Swallowfield Park Case Study: A Collaborative Endeavour

Mr Joseph Entangled

The engraving shown above is an illustration from an 1861 edition of William Makepeace Thackeray’s Vanity Fair. It depicts Joseph Sedley an East India Company official in the throws of an entanglement with a young lady. Notice how the illustration stresses this character’s portly stature and fine attire. Sedley was the archetypal nabob – well-dressed, well-fed, idle, frivolous and spoilt.

Since its development in the 1760s, the image of the nabob has figured in British caricature as a quintessentially possessive individual. The history of the Russell family, however, suggests at the falsity of this stereotype. Rather than being consumed by individual needs, addicted to Indian tastes and incapable of casting off commercial origins, the Russell correspondence reveals Sir Henry, his wife and his two eldest sons to have been key collaborators in a collective family enterprise in which Asian and European cultures blended.

Finding Swallowfield Park

In the 1820s the Russell family bought Swallowfield Park. Finding a suitable country house for sale at a good price, in the right location and with the necessary lineage was, however, not easy. How did the Russell family gain the experience and knowledge required to complete their purchase?

In the 1810s, after Sir Henry had returned to England from India, the Russells began to seriously consider the financial implications of the purchasing a country house. By this point the family had gained great experience of what owning and running a country house entailed.

Lady Anne sailed from India in the Preston in 1804, taking with her the two youngest children (Rose and George) and two female Indian servants (known in the family as ‘Black Mary’ and Anne Ayah, albeit the latter was re-named Mrs Williams when she began to serve as a lady’s maid in England). [1]

Lady Anne then proceeded to establish a succession of transient households in London, Bath, Tunbridge Wells, Dover and Walmer to accommodate her five daughters and three youngest sons while they were educated in England. In the years between 1804 and the return of Sir Henry in 1813, Lady Anne gained a wide experience of the perils and joys of English country houses as a result of her constant movement between rental properties. From this experience she became a connoisseur of houses.

By spring 1806, assisted by her brother Whitworth, she had taken an extended lease on a house at Hookwood, Surrey, surrounded by several acres of garden.[2] A few months later, she and her family were residing in town, occupying a small rented house in Park Lane opposite the Grosvenor Gate and adjacent to the residence of a Whitworth aunt. The Park Lane house had been taken to allow the Russells’ eldest daughter, Anne (d. 1808) to be presented at Court, an essential step in the family’s campaign to secure their status within the upper gentry. Her younger sons’ fortunes were cultivated by ensuring that they enjoyed privileged access to her brother Whitworth, by being placed in schools near his stately home in Kent, Knole. [3]

Lady Russell may well have been resident at Hookwood House, Limpsfield, Surrey, which is now a listed building.

Concern about Hookwood’s healthiness as well as its expense encouraged Lady Anne to seek alternative quarters. Complaints from Sir Henry about the excessive cost of her peripatetic lifestyle in England were a leitmotif in the couple’s correspondence. She wrote to Charles in 1809 about her chronic worry regarding ‘money concerns: they so much vex and hurt me that at times I feel entirely wretched’. [4] A month later, she took her children to visit their uncle Whitworth at Buckhurst Park, his East Sussex estate. The estate still remains in the Whitworth family today.

Here her younger sons enjoyed their uncle’s largesse, prompting their mother to write to India to petition her second eldest son for Indian shawls, luxury items that figured prominently in the family’s patronage networks. [5] In 1811, she took at house at Riverhead, Kent, near her brother’s Knole estate, but this proved only a temporary settlement. Early in 1813 she was back in London, based at Baker Street, and informed Sir Henry that she had taken a lease on a house and stables at Clifton for £350 per annum. It was from the Clifton residence that she reported to her husband how much her London friends had admired the family portraits she had sent to Henry in Hyderabad. Clifton too, however, proved only a temporary way-station. Caroline Russell wrote to her brother Charles in April 1814, shortly before their mother’s death, that she had taken a three-year lease on Cannon Hill, a large villa with a park five miles from Windsor Castle. [6]

Before the Russell family finally purchased Swallowfield Park, the younger generation of the family had also had the chance to experience the pleasures involved in country house life. On their return to England in the early 1820s, Henry and Clotilde joined the landed gentry, if only vicariously, when they took a lease on Sutton Park, Bedfordshire in 1822. Three years later, fire destroyed the house.

The family seat of the Burgoyne family, Sutton Park was connected to both the North American and the Indian empire through its proprietors’ military service. The seventh baronet, Sir John Burgoyne (1739-1785), for example, was a cavalry officer in India in the 1780s, marrying and dying in the Madras Presidency. Leasing Sutton Park from Sir John Burgoyne, ninth baronet, nonetheless helped Henry to reconfigure himself as a truly English gentleman. ‘The place that we have taken belongs to the family of the Burgoynes, and has…for generations’, he wrote to a friend in Hyderabad. ‘They are one of the oldest Families in England: the Hall is lined with the Pictures of their Ancestors.’

Costing Henry only £300 per annum, the house was also ideally placed to preserve his links with the families that had provided him with powerful political patronage in India. Its location near the Great Northern Road made Sutton Park a convenient staging post for the family of the late Gilbert Elliot, first Earl Minto (1751-1814)—who had promoted Henry to the Hyderabad Residency, and whose son John Elliott had married Jane Casamaijor’s sister, Amelia—as they travelled between London and their family seat in the Scottish Borders, Minto.

