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Helmdon Historical Articles


an article by J V Beckett
When the 4th Earl Ferrers was hanged at Tyburn in 1760 for the murder of his land steward, the family estates were confiscated by the Crown. His brother and heir, Washington Shirley, fifth earl, recovered the property by an Act of Parliament in 1771, but the improvements he proceeded to make to the family home at Staunton Harold ran him into deep financial difficulties. In an attempt to restore his credit, he sold estates at Brailsford in Derbyshire for 88,000.1 It was not enough, and when creditors continued to press, Ferrers was forced to consider further sales. The property he put on the market was his 1,963 acre Northamptonshire property at Astwell and Falcutt. Negotiations opened in 1774, and the estate was finally conveyed in 1778 to the second Earl Temple of Stowe, in Buckinghamshire. The negotiations were complicated by Ferrer's financial troubles, and they reveal a fascinating picture of how private land transactions were conducted in the 18th century. We know relatively little about the operation of the land market in this period,2 and the opportunity to piece together what happened at Astwell and Falcutt offers insight into how landowners negotiated with each other to complete property transactions.

Astwell and Falcutt lie at the southern end of Northamptonshire, adjacent to Helmdon and Syresham, and only a short distance across the Buckinghamshire border from Earl Temple's chief seat at Stowe in north-west Buckinghamshire. Richard Grenville, second Earl Temple (1711-79) had for many years been a prominent politician, acting in union with his younger brother George (Prime Minister 1763-5) and his cousin William Pitt, who was also his brother-in-law. With George Grenville's death in 1770, Temple effectively retired to Stowe. During the 1770s he largely rebuilt the house, and concurrently sought to extend the landed inheritance he expected to bequeath to his heir, George Grenville, who was to become successively 3rd Earl Temple in 1779, and first Marquess of Buckingham in 1784. It was a familiar pattern among successful landowners, for whom house building and estate consolidation were just two ways of helping to bolster their family fortunes in the hope of eventually rising through the peerage (in this case) or gentry to the highest honours.3

at Tyburn in 1760 (Northamtonshire Libraries and Information Service)
Temple had slowly been consolidating his estates in the area around Stowe since he inherited the property in 1749, and it is not surprising to find him taking an interest when Ferrers decided to sell. Ferrers first offered the estate to him in 1774, when the asking price was 47,625.4 It was obvious from the outset that Temple would not be willing to pay as much as this. Ferrers was known to be in financial difficulty and likely, as a result, to have to accept something less than the full value of the estate. Even more importantly, the estate was mortgaged. If the transaction was to go through it would involve Temple paying off the creditors. Consequently, Temple was faced with two immediate problems: first to establish the exact extent of the debts secured on the estate - for which he would become liable once an agreement with Ferrers was signed - and second to decide upon a price which was reasonable and did not exceed the total of the outstanding debts. Neither decision was easy to take.

We do not know exactly when negotiations commenced, but they were obviously well advanced when, on behalf of Ferrers, John I'Anson made a formal offer to Temple in May 1774:


I have the honour to write to your Lordship with the Inclosed Account of Lord Ferrer's Estates in Northamptonshire which your Lordship has been treating to purchase . My Lord is desirous of agreeing with your lordship for 44,500 in which there is a great allowance made for any supposed over-value with respect to the woods as will appear by the inclosed account and which shows that 44,500 is 1,300 less than 28 years purchase supposing the woods to be of the value mentioned in the particular, but if your Lordship is not satisfied with this way of reckoning Lord Ferrers will engage to sell it for 45,796 which is 28 years purchase after making the deductions your Lordship has desired.5

Temple agreed to the latter proposal. Twenty-eight years purchase (i.e. 28 times the annual rent) was a fair price, but there were details to establish. By June 1775 an amended proposition had been worked out:


that Lord Ferrers should convey to you all his estate in Northamptonshire except the woods and two pieces of land mentioned therein which contain 20 acres and which Mr Parrott observes is at present let at 10s. an acre, though worth 13 or 14 but your Lordship agreed to value it at the rent now let at, that is 10 a year which at 20 years purchase amounts to 280. The sum which your Lordship was to give upon the original agreement was 45,796. Deduct for the wood according to the present agreement 5,600 [and] for the 20 acres of land at 10 a year at 28 years purchase 280, 39,916.6

With an agreement reached on price, the next problem was to be sure that 39,916 did not exceed the sums owed by Ferrers to the mortgagees. This did not turn out to be straightforward. As one of his agents told Temple:


