Wednesday, 3 November 2021

(474) Barnesley of Eardisley Park

The Eardisley Castle estate belonged from at least 1251 to the Baskerville family, but their house was largely destroyed in the Civil War, and the estate was sold in about 1685 to William Barnesley (d. 1737), a London barrister who evidently came from Staffordshire and may have been related to the Barnesleys of Trysull (Staffs). He built a new house on the site of one of the estate farms in the early 18th century. After Barnesley died, an unscrupulous Hereford attorney called Mansel Powell (c.1696-1775) and others acquired his estate by producing a forged will that  disinherited Barnsley’s only son, William Barnesley junior (c.1703-60), who seems to have had learning difficulties and was declared a lunatic in 1742. Powell enjoyed the estates until 1749 when, thanks to the efforts of William junior's wife, the will was proved a forgery and a decree of restitution was made in Chancery by Lord Hardwicke, under which Powell and his co-defendants had to pay costs and refund all the rents and other money they had received from the estate. This was not the end of the Barnesleys' travails, however, for there ensued an intra-familial legal dispute, which is said to have been the model for Jarndyce v. Jarndyce in Dickens' novel, Bleak House: the two disputes together are said to have lasted 35 years. After the younger William's widow died in 1773, the estate was sold. 

Eardisley Park, Herefordshire

The house was built (probably on the site of an existing farmhouse as some of the surrounding outbuildings are older) in the early 18th century for William Barnesley (d. 1737) as a two-storey five-by-five bay brick house. Mr. Perry, the owner at the end of the 18th century, is thought to have been responsible for adding an attic storey to the house and coating it in cement render. During the 19th century it had at first gentry tenants and later became 'a farmhouse of the superior type'. 

Eardisley Park: the three-storey house before the fire of 1999.

Eardisley Park: the smoking ruins of the house after the fire in 1999.
In 1996 the house was sold to the present owners, who restored it. Sadly, soon after work was completed the house was almost completely destroyed in a devastating fire in 1999 which left only parts of the external walls standing. The family quickly determined, however, to rebuilt it 'better than before' and engaged the services of Donald Insall Associates and Nicholas Keeble as designers. In effect, they reconstructed the Queen Anne house, with the addition of a two-storey bow on the west front and another on the side elevation which suggest late 18th century changes. The completed house won the Georgian Group's restoration of the year award in 2003 and also their West of England regional restoration of the century award in 2010.

Eardisley Park: the entrance front as reconstructed after the fire of 1999. Image: Country Life.
Descent: built for William Barnesley (1649?-1737); to son, William Barnesley (c.1703-60), who was however fradulently excluded from possession from 1738-49 by Mansel Powell and others; to widow, Elizabeth (1707-73); sold in 1778 to Dr Pettit; sold to [forename unknown] Perry...Thomas Perry (fl. 1811-37)... James Perry (fl. 1890); to W. Perry Herrick; sold c.1920 to Capt. Michael John Hunter (d. 1951); sold 1927... sold 1996 to Nigel Morris-Jones (b. 1959) and his wife, the Hon. Anne Morris-Jones. The house was let for much of the 19th century, latterly to farming tenants.

Barnesley family of Eardisley

Barnesley, William (1649?-1737)*. The records of the Inner Temple show that he was born at Stafford, and so he may have been the William Barnesley, son of Henry Barnesley and his wife Margery baptised at Bradley near Stafford, 11 July 1649. Educated at the Inner Temple (admitted 1668; called 1675; bencher, 1694; Treasurer, 1707-08); due to his long life, he was for many years the senior bencher of the inn. Barrister-at-law. JP and DL for Herefordshire; High Sheriff of Herefordshire, 1704-05. His son having married without his permission, he threatened to disinherit him, but he never executed a will; after his death, his solicitor and a distant cousin in London combined, with assistance from others, to fabricate a pretended will which was proved in London, and only later demonstrated to be a forgery. He married, 1696 (licence 1 June), Jane (d. 1734), daughter of Sir Nicholas L'Estrange, 4th bt., of Hunstanton (Norfk), and had issue:
(1) William Barnesley (c.1703-60) (q.v.).
He purchased the Eardisley estate in about 1685.
He died on 7 April, and was buried at Eardisley, 12 April 1737, where he and his wife are commemorated by a mural monument; the will forged by his solicitor and associates was proved 15 May 1742 but set aside following a Chancery decree in 1749. His wife died 20 November 1734.
* His monument gives his age at death as 93, but this seems to be an exaggeration; the baptism in 1649 is consistent with his admission to the Inner Temple in 1668. There is another entry in the Inner Temple admission registers for a William Barnesley of Stafford in 1670, but this seems likely to be a re-admission rather than a different person. The Inner Temple William seems also to be readily confused with another William Barnesley, clothworker of Old Jewry, London, who also died in 1736/7 and was buried in London; his wife was another Jane, daughter of Giles Sussex of London, merchant, and they had a daughter, Catherine (1692-1730), who married William Kingscote of Kingscote (Glos). The two men were probably related, as they are both involved in deeds relating to the Lurkenhope estate in Shropshire in 1704.

Barnesley, William (c.1703-60). Only son of William Barnesley (1649?-1737) and his wife Jane, daughter of Sir Nicholas L'Estrange, 4th bt., of Hunstanton (Norfk), born about 1703*. He evidently suffered from learning difficulties, and was easily influenced; he was eventually  declared a lunatic at his wife's request in 1742. He married, 26 August 1723 in the precincts of the Fleet Prison, London, Elizabeth (1707-73), daughter of Walter Price of Kaevenblane**, but had no issue.
He should have inherited the Eardisley estate from his father in 1737, but was defrauded by his father's solicitor, Mansel Powell, and others, who forged a will disinheriting him. He recovered his property in 1749 after a lengthy Chancery suit, vigorously pursued by his wife on his behalf. This was succeeded by a further legal dispute with relatives. After his widow's death the estate was sold in 1778 to Dr. Pettit.
He died 23 January 1760, and was buried at Eardisley, where he and his wife are commemorated by a monument designed by Thomas Symonds. His widow died 8 April 1773, and was also buried at Eardisley.
* Based on his recorded age at death, which may be inaccurate.
** Thus on her monument in Eardisley church; the estate has not been identified.

Principal sources

The Gentleman's Magazine, vol. 20, 1750, pp. 364-68; M. Binney, 'Eardisley Park, Herefordshire', Country Life, 5 February 2004, pp. 48-52; A. Brooks & Sir N. Pevsner, The buildings of England: Herefordshire, 2nd edn, 2012, p. 217.

Location of archives

None known.

Coat of arms

None recorded.

Can you help?

  • Can anyone private fuller information about the descent of the property in the period when it was owned by the Perry family, or its ownership between 1927 and 1999?
  • I should be most grateful if anyone can provide portraits of the 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 acknowledgements

This post was first published 3 November 2021.

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