Monday 21 January 2019

(360) Banks of Sheppey Court and Oxney Court

Banks of Sheppey and Oxney
There can seldom have been a clearer example of a family which owed its prosperity to the career of a single self-made man. Sir Edward Banks (1770-1835), kt. had a remarkable career as a civil engineer, which took him from the humblest beginnings to fame, honours and wealth: when he died his estate was estimated at £250,000. His parentage is unknown, but he is said to have been born near Richmond in Yorkshire in 1770. According to one account he was first employed as an agricultural labourer, but then went to sea for a couple of years before taking up employment as a navvy, working on the construction of canals and sea defences. He left no memoir of his career, and as a result the stages by which he progressed from labourer to gangmaster to contractor are somewhat obscure. As late as 1793, when he married, he was still illiterate, and he had no known formal training in engineering, but it is evident that he was a quick study, capable of learning through observing the actions of others; that he set himself and his men to deliver the highest standards of workmanship; and that he possessed a natural business acumen. In 1807 he formed a rather unlikely partnership with a clergyman of gentry background, the Rev. W.J. Jolliffe, whose ability to access capital allowed him to take on bigger and more prestigious projects. His work-rate must have been phenomenal, as he not only sustained progress on several major schemes of different kinds simultaneously, but he also involved himself in non-engineering projects of bewildering diversity. Almost everything he touched was successful (with the significant exception of his plans to make Sheerness in Kent a popular watering place), and his reputation as a bridge-builder in London led him in 1822 to the become the first civil engineer to accept the honour of a knighthood. In the early part of his career he moved around with his work, but for some years after he moved south he lived at Chipstead (Surrey), where he established a family burial place and was eventually buried himself. By 1820 he was living at 1 Adelphi Terrace, near the Strand, a house designed by Robert Adam, and at about the same time he built himself Sheppey Court near Sheerness (Kent) as a rural retreat. In 1826 he also bought Oxney Court, between Deal and Dover on the Kent coast, which he presented to his eldest daughter, Mary Anne (c.1794-1836) and her husband, Richard Roffey (1794-1853).

Sir Edward is said to have had eight children by his first wife, who came from origins nearly as humble as his own, although I have been able to find records of only five sons and two daughters. Two of the sons died young, and another, who became an officer in the Royal Navy, died of his father's house at the age of 25. None of the others made old bones. His son and heir, John Franklin Banks (1797-1835) died a few months after his father, in November 1835; Mary Anne Roffey in 1836; his younger daughter, Margaret Ellen (who married the son of his partner) in 1839; and the last survivor, his son Delamark Banks, in 1846. It was Delamark Banks who succeeded to Sheppey Court, and when he died it passed to his orphaned son, Edward Henry Banks (c.1835-60), who seems to have led a short and dissolute life; Sheppey remained the property of the family until 1895, but was tenanted from 1860 onwards. 

Sir Edward had made over Oxney Castle to his elder daughter and son-in-law, Richard Roffey, but in 1844 when Roffey's daughter married her cousin, William John Banks (1822-1901), the son of John Franklin Banks, he emulated the generosity of his father-in-law and gave the house to the young couple. Although they seem to have rented other houses in the 1850s and 1860s, William and his wife (who died in 1874) also occupied Oxney, and William was succeeded there in 1901 by his only surviving son, Herbert Delamark Banks (1854-1931), who was a career army officer and remained unmarried. He let Oxney Court from about 1907, and it was requisitioned for military use during the First World War, when troops were quartered in the house and grounds. At some point during the war there was a fire, which destroyed the roof and caused the house to be abandoned. One account connected this with a Zeppelin raid in 1915 during which incendiary bombs were dropped at Oxney, but press reports of this event say explicitly that these bombs did no damage. In 1919, H.D. Banks sold the whole 800 acre estate except for a cottage known as the Dower House, where he lived an increasingly reclusive life until his death in 1931. Curiously, press reports of the sale make no mention of the fact that the house had been damaged by fire, and there are no press reports of the fire itself, possibly because of wartime reporting restrictions. Happily, the shell of the house survived the 20th century, and the exterior was reconstructed to the original design in 1999-2000.

