The Stonehouse/Stonhouse family
The Stonhouse family – as they are now known – of Radley were influential and at times politically powerful in and around Abingdon from the late sixteenth to the early eighteenth centuries. Their name was originally rendered as Stonehouse or Stonehowse, but the Stonhouse spelling was adopted gradually during the seventeenth century.
George Stonehouse (d. 1573) was of an extensive family in Kent, and first comes to notice in the 1540s as a financial specialist under Henry VIII and Edward VI. After the failure of Thomas Wyatt’s Kentish rebellion against Queen Mary in 1554, he was able to acquire properties confiscated from the rebels. About 1555, he made an advantageous second marriage to Elizabeth Woodruffe, daughter and sister of prominent Merchants of the Staple – wool exporters, a very lucrative occupation – and became a Stapler himself. In 1560, he bought the Radley estate from Queen Elizabeth for twenty-four times its annual income, making legal arrangements that it could be inherited only by his offspring with Elizabeth. His children from his first marriage seem to have been compensated with properties in Kent.
George’s son William (c. 1556-1632) seems to have been the first Stonehouse to build and reside at Radley. He expanded his local property, was high sheriff of Berkshire in 1606, and in 1628 purchased a baronetcy which would give him and his heirs precedence on official occasions. William’s eldest son John (I) died young but the second, George (II) (1608-75), like his grandfather before him, made an advantageous marriage. This was to Margaret, daughter of Lord Lovelace of Hurley, a leading magnate in Berkshire.
George (II) was high sheriff in 1637-8, became a deputy lieutenant, and was elected to parliament for Abingdon at both elections in 1640. In the Civil War, he joined the king at Oxford, and was heavily fined as a result. After the Restoration, he worked closely with his Lovelace brother-in-law, now lord-lieutenant of Berkshire, purging local councils including that of Abingdon. He returned to parliament, and sat as a magistrate in Abingdon in spite of not being a burgess of the town.
George (II)’s eldest son, George (III) (c. 1638-c.1700) displeased his father by making an unauthorised marriage and was disinherited in favour of his younger brother, John (II) (c.1639-1700). George (II) also took out a second patent of baronetage which John would inherit. The two baronetages would run in parallel until they were reunited by the death unmarried of George (III)’s grandson in 1740.
John (II) replaced his father in parliament at the latter’s death and continued to exercise political authority in Abingdon. In 1686, it was he who brought in a new charter that was imposed on the town by James II. Nonetheless, his Tory credentials were somewhat tarnished by a close relationship with his cousin, the third Lord Lovelace, who had become a local leader of the Whigs, and who was suspected of having ensured John’s re-election in 1689 by manipulating the Whig vote.
The Abingdon seat remained in the family, since Simon Harcourt who won it in 1690 later married John (II)’s stepdaughter. Therefore John (II)’s heir, John (III) (c. 1672-1733), sat from 1701 as knight of the shire for Berkshire. He was much more active in central politics than his father and grandfather had been, following Harcourt into the court party round Harley and Bolingbroke. He had hopes of ministerial office, but the death of Queen Anne in 1714 and the Whig hegemony that followed put an end to them. Thereafter, while keeping his parliamentary seat, he directed his energies primarily to the care of his property. He rebuilt the family residence at Radley, and reorganised and partly enclosed the estate.
John (III) was survived by three sons, John (IV), William (II) and James, all of whom died unmarried. William was the last of the Stonhouse line to reside at Radley; James entered the church and was vicar of Clapham in London. After James’s death the estate devolved upon his niece Penelope, Baroness Rivers, daughter of his sister Penelope and then on Sir Gorge Bowyer, son of another sister, Anne. The baronetcy passed to another Reverend James Stonhouse, descended from the third son of George (II), also James, who had formed a cadet branch of the family based at Tubney.
© AAAHS and contributors 2017
The Stonehouse family (the spelling of the name shifted gradually over time to Stonhouse) held the lordship of the manor of Radley, some three miles from Abingdon. From the late sixteenth to the early eighteenth centuries they were always influential in the town and sometimes wielded political power there on behalf of the government of the day.
