‘House of Sandys’

‘House of Sandys: Fragments from the Ombersley Court Archive’ by Martin Davis tells the story, both of a building with its collections, and of an extended family over a 400-year period. From Worcestershire in the middle of England, individual members travelled to Italy, Brazil, Russia, India and Africa, and left a rich legacy of journals, letters and albums, found at Ombersley on the last occupant’s death in 2015.


In June 2024, the hardback book, 432 pages, with more than 450 illustrations, was published by Anthony Eyre, Mount Orleans Press, in a numbered, limited edition of 250 copies at £50 plus £10 p&p (UK only) per copy: click below to order. If ordering from abroad, please email the author: martinmdavis@gmail.com.

What people say about ‘House of Sandys’

‘Splendid book: I'd like to congratulate you on your work and the success the book has achieved.’  – Celina Bastos, Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Lisbon

‘This is a fascinating history of a house and its inhabitants, showing how it relates to both the local and the national story.’ – Dr Alan Borg, CBE, former director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, and Librarian of the Order of St John 

‘The meticulous research by Martin Davis into the fascinating history of the Sandys family is only matched by the cornucopia of images which accompany and amplify the text. The family portraits are one thing, but so also are the transcripts of family letters, monument and gravestone inscriptions and the many other images which bring the history to life.’ – Harriet Bridgeman CBE, Chairman and Founder, Bridgeman Images

‘Admirably researched, eminently readable and beautifully presented’ – Christopher Bryant, military historian 

‘Yr splendid book… I am now reading with enormous pleasure. It is magnificent, beautifully published. Congratulations… Few families have such a fine modern illustrated history written of them. The Sandys are very lucky.’ – David Campbell, Publisher, Everyman’s Library 

'An extraordinary and hugely readable work of scholarship; the story of the Sandys tenure at Ombersley Court over four centuries is a fascinating tale of English cultural and political history.’ – Jonathan Chenevix-Trench of Madresfield

‘What a mighty undertaking: well done on distilling the Sandys life in Worcestershire into a book! Our two families have been closely linked through the 400-odd years that the Sandys were at Ombersley and it is important that the record is kept for their contribution to Worcestershire and their extensive connection.’ – Viscount Cobham 

‘A scholarly and fascinating account’ – The Marquess of Downshire 

‘Following one family, is a great way to get into the deepest corners of history via the lives of human beings, from Worcestershire to Donegal, and Harrow School to Calcutta – the capital of British India – and on to Lucknow where the Indian Mutiny had taken place – or, as Indians prefer to call it, The First War of Indian Independence. ‘House of Sandys’ encapsulates the power, confidence and self-belief of the British, which peaked in those halcyon days (for some) of the Victorian era. It's a terrific read, and you learn so much from it.’ – Jamila Gavin MBE

‘What Martin has done in this volume is to open up the incredibly diverse and interesting world of the Sandys Family and show what can be achieved with local archives, given the researcher’s curiosity, skill and ability to tell a good story.’ – Dr Adrian Gregson RMARA, Worcestershire County and Worcester Diocesan Archivist

‘What a beautiful book! It is as much a pleasure to hold and behold as it is to read. How Jane Austen would have revelled in this spirited account of the Sandys family through the centuries, not least the unforgettable Lady Downshire, friend of the Prince Regent, enemy of Castlereagh, whose haughty dismissal of her future daughter-in-law, Austen’s niece: No money, all charms! is certainly worthy of Lady Catherine de Bourgh herself.’ – Dr Sophia Hillan, author of ‘May, Lou & Cass, Jane Austen’s nieces in Ireland’ 

‘A delightful account, skilfully understating its scholarship, of one family's long-term contributions to English public and local life, from Queen Mary 's religious persecution via Edgehill, Waterloo and Cambrai to the Government front bench and the Turfed Out Peers Society.’ – Lord Hughes of Ombersley 

‘Martin Davis quotes the 6th Baron Sandys as saying that Ombersley Court is, Rather a dilapidated house, nevertheless retaining a cachet that all the Rothschild wealth could not bestow upon it. Martin’s work is far from dilapidated, but is as deserving of a cachet as Ombersley Court itself: this compilation is a meticulous and detailed reconstruction of a family history over four centuries, illustrated with fascinating photographs of people, places and documents that give insights, not just into the Sandys family, but into the changing times in which successive generations lived.’ – John Inge, Bishop of Worcester 

'Among the many gems in this engaging collection of archival fragments are colourful accounts of diplomatic life in a war-ravaged Spain, and in Paris, Lisbon and Rio de Janeiro, in the years that followed the Congress of Vienna.' – Peter Jenkins, retired diplomat 

