Sunday 22 July 2018

(338) Baker of Sissinghurst, baronets

Baker of Sissinghurst
There is an ancient Chinese proverb which is usually translated as "Rags to riches and back again in three generations", and the story of the Bakers of Sissinghurst - if not quite such a stark progress - definitely has something of that feel. They began, indeed, with a good deal more than rags, as at least two generations before Sir John Baker (c.1487-1558) were minor landowners around the borders of Kent and Sussex. He was bequeathed property in 1496 by his grandfather, Thomas Baker of Cranbrook, but in 1504 his father revoked this legacy and substituted it for an annuity of £10 until the age of twenty-four, in order to have his son educated at Middle Temple. He had been called to the bar by 1506, when he was only about nineteen: a precocity suggestive of exceptional ability and application. He was quick to attract official notice, and in 1514-15, while still under thirty, he was sent as an ambassador to Denmark. His public career began on his return, when he was made a JP for Kent and soon afterwards Under-Sheriff of London. He was Recorder of London from 1526 and was regularly returned as an MP from 1529, but the real step up in his fortunes occurred after 1536, when he was appointed Attorney General. He was knighted and sworn of the Privy Council in 1540, when he succeeded Thomas Cromwell as Chancellor of the Exchequer and Chancellor of the Court of Augmentations. His career was that of one of Henry VIII's 'new men', plucked from obscurity, promoted on merit, and with his allegiance guaranteed by his financial dependence on his court appointments. In 1543 he became additionally Under-Treasurer of England, and in 1547 he was made an assistant Trustee of Edward VI. In his official roles, and especially as Chancellor of the Court of Augmentations, he played a key role in the process of disposing of the assets the Crown had seized at the Dissolution of the Monasteries, and he profited personally from the Dissolution, acquiring the site and lands of the New Priory at Hastings (Sussex). To all appearances, he was an enthusiastic supporter of the new Protestant orthodoxy, but it would seem that he had a change of heart as he grew older, for he became one of the leading voices on the privy council for religious conservatism in the final years of Henry VIII's reign. He was the privy councillor most reluctant to give his assent to the will of Edward VI by which his half-sisters Mary and Elizabeth were excluded from the succession to the throne, and after Mary I became Queen in 1553 he kept his official appointments and blossomed as an active proponent of the Catholic revival. Foxe's Book of Martyrs (1563) recorded him as 'Butcher Baker', a zealous persecutor of Protestants, and although the soubriquet 'Bloody Baker' (first recorded in 1850) was probably a Victorian invention, his reputation does seem to be based on authentic oral traditions in the Cranbrook area. He was not instantly deprived of his offices on Queen Elizabeth's accession, but it seems unlikely he would have kept them in the long term, though this was not put to the test as he died just a month after Queen Mary herself.

Even before the Dissolution of the Monasteries produced a glutted land market in which it was easy to buy land at knock-down prices, Sir John was investing the profits of his legal career in the expansion of the small estate he had inherited from his father. At the end of his life he had amassed a total of some 15,000 acres, chiefly in Kent and Sussex but with smaller properties scattered across southern England. His key purchase was that of Sissinghurst (Kent) in 1533, where he built a new brick gatehouse soon after his purchase, to add consequence to the existing semi-timbered manor house. It used to be thought that he had built much more, but Sir John was essentially an urban, Court, figure, who regarded land primarily as an investment, and Sissinghurst was for him no more than an occasional retreat in a part of the country where his family could claim some roots. By his second marriage, Sir John had two sons and three daughters. The sons were educated at the Inns of Court, and followed their father into Parliament, but they were not cut from the same cloth as their father, and after his death their public careers were not pressed further. The younger son, John Baker (c.1531-c.1606) seems to have abandoned public life altogether; while the elder, Sir Richard Baker (c.1530-94), who had a position in the county to uphold as inheritor of the Sissinghurst estate, performed local offices when they were thrust upon him but never sought election to Parliament again. Nonetheless, it was Sir Richard Baker who transformed Sissinghurst into an Elizabethan great house, building a new quadrangle of buildings between the medieval manor house and his father's gatehouse in a style which mixed traditional Tudor forms with up-to-date classical references and a French-inspired plan. Work was no doubt complete by 1573, when Queen Elizabeth I paid him a three-day visit on her progress into Kent, and he was knighted at Dover a few days later.

Like his father, Sir Robert produced two sons and three daughters. The elder son, John Baker (d. 1596), did not long survive his father, and very little is known about his career, although it would appear that he lived mainly in London. He in turn left two sons, of whom the elder, Sir Henry Baker (c.1587-1623), 1st bt., inherited Sissinghurst at the age of about ten. He was educated at Oxford and the Middle Temple, was knighted in 1606, and was among the prosperous gentlemen invited by King James I to accept the honour of (and pay the fees for) a baronetcy in 1611. He died even younger than his father, and was succeeded by his son, Sir John Baker (c.1608-54), 2nd bt., who was High Sheriff in 1633 and sat as an MP in the Short Parliament of 1640. Sir John was a Royalist in the Civil War, although Kent was a largely Parliamentarian county, and he must have been highly active in the early years of the war, since he was later fined the very large sum of £5,000 (later reduced to £3,000) for his delinquency, and his estate was sequestered. Parliament cut down all the valuable timber on the estate before Sir John was eventually able to pay the fine in 1652 and redeem his property. Paying even the reduced sum was problematic, and required him to mortgage his Kentish estates to the hilt, suggesting that even before the Civil War it was encumbered. Never again did the family recover its former prosperity. Sir John died in 1654, and Sissinghurst passed to his only surviving son, Sir John Baker (c.1635-61), 3rd bt., who refinanced the mortgage in 1657 to obtain more capital, which he expended on repairing the park pale. He was, presumably, trying to recover the fortunes of the estate, but he died in his mid-20s in 1661. As there was no male heir, the baronetcy thereupon became extinct, and Sissinghurst and his Kentish property passed to his widow and then to his four surviving daughters and their husbands. Lady Baker, who married again but was eventually separated from her second husband, Capt. Sir Philip Howard, seems to have been the last member of the Baker family to actually live at Sissinghurst, but after her daughters married she moved to London and the estate slipped into dereliction.

Sir John's four daughters were Elizabeth (c.1657-1705), the wife of Robert Spencer; Anne (d. 1685), the wife of Edmund Beaghan (c.1656-1725); Mary (d. 1714), the wife of John Dowell (d. 1609) and Katherine (d. 1734), the wife of Roger Kirkby (d. 1708). Edmund Beaghan, who lived at East Bradenham (Norfk), inherited the share allocated to his wife as she died before her mother, and seems to have tried to reunite the estate. Elizabeth, who was childless, bequeathed him her share in 1705, and he bought Katherine's share too. Only Mary's share evaded him, and descended in the Dowell family from Gloucestershire. Edmund left his three-quarters of the estate to his son by his third marriage, Edmund Hungate Beaghan (1703-55), who in 1730 sold his interest to Sir Horace Mann. He finally completed the reunification of the estate when he bought the Dowells' share in 1744, but by then the house and park were derelict, and after the property was leased to the Government for use as a prisoner of war camp during the Seven Years' War (1756-63), most of the buildings were pulled down, leaving only the structures which survived to be restored and made the centre of a famous garden in the 20th century. 

Sissinghurst Castle, Kent

Sissinghurst Castle: the long range incorporating the gateway built for Sir John Baker in the 1530s. Image: Nicholas Kingsley. Some rights reserved.

Sir John Baker (c.1487-1558) bought Sissinghurst in 1533. It was at that time a small semi-timbered manor house, and he built a new gatehouse of fashionable brick soon afterwards. This survives and is now the centre of a long low two-storey range. It has a high tiled roof and Gothic windows under hoodmoulds; the moulded brick tracery is modern but effective. On the outward face of the range, two gabled brick three-storey projections flank an entrance with a four-centred arched doorway. On the inner face, the gable is over the archway, and there are two tall chimneystacks beside it. The coat of arms over the archway, dated 1548, was brought from Carnock (Stirlings.) in the 20th century. The brick range was extended to either side, probably as part of the next, late 16th century phase of development.

Sissinghurst Castle: the gatehouse built for Sir John Baker in the 1530s. Image: Nicholas Kingsley. Some rights reserved.

Sir John Baker never lived full-time at Sissinghurst, although it became the centre of his cluster of Kentish estates. When he died in 1558, the medieval and early Tudor house was rather dated and no longer reflective of either the wealth or the social status he had given his family. His son therefore began a great new courtyard house, sited between his father's gatehouse block and the medieval manor house to the east. His new house occupied three sides of a rectangle and was closed on the fourth side by a brick wall with a central very tall gatehouse; it was no doubt completed in time for Sir Richard to entertain Queen Elizabeth here in 1573. Only the tall gatehouse and its flanking walls now survive of this second house, but the rest of the building is recorded in an 18th century engraving and bird's eye view.

Sissinghurst Castle: the courtyard of the new house built c.1558-73 for Sir Richard Baker. Image: National Trust/Charles Thomas.