The earliest Stonehouse we know of was Robert, who in the late fifteenth century acquired the manor of Bearsted, near Maidstone in Kent, having previously resided at Boughton Malherbe, about six miles away. It was his son George who bought the manor of Radley in 1560.
The date of George’s birth is uncertain. Different subscribers to Ancestry.com give 1491 and 1520 but no references or evidence for either year. There is more information available on his career as a Crown servant and financial specialist. When Henry VIII invaded France in 1544, George was noted organising the transport of money and supplies, and two years later was acting as paymaster for the military garrisons on the Scottish border. His professional career continued through the reign of Edward VI and into that of Mary. He avoided involvement in Wyatt’s rebellion of 1554 when much of Kent rose against the queen, and profited with a long list of purchases or leases of lands forfeited by the rebels. By 1555 he was chief clerk of the kitchen in the royal household, and at Mary’s death in 1558 was one of three Clerks of the Green Cloth, general controllers and auditors of government disbursements. He continued in office into the reign of Elizabeth, but by then was also in business on his own account as a Merchant of the Staple, licensed to participate in the lucrative wool export business that was centred in Calais until that town was lost in 1558, and thereafter in Bruges.
George was married twice. With his first wife, born Elizabeth Gibson, he had at least four children, two boys and two girls. The second marriage was in or after 1555 to Elizabeth Woodruffe, whose father David was a London alderman, and also a Stapler. It was probably the marriage that brought about his admission to the Staplers’ guild. Moving up in the world, George Stonehouse was granted arms by the College of Heralds in 1556. There would be seven children of this marriage, of whom five, four sons and a daughter, would survive infancy.
It was in January 1560 that George Stonehouse acquired from the Crown the manor of Radley, paying £938 1s, exactly 24 years’ purchase of the assessed annual value. Why he chose to purchase in Berkshire rather than in Kent is not clear. A daughter of his first marriage, Mary, married Thomas Reade of neighbouring Barton, but this was almost certainly after rather than before the Radley purchase.  Was he looking for a home for his old age? In 1564 he was granted certain Kent leases “for his services” which does seem to indicate retirement from Crown service, and in 1567 his local status in Berkshire was recognised by his being named to the Commission of Sewers for the Thames, a precursor to the Thames Conservancy. Nonetheless, it does not seem that he ever lived at Radley. When he died in July 1573 he was resident in the parish of St Peter upon Cornhill in London; he was buried at St Andrew Undershaft, and described in his will as of Bearsted.
We can be reasonably sure that the money for the Radley purchase had come from the Woodruffe family. Soon after the acquisition, he and his in-laws went through a legal procedure under the laws of entail which would effectively debar George’s two sons from his first marriage, Edward and Thomas, from inheriting the Radley estate. George’s will leaves only formal bequests to his older offspring, which suggests they must have been provided for from his prior possessions.
Although not actually resident at Radley, George was an active landlord. He held his first court baron in May 1560. From 1570, he was continuously engaged in lawsuits against William Blacknall of Abingdon and his associates over water rights in the river that bounded his territory on the south. The Blacknalls were penning the stream ever higher at Abingdon lock the better to run their mills, and lands used for grazing by the Radley tenants were being submerged. These disputes would outlive all the initial protagonists and not be settled until well into the next century.
It was George’s oldest son from his second marriage, William (I), who duly inherited the Radley estate, and he was the first Stonehouse to reside there. His children were baptised at Radley from 1601. It is probable, but not certain, that William’s manor house was the structure that survives as “the Cottage” in the grounds of Radley College.
A E Preston seems to have believed that William was involved in the so-called Main Plot to depose James I and was later pardoned, but this is based on a misreading. James I, like his predecessors, raised money at the start of his reign by selling rich men notional pardons for actions in the last one. The National Archives index shows many such pardons being issued in May-June 1604 and William’s is dated 12 June. It notionally pardons offences committed before 20 March 1603. Elizabeth died on 24 March, and the Main Plot allegedly took place in July 1603.
