625;
(1.8) Rowland Backhouse (1564-1648) of Widford Bury (Herts), baptised 9 July 1564 at All Hallows, Honey Lane, London; citizen and mercer of the City of London and a founder member of the East India Company; alderman and sheriff of the City of London; Treasurer of the Irish Society in London, 1615; inherited the manor of Widford in right of his wife in 1608; married, Elizabeth (c.1569-1664), daughter of Bartholmew Barnes of London, merchant, and had issue seven children; buried at St Helen, Bishopsgate, London, 7 August 1648.
He lived in Cheapside in London. He bought about 80 acres of land in Clerkenwell from the Duke of Norfolk, which later formed the site of the New River Co.'s main reservoir and the 'New River Head'.
He was buried at St Michael Bassishaw, London, 12 June 1580; his will was proved 6 July 1580 and an inquisition post mortem was held 25 January 1580/1. His first wife was buried at All Hallows Honey Lane, London, 14 December 1573. His widow died in 1587, when administration of her goods was granted.
Backhouse, Samuel (1554-1626). Eldest son of Nicholas Backhouse (d. 1580) of London and his first wife Anne, daughter of Thomas Curzon of Croxall (Staffs), baptised at All Hallows, Honey Lane, London, 18 November 1554. He was brought up in Hampshire, where his father owned a manor, and was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge (matriculated 1569; BA 1573) and Grays Inn (admitted 1572). A founder member of the East India Company in 1600 and of the New River Company in 1619. JP for Berkshire, 1593-1626 and for Wiltshire, 1615-16. High Sheriff of Berkshire, 1600-01; as High Sheriff he was reported as ‘almost out of heart’ on hearing the news that Queen Elizabeth I intended to visit the county ‘because he was altogether unacquainted with courting’; however, he reportedly performed his duties ‘very well’. MP for New Windsor, 1604-10 and Aylesbury, 1614. In 1607 he was called upon to act as an arbitrator in a dispute over the bequest of property in the Corbet family of Shropshire, who were distant relations. He married, 6 September 1581 at Little Marlow, Elizabeth (d. 1631), daughter of John Borlase of Little Marlow and Medmenham, and had issue:
(1) Anne Backhouse (1582-c.1615), baptised at Swallowfield, 1582; married, c.1612 (post-nuptial settlement, 1612), Thomas Chester (d. 1653) of Knole Park, Almondsbury (Glos) (who m2, Elizabeth, daughter of Sir George Speke of White Lackington and had further issue) and had issue one daughter; died, probably in childbirth, c.1615;
(2) Sir John Backhouse (1584-1649), kt. (q.v.);
(3) Elizabeth Backhouse (d. c.1635); married, c.1620, Richard Bellingham (c.1592-1672) of Bromby (Lincs), lawyer, Recorder of Boston, and later Governor of Massachusetts, 1641-42, 1654-56 and 1665-72, and had issue several children, of whom only one son survived to maturity; emigrated to Boston, Massachusetts with her husband in 1634 and died there shortly after arriving;
(4) Samuel Backhouse; probably died young;
(5) Mary Backhouse (d. 1645); married, c.1616, William Standen (d. 1637) of Arborfield (Berks), but had no issue; died in 1645 and was buried at Arborfield, where she and her husband are commemorated by a fine monument; will proved in the PCC, 19 December 1645;
(6) Nicholas Backhouse; living in 1628, but probably died unmarried before 1649;
(7) William Backhouse (1593?-1662) (q.v.);
(8) Sara Backhouse (d. 1615); died unmarried; buried at Swallowfield, 1615.
He acquired Bockmer Manor House, Medmenham (Bucks) in right of his wife and is said to have lived there for some years. He purchased Swallowfield Park in 1581, and retrospectively acquired royal licence for the purchase in 1586.
He died 24 June 1626 and was buried at Swallowfield; his will was proved 4 July 1626. His widow died 1 February 1630/1 and was also buried at Swallowfield; her will was proved 12 February 1630/1. They are commemorated at Swallowfield on a monument designed by John Marshall and erected by their granddaughter.
|Sir John Backhouse (1584-1649)|
He lived at Windsor and at Kingsley (Hants) until he inherited Swallowfield Park from his father in 1626. During the Civil War, Swallowfield was sequestrated and he lived at Worldham, near Alton (Hants).
He died 9 October 1649 and was buried at Swallowfield, where he is commemorated by a monument erected in 1650 by his widow. His widow was buried at Swallowfield, 17 October 1651.*
* According to some accounts she married 2nd, Henry Smith alias Nevill of Holt (Leics), second son of Sir Henry Neville of Billingbear (Berks) and died 12 August 1652, but the parish register entry seems unequivocal.