The mid 16th century house was built on the axis of the entrance archway through the earlier range, but not parallel to it, which suggests that even in the later house there was a relaxed attitude to symmetry. There are, however, signs of Continental and Renaissance influence in the plan and decoration. The layout, with only a blank wall and central gatehouse closing one side of the courtyard, was derived from French early 16th century exemplars and remained unusual in England.
Sissinghurst Castle: the gatehouse tower of the mid 16th century house, showing the sections
of classical entablature over the windows. Image: Nicholas Kingsley. Some rights reserved.
The form of the four-storey gatehouse tower is a rectangle with octagonal turrets attached to the middle of the short sides, which are carried up higher than the tower and originally terminated in bulbous cupolas (now replaced by shingled caps with big weathervanes, dated 1839). Thus far, the tower is straightforwardly Tudor, but the decorative detail is beginning to turn classical: on the outward face the central windows have sections of entablature where one might expect to find hoodmoulds; and on the inner face there is a round arch with two superimposed orders of Tuscan pilasters framing the arch and the window above. There were further classical references in the demolished parts of the house, too, including the hall porch with two tiers of coupled columns, and the doorways of the lodgings that occupied the ranges on either side of the courtyard. Sadly, nothing seems to be known of the interior decoration of the Elizabethan house. The medieval manor house to its rear was retained as service accommodation, and the medieval great hall there may also have remained in use. There were some improvements in the 17th century, most notably in 1639 when a detached new chapel was created close to the house and given a Laudian interior. Around the house, Sir Richard laid out a new deer park, enclosed by a bank and oak pale some seven miles long. The line of the bank is set precisely on the skyline as viewed from the top of Sir Richard's new gatehouse tower, ensuring that if the tower was used as a standing from which to view the chase, the hunters and their quarry would never pass over the crest of the hill. The park remained important to the Bakers long after they had ceased to make much use of the house, and the park fence was kept in repair until the end of the 17th century.

In 1730, the house was sold to Sir Horace Mann (1706-86), 1st bt., who was a long-term resident in Florence (Italy). During the Seven Years War (1756-63), he leased the house to the Crown for use as a prisoner of war camp, and up to 3,000 men were held here under guard. The gatehouse tower was occupied by French naval officers, who left their mark in the form of ship graffiti cut into the plaster on the walls, while another inmate painted a bird's eye view of the house, which shows clearly the relationship of the surviving and lost components of the house. The house was referred to by the French prisoners as the 'Chateau de Sissinghurst' and is said in this way to have acquired its modern name of Sissinghurst Castle, which had not previously been in use.

Sissinghurst Castle: detail of a bird's eye view of the house, painted by an inmate while it was in use as a prisoner of war camp for French troops, and depicting an incident in which two prisoners were killed. Image: National Trust Images/John Hammond.

Seven years of prison use took its toll on the old house: the prisoners trashed the buildings, destroying the Elizabethan panelling and marble fireplaces, burning the pews and altar rails in the chapel, and leaving the garden 'without a stump above ground'. As a result, once the house had been decommissioned as a prison in 1763, most of the house was pulled down. In 1796 the remnants were leased by Cranbrook parish as a workhouse for 100 inmates. This may have continued to function until 1836, when the parish workhouses were all closed down and sold off with the introduction of the new and much harsher Poor Law of 1834. At this point, the remnants of the house seem to have been occupied by the Cornwallis family, who repaired the gatehouse in 1839. In the early 20th century the house was used as a farmhouse, until it was bought in 1930 by Vita Sackville-West and her husband Harold Nicolson. They restored the Elizabethan tower and laid out the famous gardens in 1931-32 with the assistance of A.R. Powys, the Secretary of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings. In the long 16th and 17th century entrance range the former stables became a large library and entertaining room. 

Sissinghurst Castle: the library created for the Nicolsons in 1935 by A.R.Powys in the long entrance range.
Image: Nicholas Kingsley. Some rights reserved.

Sissinghurst Castle: the garden created by Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson from the Elizabethan tower.
Image: Tony Hisgett. Some rights reserved.
The gardens are one of the finest examples of the Edwardian and pre-war fashion for outdoor 'garden rooms', where hard landscaping, hedges and trees provide an underlying formal structure to the garden, which is contrasted with the soft and informal planting of shrubs, perennials and annuals for scent and colour. A restoration of the remaining buildings was undertaken by Francis Pym in 1963-64 to create a house for Nigel Nicolson before he handed the site over to the National Trust in 1967. Since then, the garden has been open to the public, although much of the house has continued to be the home of the Nicolson family. They have worked with the National Trust to add features to the gardens, including an octagonal weatherboarded gazebo with a tall conical roof, designed by Francis Pym in 1969 as a memorial to Harold Nicolson, and a large timber boathouse (known as The Erechtheum) with Tuscan colonnades on two levels, designed by Andrew Clark of Purcell Miller Tritton in 2002.

Descent: sold 1533 to Sir John Baker (c.1487-1558), kt.; to son, Sir Richard Baker (c.1530-94), kt.; to son, John Baker (d. 1597); to son, Sir Henry Baker (c.1587-1623), 1st bt.; to son, Sir John Baker (c.1608-53); to son, Sir John Baker (c.1635-61), 3rd bt.; to daughters as co-heirs; the widower of Anne (d. 1685), Edmund Beaghan (c.1656-1725) acquired three-quarters of the estate; to son, Edmund Hungate Beaghan (1703-55), who sold 1730 to Sir Horace Mann (1706-86), 1st bt., who bought the remaining quarter in 1744 and let the house to Crown for prison use, 1756-63; sold 1764 to Edward Louisa Mann; to nephew, Sir Horace Mann... passed 1814 to Cornwallis family... sold 1903 to Barton Cheeseman; sold 1926 to William Wilmshurst (d. c.1927); to son, who sold 1930 to Vita Sackville-West (1892-1962), wife of Harold Nicholson (1886-1968); to son, Nigel Nicolson (1917-2004), who gave 1967 to National Trust which let it to him and then to his son, Adam Nicholson (b. 1957), who in 2008 succeeded as 5th Baron Carnock, though he does not use the title.

Baker family of Sissinghurst, baronets

Sir John Baker (d. 1558): an early 19th century copy
of a portrait from life. Image: NPG.
Baker, Sir John (c.1487-1558), kt. Eldest son of Richard Baker (d. 1504) of Cranbrook and his wife Joan, born about 1487. Educated at Inner Temple (admitted c.1504; called to bar by 1506; bencher 1517; reader, 1522, 1530 and governor on twelve occasions between 1532 and 1557). As a young man he was sent as ambassador to the King of Denmark, 1514-15, and he evidently undertook further diplomatic missions later. Barrister-at-law, in which he gained considerable eminence, and became Under-Sheriff of London, 1520-26 and Recorder of London, 1526-35. JP for Kent, 1515-58; Middlesex, 1537-58; Hertfordshire, 1537-40 and for Essex, Surrey and Sussex, 1538-40. MP for London, 1529, 1536; Guildford, 1542; Lancaster, 1545; Huntingdonshire, 1547;  Bramber, 1553 and Kent, 1554-58; he served as Speaker of the House of Commons in 1545 and 1547. He became Attorney General, 1536-40 and had been knighted by 18 June 1540He was sworn of the Privy Council 1540, and served four successive monarchs in that capacity and as Chancellor of First Fruits and Tenths, 1540-54 (a highly lucrative office, for the abolition of which he was compensated by an annuity of £233), Chancellor of the Exchequer, 1540-58 and Under-Treasurer of England, 1543-58. He was an assistant trustee of King Edward VI and was the privy councillor most reluctant to give his assent to the last will of Edward VI by which Mary and Elizabeth were excluded from the succession. Under Queen Mary he was active in the Catholic revival and according to Foxe's Book of Martyrs he was responsible for the deaths of many Protestant martyrs, although how much truth there is in these stories remains debatable. His fondness for burning those of differing religious beliefs seems to have been combined with a generally cultivated character. A contemporary described him as 'gravely serious and deeply learned in the law', and he seems to have been a bibliophile. He entertained Queen Mary at Sissinghurst. He married 1st, c.1523, Katherine (d. by 1524), daughter of Richard Sackville of Withyham (Sussex) and 2nd, by 1530, Elizabeth, daughter and heir of Thomas Dingley of Stanford Dingley (Berks) and widow of George Barrett of Aveley (Essex), and had issue:
(2.1) Sir Richard Baker (c.1530-94), kt. (q.v.);
(2.2) John Baker (c.1531-c.1605) (q.v.);
(2.3) Elizabeth Baker (d. 1583); married, c.1554, Sir Thomas Scott (c.1537-94), kt., of Scott's Hall (who m2, 1583, Elizabeth (d. 1585?), daughter of Ralph Heyman of Somerfield (Kent), and m3, Dorothy, daughter of John Bere of Horsman's Place, Dartford (Kent) but had no further issue), eldest son of Sir Reginald Scott, and had issue ten sons and four daughters; died 17 November 1583 and was buried at Brabourne (Kent);
(2.4) Cecily Baker (d. 1615); married, about 1554-55, Sir Thomas Sackville (c.1536-1608), 1st Baron Buckhurst and 1st Earl of Dorset, Lord High Treasurer of England, and had issue four sons and three daughters; died at Buckhurst Park, 1 October 1615;
(2.5) Mary Baker (fl. 1557); married John Tufton (c.1520-67) of Hothfield (Kent), son of Nicholas Tufton of Northiam (Sussex), and had issue three sons and eight daughters; living in 1557.
He inherited from his father (under the gavelkind system of partible inheritance) a quarter share in his lands in Kent and Sussex, but greatly expanded the estate, which came to comprise some 15,000 acres in all, chiefly in Kent and Sussex, but with outliers in Essex, Gloucestershire, Hampshire and Oxfordshire, as well as houses in Southwark and the city of London. On his second marriage he acquired the manor of Middle Aston (Oxon). He purchased Sissinghurst in 1533, and improved the medieval manor house by the addition of a new gatehouse soon afterwards. He was quick to profit from the purchase of lands of the dissolved New Priory at Hastings at the Dissolution of the Monasteries. 
He died 23 December 1558 and was buried at Cranbrook; his will was proved in the PCC, 30 January 1558/9. His first wife died before 1524. His second wife died before 1558 and was also buried at Cranbrook.

