From the Duke of Newcastle to the Plumptres of Fredville

 Thomas Pelham Holles was a Whig like his father, Thomas Pelham, 1st Baron Pelham, and uncle, John Holles, 4th Earl of Clare and Duke of Newcastle. Thomas was an outspoken supporter of Hanoverian succession to the throne after the death of Queen Anne in 1714. As reward for this support the new crowned King George I made him Earl of Clare in 1714 and Duke of Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1715, titles previously held by his uncle, John Holles, on whose death in 1711 the titles had become extinct. However,  Thomas inherited a substantial part of  his late uncle’s extensive estate, which included Fredville.
During the next five years or so the young Duke entered into the complicated politics of early 18th century England gravitating towards the Whig faction led by Thomas Walpole. He became a protégée of Horace Walpole and served in his administration for twenty years or so until its fall in 1742. The Duke and Henry Pelham, his brother, then continued to hold office as Secretary of State and Prime-Minister respectively until Henry’s death in 1754 after which the Duke was twice PM. He served as a Secretary of State for a total of thirty years, during which time he controlled British foreign policy.

The Duke’s massive land-holdings included seven or so ‘rotten’ and pocket boroughs with the right to elect members of Parliament who were nominated by the Duke and therefore beholden to him. This gave him considerable influence in Parliament but such influence was expensive to maintain and although he had a considerable annual income from his lands and offices  he was at times under financial pressure which forced the sale of many of the Dukes assets, one of which was the Manor of Fredville and other property in Nonington and adjoining parishes.

In 1741 Margaretta Bridges, the sister of Sir Brooke Bridges of Goodnestone, purchased from the Duke: “the manor of Fredville, Fredville Farm,  Frogham Farm and property in Fredville, Frogham, Barfreston, Nonington, Knowlton, Womenswould and Easole”. After Denzil, Lord Holles, acquired the Fredville estate in the 1680’s the old Boys family mansion house appears to have fallen into decline and was eventually used as the farm house for the tenant of the above mentioned Fredville Farm, which presumably consisted of the much of the land that was later enclosed to make Fredville Park.

In 1742 the spinster Margaretta Bridges leased nearby St. Alban’s Court House from William Hammond for three years or more, most likely as a suitable residence whilst the old Fredville mansion was re-built as a two storey Adam’s style house which was completed around 1745 or 1746. This was some years before her marriage in 1750 to John Plumptre, esquire, of Northampton, who is often credited with the rebuilding of the house. John Plumptre’s father and grand-father, also both called John, had both been M.P.’s for Nottingham in the early 18th century. There were no children from the marriage and on Margaret’s death in January of 1756 Fredville passed to her husband, who subsequently remarried and had a son, also called John, with his second wife.

Mrs. Boys Behrens, a descendant of the Boys’ of Fredville, wrote about the rebuilding of the Fredville house in her book “Under Thirty-Seven Kings. Legends of Kent & Records of the family of Boys” published in 1926. She recorded that the new Fredville manor house had been re-built on the old flint foundations of the previous house noting that the cellars and the covered-in well in the centre of the old kitchen were the only parts of the original house incorporated into the new mansion, and that a secret passage supposedly led from the well to an old ice-house.  The ice-house was sunk twenty feet into the ground and had a large old oak door, half of which was, in her opinion,  stolen for firewood when mining commenced nearby whilst the remaining half was removed at a later date. The ice house is still there and mainly intact but has been partially filled in.

