The Heathcotes Of Durdans

The Heathcote Coat of Arms
The Heathcote Coat of Arms
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

If you browse through some of the 'notable families' that are covered on this website, you will see fairly common denominators, which are that they (1) originally made their money from trade, (2) bought themselves a country pile or two, (3) became Members of Parliament and occupied various high offices, and (4) usually got a title or three out of it all. You may be yearning for something different, but I must disappoint you: the Heathcotes fit the mould.

All dynasties must start somewhere: this one goes back to Chesterfield, Derbyshire as long ago as the reign of King Edward IV (1442-83). By the early 17th century the Heathcotes had the town sewn up: they were not only ironmongers (and sometimes tanners) but constables, brethren, aldermen, burgesses and mayors - with monotonous regularity.

Before we start properly, here is a list of the Heathcote baronets, plus the peerages which followed.

1st Gilbert Heathcote 1652-1732/3
2nd John Heathcote 1689-1759
3rd Gilbert Heathcote ?-1785
4th Gilbert Heathcote 1773-1851
5th + 1st Baron Aveland Gilbert John Heathcote 1795-1867
6th + 2nd Baron Aveland + 25th Baron Willoughby de Eresby + 1st Earl of Ancaster Gilbert Henry Heathcote-Drummond-Willoughby 1830-1910
26th Baron Willoughby de Eresby + 2nd Earl of Ancaster Gilbert Heathcote-Drummond-Willoughby 1867-1951
27th Baron Willoughby de Eresby + 3rd Earl of Ancaster* Gilbert James Heathcote-Drummond-Willoughby 1907-83
28th Baroness Willoughby de Eresby Nancy Jane Marie Heathcote-Drummond-Willoughby Born 1934

*The Earldom of Ancaster became extinct as there was no surviving male heir. The 3rd Earl's only son, Timothy Gilbert (born 1936), went missing in the Mediterranean Sea in 1963 and was presumed drowned.

Let us fast forward to the Heathcote who was not an ironmonger and who made it on to the national stage: this was Gilbert (1652-1732/3). We shall call him Gilbert 1, as there are many more Gilberts to come. He was educated at Christ's College, Cambridge, became a merchant - described as 'the most successful merchant of his generation' - and was a promoter of the New East India Company. Initially he was in the Baltic trade but rapidly diversified (assisted by six brothers) into Mediterranean wine and Caribbean commerce. He is credited with being one of the founders of the Bank of England and was its Governor on two occasions, from 1709 to 1711 and from 1723 to 1725. He had been a Member of Parliament for the City of London, was MP for Helston in Cornwall in 1714, New Lymington, Hampshire in 1722 and St German's, Cornwall in 1727; politically he was a Whig.

In 1711 Gilbert 1 was Lord Mayor of London and the last incumbent of the office to travel to the pledge of allegiance on horseback ... because he fell off and broke his leg: thereafter, a horse-drawn coach was used. He was renowned as a miser and lampooned as such in a poem by Alexander Pope. The baronetcy was conferred on him just eight days before his death on 25 January 1732/3. He was married to Hester, daughter of London merchant Christopher Rayner, and they had several children, some of whom were John, Hester, Anne and Elizabeth. He was buried at his country seat, Normanton Hall in Rutland. (Normanton Hall was a hugely impressive house on the south shore of Rutland Water, but, on failing to reach its reserve at auction in 1924, it was demolished. The stable block survived and is now a hotel.)

Memorial to Sir Gilbert, formerly in Normanton Church
Memorial to Sir Gilbert, formerly in Normanton Church (now a museum).
Image © Richard Croft and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Anne (1682-1737) married Sir Jacob Jacobson of Walthamstow, Essex, who was a director of the South Sea Company. Elizabeth (1704-42) married Sigismond Trafford (died 1723) of Dunston Hall, Lincolnshire. Hester (1698-1732) was married to William Sloane (1696-1767).

Sir John Heathcote, 2nd Baronet (1689-1759)

In 1720 John married Bridget White (1703-72). He was MP for Grantham, Lincolnshire (1715-22) and Bodmin, Cornwall (1733-41). His children were as follows.

