The Scarisbrick Estates

Scarisbrick Hall


The Scarisbricks were an old Roman Catholic Lancashire family who rose to some prominence in the early nineteenth century as the recipients through marriage of the estates of two other leading Catholic families, the Ecclestons of Eccleston and Sutton, and the Dicconsons of Wrightington and Parbold. The latter were an industrious yeoman family who worked their way up during the seventeenth century to become lords of the manor of Wrightington. They later became linked with the Scarisbricks when Basil Scarisbrick, a younger son who had branched out to become a Liverpool and Cadiz merchant, married the daughter of Edward Dicconson. In 1742 he succeeded to the Eccleston estate as the result of an earlier marriage alliance, and assumed the name Eccleston.

Basil’s son, Thomas Eccleston, eventually succeeded to the Scarisbrick estate on the death of his grandfather, Robert Scarisbrick and resumed the family name of Scarisbrick. Finally, in 1807, on the death of his uncle, William Dicconson, he also succeeded to the Wrightington and Parbold estates. In addition he purchased the Muscar estate at Burscough from William Hill and the manors of Downholland and Halsall from Colonel Mordaunt. He became well known during his lifetime as an agricultural improver, carrying out extensive drainage works to reclaim 3,600 acres of marshland at Martin Mere between 1778 and 1784, for which he received the gold medal of Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce in 1786. On land which had previously yielded no income he successfully nurtured crops of barley and oats and provided good grazing pasture.

By the time of his death in 1809, the Scarisbricks, as a result of marriage consolidation within strict social and religious lines, and Thomas Eccleston’s own shrewd purchases, careful management and improvements, had become possessed of three valuable estates and attained an overwhelming territorial dominance over the coastal plain of south-west Lancashire. Thomas Eccleston had three sons, Thomas, William and Charles, and four daughters. He died at Ormskirk in November, 1809. His will directed the most valuable estate, Scarisbrick, to be settled to the use of his eldest son. Thomas for life, with remainder to his issued in tail male, with subsequent limitations in favour of the other sons, and, upon failure of their issue, of the daughters. The Wrightington estate was bequeathed in a similar manner to his second son, William, and the less valuable Eccleston estate to his youngest son, Charles. William predeceased his father and, in 1809, Thomas succeeded to both the Scarisbrick and Eccleston estates, changing his name to Scarisbrick by royal licence. Charles challenged Thomas’ right to add Eccleston to his already valuable Scarisbrick estate, but the Vice-Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancashire ruled against him in 1823. Charles succeeded to the Wrightingon estate on his twenty-fifth birthday in 1826, changing his name to Dicconson. Following Thomas Scarisbrick’s death in 1833, Charles claimed the right to inherit both the Scarisbrick and Eccleston estates, and took the name Scarisbrick. This was challenged by two of his sisters, Mrs Elizabeth Clifton, who claimed the Eccleston estate, and Mary Eccleston, who claimed Wrightington. They contested that their father did not intend one member of the family to inherit all three estates, but that parts of his estate should shift to other members of the family to maintain three distinct estates. Unfortunately the wording of the will was rather ambiguous and the settlements contained in it correspondingly obscure and complicated. It was left to the courts to decide whether the primary object was to keep the three estates separate in order to form the future basis of three distinct families or whether he intended to prefer all his sons and all their issue, both male and female, to his daughters.

The case was heard before the High Court of Chancery in March, 1834, and the argument put forward by Charles’ sisters upheld. Charles lodged an appeal to the Lord High Chancellor, Lord Lyndhurst, but was unsuccessful for a second time in April 1835. Finally, the case was brought before the House of Lords as the ultimate court of appeal in June, 1837. It was not until February, 1838, that Mr. Justice Park decreed that Charles Scarisbrick should be declared the right and lawful owner of all three estates, believing Thomas Eccleston’s will to be clearly in favour of any one of his sons over all his daughters. The combined income of the estates was said to be about £40,000 per annum. Charles was so elated with the outcome that he presented his advising counsellor, Mr. Duval, with a magnificent service of plate worth £1,500.

