The Turbulent Squire of Apedale.
Richard Edensor Heathcote (1780-1850).
by David Dyble, MA.
Of all the Heathcotes, Richard must surely have had the most eventful career. He had many triumphs and tragedies, but for most of his life, personal happiness was to elude him. His life demands the longest narrative of the Heathcotes associated with Apedale, and it is continually punctuated with disappointments and sorrow. It is a mark of his strength of character that he survived most of it without a breakdown in health, though this was close at times. It is worth noting that a number of modern history books have mis-named him as 'Robert'. This is a confusing mistake, possibly begun by the Victoria County History of Staffordshire, and continued by other worthy books which followed.[i]
His father, Sir John Edensor Heathcote, had brought the family name to North Staffordshire in 1777, when he purchased Longton Hall, and in the next twenty years sold all of his small estates in Derbyshire, using the proceeds to buy mining concessions in the Potteries and Chesterton areas. Sir John married in February 1780, and Richard, his first son and heir was born at the end of that year. An uneventful childhood was spent mainly at Longton Hall, where his mother[ii] died when he was seventeen, whilst giving birth to his brother Charles. His cousin Eliza Gresley moved in at Longton to 'manage' the family, and was an efficient, though rather unfeeling person. Richard was sent to Oxford University a year later, graduating with a BA in Law in 1801. In September 1808 he married his younger cousin Emma Gresley,[iii] thus binding even closer their two families. The newly-weds took up residence at Condover Hall near Shrewsbury. This Elizabethan mansion on the grand scale was leased by Richard, and was the scene of five brief years of contentment. This building so impressed him that he vowed to build a home of his own similar in style to it, when a suitable site could be found. Eighteen years after he had moved into Condover he did build a smaller version of it - the last Apedale Hall.
After five years of marriage Emma died in 1813, at the age of twenty-eight, giving birth to their third child. Richard was grief-stricken and soon gave up Condover, taking his three young children back to Longton, where his sisters cared for them. By 1815 Richard had remarried, his young family needed a mother, and he would not remain a widower at the age of 35. His second wife was Lady Elizabeth Keith Lindsay, Daughter of the Earl of Balcarres. The new home was set up in London, at 68, Wimpole Street. (The famous Barretts did not move into number 50 until 1838). After losing their first daughter at birth in 1819, Richard and his wife rejoiced a year later when a second daughter, also named Elizabeth, survived and ultimately became the only one of his children to give him grandchildren.[iv] His cousin Wilmot Gresley, who was also his first wife's sister, wrote from Lichfield '..we are very happy to hear Lady Elizabeth and her child are doing well..'. In this letter she was explaining various points regarding the Gresley family tree, in answer to Richard's enquiries. This was the beginning of a quest which was to occupy him for over twenty years, resulting in an almost complete table of descent for himself and his children, which traced (to Richard's satisfaction) Heathcotes, Bowyers and Gresleys back to the Norman Conquest and before. This series of enquiries involved the College of Heralds, besides distant relatives in various parts of Britain, and by 1842 it had given John Ward a surfeit of material for his publication.[v] Richard was also anxious to give his son and heir, John,[vi] a coat-of-arms worthy of his ancestry. Unfortunately, the College of Heralds ruled against a combination of all his ancestors' arms, much to Richard's disappointment.
Upon the death of his father in October 1822, Richard inherited Longton together with all other landed property. This year saw the beginning of the worst decade of Richard's life. It was marked by successive bereavements, legal battles, treacherous servants, wrangles with relatives over property and by political disappointments, all of which frequently drove him to the depths of despair. Some private notes which were made at the height of all this turmoil, in 1826, show him on the verge of giving up all when an escape offered itself. But more of that later.
By early 1823, Richard and his family were established at Longton Hall. He now owned two-thirds of Apedale, his father's third and his first wife's third. The remaining portion had belonged to a sister-in-law Louisa Gresley, but after her marriage in 1822, it was controlled by her husband, Rev.Edward Woodyatt, of Wellesbourne, Warks. This reverend gentleman was to be a thorn in Richard's side for over eight years. Woodyatt was reluctant to invest in the development of industry in the valley, and was very suspicious of, and obstructive to, Richard's plans in that direction.