Sheppey Court, Kent 

Sheppey Court: an engraving of the house in 1838, published in the Epitome of the History of Kent.

A plain two storeyed stuccoed house, of three bays by seven, built for Sir Edward Banks (1770-1835) before 1827, and probably while he was constructing the naval dockyard at Sheerness between 1812 and 1817, or soon afterwards. No architect is known for the house, and he may have designed it as well as building it himself. The main entrance was on the three-bay east front, which has a shallow Doric porch in antis, with low-silled sash windows to either side. The north and south sides are both of seven bays, but the north side has a secondary entrance, with a Greek Revival doorcase, placed off-centre on the third bay from the east. This does not appear in the engraving of 1838 above, and was presumably added when the original entrance hall and the rooms to either side were opened into one huge reception room in the late 19th century. The original staircase survives, with two stick balusters to each tread, scrolled tread ends and plain cylindrical newel posts. 

Sheppey Court was presumably the house which Sir Edward Banks offered to sell to the Admiralty in 1827 as a residence for the Port Admiral of Sheerness, although the sale evidently fell through, perhaps because the house was 'larger than would normally be provided for an Admiral'. In 1968, the house became a nursing home and a large flat-roofed block was added to the rear of the house for this purpose, to the designs of Dalgliesh & Co. The nursing home subsequently closed and the property was left empty and became derelict. Planning permission was given in 2007 for conversion to apartments, but lapsed before work was commenced. A further scheme by the current owners was approved in 2018, which involves the demolition of the 1960s block, the restoration of the original house as six apartments, and the construction of 33 new houses in the grounds.

Descent: built for Sir Edward Banks (1770-1835); to son, Delamark Banks (d. 1846); to son, Edward Henry Banks (c.1835-60); ... sold by Banks family 1895 ...H.J. Copland (fl. 1938)... sold 1968 for conversion to a nursing home, which built an additional block... Swale Housing Association (fl. 2007); sold to Bentley Developments.

Oxney Court, Kent

The Sedley family acquired the estate in the late 15th century and John Sedley, auditor to the exchequer of Henry VII, evidently built a new house here in the early 16th century. A building recording project undertaken by the Canterbury Archaeological Trust before the recent restoration of the house suggested that this house was semi-timbered apart from a brick chimneystack, and that it perhaps had a three-room linear plan. By the 17th century, the Sedleys - who had larger estates elsewhere - were leasing Oxney, and when the house was largely rebuilt in the late 17th century as a two storey brick house, this was probably the work of their tenants, the Jeken family, who farmed at Oxney for some 300 years. The new house again consisted of a single range, some eighty feet long, with an entrance porch in the centre and probably with shaped gables at either end. In the mid 18th century the Sedleys sold the freehold to the Fullers of Brightling Park, but the Jekens seem to have still been in occupation in 1780. It was probably John Jeken who began the process of remodelling Oxney in the Gothick style with crenellations and towers. The approach to the house was moved from the south to the north side, and a Gothick tower was built at the west end of the north front (and probably matched by a similar tower at the other end which has since been obliterated by later changes).

Oxney Court: design by Robert Lugar for enlarging the house, published in Villa Architecture, 1828.
In 1812, by which time the long tenancy of the Jekens seems to have come to an end, the estate was sold to John May of Deal, solicitor and banker, who did well out of the Napoleonic wars, when he had lucrative Government supply contracts (a source of wealth which dried up after the return of peace in 1815). He laid out a new driveway from the north-east complete with a lodge (now demolished), and added a new stable block. For work on the house itself he engaged Robert Lugar, who in about 1816 designed extensive additions and alterations that he recorded in plates in his Villa Architecture of 1828. His designs were only partially executed before May ran out of money and was obliged to sell up. The chief additions to be realised were the large octagonal gothic tower with its entrance porch at the east end of the building and the curved two-storey bow with Gothick glazing to the south of the tower. The main 17th century range of the house was also remodelled to create a sequence of four formal reception rooms, as well as several water closets and a bathroom, and the ground floor windows were given hoodmoulds. The work must have been largely complete by 1825, when J.P. Neale published an engraving of the house, in which it appears essentially as it does in an engraving of 1838 and later photographs.