Name Born Married Died
Hester   Sir Archibald Edmonstone MP, of Dunreath, Stirling 1797
Gilbert   (1) Lady Margaret Yorke (2) Elizabeth Hudson 1785
John   Lydia Moyer 1795
Anne   Lt-Gen Sir Robert Hamilton of Silvertonhill, Lanark  
Bridget 1723 James Douglas, 14th Earl of Morton FRS (astronomer) 1805

Sir Gilbert Heathcote 2, 3rd Baronet (?-1785)

Gilbert 2 was MP for Shaftesbury in Dorset from 1761-68. His first wife was Lady Margaret Yorke (died 1769), daughter of the 1st Earl of Hardwicke: there were no children from this marriage. Secondly, he married Elizabeth Hudson (died 1813) and they had four children, who were Elizabeth (married Field-Marshal Thomas Grosvenor), John (died 1802, unmarried), Robert (married Elizabeth Searle, died 1823) and Gilbert 3.

Robert moved in high circles, being a great friend of George Augustus Frederick, the Prince of Wales (i.e. the Prince Regent, later King George IV). His first son was named George Augustus Frederick and the Prince was a sponsor at the baptism.

Sir Gilbert Heathcote 3, 4th Baronet (1773-1851)

Gilbert Heathcote 3
Gilbert Heathcote 3
From James Andrews's Reminiscences of Epsom

After several hundred years of Heathcotes we are approaching Epsom. Gilbert 3 was High Sheriff of Rutland in 1795, MP for Lincolnshire (1796-1807) and for Rutland (1812-41). His first wife was Lady Catherine Sophia Manners (died 1825), who seems to have been a high-flyer in society, the newspapers of the period being filled with functions that she hosted in London and even a paragraph reporting that she bathed in the sea at Margate; his second wife was Charlotte Eldon, who died on 28 October 1842 from being 'frightfully burned' when her clothes caught fire.

There were three children by the first marriage being Gilbert John, Edward Lionel and William Henry.

Edward Lionel, known as Lionel Edward (c.1796-1875), was a Captain in the Horse Guards (the Blues). In 1864 he married Dorcas Martin Alleway (died 1873) and they lived at Tadworth Court House, Banstead, Surrey. This probably looks like a late marriage, but the couple had been living together for some years previously and, before that, he had lived with a 'wife' called Emma. Both Lionel and Dorcas were buried in Epsom cemetery.

William Henry (1797-1880) married Sophia Matilda Wright and they lived at North Luffenham Hall, Rutland; there were no children.

Gilbert 3 bought Durdans at Epsom in 1819 and in the 1841 census (the earliest available) he was living there with his wife and his sons, Gilbert 4 and Arthur, the latter being the only child of his second marriage. He entered the House of Commons at the age of 21, represented Lincoln in three parliaments and Rutland in nine: he was never opposed. After his retirement from political life in 1841 he concentrated on 'the turf', having won the Derby with Amato in 1838. Amato (1835-41) was bred at Durdans, trained by local man Ralph Sherwood, and raced only the once, ridden by Jem Chapple and getting home by a length at 33-1: his career was ended by injury.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Gilbert died at Durdans on 26 March 1851, aged 77.

Gilbert was not a betting man, but his son, Arthur, most certainly was. Arthur was born in London on 22 June 1829. He became head of the household at Durdans on the death of his father in 1851 and in that year was living there with his elder half-brother, Sir Gilbert (5th baronet), and cousins, Thomas and Francis (Frank). We will deal with Thomas and Francis very briefly later on, since they belonged to a different line of Heathcote baronets.

Arthur Heathcote in the 1840s.
Arthur Heathcote in the 1840s.
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum.

Arthur, known as 'The Squire', was a steward at Epsom racecourse and master of the Surrey stag-hounds; he died on 18 March 1869. After describing Durdans, the 'Stamford Mercury' of 26 March 1869 went on to say, 'Scarcely less notable was Mr Heathcote himself, with his thick black cravat, his hat on the back of his head, and his clothes quite a quarter of a century out of date in cut. Possessing a singularly amiable and confiding countenance, people were apt to consider he was more ingenuous and simple-minded than he was in reality, and many often found to their astonishment in conversation how wonderfully keen and accurate he was on all subjects appertaining to hunting or horse-racing. Up to 1864 he contented himself simply with the mastership of the Surrey stag-hounds, and when he became a frequenter of nearly all race meetings, and also a very heavy backer of horses, no little surprise was exhibited among those who had considered him as a squire wedded to the counties in which he hunted. His stag-hounds had become famous throughout the country. He usually hunted them himself, and as a straight and resolute rider, he had few equals, which could not be credited by people who noticed for the first time his somewhat awkward seat and his seemingly clumsy handling of his horse.