‘Martin Davis’s 'House of Sandys' chronicles the changing fortunes of a surprisingly little-known country house, Ombersley Court in Worcestershire, over four centuries. Mining the family archives, he gives us a fascinating portrait of the activities of its owners and their dependants, encompassing both grand national events and the petty, but no less absorbing, minutiae of their daily lives.’ – Tim Knox, Director of The Royal Collection 

‘This book is a wonderful evocation of Ombersley Court and its immediate landscape in its heyday, as created and lived in by different generations of the Sandys family, both brought to life by plundering the archives.’ – Richard Lockett, author of 'A Survey of Historic Parks and Gardens in Worcestershire'

'This well-written and most interestingly illustrated book is as relevant to an Irish readership as it is to an English: from 1836, the Lords Sandys of Ombersley (of the second creation) were all Hills of Hillsborough, Co. Down, the descendants in a cadet line of Arthur Hill, 2nd Marquess of Downshire, and his wife, Mary, the Sandys heiress and the bearer in her own right of a new barony of Sandys; and from the 1780s to the 1860s, the book contains important new insights into the personalities, politics and finances of one of Ireland's most important families, the Marquesses of Downshire.' – Dr A.P.W. Malcomson, historian of the Anglo-Irish ascendancy 

‘A fine and absorbing account of the Lords and Ladies Sandys, researched from the family archives at Ombersley Court’ – Charles Noble, Emeritus Curator of Fine Art, Devonshire Collections, Chatsworth

‘Centuries of English life lie in the archives of the Sandys and Hill families of Ombersley: there is county life, Anglo-Irish life in Ireland, parliament and high society in London, military and diplomatic life abroad. The family wrote excellent letters, memorably from the battlefields of the Napoleonic and First World Wars. Martin Davis brings the stories together skilfully, the background elegantly sketched, enhanced by illustrations from the collections recently dispersed.’ – Julian Orbach, author in architectural history 

‘The story of a consistently magnanimous family seen over the ages (from first to second Elizabethan), its Englishness and Irishness influenced at one important point by the Scottish Enlightenment, of which I have a special interest in view of my connection with James, William and John Playfair.’ – John Playfair

‘Martin paints a vivid portrait of an unusual English family. The Ombersley bunch were quite odd compared to us steady Cumbrians!’ – Myles Sandys of Graythwaite Hall

- - -

During their respective lifetimes, the 6th and 7th Baron Sandys consigned much early archive material from their family home, Ombersley Court to Worcestershire Record Office: it is available for inspection at The Hive, Worcester.
Following the 7th Baron’s death in 2013, the residual archive from The Court has also been transferred to The Hive.

For details of a set of individual publications, upon which 'House of Sandys' is based, c
lick on the images below.

Sandys of Ombersley: fragments of nine lives

The individuals who are the subject of this series of relatively brief memoirs all died holding the barony of Sandys of Ombersley. They are available free as pdfs from www.academia.edu, or to buy by clicking on the respective image.

Arthur Moyses William Hill 2nd Baron Sandys of the 2nd creation

Arthur Marcus Cecil Hill 3rd Baron

"The Marcus book is splendid and full of fascinating stuff - the letters from Spain and elsewhere are important, so I hope that academic libraries will buy copies." ACNB

" What an attractive and talented young man he was! But one senses that he became a bit of a bore after the age of 33. Perhaps, as you suggest, it was the death of several of his much loved siblings which caused him to give up a promising diplomatic career and become a club man and a minor MP." MEP

Augustus Frederick Arthur 4th Baron Sandys

“A picture of the sort of stability at that period which one sees implied (for example) by successive editions of "Walford's County Families", with the estate in the same good fettle throughout his tenure. I see 4th Lord Lyttelton was Lord Lieutenant of Worcestershire for 36 years, so the slight on Lady Sandys must have been a continuing awkward ripple in society… What a trove of images.” JH

See also: 
Quest for a love child's missing portrait

Michael Edwin Marcus 5th Baron

Arthur FitzGerald Sandys Hill 6th
Baron Sandys

This penultimate volume in the series of fragments offers a fascinating insight into the lives of three men, the first of whom was born in 1801 during the reign of George III and the last of whom died, seven monarchs later, in 1961, during the reign of Elizabeth II. Over the course of 160 years, the common thread of grandfather, father and son was their military service. Each of them also enjoyed interesting post-army careers – one as controversial Anglo-Irish landlord, the next as diligent inspector of Irish prisons and the third as successful fruit farmer – and conservator of a jewel in the crown of England's stately homes. – Professor Roy Greenslade

Richard Michael Oliver Hill 7th Baron
The author has succeeded in capturing the complexities of his subject's character, both in his own observations and in the choice of quotations. - PK

It is rather a sad story, for RMO seemed never to have quite engaged with life, there were too many starts, abandoned for no telling reason: modest financial independence but with the exception of the honeymoon, and that to a ‘conservative location’, never a sign of flash or dash, while subsequent inheritances, seemingly quite substantial, were celebrated with increasing frugality, rather than indulgence.