In 1823 there was a parliamentary by-election for one of the two Newcastle seats.[vii] Richard decided to stand, his opponent being a John Denison. The main debate to emerge was Catholic emancipation, a burning issue at that time. Heathcote, a convinced Liberal, was in favour and campaigned for a change in the law. Denison, however, conservatively supported the status quo. At the poll Richard lost by only 24 votes, the result being Denison 336, Heathcote 313. Less than a year later as national public opinion changed, so too did Denison, who now spoke in favour of equal rights for Papists. Richard was furious and losing no time he publicly rebuked his opponent in speeches and pamphlets.
In May 1824 his twelve-year old daughter Anne died at Longton Hall, after a short illness. He pressed on with his ambition to build his own mansion on the height above Apedale, and work started that year, partly on the foundations of the medieval hall, whose derelict remains had been demolished a year or two earlier. Before the first stage of this new building was ready for occupation, however, bereavement came again. His second wife, the Lady Elizabeth died at Longton, in August 1825, aged 44. During the next twelve months he was in great despair and almost gave way to depression. His family and friends rallied round him on several occasions. With his three children he moved into Apedale in 1826. Political friends persuaded him to take the Coventry seat in Parliament.[viii]
Now that R.E.Heathcote MP was active in public affairs, his morale improved. During this session in parliament he approached the Home Secretary, Sir Robert Peel, with the suggestion that the whole of the Potteries District should have a single police force, and a Stipendiary magistrate. Peel was not impressed, and six separate borough forces continued into the twentieth century. As a speaker it was claimed that he could rivet the attention of his audience, both within and outside the Commons.
At this point in Richard's biography we must throw some light onto a mystery. Being a widower for the second time at 46, he may not have been anxious to remarry. Nevertheless, he took a third wife, but in circumstances which made the outside world almost completely disregard both the marriage and the lady concerned. The family tree shows only '3rd wife = Susanna Cooper'[ix] In the notes which Richard had intended to give to Ward, he had originally added '..daughter of Mr. John Cooper of Jefference Hayes..', but then withdrew this comment in the final draft. No date was given in either private or published notes for the third wedding. Three sons were born of this marriage, though the first two died very young. Richard and Susan seem to have been happy together for over twenty years, longer than his first two marriages combined. There appears to have been a conspiracy to totally ignore Susan. Even Richard's obituary, having described his first and second wives by name and pedigree, concluded '..and by a third marriage, a widow and young son survive him...' A most helpful and unexpected clue to this mystery comes in the draft of a letter recently discovered in some of Richard's private papers. This remarkable four page document, clearly in Richard's handwriting, is dated February 12, 1826, and is written in verse. It is, in fact, a love-letter!. In it he sets out three emotional pressures which are affecting him; his loneliness, his infatuation with Susan and his resentment of the opposition from other people to their 'association'. There is no evidence that a fair copy of this letter was ever received by Susan, it is full of alterations and crossings-out to improve both scan and rhyme. The following extracts will illustrate the three points mentioned above.
'My dearest one need I impart
How much your letters glad my heart?
How many times I read them through,
Then kiss the page and think of you;
O Absence the worst punishment
That fond love was ever sent,
When will your cruel reign be o'er,
And I and Susan part no more?'
Then follows a reference to his wealth and possessions in Apedale.
'What boons it me that I behold
My coffers team with wealth untold,
That thousands delve the spacious mine
And suns on far stretched acres shine;
What though my Halls with mirth resound
And British plenty there be found,
While at my board in idle state
Well-pampered menials round me wait.
And all is just as it should be
Befitting squire of high degree?'
The reference to 'squire of high degree' is interesting. Susan Cooper almost certainly came from a poor family. Her father was probably a farm labourer at Jefference Hayes, Audley, and mention of that address elsewhere was withdrawn lest the owner be offended. There must have been opposition from both the Heathcotes and the Gresleys to this liaison with a young lady of no pedigree or social standing.
'What if the tongue of prattling fame
Our unchurched union shall proclaim;
If envy point the shafts of spleen,
And secret malice intervene
With all the venom prudes employ
To canker what they can't enjoy!'
Then in a reference to all his other problems,
'There let me pause amidst the strife
That still pursues my chequered life,
There rest my care worn head and find
A balm for my distempered mind!