Baker, Sir Richard (c.1530-94), kt. Elder son of Sir John Baker (c.1487-1558), kt. and his second wife Elizabeth, daughter and heir of Thomas Dingley of Stanford Dingley (Berks) and widow of George Barrett of Aveley (Essex), born about 1530. Educated at Clifford's Inn (admitted 1548) and Inner Temple (admitted 1553; bencher, 1568). JP for Kent, 1558-94; High Sheriff of Kent, 1562-63 and 1582-83. MP for Horsham, 1554; Lancaster, 1554; New Romney, 1555 and New Shoreham, 1558. He entertained Queen Elizabeth at Sissinghurst for three days on her progress into Kent in July 1573, and was knighted at Dover, 31 August 1573. There is no evidence that he shared his father’s Catholic sympathies, although his second wife came from a Catholic family and his daughter Cecily was to be a recusant. He married 1st, 12 June 1552, Catherine, daughter of John Tyrrell, eldest son of Sir Thomas Tyrrell, kt., of Heron (Essex), and 2nd, 1569, Mary (d. 1609), daughter of John Gifford of Weston-sub-Edge (Glos), and had issue:
(1.1) Anne Baker (c.1555-1640?), born before 1557; married 1st, 1574, John Goodwin (1521-95?), son of Sir John Goodwin of Upper Winchendon (Bucks), and had issue; 2nd, by 19 April 1596, William Drew (d. 1599) of Hinton Ampner (Hants); and 3rd, 14 September 1608 at Hinton Ampner (Hants), William Sandys (d. 1623), 3rd Baron Sandys of The Vyne (Hants); perhaps the woman of this name who died 21 January 1639/40 and was buried at Bray (Berks), where she is commemorated by a monument;
(1.2) John Baker (d. 1596) (q.v.);
(1.3) Sir Thomas Baker (c.1557-1625), kt., of Whittingham (Suffk), Hinton-on-the-Green (Glos, now Worcs) and Butler's Place, Walthamstow (Essex), born about 1557; MP for Arundel (Sussex), 1601; knighted 1603; High Sheriff of Kent, 1604-05; married 1st, 28 October 1572 at Ingatestone (Essex), Grissel Barners and 2nd, 24 December 1601 at Church Oakley (Hants), Constance (d. c.1626), daughter of Sir William Kingsmill of Sydmonton Court (Hants), and had issue two sons and one daughter; died 10 April 1625;
(2.1) Grisagon alias Chrysogona Baker (1573-1616); married, 21 May 1590 at St Stephen Walbrook, London, Henry Lennard (1570-1616), later 12th Lord Dacre, son and heir of Sampson Lennard, and had issue one son and three daughters; buried 30 September 1616;
(2.2) Cecily Baker (1575-1619); married, 1594?, Sir Richard Blount (1564-1628), kt. of Mapledurham (Oxon), son and heir of Sir Michael Blount, and had issue four sons and five daughters; died 22 November or 21 December 1619.
He inherited Sissinghurst from his father in 1558, and had lands on both sides of the Kent-Sussex border, as well as a small iron forge at Cranbrook. He built a large new courtyard house between the medieval manor house and his father's gatehouse range, to which he was probably responsible for adding the surviving wings. He bought a house in London in 1582.
He died at Sissinghurst, 27 May 1594, and was buried at the heralds' insistence with considerable pomp and after an expensive procession from Sissinghurst, at Cranbrook, 18 June 1594. His first wife died before 1569. His widow married 2nd, 1594, Rt Rev. Richard Fletcher (1544-96), bishop of London, and 3rd, 1597, Sir Stephen Thornhurst (1550-1616) of Herne (Kent); she was buried in Canterbury Cathedral, 26 April 1609, where she and her last husband are commemorated by a monument.

Baker, John (d. 1596). Elder son of Sir Richard Baker (d. 1594), kt., and his first wife Catherine, daughter of John Tyrrell, born before 1557. He married Mary (b. c.1564), daughter of Sir Thomas Guildford, kt. of Hempsted (Kent) and had issue:
(1) Catherine Baker (b. c.1585; fl. 1640); married, c.1605, Sir Edward Yate (c.1578-c.1645), 1st bt., of Buckland (Berks), son of Edward Yate, and had issue; living in 1640;
(2) Sir Henry Baker (c.1587-1623), 1st bt. (q.v.);
(3) Joyce Baker (b. c.1590);
(4) Edward Baker (b. c.1593).
He inherited the Sissinghurst estate with 19 manors from his father in 1594. During his brief tenure of the estate, competition for wood between local ironmasters (including Baker) and clothiers led to reprisal raids on the deer park at Sissinghurst in 1594-95. 
He died in February 1595/6; his will was proved in the PCC, 13 May 1596. His widow's date of death is unknown.

Baker, Sir Henry (c.1587-1623), 1st bt. Elder son of John Baker (d. 1596) and his wife Mary, daughter of Sir Thomas Guildford, kt., born about 1587. Educated at Magdalen College, Oxford (matriculated 1600; BA 1603) and Middle Temple (admitted 1604). He was knighted at Oatlands, 15 July 1606 and created a baronet, 29 June 1611. He married, 27 February 1605 at St Gabriel, Fenchurch St., London, Catharine (d. 1629), eldest daughter of Sir John Smythe, kt., of Ostenhanger [Westenhanger, near Hythe] (Kent) and sister of Thomas Smythe, 1st Viscount Strangford, and had issue:
(1) Sir John Baker (c.1608-53), 2nd bt. (q.v.);
(2) Elizabeth Baker (1611-38), baptised at St Helen, Bishopsgate, London, 1 July 1611; married, 1628 (settlement 2 May), as his first wife, Sir Robert Parkhurst (1603-51), kt., of Pyrford (Surrey), MP for Guildford, 1625-40, and had issue two sons and two daughters; buried at Holy Trinity, Guildford, 13 September 1638;
(3) Thomas Baker (b. 1616); born 1616; probably died young;
(4) Henry Baker (1624-47), baptised at Cranbrook, 5 January 1624; died 1647.
He inherited the Sissinghurst estate from his father in 1597, but seems to have lived chiefly in London: initially in Lime St. and later in a new house in Covent Garden.
He died at Court of 'a contagious, spotted, or purple fever' and was buried at Cranbrook, 4 December 1623; his will was proved 6 May 1624. His widow married 2nd, George Lowe MP (d. 1639) of London, and died 8 July 1629; she was buried at Cranbrook, 10 July 1629.

Baker, Sir John (c.1608-54), 2nd bt. Only recorded son of Sir Henry Baker (d. 1623), 1st bt., and his wife Catharine, eldest daughter of Sir John Smythe of Ostenhanger [Westenhanger, near Hythe] (Kent), born about 1608. He was aged 11 at the herald's visitation of Kent in 1619, and succeeded his father as 2nd baronet, December 1623. High Sheriff of Kent, 1633-34. MP for Hastings, April-May 1640. He was a zealous Royalist and was fined £5,000 (later reduced to £3,000) in 1644; the fine remained unpaid until 1652, when Sir John mortgaged his entire Kentish estate to pay it off. He married, 9 December 1628 at St Peter-le-Poer, London, Mary* (1610-39), daughter of Sir Robert Parkhurst (c.1569-1636), kt., Lord Mayor of London, and had issue:
(1) Katherine Baker (d. 1633); died in infancy and was buried at Cranbrook, 8 October 1633;
(2) Mary Baker (d. 1636); died young and was buried at Cranbrook, 29 March 1636;
(3) Sir John Baker (c.1635-61), 3rd bt. (q.v.);
(4) Elizabeth Baker (c.1638-95); married 1st, William Anderson (c.1631-c.1660) of Kilnwick Percy (Yorks) and 2nd, c. October 1661, Sir Jonathan Atkins (c.1610-1703) of Henderskelfe Castle and Grimthorpe (Yorks); died 4 March 1694/5 and was buried at Great Givendale (Yorks);
(5) Robert Baker (d. 1639), buried at Cranbrook, 4 May 1639;
(6) Daniel Baker (b. & d. 1639), baptised at Cranbrook, 10 February 1638/9; died in infancy and was buried at Cranbrook, 12 February 1638/9.
He inherited the Sissinghurst estate from his father in 1623.
He died 15 January and was buried 25 January 1653/4. His wife died in 1639.
* The parish register entry for the wedding gives her name as Mary, but most secondary sources give her name as Eleanor or Elizabeth. Unfortunately the Cranbrook baptisms of her children record only the father's name. Sir Robert Parkhurst had daughters called both Elizabeth (b. 1602) and Mary (b. 1610), but Elizabeth married Thomas Harvey (d. 1623) and 2nd, Edmund Sawyer (d. 1676) and died in 1624, so on balance Mary is probably right.