Perhaps over-indulgent parents and reassurances from beyond the grave led to unworldly expectations allied with an overwhelming sense of position and obligation…

The great undertaking was the consolidation of the house and it being made weatherproof but once achieved, seemingly reluctant to share that even with relatives.

A strangely conflicted figure caught between two very different worlds, an honourable man, but one wonders what might have been, different causes different enthusiasms, different motivation?...

A significant achievement and valuable addition to our local history. - RS

Other Ombersley archive publications

Much ado about a royal visit

“Three little mice” at Ombersley Court – extracts from the Journal of The Ladies Charlotte and Mary Hill

The Earl of Hillsborough’s diary: 1765/1766  [a fragment]

Ombersley Court Records of the Sandys & linked families
(originally compiled by the 6th Lord Sandys)

Letters to Mary Marchioness of Downshire & Baroness Sandys, from the third Marquess of Downshire and Sir Philip Francis KCB written in 1810 during their time together in Ireland

Journal of Two Goseys, by Ladies Charlotte & Mary Hill

To date, only the first four (of 26) volumes have been published with annotations

• 1813/4

• Feb.-April 1814

• April-May 1814

• May-June 1814

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the blog

If you have comments or queries, please don't hesitate to contact the Archivist:
The children's library

A few survive of what could have been a large collection of books in the Hill family nursery – judging by the mother, Mary Marchioness of Downshire’s fondness for reading. The illustration is from the flyleaf of a well-thumbed, leather-bound octavo copy of Aesop’s Fables – or rather “Select Fables of Esop and Other Fabulists” to give it its full title, “Printed by John Baskervlle [sic] for R. and J. Dodsley in Pall-mall 1764”. The title page bears the signature of the younger of the two girls in the family, “Mary Hill 1808”, but by three years later her youngest-of-five brothers had taken possession: George Augusta repeats his signature on the following page for good measure, though without the soubriquet: “Bantam” seems perfect for a nine-year-old Georgey.

“The Pleasures of Hope” with other poems by Thomas Campbell is inscribed “Charlotte Hill – Given me by [brother] Marcus Hill, Decr 5th 1810”.

Of the seven children, their sickly fourth brother Augustus became something of a book collector in later life: already aged six his firm signature is found in “Original Poems for Infant Minds”, and a concise version of Johnson’s Dictionary has the words “Arthur Augustus Edwin Hill, a Gift of my dear Sister Charlotte for good behaviour”.

By contrast, the eldest of the family wrote home from Eton about his 12-year-old brother Arthur Moyses William (later to become ADC to Wellington at Waterloo): “Pray don't send any novels for Arthur's library because they are of no use.”

Automatic misfile

Cynthia, wife of the 6th Baron Sandys was for many years a well-known “amateur” Medium, channelling letters from deceased family members and acquaintances. However, going through the “6th Baron” boxes in order to prepare fragments no. 8 (to reflect the material within the Sandys Ombersley archive from the era of Cynthia and her husband Arthur), a notebook has come to light that reveals spiritualist activity taking place in the Sandys family in an earlier age also.

The “misfiling” consists of gathered transcripts of the supposed utterings of deceased relations of Augusta née Des Voeux, wife of Augustus Frederick (“A.F.”), 4th Baron Sandys. This “automatic writing” dates from around 1880, and with the aid of entries in the Ombersley Court visitors book some sense can be made of it.

Augusta (known as “Gussie”), her two sisters and one brother, Fred, were the children of their father’s 2nd marriage, to Lady Cecilia Paulet. Fred, the youngest, became Sir Frederick Assheton Des Voeux 4th Bart. following his half-brother’s death. Having died unmarried in his early 20s, his is one of the spirit “voices” speaking to the Medium for the writing now discovered: that Medium is one Laura Beale, and Fred appears to have been her lover. 

A second “voice” is that of Lady Sophia Catherine Des Voeux (formerly Gresley, née Coventry), who died in 1875, her husband being another of Gussie’s half-brothers.

The names of flowers are used to indicate specific people in the automatic writing: by no means all are identifiable even after detective work, but we can be reasonably sure that the Red Rose is Gussie; our cherished Carnation, her husband A.F.; the White Rose, Gussie’s sister Mary, Lady Stracey, and the Lily, Laura Beale herself.

Two loose sheets on Ombersley letterhead inserted in the book (see the illustration) seem to be parts of messages as first written down, the remainder no doubt burnt in accordance with the voices’ instructions, after being fair copied by Gussie.

The book opens with lines that reveal the strong Christian flavour of many of the entries. The God of love bless and direct you. Tell Gussie it is best she should not practice spiritualism but to cherish the thought that one who was very dear to her is sent by God in his great love to watch over her and guard her from evil

A running theme of the book is health, and it is clear Gussie is anxious to conceive children. Bad news is “voiced” to her, not in English, but coyly in German: er ist nicht stark genug Kindern zu haben (the 4th Baron is impotent). A previous blog post shows the error of this particular pronouncement from the beyond.

