Fall of the house of Stalbridge
Irene Jones charted the rise and fall of the house of Stalbridge in her book The Stalbridge Inheritance. Here we look at the pivotal pre- and post-Waterloo years.
Published in January ’16
Following the death of the Earl of Uxbridge in 1812, his son, Henry William Paget became the 2nd Earl of Uxbridge of the 2nd creation, Lord of the Manor of Stalbridge, and owner of the Dorset and Somerset Estates.
Henry William was not unfamiliar with Dorset, having spent nine weeks in Weymouth as a Cavalry Officer with his Regiment in 1796. His bills for food, wine and domestic quartering remain in the Dorset Record Office to reveal the standard of living and the respective prices of food and commodities.
His servant, for instance, could be accommodated in lodgings for 5s per week, which was also the price of a bottle of brandy. One dozen bottles of sherry were cheap at £1.18s, compared with butter at 1s 1d per pound and eggs at 1s 10d per dozen. He must have indulged in the current craze for bathing as a bathing cap cost 3s.
Taking over the properties in 1812 was hardly a propitious moment for a man who was highly involved with the Army in the climactic years of the War with Napoleon. Yet in December, 1814, during the uneasy peace with France and while Napoleon was fretting on Elba, Lord Uxbridge was making a somewhat generous concession to an old Stalbridge woman whose property had been re-valued from £52 per year to £71. A note to William Castleman, his agent, stated that she ought to pay £60 a year; she was over 70 years old and had 10 children, but he added, ‘if you think she cannot pay more be it so.’
A generous note was struck also in reply to Castleman about an old man, Denham of Milborne Port, who had supported him and the late Earl. Lord Uxbridge told Castleman to continue the allowance of 2/6 weekly and asked if more was necessary.
Because of the previous agent’s ‘inattention’ whilst working for the Estate – George Cox left under a cloud, owing tens of thousands around the county – the payment of money for Coals for the Poor of Stalbridge had been discontinued for three years. The sum of £50 was to be distributed in bread or coals, but the comment of the donor is interesting: ‘I wish to give Charity but do not approve of an annual regular sum. It soon becomes a right. Make a distribution of Coals this year. I will think of something else for the next. From the continuing payments for coal to the poor it is obvious that other ideas did not materialise.
The following year was to occupy the Earl in a way that Europe could not have foreseen after its lenient dealings with Napoleon and France in 1814.
Shortly afterwards, Lord Uxbridge was ordered to Flanders where he had charge of the whole of the Cavalry and Horse Artillery under the Duke of Wellington.
Confronting Napoleon on the field of Waterloo on the 18th June, Lord Uxbridge was wounded in the knee from one of the last shots in the battle. The popular version of the event records the Duke of Wellington riding up and Lord Uxbridge saying, “By Gad, sir, I’ve lost my leg,” whereupon the Duke of Wellington, taking the telescope from his eye, looked down and seeing where the grape shot had penetrated said, “By Gad, sir, so you have!”
The amputation of the leg – without anaesthetic – took place in a Belgian farmhouse, and the limb was buried in a grave in the garden. Drawn by the fascination for blood and gore, the tourists of the day were willing to pay a fee to the housewife to look at the bloodstains on the couch and the grave of the famous leg. Even George IV paid his respects in the 1820s when he was conducted over the Field of Waterloo by the Duke of Wellington, and shown spots where men of note had fallen. The Duke recalled: ‘His Majesty took it very coolly, he never asked me a
single question, nor said one word, until I showed him where Lord Anglesea’s leg was buried, and then he burst into tears.’
The outcome of some of the problems on his Dorset and Somerset Estate were not to be so speedily resolved as the Battle of Waterloo.
Not long after William Castleman took over the Agency of the Dorset and Somerset Estates, he was faced with the problem of the deterioration of Stalbridge House. His hesitancy about taking down the noble Mansion, which once ranked fifth largest in Dorset, is conveyed in the letters of 1815. ‘I had instructions from Lord Uxbridge to take down this House and dispose of the materials to be used in repairs … and of fitting up the House opposite the mansion for Lewis’s residence … not to take down all at once but use the inside timbers. During the summer of 1815, Castleman wrote that he kept putting off the decision about the House. Perhaps it was good that he did not act hastily. Only nine months after the Battle of Waterloo, the newly created Marquess of Anglesey, decided that the House was not to be taken down.
The following year, Castleman was driven by the increasing expenses of keeping the House partly dry and the gradual destruction of materials to believe that the taking down of the House should not be delayed. He suggested fitting up and adding to the ‘House opposite the Mansion’ as a farm at a cost of £300, against the cost of nearly £1000 for a new house near the new farmyard.
Even so, the matter still remained in doubt in 1818 when a principal rafter had to be replaced at a cost of £10.10s.0d. and it was necessary to strip and re-tile the roof over the staircase, and set ridge tiles to other parts of the roof.
Small repairs continued to be carried out at the House after 1820, to the pipes in house and cellar in 1820/1821; to repair the tiles in February, 1822 another 12 lbs lead and 19 lbs solder were necessary.
After a period of lingering doubt that had lasted nearly ten years, the decision to take down what remained of the fine old building was finally reached in 1823.
Castleman made tentative suggestions ‘with a view to use the materials in the new buildings in Milborne Port’.
On closer inspection it was found that the lead in the House was much more valuable than expected, and that there was more oak in the roofs than first supposed. By October, 1823, a part of the House had been taken down, and the materials not used or reserved were to be sold by Auction in November.
Lord Anglesey noted his assent in two words, ‘I approve’.
There is only one entry concerning contents of the House which were bought by Thomas Skinner of the Red Lion Inn, Stalbridge. They were: ‘one wardrobe £6, Bedstead and Furniture, £4.4s, Counterpane and Blanketts £1.9s., which were in Stalbridge Park House before it was taken down.’
The first sale of materials took place on 10 November and several days following in 1823, with some items sold privately: other sales were held during 1824 and 1825. The net amount of £897.10s.9d. was gained from the sales. Not all the stone was sold off, some was retained for building in Milborne Port.
While much of the material was sold in lots of oak and elm beams, joists, deal boards, even firewood, with lead fetching the highest prices, of the individual items, the largest sums were paid for marble chimney pieces, one reaching £9 and the other £7.19. Included in the sales were doors and architraves, glass, a ‘cupolo in the stable’ and a turnip drill. The huge quantities of stone sold included Marnhull flooring, Ham Hill flooring and Stalbridge stone tiles, and one interesting lot – four stone columns.
Much stone from the House was carried to Milborne Port, where in 1823 it was used to repair the Market Cross, and in 1823/1824 tiles were used on the King’s Head stables. From January to September, 1824, 32¼ tons of ‘Old Stone from the Park House’ and 350 ft of Stalbridge Stone Flooring were taken, along with Wrought Stone Arches to the new buildings and Chislett’s Orchard, where a house was being built for Castleman.
A heavy load of lead, 162 3/4 cwt of it, was taken by wagon to Bristol at cost of £12.4s.ld., but there are no receipts of the selling price.
The vouchers for 1826 are missing, but by 1827, Thomas How’s house in Stalbridge Park, the ‘House opposite the Mansion’, ‘fitted up and added to’ no doubt as intended, with the stone from the old House, was ready for painting and bills were received for the chimney pieces and for ‘Iron to the Chimbley’ – 20 lbs costing 6s.8d.
Only the lions on the gate piers remain. ◗