Saturday, 30 October 2021

(473) Barker and Hethersett of Shropham Hall

Hethersett of Shropham
In 1678, Wormley Hethersett (d. 1709), with whom the genealogy below begins, purchased the manors of Great and Little Breckles (later Breccles and Shropham, respectively). Hethersett was a successful grocer from Thetford, who was mayor of that town on at least three occasions. He left his only son his property in the town and divided his agricultural lands between his widow and daughters. Little Breckles alias Shropham thus passed to his daughter Sarah (1672-1758), the wife of James Barker (d. 1718), and thence to their descendants. It has been suggested this Barker family were connections of the Barkers of Grimston Hall (Suffolk), but no connection has been demonstrated. We know only that James Barker (d. 1718) was the son of a John Barker, who is mentioned in a legal document of 1722. When James died at a comparatively young age, the estate passed to his eldest son, John Barker (1698-1756), who was educated as a gentleman at Cambridge and the Middle Temple. He built or remodelled Shropham House in about 1729, shortly after his marriage to Elizabeth Engle (c.1709-70), daughter of the first mayor of Great Yarmouth (Norfk). In 1756 John was chosen as High Sheriff of Norfolk, but he died during his term of office, leaving his eldest son, John Barker (1731-92) to complete the alterations he was making to Shropham Hall. The younger John was Lt-Colonel of the West Norfolk Militia but never married. Since he had no issue, his will provided for his property to descend to the eldest surviving son, or in the absence of a son, to the eldest surviving daughter, of his younger brother, Lt-Gen. James Barker (1736-1812). General Barker, who took the name Hethersett in 1804 for reasons which are unclear, seems to have gained effective possession of his brother's estate, and the income he derived from it allowed him to rebuild his house in the Isle of Wight, later called Stickworth Hall, in 1793-96, and to undertake estate improvements.  It was probably only after he died in 1812 that his daughter was able to enter into her inheritance. In 1821, at the age of about forty, she married a clergyman, but they had no children and enjoyed less than ten years of marriage before Sarah died. The Shropham estate then passed to her younger sister, Jane Maria (c.1783-1853), the wife of Maj. Henry d'Esterre Hemsworth (1790-1850), who was the second son of an Irish gentry family. It remained in the hands of their descendants until 1917, but an account of the later generations is reserved to a future post on the Hemsworths of Abbeville.

Shropham Hall, Norfolk

An engaging but not conventionally elegant early 18th century house, built for John Barker (1698-1756) and dated 1729 on one of the rainwater heads. In 1739, it was recorded that 'John Barker, the present owner, hath built a seat here'. It has, however, been suggested that Barker enlarged an earlier core (perhaps built for his grandfather, Wormley Hethersett, who bought the estate in 1687) rather than building from scratch. The unusual form of the present roof suggests the original house may have comprised the central three bays on the north and south fronts, with the curious pedimental gables on these fronts being the original gable-ends. In the attics there is some 17th century panelling, which if it is not imported, may have been re-set here when the house was remodelled in the 1720s. Unfortunately, there is no surviving documentation about the building of the house to support or challenge this hypothesis. The architect of the 1720s remodelling is not known, and parallels that have been drawn with Elmham Hall and West Harling Hall (both demolished) are not convincing. It is, however, known that the monument of 1718 to John Barker's father, in Shropham church, was executed by John Fellows of Kings Lynn, who is known to have completed some architectural projects. He must be a candidate.

Shropham Hall in 1908, when the whitewash was still intact.
The house is built of red brick laid in Flemish bond and finely mortared. The five bay entrance front faces south and builds up into a pedimental gable, half sunk into a parapet, over the central three bays. The stepped arrangement of the parapet and a narrow giant order pilaster at each side of the central three bays, means that the outermost bays, which also have lower roofs, have the appearance of wings. The outer edges of these 'wings' are also defined by pilasters, awkwardly slightly wider than the ones framing the centre.  The early 19th century central porch conceals the original round-headed fanlight under a broken pediment supported on scrolled brackets. Perhaps at the same time as the porch was built, the house was limewashed, but over 200 years this has gradually worn away, giving the house a scrofulous or patinated appearance, depending on your point of view. On the eastern and western fronts, a diaper effect is created by the appearance of dark head­ers. The north front has a pair of full-height canted bays with panelled parapets flanking the central three bays; these appear to have been added in 1756 (dates on rainwater heads), and were probably commissioned by John Barker to mark his shrievalty in that year, although they must have been completed by his son, also John Barker, after his father died in office.