In the early months of 1841 he began moves for further territorial aggrandisement with an approach to Sir Peter Hesketh Fleetwood for his land at North Meols which was held in a joint moiety with Sir Henry Bold-Houghton. Sir Peter had been deeply involved in the financially unsuccessful development of Fleetwood on his Rossall estate since the early 1830’s, and had become heavily indebted to members of his family and other creditors. In May 1841 Charles Scarisbrick agreed to purchase Sir Peter’s moiety for £144,000 and to lay out a further £20,000 in the development of Fleetwood. Sir Peter’s younger brother, the Reverend Charles Hesketh , the Rector of North Meols, heard of this impending sale, and made an increased offer of £148,000 for the property, though he refused to become involved in the Fleetwood project. As a result Hesketh Fleetwood went back on his word with Scarisbrick and rapidly concluded an agreement with his brother to keep the ancestral estate in the family. Scarisbrick was furious and undaunted at the prospect of further lengthy and expensive litigation. Charles Hesketh’s brother-in-law wrote to say that “Scarisbrick was determined to throw the whole matter into chancery as Peter had signed an engagement for sale upon certain conditions and valuation” and that

“he does not care what expense he goes to in compelling the carrying of the basis agreed upon, and he will of course apply for an injunction to prevent the sale to any other party”.

However, when Charles Hesketh explained to Scarisbrick his brother’s obligations and indebtedness both to himself and other members of the Hesketh family, Scarisbrick withdrew and the family agreement was concluded in March, 1842.

Later the same year Scarisbrick approached Sir Henry Bold-Hoghton who, like Hesketh Fleetwood was heavily in debt, and agreed to purchase his 2,700 acres of land at North Meols and some small holdings in Wigan for £132,000. The sale was completed in February, 1843. By March, 1843, Charles Hesketh was finding the burden of mortgages on his newly acquired estate very heavy, and after hearing of Scarisbrick’s purchase of the Bold moiety, inquired whether he would be interested in more land at North Meols. Scarsbrick quickly took the opportunity , paying £91,000 to extend and consolidate the boundaries of his new estate. In this way the Scarisbrick Estate became possessed of the whole of the town centre of Southport from Seabank Road and Union Street to the Birkdale border and all the land co-extensive to the east, together with more land at Crossens, Banks and Martin Mere. Charles Hesketh retained an estate to the north, extending from the site of Hesketh Park to Crossens, and also a detached strip bounded in the north by Gordon Avenue and Manchester Road, and on the south by Seabank Road and Union Street, together with the manorial rights.

In addition to this, Scarisbrick consolidated his ancestral estates with the acquisition of further land at Wrightington , Eccleston, Wigan, Halsall, Down-holland and Scarisbrick. At his death he held in excess of 30,000 acres, and con-temporaries marvelled at the size of his holdings. He also spent something in the region of £85,000 employing Augustus Welby Pugin in the rebuilding of Scarisbrick Hall from 1837 onwards. He filled it with fifteenth century gothic woodcarvings and valuable pictures which he collected abroad, his collection of works of art realising £45,000 on his death.

His wealth was a constant source of speculation. When he died in May, 1860, the Southport Visiter estimated that his property was worth between two and three millions: the Preston Chronicle ‘he was probably the wealthiest commoner in Lancashire’; whilst an obituary carried in the Annual Register reckoned his income was about £1000,000 per annum. Research shows that it could never have exceeded £60,000 and was for the most part of his life very considerably less. The manner in which he was able to finance the £28,200 purchase of North Meols following years of expensive litigation and rebuilding work at Scarisbrick Hall, and at the time of his death have £161,000 deposited with his Wigan bankers and an outstanding mortgage of only £25,000, has remained a mystery.

Speculation and mystery about his wealth was matched only by that surrounding his private life. Nathaniel Hawthorne, the famous American author who resided in Southport during 1856-57, recalled that Scarisbrick was a topic for discussion amongst the passengers on his Liverpool commuter train; he wrote:

“He is an eccentric man they said, and there seems to be an obscurity about the early part of his life; according to some reports he kept a Gambling house in Paris, before succeeding to the estate. Neither is it a settled point whether or no he has ever been married. . . He is very eccentric and nervous man, and spends all his time at his secluded hall, which stands in the midst of mosses and marshes; and sees nobody, not even his own steward”.