The first John Plumptre of Fredville was the last member of the family to reside at Plumptre House in Nottingham and he died in 1791 aged 80 at his London residence in Jermyn Street in Westminster and was succeeded by his eldest son John. The second John Plumptre of Fredville had married the daughter of the Rev. Jeremiah Pemberton, of Cambridgeshire, and their eldest son was born in 1791 and baptised John Pemberton Plumptre.
After inheriting Fredville the second John Plumptre began to add to the Fredville estates.  In 1792 he bought property in the adjoining parish of Barson, modern Barfreston[e], which encompassed the larger part of what was the Manor of Hartanger, from Richard Harvey, the father of Captain John Harvey who had commanded H.M.S. Brunswick against the French fleet at the Battle of the Glorious First of June in 1794. Captain Harvey died from wounds received there shortly afterwards and was subsequently buried in Eastry Church and a memorial to his memory was erected in Westminster Abbey. 
The principal building and accompanying land purchased now constitute the present Church Farm in Barfreston. The purchase also included several cottages in Barfreston which were a part of the Fredville estate until until fairly recently.
Soles Court, which adjoined both Barfreston and Nonington parishes and which had previously been a part of the Boys family of Fredville extensive holdings, was also purchased at around the same time as Church Farm.

John Marsh at Nethersole in Womenswold was a near neighbour of the Plumptres and in the 1780’s described the family as ‘consisting of a fine venerable old gentlemen in a great wig, his son and daughter, now lady of Sir Richard Carr Glynn.’  Sir Richard, the first baronet, was a wealthy banker.

Another early reference to the Plumptre family and Fredville was made by John Evans in “The Juvenil Tourist: Or Excussion Through Various Parts of the Island of Great Britain“, published in 1805:
“Not far from Waldershare is Fredville the seat of John Plumptree, Esq;—in the park belonging to which are oak trees, the most extraordinary for height and size in the kingdom. They are distinguished by appropriate names, but the most remarkable of them are those called Majesty, Stately, and Beauty.—Beauty is sixty-three feet from the ground, whilst the uniformity of its branches and the regularity of its bark are beautiful beyond conception. The circumference of this tree five feet from the ground is fifteen feet nine inches—its solid contents, bark not included, twelve ton twenty-five feet!—Stately at four feet from the ground, measures in circumference eighteen. feet—and its solid contents twelve ton thirty-three feet one inch, bark not included! But Majesty, the most wonderful of all these trees, has, eight feet from the ground, a circumference of twenty-eight feet four inches—and at twenty-eight feet from the ground fifteen feet six inches. It has one arm which contains sixty-eight feet eleven inches—another sixty four feet two inches—a third, sixty feet nine inches, and several others of nearly equal dimensions. The total contents of this huge bulk of timber are thirty six tons twenty-eight feet four inches, bark not included!

“Fredville is neat and spacious—it has, together with the house, within these few years been not only enlarged but improved with taste and judgment. The Mansion, standing on a rising ground, has a handsome brick front, supported by six columns of the Corinthian order—the drawing-room- is truly elegant, and the library contains several thousand volumes, selected from the most approved ancient and modern authors. From the front of the house to the south, Barson mills wave their swifts above the plantations, and on the north-west Nunnington mills [the Easole corn mill & feed mills] form a correspondent prospect. The swing suspended from the high branch of a towering oak—the rabbits skipping from hole to hole, formed among the fibres of the trees, and a rising family of hearty children seen amidst their innocent gambols constitute at once a piece of rural and delightful scenery. At the south-west end of the Mansion the Green-house has a pretty effect, displaying the skill of the Botanist whilst the industrious bees are observed conveying their plundered stores into glasses.fixed within the windows of their abode, which in its turn is plundered to enrich the owner’s table! The gardens behind the house are encircled with a shrubbery, along which a green walk, defended by a light post and rail, presents us with a view of the surrounding country. The woods on the south—the distant telegraph on the west [the Admiralty telegraph at Womenswold] , and the Isle of Thanet with Ramsgate harbour, &c. on the north-east, tend to enrich and diversify the prospect. The Bowling Green also hid among the trees—the laurelled-covered Ice-house, the sweet briar hedge and the weeping ash trees enhance the sensations of delight arising from the contemplation of this spot. In a word, should any thing be thought wanting, a stream of water would complete the situation. ….

