by James C. Ayers
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Apley House, Shropshire

Apley House, in Shropshire

By a small coincidence I moved four years ago from the banks of the Severn near Bridgnorth in Shropshire to Orsett, not realising that the Whitmores, long established at Apley a few miles away from my Shropshire home, had a century before made the same journey, when Thomas Charles Douglas Whitmore succeeded to the Orsett Estate in 1884. The greater coincidence was that they had been here before, two hundred and fifty years before, when an eminent forbear, Sir George Whitmore, Lord Mayor of London, had been Lord of the Manor of Peverells, Grays, and of Fobbing and Stanford-le-Hope, the latter title being now taken by his family once more; although the link was not discovered until a document came to light in the time of Douglas Whitemore's son, Sir Francis, the late distinguished Lord Lieutenant of Essex.

The Whitmores from whom they sprung have a recorded history going back well into medieval times, when they enjoyed a modest eminence as copyholders, constables, chaplains and bailiffs in the manor of Claverley near Bridgnorth, and they are named after the hamlet of Whittimere, now shrunk to a solitary farmhouse on the Shropshire-Staffordshire border.

One William Whitemore travelled to London early in the sixteenth century, worked as a haberdasher's apprentice and made his fortune. He bought a farm at Hackney and lands around Apley not far from Claverley,and before he died in 1593 set up two of his sons in the haberdashery business and invested in some remarkably good marriages for his daughters, notably to Sir William Craven and Sir Charles Montague. Another daughter settled in Essex as the wife of Nathaniel Still of Hutton.

William's energy and enterprise lived on in his sons, who bought land all over the country, his heir, Sir William, purchasing Claverleyin 1609 from the Ferrers family while establishing Apley as the family seat. He installed his second son, Richard, on his estate at Lower Slaughter in Gloucestershire, where a branch of the family persisted until recent times. Sir George, brother to Sir William, remained at Balmes, the Hackney property, although, together with his other brother Thomas, he bought various manors, including Harwich and Dovercourt and nearby Wrabness and Ramsey. His son and grandson were both buried in Ramsey church. Other Whitmores, descended from merchant William's younger brother Thomas, continued to live at Claverley and build on a former deanery site the beautiful moated Jacobean Ludstone Hall, while at Whittimere, William Warham,dying in 1702, was descended on the female side from the Ludstone Whitmores. By then the hamlet seems already to have been in decline.

We return to Sir George of Balmes, Master of the Haberdasher's Company, member of the Virginia Company and Lord Mayor of London in 1631/2, who like his brother Sir William was both immensely wealthy and also a champion of the royalist cause. As merchants they had no doubt benefited from royal favour, but they were evidently willing'to suffer for their loyalty, Sir George particularly, living in an area fully controlled by Parliament throughout the Civil Wars, being both fined and imprisoned. The King was entertained at his house at Balmes while returning to London from Scotland in November, 1641, shortly before the outbreak of hostilities. As already implied, Sir George owned lands in the Thurrock area of Essex as well as around the port of Harwich. Fobbing was then a little port, its Hall lying close to the creek. The little main street winding up past the church still retains a vaguely maritime atmosphere. The church tower was reputedly scarred by a cannon ball fired by the Dutch on their way up the Thames in 1667. Sir George would have had something in common with the Rector of 1645, Samson Johnson, who fled to serve the royalist cause in exile, but we do not know whether they actually met. A Whitmore who did regularly visit Fobbing was Thomas, of Ludstone, Recorder for Much Wenlock in Shropshire and M.P. for that town in 1659, for he was Steward of his cousin's Essex and Cambridgeshire properties. The Peverells manor at Grays can be identified as most of that part of the parish lying to the west of the Stifford road. In 1646 Sir George was required by the Court of Sewers to repair the river defences here. The site of the old manor house can be seen around Duvalls Cottages, at the top of Meesons lane and close to the edge of a huge chalk quarry.

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