This was mere gossip, although it is perhaps of some significance that property in Paris was sold following his death. His funeral directions confirmed contemporaries’ impressions of a strangely motivated man: his coffin was to be carried in a straight line from the place of his death at Scarisbrick Hall to his last resting place in the small cemetery of Bescar Lane Roman Catholic church. Days before the funeral, hedges had to be cut down and planks laid across ditches, and the reasoning behind his strange orders years earlier to leave a gap in a garden wall leading to the chapel yard was now revealed. On the day of the funeral, which was strictly private, the small party had to walk nearly a mile through a meadow, over a wheatfield, potato field and garden before reaching the chapel yard.

Even at the time of his death the local press was unaware of the real heir to his fortune. “There are several rumours”, reported the Southport Visiter” . . . some asserting that the deceased never married, whilst others incline to the view that a Mrs Scarisbrick will soon appear, and set all troubles to rest”. His will, though dated 28 February, 1857, directed that all the property purchased during his lifetime be left in trust for the benefit of three illegitimate children between 1837 and 1841. This had clearly been the hidden purpose behind his dogged resolved to acquire the property at North Meols, rather than his expressed intention to provide a drainage outlet for his ancestral Scarisbrick estate.

His settled estates were divided amongst his surviving sisters as co-heiresses His eldest sister, Dame Anne Hunloke, widow of Sir Thomas Hunloke of Wingerworth Hall in Derbyshire, inherited Scarisbrick and took the name Lady Scarisbrick.She died in March, 1872, and her surviving daughter, Eliza, the wife of the Marquis de Biaudos de Casteja, a Persian nobleman of Spanish decent, succeeded. The ancient Scarisbrick property was thereafter known as the Casteja estate, until being sold in various lots in the 1920’s for over one million pounds.

His youngest sister, Mrs. Elizabeth Clifton, came into possession of Wrightington. After her death in November, 1862, her eldest son, Thomas, inherited, and the family name, Dicconson of Wrightington, was resumed. Catherine Eccleston,Starbrick’s remaining sister, took Eccleston. She died a spinster in November, 1863, and the estate was placed in the hands of trustees and gradually broken up.

The purchased properties remained in the hands of trustees under the will of Charles Scarisbrick from 1860 until 1925 when the Trust was terminated. The original trustees were Scarisbrick’s close advisors, and, as he termed them in the will, “worthy friends”. Thomas Part (1799-1885) a Wigan solicitor, whom he had probably first met during his schooldays at Wigan Grammar School, and William Hawkshead Talbot (1813-1875) a Chorley land agent and surveyor who was descended from a prominent family of land agents in the Wigan area and who had first acted as a agent for Scarisbrick at Wrightington. They were probably the most influential figures during the development of Southport in the crucial period from time of Scarisbirck’s purchase in 1843 up until the 1870’s, and the effects of their decisions and policies have lasted to the present day. For it was these two men who effectively planned the layout and tone of Southport; it was they who insisted on the insertion of strict restrictive covenants in the original building leases in order to uphold minimum values, protect amenities and determine spaciousness, and so promote the long term prosperity and reversionary value fo the estate for the welfare of the beneficiaries.

The will directed that the Trust Estate should provide the beneficiaries with an annual income of £3,000 in addition to a division of any surplus capital which might remain after the payment of expenses and other annuities. From the 1870’s they never drew less than £10.000 each. In addition, from 1884 there was a series of three-way partitions of surplus residuary capital. Between 1884 and 1908 £261,809 was divided up amongst the beneficiaries.

In the early years of the Trust, Scarisbrick’s children took no active interest in the town or the estate. His sons, Charles (1839-1923), and William (1837-1904), were both born in Germany, where they married and continued to live. The ever-increasing income, which the development of Southport provided, enabled them to move in the highest German social circles. His daughter, Mary Ann (1841-1902), married Tom Naylor-Leyland, a prominent and wealthy Welsh landowner, and thereafter became solely devoted to the social life surrounding Nantclwyd Hall.

Because of this, the Scarisbrick estate rarely took on the traditional roles and duties of local landowners, and in the hands of professional trustees the leasehold development of the town was managed in a particularly commercial and business-like fashion. Even at the height of its financial success no more than a few hundred pounds was annually subscribed to local charities and voluntary organisations, the shouldering of such burdens being left to the neighbouring Hesketh estate.