Oxney Court: engraving of the house as actually altered by Robert Lugar, published by J.P. Neale in his Views of Seats, series II, vol. II, 1825.

Oxney Court: the house in a (digitally enhanced) early photograph, perhaps c.1860. 
In 1826 or 1827 the house was bought by Sir Edward Banks (1770-1835) for the use of his elder daughter and her husband, Richard Roffey, who probably had some work to do in tidying up incomplete alterations and fitting the house out. In 1831, when the property was advertised to let, it was said that "the premises have lately undergone a thorough repair, and are in every respect suitable for the accommodation of a family of distinction". It is notable that one of the agencies for the tenancy was the architect Decimus Burton, so it is possible that he played a role here in the works for Roffey.

By 1844 Mrs Roffey had died and her husband made over the house to his own daughter, Margaret Ellen (1824-74), who had married her cousin, William John Banks, and retired to his house in Hampshire. W.J. Banks made few changes to the buildings of Oxney Court but focused his attention on landscaping the surroundings and grounds of the estate, planting some of the new species introduced into England from the Empire and beyond during the Victorian period; he also acquired the ruined former parish church of Oxney in the grounds of the Court as a private burying place for the family. After 1907 the house was let as a boys prep school and then to a Chatham brewer called Thomas Winch. He died in 1912, the contents were sold in 1915, and perhaps just because the property was empty and close to the Channel coast it was requisitioned for military use. During the First World War, however, there was a serious fire which destroyed the roof over the 17th century range, and the house was subsequently abandoned and allowed to decline into ruin. You can see photographs of the house in ruins here.

Oxney Court: the house as reconstructed in 1999-2000.

In the 1960s a Dr Simon Behrman of Harley St., London, who occupied the dower house as a weekend retreat, proposed to clear the ruins and built a block of thirty retirement flats on the site. Fortunately, this plan was rejected, and by the mid-1990s plans for a restoration were underway. Planning permission was granted to an Australian businessman, Kim Pegler, for the external restoration of the building with a new interior, but he moved to Chile for business reasons before work was begun. The site was sold in 1997 to Marie-Louise Burness (a daughter of the late Lord Forte) and her husband, who carried out a similar scheme in 1999-2000.

Descent: Sir Charles Sedley bt.; sold before 1746 to John Fuller; to brother, Rose Fuller esq. (1708-77) of Brightling Park (Sussex); to nephew, John Trayton Fuller (1743-1811); sold 1812 to John May; sold 1826 to Sir Edward Banks for the use of his daughter and her husband, Richard John Roffey (1794-1847); given 1844 to William John Banks (1822-1901); to son, Herbert Delamark Banks (1854-1931); requisitioned for military use in 1915 and burnt; sold 1919... sold to Dr Simon Behrman (fl. 1960s)... Kim Pegler (fl. 1994); sold 1997 to Marie-Louise Burness (b. 1950) who restored the house; sold 2012.