Shropham Hall: the north front in c.2005. The canted bays are an addition of 1756.
Inside, the entrance hall, the staircase hall and the study (west of the entrance hall), all retain a distinctly early 18th century character. The entrance hall has original wainscoting to picture rail height, while Doric fluted pilasters rise higher to support the plaster cornice. The staircase hall, on the north side of the house, also has oak panelling and a fine staircase with three turned balusters to each tread, while the upper part of the hall has Ionic pilasters around the walls. The library, in the north-east corner of the house, was redecorated when it was given a broad canted bay in 1756, and has a handsome Rococo ceiling that extends into the bay and a fine marble chimneypiece. 

In the early 19th century, the Rev. and Mrs. G.R. Leathes added the porch on the entrance front, whitewashed the house, added a large bay window to the east front, and redecorated the drawing room with Gothic-style plasterwork. After the house passed to Mrs. Leathes' sister Jane and her husband, Henry d'Esterre Hemsworth, in the 1830s, a kitchen wing was built onto the east side of the house. Their grandson, Augustus Hemsworth, carried out a major refitting of the house in 1894, and added a substantial wing to the west, replacing an earlier service wing. The staircase hall may have been reduced in size at the same time, and the staircase rearranged in consequence, so as to enlarge the dining room. 

Descent: sold 1687 to Wormsley Hethersett; to daughter, Sarah (1672-1758) and her husband James Barker (d. 1718); to son, John Barker (1698-1756); to son, John Barker (1730-92); to niece, Sarah (c.1781-1830), wife of Rev. George Reading Leathes (1779-1836); to sister, Jane Maria (c.1783-1853), wife of Henry d'Esterre Hemsworth (1790-1850); to son, Henry William Hemsworth (1815-92); to nephew, Augustus Noel Campbell Hemsworth (1853-1931), who sold 1917 to Col. Sir Edward Ion Beresford Grogan (1873-1927), 2nd bt.; sold after his suicide to Rev. George Ronald Garnier (1880-1948); to widow, Mrs. Vera Garnier (d. 1974); sold after her death...; sold 1981... ; sold 1999 to George and Angela Lynne (fl. 2021). The house was let by H.W. Hemsworth from 1853-92.

Stickworth Hall, Arreton, Isle of Wight

Lt-Gen. James Barker (later Hethersett) (1735-1812) settled here after retiring from the army in about 1780, in what may at that time have been quite a small house called Redway (so named on the manuscript Ordnance Survey 2" drawing of 1793), although he owned other property on the Isle of Wight, for in 1788 he was the landlord of John Wilkes, the radical Liberal politician, who rented a 'villalet' at Sandown from Barker.

Stickworth Hall: an engraving of the house in the early 19th century.
In 1792, Barker's circumstances were radically altered when his elder brother John died without issue and bequeathed his estates in Norfolk and Suffolk to the General's eldest daughter, Sarah, then a child of about ten. The property ran to some 4,000 acres scattered across about a dozen parishes, and although his brother's will appointed trustees to administer the estate during Sarah's minority, the General seems to have secured effective possession of the property. His obituarist said that "of late years [he has] been chiefly employed in improving his estates, and is said to have died possessed of landed property to the amount of £80,000". This access of fortune enabled Barker to rebuild his house in 1793-96, which was renamed as Stickworth Grove House (later Stickworth Hall). The new house, which has no less than three datestones, was a four bay two-storey house, set in prettily landscaped grounds, which is recorded in an early 19th century engraving. This four-bay block is still recognisable as the core of the present house.

