Full 'updated' history of the Duke's sailing ships entitled "The Four Iron Steamships", click here. Some interesting 'Royal' connections. Thanks very much to Brian Boon for his excellent detective work. This is the Oct 2015 edition, including extra info that Brian has discovered - the Visitors Guest Book (page 24 onwards) the paintings in the book are fabulous!
Easton - small village, big influence
For several hundred years, Easton and its near neighbouring villages have housed families that have helped to shape British history. Amongst the hundreds of villages that dot the English landscape, Easton could be included in a list that constantly provided some of the nation's diplomats, politicians and soldiers.
One of the earliest families were the Letheringham based Wingfields who, between the 14th and early 18th C, served their country in both peace and war.
In 1627 Sir Anthony Wingfied made Easton his home when from Tacket Street, Ipswich, he dismantled the fine Palladian style Mansion which was re erected in Easton in 150 acres of parkland.
The Wingfield family continued to serve in high office of the country and manage their Easton estate. Family fortunes, however, declined when Sir Henry Wingfield, on his return from diplomatic service in Flanders, found that those whom he had entrusted to look after his Easton affairs had in fact misappropriated most of his wealth. In 1695, with little alternative, Sir Henry put his Easton interests up for sale.
The Mansion 1780
The arrival of the Rochford dynasty
The estate remained unsold until 1708 when Sir Henry sold it to Dutch born William Henry Nassau, a cousin who had saved the life of Prince William of Orange prior to the Prince becoming King William III of England. For this and other services, the King appointed William the 1st Earl of Rochford, and the Easton estate became the property of the new Earl. However he died the same year.
The original Mansion 1919, now ivy covered
Diplomacy, War and the Rochfords
The estate and title was inherited by his eldest son the 2nd Earl (another William Henry) who was slain when fighting the Spanish in 1710.
The title of 3rd Earl now passed to the late Earl's brother Frederick, and following his death in 1739, the title of 4th Earl passed to his eldest son (another William Henry). His interests lay more with the service of his country than Easton. In a long and distinguished career he served as Ambassador to both Spain and France and also as envoy to the King of Sardinia. Back in England he sat regularly in Parliament and had the dubious privilege of using his casting vote on whether or not to retain taxes on the people of the American colony. He voted to retain the tax and so, unwittingly, contributed to the War of Independence.
In 1760 the Earl sold his Easton estate to his younger brother William who had earlier married the widow of the 5th Duke of Hamilton. This marriage produced a son another William Henry who on the death of his father in 1781 became the new 5th Earl.
William Henry the 4th Earl of Rochford
The end of the Rochford dynasty
The 5th Earl was the last of the family to be Lords of Easton Manor. During his long tenure he carried out improvements to the Mansion and had the famous Serpentine or Crinkle Crankle wall built that for 2 miles surrounded his 150 acre estate. The Earl died unmarried in 1830 and with him the Rochford dynasty with its Dutch connections came to an end.
The 5th Earl
Alexander, 10th Duke of Hamilton 1767-1852
Educated at Eton and Oxford, Alexander studied arts abroad before becoming a Whig MP for Lancaster in 1802. Four years later he became Ambassador to the Russian Court in St Petersburg, but following a change of British government, he was recalled a year later. In 1810 married Susan Euphemia Beckford who shared his passion for the arts.
The Napoleonic War
Alexander held the Emperor in high regard, and thought that “he was an unstoppable military genius” and an admirer of Napoleons high ideals. In 1812 during the disastrous retreat from Moscow, the Duke took delivery of a portrait of Napoleon by the French artist David for £1050 that was commissioned and completed during the Russian campaign.
Following the death of his father, Alexander became the 10th Duke of Hamilton in 1819 and he and his wife continued to expand their art collection which included works by Rubens, Leonardo da Vinci, Tintoretto and Titian, amongst many others, in an enlarged Hamilton Palace, Scotland, larger than Buckingham Palace. It was he thought, a fitting building for his claim that “he was the legitimate King of Scotland.”
Alexander inherited the Easton estate in 1830 from his father the 9th Duke whose mother before her widowhood, was the 5th Duchess of Hamilton. (The 6th and 7th Dukes had died young and the 8th Duke died without issue.)
Their Easton Mansion must have seemed minute, without any of the grandeur of their Hamilton Palace, and it is recorded that “they spent very little time in Easton”. The Duke's civic duties as Lord Lieutenant of Lanarkshire and being Lord High Steward meant attending the coronations of King William (1831) and Queen Victoria (1838).
Any changes in Easton made by the couple seem to have been at the behest of the Duchess Susan who had the first school built (now the village hall) in 1852.
Alexander died that year and Susan survived him for another seven years. Accounts of Susan said that.. “...she was a martinet, and woe betide any of the tenants that offended her”
Of Alexander, it is recorded that he had... “...a great predisposition to overestimate the importance of ancient birth and that he had an immense family pride”
William 11th Duke of Hamilton 1811-1863
William spent most of his time abroad and took little interest in his English or Scottish affairs. A report on his death stated that “…the late Duke never sat in the Houses of Parliament, and when a member of the House of Lords, never took part in the debates if indeed he ever voted at all”
Following a fall down the stairs of a Paris restaurant he died a week later of damage to the brain. Commenting on his death Queen Victoria wrote to her daughter that “… she feared that he had been drinking too much”
William 11th Duke of Hamilton
William 12th Duke of Hamilton 1845-1895
At the age of eighteen, having already been dismissed from Eaton and Oxford for what may be best described as unruly behaviour, William inherited the family titles and estates that included Easton.
