Stourhead Estate

When the Manor of Stourton Caundle passed to the Stourton family, in 1461, the castle, a large fortified manor house located on the northern side of the Caundle Brook at Manor Farm, became a “removing house”, or a “jointure house”, for Dowager widows of the family. The member of this family who had the closest personal connections with the village was Lady Agnes, wife of Edward Lord Stourton, Lord of the Manor from 1523 to 1535. Before her marriage she was Agnes Fontleroy of Caundle Marsh (Font le Roi Farm) and after her husband’s death she resided for many years in the castle, which had become the family dower house.

Charles Stourton was the son of William the 7th Lord Stourton, who had been given eight manors, including Stourton Caundle, Purse Caundle and Hinton St Mary in Dorset, after the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Charles Stourton, despite being Lord Lieutenant of Wiltshire, Somerset and Dorset, was so dissolute and extravagant that he earned the nickname, ‘the wicked nobleman’ His father had died in 1548, leaving a Will in which his mistress, Agnes Rice, was a main beneficiary. His father’s steward, William Hartgill, contested the Will and Charles Stourton swore vengeance on the steward of the Stourton Estate, who was trying to protect it from William’s worst excesses. Agnes appears to have continued living at the Manor of Stourton, supported by Hartgill, until she married c.1553. Charles married Lady Anne Stanley in 1549. Charles and his wife, who bore him 6 children within as many years, would have often lived at the castle.

Writs were issued by various interested parties, in an effort to resolve disputes over the Will. Charles was convinced that Hartgill, whilst acting as steward to his father, when instructed to carry out transactions on his behalf, had stolen title to several properties owned by the Stourhead Estate. On 12th January 1556, Charles’ men dispossessed Hartgill of land and property with disputed ownership, in the Manor of Kilmington. By August 1556, Hartgill had organised a summons that Stourton’s men were to appear in court at Frome to answer charges. Hartgill claimed damages of 300 marks (£368) and Lord Stourton appeared before the Council of St. James’s, Westminster, on 29th December, having been temporarily held in The Fleet, a debtors’ prison. He secured his release on a bond of £2,000, to enable him to travel back home to arrange payment of the debt. He left London, went straight to Stourton Caundle, and sent word to Hartgill that he was ready to pay the damages claimed, as instructed by the court, and to end their dispute. A meeting in Kilmington churchyard was arranged for 11th January at 10am.

Charles Stourton arrived at the agreed date and time, accompanied by some 15 of his servants, to meet Hartgill, his son John, and others of their family. Proffering two purses as though about to pay his debt, Lord Stourton tricked the two Hartgills into coming forward, at which point 10 or more of Stourton’s men arrested the pair declaring them to be felons. They tied them up and held them all day against their will. Around 2am on the 12th, the men took them to Bonham near Stourhead. At around 4pm, they were visited by two justices of the peace, at Lord Stourton’s request, and the prisoners were untied. But after they had departed, his men retied them and at 10pm, four of his servants took them to a place near Stourton House, where they clubbed them down and ultimately cut both their throats, working through the night to conceal their bodies, by burying them some 15ft deep, and disguising the workings with two layers of paving and wood chippings.

Charles Stourton, and four of his men, were apprehended and brought to trial in London on 26th February 1557, where he confessed and was found guilty. They were sentenced to be hanged. Stourton departed the Tower of London for Salisbury tied to a horse, where, being a peer of the realm, he was famously hanged with a silken cord in the market square on the 6th March 1557.

At this time, committing a capital crime resulted in the murderer forfeiting not only his life, but also ownership of all his land and property, which reverted to the Crown. Anne sent a letter to Mary I, pleading for compassion and permission to retain ownership of Stourton House and the fortified house or ‘castle’ in Stourton Caundle. This, she reported, was her only dwelling house and that it was in a “ruynous” and “corrupt” state. The response came in a letter from Greenwich, dated 20th April 1557, stating that Lady Stourton would be allowed 10 days to obtain and handover monies to the estimated value of the property she was seeking to retain ownership of.

Stourton Caundle had been an important part of the estate during the early 16th Century, generating an annual income to the Stourton family of more than £60. After her husband’s demise, Lady Anne moved back to Stourton House. Stourton Caundle and Purse Caundle remained part of the Stourton Estate but Hinton St. Mary was sold by the crown. Around 1560, Anne married Sir John Arundel (~1527–1590) of Lanherne, Cornwall, remaining a devout Catholic until her death in 1602. She had a further 7 children by Sir John. The fortified manor house at Stourton Caundle was left to fall into disrepair.

The final severance, of the Stourton connection with Stourton Caundle, was the sale of the Stourhead estate in1714, due mostly to impoverishment brought about by penalties over a long period for the family’s refusal to change its religion. As “Recusants”, Roman Catholics in England who incurred legal and social penalties in the 1500s and afterward for refusing to attend services of the Church of England, they suffered serious penalties, including the sequestration of their property, from which they were never really able to recover.

In 1717, Henry Hoare, son of wealthy banker, Sir Richard Hoare, purchased Stourhead Estate. . A partner in the bank, Hugh Richard inherited from his father, Sir Henry Hugh. He retired from the bank in 1845 with a considerable allowance, which he dedicated to many improvements across the estate.

Hugh Richard’s nephew, Sir Henry Ainslie Hoare, was next to inherit Stourhead. He enjoyed a lively social life in the city, and shooting, hunting and other countryside pursuits when he was at Stourhead, but Ainslie’s flamboyant lifestyle eventually forced him to leave the bank. In 1883 he had to resort to auctioning Stourhead paintings, furniture and books to raise money during an agricultural depression. He left Stourhead in 1885.

Succeeding his cousin, Henry Ainslie, Henry Hugh Arthur Hoare devoted his life to Stourhead. He restored the estate after a period of neglect, and even oversaw the total restoration of Stourhead house after a devastating fire in the house in 1902. His son, Harry Hoare, was to be heir to the estate, but was killed in the First World War.

The estate dispersal sale of the estate owned land and properties in the parishes of Stourton and Purse Caundle, took place at the Digby Hotel, Sherborne, on the 11th July 1911, and included all five of the main farms located within the parish boundary. Manor and Church Farms at Purse Caundle, along with Tut Hill Farm, also formed part of the sale. The proceeds for the land and property located within the parish boundary, which included all of the remaining estate owned cottages, together with the shop and the post office, located in adjacent properties at Golden Hill, amounted to £25,438. Both Manor and Barrow Hill farms failed to reach their reserve prices and, along with the unsold cottages, remained in the ownership of the estate until the final dispersal sale, held on June 16th 1918, at the Assembly Rooms, Bruton.