The Baronets of Adelphi Road

Once upon a time there was a young Lieutenant in the Royal Navy whose name was William. He incurred the displeasure of his baronet father, Sir Roger, by marrying Mary, the daughter of a naval gunner (i.e. not a commissioned officer), and was disinherited. Thus, the baronetcy, which would in due time have passed to his son, went on a circuitous journey, meaning that some people in Adelphi Road, Epsom missed out on being born and bred in a stately Kent mansion.

It started with Sir Thomas Twisden, who was a High Court judge and sometime Member of Parliament; in 1656 he bought the manor of Bradbourne, near East Malling in Kent, which still stands (now called Bradbourne House) and is Grade 1 listed.

Sir Thomas Twisden
Sir Thomas Twisden.
Mezzotint by Charles Turner published 1812

I won't bore you with the whole tangled descent of the title and Bradbourne House because there is a very good illustrated booklet which explains everything succinctly, produced by the East Malling Trust: you can read it on their website.

Bradbourne House
Bradbourne House
N Chadwick © and licensed for reuse (CC BY-SA 2.0).

The Royal Navy Lieutenant was William Twisden, born in 1741, second son of Sir Roger Twisden, 5th Baronet. When the latter died in 1772 the title descended to his eldest son, also Roger, who lasted only until 1779, although it seems that he once fought a duel with Lt William (swords) in the street. This second Roger did not have a son and the title should have gone to the eldest son of Lt William (who had died in 1771, as had his wife), Captain John Twisden: however, as Lt William had been disinherited, his younger brother, John Papillon Twisden, grabbed all the spoils. Sir JPT died in 1810 and was succeeded by his son, also John, who is described in the aforementioned booklet as 'weak and simple'. This John died in 1841, leaving no sons, so that the title became dormant. Re-enter Captain John Twisden, who had morally been the rightful heir since the death of Sir Roger 2 in 1779: he eventually gained possession of Bradbourne House, with the grounds etc going to a rival female claimant and her forthright husband (although he got much of it back in due course).

The Captain's eldest son, John Francis, predeceased him, so the title passed to his grandson, John Kerr Twisden, who died in 1862. The Captain's second son, William (died 1841), is the man we want because that is how we get to Epsom: he is commemorated in St Martin's Churchyard, although he was buried in Southwark, on the gravestone of his wife. I think his eldest daughter, Emma, who was in Epsom with her mother, probably had this stone erected after her mother died.

The Twisden Family Grave in St Martin's Graveyard Epsom.
The Twisden Family Grave in St Martin's Graveyard Epsom.
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

Mrs William Twisden was Martha Billett and the marriage was at Lambeth on 10 December 1816. There were six children, being William (1818), Emma (1821), Anne (1823), John Francis (1825), Clara (1829) and Mary Elizabeth (1833). Mary Elizabeth died in 1837 and is also commemorated on the St Martin's gravestone.

In the 1851 census the widowed Martha was helping her daughter Emma run an infants' school at Clay Hill; she died in 1855, aged 58. On 23 October 1858 at St Martin's Emma married widower George Snashall. George had two thriving emporia in Epsom, both of which are described effusively in the Business Guide to Epsom and District on this website.

Anne Twisden married schoolmaster Charles Wilkins at Lambeth on 17 June 1848, which is how I got mangled up with this baronetcy saga in the first place. I was propounding a theory about the identity of a Miss Wilkins in the Cuthbert Hopkins photographs we are working through in our Victorian Studio Photos series and stumbled on this other material. Rather than tell the story in that series, alongside a photo of someone who might not be the Miss Wilkins I think she is, I thought it best to do a separate piece on the Twisdens.

Clara Twisden married schoolmaster Richard Henry La Thangue at Guildford in 1855 and one of their children was the respected painter Henry Herbert La Thangue; you can see a selection of his works on the Art UK website.

