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April 2014 meeting

Compton Verney: The Story of a Great House

The History Society once again welcomed Dr. Sylvia Pinches last Friday, 11th April, on this occasion to present a thumbnail sketch of the history of Compton Verney, one of the great houses of the county, with a history dating back to the Domesday Book.  Dr. Pinches demonstrated her personal vigour and a great deal of knowledge, tracing the story of the house from the mediaeval period (when it boasted eleven resident slaves) to the present in impressive detail and relating it to its many owners and their fortunes and disasters.

Compton Verney was at one time owned by the Earl Roger, who passed it on to Roger de Murdack, who in turn was deposed by his wife, whose supporters murdered him to gain possession of the house. It was subsequently owned by the mistress of King Edward III, who herself was later banished by parliament, before it passed by a devious route into the hands of the Verney family during the 15th century, who held it from 1435 to 1921.

The family held the title of Lords Willoughby de Brook from 1695 onward, but were not resident for all of that time. The house was tenanted from 1857 to 1911, then leased in 1912 to a businessman from Leeds by the name of Watson, and to Samuel Lamb from 1933 to 1958, being occupied during the second world war by a camouflage unit. After the war Compton Verney was owned by Harry Ellard, who retained ownership until 1983 but never moved in, and then by Christopher Buxton. The House became more and more derelict and in 1993 it was rescued by the Compton Verney House Trust, thanks to a generous donation by the Peter Moores Foundation, and subsequently restored.

The tombs of Richard Verney and Mary Greville may be seen in the chapel, and it is claimed that Earl Robert Dudley of Leicester played a part in bringing the Verney and Greville  families together. Dugdale’s Antiquities of Warwickshire, published in 1656, includes references to the house and it is said that the Great Chamber was carpeted and £150 spent on silverware in order to be shown off to visitors.

Richard Verney of Lincolnshire inherited the estate in the later 17th century. At the time he was MP for Warwickshire and in due course bequeathed the estate to his second son George. From 1714 it was converted to Baroque style with many more works of art on show and more chairs for the comfort of residents and visitors, expressing in its own way, the Age of Elegance. John Verney, the Master of the Rolls in the early 18th century, turned it into a comfortable and fashionable house, and when he died he was succeeded in ownership by John Peyto Verney (1738-1816), who engaged the portraitist Johann Zoffany for a family piece depicting him with his wife and children. He hired the services of Robert Adam to work on the building and Capability Brown to attend to the gardens, and built a new chapel where the tombs may be seen.

When he died in 1816, the furnishings of the house were valued in excess of £3300 including 4072 books, maps and music. His son Henry Peto Verney (1773-1852) laid out the Wellingtonia avenue of Wellingtonia between the bridge and the main gate to the estate. As the last resident Verney, he cared more for self-indulgence and made no substantive improvements to the estate.  One further member of the family (R.G. Verney, born in1869) was a Conservative politician,who in the early 20th century campaigned for retention of the whole of Ireland as part of the United Kingdom.

 As census data became available in the 19th century, it also became clear that servants were moving from one house to another to get better jobs. There were exceptions – for example Jesse Eales was a gamekeeper through four generations, while William Fairbrother was a Compton Verney tenant of honourable standing. But the trend was in the opposite direction.


Programme 2013 -14
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