Stickworth Hall: entrance front today
Between 1863 and 1896 the house was remodelled and enlarged in a half-hearted hybrid of the Tudor and Gothic styles, and the principal features of this phase now are the Gothic porch and the Tudor-style chimneys. In the mid 20th century the house became an hotel, and a large bedroom block was added to the right of the entrance front in a fairly traditional style. The hotel later closed and the house and outbuildings have since been converted into a large number of small apartments.

Descent: built for Lt-Gen. James Barker (later Hethersett) (1736-1812); sold after his death to Robert Bell; to son-in-law, Charles Halson; to widow; sold after her death to H.W. Gibbings; sold to Robert Fox; sold 1897 to William Hartshorne Shorthouse (1862-1922)... converted to an hotel by 1972... converted to flats.

Barker and Hethersett family of Shropham Hall, Norfolk

Hethersett, Wormley (d. 1709). Son of Rev. Thomas Hethersett (1617-75), rector of Brettenham (Norfk), and his wife. Grocer in Thetford. Mayor of Thetford, 1674, 1692, 1698. He married, 14 January 1657 at Isleham (Cambs), Jane (1644-1709), daughter of William Sharpe of Isleham, and had issue:
(1) Edmund Hethersett (1659-1730), born 4 February 1658/9 and baptised at Thetford; died unmarried and was buried at Shropham, 25 August 1730, where he is commemorated by a ledger stone;
(2) Jane Hethersett (1661-1700), baptised at St Mary, Thetford, 17 March 1660/1; married, 11 April 1689 at Weeting (Norfk), Thomas Squire (d. by 1700), and had issue one daughter; buried at St Peter, Thetford, 17 April 1700;
(3) Mary Hethersett (1666-1743?), baptised at St Mary, Thetford, 1 July 1666; inherited manor of Great Breckles from her father; married, 9 October 1690 at East Harling (Norfk), Joseph Baylis alias Randall of London, and had issue at least one son; living in 1708 and said to have died in 1743;
(4) Elizabeth Hethersett (1668-1705?), baptised at St Mary, Thetford, 21 March 1668; said to have married Edward Owen and been buried at St Peter, Thetford, 11 November 1705;
(5) Sarah Hethersett (1672-1758) (q.v.).
He purchased the manors of Great Breckles and Little Breckles (alias Shropham) in 1678.
He died in 1709 and his will was proved in the PCC, 9 November 1709. His wife was buried at Isleham (Cambs), 17 September 1709.

Hethersett, Sarah (1672-1758). Youngest daughter of Wormley Hethersett and his wife Jane, daughter of William Sharpe of Isleham (Cambs), baptised at St Mary, Thetford, 8 February 1671/2. She married, 10 February 1696 at Thetford (Norfk), James Barker (d. 1718), son of John Barker, and had issue (perhaps among others who died young):
(1) John Barker (1698-1756) (q.v.);
(2) Wormley Barker (1700-20); apprenticed to Isaac Waldo of London, grocer, 1717; died 12 March 1720 and was buried at Thetford, where he is commemorated by a monument;
(3) Jane Barker (fl. 1722); eldest daughter; left a portion of £2,500 in her father's will; married, 23 November 1721 at St Martin-at-Oak, Norwich, Thomas Waller of Denham (Norfk), worsted weaver;
(4) Sarah Barker (c.1710-41); younger daughter; left a portion of £2,000 in her father's will; died unmarried, 28 December 1741;
(5) Rev. James Barker (c.1713-70), of Redgrave (Suffk), educated at Botesdale (Suffk) and Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge (matriculated 1732; LLB 1737); Fellow of Gonville & Caius College, 1738-43; ordained deacon, 1740 and priest, 1743; rector of Bacton, 1743-70 and probably also vicar of Yaxley (Suffk), 1746-67; married, 28 November 1762 at St James, Bury St Edmunds (Suffk), as his second wife, Elizabeth Norman (fl. 1764) of Bury St Edmunds; died 23 January and was buried at Shropham, 24 January 1770; will proved at Norwich, 30 January 1770.
She and her husband inherited Little Breckles (alias Shropham) from her father.
She died in November 1758 and was buried at Shropham, 1 December 1758; her will was proved at Norwich, 1758. Her husband died 15 February 1718, and was buried at Shropham, where he is commemorated by a monument signed by John Fellows of Kings Lynn; his will was proved in the PCC, 20 April 1719.