“John Plumptree Esq. the present proprietor, was an only son—having one sister, now the lady of Sir Richard Carr Glynn. The principal family estate lies in Nottinghamshire. Mr. Plumptree’s father and grandfather represented the town of Nottingham in parliament for upwards of 50 years; and amidst the various changes of Administration during that period they invariably maintained those glorious principles of civil and religious liberty which placed the present illustrious House of Brunswick on the throne of these realms. Mr. Plumptree is a domestic gentleman, and his partiality for Fredville has led him to pass the greatest part of the year at this delightful retreat. His attention is chiefly occupied in the improvement of his estate: and he is never happier than when he is surrounded by his infant family, whilst the poor of the surrounding neighbourhood partake of his generous hospitality”.

Sir Samuel Egerton Brydges of nearby Denton Court also wrote of the early Fredville Plumptres  in his 1834 autobiography:

“Dr. Robert Plumptre, the president of our college of Queen’s (Cambridge), was a younger brother of our neighbour, John Plumptre, Esq., of Fredville, with whom my family was intimate. He was a dull man, of little erudition, who pronounced a Latin oration full of false quantities, which caused the following line, when speaking of Professor Roger Long, to be on every one’s lips;—

 Rogbrus immemor Robertum denotat hebetem.

 Another brother, Archdeacon Charles Plumptre, lived much with the Hardwicke family, and was a sort of petty literary amateur, who wrote petty attempts at jeux desprit on cards, in a formal hand, and wore a cauliflower wig curled in the sprucest manner: but he was a good sort of harmless, round-faced, little man, courteous to all, and always ready to do good-natured acts. The family had been settled for centuries in the town of Nottingham, and had represented it at various epochs in Parliament, from the time of the Plantagenets. Their ancestor, Dr. Fitzwilliam Plumptre, a physician, who is mentioned in Gervase Holles’s “Memoirs,” published a rare little volume of Latin epigrams in the reign of Charles I.

“John Plumptre, the elder brother, had an estate of about £1500 a year;—on which he contrived without debt to keep up three houses—at Nottingham, and Fredville, and in Jermyn Street (London); to represent his native town in several parliaments, till 1780; and to support a large establishment, never going out without six horses to his carriage, when in the country, with two or three outriders. He obtained Fredville by his first wife, a daughter of the first Sir Brook Bridges, of Goodnestone, by whom he had no issue; and married, secondly, Miss Glover, cousin of Leonidas Glover. His grandson now represents the eastern part of the county of Kent: a very good sort of man; but brought in by the Methodists and other Church Dissenters: he married a sister of Methuen, of Wiltshire. His father died in 1827, aged 60; and his aunt was wife of Alderman Sir Richard Glynn, the banker. The mother of the present M. P. is sister of the late Dr. Christopher Pemberton, the physician. The Reverend James Plumptre, the author, is a younger son of the president of Queen’s”.

In the early 1800′s Jane Austen was a frequent visitor to Fredville. She often stayed  with her brother Edward and his wife Elizabeth, the daughter of Sir Brooke Bridges of Goodnestone Park, at Rowling House in nearby Goodnestone.  In 1797 Edward moved to Godmersham Park which he had inherited from some childless relatives who had adopted him as their heir and as part of the adoption Edward changed his surname from Austen to Knight.

After her brother moved to Godmersham Jane continued to visit Goodnestone and frequently wrote to Cassandra, her only sister, of visits and short stays at Fredville with Mr. John Plumptre and his wife and their children. Their eldest son was John Pemberton Plumptre, born in 1791, who Jane often referred to as J.P.P.

Regular visits were also made to see William Hammond and his family at nearby St. Alban’s Court and Jane often commented on how keen William Hammond and  J.P.P. were on shooting and hunting. In other letters to Cassandra Jane reported how she and members of the Plumptre,  Bridges and Hammond families  visited the races on Canterbury race course and then attended  balls and soirees in Canterbury.  The racecourse was on Ileden Downs just across the Wingham Road from Nonington parish. In one letter written in September of 1813 Jane said of her  friend George Hatton, “He is so much out of spirits, however, that his friend John Plumptre is gone over to comfort him, at Mr. Hatton’s desire. He (J.P.P) called here this morning in his way. A handsome young man certainly, with quiet, gentlemanlike manners. I set him down as sensible rather than brilliant. There is nobody brilliant nowadays”.

