THE SQUIRES OF TAVERHAM, 1623-1920
I must warn you that there are many convoluted personal relationships in the following article. Do not worry if you are sometimes a little confused about the various people and their family connections involved. Perplexed? – you are not alone! I hope the eventual picture that emerges is worth it.
The land in Taverham had belonged to the church before the Reformation, partly to the Priory of St Faith in Horsham and part to the Priory of the Holy Cross in Norwich. It was transferred to the Crown under Henry VIII, and in 1563 a 99 year lease was granted to Henry Richers, Lord of the Manor of Swannington, a couple of miles away from Taverham. The remainder of the lease was granted to Augustine Sotherton in 1623, and he or his descendants converted this to a more secure form of tenure known as copyhold. Copyhold was finally abolished in favour of freehold in 1922. The process of securing land rights has been going on for hundreds of years, and has largely been responsible for creating the legal profession in England.
Augustine Sotherton was born in about 1597; some sources place his birth three years earlier. The family came originally from a village of that name in East Suffolk. By the end of the 15th century the Sothertons were successful grocers in Norwich, and by the mid-16th century they were heavily involved in civic affairs. Members of the family served as Mayor, High Sheriff of Norfolk and as an MP. The Sotherton family were by then living in Strangers Hall in Norwich; their Coat of Arms and merchant mark may still be seen prominently displayed around the house. Upon his death early in the 17th century hi father left £6000 to his son Austin (Augustine). This was a huge sum, equivalent to many millions in today’s money.
The year 1623 was an eventful one for Augustine Sotherton; on May 15th he had married the heiress to the Shernborne family fortunes. She was a young lady called Mary. The wedding took place in St Sepulchre’s church in London, where she had been living since being orphaned twelve years before. The Shernbornes or Sharnbornes could trace their pedigree back to the reign of Edward II and, although not aristocrats, they were truly one of the oldest and most respected families in Norfolk. Aa an only child Mary was the last of the line. Shernborne, which gives the family its name and where they had lived for most of their long history, is a village between Sandringham and Snettisham, just to the east of Ingoldisthorpe. Not only getting married in 1623, Augustine acquired a landed estate in the same year, and on August 8th he was knighted. Perhaps these events are all related; already a rich man, the sudden increase in wealth following his marriage enabled the purchase of the Taverham estate, and maybe the grant of a knighthood was partly in recognition of his wife’s distinguished heritage. Certainly he left the grocery trade behind; from now on this branch of the family would be Country Gentlemen.
We can gather a little more about Mary Shernborne from the marriage register: “15 May 1623. Augustine Sotherton, Esq., Bachelor, 26, his parents dead, & Mary Sherborne, of St Sepulchre’s, London, Spinster, 20, dau. of Francis Sherborne, Esq., decd about 12 years since, since when she hath been trained up & remained with Mrs Mary Colt, Widow, of Colts Hall in Suffolk, her grandmother, who consents, as well as Edward Elrington, Esq., of St Sepulchre’s, in whose custody she now is; at St Bennet’s or St Peter’s, Paul’s Wharf, London.” [She signs the document “Mary Sharnbourn” in a firm hand.] In the Vicar-General’s Book her father is called Francis “of Sherborne, co. Suffolk.” The record is wrong in respect of the county, as Shernborne (or “Sharnbourne”) is in fact in Norfolk, as is her grandmother’s birthplace, Colts Hall. This is a few miles away in the village of Shouldham. Mary’s paternal grandmother remarried after Mary’s grandfather’s death, to a John Stubbs. He had his right hand cut off for writing a pamphlet criticising Queen Elizabeth’s romantic attachment to the Catholic Duke of Anjou.
Augustine Sotherton had at least two children; Thomas, born sometime after 1625, and Mary, born in 1628. She was baptised at Drayton rather than at Taverham, and as there was probably as yet no Hall in Taveram they mat well have been living in Drayton. Augustine died in 1649, and his son and heir Thomas was, in 1669, married to Elizabeth Barwick, daughter of a Norwich attorney. According to the Archdeacon’s transcripts from the Taverham parish register (the original now lost) the next Sotherton was another Thomas, born in 1677. He was the son of Thomas and Elizabeth (née Barwick). This Thomas was married to Elizabeth Branthwait, who was the granddaughter of Francis Bacon, the eminent judge who is buried in a magnificent tomb in St Gregory’s church in Norwich. You may read more of Francis Bacon in my account of the Longe family, to whom he was also related. Elizabeth Branthwait came from a family of family of lawyers who had bought Hethel Hall in the 17th century.