One can imagine the opposition in high society to a well-connected MP of 46, his second wife buried only six months earlier, forming an association with a young lady twenty years his junior, and who in all probability had been employed by his wife as a maid or children's nurse. What was meant by 'our unchurched union' we can only guess, but the letter ends with the following:
'And O, when fate's sad hour draws nigh,
May she receive my latest sigh,
Ask pardon for my sins of Heaven
Then drop a tear and be herself forgiven.'
Clearly they were living apart at the time of writing, and Richard found all these pressures unbearable, and even projected an escape route.
'Thee, lovely Susan, only thee
I ask; all else is vanity.
With thee dear girl, I'd gladly share
The poorest cot, the homeliest fare,
And deem them better gifts with thee,
Than aught in monarch's destiny...'
He did not, however, give up 'all else' for a humble cottage, on the contrary, he extended Apedale Hall and consolidated the industries of the valley. But he did, over the next few years withdraw into Apedale, gradually shedding properties further afield. He eventually gave up residence at Longton, leasing it out after 1842. A final aspect to the mystery surrounding Susan is their wedding itself. No date or church has so far been located. Richard openly gave dates and places for the first two wives, but for Susan even his penciled notes tell nothing.
By the middle of 1826, it was apparent that all was not well in the running of the Apedale estate. Now that the Hall was complete enough for him to live there, Richard was taking more detailed notice of the management of it. Initially, his bankers for estate business, Sparrows of Newcastle, contacted him in the summer of that year to say the estate account was overdrawn by £2,325. Richard immediately called in his agent Benjamin Eardley,[x] and to his dismay found the estate affairs in such confusion, and his enquiries answered so evasively, that he consulted his lawyer Thomas Ward, and his partner Woodyatt. Eardley was dismissed on September 29th, 1826. A professional accountant, recommended by the Gresleys, was brought in from Leicestershire. So Michael Chapman, of Ashby-de-la-Zouch, came to lodge in Apedale, with the task of sorting out Eardley's badly-kept accounts. Before long Chapman uncovered '..an extensive system of fraud against the owners for a considerable time past...'. By December, when the accountant had done all his sums, it was found that Eardley had converted to his own use £17,560. Allowing for inflation over the last 170 years, this sum might approach half a million pounds in today's money.
By January 1827, after taking further legal advice on all the evidence, Heathcote and Woodyatt decided to prosecute Eardley for recovery of their money. There was no desire, it seems, to see Eardley punished. By the summer of that year the case had been settled by umpires appointed by the Court of Exchequer. These gentlemen were Job Meigh of Shelton and Francis Wedgwood of Maer Hall, both county magistrates. They heard and sifted all the evidence, and awarded restitution to the owners of the estate. The total amount was not recovered, but Eardley, who was also a local brickmaker in Chesterton, sold both of his brickworks and all the properties in which he had invested his ill-gotten wealth.
It is surprising to note that Eardley continued to live in Apedale after this affair, and in Richard's accounts for 1832 the former's garden wall fronting Burley Drive was repaired at the expense of the latter during estate improvements. During 1827 Richard completed purchase of the Apedale Canal which had been inherited by his cousin Sir Roger Gresley. Thus he became sole owner of the canal and major shareholder in the Newcastle Junction Canal linked to it. Early in 1828, Chapman indicated that he could not stay any longer to run Richard's Apedale and Woodshutts affairs. The Apedale farming estates were put in the capable hands of Moses Booth, the farmer of Schoolground Farm, Knutton. New professional agents, with knowledge of coal-mining were appointed for the industrial side. These were the Ashworths of Bolton, who opened a local office in Newcastle, possibly in Nelson Place.
Within months these new agents revealed themselves to be as dishonest as Eardley had been. They submitted an extortionate bill for their services which Richard flatly refused to pay. Ashworths retaliated by refusing to carry out any business for Heathcote mines in Apedale, Woodshutts or Longton, nor would they release books, accounts or survey maps, so that business soon ground to a halt. After a number of fruitless exchanges of letters, Richard took the matter into his own hands. Early in August he drove up to Ashworth's office in his phaeton, where four of his workmen were waiting. They entered the premises and despite protests from the only clerk present, removed several trunks of Heathcote books and maps, which the workmen carted in wheelbarrows to the canal office at Marsh Wharf, some two hundred yards away. Ashworths sued Richard for trespass, theft and intimidation of their clerk, but withdrew these charges before a hearing, and settled their claim for about half of their exorbitant bill. Their main defence had been their good character based upon their Christian beliefs. Heathcote's barrister responded to this by saying '..they claim to be Quakers, but they act more like Jews..'