Banks family of Oxney Court

Sir Edward Banks, kt.
Banks, Sir Edward (1770-1835), kt. Parentage unknown; said to have been born at Hutton Hang near Middleham (Yorks NR), 4 January 1770. As a young man, he went to sea for two years, and on his return, he found employment as a common labourer, possibly with the Pinkerton family building sea banks in Holderness. He progressed quickly and started his own construction company, although when he married in 1793, he was apparently still illiterate. Between 1791 and 1800 he worked on the Leeds & Liverpool, Lancaster, Ulverston, Huddersfield, Peak Forest, Ashton-under-Lyne and Nottingham Canals, some of these being under the direction of John Rennie. He moved to southern England around 1801 to construct the Surrey Iron Railway, a technically advanced plateway for the exploitation of the chalk and lime in the Merstham area, and through this project he established a  partnership (Jolliffe & Banks) with the Rev. W.J. Jolliffe, whose chief role may have been to organise the finance for the firm's projects. The partnership began in 1807 with the building of a court house in Croydon (Surrey), but rapidly became perhaps the largest civil engineering firm in England. Their work was very diverse, including prisons, fen drainage, canals, naval dockyards at Sheerness (Kent) and Deptford (Kent), commercial docks in London, a lighthouse in Heligoland and embankments near Cardiff. In 1812-17 they built Waterloo Bridge, the first of three Thames crossings (the others being Southwark Bridge (1814-19) and the new London Bridge (1824-31)) which earned Banks his knighthood; they also built Staines Bridge further upstream (1832). Jolliffe & Banks also diversified into other business areas, leasing the Butterley Iron Works for fourteen years from 1805; operating canal barges; and seeking (unsuccessfully) to develop Sheerness as a watering place. From 1816 they had an increasing investment in steam navigation, beginning with steam packets on the Thames and around the Kent coast, and moving on to the General Steam Navigation Co., which was formed with a capital of £200,000 in 1826. He was knighted in recognition of his bridge-building achievements, 12 June 1822. Despite his success in business, he was 'no accountant', according to his clerk, John Plews, who became one of his executors. His portraits suggest a man of drive and self-confidence, but his success in business was not at the cost of his humanity; his obituaries make it clear that he remained generous and good-hearted. He married 1st, 4 April 1793 at Colne (Lancs), Nancy (d. 1816), daughter of John Franklin (sometimes spelled Frankland), and 2nd, 18 January 1820 at St. Marylebone (Middx), Amelia, daughter and co-heir of Sir Abraham Pytches, kt., of Streatham (Surrey), and had issue, reputedly with one other daughter who died young:
(1.1) Mary Anne Banks (c.1794-1836); married, 8 June 1813 at St Martin-in-the-Fields, Westminster (Middx), Richard Roffey (1794-1847) of Brockhurst Lodge, Alverstoke (Hants), son of Benjamin Roffey, and had issue two sons and four daughters (two of whom married Banks brothers in the next generation); died 29 March and was buried at East Langdon (Kent), 6 April 1836; administration of goods with will annexed granted in PCC, 10 July 1837;
(1.2) John (Franklin) Banks (1797-1835) (q.v.);
(1.3) Margaret Ellen Banks (1802-39), baptised at Pentrich (Derbys), 29 August 1802; married, 28 August 1823 at St James, Piccadilly, Westminster (Middx), Gilbert East Jolliffe (1802-33), son of Rev. William John Jolliffe; died 12 October 1839;
(1.4) Edward Banks (1804-29), baptised at Pentrich (Derbys), 23 December 1804; an officer in Royal Navy (Lt., 1829); buried at Chipstead, 20 May 1829;
(1.5) William Henry Banks (1807-11), born 17 July 1807 and baptised at Pentrich (Derbys), 31 January 1808; died 20 February, and was buried at Chipstead, 27 February 1811;
(1.6) Delamark Banks (1809-46), born 10 June and baptised at Chipstead (Surrey), 5 July 1809; High Sheriff of Kent, 1841; married, 11 February 1832 at St. Maurice, Winchester (Hants), Eliza Jane (1807-41), daughter of James Shrimpton, and had issue two sons and one daughter; buried at Minster-in-Sheppey, 9 May 1846;
(1.7) George Douglas Banks (b. & d. 1811), born 10 February and baptised at Chipstead, 12 February 1811; died in infancy, 13 February and was buried at Chipstead, 20 February 1811.
He lived at Chipstead (Surrey) and later at 1 Adelphi Terrace, Westminster, and built Sheppey Court in Kent in about 1820. He also purchased Oxney Court in 1826/7 for the use of his daughter and son-in-law.
He died at his daughter's house at Tilgate (Sussex), 5 July, and was buried at Chipstead (Surrey), 11 July 1835; his will was proved in the PCC, 22 July 1835 (wealth at death about £250,000). His first wife died 2 October, and was buried at Chipstead, 8 October 1816. His widow died 29 December 1836, and was buried at Chipstead, 5 January 1837.

