Magnificent Wanstead House that hosted nobility and royalty

In 1715 Sir Richard Child, lord of the manors of Wanstead and Woodford, set about building himself a magnificent new house at Wanstead which was later described as “one of the noblest houses not only in England, but in Europe”.

In 1718 he was created Viscount Castlemaine, and in 1731 Earl Tylney. No doubt Sir Richard dreamed of the dynasty he was founding and the magnificent achievements of the heirs to his country seat.

When he died in 1750 his estates and titles passed to his son Sir John, who became the second Earl Tylney. He never married and when he died in 1784 the family fortunes were inherited by his nephew Sir James Long, the son of his sister Emma, who had married Sir Robert Long of Draycot in Wiltshire in 1735.

Many letters were exchanged between Wanstead and Draycot, describing incidents of their daily lives. There was much visiting between the two estates and with other noble families. As his sister wrote: “Lord Tylney is the most uncertain creature in the world, for he knows not where to fix next month. Sometimes he says he will go to Bath, and the next day he says he will go to London, for he cannot bear the country in November.” In the event they spent a few days with Lord Hervey at Bury St Edmunds.

They socialised with their near neighbours, such as a party at Bleak (Blake) Hall where they joined Mr and Miss Surman [of Valentines] and Mr Goodere (the Gooderes were a wealthy family of long standing in Wanstead) and in all 14 sat down to supper. This included Lord Londonderry who was staying with Earl Tylney at that time. A dinner at Wanstead House included Mr Conyers, of Copped Hall, Epping, and the Lethieulliers, of Aldersbrook, “but Gascoigne, of Bifrons at Barking, does not …as he does not care to meet Mr Conyers since the match is off.”

In August 1750 Earl Tylney gave a supper to celebrate the wedding of William Harvey of Rolls Park, Chigwell, who married Emma, the daughter of Stephen Skynner of Walthamstow, and this was “the finest I ever saw in Wanstead House”.

In July 1750 Earl Tylney’s sister Dorothy wrote about a visit to Windsor to see the “installation, my brother having the promise of tickets.”

They invited Miss Surman from Valentines to join them and took lodgings, but found the town very crowded. From other contemporary accounts it seems this was an occasion of great ceremony attended by all the aristocracy when honours were bestowed upon members of the royal family.

A letter written on October 6, 1750 describes a visit to see Romeo and Juliet with a detailed description of the production. The party again included Miss Surman, and they also “sent for Master Long to go with us to the play, I do assure you he did his exercise before he went.” Even the sons of the nobility didn’t get out of school work that easily!

The letters also mention bouts of illness and remedies tried. One violent attack of sickness was put down to a surfeit of oysters. The sisters-in-law wrote to one another about new clothes purchased and it is clear money was no object. Cards was a favourite pastime and gambling was quite acceptable. “My luck at Tunbridge quite changed since I last wrote, for I come off looser by near thirty pounds”.

A letter written in 1760 from Lord Tylney tells of his confusion because the Duke of York had “sent last night that he intends doing me the honour to sup at Wanstead next Monday, and of course, must have a ball”.

His biggest worry was that “the little notice he has given me will make it very difficult for me to get company suitable for H.R.H. the Duke of York” and he hopes that his nephew “Jemmy Long” would be of the party.

Little did they realise that in years to come Jemmy Long’s daughter, Catherine, would be courted by the royal prince who later became King William IV.

Sadly she chose to marry William Wellesley-Pole, a charming man with impeccable background but no scruples, who squandered her vast fortune and brought about the ruin of the family and the destruction of Wanstead House.

Georgina Green has been involved with local history in Redbridge, Waltham Forest and the Epping Forest area for 40 years and is the author of several local history books. She was elected a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society in 2021.

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