During the latter part of 1814 Jane’s niece Fanny Knight, the daughter of her brother Edward, wrote to Jane asking her advice as to whether she should marry J.P.P., who was described as gentlemanly and wise; but also religious and too serious. Jane’s advice regarding his firm religious beliefs was ”don’t be frightened by the idea of his acting more strictly up to the precepts of the New Testament than others” but she further counselled
“ Anything is to be preferred or endured rather than marrying without Affection; and if his deficiencies of Manner &c &c strike you more than all his good qualities, if you continue to think strongly of them, give him up at once”.

The “sensible” J.P.P. married Catherine Methuen, a daughter of Paul Cobb Methuen of Corsham House, Wilts, in 1818 and in 1820 Fanny married Sir Edward Knatchbull, a widower some years older than her, and they went on to have nine children. In 1833  J.P.P. was elected to Parliament as one of the two M.P.’s for Eastern Kent, the other M.P was Sir Edward Knatchbull!

Jane Austen died after a long illness on 18th July, 1817, aged 42, and was buried in Winchester Cathedral.

When John Plumptre, senior, died in 1827 the following obituary was published in ‘The Gentleman’s Magazine’.

“John Plumptre, Esq.

Nov. 7- At his seat at Fredville, co. Kent, after a long and distressing illness, aged 61, John Plumptre, esq.

This gentleman was descended from a very ancient and respectable family in Nottinghamshire, and was son of John Plumptre, esq. who was M.P. for the town of Nottingham from 1762 to 1774; but, having married for his first wife a Kentish heiress (by whom he had no living issue) he became through this connection, the proprietor of Fredville, which in the latter period of his life he made his residence, relinquishing his former habitation in the town of Nottingham, where he had a spacious mansion house. For his second wife he married Miss Glover, by whom be had one son, the subject of this memoir, and one daughter, the wife of Sir Richard Carr Glyn, bart. of Gaunts House, Dorsetshire. The deceased was educated at Eton school, and removed from thence to Queen’s College, Cambridge, to finish his education under his uncle Dr. Plumptre, who was the master.

 Unambitious, and unostentatious, and with a rare singleness of heart, Mr. Plumptre led a retired life in the bosom of his family, and amongst his friends tenderly beloved and highly respected. He was an instance of the few remaining characters of the old English country gentleman, exercising hospitality from his heart, and not for worldly purposes. It may be truly said of him, he never gained an enemy, nor lost a friend.

 He married Charlotte, youngest dau. of the Reverend Doctor Pemberton, of Trumpingtun, near Cambridge, and by her, who survives him, has left a numerous family”.

John Pemberton Plumptre (J.P.P.)  inherited Fredville and the other family property on the death of his father and also became a partner in Hammond, Plumptre & Co of Canterbury.  J.P.P also followed the family tradition of entering politics and was the Member of Parliament for East Kent from 1832 to 1852. His election to Parliament in 1832 was celebrated by a dinner at the Red Lion at Frogham in February of 1833. This  election success was most likely the reason for the ale-house being renamed “The Phoenix” later in 1833 as the Plumptre family coat of arms has a phoenix crest.
He was initially a Whig (Liberal) and known as “an unflinching Reformer” , but prior to the 1837 election he allied with the Tories (Conservatives). This caused some considerable anger amongst his former political friends and occasioned some amusing election ‘squibs’ (satirical verses) during the election campaign in which a Mr. Rider from West Kent stood as a Liberal against him. During the election contest a ‘squib’ was penned in the form of a parody on the song, “Oh where, and oh where, is your Highland Laddie gone?” where the words, “Jockey Rider” were substitute throughout for “Highland Laddie”, and the verse, “In what clothes, in what clothes, is your Highland Laddie clad?”, became:

“In what clothes, in what clothes, is your Jockey Rider clad?
He’s clad all o’er in Blue — but that Blue is very bad;
For it’s all second-hand, being what J. P. Plumptre had!”
Confusingly, blue was the Liberal colour in Kent at that time.