Baker, Sir John (c.1635-61), 3rd bt. Only surviving son of Sir John Baker (c.1608-54), 2nd bt., and his wife Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Robert Parkhurst, kt, born about 1635. He succeeded his father as 3rd baronet, 15 January 1653. He married, about 1655, Elizabeth (c.1637-93), daughter and heir of Sir Robert Newton, 1st bt., of London, and had issue:
(1) Sarah Baker (d. 1669); died young and was buried at Cranbrook, 23 April 1669;
(2) Elizabeth Baker (c.1657-1705), eldest surviving daughter; married, 30 June 1691 at Cranbrook, Robert Spencer (d. 1699), but had no issue; buried at Cranbrook, 25 April 1705;
(3) Anne Baker (c.1658-85); married, 1682 (licence 11 December), Edmund Beaghan (c.1656-1725) (q.v.) and had issue one son (who died young); buried at Cranbrook, 11 February 1684/5;
(4) Mary Baker (d. 1714); married John Dowell (d. 1699) of Over Court, Almondsbury (Glos) and had issue one son; buried at Cranbrook, 1 April 1714;
(5) Katherine Baker (d. 1734); married Roger Kirkby (d. 1708) of Kirkby (Lancs), and had issue one son, who died young; buried at Cranbrook, 23 January 1733/4.
He inherited the Sissinghurst estate from his father in 1653, but the estate was heavily mortgaged; he refinanced the mortgage in 1657, raising further sums which he used to restore the park deer pale. At his death his estate passed to his widow and then in equal shares to his four daughters and their husbands. His eldest surviving daughter's husband eventually acquired three of the four shares.
He died 23 March 1661, when the baronetcy became extinct, and was buried at Cranbrook, 28 March 1661. His widow married 2nd, 23 April 1668 at St Martin-in-the-Fields, Capt. Sir Philip Howard (c.1631-86), and had further issue one son; they were separated when he realised she had tricked him over her jointure, and she died 16 November 1693; her will was proved in the PCC, 26 April 1694.

Beaghan, Edmund (c.1656-1725). Son of Peter Beaghan (d. 1683) of Dublin, born about 1656. Educated at Lincoln's Inn (admitted 1675). Gentleman farmer at East Bradenham (Norfk); a friend of Sir Robert Walpole, the Prime Minister. He married 1st, 1682 (licence 11 December), Anne (c.1658-85), daughter of Sir John Baker (d. 1661), 3rd bt. (q.v.); 2nd, 25 October 1687 at Canterbury (Kent), Martha (c.1659-94), daughter of Henry Hungate (d. 1668) of East Bradenham (Norfk) and widow of John Green (d. 1684) of East Bradenham; and 3rd, 30 November 1700 at St Mary-le-Strand, London, Catherine Thody (d. 1739); and had issue:
(1.1) Peter Beaghan (d. 1683); died in infancy and was buried at Cranbrook, 20 April 1683;
(3.1) Penelope Beaghan (d. 1777); will proved 15 July 1777;
(3.2) Jane Beaghan;
(3.3) Katherine Beaghan (1702-56), born at East Bradenham, 1 July 1702; married secretly, c.1725 (it was not acknowledged until 1742), George Bubb Dodington MP (1691-1762), later 1st Baron Melcombe, son of Col. Jeremiah Bubb, but had no issue; died 17 December and was buried at Westminster, 28 December 1756;
(3.4) Edmund Hungate Beaghan (1703-55) (q.v.);
(3.5) Peter Beaghan (1704-24), born at East Bradenham, 17 December 1704; died unmarried and was buried at East Bradenham, 1 March 1724;
(3.6) Frances Beaghan (b. 1715), baptised at East Bradenham, 29 December 1715; living in 1777;
(3.7) John Beaghan, third son; living in 1724.
He inherited two properties in Ireland which he sold before his death. He inherited a share of the Sissinghurst estate in right of his deceased wife in 1694, and a further share from her sister Elizabeth in 1705; he purchased a third share from her sister Katharine Kirkby (d. 1733). He lived at East Bradenham (Norfk).
He was buried at East Bradenham (Norfk), 18 January 1724/5; his will was proved in the PCC, 19 February 1724/5. His first wife was buried at Cranbrook, 11 February 1684/5.  His second wife died before 20 February 1694. His widow was buried 4 June 1739 or 15 March 1743/4.

Beaghan, Edmund Hungate (1703-55). Elder son of Edmund Beaghan (c.1656-1725) and his third wife Catherine, born at East Bradenham (Norfk), 13 October 1703. Educated at Inner Temple (admitted 1721/2) and Queens' College, Cambridge (matriculated 1722). MP for Winchelsea, 1734-41 and for Weymouth & Melcombe Regis, 1747-54, on the interest of his brother-in-law, Bubb Doddington. He married 1st, Martha [surname unknown] (d. 1743); 2nd, 29 June 1744 at St Chad, Shrewsbury (Shropshire), Elizabeth Seymour (d. 1758), and had issue:
(2.1) George Edmund Beaghan (b. 1745), baptised at St George, Hanover Square, London, 20 May 1745; educated at Middle Temple; living in 1769, when he sold his property in East Bradenham; an officer in 93rd Foot (Lt.); married, 15 July 1796, Mary Maria Develin (d. 1835) of Llanynys (Denbighs.); living in 1798;

(2.2) Catherine Beaghan (1747-76), baptised at Cranbrook, 4 May 1747; lived in Westminster (Middx); died unmarried; will proved 20 June 1776;
(2.3) Penelope Jane Beaghan (1749-1807), baptised at Cranbrook, 13 January 1749/50; married, 1778 at St George, Hanover Square, London, Robert Thomas, but had no issue; buried at St Marylebone (Middx), 11 September 1807; will proved 23 December 1807;
(2.4) Elizabeth Beaghan (b. & d. 1751), baptised 9 June and buried 25 June 1751.
He inherited a three-quarters share in the Sissinghurst estate from his father, but sold it in 1730 to Sir Horace Mann (who bought the remaining quarter in 1744). In 1764 a private Act of Parliament was passed for the sale of his remaining lands in Kent and Sussex to Edward Louisa Mann of Sissinghurst for the benefit of his son.
He died 15 July and was buried at Cranbrook, 18 July 1755. His first wife was buried at Cranbrook, 15 March 1743. His widow was buried at Cranbrook, 26 May 1758.

Baker, John (c.1531-c.1606). Second son of Sir John Baker (d. 1558), kt. and his wife Elizabeth, daughter and heir of Thomas Dingley of Stanford Dingley, and widow of George Barret, born about 1531. Groom of the Chamber by 1552. Educated at the Inner Temple (admitted 1553). MP for Horsham, 1554 and Bramber, 1554-55. His public career may have been entered upon at his father's insistence, as it was abandoned after his father's death. He married 1st, Katharine, daughter of Sir Reginald Scott, kt., of Scott's Hall (Kent), and 2nd, Martha [surname unknown], a widow, and had issue:
(1.1) Sir Richard Baker (c.1568-1645), kt. (q.v.);

(1.2) Thomas Baker (1577-1642), apparently the ancestor of the Bakers of Lismacue; an account of him is given in my post on that family.
He inherited three manors in Kent and the manor of Middle Aston (Oxon) from his father in 1558 and purchased the manor of Bereleigh at East Meon (Hants) in 1582.
He died in 1605 or 1606; his will was proved 14 April 1606. His first wife's date of death is unknown. His second wife survived him.