In 1822 Henry described to Robert Pitman how, ‘The Dowager Lady Minto, when she was coming here, actually drove past the Park, not thinking it possible such a place to be had for so low a rent as she knew I paid’, Henry wrote proudly. ‘The habits of Country life too are much more like those of India, and I do not like them a bit the less on that Account’, he concluded with satisfaction. [7]

Purchasing Swallowfield Park

In the early nineteenth century, the purchase or construction of a country house was a huge investment. Rather than attempting to purchase separate estates, the Russell family decided to combine their wealth in order to buy an estate between them. As early as 1813 Sir Henry wrote to his wife of his intention to collaborate with his sons to purchase landed property. He proposed to pay £100,000, his son Henry £60,000 and Charles £40,000, with the rents divided proportionately. [8]

His son, Henry Russell was, however, reluctant to return to England from Hyderabad until he could ensure an annual income of £3,000, which he estimated would require an investment in land of £80,000. Desire for wealth vied with social ambition in Henry’s investment calculations. The yield on government bonds was greater than that on land, but gentility held sway over mere profits as he contemplated his return to England: ‘I had rather have 3000 a Year in Landed Property, than 5000 in the Funds’, he wrote to Sir Henry in 1815. [9]

How might the Russells’ experience have been different if they had been successful in purchasing the Elizabethan styled Gosfield Hall? What does their interest in Gosfield tell us about the Russells aspirations?

In the same year Sir Henry began contemplating the purchase of a country estate. He considered purchasing Summer Hill estate (near Tunbridge Wells, one of his wife’s many resting-places on her transit through town and countryside upon returning to England) for £125,000 but ultimately decided against it. He also sought to negotiate the purchase of Gosfield Hall in Essex for £120,000, but the Duke of Buckingham had insisted on 150,000 guineas, and this sale too was unsuccessful. [10]

Henry Russell’s second marriage, to a Catholic woman from the French colonial enclave of Pondicherry, complicated plans to purchase a country estate. Solemnised in Hyderabad in 1816, this was the second marriage Henry had undertaken precipitously and without his father’s consent. As a union with a French Catholic, it presented obstacles to his establishment as an English gentleman of the governing elite at home. Henry broke the news of his second marriage to his father with a characteristic combination of bravado and emotional blackmail. ‘My Marriage will hardly affect the Amount of my Fortune, or require me, on that Account, to stay longer in India than I otherwise should have done’, he wrote to Sir Henry in October 1816. ‘But when I find that you are estranged, and that your Door will be shut against me, I shall have lost one of the strongest inducements I had to return to England, and shall probably therefore remain more years at Hyderabad, and amass a greater Fortune, than I have hitherto intended.’ [11]

Clotilde Mottet (c. 1795-1872) bore Henry four children in rapid succession in India, of whom two (Henry and Anne) survived to sail with the couple for England in 1820. In the event, Sir Henry was readily reconciled to his new daughter-in-law (not least because she bore him several grandsons), and the purchase of country seats again moved to the forefront of the Russells’ ambitions. In the 1820s the family finally made a successful purchase – Swallowfield Park.

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[1] Lady Anne to Charles Russell, 20 January 1805, Bodleian, MS. Eng. lett. c. 154, fols 63-63 verso. An ayahwas an Indian nursemaid or lady’s maid.

[2] Lady Anne Russell to Charles Russell, 24 May 1806, Bodleian, MS. Eng. lett. c. 154, fol. 81 verso.

[3] Lady Anne Russell to Henry Russell, 24 May 1806, Bodleain, MS. Eng. lett. c. 154, fols 78-78 verso, 81 verso; Lady Anne to Charles, 13 August 1807, MS. Eng. lett., c. 154, fol. 112 verso.

[4] Lady Anne Russell to Charles Russell, 9 July 1809, Bodleian, MS. Eng. lett. c. 154, fols 159-159 verso.

[5] Lady Anne Russell to Charles Russell, 10 August 1809, Bodleian, MS. Eng. lett. c. 154, fols 1164 verso-166.

[6] Henry Russell to J.H. Casamaijor, 15 November 1811, Bodleian, MS. Eng. lett. d. 163, fol. 60 verso; Lady Anne Russell to Sir Henry Russell, MS. Eng. lett. c. 153, fols 6-7 verso; Caroline Russell to Charles Russell, 27 April 1814, MS. Eng. lett. c. 177, fols 122-122 verso.

[7] Henry Russell to Robert Pitman, 14 September 1822, Bodleian, MS. Eng. lett. c. 169, fols. 80-80 verso, 82, 83.

[8] Sir Henry Russell to Lady Anne Russell, 16 March 1813, Bodleian, MS. Eng. lett. c. 153, fols 56 verso-57.

[9] Henry Russell to Sir Henry Russell, 20 April 1815, Bodleian, MS. Eng. lett. c. 151, fols 107-108.

[10] Henry Russell to Sir Henry Russell, 22 October 1815, Bodleian, MS. Eng. lett. c. 151, fols 142 verso-143 verso; Sir Henry Russell to Henry Russell, 13 March 1824, MS. Eng. lett. c. 151, fols 278-278 verso.

[11] Henry Russell to Sir Henry Russell, 3 October 1816, Bodleian, MS. Eng. lett. c. 151, fols 176 verso-177.