On our holiday last week we stayed at historic Gurney Manor — sometimes called Gurney Street Manor — in Cannington, Somerset.
It is a very special place.
Rescued by the Landmark Trust in the 1980s, much of the fabric dates to before 1400, with substantial additions in the mid-to-late fifteenth century.
Because it largely came down in the world after the seventeenth century, many of its ancient features, including the fifteenth century covered passage across the inner courtyard linking the old kitchen to the hall, have survived.
Unsurprisingly, it proved quite a good hunting ground for names, which are almost text-book examples of the typical names through the centuries, demonstrating fluctuations in fashion both generally, and across the social spectrum.
The original owners — and the family who gave their name to the manor — were a branch of the baronial family of Gurney, the founder of which came to England with William the Conqueror. Only a few names are known from this earliest period, emerging from the fog of remote history; a RICHARD de Gurney, flourished in 1243, when he put in a claim on the mill, then in possession of his “kinsman” WILLIAM, son of PHILIP.
Richard had a son called ROBERT.
By the end of the thirteenth century, the property appears to have been owned by JOHN de Gurney, who was alive in 1327.
The last of the line at Gurney Manor, and probably the one responsible for much of the parts of the hall dating to the late fourteenth and early fifteenth century, was HUGH, who succeeded to the estate in 1358. Either he, or a son of the same name, was there in 1401, with a wife called BEATRICE.
He had no son, and so the manor passed to his daughter JANE — an unusual name at the time, when the usually feminine form of John was Joan. She married ROGER Dodesham.
Responsible for most of the fifteenth century additions was their son, another WILLIAM, who was a lawyer as well as a landowner.
William had sisters called JOAN and ELEANOR, and on his death in 1480, the Gurney Street Manor passed in trust to Joan’s daughter, AGNES, wife of WALTER Michell, who died in 1487. Agnes and Walter had three sons, who each succeeded in turn, WILLIAM, JOHN, and THOMAS.
Thomas, whose wife was called MARGARET, died in 1503, when the manor passed to his son, another THOMAS. He also had a daughter called ISABEL.
Thomas made a number of improvements and refinements to the house, adding fine windows and new chimneys — but it all came to an abrupt end on December 13, 1539, when he murdered his wife JOAN and sister-in-law ELEANOR, seemingly at Gurney Manor, before killing himself.
He had two known children, another JANE, and another RICHARD.
Richard, who married an ELIZABETH, died in 1563, leaving the manor to his son, TRISTRAM.
Tristram, meanwhile, died in 1574, when the manor passed to his brother, Sir BARTHOLOMEW.
On Bartholomew’s death in 1616, his lands were split between his daughters, JANE and FRANCES. Gurney passed to Jane, wife of WILLIAM Hockmore.
William had considerable property elsewhere, and Gurney’s owners no longer lived there; the house and its acres was let to tenants, so that by the late nineteenth century, it was regarded as just a (large) farmhouse.
The names of most of these tenants is lost, but we still know the names of the house’s owners, and their families.
Jane and William Hockmore, for instance, had six children, SUSANNAH, GREGORY, CHARLES, WILLIAM, FRANCES and RICHARD, not all of whom lived to adulthood.
Gregory, married to MARY, inherited in 1626, dying in 1653, when the estate passed to his son, also called GREGORY (he also had a daughter called JANE).
Gregory II, married to HONOR, also had two children, a son WILLIAM, and, quelle surprise, yet another JANE.
William, who inherted sometime between 1676 and 1680, married another MARY, and had three daughters, MARY, JANE and HONORA; only Honora survived to adulthood, becoming William’s heiress on his death in 1707-08.
She married DAVIDGE Gould (his mother’s maiden name was Davidge) around 1713, and had five children who survived to adulthood: Sir HENRY (d.1794), RICHARD (d.1793), HONORA (d.1802), WILLIAM (d.1799) and THOMAS (d.1808).
Henry, married ELIZABETH, and had two daughters, another ELIZABETH, and HONORA MARGARETTA. Elizabeth married TEMPLE Luttrell; Honora Margaretta, who died in 1813, married General RICHARD Lambart, 7th Earl of Cavan.
And Gurney passed through her to the Earls of Cavan.
(Temple Luttrell was an interesting character; an MP, he was reputedly also a smuggler, and built a folly, called Luttrell’s Tower, at Eaglehurst near Southampton. On his death in Paris in 1803, Luttrell’s Tower passed to the Earl of Cavan too. By pure coincidence, Luttrell’s Tower is also now owned by the Landmark Trust.)
Richard and Honora Margaretta had five children:
- RICHARD HENRY ROBERT GILBERT (1783-85)
- HONORA ELIZABETH HESTER (1784-1856)
- ALICIA MARGARETTA HOCKMORE (1785-1818)
- SOPHIA AUGUSTA (1787-98)
- RICHARD HENRY (b. and d. 1788)
- GEORGE FREDERICK AUGUSTUS (1789-1828)
- EDWARD HENRY WENTWORTH VILLIERS (1791-1812)
George, who died before his father, married the simply named SARAH, and had five children:
- HENRIETTA AUGUSTA (d. 1874)
- ALICIA (d.1913)
- JULIA (d.1897)
- FREDERICK JOHN WILLIAM (1815-87)
- OLIVER GEORGE (1822-98)
Frederick John William’s wife was CAROLINE AUGUSTA, and they also had five children:
- MARY HYACINTHE (d.1933)
- SARAH SOPHIA (d.1914)
- FREDERICK EDWARD GOULD (1839-1900)
- OCTAVIUS HENRY (1855-1919)
- ARTHUR (1858-1937)
Frederick Edward Gould’s wife was MARY SNEADE (Sneade was her middle name — her surname was Olive), and their children:
- FREDERICK RUDOLPH (1865-1946)
- ELLEN OLIVE (1867-1945)
- MAUD EDITH GUNDREDA (1869-1940)
- LIONEL JOHN OLIVE (1873-1940)
- HORACE EDWARD SAMUEL SNEADE (1878-1950).
Frederick Rudolph had no children by his first wife CAROLINE INEZ; by his second wife, HESTER JOAN, he had two daughters; the first, ELIZABETH MARY was born in 1924.
The following year, Gurney was sold to its tenants of more than thirty years, the Bucknells, and with it an unbroken line of descent, if not of inhabitation, of at least eight hundred years, was finally severed.
The Bucknells were a thoroughly English Victorian middle class family; the father, a classic “gentleman farmer” was a solid and respectable JAMES, his wife an equally establishment MARY ANN. One daughter was ELIZA HARRIS, the other, OLIVE MARY (possibly named in honor of the Countess of Cavan), and they also had a son, BENJAMIN JOHN.
In 1901, there were also three servants living with them at the manor: FRANK, EMILY and MABEL.
Gurney’s time once more owned by its inhabitants was short-lived; the Bucknells sold in 1934, and by the 1940s it had been subdivided into flats. By the 1980s, it was in a sorry, neglected state, with most of the flats empty, but then the Landmark Trust bought it, and the rest is (more!) history…
No-one lives there for more than three weeks at a time anymore, but it has been fully restored to its medieval glory and I think the place rather likes the variety of ever changing faces coming and going, and basks in their rapt admiration.