William seems to have prospered, acquiring the nearby manor of Sugworth in 1615. According to his will of 1632, his wife ran a lucrative dairying business there. The will mentions two further manors, Juney and Alderne, that he owned at his death; their location is obscure. He was High Sheriff of Berkshire in 1606, and in 1628 purchased a baronetcy. Baronetcies at this time cost only about £200 so were no longer evidence of unusually great wealth, but to Sir William it will have been valuable for the precedence it would give him and his heirs on official occasions. Apart from his year as High Sheriff, William (I) seems to have taken little part in the public life of the county or the country. According to his memorial in Radley Church he preferred “the healthy soil of his inheritance” to “the city noise and deceptions of court”. It also states that he had long suffered from serious arthritis, which may explain the preference. Sir William died in 1631.
William’s eldest son and heir, John (I), born 1601, was a promising young man. He was educated at Trinity College, Oxford, and Gray’s Inn. With two friends, he got official permission to travel abroad, first in 1623 and again the following year. They travelled in style, with three servants and provisions; the first pass was for a trip of four months only, but the second was valid up to three years, and on the evidence of a monumental inscription in Radley Church they spent time in France and Belgium. The career for which this was obviously a preparation started well, but proved brief. John was knighted by Charles I in 1629 during a royal visit to Barton Court, and became a Gentleman of the Bedchamber to the king. He represented Abingdon in the parliament of 1628-9. Unfortunately, he died soon after his father.
John had not married, and the baronetcy passed to his younger brother George (II), born 1608, who soon after confirmed his status in Berkshire society by marrying into the Lovelace family of Hurley. The Lovelaces had been rising in the county pecking order since 1598 when the young Sir Richard Lovelace had married the elderly widow of Sir William Hyde of Denchworth and he and his new stepson had become the knights of the shire for Berkshire. In 1627, Sir Richard was ennobled as Baron Lovelace.
It was Sir George (II) who would become a politically powerful figure in and around Abingdon. Still a young man in 1637-8, he was made High Sheriff of Berkshire, and had the unenviable duty of collecting the unpopular tax called Ship Money. He proved remarkably successful at it. In 1640, as a deputy lieutenant for the county, he had the even more difficult task of recruiting soldiers for the king’s ill-fated war against his rebellious subjects in Scotland. He gathered 120 men but they got no further than 100 miles on their march northwards, then mutinied and returned home. He had them imprisoned, but showed his contempt for the whole affair by pointedly departing on a visit to his in-laws at Hurley and taking no further interest in it. It must be presumed that the men were quickly and quietly released. 
The Hyde family had a long-standing relationship with Abingdon. Hydes had been prominent residents in the previous century, and an Oliver Hyde had been the town’s first MP after its incorporation. Sir Richard Lovelace, now effectively head of that family, represented Abingdon in the parliament of 1604-11 and his stepson, Robert Hyde, did so in 1621-2. When in April 1640 the ‘eleven years of tyranny’ came to an end with the calling of a new parliament, it seemed almost automatic that Sir George Stonehouse, as Lovelace’s son-in-law, would inherit the Abingdon seat from his deceased brother John (I). This he did, but not easily. The puritanically-inclined faction led by the Tesdale family supported the town’s recorder, Bulstrode Whitelocke, for the position, but Stonehouse spent freely and, according to an aggrieved Whitelocke, ‘prevayled by his beef, bacon & bag pudding & by permitting as many of them as would, to be drunke at his charge’. In the second election of the year, in October, Whitelocke went elsewhere and Sir George was returned unopposed.
In 1640, Sir George was prepared to join other wealthy members in underwriting, to the amount of £1000, a loan that was being raised in the City to pay off the armies in northern England. But like many others, he was a reluctant partisan as the Civil War began in earnest. When in September 1642 members of parliament were asked what their personal contribution to the war effort would be, his donation of four horses was probably the least he could get away with. It does not seem that he signed the Solemn League and Covenant, the basis for an alliance with the Scots, which was mandatory for MPs after February 1643, and in January 1644 he abandoned Westminster for the counter-parliament that the king had called in Oxford. He bought a pardon for his previous backsliding, and played a minor role in the mainly sham proceedings of a pretend government-in-exile. The Westminster parliament expelled him and fined him £2705, but he was later able to benefit from the terms on which Oxford surrendered to the parliamentary army in June 1646 and the fine was reduced to £1460, a nominal tenth of the value of his estates.