I submit to your Lordship it is impossible to ascertain what Incumbrances affect this or any other Estate but from what appears upon the Face of the title or judgments and from the accounts that are given in (except in Registered Counties) for if a seller is unprincipled enough to deceive you it is impossible to avoid it.7

Portrait by Allan Ramsay
(By courtesy of the Earl Ferrers)
In other words, there were no clear legal means to establish the extent of the debts. Temple had to rely on the honesty of Ferrers and his agents. Unfortunately they were unable to agree a consolidated list of debts. One account totaled 42,494, but Temple's own agent, William Froggatt, estimated them variously at 43,000 and later at 48,275. Yet a further calculation produced a figure of 47,505.8

If Temple had been aware of these inconsistencies from the outset he would almost certainly have backed out of the negotiations at an early stage. Unfortunately, he had already taken a step which had compromised his position. In July 1775, confident that negotiations would soon be completed, he had paid off a mortgage of 4,803 owed to a Mr Stevenson.9 Thereafter, whatever Temple's fears about the encumbrances turning out to exceed the purchase price, he was effectively committed.10 While Temple refused to complete the purchase until he had a clearer idea of the financial picture, Ferrer's position improved. Instead of negotiating virtually on Temple's terms, as he was virtually forced to do in 1774-5, Ferrers could adopt a more strident tone. He wrote to Temple on 15 May 1776:


You will be so good to recollect that I contracted with you to sell the estate greatly under its value, merely to facilitate the settling of my other affairs; also that I took back the Woods and gave up every other point that your Lordship seemed to desire in order to accommodate you to your own wishes; and your Lordship has already given a proof of your liking the purchase by carrying a part of the contract into execution in paying off Mr Stevenson's mortgage.

Ferrers was stating the obvious; Temple was now so far committed that he would have to complete the purchase, come what may.11

Temple, not used to such treatment, particularly from someone as deeply in debt as Ferrers, responded frostily on 22 May 1776:


I have already had trouble and lost money enough by the stocks that have fallen and are falling, not to mention my having sold out and lost interest by the money lying dead, to think myself fully justified in directing as I did my agent to declare to your Lordship that I deemed it unreasonable that I should remain on my part obliged in all times and under all circumstances to fulfill a contract, which must in its nature be void, as your Lordship knew at the time you entered into it, that it was not in your power to make it good in due time. My principal object being to vest my money in land before the fall of stocks, that I therefore should hold myself entirely at liberty what I may be inclined to do when your Lordship is enabled to make out a title free from all incumbrances, which I do not know you yet are, is a question which I may be to decide according to time and circumstances as if nothing had passed betwixt us.12

Temple's argument was that he had cashed stock he intended to use in the transaction because he believed land currently to be a better investment than paper securities. He was now losing interest on his money because Ferrers was unable to make out a suitable title so as to complete the transaction.

It was an ingenious argument, but before we expend any sympathy on Temple, who was wealthy enough to survive despite the loss of a little interest, it is worth pointing out that he was not being honest. His dealings in stock were invariably conducted through the medium of his bank account with Coutts Bank, and from this there is no evidence that he had sold any stock at the time he wrote this letter.13 He only began to sell stock when he was satisfied as to the efficacy of the deal, but this was a year later, in the spring of 1777, when he raised 21,194 from sales of East India bonds, South Sea Stock, and long annuities. At the same time he received 14,500 from the executors of his brother, George Grenville, which was a contribution towards the Northamptonshire purchase. Altogether in the spring of 1777 he is known to have raised 35,694. At the same time he paid 4,376 to John Webster, 4,540 to Earl Ferrers, and 22,700 to the executors of a Mr Cruttenden to pay off his mortgage on the Ferrers estates.14 From the accounts it is impossible to be sure which money was used for which purpose but, together with the money already paid on behalf of Ferrers in 1775, Temple paid over 36,000 for the property, and possibly rather more.15 Temple's agents collected the rents of Astwell and Falcutt for the first time in 1778, and later the family acquired a small property at Silverstone.16

The Astwell and Falcutt transaction points to some of the difficulties faced by landowners when acquiring property, perhaps particularly when buying land from indebted owners desperate for a purchaser. While it seems to have been relatively straightforward to agree a price, albeit on Temple's terms, moving from the agreement to the completion of the transaction was fraught with difficulties because in the matter of debts, so much depended on the integrity of the person selling.