A day, however, was never too long for him. Of Conservatives he was one of the staunchest, so far as the preservation of old institutions was concerned, and his mansion at Durdans was in such a dilapidated condition that the doors were dropping from their hinges, and a paint-pot had not been seen inside from the moment he came into his property. The late Squire, who was in his fortieth year, was uncle to the present Lord Aveland, and cousin to Mr Frank Heathcote, so well known in connection with the aristocratic pigeon-shooting handicaps. In addition to the Estate at Epsom, Mr Heathcote had considerable landed property in Lincolnshire. He was unmarried. Gastric fever, or, as it is called, "the Prince Consort's disease" seldom misses its victim. Mortification of the stomach set in on Thursday morning, and after lingering until ten minutes after nine, this fine young English gentleman sank to his rest. Deceased served the office of Sheriff of Rutland in 1855. His remains were interred at Epsom on Wednesday last.'

A report of Arthur's funeral said that every shop and house in the town was closed and he was conveyed in a hearse drawn by four horses; eighty-eight tradesmen and tenants walked four-abreast in front of it. He was buried in St Martin's, near to his friend and companion, John Heasman, who had died on 24 August 1863, aged 35.

Arthur left no descendants and that was the end of the Heathcotes in Epsom: Durdans, the stag-hounds, the stags, the stud and the racehorses were sold by his legatees. I will just deal with Arthur's cousins, Thomas and Francis (Frank) and then tell you what happened to the baronetcy, which had already descended to Arthur's half brother, Gilbert 4.

Thomas was born in about 1810 and was a clergyman; he married Elizabeth Halstead and then Lucy Joyce. He was the vicar of Lavington in Lincolnshire and died in 1883.

Frank, a landed proprietor and pigeon-shooter, was born in 1811 in Christchurch, Hampshire and married Caroline Louisa Packer (c.1796-1876). They lived in Hampshire and London for many years but, by the time of Caroline's death in 1876, they were residing at 23 Old Steine, Brighton.

Old Steine, Brighton.
Old Steine, Brighton.
Image © Linda Jackson 2012

Francis died on 26 August 1879 at Northover Vicarage in Ilchester, Somerset

Sir Gilbert John Heathcote, later 1st Lord Aveland (1795-1867)

Gilbert 4 was born at Normanton Hall and educated at Trinity College, Cambridge; he was MP for Boston, Lincolnshire (1820-30 and 1831-2), Lincolnshire South (1832-41) and Rutland (1841-56) and also Lord Lieutenant for Lincolnshire. In 1856 he was raised to the peerage as 1st Baron Aveland of Lincolnshire.

His wife, whom he married in 1827 at her family home of Drummond Castle, Perthshire, was Clementina Charlotte Burrell-Drummond (1809-88), who later succeeded to the Barony of Willoughby de Eresby of Lincolnshire. There were just two children - Clementina Charlotte and Gilbert Henry.

Clementina was born in Rutland in about 1832 and in 1869 she married Vice-Admiral Sir George Tryon (1832-93) and, if you are an avid reader of this website, you will have met him elsewhere (Link to Charles Robert Roberts West). He was the flag officer who gave the order which caused his ship, HMS Victoria, to collide with HMS Camperdown in the Mediterranean. Victoria sank and Tryon was drowned.

Sir George Tryon.
Sir George Tryon.
Image source: Wikimedia Commons

The Tryons lived in Hanover Square, Belgravia and had one child, George Clement (born 1871). Clementina did not remarry and died on 8 November 1922.

George Clement Tryon was a Major in the Grenadier Guards and Conservative MP for Brighton from 1910-40. He held several ministerial posts and in 1940 was created 1st Baron Tryon, whereupon he became Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and First Commissioner of Works. He was married to Averil Vivian (1876-1959), daughter of the 1st Baron Swansea. They had two sons, Charles George Vivian and Aylmer Douglas (1909-96).

Charles George Vivian Tryon, the 2nd Baron (1906-76), was a Brigadier in the Grenadier Guards, was awarded a DSO in the Second World War and became a member of the Royal Household (Keeper of the Privy Purse and Treasurer to the present Queen). His wife was Etheldreda Josephine Burrell (1909-2002). Their son, Anthony George Merrick, the 3rd Baron (born 1940) was married to the late Dale Harper, who was known as 'Kanga' and is remembered for her association with the current Prince of Wales before his first marriage. Anthony and Dale were divorced in 1997 and she died in that same year, having a sad end: she had beaten cancer and in 1996 checked into a clinic to be treated for her dependence on pain-killers. Whilst there, she fell (or jumped) from a window and shattered her spine. Subsequently she was sectioned under the Mental Health Act. She made a recovery of sorts but died of septicaemia after a trip to India.

