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There is nothing quite like the study of family history to teach you more about the inter-connection of the significant families of the past. After generations of living in Yorkshire my family started to move south. One arm moved to Hertfordshire and constructed Brocket Hall. Yet it is not so much the life of my family that draws the attention in the late eighteenth century but rather the activities of the other residents.

 Brocket Hall

Mary Brocket was the last of that name to live at the house (her father had been, Sir John, had been a friend to Elizabeth 1) – NB the current Lord Charles Brocket is in fact a Nall-Cain and not a Brocket(t).  Mary married Sir Thomas Reade who became High Sheriff of both Berkshire and Hertfordshire at different times in the 17th century. One son, John, survived the Civil War being created a Baronet by both Charles I (1641) and Cromwell (1658). Unfortunately, John only had one son. The young Sir James died in 1712 of smallpox and the estate passed to one if his sisters, Love Reade who married Sir Thomas Winnington (MP Droitwich: 1726-1742, Worcester 1741-46). He was known to both Horace Walpole and William Pitt, the Elder.

Walpole said that he was “one of the first men in England, from his parts and from his employment” who had “left nobody equal to him, as before nobody was superior to him except my father”. Few of us today know much about this politician who’s death according to Walpole was a “cruel tragedy”. “Not quite fifty, extremely temperate and regular, and of a constitution remarkably strong, hale and healthy’, he contracted rheumatic fever and put himself in the hands of a quack, who bled and purged him to death in a few days. He died 23 Apr. 1746 at the height of his powers and reputation” see http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1715-1754/member/winnington-thomas-1696-1746

On the death of Winnington Brocket Hall was sold to Sir Matthew Lamb a barrister and politician.

The Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 31 says:

LAMB, Sir MATTHEW (1705–1768), politician, second son of Matthew Lamb or Lambe, an attorney of Southwell, and the legal adviser of the Cokes of Melbourne Hall, Derbyshire, was born in 1705, was educated to the law, and was called to the bar at Lincoln’s Inn. Robert, bishop of Peterborough, was his elder brother. In 1734 the death of his uncle Peniston Lamb, who had been a successful ‘pleader under the bar,’ placed him in the possession of a considerable fortune. He rapidly extended his business, became the confidential adviser of Lord Salisbury and Lord Egmont, and according to Hayward (Celebrated Statesmen, i. 332), feathered his nest at their expense. He was probably the Councillor Lamb of Lincoln’s Inn who in 1738 was appointed solicitor to the revenue of the post office (Gent. Mag. 1738). Two years later he married Miss Charlotte Coke, who, on the unexpected death of her brother, George Lewis Coke, in 1751, inherited Melbourne Hall. He acquired Brocket Hall, Hertfordshire, by purchase from the representatives of Sir Thomas Winnington in 1746. Lamb was already in parliament, having been returned for Stockbridge in 1741, and he was elected for Peterborough in 1747, which borough he represented until his death. On 17 Jan. 1755 he was created a baronet, and in the following year removed from Red Lion Square to Sackville Street, Piccadilly. He died on 5 Nov. 1768, leaving property estimated at nearly half a million, besides half a million in ready money. Lamb had three children: Peniston, who succeeded to the baronetcy, and was created first lord (1770) and viscount (1781) Melbourne in the Irish peerage; Charlotte, who married Henry, second earl of Fauconberg, in 1766, and died in 1790; and Anne, who died unmarried in 1768.”

Sir Matthew employed the talented Sir James Paine to rebuild Brocket Hall (Sir James was to complete projects at a variety of locations around the country including Raby Castle, Chatsworth House, Nostell Priory, Thorndon Hall and Park Lane in London).

Sir James Paine (Ashmolean)

Sir James Paine (architect) and his son, James (sculptor) by Sir Joshua Reynolds (http://www.ashmoleanprints.com/image/399244/sir-joshua-reynolds-james-paine-architect-and-his-son-james)

The Memoirs of Viscount Melbourne in “The Edinburgh Review, April 1878” stated that

“Sir Matthew died at the age of sixty-four, leaving property to the amount of half a million. Within a year his elder brother, Robert, who had risen in the Church to be Bishop of Peterborough, also departed this life, bequeathing his property to his nephew [Peniston]. Thus, by a series of improbable accidents, more like the plot of a bad novel than the occurrences of real life, the grandson of a country attorney became a great landed proprietor and one of the wealthiest gentlemen in England.”

Sir Peniston as a result of his marriage was to become the ‘father’ of perhaps one of the greatest love affair/scandals of the age. At the age of 24 he married, Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Ralph Millbanke who was incredibly ambitious. She was beautiful and intelligence, an arbiter of fashion and a political hostess which aided her husband’s political aspirations. As a result Sir Peniston already a holder of an Irish title (Baron Melbourne of Kilmore) was elevated to the title 1st Viscount Melbourne in 1781.


Lady Elizabeth Lamb (nee Millbanke), Viscountess Melbourne by George Romney (www.thepeerage.com/p16028.htm)

As was common both Lord and Lady Melbourne has relationships outside marriage. Lady Melbourne, for example is said to have become one of the Prince Regent’s lovers (George was a frequent visitor to Brocket Hall). In later years she was to befriend Lord Byron (in the splendid Jonny Lee Miller series Byron she is played by Vanessa Redgrave and is shown both flirting with the poet and warning him that some things are allowed, some things are not).