A Sandys archive publication entitled Three little mice relates events at Ombersley in the year 1814. Now, some three-quarters of a century later, according to the automatic writing, the Court is infested with rats: We hate Gussie to be surrounded with them as she is at present, even in this room at this present moment there are 10 or more round you in the walls and Gussie’s dressing room swarms with them. We always find it easier to approach when the atmosphere is pure, this is the reason we prefer writing in the billiard-room and here. There are not half so many but there are some, but not in this room. Our love rest upon you…

Altogether, a rum business, and necessitating some revision of fragments no. 6 in due course!

An unheeded plea to His Majesty

As if to evidence the Sandys family’s Royalist credentials, the Ombersley picture collection includes a version of Edward Bower’s 1648 portrait of Charles I at his trial. Colonel Samuel Sandys M.P. of Ombersley, great-grandfather of his namesake, who was created 1st Baron Sandys in 1743, rendered military assistance both to the martyred king and to his son. A “Civil War” file was transferred to Worcestershire Archives 18 years ago. However, a further letter has now come to light  amongst the Sandys Ombersley papers.

It takes the form of an appeal to the restored Charles II for “consideration” of the war service rendered by the Colonel. The letter’s contents have now been “decoded”, and are as follows:

That Col. Samuel Sandys left the Parliament in order to serve his late Ma’ty of blessed memory, who was graciously pleas’d to send him a Commission unlook’d for, to command a Troupe of Horse.

That accordingly he commanded a Troupe att Wick-field, afterwards att Edge-hill, & in the march to Brainford, under the comand of the right ho’ble the now Earl of Bristoll.

That hee offering to raise a Regim’t of ffoote at his owne charge, and gooing into Worc’r-shire to discover the Condition of the Country, his Troupe of horse in such his absince was disposed of, but restored to him agayne.

Hee was necessitated to arme his ffoot-Regim’t att his owne charge, being by fraude dissappoynted of the Traine-band-Armes (w’ch by his Ma’ty’s proclamacon hee ought to have had) while hee was absent upon service by his Ma’ty’s particular command.

In the same year hee raysed a Regm’t of horse consisting of 7 Troupes, & soon after a good part of a Regiment of Dragoons, to the number of Eight-Score att least, who after some tyme were scatter’d & broke, for want of pay. But shortly after hee recruited both his Regm’ts of horse & ffoote, without the least charge to his Ma’ty w’ch kept up in constant service to the End of the Warre.

Hee faithfully served his Late Ma’ty in the condition of Governor, first of Evesham, next of Worc’r, & never rec’d a peny-pay, from first to last. But to his unspeakable comfort, discharged his several Trusts without the least detriment or losse to his Ma’ty by any negligence or oversight of his.

Towards the close of the war Mr Carew told Col. Sandys, he might have the honor to be the prince of Wales his serv’t, w’ch place he agreed for with Mr Elliot, & by the approbation of his late Ma’ty & his Ma’ty that now is, was sworne his servant.

Hee engaged in most of the considerable designs & ingagem’ts w’ch have beene on foote since the Warr, tending to the service of his Ma’ty that now is, & hath sustayned frequent imprisonm’ts losses & afflictions.

That hee was able & ready to have drawne together 6 troupes of horse for some months before his Ma’ty’s landing, w’ch occasioned his noe small expense.

Hee humbly desires that his Ma’ty will be graciously pleased to consider of these his services, weighed w’th those of Sir Allen Appsley’s & soe submits himself to his Ma’ty’s good will &pleasure.

Despite its eloquence, the appeal fell upon deaf ears. Indeed, so far from achieving its desired aim, the Ombersley Sandys were burdened for more than three centuries with payment of an annuity awarded to the Penderel family by the King for shelter given him after the 1651 Battle of Worcester.

Extracting the Mikey…

Sifting through the documents and objects that were preserved at Ombersley Court, so as to give a glimpse into the life of Michael, 5th Baron Sandys, a problem presented itself: the paucity of letters from Mikey’s period – a bomb fell on his London home during the Blitz. It was at once a handicap and a challenge. Thankfully, compensation lay in the shape of family photograph albums and a scrapbook. As a result, fragments no. 7 (now just published) contains 79 illustrations, most made public for the first time.

Although Mikey was no great achiever, he does have attractions as a subject. His life brings the reader into the world of Gaiety Girls, bare-knuckle boxing and four-in-hand coach driving: all rather different territory from that revealed in previous volumes.