Considerable acrimony arose between the estate and the Corporation and residents, as a result of what the local authority and lesses rightly or wrongly felt was an unfair neglect of traditional responsibilities in the single-minded pursuit of excessive profit. This resentment was fostered by the large numbers of radical Liberals in the town, and culminated in the Southport Foreshore Dispute of 1883, an affair which for a time became one of national discussion and importance, in which the Trustees asserted that the rights and privileges of a private estate were greater than those of a public authority and that the interests of the inhabitants of Southport were better served and safeguarded by the Scarisbrick estate than by the Southport Corporation. This resulted in an almost total breakdown in relations between the two bodies for a number of years.

In 1888, on the urging of local Conservatives and Anglican clergymen, Charles Scarisbrick came to reside in Southport in a carefully considered attempt to heal old wounds. He became immediately involved in local affairs, unsuccessfully contesting Talbot Ward as a Conservative in the Municipal elections of 1889. He later became President of the Conservative and Unionist Association; a County Magistrate in 1890; Mayor of the Borough in 1901; and Park Ward Councillor from 1903 generous philanthropist, giving, for example, £7,000 in cash towards the building of Southport Infirmary.

In similar vein, Sir Herbert Scarisbrick Naylor-Leyland, the son of Mrs. Mary Ann Naylor-Leyland, surprisingly resigned as Conservative Member of Parliament for Colchester in February, 1895, and changed over to the Liberal cause, unsuccessfully contesting Southport against Lord Curzon in July, 1895. He even adopted the cause of land reform and leasehold enfranchisement, for so long the hobbyhorse of local radicals. He was successful in the 1898 election against Losrd Skelmersdale, only to die at the age of thirty-five in 1899, before he had chance to act on what many thought were hollow pledges to reform the management of the estate.

His cousin, Thomas Talbot Leyland Scarisbrick (1873-1933), the son of Charles Scarisbrick, carried on the family’s belated interest in Liberalism, succeeding his father as Mayor in 1902 and sitting as Marine Ward Councillor from 1901 to 1904. For brief periods he sat on the Lancashire County Council, From 1906 to 1910 he served as Liberal Member for the South Division of Dorset.

At the time of the Southport purchase in 1842-43 much of Lord Street consisted of villa and cottage property held on life and short leases. During the 1880’s these began to fall in. The Scarisbrick Trustees offered renewals at increased ground rents of several hundred pounds a year, and thus the redevelopment of Lord Street into the retail and business centre of today commenced.

In the decade leading up to the First World War many reversions of central property were sold. This continued after the War, until 1925, after years prompting Sir Thomas Talbot, application was made to the Court of Chancery and the Trust terminated. The estate was physically partitioned into three undivided lots, and for the first time the beneficiaries became landowners in their own right. Sir Thomas Talbot, who had bought his grandfather’s ancestral home, Scarisbrick Hall a couple of years earlier, sold his partitioned share. The Naylor-Leyland third was mainly sold off in the 1950’s and only the share descending from William Scarsbrick’s grandson, Charles Ewald Scarisbrick, remains in any way substantially intact in family hands.

The first deposits of Scarisbrick nuniments made by Sir Everard Scarisbrick and by the Estate Office on behalf of Captain Scarisbrick on 13 August and 27 September, 1945. Most of these documents date from before 1800, and they consist mainly of ancient deeds (including those calendared in Transactions of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire N.S. vols. 12 and 13), leases, and papers relating to estate management. Prior to 1860 the whole estate both purchased and inherited was managed as a single entity, and these papers therefore include ancient documents relating to all Charles Scarisbrick’s properties.

After 1860 when then estates were divided, the Scarisbrick estate passed ultimately to the Marquis de Casteja, who papers have now been deposited in the Lancashire Record Office but are not yet listed. The most recent deposit, however, is again from the Scarisbrick Estate Office at Southport, and consists of the entire archive of the Scarisbrick Trust, 1860-1925, together with some records of the management of the partitioned estates after 1926, and a further quantity of family and estate papers prior to 1860.

Notes: this article, by John Liddle, first appeared in the Lancashire Record Office annual report for 1977; the catalogue of the Scarisbrick family archive at Lancashire Archives can be browsed online here; find out more about Scarisbrick Hall.

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