Barker, John (1698-1756). Eldest son of James Barker (d. 1718) and his wife Sarah, daughter of Wormley Hethersett, baptised at Breccles (Norfk), 10 February 1697/8. Educated at Norwich, Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge (matriculated 1714; BA 1718) and Middle Temple (admitted 1718). High Sheriff of Norfolk, 1756, but died in office. He married, 1725 (sett., 24 June), Elizabeth (c.1709-70), daughter of Benjamin Engle, first Mayor of Great Yarmouth (Norfk) and had issue:
(1) John Barker (1731-92) (q.v.);
(2) Lt-Gen. James Barker (1736-1812) (q.v.);
(3) Sarah Elizabeth Barker (1739-1810), born 9 May and baptised at Shropham, 13 May 1739; married, 12 May 1772 at Quidenham (Norfk), John Huntington (d. by 1810), and had issue two sons and one daughter; died 18 May 1810 and was buried at Winterton (Norfk);
(4) Jane Barker (b. & d. 1741), born 8 February and baptised at Shropham, 11 February 1740/41; died in infancy and was buried at Shropham, 30 November 1741;
(5) Benjamin Barker (1742-1814), born 7 September and baptised at Shropham, 7 October 1742; lived at Carbrooke (Norfk); buried at Shropham, 22 April 1814;
(6) Rev. Edward Barker (1744-95), born 12 January and baptised at Shropham, 16 February 1743/4; educated at Wyverstone and Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge (matriculated 1763; BA 1767; MA 1786); ordained deacon, 1767 and priest, 1768; rector of Bacton (Suffk), 1770-95 and vicar of Bramford (Suffk), 1785-95; married, 4 April 1771 at Elveden (Suffk), Anna Maria (1744-1819), daughter of George Burton, and had issue six sons and four daughters; died in London, 23 May 1795; his widow and daughter kept a school for young ladies at Grove House, Diss until about 1812;
(7) Peter Henry Barker (1744-1826), born 27 December 1744 and baptised at Shropham, 31 January 1744/5; lived at Carbrooke (Norfk); probably married, 9 June 1772 at Swaffham (Norfk), Mary Willis, and had issue; buried at Shropham, 9 February 1826;
(8) Jane Barker (b. & d. 1747), born 15 January 1746/7 and baptised at Shropham; died in infancy and was buried at Shropham, 20 May 1747;
(9) twin, Wormley Barker (b. & d. 1748), baptised at Shropham, 18 September 1748; died in infancy and was buried at Shropham, 10 October 1748;
(10) twin, Thomas Barker (b. & d. 1748), baptised at Shropham, 18 September 1748; died in infancy and was buried at Shropham, 30 September 1748;
(11) Mary Barker (1750-1821), born 18 February and baptised at Shropham, 22 March 1749/50; married, 1 October 1781 at Roydon (Norfk), Maj. Edward Frere (1742-1819), and had issue one son and two daughters; died 12 December 1821 and was buried at Finningham (Suffk).
He inherited the Shropham estate from his father in 1718 and came of age the following year. He rebuilt or remodelled the house at Shropham c.1729.
He died 27 January and was buried at Shropham, 1 February 1756, where he is commemorated by a ledger stone. His widow was buried at Shropham, 22 March 1770, where she is also commemorated by a ledger stone.

Barker, John (1731-92). Eldest son of John Barker (1698-1756) and his wife Elizabeth, daughter of Benjamin Engle of Great Yarmouth (Norfk), born 26 February and baptised at Shropham, 7 March 1730/1. Educated at Bury, Horstead, Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge (matriculated 1749/50) and Lincoln's Inn (admitted 1751). Lt-Colonel of West Norfolk Militia (resigned 1780). He was unmarried and without issue.
He inherited the Shropham Hall estate from his father in 1756.
He died at Dawlish (Devon), March 1792; his will was proved in the PCC, 7 April 1792.