Sir Richard Baker (c.1568-1645)
Baker, Sir Richard (c.1568-1645). Son of John Baker of London and his first wife Katherine, daughter of Sir Reginald Scott, kt., of Scott's Hall, born about 1568. Educated at Hart Hall (matriculated 1584; MA by decree 1594) and at one of the Inns of Court, and then travelled on the Continent, journeying as far east as Poland. MP for Arundel, 1593 and East Grinstead, 1597. Knighted at Theobalds Palace by King James I, 1603. JP for Middlesex; High Sheriff of Oxfordshire, 1620-21. He made the mistake of becoming surety for some of the debts of his wife's family, as a result of which he was bankrupted in 1625 and reduced to poverty; his Oxfordshire property was seized by the Crown in 1625 and his other property was sold by 1635, when he took refuge in the Fleet Prison, where he spent the last ten years of his life. He does, however, seem to have kept his library of classical and modern authors with him, enabling to turn to the consolations of scholarship. It was while living in the Fleet that he composed his celebrated historical work, the Chronicle of the Kings of England (1643), which though popular in its time is too inaccurate to have much historical value; and a range of other classical and religious works, including Cato Variegatus (1636), Meditations on the Lord's Prayer (1637), A translation of New Epistles by Moonsieur D'Balzac (1638), Meditations and Disquisitions on the Seven Psalmes of David (1639), An apologie for Laymen's Writing in Divinity, with a Short Meditation upon the Fall of Lucifer (1641), Motives for prayer upon the seven days of the week (1642), a translation of Virgilio Malvezzi's Discourses upon Cornelius Tacitus (1642) and Theatrum Redivivum, or The Theatre Vindicated, a reply to the Histrio-Mastix of William Prynne (1662). His unpublished Meditations upon several of the psalms of David were collected and published in 1882. He is said also to have written an autobiography, the unpublished manuscript of which was burned by his youngest daughter's husband. After his death, his library was acquired by the Rt. Rev. John Williams, Archbishop of York, who gave the books to the chapter library of Westminster Abbey. According to the 18th century biographer, Andrew Kippis, "he was a person tall and comely, of good disposition and admirable discourse". He married, about 1600, Margaret (d. 1654), daughter of Sir George Mainwaring of Ightfield (Shropshire), and had issue:
(1) Sir Thomas Baker (b. 1602), perhaps baptised at Cranbrook (Kent), 16 May 1602; educated at Brasenose College, Oxford (matriculated 1617, aged 15; BA 1620) and Inner Temple (admitted 1621); knighted at Woodstock by King Charles I, 8 August 1625; lived at Kingston (Kent); married, 9 April 1629 at St Mary, Lambeth (Surrey), Frances, daughter of Sir Thomas Wilford of Ileden near Kingston (Kent) and had issue five sons and three daughters; living in 1642;
(2) Mainwaring Baker (b. 1603), baptised at Hornchurch (Essex), 16 February 1603/4; died young before 1617;
(3) Arthur Baker (c.1605-44); educated at Brasenose College, Oxford (matriculated 1617, aged 12; BA 1620) and Inner Temple (admitted 1621; called to bar, 1639); barrister-at-law; married, 18 July 1642 at St Mary, Lambeth, Catherine Powell, but had no issue; buried at the Temple Church, London, 2 April 1644;
(4) Anne Baker (b. 1607), baptised at St Giles Cripplegate, London, 22 March 1607;
(5) Margaret Baker; unmarried in 1651 when she was mentioned in her mother's will;
(6) Cecily Baker; perhaps dead by 1651;
(7) Frances Baker; married, 18 October 1645 at St Anne & St Agnes, London, Robert Smith, citizen and tailor of London; living in 1654.
He inherited the manors of Bereleigh at East Meon (Hants) and Middle Aston (Oxon) from his father in 1606, enlarged his property at Middle Aston by the purchase of the adjoining Nethercote estate in 1612, and may have rebuilt the manor house at Middle Aston, but his estate was seized by the Crown in 1625 for debts and Bereleigh was sold in 1631. In the early 17th century he lived at Highgate (Middx), and also had lands in Essex, Gloucestershire and Kent, but he was forced to sell all his estates to meet the debts for which he had stood surety.
He died 18 February 1644/5 and was buried at St Bride, Fleet St., London. His widow died in 1654; her will was proved 9 February 1653/4.


Burke's Extinct and Dormant Baronetcies, 2nd edn., 1841, pp. 32-33; Private Acts, 4 George III, cap. 50; C. Hussey, 'Sissinghurst Castle, Kent', Country Life, 8 August 1968, pp. 330-33; J. Musson, 'Sissinghurst Castle, Kent', Country Life, 5 September 2002, pp. 132-35; A. Nicholson, Sissinghurst: an unfinished history, 2008; A. Nicolson, 'Tudor Sissinghurst revealed', Country Life, 27 August 2008, pp. 62-63; J. Newman, The buildings of England: Kent - West and the Weald, 3rd edn., 2012, pp. 544-46; Sir John Baker, The men of court, 1440-1550, 2012, vol. 1, pp. 256-57; J. Lloyd, 'The legend of Bloody Baker', Folklore, vol. 125 (2), 2014, pp. 250-57; History of Parliament biographies of Sir John Baker (d. 1558), Sir Richard Baker (d. 1594), John Baker (d. 1606), and Sir Richard Baker (d. 1645).

Location of archives

Baker family of Sissinghurst, baronets: deeds and miscellaneous family, estate and legal papers survive among the records of the Mann and Cornwallis families [Kent Archives, U24]

Coat of arms

Azure, on a fesse between three swans' heads erased and ducally gorged or, as many cinquefoils gules.

Revision and acknowledgements

This post was first published 22 July 2018 and was updated 28 July and 1 October 2020, 14 June 2022 and 15 December 2023. I am grateful to Nina Green, Dart Montgomery, Steve Hunt and 'Genealogy Mutt' for corrections.

Sunday 8 July 2018

(337) Baker of Ranston, baronets

Baker of Ranston
The founder of this family was William Baker (1715-74), whose father was a yeoman farmer at Bromley in Worfield (Shropshire), where his ancestors can be traced back to the 15th century. William became a builder and speculative developer in London, but as far as I am aware there was no relationship to his namesake and near contemporary, the architect William Baker (1705-71), whose life took him in the opposite direction, from London to Herefordshire and later Cheshire. William the builder leased land from the Portman estate in St Marylebone and built Orchard St. and Portman St., as well as being the contractor for other Portman estate developments. He made a great deal of money from his activities and became a resident of Portman Square himself; he also acquired a suburban villa at Isleworth (Middx) called Wyke House, which was then a 17th century house, although rebuilt by later owners. Although William had three recorded sons, only one of them seems to have survived to maturity; he was Peter William Baker (1756-1815), who was educated as a gentleman at Eton, Cambridge and Lincoln's Inn. He was a man of cultivated tastes, who in 1781, the year of his marriage, used part of his inheritance to buy Ranston House at Iwerne Courtney (Dorset) from the Ryves family. Ranston had been recently and elegantly rebuilt for Thomas Ryves, and Peter turned his attention first to buying additional land to expand the park, and then to altering the landscaping. In about 1808, however, he began remodelling the house, to which he added flanking wings, and a new entrance front on the north side. 

Since Peter had no children of his own, the ultimate beneficiary of his investment in the property was his first cousin once removed, Sir Edward Baker Littlehales (1764-1825), 1st bt., who after a rapid rise through the ranks of the military became secretary to Lord Cornwallis as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in 1798-1801, and then Under Secretary of State for the military department in Dublin, a post which he held for a remarkable period of eighteen years. Sir Edward took the surname Baker as a condition of his inheritance in 1817, and a year or two later he retired from his post in Dublin to his estate in Dorset.

Sir Edward was succeeded in 1825 by his son, also Sir Edward Baker (1806-77), 2nd bt., who came of age in 1828 amid great local celebrations. After attending Oxford (where he did not take a degree) he gradually took up the offices expected of a leading county gentleman, but apart from an interest as a young man in horse-racing and the local yeomanry it is hard to detect much sign of his personal enthusiasms, and he remains a somewhat enigmatic figure. He never married, and in the 1860s he suddenly abandoned Dorset and relocated to London for the best part of a decade, visiting Dorset only for the occasional Friendly Society dinner. It is surprising to find that his return to Dorset in 1876 was greeted with spontaneous demonstrations of enthusiasm from his tenants and fellow-landowners, and when he died the following year the press tributes remained unusually warm.

Sir Edward was succeeded by his only surviving brother, the Rev. Sir Talbot Hastings Bendall Baker (1820-1900), 3rd bt., who was the youngest of the four sons of the first baronet, and went into the church. He was vicar of Preston (Dorset) from 1848-78, but on coming into his inheritance he gave up his benefice and moved to Ranston, although he  remained a prebendary of Salisbury Cathedral until his death. His first marriage produced only one child, a daughter who died young, and in 1875 he married again, to a woman 27 years his junior, who bore him four children: one son and three further daughters.

The only son, Lt-Col. Sir Randolf Littlehales Baker (1879-1959), 4th bt., inherited Ranston in 1900 and was MP for North Dorset before and during the First World War, when he combined his parliamentary role with a commission in the Dorset Yeomanry, in which capacity he was wounded and acquired the DSO on two occasions. After the First World War, he married a widow and had one daughter, Selina Littlehales Baker (1925-2010), who inherited Ranston on his death. After lack of maintenance in the Second World War, the house proved to be riddled with dry rot, and in post-war conditions it was far too big for the needs of Selina and her husband William Gibson Fleming and their two children. When many families would simply have flattened the house and moved to a smaller property on the estate, however, they decided on the radical solution of keeping the most important features of the house - the mid 18th century garden front and the richly decorated staircase - and incorporating them into a smaller house on the same site. The work was carried out in 1960-63 under the direction of Louis Osman, resulting in the present modest house, which is now the residence of their son, James Randolf Gibson Fleming (b. 1958) and his family.

Ranston House, Iwerne Courtney, Dorset

The Ryves family acquired Ranston in 1544, and the earliest house of which anything is known was built for John Ryves in the 1620s. It appears to have been a square triple-pile house with gabled side elevations and probably also gabled front and rear elevations, and this remained the basic fabric of the house until the mid 20th century.