In spite of the fine, Sir George (II) remained a rich man. He admitted to the parliamentary commissioners the ownership of a total of four manors and an income of above £1000 a year net of outgoings. A cousin, Sir James Stonehouse of Amerden in Essex, was much more heavily fined, and Sir George was able to help him with loans or guarantees for some £10,000. Sir George also remained a benefactor of Abingdon, helping to finance work on the Swift Ditch and on the Abingdon lock. And he took the opportunity of buying property confiscated by the regime from its previous owners, notably a portion of Knightsbridge, then still outside London, that must have been an excellent investment. At some time before 1662, he built a new manor house to replace the one used by his father. The hearth tax was levied on nineteen chimneys, which suggests a highly prestigious residence and perhaps justifies its later description as ‘snug’.
It was the decay of the protectoral regime and the restoration of the monarchy that allowed the Stonehouses to return to a position of local authority. In March 1660, the election for the Convention Parliament that would agree on the restoration produced a disputed result in Abingdon. The mayor declared for John Lenthall who had held the seat in 1659; the bailiffs were for Sir George. Lenthall was allowed to sit until the case was heard, but the final decision was against him. Sir George (II) would keep the Abingdon seat until his death in 1675, although his parliamentary activity was almost nil. His interests were regional rather than national.
Sir George’s brother-in-law, the second Baron Lovelace, was now Lord Lieutenant of Berkshire, and made much use of family members to aid him in the purges that followed the restoration. After legislation in 1661, commissions were set up to remove men who were now politically suspect from municipal office. The commission for Berkshire was headed by Lovelace and included Sir George and two members of the Hyde family. In 1662, they ordered the removal of an Abingdon councilman, Bedford Stacey, in spite of a court order confirming him in his position. Early in the following year, they ordered the dismissal of the mayor, John Mayott, who had refused to take oaths of allegiance to the new regime, and the removal or disablement of sixteen others. In 1664, a commission of association was issued for Abingdon. This was a novel device by which outsiders were enabled to sit with the town justices and, if necessary, overrule them. The five commissioners once more included a Hyde and Sir George, as well as Sir George’s second son John (II). The Stonehouses now had wide powers over such matters as licensing, the freemanship, and apprenticeships. Anyone in Abingdon who displeased them would do so at his peril.
In the succession to Sir George, the local Stonehouse line bifurcated. His eldest son, George (III), was disinherited for his ‘disobedience and frenzy’. Accounts are confused, but it seems he had seduced a kitchen maid, Anne Scarlett, and she later insisted, and he denied, that he had married her. He certainly did marry, though whether his wife was the former Anne Scarlett is unclear, and had four children. His son and heir had sixteen children altogether, but sadly only one son and one daughter survived their father. The surviving grandson John was the sixth baronet of the original creation of 1628, and this ended when he died unmarried in 1740.
But Sir George (II), to frustrate his eldest son and advance the second, John (II), had taken out a new patent of baronetcy in 1670 which would descend to the latter. Sir George was thus both the third and first baronet of his line. 
The disinheriting of the eldest son was not a simple matter. John (II)’s son and heir, John (III), would find himself in the late 1720s embroiled in complex multi-party litigation. He had, by then, become owner of the Abbey mills in Abingdon and it seems to have been a question which side of the Stonhouse family owned the rights to the water that worked the mills.
John Stonhouse (II) – the spelling of the name seems to have shifted definitively by his time – was born in or about 1639 and educated at Queen’s College, Oxford, and at Gray’s Inn. He is said to have been involved in the plots of 1659 against the interregnal regime, but escaped punishment. Little is heard of him before 1675, when he succeeded to his father’s baronetcy of 1670 and to his seat in Parliament. The election was heavily contested. Sir John’s opponents, Robert Hanson and John Wickham, were outsiders, but both were descended from mayoral families in Abingdon. Sir John was sent to Westminster but it was three years before Hanson gave up efforts to have him unseated.
Sir John was no more active as a parliamentarian than his father had been, and, like his father, his interests were largely local. In 1686, in what was essentially a rerun of 1663-4, James II graciously granted Abingdon a new charter which added a slate of nine politically reliable country gentlemen to the Abingdon justices’ bench. It included a Hyde and two Stonhouses, Sir John (II) and his younger brother James who lived at Tubney. It was Sir John and his new colleagues who brought the charter to Abingdon and swore in the new corporation that was now imposed on the town.