It was in 1701, during the marriage of Thomas Sotherton and Elizabeth Barwick, that the watermill on the river Wensum at Taverham was converted from a fulling mill (for the treatment of woollen cloth) to a paper mill. Thomas must have had prominent businessman friends in Norwich who persuaded him to promote the printing industry locally. This mill was described as ‘producing paper suitable for printing’ when it opened, but as there were no printers working in Norwich in 1700, the city fathers were obviously keen attract some. This they soon achieved, and by 1710 there were several, all using Taverham paper. This proliferation of printers in the city led to the production of the Norwich Post, the first provincial newspaper in England, and this was followed by several other weekly journals.
The last of the Taverham Sothertons, yet another Thomas, was born in 1707 and died in 1778. It was during his lifetime that the Georgian mansion (which survived until 1858) was built. His only child Mary (1732- 1803) married a second cousin named Miles Branthwait (1728 – 1780) in 1753.
Miles Branthwait had been born at Kettlestone near Fakenham where his father was Rector. Before going up to Cambridge to read law the Rector’s son attended Gresham’s school in Holt. In fact in the eighteenth century the school was not called Gresham’s, but Holt Free Grammar School. He lived most of his married life at a rented property near Melton Constable, Gunthorpe Hall. The current Gunthorpe Hall was built after his time. He only lived in Taverham for two years before he suddenly died, probably of a heart attack. He was a JP, and from what we know of him, he was a rather bristly character; he told James Woodforde not to fish in his river, which went down rather badly with the Parson.
He was succeeded by his son Miles Sotherton Branthwait (born 1756), one of whose first actions was to commission the architect John Soane to design an elegant dining room for the hall. This squire in turn died (without issue) in 1807, aged 51. He had been a keen huntsman until failing health forced him to sell his hounds. Miles Sotherton Branthwait had taken the running of the paper mill into his own hands in the 1780s, employing the former proprietor of the business as his employee manager. He equipped the mill with brand new vats and formes. Upon the squire’s death in 1807 the mill was again let as an independent business, and the lease was taken by the editor of one of the local newspapers, the Norwich Mercury. He was a new broom in the paper trade and he swept away all recently installed but now obsolete equipment used for hand-made paper. Instead of these old-fashioned tools, in 1809 he installed a newly invented paper making machine called the Fourdrinier. Unfortunately the sudden increase in the amount of paper that the machinery could produce caused the bottom to fall out of the market for paper, and the mill was declared bankrupt in 1816.
Im 1807 Miles Sotherton Branthwait was succeeded by his nephew Nathaniel Micklethwait (1784 – 1856). On 22 Sept 1784 Nathaniel Micklethwait was baptised before dinner at Weston Longville rectory by Parson Woodforde. Of this he records it was a performance ‘I did not much like, but could not tell how to refuse…[the Micklethwaits] are the strangest kind of People I almost ever saw. Old Mrs Branthwait [née Mary Sotherton] was almost as strange and vulgar.’ We must not take Woodforde’s words at face value when there is another contemporary account which takes a very different tone in describing Mary Branthwait. In this passage Richard Gardiner, a local writer of political pamphlets, refers to her as ‘a worthy descendant of one of Norfolk’s most noble and venerable families, the Sharnbrokes’.
This Nathaniel was the first Micklethwait to be squire of Taverham but he was by no means the last. He was the son of Sarah, Miles Branthwait’s and Mary Sotherton’s eldest daughter. Sarah had married a Micklethwait (also called Nathaniel), but he died aged 26 in 1786, when his son was only two years old. Although the young Nathaniel Micklethwait had inherited the estate in 1807, on the death of Miles Sotherton Branthwait, he did not take up residence in Taverham until over 10 years later, when the dowager Elizabeth Branthwait (née Colborne, 1757-1832) moved to the West of England. She had been born in Chippenham and died in Leamington Spa. Even once he had moved from his home in Beeston St Andrew to Taverham he spent much of his time in London. He was twice married, first to a daughter of Lord Waldegrave, and the second time to a daughter of the Earl of Stradbroke. He was moving up in the world, and he sent his son to Eton.