Throughout his life he took great interest in sporting activities, horse racing, gambling and sailing.
In 1867 it was reported that “… he was close to financial ruin” when his horse Cortolvin won the Grand National, winning him a substantial amount of money.
The Duke's marriage
In 1873 the Duke married Lady Mary Montagu a daughter of the Duke of Manchester and Vanity Fair commented that...
“The Duke at the age of 28, paints a picture of idleness and dissipation, it is a curse of his life that he has never learnt to find pleasure in aught but idleness”
William 12th Duke of Hamilton
The couple however, continued to spend time and money developing their Easton interests, including the redevelopment of the Mansion.
In the sketch below the original Wingfield mansion can be seen behind a new two storey mock Elizabethan building of 1874. In addition to this, stables that housed 50 horses with accommodation for grooms were also built. The spending seem to have continued seamlessly when in 1875, to indulge the Duchess, it is reported that the Farm Park was built.
The "new" Tudor Mansion.....
with the old mansion behind it, as can be seen in the photo below
Building in Easton continued when the Duke had many cottages erected for his employees who manned his expanding estate, eventually growing to almost 5000 acres. Over this land the Duke would hunt with the Easton Harriers that he funded or go shooting, having made elaborate arrangements for his guests, including nobility from both England and the Continent.
Steam yachts and gambling
Between the years 1868-82, the Duke had three Steam yachts built on the Clyde, each being almost 200ft long and of 500 tons displacement. The last yacht “Thistle”, carried the Duke to racecourse venues on the continent to follow the fortunes of his horses. It is recorded “that the Duke's betting book was usually a sorry sight on settling day”.
The Steam Yacht "Thistle"
“Thistle” was professionally manned and was frequently berthed at Ipswich, from where it was also sent on errands for Spanish oranges, wines from France or cigars from Amsterdam.
The sale of the family treasures and Easton spending continues
In 1882, to fund his extravagancies, the Duke sold off his Grandfather's art collection housed in Hamilton Palace in Scotland. In a sale that was described as being “the sale of the century,” it took seventeen days to dispose of the collection and raised almost £400,000 (£36 million today).
Despite heavy gambling losses, it did not prevent extensive modifications to the 1874 Mansion. From having two floors in 1892-3, the roof was removed and in the new raised space a third floor was added, giving the building 27 bedrooms.
The Mansion with it's new third floor
Prior to the Mansion's development, to improve access to Wickham Market Station, the Duke had a new road made (now commonly known as "Tank Road") In addition to this, a new church roof and a new organ was funded. In 1892, at the time of these improvements and renovations a new school was built and opened to educate local children. The school remains today.
The Duke was the Premier Duke of Scotland in the year of his death, and owned 157,000 acres mainly in Scotland bringing an estimated income of £147,000 pa (£1.3 million). He still had debts though of £1million. His death was reported as being “an attack of the kidneys”. He died on his yacht “Thistle” in Algeria aged 50 in 1895.
The last of the Easton Hamiltons
Without a son and heir the title of 13th Duke was passed to a poor distant relative and naval officer Alfred. The estates however were divided up between Alfred and the late Duke's 10 year old daughter, Mary (pictured here in later years) who inherited the Easton and Isle of Arran estates.
In 1906, Mary married Lord James Graham (later the Duke of Montrose) and just prior to the outbreak of WWI, they moved with their children to their ancestral Scottish homes. The Easton estate was left in the care of both their agent and Mary's mother. At the outbreak of war, the Mansion, with its 27 bedrooms, was converted into a Red Cross Hospital to receive the wounded, who were placed under the care of Mary's mother.
Dowager Mary, Commandant of Easton Red Cross Hospital
Mary devoted her war years to the recuperation of the wounded and one report written by a patient said that “…. she works all hours of the day” and that... “she is a true sport and England will owe a great debt forever to all such as Mary (Dowager) Duchess of Hamilton”
At the cessation of hostilities, Mary joined her daughter, Mary, who had become a theatre nurse in a Glasgow hospital throughout the war. On the Isle of Arran they opened a convalescent home.
Government taxes end a way of life forever
The government imposed super taxes on the rich to help defray the cost of war. Faced with this Mary and her husband decided, with regret, to sell their Easton estate. It was divided up into 137 lots and sold by auction in 1919. The sale attracted great attention and raised £58000 (£4.6 million today) but the Mansion and its 150 acre parkland remained unsold. In 1922, another attempt was made to sell it at auction, but again it remained unsold. Three months later it was sold privately for £11,278 (£900000 today). The parkland was transferred to the Martley Hall. With very little land about it, the Mansions fate was sealed. Two weeks before Christmas 1924, a demolition team from Reades of Aldeburgh began its to pull it down. Some artefacts were removed and incorporated into Martley Hall and other local houses.
The people of Easton
Villagers and their families, who had grown accustomed to serving Lords of the Manor for more than three hundred years, were now faced with social and economic changes. The days of influence of the landed gentry had been curtailed by government taxes and other legislation in the late 19thC that transferred County affairs, including that of magistrates, onto more democratic bodies such as parish councillors. For the people of Easton, the transitional changes coupled with the Great War, the loss of their Ducal system and then the Great Depression, led to hardship and an exodus from rural areas to the towns and cities. It is recorded that in those uncertain days, there were those who lamented the past and wished....
“...for the familiar tried and trusted Ducal system”.
Perhaps they realised that as the estate was broken up, sold off and the Mansion demolished, the final chapter of the Wingfield, Rochford and Hamilton dynasties of Easton was being written.