Omitted from this latest book is the fine image of the East front of Ombersley Court that heads this post. It is stamped on the back Robinson & Son, photographers, 20 Gladstone Terrace, North Road, Wolverhampton: the exact date is uncertain, but on top of the steps can just be seen a birdcage similar to those in the photograph on page 29: one of the probable inhabitants is the subject of a charming story told by a former second housemaid on the previous page.

Although the end result of extracting the Mikey information from the Sandys Ombersley archive is not a uniquely slim volume, there must surely be additional material out there that bears on the life of the 5th Baron Sandys: it would be interesting to hear of sources – mailto:archivist@thesandysstory.uk

There now remain only two lives to be written up in order to complete the fragments of nine lives set, but these could be the trickiest, looking at the quantity of documents.

Whitsuntide, and the unexpected

Eclectic blogger, Adrian Barlow has recently posted a reference to fragments of nine lives: no. 5. Describing its subject when he was known as Lord Marcus Hill, Adrian writes: three years before he died he unexpectedly became ‘3rd Baron Sandys of the second creation’ with a country seat at Ombersley Court in Worcestershire. As the photograph, taken around Whitsuntide in 2016, indicates, you approach the house down a sinuous drive, arriving at the East front – also somewhat unexpectedly. 

Adrian’s piece brings to mind thoughts about the expected and expectations. Marcus being a younger son, he certainly isn’t expected to inherit Ombersley. It is assumed his elder brother Atty will marry and have sons: he seems to be the marrying type, and indeed there is much speculation that he is to wed Minnie Seymour – see an earlier post on this blog. At what stage does Marcus begin to think that his brother would be a confirmed bachelor, and Ombersley become his responsibility if only he survives him?

 Marcus’ life generally is a tale of appointment and disappointment. He is destined for the Navy, but through family connections is appointed to the diplomatic service. His friend Will Crosbie (Stringo vi al cuore he ends his last letter to Marcus – I squeeze you to the heart) meets a violent end out riding, so (dead men’s shoes) Marcus is unexpectedly appointed to the Florence Legation. He is then disappointed at his mother’s repeated refusal to allow him to marry Harriet Capel because she is illegitimate. In 1832, after but a few days canvassing he is unexpectedly returned to Parliament for Newry. In 1854 his darling child, Charlotte aged only nine dies of measles. 

Adrian Barlow ties in an event in the life of the young Marcus with one in his own, a frail travelling coincidence he calls it, quoting from Larkin’s The Whitsun Weddings. That poem’s next lines contain the words, all the power that being changed can give. Larkin was, he himself said, an agnostic, I suppose, but an Anglican agnostic, of course. (But was he nevertheless referencing the Whitsun descent of the Holy Spirit that so unexpectedly transformed the Apostles?) Possibly Marcus too was an Anglican agnostic: it would not have been unexpected.

Happy Birthday Florence Nightingale!

To commemorate the 200th anniversary of her birth, here is a note in her handwriting from the Sandys Ombersley archive. 

It accompanied a wedding present to her Goddaughter, who was the 6th Baron Sandys' mother-in-law, Gwendolen Trench-Gascoigne, née Galton. 

Gwendolen's mother, Mary Ann née Nicholson was Florence Nightingale's 1st cousin.

A proofer's perspective...

Having proofread a good amount of work on the Sandys family, I think that it is well worthwhile in many ways. Perhaps the most fascinating is the diaries of the two girls setting out the domestic life of an aristocratic family in the early nineteenth century, moving between their town and country residences, with dinner parties or other entertainment most evenings. They would have found “self-isolating” difficult! 

Also, the reaction in England to international events such as the Peninsular War is very interesting, and getting “employment” for junior members of the family mainly through influence. 

A job which has been very well done and must be very satisfying – even more so if and when completed. 



The Archivist comments: Illustrated above are a few of the 26 journal volumes written jointly by the Ladies Charlotte and Mary Hill, daughters of Mary Marchioness of Downshire and Baroness Sandys, and sisters of the 2nd and 3rd Baron Sandys of the 2nd creation. The task of correcting and editing the transcribed texts of these volumes (and also the drafts of the fragments series) is lengthy – enough to leave the Archivist seeing double at times. It is a relief therefore to have found assistance elsewhere when it comes to proofreading, and I am doubly grateful to receive CPR’s comment to add to the blog.


Social distancing

This photograph shows “Mikey” 5th Baron Sandys in the back of his 16 h.p. Darracq, with limousine landaulet body, purchased in 1909. The car was finished in dark blue and lined in white, with two thin red lines on the chassis and wheels. The body was constructed at the Darracq works at Fulham.

Mikey was a great one for writing to newspapers. A letter from his home near Worcester, headed Influenza, published in The Times on 14th January 1933, has a somewhat topical echo:

Sir,– The heavy outbreak of influenza in this district leads me to venture to intrude a few words in your valuable space… Surely in the interest, if alone, of the disorganization of business caused by these epidemics it is time that some general organized research work should be started either by private enterprise or by the Government… [i]t would not seem impossible to discover the mystery of its simultaneous occurrence in all parts of the world, the remarkable immunity that some people seem to have while others are infected at once, as well as the cause and remedy.