John Franklin Banks (1797-1835)
Banks, John (Franklin) (1797-1835). Son of Sir Edward Banks (1770-1835), kt., and his first wife, Nancy, daughter of John Franklin, born 2 February 1797. He married 1st, 28 September 1819 at Sittingbourne (Kent), Eliza (c.1802-29), daughter of F. Ladd, and 2nd, 10 March 1834 at Halling (Kent), Frances Godfrey (c.1806-49), daughter of Robert Williams Morton of West Malling (Kent), and had issue:
(1.1) Edward Richard Rupert George Banks (1820-1910), born 12 August and baptised at Pembrey (Carms.), 24 August 1820; played cricket for Kent CCC and Gentlemen of Kent, 1842-47, and was noted for his speed between the wickets; lived at Sholden House (Kent); JP for Kent and the Cinque Ports; married, 24 August 1841, his cousin Nancy Ann (1815-74), daughter of Richard Roffey of Oxney Court, and had issue three sons and one daughter; died aged 89, 7 January and was buried at Sholden, 12 January 1910; will proved 11 February 1910 (estate £7,746);
(1.2) William John Banks (1822-1901) (q.v.);
(1.3) Nancy Eliza Ann Banks (1824-88), baptised at Halling (Kent), 27 June 1824; married, 10 August 1844 at Eastry (Kent), Thomas Baker May (1805-94), barrister-at-law, and had issue three sons and six daughters; died 3 December 1888 at Liscard (Cheshire); will proved 5 February 1889 (effects £269);
(1.4) Amelia Mary Ann Banks (1826-1902), born 5 January 1826 and baptised at Halling, 17 January 1832; married, 26 January 1847 at St Luke, Chelsea (Middx), Col. David Rattray of 13th Regt., son of Dr Charles Rattray, physician, and had issue five sons and two daughters; died 18 July 1902; will proved 25 September 1902 (effects £229);
(1.5) Margaret Ellen Banks (1827-1904), born 5 May 1827 and baptised at Halling, 17 January 1832; married, 10 May 1848, Rev. James William Sproule (1812-81), vicar of Lyncombe, Bath (Somerset), and had issue three sons and five daughters; died 27 September 1904; will proved 23 November 1904 (effects £498);
(2.1) Mary Anne Banks (1835-1904), baptised at Halling, 22 July 1835; married, 6 October 1858 at St Andrew, Islington (Middx), William Charles Wood (b. 1825), and had issue; died at Upper Norwood (Surrey), 21 August 1904.
He inherited his father's property in July 1835, and had recently purchased St. Leonards House, West Malling (Kent) at the time of his death. His executors sold it in 1851.
He died 5 November and was buried at Minster-in-Sheppey, 13 November 1835. His first wife died 22 August and was buried at Minster-in-Sheppey, 31 August 1829. His widow married 2nd, 9 February 1837 at Ditton (Kent), Thomas Golding, and died in September 1849.