Ranston House: the house from the north-west before reduction, showing the gabled side elevation surviving from the 17th century house. Image: Historic England AA60/373

Ranston House: engraving of 1779 by William Watts showing the new front elevation built for Thomas Ryves c.1753, and the contemporary landscaping.
In the mid 18th century, the house was altered for Thomas Ryves (d. 1788). who built a new grand Palladian west front of five bays and two storeys, with giant pilasters supporting a pediment over the central three bays. The fenestration of the new front reveals that the piano nobile was unusually tall, with a low basement below it and roughly square attic windows above. The pilasters, quoins and basement were of Portland stone, but the plain walling was coated with stucco, giving a pleasing two-tone effect to the elevation. Behind the new front were completely new interiors, including a large saloon and drawing room, and a staircase with Rococo plasterwork and a scrolled ironwork balustrading dated 1753. 

Ranston House: watercolour of the staircase hall by Rebecca D. Orpen, 1863, from collection of at Baddesley Clinton (Warks). Image: © National Trust / Claire Reeves.

According to William Watts (who gives the date of 1758 for the refronting), the new front was designed by Thomas Ryves himself, but it is thought that either John Bastard of Blandford Forum or Francis Cartwright, his successor as the leading local architect, were involved to give practical interpretation to his ideas, and they were almost certainly also responsible for the internal decoration. The plasterwork on the staircase walls and ceiling was designed to accommodate four large canvases by Andrea Casali, an Italian painter from Civitavecchia who worked in England between 1741 and 1766, which represented the arts of painting, sculpture, music and architecture. The personification of architecture was a seated figure holding a partially rolled drawing of the new front of Ranston. There were further works by Casali in the house, including a St. Cecilia on the drawing room ceiling and a copy of Titian's Cupid Blinded. The overall effect impressed visitors: Edward Gibbon noted in his journal 'Mr Reeve's small [estate]... laid out and finished with the most refined taste and elegance'. Alongside the remodelling of the house, Ryves evidently laid out the grounds with a small serpentine lake spanned by a three-arch bridge (which survives) and a summer house with a rusticated arched entrance, which had been converted into a grotto by 1813.

In 1781 Thomas Ryves sold Ranston to Peter William Baker (1756-1815) for 12,000 guineas. In 1789 he made the further purchase of land to the west from the Pitt family's Shroton estate, and this enabled him to extend the park and to lay out a carriage circuit around the western parkland. Baker's purchase also included the former Shroton manor house, which he demolished, using the stone of which it was built to construct a park wall around the north-west corner of the park so as to screen the carriage circuit from the village. He also created a new lake, about twice as far from the house as the earlier one.

Ranston House: east front as remodelled by P.W. Baker in 1808. Image: Historic England AA60/367

In 1808, Baker began enlarging the house, adding a new and unexpectedly informal east entrance front, which was six windows wide with a large two-storey canted bay occupying the left-hand half of the facade, and an off-centre entrance with a Tuscan porch on the right. This new elevation was linked by two-bay single-storey linking corridors with screens of coupled Doric columns on the east side which were probably originally open, to a pair of single-storey pavilions with hipped roofs. The pavilion on the north contained a substantial new library. At the same time, Baker removed the perron shown on the Watts view of the west front, which was no longer needed now that the house was entered on the east side.

On Baker's death the house passed to his first cousin once removed, Sir Edward Baker Littlehales (1764-1825), 1st bt., who was required to take the surname Baker as a condition of the inheritance. The property descended in his family until the death of Sir Randolf Littlehales Baker (1879-1959), 4th and last baronet, by which time it was badly affected by dry rot. Sir Randolf's daughter and heir, Selina, and her husband, Major W.H. Gibson Fleming, at first decided to demolish the house completely and to replace it with a much smaller modern house, but they had a considerable affection for the old building and were soon persuaded by their architect, Louis Osman, who had been taught in the classical tradition by Sir Albert Richardson and Hector Corfiato, that it would be more satisfactory and cheaper to reduce the old house back to its original dimensions, and to make it sound and manageable while retaining the Georgian elegance of the original. 

In the end, they retained the west front, but demolished the rest of the building and built what was in effect a completely new house with a steel and concrete frame behind the old facade, under a new pyramidal roof. The house has an entirely different plan to its predecessor, but as much as possible of the old internal joinery, fixtures and fittings was salvaged, fumigated, and re-used in the new building, which thus preserves something of the character of an 18th and early 19th century house.

Ranston House: the surviving west front and the new house built behind it by Louis Osman, 1960-63.

A simple new entrance front was created on the east side, with a Vanbrughian doorcase and a Venetian window above it, lighting the staircase hall, the plasterwork and joinery of which were reused from the earlier house, complete with the Casali paintings. The house also introduced a number of innovative contemporary ideas, including ramps which allowed cars to drive into and out of the basement, where passengers could alight under cover. The building is said to have been executed at about half the cost of a traditional new house of the same size. In 2006 the bridge and weir in the grounds were restored, winning the Georgian Group award for the restoration of a Georgian garden or landscape.

Descent: Thomas Ryves (d. 1788) sold 1781 to Peter William Baker (1756-1815); to first cousin, once removed, Sir Edward Baker Littlehales (later Baker) (1764-1825), 1st bt.; to son, Sir Edward Baker (1806-77), 2nd bt.; to brother, Rev. Sir Talbot Hastings Bendall Baker (1820-1900), 3rd bt.; to son, Sir Randolf Littlehales Baker (1879-1959), 4th bt.; to daughter, Selina (1925-2010), wife of William Harry Gibson Fleming (1918-81), who handed over the estate c.1981 to her son, James Randolph Gibson Fleming (b. 1958).

Baker family of Ranston House, baronets

Baker, William (1715-74). Son of John Baker (1686-1727) and his wife Sarah (d. 1764), daughter of Henry Grainger of Kingston, born at Bromley (Shropshire), 10 April and baptised at Worfield, 2 May 1715. "A great London builder, who made a large fortune", Baker was responsible for the development of the earliest parts of the Portman Estate property in Marylebone (Orchard St. and Portman St.), and also acted as a contractor for later developments; Baker Street was named in his honour. Alderman of the City of London. He married 1st, 20 or 23 September 1737 at Westminster Abbey, Sarah, daughter of [forename unknown] Arthura and widow of [forename unknown] Bilbey of London, and 2nd, 1751 at St. Paul's Cathedral, London, Martha (d. 1775), daughter of Peter Storer of Church House, Highgate, and had issue including:
(2.1) William Henry Baker (b. 1754), baptised at St. Marylebone (Middx), 21 July 1754; died young before 1774;
(2.2) Peter William Baker (1756-1815) (q.v.);
(2.3) Storer John Baker (b. 1760), born 9 April and baptised at St James, Piccadilly, Westminster (Middx), 30 April 1760; died young before 1774.
In 1759 he inherited substantial property at Ashford, Bethnal Green and Isleworth (Middx), Great Baddow (Essex) and in Bedfordshire in right of his second wife from her brother, Peter Storer junior. He lived in Portman Square, London, and at Wyke House, Sion Hill, Isleworth (Middx). 
He died in Portman Square, London, 23 February 1774 and was buried at Ashford (Middx); his will was proved, 28 February 1774. His first wife died before 1751. His widow died in 1775; her will was proved 10 April 1775.

Baker, Peter William (1756-1815). Only son of William Baker, builder, of London, Bromley (Shropshire) and Wick House, Sion Hill (Middx), and his wife Martha, daughter of Peter Storer of Highgate (Middx), born 12 September and baptised at St Marylebone (Middx), 30 September 1756. Educated at Eton, Trinity College, Cambridge (admitted 1774) and Lincoln's Inn (admitted 1773). MP for Arundel, 1781-84, Wootton Bassett, 1802-06 and Corfe Castle, 1807-15; he apparently never spoke in the House of Commons, but his voting record shows he was a staunch supporter of Henry Addington. High Sheriff of Dorset, 1787-88. He was a man of cultivated tastes, who built up a large library and laid out the grounds at Ranston. His portrait was painted by George Stubbs, 1782, and his wife was painted by Gainsborough, 1781; the latter picture is now in the Frick Collection. He married, 27 November 1781, Jane, daughter of James Clitherow of Boston Manor, Brentford (Middx), but had no issue.
He sold Wyke House, Isleworth to John Robinson in 1778 and purchased the Ranston estate from Thomas Ryves for £12,000 in 1781; he enlarged the park through the purchase of additional land in 1789, and remodelled the house c.1808. He also had a house in Spring Gardens, London, left to his widow.
He died in London, 25 August 1815 and was buried at Iwerne Courtney; his will was proved 30 August 1815. His wife died 26 December 1816 and was buried at Iwerne Courtney; her will was proved 2 January 1817.