Barker (later Hethersett), Lt-Gen. James (1736-1812). Second son of John Barker (1698-1756) and his wife Elizabeth, daughter of Benjamin Engle of Great Yarmouth (Norfk), born 16 February 1735/6 and baptised at Shropham, 30 March 1736. Educated at Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge (matriculated 1754). As the second son, he was originally intended for a career in the church, but entered the army, serving chiefly in the 56th Foot (Capt. by 1759; Maj., 1773; Lt-Col., 1776; Col., 1794; Maj-Gen. 1796; Lt-Gen. 1803). He served under General Wolfe in America, and at
the capture of Quebec was ADC to the Marquess Townshend, who said 'his orders were never better executed than by Capt. Barker'. A rather intriguing sentence in his obituary says his retirement was motivated by "being disgusted with many of the measures adopted after the commencement of the present reign", which may be a reference to the major reduction in the size of the army that took place after the American War of Independence. He took the name Hethersett in lieu of Barker in 1804. He married, 3 April 1781 at Devynnock (Brecon), Mary Anne Coston (1759-1823), and had issue:
(1) Sarah Barker (later Hethersett) (c.1781-1830) (q.v.);
(2) Jane Maria Barker (later Hethersett) (c.1783-1853) (q.v.);
(3) Ann Amelia Barker (later Hethersett) (c.1784-1869), born about 1784; married, 24 July 1824 at the British ambassador's house in Paris, Marie Charles Francois Xavier Alfred De Freytag (1803-64), Comte de Freytag of Abbeville (France), but had no issue; died at Abbeville, 1 September 1869;
(4) Isabel Barker (later Hethersett) (1786-1874), born in 1786 but baptised at Arreton (IoW), 22 September 1790; married, 21 August 1813 at Shropham, as his 2nd wife, her first cousin, John Barker Huntington (1774-1832) of Somerton Hall, East Somerton (Norfk), and had issue three sons and two daughters; died aged 88 at Wembdon (Som.), 13 December and was buried at Winterton with East Somerton (Norfk), 19 December 1874;
(5) Mary Barker (1790-1804), baptised at Arreton, 22 September 1790; died young, 17 April and was buried at Shropham, 25 April 1804.
He was awarded a grant of land in Prince Edward's Island in recognition of his service in Canada. After leaving the army and marrying, he settled at a house called Redway or Stickworth in Arreton (Isle of Wight), which he rebuilt in 1793-96. The rebuilt house was known as Stickworth Grove House and later as Stickworth Hall. It was let in 1810 and sold after his death, and is now divided into flats. He also owned a cottage near Sandown which was let at one time to the celebrated Radical politician, John Wilkes. His brother left him an annuity in his will in 1792.
He died 'at his cottage at Scoulton' (Norfolk), 10 or 14 April, and was buried at Shropham, 25 April 1812. His widow died in London and was buried at Shropham, 15 January 1823.

Barker (later Hethersett), Sarah (c.1781-1830). Eldest daughter of Lt-Gen. James Barker (later Hethersett) (1736-1812) and his wife Mary Ann Coston, born about 1781. She married, 1 January 1821 at Shropham, Rev. George Reading Leathes (1779-1836), curate of Shropham and botanist, son of Rev. Edward Leathes, rector of Reedham (Norfk), but had no issue.
She inherited the Shropham Hall estate from her uncle in 1792 and came of age in 1806. After her death her widower vacated the house and moved to a smaller property called Shropham Villa.
She died 8 December and was buried at Shropham, 16 December 1830; her will was proved at Norwich, 1831. Her husband suffered a stroke while delivering the Christmas Day service at Shropham in 1835, and died 1 January following; he was buried at Shropham, 8 January 1836; his will was proved in the PCC, 19 July 1836.