Backhouse, William (1593?-1662). Younger son of Samuel Backhouse (1554-1626) and his wife Elizabeth, daughter of John Borlase of Marlow, reputedly born 17 or 18 January 1592/3. Educated at Christ Church, Oxford (matriculated 1610/11), but did not take a degree. Perhaps under the influence of John Blagrave of Southcot near Reading, an astrologer and mathematician, he devoted his time to the study of the occult sciences, and became a renowned Rosicrucian philosopher, alchemist and astrologer. In later years he in turn gave encouragement to those who were drawn to similar pursuits, especially the antiquary and botanist, Elias Ashmole, whom he treated as an adopted son, and to whom he imparted his alchemical knowledge. He translated several works relevant to his field of study from French into English, and also invented an early pedometer, which he called a 'way-wiser'. He employed the Rev. William Lloyd (c.1627-1717, later Bishop of St. Asaph, Lichfield and Worcester) as tutor to his children. He married Anne (d. 1663), daughter of Bryan Richards of Hartley Wespall (Hants) and had issue:
(1) Samuel Backhouse; died young;
(2) John Backhouse (1640-60); educated at Wadham College, Oxford (matriculated 1656) and Middle Temple (admitted 1656); died 4 September 1660 and was buried at Swallowfield;
(3) Flower Backhouse (1641-1700) (q.v.).
He inherited Swallowfield Park on the death of his sister-in-law in 1651. At his death it passed to his widow and then to his daughter and only surviving child, Flower Backhouse.
He died 30 May 1662 and was buried at Swallowfield, 17 June 1662. His widow died in 1663 and was buried at Swallowfield.
Backhouse, Flower (1641-1700). Only surviving child of William Backhouse (d. 1662) and his wife Anne, daughter of Bryan Richards of Hartley Wespall (Hants). A firm Protestant, she was one of those responsible for spreading the rumour that the Great Fire of London had been started by Catholics, and that a Catholic had prevented the water supplied by the New River Company (in which she was a major shareholder) being used to put it out; these allegations being eventually shown to be unfounded. In 1677 she was appointed Governess to her niece by marriage, the Princess Anne, and on the Princess's marriage to Prince George of Denmark in 1683 she became her First Lady of the Bedchamber, but the Princess found her earnest and dull (according to Sarah Churchill she 'looked like a mad woman and talked like a scholar'), and her husband's appointment as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland provided a convenient excuse for her being replaced. In 1689 she briefly joined her husband during his imprisonment in the Tower of London, but they were later allowed to retire to their estates. She married 1st, 28 August 1656 at Swallowfield, William Bishop (d. 1660) of South Wanborough (Wilts), second son of Richard Bishop of London and Holway (Dorset). She married 2nd, 13 November 1662 at St Andrew, Holborn (Middx), her second cousin, Sir William Backhouse (c.1641-69), 1st bt. (created 9 November 1660), son of Nicholas Backhouse of London, merchant, and grandson of Rowland Backhouse (d. 1648) mentioned above; he served as High Sheriff of Berkshire, 1664. She married 3rd, 19 October 1670 at Swallowfield, as his second wife, Henry Hyde (1638-1709), Viscount Cornbury and later 2nd Earl of Clarendon, Chamberlain and Treasurer to Queen Henrietta Maria and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, 1685-87; his sister was Duchess of York and his nieces ascended the throne as Queen Mary II and Queen Anne. She had issue:
(1.1) Anna Bishop (b. 1657), baptised at Swallowfield, 1 November 1657; died in infancy;
(1.2) William Richard Bishop (b. & d. 1659), baptised 24 March 1658/9; died in infancy and was buried at Swallowfield, 30 July 1659.
She inherited Swallowfield Park on the death of her mother in 1663, and it passed with her marriage to her second and third husbands. Lord Clarendon rebuilt the house and after his death it passed to his son and heir by his first wife, who sold it in 1718.
She died 17 July 1700 and was buried at Swallowfield. Her first husband died 3 March 1660/1. Her second husband died 22 August 1669 and was buried at Swallowfield with an expensive and elaborate funeral arranged by Elias Ashmole, Windsor Herald; she erected a monument to his memory in 1670; administration of his goods was granted 14 October 1669. Her third husband died 31 October 1709 and was buried at Westminster Abbey on 4 November 1709; administration of his goods was granted 11 May 1713 and 2 March 1747/8.
Burke's Extinct and Dormant Baronetcies, 2nd ed., 1841, p. 31; Lady Russell, Swallowfield and its owners, 1901, passim; G. Beard, Craftsmen and interior decoration in England, 1660-1820, 1981, p. 262; J. Harris, William Talman: maverick architect, 1983, pp. 24-26; Wessex Archaeology, Swallowfield Park: landscape and building study, 2007; G. Tyack, S. Bradley & Sir N. Pevsner, The buildings of England: Berkshire, 2nd ed., 2010, pp. 555-57.
Location of archives
No significant archive is known to survive.
Coat of arms
The arms normally recorded for this family and blazoned above are: Or, a saltire ermine. However, in 1568 Nicholas Backhouse recorded his arms at the Visitation of London as Per saltire Azure and Or, a saltire couped Ermine.
Revision and acknowledgements
This post was first published 12 August 2017 and revised 11 December 2017. I am most grateful to Simon Wright for sharing his understanding of the development of Swallowfield Park with me.