In both the Eardley and Ashworth cases Edward Woodyatt had been learning much about the resources of Apedale, and how they were being exploited. If he had been naive when he first obtained his wife's third of the estate in 1822, he was well-versed in the operations by 1828. The Eardley evidence may have opened his eyes to the immense wealth involved, but the deceitful Ashworths encouraged him to sue Richard for allegedly not passing on his proper dues. Heathcote made no secret of the fact that, as he provided all the capital for developing the mines, especially the newly extended Sladderhill Pit, he took all the mining profits. Woodyatt was entitled to a third of the estate rents and of the coal royalties which Richard and Firmstone paid, these being a halfpenny per ton extracted. Woodyatt was not satisfied. The estate profits averaged £1,500 a year, of which he received £500. The mining profits were some £5,000 per year and he received none of this. Relations between these cousins-in-law deteriorated rapidly and resulted in yet another court case for Richard. The High Court proceedings soon became a slanging match between the two parties. As little progress was being made, the court suggested a Receiver should run the estate and that Ashworths should fill that position. This was the last straw for Richard, so he took Woodyatt on one side to explain the rising legal costs both were incurring. He then proposed buying out Woodyatt's share totally. This was agreed, and by May 1836 the estate was completely Richard's property and the mineral workings were mortgaged to finance this. Woodyatt collected £36,000, while Richard assumed a very large debt to add to his burdens.
An interesting aside to the joint ownership of the estate up to this point had been the position of the new Apedale Hall. Heathcote owned it completely, but technically leased its site from the estate. He was charged a rent of £51 a year but in an act of pique he never paid, instead he was continuously in arrears. By 1830 this amounted to £153, but was immediately 'written-off' when he alone owned the estate.
In the 1750s John Heathcote of Salford had developed a mining estate at Clifton, Lancs., and these were inherited by Richard's father. By 1830 these were paying Richard some £4,500 a year in rents and mining profits. Some of the profit went as commission to the agent at Clifton, Ellis Fletcher. During 1830 Richard was yet again in court, this time over irregularities in Fletcher's handling of the Clifton workings. This case was long drawn out, and the logical outcome was reached in 1836 when Fletcher bought out Richard's interests for £94,500. With this sudden wealth he wisely paid off all debts including the Apedale mortgage and that on the canal. The remainder of the money he held over for a more exciting scheme, a railway for the Potteries.
On January 13th, 1835, Richard chaired a meeting at the Swan Hotel, Hanley, of leading citizens who were interested in bringing railway communication to the Pottery towns. Heathcote's influence in these early stages provided a plan, drawn up by George Stephenson, for a railway from Norton Bridge on the Grand Junction Railway, to Harecastle. There would be one branch line through Newcastle to the Apedale canal wharf on Liverpool Road. For over ten years, one rival scheme after another prevented the Stephenson plan from getting parliamentary approval. Richard was never to see the railway arrive in Stoke, but his capital played an important role when it did get under way in 1846.
The General Election of 1830 had deprived Richard of his seat, and, after several abortive attempts, he returned to the House of Commons in January, 1835. He and John Davenport were returned unopposed for Stoke-upon-Trent. By January 1836, he had resigned his seat '...on the ground of impaired health, and numerous personal engagements incompatible with his parliamentary duties...'. Richard was now withdrawing more and more into Apedale. Here he was content with Susan, though they had been saddened by the death of their elder son George in 1835. Three years later their second son, William died aged eight, which distressed them both deeply. They erected a tomb over the latter's grave in Audley churchyard, but no family name appears upon it, only a monogrammed H. '..In memory of two beloved children, by their deeply afflicted but entirely resigned parents. George, the elder died January 4th, 1835, William, April 8th, 1838.' Susan was a shy, retiring person who was unable to move in the social circles of her MP husband. He now became keen on a new occupation on his own doorstep,- ironmaking! During 1836-7 he successfully persuaded Thomas Firmstone to give up his Apedale lease. This was an amicable arrangement, as Firmstone was more interested by now in Leycett coal and iron working, and the prospects of an easy rail link to Madeley and the Grand Junction line.