Banks, William John (1822-1901). Second son of John Banks (1797-1835) and his first wife, Eliza, daughter of F. Ladd, born 25 April 1822 and baptised at Halling (Kent), 21 July 1822. JP for Kent. He played cricket for Kent on several occasions during the 1840s and like his elder brother, was noted for his speed between the wickets. He was well liked, and known for his repertoire of cricket stories. He married, 14 August 1844, his cousin Margaret Ellen (1824-74), daughter of Richard Roffey of Oxney Court, and had issue:
(1) Margaret Mary Ann (k/a Minnie) Banks (1845-1904), born 2 May and baptised at East Langdon (Kent), 16 July 1845; married, 3 January 1877 at Ringwould (Kent), Col. Charles Frederick La Coste (d. 1892) of Royal Marine Light Infantry, and had issue one son and one daughter; died 6 September 1904; will proved 2 November 1904 (estate £11,915);
(2) Constance Julia Banks (1848-1911), born 14 January and baptised at East Langdon, 2 March 1848; lived with her brother at Oxney Court and died unmarried, 6 May 1911; will proved 20 June 1911 (estate £8,156);
(3) William Edward Banks (1850-54), born 21 January and baptised at East Langdon, 14 March 1850; died young, 9 December, and was buried at Sholden (Kent), 14 December 1854;
(4) Gertrude Nannette Banks (1852-53), born about 9 January and baptised at Kemble (Glos), 14 March 1852; died in infancy, 20 July, and was buried at Sholden, 28 July 1853;
(5) Herbert Delamark Banks (1854-1931) (q.v.);
(6) Ernest Edward Richard Banks (1857-59), born 9 December 1857 and baptised at East Langdon, 2 February 1858; died in infancy and was buried at Sholden, 19 March 1859.
He was given Oxney Court by his father-in-law in 1844, but in 1851 he was living at Sufton Court (Herefs), in 1852 at Elm Green near Kemble (Glos), and in 1861 at Gothic Villa, Reading (Berks); he was back at Oxney by 1871.
He died on 17 January 1901 at Oxney Court; his will was proved 27 March 1901 (estate then stated to be £40,312 but resworn in 1901 as £16,621, so presumably significant debts came to light). His wife died 25 October 1874; her will was proved 30 April 1875 (effects under £100).

Herbert Delamark Banks (1854-1931)
in amateur dramatics in Bombay.
Banks, Herbert Delamark (1854-1931). Only surviving son of William John Banks (1822-1901) and his wife Margaret Ellen, daughter of Richard Roffey of Oxney Court, born 23 January and baptised at East Langdon (Kent), 16 February 1854. Educated at Eton and Magdalen College, Oxford (matriculated 1873). An officer in the 60th Rifles from 1875 (2nd Lt., 1875; Lt., 1878; Capt., 1885; Maj., 1894; retired c.1905 but returned to the colours during the First World War); JP for Kent by 1898. He had a reputation as an all-round sportsman in his youth, but in his later years he suffered severely from rheumatism, and became somewhat reclusive. He was unmarried and without issue.
He inherited Oxney Court from his father in 1901, but moved out by 1907, when the house was let. The house was requisitioned in the First World War; the contents were sold in 1915, and the house was badly damaged by fire at an unknown date. He sold the estate in 1919, but retained the cottage known as the Dower House, where he lived until his death with his manservant and former batman, who served him for 44 years.
He died 16 January 1931 and was buried in the disused chapel at Oxney; his will was proved 16 April 1931 (estate £196).


Burke's Landed Gentry, 1924, p. 75; Sir A.W. Skempton, M. Chrimes et al., A biographical dictionary of civil engineers: vol. 1, 1500-1830, 2002, pp. 35-39; J. Newman, The buildings of England: Kent - North-East and East, 4th edn., 2013, p. 480; ODNB entry on Sir Edward Banks, kt.;

Location of archives

No significant archive is known to survive. There are, however, many references to Sir Edward in the public records as a result of his building contracts.

Coat of arms

Sable, on a cross between four fleurs-de-lys or, five arches of the field, within the centre arch a fleurs-de-lys of the last.

Notes about missing information and help wanted with this entry

  • I would be most grateful if anyone can provide photographs or portraits of people whose names appear in bold above, and who are not already illustrated. 
  • As always, any additions or corrections to the account given above will be gratefully received and incorporated.

Revision and acknowledgements

This post was first published 21 January 2019 and updated 8 April 2019. I am most grateful to Jon Hearn for additional images.

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