Gilbert Henry Heathcote-Drummond-Willoughby, 2nd Lord Aveland, 25th Baron Willoughby de Eresby and 1st Earl of Ancaster

Filling in the name boxes on forms must have been a long and tedious business for this man, but we will just call him Gilbert 5.

Gilbert 5.
Gilbert 5.
Image from Vanity Fair 1881 via Wikimedia Commons

Gilbert 5 was a Liberal politician, educated at Trinity College, Cambridge. He was MP for Boston (1852-56) and for Rutland (until 1867, when he became Lord Aveland). In 1872 he added the Willoughby-Drummond to his surname. He was Deputy Lord Great Chamberlain from 1871 to 1901 and a Privy Councillor.

His wife was Lady Evelyn Elizabeth Gordon (1846-1921), daughter of the 10th Marquess of Huntly. Their children were Margaret Mary (1866-1956), Gilbert, Charles Strathavon (1870-1949), Claud (1872-1950), Mary Adelaide (1878-1960) and Peter Robert (1885-1914).

Margaret married barrister Gideon Macpherson Rutherford (c.1864-1907) in 1902. Charles was a Brigadier-General in the Army; his wife was Lady Agnes Muriel Stuart Erskine, daughter of the 14th Earl of Buchan. Most strangely, Lady Agnes had an occupation in the 1911 census and that was 'children's outfitter - shopkeeper'. Their only child, Rosalie, married a man with a CV longer than this article - Terence Edmund Gascoigne Nugent (1895-1973), 1st Baron Nugent, MC, GCVO and Grand Officer of the Legion of Honour; he was a royal Equerry and a permanent Lord-in-Waiting.

Claud was at one time a Lieutenant-Colonel in the Army, but more particularly Conservative MP for Stamford, Lincolnshire (1910-18) and Rutland and Stamford (1918-22). He was married to Lady Florence Conyngham, daughter of the 3rd Marquess Conyngham.

Peter Robert was a Lieutenant-Commander in the Royal Navy and was killed in action on 1 November 1914, whilst serving in the armoured cruiser, HMS Monmouth, as part of a group which encountered a German squadron commanded by Admiral Graf Spee. The Battle of Coronel (off the coast of Chile) ensued and both the Monmouth and HMS Good Hope were sunk by the Gneisenau, with the loss of all 1,570 men on board. The British had their revenge five weeks later when two of their battle cruisers destroyed Graf Spee's flotilla at the Battle of the Falkland Islands. Peter's wife was Pamela May Ross and they had one son, Peter Gilbert, who was born just a few months before his father's death and sadly died in 1916.

HMS Monmouth.
HMS Monmouth.
Image source: Wikimedia Commons.

Gilbert Heathcote-Drummond-Willoughby, 2nd Earl of Ancaster and 26th Baron Willoughby de Eresby

Gilbert 6 was a Conservative politician, sometime MP for Horncastle, Lincolnshire and Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries; he was also Lord Lieutenant of Rutland and Joint Lord Great Chamberlain. His wife was Eloise Lawrence Breese.

Gilbert James Heathcote-Drummond-Willoughby, 3rd Earl of Ancaster and 27th Baron Willoughby de Eresby.

Gilbert 7 was MP for Stamford, Lord Lieutenant of Lincolnshire and Joint Lord Great Chamberlain. He married Nancy Phyllis Louise Astor (1909-75), daughter of Waldorf Astor, 2nd Viscount Astor and his immensely famous wife, Nancy. As mentioned, his son, Timothy Gilbert, disappeared, presumed drowned, in 1963, so that on the death of Gilbert 7 the Ancaster title became extinct.

Nancy Jane Marie Heathcote-Drummond-Willoughby, 28th Baroness Willoughby de Eresby

Nancy, the daughter of Gilbert 7, was born in 1934 and is unmarried. She inherited 75,000 acres of land in Lincolnshire and Perthshire and was a train-bearer to the present Queen at the Coronation.

Linda Jackson © May 2012

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