By 1838 Richard was ironmaster of Apedale and was making his own improvements. Output was to be increased as he confidently expected the railway would arrive in the valley in a year or two. In fact, this event was still fifteen years in the future. There were then two blast furnaces in existence so he planned a third one which was operating by 1842. To increase coal and ironstone supplies, Watermills Colliery was improved in the two years up to 1840. A steam engine was installed to replace the water-powered pumping and winding gear which had given the pit its name. Richard looked back at this time upon the struggles of the past twenty years, during which he had become undisputed master of Apedale. Into the base of the new chimney-stack at Watermills he had four stone plaques inserted, the first recording 'R.E.H. AD1840'. Then on the other three sides he commented upon his adversities and triumphs; 'Regard the End', 'Live and Let Live', 'Be Just and Fear Not'. Fortunately, these remain today in their original position, as Richard's grandson, realising their significance, ordered they should be left intact when the rest of the stack was demolished in 1912.
In November 1840, shortly after Richard's sixtieth birthday, his last child Michael was born. Apedale Hall became the scene of more construction work as extensions were built, particularly a new banqueting hall. Into the windows of this room Richard had four stained-glass heraldic designs installed, the fruits of his researches over twenty years. The four shields were
I. Lindsay: his second wife and mother of Anne.
III. Bowyer-Gresley: from whom he was descended.
IV. Heathcote-Sandford: in honour of his eldest son's marriage in 1837.
The latter would inherit the Hall at the end of that decade. Elizabeth had married the Rev. E.J. Edwards, vicar of Trentham, in 1842, and a year later presented her father with his first grandson, Justinian Heathcote-Edwards. In 1844, Richard's second son, Nigel, died in the Royal Navy. He had now lost five of his eight children. After a few more years as a country squire he suffered a stroke in 1847, and was completely paralysed down his right side. Following a year of gradual recovery he travelled, on medical advice, to Eastern France where he slowly convalesced in a rented villa. With his health markedly improved by the Spring of 1850, he and Susan decided to move on to the Italian Riviera to another rented villa. They travelled slowly as tourists and arrived in Geneva in early May, intending to stay several weeks. On the evening of May 28th he suffered an apoplectic fit in his hotel room, but seemed to recover after medical attention. Next morning he felt well enough to rise for breakfast, but collapsed and died whilst dressing. His body was brought back to England and was buried in Audley Churchyard on June 17th, following an impressive funeral conducted by Rev. Wilbraham. He had in his lifetime accumulated great wealth and consolidated the Heathcotes as a leading family in North Staffordshire.
[i] Probably R.E.H. has been confused with Robert Heath, the ironmaster of Biddulph.
[ii] Richard’s mother had been Anne Gresley (1755-1797), daughter of Sir Nigel, and younger sister of Sir Nigel Bowyer Gresley.
[iii] Daughter of Sir Nigel Bowyer Gresley, Richard’s uncle, who had died in March that year.
[iv] Elizabeth Heathcote married Rev.E.J. Edwards, vicar of Trentham in 1842, and their first child, born 1843, was christened Justinian Heathcote Edwards. His name was changed by Royal Warrant to Edwards-Heathcote in January 1870, when he inherited the Apedale Estate. He thus had the cumbersome name of Justinian Heathcote Edwards-Heathcote, which leads to the cypher JHEH being found on a number of estate buildings.
[v] John Ward, History of the Borough of Stoke-on-Trent (Burslem, 1842)
[vi] John Edensor Heathcote (1810-1869) became Lord of Apedale in succession to Richard in 1850 and “ruled” for twenty years.
[vii]. Newcastle-under-Lyme then had 2 Mps, one being redistributed by the 1832 Reform Act.
[viii] It cost R.E.H over £8000 in election “expenses” in 1826.
[ix] John Ward, op cit, page 562.
[x] Benjamin Eardley (1786-1839) was the second son of Edward Eardley (1748-1811) who had been the Gresley’s agent in Apedale. Burley House was their residence.