In connexion with the entire world attacks the origin of the name suggests a reason which dates back, I believe, for several centuries. In Italy the pneumonic plague was called Influenza di Stella to distinguish it from the bubonic plague, it being believed for some reason then to come from the sky. Later on, not being satisfied with “this influence”, it was called influenza – from another place.

It is a curious fact that a few years back a scientist started a theory that the microbe came from the sky through the instrumentality of the sun’s rays and returned again after a period of 33 weeks. Is it not time, wherever it comes from, to try and persuade it to stay there?

I remain your obedient servant,



Dr Johnson's appetite for fruit

The return of the strawberry season was always heartily welcomed by Dr. Johnson, for, as he once declared, of strawberries and cream he never could have too much… “Strawberries and cream, toujours strawberries and cream!” A voracious eater at any time, Johnson’s appetite for fruit was almost limitless. Mrs. Thrale tells us that he used often to eat half a dozen peaches before breakfast, and then frequently she had heard him complain that never in all his life had he quite as much wall fruit as he desired, save once. The exceptional occasion was during a visit to Lord Sandys’ seat at Ombersley. The exact quantity he then devoured has not been recorded, but he was accused of clearing a whole wall side.

The above is from a newspaper cutting, sent to Michael, 5th Baron Sandys from Los Angeles in November 1911, and posted into one of his enormous scrapbooks: Michael (known as Mikey) was a keen antiquarian, acquiring many family-related books for the Ombersley library over the course of a long life – he died in 1948, his father having been born in 1798.

The walled garden at Ombersley Court was remade under Mikey’s grandmother’s orders 40 or so years after Dr Johnson’s visit, the remains of its Pinery, Peach House, Fig House, Grape House etc. visible in this view from the South, a photograph taken in recent years.

A little more about the Johnsonian Ombersley visit can be found in fragments of nine lives, no. 2.

Ombersley and Ragley

Despite the fact that the Sandys’ ancestral home of Ombersley Court, Worcestershire is only 18 miles distant from Ragley Hall, Warwickshire, the seat of the Marquess of Hertford, there seems to have been little major consonance over the years between the two families (one traditionally Whig, the other Tory). Nevertheless, the Ombersley archives do contain one or two references.

In August 1810, Mary Marchioness of Downshire and Baroness Sandys (MDS) receives a letter from her eldest son, describing the 2nd Marquess of Hertford dining with him at Hillsborough Castle. The old buck…  arrived very punctually… He sucked in pretty well some red Champagne, & seemed very much pleased. On the return visit a week later, we arrived at ¼ past 6, whereas his Lordship's dinner was punctually ready & roasted at five!

MDS’ daughters, writing in their journal, report their mother speaking to Lord St Helens some years later of that rich Jew Lord Hertford wanting to extort 100 Gs from her for a bad picture, supposed to be of her Aunt. Although the same girls, after a journey from Ombersley to Warwick, write that, The Road we travelled is perfectly lovely: Ragley looked beautiful, they give consistently low marks both to Lady Hertford and to her son, later the 3rd Marquess, who looks like a butcher. Nevertheless their elder brother Lord Arthur Hill dines with him, and their younger brother, Lord Marcus accompanies the 3rd Marquess to St Petersburg, to convey the Order of the Garter to Emperor Alexander – see pp 102/3 of fragments no. 5.

Franco Seymour, later the 5th Marquess of Hertford, then only aged 13, was also a member of this embassy: passing on Franco’s reminiscence of the Garter Ceremony, his wife later writes that the handsome Emperor suffers from a defect: His nether man was very inferior – his knees were large and calves small… He was obstinate and declared nothing should make him wear knee-breeches, or tights, and at one time it looked as though Lord Hertford would have to bring the Garter back to England. At length, however, the Czar consented to don the obnoxious garments, but insisted on the ceremony being strictly private… The Empress and her Ladies, placed behind a curtain, peeped out and witnessed the ridiculous function, which was an insult to England and her Sovereign.

(This quotation comes from a memoir, By faith and love – published last year by Somerton books – by Hugh, the late 8th Marquess of Hertford.)

The nearest the Ombersley and Ragley families come to a close marriage alliance is during Lord Arthur Hill’s long courtship of Minnie Seymour, which deserves an essay of its own. Minnie’s nephew is that same Franco, 5th Marquess of Hertford, though some persist in thinking Minnie herself to have been the daughter of George IV (when Prince of Wales) and Maria Fitzherbert.