Temple eventually went through with the deal, and it is unfortunate that the record is not sufficiently clear for us to be certain how much he finally paid, and whether this did or did not exceed the outstanding debts. However, there is good reason to believe that he would have pulled out of the deal had he not committed himself by paying Stevenson's mortgage. Ironically, the complexities involved when transactions involving property carrying mortgages was concerned, was forcibly revived when Temple's great-great nephew, the second Duke of Buckingham and Chandos , was forced to sell Astwell and Falcutt in 1848, as a consequence of his accumulated debts.17
* I should like to thank Rachel Watson and Sue Groves for comments on an earlier draft of this paper, and the British Academy for financial support in undertaking the research on which it is based.

1. H[untington] L[ibrary]. San Marino, California, STG Correspondence, box 420/48, William Froggatt to Lord Temple, 13 September 1775; Complete Peerage, V, p.337.

2. There was no formal land market as such, before the mid-19th century. Buyers and sellers relied upon their land stewards to keep them in touch with local developments. Since few sellers were keen to advertise the fact - because it usually indicated financial difficulties - the 'market' mechanism is best described as haphazard: G E Mingay, ed. The Agrarian History of England and Wales, volume 6 1750-1850 (Cambridge, 1989), pp. 446-50, 556.

3. J V Beckett, The Aristocracy in England 1660-1914 (Oxford. 1986), chapters 2 and 3.

4. H.L. STG Correspondence, box 449/21, Earl Ferrers to Mr Cotes, 1774.

5. H.L. STG Correspondence, box 420/53, William Froggatt to Lord Temple, 25 January 1776.

6. H.L. STG Correspondence, box 420/45, William Froggatt to Lord Temple, 10 June 1775. The 'Mr Parrott' referred to here was Joseph Parrott, land steward at Stowe from 1762

7. H.L. STG Correspondence, box 420/52. William Froggatt to Lord Temple, 20 January 1776. The 'registered counties' were the East and West Ridings of Yorkshire and Middlesex where deeds of title covering conveyances of freehold land (including mortgages and long leases) were abstracted into registers which became a final reference point for parties in a transaction. See F. Sheppard and V. Belcher. 'The deeds registries of Yorkshire and Middlesex', Journal of the Society of Archivists, 6 (1980) pp. 272-86.

8. H.L. STG Correspondence, box 420/46, 47,53, William Froggatt to Lord Temple, 11, 18 July 1775, 25 January 1776; STG Accounts , box 78.

9. Coutts Bank Ledgers, 65/653. I am grateful to Lady Kinloss for permission to consult the family bank accounts.

10. H.L. STG Correspondence, box 420/53, William Froggatt to Lord Temple 25 January 1776.

11. H.L. STG Correspondence, box 423/62, Ferrers to Temple, 15 May 1776.

12 . H.L. STG Correspondence, box 425/29, Temple to Ferrers, 22 May 1776.

13 H.L. STG Correspondence, box 423/63, Ferrers to Temple, 25 May 1776.

14. H.L. STG Correspondence, box 420/50, William Froggatt to Lord Temple, 12 December 1775,

15. It is impossible to be certain how much Temple paid because it was not necessarily the case that all the money passed through the bank account, and at this point there is no related correspondence: Coutts Bank Ledger, 67/639. From the joint account (Temple and George Grenville, although the latter was now dead) 14,018 3% Reduced Annuities were sold in February 1778, and as a result 10,000 was paid to Alexander Hood, which was probably another related transaction: Ibid. 69/674

16. H.L. STG Manorial, box 39/21, a rental of 1815. By this date Astwell and Falcutt were rented at 2,608, and the 119 acre Silverstone property at 140.

17. Due to the insolvency of the 2nd Duke of Buckingham and Chandos, Astwell and Falcutt, together with other properties at Syresham, was advertised for sale in 1848 at a price of 65,300. It was mistakenly recorded as sold at this price in The Times, 11 May 1848, p. 5f. The property, now totaling 1,966 acres, was finally sold at auction in July 1848: H.L.ST 35f.118. There is a small collection of papers relating to the Grenville family at the Northamptonshire Record Office, but although these papers relate to the family estates across the country they appear to contain nothing significant relating to their property in the county: see also J.V.Beckett, 'The Stowe Papers', Archives,xx (1993), pp. 187-99.
Taken from Northamptonshire Past And Present Vol. VIII, 1993-94, No. 5.
Kindly typed by Judy Cairns.


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