The mill had overcome its earlier difficulties and successfully traded throughout the 1820s, but the structure was becoming old and dilapidated, and by 1840 part of the roof had fallen in, resulting in the death of one of the workers. By the middle of the following decade production had ceased and the machinery was put up for sale. It was rescued from disaster by the arrival of the railway from London, which reached Norwich in 1845. This enabled the Times newspaper to use Taverham paper to produce the newspaper. The Delane family took over the mill, and the mill was rebuilt and re-equipped, ushering in the final chapter of the story of paper making in Taverham.
Nathaniel Micklethwaite died in 1856 and he was briefly succeeded by his eldest son, a Lt-Colonel in the Scots Fusilier Guards. He died within months of becoming squire of Taverham, aged 51. He was unmarried, and was succeeded by the next in line, his half brother The Revd John Nathaniel Mickletwait. He had been Lord of the Manor at Coltishall before inheriting Taverham Hall, and although a clergyman he had no parish duties of his own. It was under his auspices that the south aisle of Taverham church was built in 1862. The Revd John Nathaniel Micklethwait was obviously up to date in his reading, a he was in possession of a first edition of an Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. This novel has recently been sold at Sotheby’s for a staggering £163,000.
If Squire John Nathaniel Micklethwait is remembered today, it is for building the current Taverham Hall in 1858. His initials appear in many places around the property. He employed the Scottish architect David Brandon. John died in 1877 and the Hall was let to William Waring, a retired railway contractor. He had specialised in civil engineering projects like viaducts. These had been carried out across the world, in Sicily and Uganda, but also in the approaches to St Pancras Station.
One of John Micklethwait’s younger brothers, Sotherton Nathaniel Micklethwait, had distinguished himself by gaining a Cambridge University blue in cricket in 1843. He went on to serve for 40 years as Vicar of Hickling in Norfolk, where his family owned more land and where he received the living which was in his father’s gift. His elder brother, Henry Sharnbroke Nathaniel Micklethwait, who inherited the title of Lord of the Manor of Taverham from John Micklethwait in 1877, spent his latter years in London after a career in the Royal Navy. He never lived at the new Taverham Hall. He died in 1894.
He was followed as the owner of the Taverham estate by his brother George, but none of these Micklethwait bothers had any children. Henry died unmarried and neither was George Micklethwait married when he died in 1901. The estate then passed to a grandson of Nathaniel Micklethwait (died 1856). Nathaniel Micklethwait’s daughter Sarah (1813-1869) had married John Mills of Roundwood in Hampshire. They were married in London in 1836, and he was the elder brother of Emma Mills, who became the wife of the Revd John Micklethwait. The son of John Mills and Sarah (neé Micklethwait), the Rev Edward Cecil Mills, inherited the property in Taverham after George’s death. He was the Rector of Barford in Warwickshire, and he may well not even have visited Norfolk. The Rev Mills died in 1908, when the estate was left to his son John Digby Mills. He used the Hall in Taverham to house his regiment, the Royal Warwickshires, in the First World War. After an army career he lived in Bisterne in the New Forest and became the local Tory MP from 1932 until 1945. The Hall was sold by John Mills in 1920 and was bought by the headmaster of the preparatory school at Roydon near Diss,. He was looking for larger premises for his expanding school. Taverham Hall School is still in possession of the hall.
TAVERHAM HALL, designed by the Architect David Brandon.
The Mills family are still in possession of Bisterne Manor in Hampshire.
Those who wish to learn the history of Taverham Hall School are referred to Where Elephants Nest (1996) by Peter Beer. A history of Taverham from early times to 1969 (1969) by Thomas Norgate has much useful much information, but it would be easier to follow if it contained footnotes. A 12 page pamphlet was produced on the occasion of the opening of the village hall in 1957. The Parish Registers, Taverham 1601-1837 (1986) transcribed by Judith Sims and indexed by Patrick Palgrave-Moore contains much useful information relevant to this article. There are references to the village in other books but as far as I am aware the above mentioned are the only books on Taverham.
THE BLOG FOR THE HISTORY OF EAST ANGLIA