And so to the Baronets of Adelphi Road. William (the born in 1818 variety) claimed to be an artist in the 1841 census - and there had been some artists in the family - but was said in the booklet to be 'unstable' (another source describes him as 'indolent'). He married Caroline Brenchley on Christmas Day 1851 at Sellinge, Kent. In the 1851 census, just before their marriage, they were both working as schoolteachers at the East Ashford Poor Law Union. I can't find them in 1861, but a son, Roger John, had been born in Marnhull, Dorset in 1852 and in 1862 a daughter, Caroline Elizabeth, saw the light of day in Southwark. William sadly went blind in 1865. They resurfaced in 1871 at Epsom Common in what I imagine to be a modest workman's cottage or something like that - certainly the neighbours were labourers, laundresses and suchlike. His occupation was given as former clerk at Magdalen Hospital and I suppose this was another of that network of establishments where they tried to reform prostitutes and train them to earn a different kind of living. Anyway, Roger was now a draper's apprentice and Caroline Junior was at school.

If you recall, Sir John Kerr Twisden had died in 1862 and Epsom William then became the 9th Baronet. Apparently he never used the title and just remained in Epsom, doing whatever it was he did. By 1881 the family had moved to Number 9 Adelphi Road, with Roger a draper's assistant and young Caroline a pupil teacher. The booklet I referred to earlier describes Roger as 'sickly'. William died early in 1883 and was buried in Epsom Cemetery (Grave A26A). Sickly Roger then became the 10th Baronet, but he didn't use the title either. It probably would have seemed rather snobbish for Adelphi Road and I doubt the family had the means to scale up (William had left personal estate of just 95).

Adelphi Road
Adelphi Road. Nos 3-27.
Photographed by LR James in Sept 1967
Image courtesy of Epsom and Ewell Local and Family History Centre

They were still at Number 9 in 1901 and then Caroline Senior died on 13 November 1903, leaving effects of 126.75. Roger and Caroline Junior seem to have moved to the High Street after that, but they didn't last much longer. Roger expired on 6 May 1907 (546), followed by Caroline Junior on 22 September 1909 (204.55). They are all in Grave A26A. Roger was unmarried so there were no more baronets in that line, but …

In June 1909 a Miss Emily Henrietta Twisden, aged 95, asked the High Court for a Declaration that her father, Captain John Twisden, who had many daughters as well as sons,and his father, Lt William Twisden, were legitimate. The reason she became involved herself was a previous Court of Appeal decision concerning who could apply for a Declaration of Legitimacy. She wasn't doing it on her own behalf, but to pave the way for her nephew to claim the title. Her barrister expressed some concern that the case might founder if Miss T expired before a decision was made, but the judge said it shouldn't be a problem. Proceedings were reported by many newspapers and the crux of the matter was whether Lt William and Mary Kirk, the non-commissioned gunner's daughter, had been legally married. No marriage document had ever surfaced, nor any clues as to exactly when and where a ceremony might have taken place. There was a mass of documentary evidence dating back to the 1760s, some of it so fragile that it had to be balanced on a sheet of notepaper to be handed up to the judge. None of this was proof that a marriage actually had taken place, but all of it suggested strongly that the couple were husband and wife. And, as the judge pointed out at one stage, Lt William had stuck with Mary and represented her as his wife, despite the family opposition, and he couldn't see any reason why they wouldn't have married in all the circumstances.

The nephew in question was another John Francis Twisden, the younger son of the William who died in 1841 (the St Martin's Churchyard man). If he was descended legitimately from Lt William he could claim the baronetcy. And that is just what happened, since the judge ruled in favour of the application and the widowed JFT, who was a clergyman, and who had already been in residence with the elderly Miss Emily Henrietta T at Bradbourne House for some years, became the 11th Baronet. Job done, Miss T then expired, in December 1909. JFT died in 1914, aged 89, and was succeeded by his son, John Ramskill Twisden. JRT was the 12th and last Baronet and left no heir so, when he died on 7 November 1937, the baronetcy became extinct. The long and winding road that had started with the 1st Baronet at Bradbourne in 1656 ended there with the 12th in 1937, but with a detour to Epsom for the 9th and 10th.

Linda Jackson, 2018