Chedworth Place & Samford Court, Tattingstone
What’s in a name?
The naming of Chedworth Place and Samford Court
by Jane Kirk
The name Chedworth Place was chosen by the parish council at the suggestion of Sheila Hardy, a historian who lived in the village when the old St Mary’s Hospital was redeveloped into houses.
But why Chedworth?
The Chedworth coat of arms
Well it starts with a connection to a village in Gloucesteshire called Chedworth. The village is now most famous for a Roman villa run by the National Trust but in the 1700s it was home to the family seat of the Howe family of Stowell Park. The first Lord Chedworth was granted a barony in 1741 by George II. And his grandson the fourth Lord Chedworth, the one we are interested in, was John Howe.
Through his mother’s side of the family John was the nephew of Thomas White of Tattingstone Place. Thomas had no children and his estate would have passed to his nephew if John hadn’t surprisingly predeceased him by four years. And although John never actually lived in Tattingstone he did take an interest in the village in a benevolent way because when Thomas White retired as one of the original guardians of the workhouse (then called The Samford House of Industry) which had opened in 1766, John Howe succeeded him.
Now this story wouldn’t be half as interesting if it wasn’t for the fact that John, Lord Chedworth was such a colourful character easily described as “eccentric”!
Born in 1754, he was educated at Harrow School and then at Oxford but he left there after three years without taking a degree. Following his father’s death he moved with his mother to Ipswich to be near her family and where she later died in 1778. On the death of his uncle, the third Lord Chedworth, he succeeded to the title and estates, but continued to live in Suffolk taking no interest in Stowell Park. He was a trained and practising lawyer and also had a seat in the House of Lords.
According to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Chedworth’s reputation as eccentric seemed to be all about the contrast between his status and his appearance. He was described by his contemporaries as “a very strange looking man, awkward and ungainly, an ‘odd fox’, very singular and negligent in his dress”! This led to awkward situations like the time he was turned away from an army establishment at Tiptree by a sentry under orders not to let in any “mean looking persons”
Sheila Hardy described him as a highly intelligent man, a lawyer who gave free legal advice; someone who was extremely well read and spent much time studying Shakespeare’s plays; an academic scholar in Greek and Latin. She also described his physical appearance as being small and unusual and quotes this report of him from the time “a queer little man, small and slight of stature, mean and insignificant in appearance, his countenance at times betokens imbecility”. He was said to wear a dingy cloak, a tricorn hat and “boots which defied description”. Apparently he wore his boots so bare that most people would have been ashamed. It was reputed that he would get his servant to wear in new boots for him and indeed when his house was cleared out following his death it was recorded that a huge number of tins of mustard were removed and so just maybe he had a foot problem!
Many of his dealings were characterized by his un-worldliness and he did seem to live very modestly. And for many years he failed to be aware that he was being systemically defrauded by his steward of £60,000 which is a lot of money now but in those times would have been a huge fortune. He was not interested in fashionable society and preferred going to the theatre or the races and apparently he scandalised his social equals by haunting the parlours of The Griffin Inn in Ipswich* and the green room of the Theatre Royal, Norwich. His interest in the theatre was quite serious as in his later years while living with a doctor friend in Yarmouth he studied and wrote a book entitled “Notes upon some of the Obscure Passages in Shakespeare’s Plays”.
Among his acts of kindness, he supported the poetess Anne Candler by buying copies of her books. Anne had fallen on hard times and spent many years in the Tattingstone workhouse (and my house is actually named after her).
In the same Oxford Dictionary it says that there were “suggestions of sexual ambivalence”! Now whether this was because he never married despite having numerous women friends, some coming from lower classes, actresses, milliners and innkeeper’s daughters; or more likely the fact that he was publicly accused of homosexual behaviour in an incident at Epsom races in 1781! Lord Chedworth refused to defend his honour by duelling and in a surprise move successfully sued for damages in a case that as you can imagine caused much excitement in society but for him had the effect of intensifying his dislike of that same society.
It seems that his eccentricities highlighted his reputation as a man of principle. An obituary described him as being “of a very religious cast of mind”. He was known for his shrewdness and it was said that he understood the laws of his country better than any magistrate in the kingdom. Although he never owned horses or betted, he was much respected at Newmarket where it was said that nobody could out-calculate him! He was also noted for his love of female society and lax moral principles as later evidenced by his legacies.
Lord Chedworth died at his home in Brook Street, Ipswich on 29 October 1804 after a three month illness during which time he “was invisible to his friends”. He was buried in St Matthew’s Church in Ipswich, next to his mother as he had requested and the inscription on his tomb describes him as a man of unusually cultivated tastes and of Whig sympathies.
With no heirs, his will caused yet another sensation and was considered extraordinary because other than modest bequests to three cousins, he left £190,000 in legacies to various friends and acquaintances many of them actors and actresses, milliners and tradesmen. £15,000 was left to the woman he had considered marrying, £3,000 to “that illustrious Statesman and true patriot, the Honourable Charles James Fox”, £4,000 to a cheesemonger on Ipswich quay with whom he played whist and with whose wife he enjoyed chatting. There was even £13,000 in trust for the benefit of a married acquaintance that was not to be subject to her husband’s debts! The Howe estates in Gloucestershire, where he had never lived, were divided and sold in 1811 for £268,635 – that’s over £22m in today’s money!
Not surprisingly his family disputed the will on the grounds of insanity but failed to have it annulled and his doctor friend from Yarmouth even went as far as publishing his work on Shakespeare’s plays in order to prove his sanity. And so that was the end of the Chedworth barony but the name lives on here in Tattingstone.
In a nutshell, and in 21st century speak, he would be described as, yes, an eccentric, but also a man of the people; he was benevolent, generous, possibly naive, certainly disinterested in material wealth but above all he was highly intelligent. So quite a character and one who you feel in this day and age would make headlines in the press for all the wrong reasons.
The naming of Samford Court is nothing like as fascinating. Historically counties were divided into hundreds for administrative purposes. Samford was a hundred of Suffolk consisting of 28 parishes and nearly 50,000 acres and situated to the south and south west of Ipswich. It was bounded by the River Orwell to the east, Essex to the south, the River Brett to the west and the parish boundaries of Burstall, Hintlesham and Sproughton to the north. And it was from these parishes that the poor and needy found themselves in the Samford Union Workhouse.
* The Griffin Inn was situated in Westgate Street in Ipswich where W H Smith now stands and was one of the town’s oldest inns dating back to 1528. It covered a wide area, was quite substantial in size and included a large yard behind the inn itself where in 1728 a booth was erected for theatrical performances. This did not meet with universal approval and when the booth collapsed in 1729, it prompted the publication of a pamphlet called “A Prelude to Plays; or, a few serious questions proposed to the Gentlemen, Ladies and others, that frequent the Playhouse; which they are desired to answer deliberately to themselves, before they go again to those Diversions”!!! Needless to say that didn’t prevent plays being held! Eventually a hotel, the Crown and Anchor, was built on the site as can still be seen by the elaborate stonework and impressive doorway.
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With acknowledgements to Sheila Hardy: “The House on the Hill”, Tattingstone – A Village and Its People” and “The Story of Anne Candler”.