Baker, Elizabeth (1709-60). Daughter of John Baker (1686-1728) and his wife Sarah, daughter of Henry Grainger of Kingston, born 7 September and baptised at Worfield, 15 September 1709. She married, in her sixteenth year, 8 August 1725 at Quatford (Shrops), Joseph Littlehales (1703-92) of Westminster, second son of Ralph Littlehales (1680-1730) of Dawley (Shrops), and had issue:
(1) Sarah Littlehales (1726-1801), baptised at St George the Martyr, Westminster (Middx), 13 November 1726; married, 4 May 1753 in Chapel Royal, St. James' Palace, London, Rev. William Sellon (c.1730-90) and had issue three sons and four daughters; died at Pinner Woods Farm (Middx), 21 July 1801;
(2) Baker John Littlehales (1732-82) (q.v.); 
(3) Anna Maria Littlehales; married, 2 December 1753 at St John, Smith Square, Westminster (Middx), Loring John Friswell of Boston, Massachusetts (USA), later captain of a company of rangers in America, who subsequently returned to London and was imprisoned for debt, 1778; she was living in 1774;
(4) Rev. Joseph Laurentius Littlehales (1750-1804), born 10 August and baptised at St John, Smith Square, Westminster (Middx), 5 September 1750; educated at Lincoln's Inn (admitted 1766) and as a 'ten year man' at Trinity College, Cambridge (admitted 1775; LLD); ordained deacon, 1774 and priest, 1776; curate of St James, Clerkenwell (Middx), 1774-79; rector of Grendon Underwood (Bucks), 1779-1804 and vicar of Brill with Boarstall (Bucks), 1790-1804; JP for Buckinghamshire; married, 6 December 1770 at St Andrew, Holborn (Middx), Margaret Vernon (1738-1819), daughter of Sir Crisp Gascoigne, kt., of Bifrons (Essex), and had issue one son and three daughters; died 16 February 1804; will proved 29 February 1804.
She died 9 August 1760. Her husband died at The Hague (Netherlands), 11 December 1792.

Littlehales, Baker John (1732-82). Son of Joseph Littlehales (1703-92) and his wife Elizabeth, daughter of John Baker, born 6 May 1732. Educated at Westminster School, Trinity College, Cambridge (admitted 1750) and Lincoln's Inn (admitted 1746). Barrister-at-law. He stood unsuccessfully as a candidate for Peterborough in the General Election of 1768. He married, 25 October 1759 at Hornsey Rise (Middx), Maria (d. 1796), illegitimate daughter of Bendall Martyn of Hornsey, esq., and Lydia Clare otherwise Hill, and had issue:
(1) Elizabeth Laura Littlehales (1760-1825), born 10 December 1760 and baptised at St. Andrew, Holborn (Middx), 7 January 1761; married, 14 April 1788 at St Giles, Reading (Berks), Thomas Willats (1762-1852?), of Kidmore End House, Caversham (Oxon) and had issue; her husband was imprisoned for debt in the King's Bench prison from 1817-34 as a result of a Chancery suit which prevented him receiving the rents of his estate; she died 'after a long and painful illness', 5 May, and was buried at St. George the Martyr, Southwark (London), 12 May 1825;
(2) Lyonel Martyn Littlehales (b. 1762), baptised at St Andrew, Holborn, 25 May 1762; said to be in Canada when his mother's will was made in 1794, and he perhaps died there;
(3) Sir Edward Baker Littlehales (later Baker) (1764-1825), 1st bt. (q.v.);
(4) Vice-Adm. Bendall Robert Littlehales (1765-1847), baptised at St Anne, Soho, Westminster (Middx), 25 May 1765; an officer in the Royal Navy (midshipman, 1778; Lt., 1790; Cdr., c.1795; Capt., 1800; Rear-Adm., 1830; Vice-Adm. 1840); married, 29 August 1803 at Batheaston (Somerset), Mary Anna, daughter of Thomas Cleather of Plymouth, and had issue; buried at Compton Bishop (Somerset), 12 August 1847; his will was proved 7 September 1847;
(5) Proby John Littlehales (b. 1766), born 11 June and baptised at St Anne, Soho, Westminster (Middx), 30 June 1766; probably died young;
(6) Rev. Verney Peter Littlehales (1769-1835), born 12 January and baptised at St Anne Soho, Westminster (Middx), 9 February 1769; educated at Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge (admitted 1787; scholar 1790; BA 1791; MA 1794); vicar of Croft (Lincs), 1793-97 and rector of Burton-by-Lincoln (Lincs), 1797-1813; prebendary of Southwell, 1812-13; resigned all his preferments in 1813 and took the name the Rev. Philip Lloyd; lived subsequently in London and Bologna (Italy); died unmarried, 1835; will proved 17 July 1835;
(7) Randall William Littlehales (1770-89), born 26 July and baptised at St Anne, Soho, Westminster (Middx), 24 August 1770; an officer in the East India Co's service; died unmarried at Madras (India), 8 July 1789;
(8) James Littlehales (b. 1771), born 19 November and baptised at St Anne, Soho, 16 December 1771; died before 1794;
(9) Maria Littlehales (b. 1773), born 16 October and baptised at St Anne, Soho, 13 November 1773; married, 30 April 1798 at Caversham (Oxon), Rev. Thomas Herbert Noyes (1758-1812) of East Mascalls (Sussex), vicar of Batheaston (Somerset), and had issue two sons; living in 1812;
(10) Rev. Storer Henry Charles Littlehales (1775-1811), born 17 May and baptised at East Molesey (Surrey), 13 June 1775; educated at Reading and Trinity College, Cambridge (matriculated 1793; scholar, 1796; BA 1797; MA 1804); ordained priest, 1799; rector of Clonmethan (Co. Dublin) and prebendary of St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin, 1803-11; also rector of Kill (Co. Kildare); died unmarried of typhus fever, contracted during his parochial duties, 12 May 1811.
He lived in Garrard St., Westminster, and at West Hatch, Chigwell (Essex) before moving to Moulsey Park (Surrey), where he rented the manor of West Molesey for some years from 1775. After his death his widow lived at Reading (Berks).
He died 30 October 1782; his will was proved 7 November 1782. His widow died 10 November 1796; her will was proved 19 November 1796.

Littlehales (later Baker), Sir Edward Baker (1764-1825), 1st bt. Second, but eldest surviving, son of Baker John Littlehales (1732-82) and his wife Maria Hill, daughter of Bendall Martyn, baptised at St Andrew, Holborn (Middx), 26 March 1764. Educated at Westminster School. An officer in the army (Ensign, 1780; Lt., 1783; Capt., 1790; Maj., 1796; Lt-Col., 1798; retired, 1802); private secretary to Lord Cornwallis as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, 1798-1801; Under-Secretary of State (military dept.) for Ireland, 1801-19. He was created a baronet, 20 September 1802, and assumed the name of Baker in lieu of Littlehales, 6 January 1817, in accordance with the will of his cousin, Peter William Baker (1756-1814) (q.v.). He married, 22 July 1805, Lady Elizabeth Mary (1780-1857), daughter of William Robert Fitzgerald, 2nd Duke of Leinster, and had issue:
(1) Sir Edward Littlehales Baker (1806-77), 2nd bt. (q.v.);
(2) Charlotte Elizabeth Baker (1808-48), baptised at St Werburgh, Dublin, May 1808; died unmarried at Torquay (Devon), 27 November, and was buried at Iwerne Courtney, 4 December 1848; will proved in the PCC, 10 January 1849;
(3) Emilia Maria Baker (1810-89), baptised at Chapelizod (Dublin), 1810; married, 22 July 1828 at St George, Hanover Square, London, Thomas Mills Goodlake (c.1808-77) of Wadley House (Berks), and had issue (one of whom, Lt-Gen. Gerald Goodlake, won the VC); died 31 July 1889;
(4) Geraldine Laura Baker (1811-69), baptised at St Werburgh, Dublin, 7 October 1811; married, 10 June 1847 at Littleworth (Berks), Hubert Hutchings (c.1812-98) (who m2., 1876, Catherine (1836-1914), daughter of James Farquharson of Invercauld) of Sandford Orcas Manor House (then Somerset, now Dorset); died 13 October and was buried at Sandford Orcas, 19 October 1869;
(5) William Leinster York Baker (1813-47), born 14 May 1813; an officer in 73rd regiment (Ensign, 1831; Lt., 1834; Capt., 1842; his promotion to Major was announced the day before he was killed); died unmarried when he was killed on active service near the Kei River (South Africa), 13 November 1847;
(6) Louisa Isabella Baker (1814-92), baptised at St Werburgh, Dublin, 14 July 1814; died unmarried, 22 January 1892;
(7) Wellington Charles Cecil Baker (1817-47), born 31 March 1817; educated at Eton; an officer in 23rd regiment (Ensign, 1835; Lt., 1838; Capt., 1844); died unmarried at Southampton, 22 March 1847 and was buried at Iwerne Courtney, 26 March 1847;
(8) Rev. Sir Talbot Hastings Bendall Baker (1820-1900), 3rd bt. (q.v.).
He inherited Ranston from his first cousin once removed, Peter William Baker, in 1815.
He died at Ranston, 4 March, and was buried at Iwerne Courtney, 12 March 1825; his will was proved 31 March 1825. His widow died 28 February and was buried at Iwerne Courtney, 6 March 1857; her will was proved 28 April 1857.