There does however seem to have been considerable question over Sir John’s political principles. While he always stood and usually acted as a Tory, the Whig leaders reckoned him as one of theirs. This was probably because of his closeness to his cousin, the third Lord Lovelace, leader of the Whigs in Berkshire. The Abingdon election of 1689, after the revolution that had cost James II his throne, was marked by violence. Sir John’s involvement with the charter of 1686 was raised against him, and the Whigs rioted with the cry of ‘No Radley charter’. Sir John was injured in the confusion and could not attend the poll. His opponent, Thomas Medlycott, won, but the election was declared void. In the repeat, it was Stonhouse who had the final victory. Whigs noted that their local vote had been split and suspected that this was Lovelace’s doing.
Sir John (II) was replaced as Abingdon’s MP in 1690 by Simon Harcourt, who would later marry John’s stepdaughter Elizabeth Spencer. When Sir John died in 1700 his son, John (III), born about 1672, became the third baronet of the 1670 creation. Unwilling to challenge his kinsman Harcourt for the Abingdon seat, the younger Sir John entered parliament in 1701 as one of the knights of the shire for Berkshire. Although never in the first rank as a politician, he was much more active than his father and grandfather had been, moving with, if always somewhat behind, Harcourt from a high Tory stance to joining the court faction led by Harley and Bolingbroke. He was rewarded in 1713 with a position as comptroller of Queen Anne’s household and with membership of the Privy Council, and was possibly in line for a ministerial post. But the queen’s death in 1714 returned him to the back benches.
Although Sir John (III) kept his Commons seat until his death in 1733, after 1714 his main interest switched to his own and family affairs. The Stonhouses had always been careful landlords, and comparison of surveys of various sorts made at different times suggest a deliberate long-term policy of change from traditional strip agriculture to sizable individual holdings yielding much increased rents. Sir John (III) extended his holdings, buying the Northcourt estate just outside Abingdon in 1707 and acquiring the manor of Sunningwell at some time after 1700 at the price of an £80 annuity to the previous owner who died in 1721. He made industrial investments, notably in the Abbey Mills in Abingdon. These were leased out to the local businessman Benjamin Tomkins. A new manor house was built at Radley from 1721 and was ready for occupation six years later. The old one with its nineteen chimneys was demolished. Sir John (III)’s two marriages produced twelve children; one of the four sons died young and the others all succeeded in their turn but died unmarried.
The oldest surviving son, Sir John (IV) (1710-67), was the 4th and 7th baronet, for the two baronetcies had become reunited after 1740. His father would have liked him to enter parliament in his turn, but he refused, claiming an extreme distaste for London where he would never stay for more than one night.
The second, Sir William (II) (1714-77) had a detailed terrier prepared of his Radley estate which has proved very helpful to modern historians, but was the last of his line to be resident there; his younger brother James (1718-92), 6th and 9th baronet, was a clergyman living in Clapham. After James’s death the title devolved on the descendants of Sir George (II)’s third son, James of Tubney. Confusingly, the 7th and 10th baronet was another Reverend James Stonhouse, but he lived in Northampton. The estate passed first to a niece of the Radley Stonhouse brothers, Baroness Rivers, daughter of their sister Penelope, and then to the son of their sister Anne, the naval hero Sir George Bowyer. The baronetcy would continue, but the estate would never return to the Stonhouse family.
Acknowledgement: This article was written with the cooperation of members of the Radley History Club, and the authors thank them for information, references, photographs and for access to their archives.
© AAAHS and contributors 2017
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 From a file of unpublished information from the Radley College archives, compiled in 2003 by Mr Tony Money, late college archivist, of which a photocopy is now in the possession of the ABP Group – hereinafter the Money Notebook – pages mostly unnumbered.
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 Transcript in the Radley History Club Archives. He was certainly not the owner of Guernsey and Alderney!
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 The word used is ‘chiragra’ which is defined as ‘hand-gout’. It is rendered as arthritis in the translation by the late Stanley Baker. We thank members of the Radley History Club for making this available.
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