The Big Houses Of The Heatons: Bank Hall – Part Four: Francis Philips

You wait years for one Francis Philips, and then three turn up at once. Francis Aspinall Philips died on 29 May 1859, and his eldest son Francis succeeded to Bank Hall.

Francis junior was born on 3 January 1830 at Longsight Hall. He attended Eton, and then studied at Christ College Oxford to study law obtaining a BA in 1852. In 1853 he was admitted to the Inner Temple in London as a student, being called to the bar on 17 January 1855.

He married Caroline Mary Prescot on 17 January 1856 at St Mary in Stockport. Caroline (1834-1895) was the daughter of the Reverend Charles Kenrick Prescott (1786-1875) who was Rector of Stockport from 1820 to 1875. His father Charles Prescot before him had been the previous incumbent. She grew up at the Rectory.

Francis Philips succeeded his father to the title of High Sherrif of Radnorshire in 1852.

After Francis Aspinall Philips’ death Caroline and Francis moved from Thornfield into Bank Hall. They are living there in 1861 where he describes himself as a Landed Proprieter and Barrister.

They do not stay at Bank Hall for long. About the same time Francis buys Lee Priory in Ickham, Kent. This was an old established house. As with his father and grandfather before him, he made extensive alterations to the building, employing George Gilbert Scott to carry out the work.

Lee Priory, Ickham – LostHeritage.Org.UK

Scott was not proud of his achievements here, and omitted all reference to it in his future works.

Francis immersed himself into the local community, becoming a Lieuentant in the East Kent Mounted Rifles, stewarding the Canterbury Races and sitting as a Magistrate in the Quarter Sessions at Canterbury. He also founded a skating rink in Canterbury, for the use of paying members in the morning and the general public in the afternoon. This facility seems to have been forgotten as Canterbury Council recently hailed the town’s first ever ice rink. Francis was made High Sheriff of both Lancashire and Kent in 1871.

For her part, Caroline arranged parties for the old folks of the area, with Punch and Judy shows and dancing.

Francis was a keen mountaineer, instigating and completing a climb of Mont Blanc, which came to fascinate Victorian Society.

Albert Smith accompanied him and a companion up the mountain in 1851. Smith was a journalistic writer, who made regular contributions to Punch and wrote several novels. After joining Francis in his ascent, he wrote a book The Story Of Mont Blanc, describing the climb and the life of an Englishman abroad. He also staged a show on the subject, which ran to over 2000 performances, including one infront of Victoria and Albert at Osborne House.

Francis and Albert Smith were founder members of The Alpine Club, the original Alpine Club, in 1857. Francis saw himself an expert in mountain climbing, writing in The Times on 18 September 1860:

Another cause of accidents….(is from).. travellers who at home take little exercise, have never shot a grouse, pulled an oar, or played at cricket ..(and yet) think themselves equal to the Col Du Geant or Mont Blanc

That said Francis was not a man to be trifled with. On 13 March 1870 a local villain Frederick Solley broke into his house and stole 16 china plates, 6lbs of raisins and 2lb of almonds. Unwisely he had broken into the pantry, and decided to sample copious quantities of orange wine he found there before trying to break into a cupboard containing money.

Unfortunately for Frederick, Francis’ butler heard something, and informed Francis, who was in the habit of keeping a loaded shotgun by his bed. He fired, hitting but not stopping him as Solley crashed through a window, a second shot missed, but the first volley had done the damage and he was discovered by the police, lying wounded in some bushes. The police took him for medical assistance, and then to Canterbury hospital, where he remained until trial in April.

Caroline Philips died in 1895, whilst visiting Stockport, and on 18 November 1897 Francis married once more, this time to Anita Constance Edith Bonham (of the same line as Helena Bonham Carter) – who at 27 years old was considerably younger than his 67 years.

Miss Bonham, known to all as Constance, had been born to a British Diplomat in Naples in 1870. She was clearly too much for him, and he died in Lucerne a few months later on 7 March 1898.

Constance stayed on for a while at Lee Priory, but she still was a young thing, and married Lieutenant Colonel Algernon Carteret Thynne, who was at least her age, on 13 February 1904.

Sadly, he too died, commanding the Royal North Devon Hussars, on 6 November 1917. Constance lived on and died on 27 January 1961, aged 91.

Lee Priory fell into disuse after Constance left, and it was demolished in 1953. Constance inherited a lifetime interest in the house, and Francis left a fortune of £188,837, equivalent to £24.3m today. Her age is possibly why the house fell into disrepair. She had use of the property during her lifetime, after that it went to Francis’ children. She had remarried, and had no use for Lee Priory. Tellingly the will is dated 18 November 1897, the day he married Constance.

I have not been able to determine whether Francis had any children. I can neither find census, birth nor newspaper records mentioning them. Francis bequeathed the estate to his wife Constance, and then his sons, daughters or their issue. Failing that it went to his nephew (his brother George Henry Philips’ son, Francis George Prescot Philips) but on condition that he convey Abbey Cwm Hir to his younger brother, or the issue of such brother within six months. Whilst he names beneficiaries, no children of his are named suggesting he had none at the time of the will. The desire for an heir may have been the motivation behind marrying a young, hopefully fertile, woman.

Francis Aspinall Philips’ second child, George Henry Philips, moved to Abbey Cwm Hir on the death of his father. He too was educated at Eton and Oxford and on 21 November 1867 he married Anne Theophilia Prescot (1836-1915). Anne was Caroline’s sister, and had also grown up in the Rectory in Stockport.

They had six children, three boys and three girls. George died on 22 August 1886 in Radnorshire. He left a fortune of £90,168, equivalent to £11.6m in 2019.

The third child of Francis Aspinall and Jane Philips, was Mary Beatrice Philips, born in 1830 at Longsight Hall. She was still living at Bank Hall in 1861 with Francis her brother after her father’s death, but soon after she bought a house, Hazelhurst, Walford near Ross on Wye.

Hazelhurst, Ross On Wye

She never married, and became a keen supporter of education in Herefordshire. She had a lifelong lady companion, who she described as her cousin, Miss Harriett Cockshott. They were indeed related, but not that closely. Her grandmother was Sarah Aspinall, the sister of Beatrice, who married Francis Aspinall Philips.

Nevertheless they lived together from the time Beatrice moved into Hazelhurst until Beatrice’s death in 1898, almost 40 years together, and they were regular attendants to family events, going together but never as a couple.

Beatrice was well thought of in Walford, and on her death the local worthies discussed what should be bought as a memorial to her life. They decided on some bronze tablets to be placed in Bishopswood and Walford churches.

The committee agreed on the purchase of these bronzes, with the proviso raised by a Mr Sims, that they did not purchase them from the local Cooperative, but used tradespeople.

Miss Cockshott was delighted with the kind gesture of her fellow gentlefolk.

Beatrice too had a fortune, and left £98,899 in Great Western Railway Shares, around £13m in 2019.

She was buried in 1898 at Abbey Cwm Hir, and when Harriet died in 1908 in Leamington Spa, she was laid to rest next to Beatrice at Radnorshire. The family did recognise their relationship.

After nearly a century, the house moved from the Philips to another family, we shall meet these residents next time.

Copyright 2019 Allan Russell

Author: allanprussell

Big houses in the Heatons and others that take my interest.

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