J.P.P. and Catherine had three daughters: Catherine Emma, Matilda Charlotte Louisa, and Cecilla Matilda.  Catherine, the eldest, died at a young age and in 1850 the couple published a book, “The Flower of Spring” in her memory. Shortly afterwards, in 1852, J.P.P. stood down as an M.P. and lived as a country gentleman.
Matilda Plumptre married John Charles Ryle on 29th  October, 1845. He was an English Evangelical Anglican bishop, and the first Anglican bishop of Liverpool. The couple had a daughter, Georgina, but sadly Matilda died in June of 1847 after she  caught flu while recovering from child birth.
The wedding of Cecilla was reported in The Cork Examiner of February 19th of 1847 as follows: “February 12, at Nonington, by the Rev. Charles T. Plumpire (sic) the Rev. Algernon Coote, Rector of Marsh Gibbon, Bucks, third son of Sir Charles H. Coote, Bart., M.P., of Ballyfin, Queen’s County, to Cecilla Matilda, eldest surviving daughter of John Plumpire, Esq., M.P., of Fredville, in the county of Kent”The Rev. Algernon Coote was Vicar of Nonington from 1856 until 1871.

The 1851 census recorded J.P.P. as “Magistrate, Deputy Lieutenant and Farmer of about 800 acres employing 42 labourers”, and as having fourteen domestic staff living in to look after a household which included his widowed mother and three of his spinster sisters. Ten years later in 1861 the census recorded ten living in servants to look after J.P.P. and his wife.

J.P.P died in 1864 and the absence of a male heir meant that Fredville and other property was inherited by his nephew, Charles John Plumptre, the eldest son of  his brother, the Reverend Charles Plumptre.

Fredville House had a large nursery wing added in 1880 to accommodate the Plumptre family’s twelve children, and the various late 19th and early 20th censuses show that it had a large staff both indoors and out, in 1901 there were seven servants “living in”. However, by 1918 the house was considered to large but instead of reducing its size it was decided in 1921 to build a smaller house, now known as ‘Little Fredville’, a few hundred yards to the south of ‘Big Fredville’ where the Plumptre family still reside.

The house was then a private girls school until the outbreak of the Second World War.

At the out-break of the Second World War in 1939  the school’s time at Fredville House came to an end when the old mansion house was requisitioned by the Government and soon occupied by the Canadian Army who were there from soon until the time of the Normandy invasion in June of 1944. Sadly,  shortly after they moved in  the house was badly damaged by fire but the woodland and fields around the house became the home of Canadian soldiers and their tanks and during their time there they erected a large number of buildings and concrete hard standings as well as digging many trenches in and around the park, some of which are still just visible.  The use of local roads by Canadian tanks necessitated the  re-enforcing with concrete of the road bed on the bends in the roads, and these re-enforcements  are still clearly visible in and around Nonington and Goodnestone parishes and are still giving good service nearly eighty years after being put in.

Mr. John Plumptre,  the then owner of the Fredville estate and the father of the present owner, also John Plumptre, decided to demolish the remains of the badly damaged mansion in 1945. However,  the clock tower, coach house, stable yard and out buildings escaped demolition and are now houses and workshops.

To see pictures of  the Plumptre family and the  mansions in Nottingham and Nonington , please go to
 Fredville House Gallery


Mr Jesse Betts of Eastry, who helped fight the fire at Fredville in 1940
Mr Jesse Betts of Eastry, who helped fight the fire at Fredville in 1940

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