"A PICTURESQUE OBJECT", the story of Belmont Castle, Grays


 by T. J. Carney

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Belmont Castle was a gothic style residence built about 1795 for Zachariah Button, a wealthy local landowner. It was demolished in 1943, but is remembered by many Thurrock residents who attended charity fetes there in the 1930s. The above figure is a postcard view of the north side from the Thurrock Museum collection.

In putting together the story of Belmont, it seems best to begin by looking at the Buttons, whose family fortune made it all possible. The family occurs in the Thaxted area in the 16th century, and the branch that appears to lead to the builder of Belmont is recorded in the Chelmsford area as early as 1604 when Thomas Button, a cutler, married Mary Jarvis. Their son, Zachariah (baptised 1610), is the earliest possessor of this distinctive Christian name yet discovered in the family (1). From a series of wills in the Essex Record Office (2), it is clear that the Zachariah Button with whom we are principally concerned was preceded by at least four Zachariah Buttons resident in Thurrock. These were: Zachariah Button of Fobbing d.1692; Zachariah Button of Fobbing d.1706; Zachariah Button of Langdon Hills d.1729; and Zachariah Button of Mucking Hall d. 1768.

This last Zachariah, father of the builder, also inherited in 1734 the bulk of the estate of his uncle, John Button of Fobbing, and became sufficiently notable to merit a brief obituary notice in 'The Gentleman's Magazine' (3). Zachariah, the builder, who was born in 1739, was a younger son but nevertheless inherited the Mucking Hall estates. His elder brother John was successful in the coal business; he operated a wharf at Grays and eventually purchased Stifford Lodge. At about the time of his father's death Zachariah Button married Sarah Sawell, then aged 20, "the only daughter and sole heiress" of the late Francis Sawell of Pitsea. Later documents refer to a marriage settlement of 1768 and show that she brought with her a substantial fortune held in trust (4).

Having made this advantageous marriage, Zachariah seems to have been eager to expand his landholdings and influence and in 1777 both were considerably increased by his purchase of the Peverill manor of Grays from Sir John Van Hattem. (The parish contained two manors, the other being Grays Hall).

On the strength of this purchase Zachariah Button laid claim to the chancel of the parish church where he and members of his family were eventually to be buried. The land he acquired was a considerable area of the western side of Grays, much of it at that time belonging to a farm called Notts (later known as Askews). The farmhouse was just to the North of the London Road and is shown in Chapman and Andre's map which conveniently was published in 1777, the exact year of the sale (5).

To finance his purchase, Zachariah required a mortgage of 7,381. 5. 0. which was provided by his brother John Button of Grays, William Corbett of Orsett and Benjamin Rigglesworth of Langdon Hills, who were the trustees of his wife Sarah's inheritance, appointed in the marriage settlement mentioned above. Since subject to the payment of various annuities, Zachariah Button was to be the principal beneficiary of the trust, he would indirectly be paying interest to himself - a very satisfactory arrangement.

The neighbouring estates were those of George Errington to the West and James Theobald to the East. George Errington, it may be remembered, was on May 15th 1795, the victim in a sensational murder case (6). Zachariah Button played a small part in the proceedings for as Justice of the Peace he was called upon to take Errington's deposition as he lay dying, having been shot by Anne Broadric. It cannot be stated with certainty whether or not Belmont Castle had been completed at the time of the Errington murder. The main evidence for the date of the house is to be found on the pair of prints published by the architect Thomas Jeffery in 1796 and 1797 (7). The two aquatints appear to be pictures of the newly completed house rather than "artists' impressions". F. Z. Claro in Panorama No. 8 states that it was built in 1790, but gives no source, and elsewhere he quotes "Pococks Water Companion" for 1798 as saying that it was built in 1792. Any of these dates is possible, but in the absence of further evidence we are left with "around 1795".

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