Barker (later Hethersett), Jane Maria (c.1783-1853). Second daughter of Lt-Gen. James Barker (later Hethersett) (1736-1812) and his wife Mary Ann Costen, born at Arreton (IoW) in about 1783. She married, 6 August 1813 at Shropham, Maj. Henry d'Esterre Hemsworth JP DL (1790-1850), second son of Thomas Hemsworth of Abbeville (Co. Tipperary), and had issue:
(1) Amelia Hemsworth (1814-78), born 28 April 1814 and baptised at Shropham, 6 September 1815; married, 3 December 1846 at Wanstead (Essex), Francis Henry Huntington (1824-95), youngest son of John Barker Huntington of Somerton House (later known as Burnley Hall) (Norfk), and had issue one son; died at Hampstead (Middx), 18 June 1878;
(2) Henry William Hemsworth (1815-92), born in Norwich, 6 May and baptised at Shropham, 6 September 1815; inherited the Shropham Hall estate from his father in 1850 but was living at Malines (Belgium) at the time of his marriage and later lived chiefly in London; married, 24 May 1851 at British embassy, Brussels (Belgium), Ellen (1836-1906), daughter of Francis Kemble of Chesterfield St., Mayfair, Westminster (Middx), but had no issue; died at Stoke Newington (Middx), 9 November 1892; will proved 28 November 1892 (effects £1,697);
(3) Eliza Anna Maria Hemsworth (c.1819-80), born about 1819; married, 1 March 1849 at Shropham, Rev. Addison Browne Hemsworth JP (1822-91), rector of Rockland (Norfk), son of Lt. William Glassford Hemsworth RN, but had no issue; admitted to Grove Mental Hospital, Catton (Norfk), 1867, but was discharged 'relieved', six months later; died 9 July and was buried at Rockland, 14 July 1880; will proved 6 August 1880 (effects under £5,000);
(4) Rev. Augustus Barker Hemsworth (1822-89), born 2 March and baptised at Cheltenham (Glos), 11 December 1822; educated at Bury St Edmunds Grammar School and Trinity College, Cambridge (matriculated 1840; BA 1845; MA 1849); ordained deacon, 1845 and priest, 1846; vicar of Breccles (Norfk), 1846-50; perpetual curate of Thompson (Norfk), 1850-58; rector of Bacton (Suffk), 1858-89; married, 17 March 1847 at Shropham, Duncana (c.1823-94), eldest daughter of Alexander Campbell of Kilmartin (Argylls), and had issue two sons and three daughters; died 27 October 1889 and was buried at Bacton; will proved 14 February 1890 (effects £2,057);
(5) Jane Maria Hemsworth (1823-93), baptised at Cheltenham (Glos), 18 April 1823; married, 12 September 1844 at Shropham, Rev. Samuel Frederick Bignold (1819-73), rector of Tivetshall (Norfk), son of Sir Samuel Bignold MP, kt., and had issue four sons and one daughter; buried at Walton-le-Soken (Essex), 19 January 1893.
She and her husband inherited the Shropham Hall estate on the death of her sister in 1830. After her husband's death the estate passed to her eldest son, and on his death to his nephew. An account of later generations of the family is reserved for a future post on the Hemsworths of Abbeville (Co. Tipperary) and of Shropham.
She was buried at Shropham, 19 October 1853; her will was proved in the PCC, 7 November 1853. Her husband died 5 November 1850; his will was proved in the PCC, 20 December 1850.

Principal sources

Burke's Landed Gentry, 1952, p. 1204; VCH Hampshire, vol. 6, 1912, pp. 139-51; J. Musson, 'Shropham Hall, Norfolk', Country Life, 24 February 2005, pp. 76-81.

Location of archives

No significant accumulation is known to survive.

Coat of arms

Hethersett of Shropham: Azure, a lion rampant or, in the paw a battle-axe argent.

Can you help?

  • Can anyone provide information about the ownership of Shropham Hall between 1974 and 1999, or of Stickworth Hall between 1922 and 1972?
  • I should be most grateful if anyone can provide photographs or portraits of people whose names appear in bold above.
  • If anyone can offer further information or corrections I should be most grateful. I am always particularly pleased to hear from current owners or the descendants of families associated with a property who can supply information from their own research or personal knowledge for inclusion.

Revision and acknowledgments

This post was first published 30 October 2021.

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