On 21st November 1938, Lord Henry Seymour, heir presumptive to the 7th Marquess of Hertford writes from Ragley to Mikey, 5th Baron Sandys, accepting an invitation to lunch at Ombersley: I am not such a d-d crock, & can walk a mile or two – and can put down a glass of port, when available. Seven months later, however, Mikey finds himself part of a large congregation at the Guards’ Chapel for Lord Henry’s funeral, which means that on the 7th Marquess’s death the title passes to the above-mentioned Hugh, still only a young boy. Hugh also inherits Ragley’s groom and chauffeur, Richard Loomes, whose family is from Leicestershire originally – as is Mary Loomes, nurse to Mikey when himself a young boy.

The photograph accompanying this post is from an Ombersley album: it must postdate 25th August 1870, the earliest that the future 6th Marquess of Hertford would have been known as Earl of Yarmouth. Another photograph of Lady Yarmouth sits alongside – she was Mary Hood, 2nd cousin of the 6th Baron Sandys.


A missing piece of the jigsaw

The Ombersley Court Records, after speaking of the 4th Lord Sandys’ marriage, state: “there were no children”, and fragments no. 6 repeats this. However, an illegitimate son of Augustus Frederick Arthur 4th Baron Sandys has come to light. Frederick Richard Warner was born in the early part of 1892, his mother Rose Warner, the daughter of a farm labourer, having been a chambermaid at Ombersley.

The Archivist has received the following details (and plea) from Frederick’s great-niece:

Possibly unusually for the time, there was a substantial pay-off by him [Lord Sandys] as the boy’s biological father, to look after the child. This was in the form of some money and furniture, include a very large, very fine chest of drawers, framed prints, and strangely one of the earliest dictionaries ever printed, among other things. The boy was raised as the child of his grandparents, who lived in a small cottage on Uphampton Lane… about a mile from Ombersley Court, and Rose moved away leaving her son and married someone else in another village.

Richard was an incredibly attractive child. During his childhood he would periodically be taken to Ombersley Court to meet with the Sandys at their request, by his grandmother Ann…

At one point, while still a young boy, somewhere between four and eight, a portrait artist came to his grandparents’ cottage… The artist painted the boy’s portrait, and gave him a small toy horse, covered in horsehide, as a gift for sitting, and took the portrait away after it was completed.

I believe that the portrait was commissioned by one of the Sandys, probably by his father, and if this is so most logically this portrait was at some point at Ombersley Court. The fourth baron… died when Richard was 12, and at that point any involvement between the Sandys’ family and Richard ended.

At about 22, at the beginning of WW1, Richard joined one of the local “Pals” regiments with members of his rugby team, many of whom were killed or injured in France. Richard was badly affected by his experiences in the trenches – I believe he fought at Ypres. He was given the option of, rather than return to the trenches, to mine coal, and later [to become] a police constable, and died at the age of 31, his health – mental and physical – broken by his life in the trenches and in the coal mines in Wales. His daughter, my aunt, was only five at the time of his death. She is now 100, and will soon be 101, and still very lively and mentally alert, and remembers many things from her early life. In fact, she has kept a diary for 84 years, which she still keeps up to date.

It would mean everything to my aunt to get a photograph of the portrait painted of her father as a young boy. If it was available for sale… I would do everything possible to purchase it to give it to her. At 101, there is possibly not much time left. 

In regard to the portrait, a blank has been drawn at Ombersley Court itself, but if anyone is able to help, please use the contact form to let the Archivist know in the first instance.

"Sandys of Ombersley: fragments no. 1"

AP writes: “This beautifully presented book throws light on the life of a key player in the politics of the middle of the eighteenth century. It’s a story of the rise to power – as Chancellor of the Exchequer – of a Worcestershire gentleman whose fine house still sits in the attractive village of Ombersley. Mr Davis’s research and photography do full justice to the man.”

A mysterious pair of painted kettle drums

Two drums with handmade butterfly lugs resided for many years on the balcony of the Great Hall at Ombersley Court. About 16 inches high and 22 inches in diameter (one a little smaller than the other), the words written above the coat of arms on each are “2nd Royal North. B. Dragoons”.

The drums were, by tradition, carried at Waterloo. The 2nd Baron Sandys of Ombersley of the 2nd creation, then Lord Arthur Hill, acted as one of Wellington’s ADCs in the battle: he was an officer in the 21st Light Dragoons, which with the Royal North British Dragoons was known as the Scots Greys. From 1832 to 1837 he was the regiment’s Commanding Officer, and, from 1858 to his death two years later, Hon. Colonel.

Recently, expert opinion has been sought and received on the drums. Jeremy Montagu, Hon. Fellow of Wadham College, Oxford and President of the Galpin Society, dates them “somewhere between 1790 and 1810, but the origin is still a mystery. I have a suspicion that… [they] might have been spoils of war, possibly German, having been captured by the French and then by the English, or French also captured.

“Somehow they don’t look English despite them then being triumphantly painted with our Royal arms. While the Greys… were certainly in the battle, would they have had their drum horse and mounted band there at Waterloo?...

