DUDMASTON HALL, SHROPSHIRE

Grid Ref: SO 746 887
Date: 17 April 2013

 

Dudamaston Hall lies four miles SE of Bridgenorth off the A442. It is in the care of the National Trust. Visitors are attracted by the house, gardens, park and the collection of 20th century modern art created by the last owners.

Dudmaston Hall
The full range overlooking the lake
Dudmaston Hall
The main block from the garden
Dudmaston Hall
Service buildings
Gardens
View of the lake from in front of the house

The history of the hall is somewhat complicated. The estate has been in the hands of the Wolryche and Wolryche-Whitmore familes since 1403. It is thought that there was a medieval house on the site and that it was replaced by a new property in the 1500s. Old maps show it as a fortified manor. Sir Thomas Wolryche who lived from 1598 to 1668 was the first Baronet for his support of Charles I in the Civil War. He raised troops for the Royalist cause and was the governor of Bridgnorth Castle. The town was beseiged by Parliamentary forces in 1646 when the garrison set fire to the town. The took shelter in the castle but soon surrendered and the castle was subsequently slighted. Sir Thomas had his property seized and had to buy it back for £730.

Sir Thomas eldest son, Francis, was judged to be mentally incapable of managing the estate so Sir Francis left his estate to his fifth son, John (c.1637–1685). He was a lawyer and an MP representing Much Wenlock. John started to build what became the dower house at Quatt but died before its completion.

John's son, Sir Thomas Wolryche (1672-1791) nephew of the disinherited Francis, succeeded to the baronetcy on Francis's death. It was Sir Thomas who started to build the new sandstone house at Dudmaston. It is modelled in part on Belton House in Lincolnshire. Work began in 1700 but Sir Thomas died the following year. His widow had to manage the property for a time until their son, Sir John (1691-1723) reached the age of 21 in 1712. He spent a lot of money on gambling and horses and was then drowned while attempting to cross the river by Dudmaston and died without a male heir. The estate with debts attached went to John's sister, Mary on payment of £14,000, presumably to pay off some of the creditors and then she and her mother, Elizabeth Weld and her uncle Colonel Thomas Weld lived at Dudmaston and gradually put its finances in order over the next fifty years. Colonel Weld outlived his sister and his neice and in 1774 passed the estate to a distant cousin, George Whitmore, who died soon afterwards leaving it to his nephew William Whitmore (1745-1815). Thus the Whitmores were not genetically related to the original Wolryche family. However, William Whitmore had inherited other large properties and used his money to develop Dudmaston. The gardens were developed by William's wife Frances Lister and his gardener Walter Wood including water features using the Quatt Brook.

William Whitmore's son, also William (1787-1858) changed the family name to Wolryche-Whitmore. He made further modifications to the estate including a Regency staircase in the hall and a large dining room. The Big Pool was formed from three smaller lakes. William Wolryche-Whitmore married Lady Lucy Bridgeman, daughter of the Earl of Bradford of Weston Park in Staffordshire. He became and MP for Bridgnorth and espoused reforming causes such as Catholic Emancipation, the ending of slavery in British colonies. After the 1832 Reform Act he stood for parliament in Wolverhampton. In addition, although he was part of the landed gentry, he supported the repeal of the Corn Laws, which finally occured under the government of Sir Robert Peel in 1846. William spent a lot of money developing the house and estate but left mortgages of £60,000 when on his death, the estate went to a nephew, Francis Laing.

Georgina Whitmore, William's sister, married Charles Babbage, the father of computing in 1814. He lived at Dudmaston Hall for a time and developed the central heating system.

The estate then descended in a complicated manner. It would appear, but is not explicitly stated in the article on Dudmaston Hall on Wikipedia, that Francis Laing changed his name to Wolryche-Whitmore. However, I found a reference to a photograph owned by the National Trust showing Francis Alexander Laing as a young boy, later Francis Alexander Wolryche-Whitmore (1845-1927). He married Alice Darby of Coalbrookdale and they had a daughter Olive and a son Geoffrey. Geoffrey left the property to Olive's daughter, Rachel Hamilton Russell (1908-1996) a granddaughter of the 8th Viscount Boyne on condition that she left it to the National Trust. Rachel married George Labouchère (1905-1999) on 10 May 1943. He was a diplomat and had postings in China, Argentina, Austria, Hungary and Belgium. George was knighted for his services and became Ambassador to Spain in 1969 when it was still a Fascist dictatorship under General Franco. George and Rachel were modern art collectors and they retired to Dudmaston in 1966. The ownerhip of the estate passed to the National Trust in 1976 but George and Rachel continued to live there with their collection of modern art. They had no children; Rachel died in 1996 and George in 1999.

Sources

Wikipedia articles on Dudmaston Hall, William Wolryche-Whitmore, George Labouchère.

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