Baker, Sir Edward (1806-77), 2nd bt. Eldest son of Sir Edward Baker Littlehales (later Baker) (1764-1825), 1st bt., and his wife Lady Elizabeth Mary, daughter of William Robert Fitzgerald, 2nd Duke of Leinster, born 4 November 1806. Educated at Christ Church, Oxford (matriculated 1825). JP and DL for Dorset; High Sheriff of Dorset, 1832-33. President of the Dorset Friendly Society. An officer in the Dorset Yeomanry Cavalry (Capt.). He was a freemason from 1847. He was unmarried and without issue.
He inherited Ranston from his father in 1825. He lived away for about ten years but returned to the house in 1876.
He died unexpectedly of bronchitis in London, 28 March 1877; his will was proved 20 April 1877 (effects under £25,000).

Baker, Rev. Sir Talbot Hastings Bendall (1820-1900), 3rd bt. Fourth and youngest son of Sir Edward Baker Littlehales (later Baker) (1764-1825) and his wife Lady Elizabeth Mary, daughter of William Robert Fitzgerald, 2nd Duke of Leinster, born in Bath (Somerset), 9 September 1820.  Educated at Christ Church, Oxford (matriculated 1839; BA 1843; MA 1847). Ordained deacon, 1844 and priest, 1845. Curate of Brewood (Staffs), 1844-48; vicar of Preston (Dorset), 1848-78 and rural dean of Dorchester, 1870-77; chaplain to Bishop of Salisbury, 1862-69; prebendary of Salisbury Cathedral, 1868-1900. He was interested in archaeology, and excavated a Roman pavement and bridge at Weymouth in 1871. He married 1st, 17 July 1850 at Milborne Port (Somerset), Florence (c.1830-71), daughter of John Hutchings of Ludlow, and 2nd, 30 December 1875 at Shedfield (Hants), Amy Susan (1847-1940), daughter of Lt-Col. George Marryat, and had issue:
(1.1) Geraldine Emma Baker (1853-69), baptised at Iwerne Courtney, 13 December 1853; died young, 29 April and was buried at Iwerne Courtney, 5 May 1869;
(2.1) Florence Letitia Baker (1876-1973), born 16 November 1876; married, 20 July 1912 at Iwerne Courtney, Adm. Seymour Elphinstone Erskine CB (1863-1945), second son of Sir Henry David Erskine KCVO of Cardross, but had no issue; died aged 96, 23 February 1973; will proved 18 July 1973 (estate £33,819);
(2.2) Sir Randolf Littlehales Baker (1879-1959), 4th bt. (q.v.);
(2.3) Olive Elizabeth Baker (1883-84), baptised at Iwerne Courtney, 30 December 1883; died in infancy, 2 April and was buried at Iwerne Courtney, 7 April 1884;
(2.4) Eunice Evelyn Baker (1888-1967), baptised at Iwerne Courtney, 11 November 1888; lived at Burley (Hants); died unmarried 27 January 1967; will proved 1 May 1967 (estate £45,032).
He inherited Ranston from his elder brother in 1877 and retired from his incumbency to run the estate.
He died 6 April 1900; his will was proved 16 August 1900 (estate £70.930). His first wife died in London, 21 March 1871. His widow died aged about 92 at Mentone (France), 26 January 1940; her will was proved 9 December 1940 (estate £1,420).

Baker, Lt-Col. Sir Randolf Littlehales (1879-1959), 4th bt. Only son of Rev. Sir Talbot Hastings Bendall Baker (1820-1900), 3rd bt., and his second wife, Amy Susan, daughter of Lt-Col. George Marryat, born 20 July and baptised at Iwerne Courtney, 31 August 1879. He succeeded his father as 4th baronet, 6 April 1900. Conservative MP for North Dorset, 1910-18. An officer in the Dorset Yeomanry (2nd Lt., 1904; Lt., 1905; Capt., 1911; Maj. by 1915; Lt-Col. by 1918) who served in the First World War (wounded; mentioned in despatches; DSO and bar, 1918; TD). JP, DL and County Alderman for Dorset. He married 1st, 29 June 1920, Elsie (1885-1955), daughter of Robert George Burrell of St. Nicholas House, Thetford (Norfk) and widow of Maj. Alexander Boyd Cuninghame (1876-1917) of Makeni (Rhodesia), and 2nd, 8 October 1955, Mary Caroline (1897-1987), daughter of Augustus Scobell Orlebar of Hinwick House (Beds) and Tetworth Hall (Cambs), schoolmaster, and widow of Lt-Col. Frank Preedy DSO MC, and had issue:
(1.1) Selina Littlehales Baker (1925-2010) (q.v.).
He inherited Ranston from his father in 1900.
He died 23 July 1959 and the baronetcy became extinct on his death; his will was proved 16 October 1955 (estate £58,241). His first wife died 1 February 1955; her will was proved 27 May 1955 (estate £28,008). His widow died aged 90, 21 November 1987; her will was proved 29 January 1988 (estate £156,750).

Baker, Selina Littlehales (1925-2010). Only child of Sir Randolf Littlehales Baker (1879-1859), 4th bt., and his wife Elsie, daughter of Robert George Burrell of St. Nicholas House, Thetford (Norfk) and widow of Maj. Boyd Cuninghame of Makeni (Rhodesia), born 26 October 1925. Served in Second World War in Women's Land Army. She a was a keen horsewoman, hunted with the Portman Hounds, and ran a riding for the disabled group; in later life she turned to breeding racehorses with considerable success (her horse Mister Baileys set a course record time for the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket in 1994 which still stands). She married, 23 July 1955, Maj. William Harry (k/a Lem) Gibson Fleming (1918-81), who was High Sheriff of Dorset in 1966, and had issue:
(1) Anthea Margaret Gibson Fleming (b. 1956), born 25 December 1956; bloodstock adviser and racehorse breeder near Wantage (Berks); director of The Thoroughbred Breeders' Association, 2015-date;
(2) James Randolf Gibson Fleming (b. 1958) (q.v.).
She inherited Ranston from her father in 1959 and largely rebuilt it in a much smaller form in 1960-63; the reduction necessitated the sale of many family and other pictures which the new house could not accommodate. She handed the estate on to her son in about 1981.
She died 28 March 2010; her will was proved 16 July 2010. Her husband died 30 April 1981; his will was proved 20 July 1981 (estate £588,872).

Gibson Fleming, James Randolf (b. 1958). Only son of Maj. William Harry Gibson Fleming (1918-81) and his wife Selina Littlehales, daughter of Sir Randolf Littlehales Baker, 4th bt., of Ranston, born July 1958. Educated at Eton, the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst and the Royal Agricultural College, Cirencester. An officer in the Royal Hussars (Prince of Wales' Own) regiment, 1977-81; President of Queen's Own Dorset Yeomanry Association, 2010-date. Vice-Lord Lieutenant (from 2006) for DorsetRural entrepreneur; a director of several companies associated with the estate; Chairman of Hanfold plc, 1987-93 and of CLA Game Fair Board, 1992-97 and a Director of Wessex Internet Ltd. DL (from 2005). Trustee of the Talbot Village Trust (1991-date) and Cancer Care Dorset, 1994-2004 (Chairman, 2000-04); Vice-President of the Weldmar Hospice Care Trust. Holder of a private pilot's licence. Awarded an Honorary Doctorate in Business Administration by Bournemouth University, 2017. He married, 14 June 1986, Fiona Lucy (b. 1962), daughter of Robin Don of Elmham House (Norfk), and had issue:
(1) Hector Gibson Fleming (b. 1987), born July 1987; educated at Sherborne School and Exeter University (BSc); with Fortis Logistique, Republic of Congo, 2009-14 (Managing Director, 2010-14), EWI Capital, 2014-16, and Wessex Internet Ltd., 2016-date (Managing Director, 2017-date);
(2) William Robert Gibson Fleming (b. 1989); educated at Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst; an officer in the Army Air Corps (2nd Lt., 2012);
(3) Olivia Rose (k/a Livy) Gibson Fleming (b. 1992).
His mother handed over Ranston to him after the death of her husband in 1981.
Now living.


Burke's Peerage and Baronetage, 1924, p. 187; B. Botfield, Stemmata Botevilliana, 1858, pp. 117-21; Who was Who, 1951-60, 1961, p. 56; J.M. Robinson, The latest country houses, 1984, pp. 189-91; Who's Who 2013; M. Hill, East Dorset Country Houses, 2013, pp. 277-81; M. Hill, J. Newman & Sir N. Pevsner, The buildings of England: Dorset, 2018, pp. 331-32.

Location of archives

Littlehales (later Baker), Sir Edward Baker (1764-1825), 1st bt.: papers as private secretary to Lord Cornwallis in Ireland, 1798-1801 and Under-Secretary of State for Ireland, 1801-19 [National University of Ireland, Maynooth: Littlehales papers].
No substantial family or estate archive is known to exist, but it may remain in the custody of the family.

Coat of arms

Quarterly, 1st and 4th, argent, a castle between two crosses pattée, in chief, and a key in base, sable; on a chief, azure, two keys erect, or (for Baker); 2nd and 3rd, argent, on a bend cottised sable, three cinquefoils or; a chief, gules, charged with three arrows erect, points downwards, proper (for Littlehales).

Revision and acknowledgements

This post was first published 8 July 2018 and was updated 9 July 2018.