“The one thing against Germany is the way the skin is attached; German style, the skin is usually the other way up, but the heads might have been replaced in the UK, so that’s not much help!... The two diagnostics that I have relied on are (a) the depth of shell and verticality of the sides, which suggest the end of the eighteenth century, and (b) the wing-nut tuning handles — T-handles came in around 1790, and before that all drums… had plain square blocks for which a tuning key was necessary… The earlier drums very seldom had such vertical sides as yours, above the curvature of the bowls… The shape of the shells cannot be altered, so my inclination is to stick to my original dating, unless any other details appear, for example evidence of internal funnels round the soundhole...

“Most such drums come as a pair with one slightly larger than the other so as to have a pitch difference between them.”

Edwin Rutherford from The Royal Scots Dragoon Museum in Edinburgh, Winfield Fellow of the US Embassy, has also commented helpfully, having consulted Military expert Stephen Wood, first on the arms that are painted on the drums. “The Royal Arms of England (NB not Scotland, or at least not the Scottish version of the British Royal Arms) appear to be those in use after 1837 (and still used). So even if the drums are earlier, the Arms are not.”

He goes on: “What you can say for certain is that the regimental title, lacking any reference to 'Scots Greys', dates from before 1866 so I think that you can say that the decoration on the drums dates [from the period] 1837-66.

“I am not sure when regiments of dragoons adopted, or were allowed, kettledrums: they were originally and traditionally (I think) only used by, or allowed to, regiments of Horse (and subsequently Dragoon Guards), which is why the Household Cavalry use them today on state occasions.

“They were certainly carried to and used on the battlefield in the early 18th century, at least on the continent, because there is a record of one of the Scots DG's antecedent regiments capturing the kettledrums of an enemy regiment during the War of the Spanish Succession... So I don't know if the Greys' band, assuming that the regiment actually HAD a band, would have had kettledrums in 1815. If the regiment's band, assuming there was one, did have kettledrums, I don't know if we know whether or not the band, or any form of regimental musicians, went with the Greys to Flanders in 1815. If it did, then I very much doubt if any elements of the band would have gone to the battlefields of Quatre Bras and/or Waterloo; I would have thought that it would have remained in Brussels - although of course the trumpeters would have gone since the trumpet was used to convey orders in the field. [Archivist’s note: The records indicate that one Greys’ trumpeter was killed at Waterloo and another wounded.]

“I rather fear that it will not be possible to substantiate the story attached to the drums… In any case, and this may not be wholly irrelevant, military kettledrums, certainly by the mid-19th century, were always draped in drum banners when in use and mounted on the drum-horse and not painted in the way that these ones are. Whether they were similarly draped when in dismounted use by the band, I don't know but I think that I would expect it.”

Finally, a surmise by CJP: “Maybe the drums (re)painted with the contemporary coat of arms, were given to the 2nd Lord Sandys upon his retirement as Commanding Officer, and/or maybe the drums were then replaced - indeed maybe he paid for new drums as a parting gift, and kept the old ones.”

Does anyone have further thoughts?

"British Baroque Power and Illusion" at Tate Britain

“Having visited… the recently opened fascinating British Baroque exhibition at Tate Britain, I thought you would like to see these images of the ex-Ombersley… paintings of Chatsworth and the Whig Junto. They are two of the stars of the show. Well worth a visit… Ignore all the ignorant sniping in the broadsheets... This is an outstanding, deeply researched, scholarly and revelatory exhibition… with so many exciting new discoveries, similar to those superb shows done on Millbank for the historic British art collection between c.1975 and c.2000.” SL

“Tabitha Barber [exhibition curator]… is particularly excited by the previously unknown very large paintings by Jan Siberechts, View of Chatsworth, 1699-1700 and John James Baker, The Whig Junto, 1710, which both look most impressive after conservation.” MB

[The exhibition is open until 19th April.]

"Sandys of Ombersley, fragments no. 3"

ACNB writes: “It is filled with fascinating stuff and so many delightful quotations. A real contribution to the social history of the age. Does the London Library have copies of your 'Lives'? If not I will recommend them to the Librarian as they certainly ought to be there.”

Another reader comments: “She really was a remarkable person. When you think that as a woman she could not vote; that while she was married, she had no property rights, and that she was not a beauty, her achievements were even greater. She had to work through men, manipulating them sometimes but never taking advantage, using female skills where necessary (as in canvassing against Castlereagh or resisting the blandishments of impecunious suitors), while accepting the illegitimate children of her husband. The froideur between her and Prinny might have floored a less resilient person but ultimately she gets him on side. Three children predecease her while three others become members of Parliament. It has been a tragedy for Ombersley and the Sandys family over the generations that they did not produce enough children (or at least not enough legitimate children).”

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