The eldest son was also called Peniston (1770-1805) and he took after his father who over-indulged him with a personal allowance of £5,000pa.  His younger brother, William said of him:

Hon Peniston Lamb (1770-1805) by John Smart jnr (http://www.bonhams.com/auctions/20767/lot/131/)

Hon Peniston Lamb (1770-1805) by John Smart jnr (http://www.bonhams.com/auctions/20767/lot/131/)

“He had left Eton very early, I believe, before he was sixteen, had then been abroad for not quite a year, the principal part of which time he resided at the petty court of … Montbeliard and returning home in the year 1788 with an intention of again visiting the Continent was prevented from so doing by the breaking out of the French revolution. From that time he had lived wholly amidst the amusements and dissipation of the world. He had been a good scholar at Eton and retained his knowledge of the Latin language, but never having thought of books from the time he had come from school, his stock of information was of course slight and superficial. His pursuits had been many of them idle and frivolous, but in any business, to which it was necessary he should apply or in any amusement which partook of the nature of business his understanding never failed to display its natural vigour and justness.”   (www.historyofparliamentonline.org)

In 1793 he replaced his father as MP for Newport, Isle of Wight but he, apparently, only attended to government business if it did not get in the way of his other interests.  Although he had little genuine interest in politics he was a “capital shot”, was very fond of horse racing (his lover was a celebrated equestrian, Mrs Dick Musters) and acting.  Unfortunately, he died of consumption in 1805 in he arms of his lover who had been invited by his mother to attend his deathbed.(http://archive.org/stream/ladypalmerstonhe01airl/ladypalmerstonhe01airl_djvu.txt)

The York Herald, 2 February 1805

The York Herald, 2 February 1805

On his death William, a junior barrister, became his father’s heir and entered politics.  William was a friend of Charles Fox and other leading men of his time.  He took part in many different debates including on the health of George III, relations with France and the Luddites.  He became the 2nd Viscount in 1828.  He was to go on to hold senior government roles including Home Secretary and Prime Minister under both William IV and Queen Victoria.  He died at Brocket Hall in 1848 (at which time the house passed to his sister Lady Palmerston, the wife of another Prime Minister Henry John Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmeston) (www.historyofparliamentonline.org)

His obituary declared:

“On Saturday last we briefly announced the melancholy fact of Lord Melbourne’s death, which took place on Friday evening at Brocket hall, his seat, near Welwyn, Herts.  The following particulars of his illness may be relied upon as correct: – His lordship was taken unwell about six weeks back, with symptoms, which were considered by the ordinary medical attendants to denote dyspepsy, and his lordship was treated accordingly, without apparently any beneficial result.  At length Dr Holland was summoned from London for his advice, and the noble patient was considered somewhat better, when he suffered a relapse, and jaundice of an aggravated form set in, and he continued to sink hourly up to his dissolution.  Dr Holland paid his lordship his last visit on Sunday, the 19th instant, and then informed the relatives of his lordship that he could hold out no hopes of his lordship’s ultimate recovery; in which opinion Dr Thomas, of Hatfield, who was the constant attendant on the viscount, coincided.  Viscountess Palmerston had, in consequence of the dangerous illness of his lordship, repaired to Brocket hall, where Lord and Lady Beauvale had previously arrived from Derbyshire and the Hon Mrs George Lamb and Muss Cuyler assembled at the hall to await the great change.  Viscount Palmerston has also been staying at Brockett hall since Tuesday last.  On Wednesday faint hopes were entertained that a favourable change in the condition of his lordship was perceptible; but in a few hours there was a relapse, and he afterwards sank rapidly until death ensued.” (The Examiner, 2 December 1848).

However, the year William inherited his title  could perhaps be said to be the most important date in his personal life.  For in 1828 his infamous wife, Lady Caroline Lamb (author of Glenarvon and the scandalous lover of Lord Byron) died.

Lady Caroline Ponsonby (her aunt was Georgina, Duchess of Devonshire) had little formal education and was known even in children to have changeable moods which could be quite violent at times.  She married William in 1805.  William was apparently devoted to his wife no matter was she did (he is said to have been saddened by her death despite their estrangement – he visited her often when she was staying at Brocket Hall although he lived in London) and this includes her outrageous behaviour during the few months of 1812 when she was having an affair with Byron (who described her as “the cleverest most agreeable, absurd, amiable, perplexing, dangerous fascinating little being that lives now or ought to have lived 2000 years ago”).  Apart from the apparent love of the dramatic, Byron and Caroline are said to have shared many of same interests such as a love of dogs and a growing disenchantment in the political world of the time.


Lady Caroline Lamb by Eliza H Trotter (c1811) http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings/paintings/lady-caroline-lamb


Letter of Lord Byron to Lady Caroline Lamb, 29 April 1813 (http://digital.nls.uk/jma/gallery/title.cfm?id=63)

Letter of Lord Byron to Lady Caroline Lamb, 29 April 1813

Lady Caroline is said to have fallen from her horse on seeing Byron’s cortege go passed Brocket Hall – apparently because this was the first time that she had heard of the death of her lover.

The house remained important to later generations.  Queen Victoria visited many times and Viscount Palmeston was also to die to Brocket Hall, aged 80, after catching a chill or after a vigorous game of billiards with a chambermaid (whichever piece of gossip you prefer!).  Apparently, his last words were “Die, my dear doctor, that is the last thing that I will do.”  In World War II it was a maternity hospital and was scene of a recent attempt by the current Lord Brocket to recover personal items (Daily Mail).

My family may not have lived in house for centuries but it’s certain great to know that some of individuals of the past who are important to me knew the house and left their stamp on the place!