Staunton and Elston
In the charming little village of Staunton readers of the Waverley Novels will be reminded of the absorbing interest with which they first followed Jeanie Deans on that bold mission of mercy which saved her sisters life, as recounted in the Heart of Midlothian. After visiting Newark and Grantham, Sir Walter Scott takes his heroine to Staunton, on the borders of Lincolnshire and Leicestershire, and a very pretty picture of Staunton Hall and Church is in the Abbotsford edition of the Waverley Novels, from a drawing by Barber.
The history of Staunton is in the main the history of the ancient and estimable family to which it has belonged for centuries. The pedigree in the Visitation of Notts commences with Sir Bryan de Staunton, temp. Edward the Confessor, and Thoroton quotes a rhyming account of the Stauntons, written by a poet named Robert Cade, com mencing with the life of Sir Malger Staunton, who was here before the Conqueror, and defended Belvoir Castle, where he had charge of a high tower known as Stauntons Tower. Whenever the Royal Family visits Belvoir, the head of the Staunton family attends and presents the golden key of the tower, as did the Rev. F. Staunton on the occasion of the first visit of the Prince of Wales.
The church, which has been restored with great liberality and care, adjoins the Hall grounds, and is full of monuments of the Staunton family. Here are effigies of gallant knights girt in chain armour, with swords and shields, doubtless stalwart men in their day, and, according to Cade, valiant in every enterprise. In the Parliamentary Writs and Writs of Military Summons we have some trace of their services. Thus we find William de Staunton summoned to perform military service with horses and men at the muster at Nottingham, July 7, 1297. Hervey de Staunton was a famous lawyer and ecclesiastic. After being Prebendary of Hustwhait in the cathedral of York, he was appointed a justice itinerary in 1302, and four years later became a judge of the Common Pleas. Lord Campbell says he filled a greater variety of judicial offices than any lawyer in the annals of Westminster Hall. His most important appointments were those of Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1316, and Chief Justice of the Kings Bench in 1323.
When the Civil War broke out, the head of the family was William Staunton, who, like most of the gentry of his native county, was a stanch Royalist. He was present at the raising of the standard at Nottingham, and in connection with the part he took in those anxious times Mrs. Staunton has written and recently published an interesting brochure. The troop raised by the gallant Cavalier participated in the Battle of Edge Hill, October 23, 1642, and the next day the King raised Captain Staunton to the rank of Colonel. His unswerving loyalty and energy marked him out as the object of attack, and in the assaults on the Royalist houses in the county Staunton Hall was not forgotten. Colonel Staunton was away when the Round-heads came upon the scene, but brave Mrs. Staunton and her twenty servants put the house in order to withstand attack. A man was stationed in the church-tower to signal the approach of the enemy, and one sad evening he announced that they were in sight. Next day a skirmish ensued, the effects of which are still to be seen in the marks of the shots on two of the, panels in a fine old door under the porch at the north side of the Hall. The Cavaliers returned the fire with great vigour, Mrs. Staunton aiming at the enemy from the window of the porch, and it was not till orders had been given by the leader of the besiegers to fire the Hall that the little garrison yielded. Mrs. Staunton and her children made their way across the park to Benington; from there they rode to Grantham, and thence to London. They were subsequently taken for greater security to the coast of France.
When the war was over the Colonel returned to Staunton, and succeeded in making his peace with the Parliament, for his name is included in a draft ordinance which was passed January 7, 1647-48, to clear several persons of their delinquency. The old house had been badly used in his absence, part of it and of the church having been damaged by fire, and many of the monuments and tablets broken and defaced. After a short stay the Colonel joined his wife and children in London, and died there on March 11, 1656. Mrs. Staunton died in 1684, and was buried in Staunton Church.
About three miles from Staunton lies the village of Elston. As you journey on the old Foss-road from Newark to Nottingham a turn to the left beyond Stoke leads to Elston, lying very snugly and prettily ensconced in the midst of a pleasing landscape. Nearly opposite each other are the Hall and vicarage, both occupying delightful situations, and built in elegant and stately style. The church has been handsomely restored, and is singularly rich in its memorials of the Darwins. This eminent family appear to have come to Elston from Lincolnshire towards the close of the seventeenth century, the manor being brought into the possession of William Darwin through his marriage with the heiress of Robert Waring of Wilford. William had two sons, and Elston was left to Robert, the younger, in whom the taste for scientific research began to develop.
His eldest son, Robert, who succeeded him at Elston, devoted much time to botanical studies, and wrote a Principia Botanica, which reached a third edition. The younger brother of this philosopher, and born like him at Elston Hall, was Erasmus Darwin, M.D., who became celebrated as a physician, poet, and inventor, and died in 1802. He was a man of untiring industry and close observation. He wrote Zoonomia, The Botanic Garden, and other works, the last named containing the prophetic couplet:
Soon shall thy arm unconquered steam afar;
Drag the slow barge, or drive the rapid car.
His third son, Robert Waring Darwin, became a Fellow of the Royal Society; but he is best known as the father of Charles Darwin, the author of the Origin of Species, whose researches and theories have made the name of Darwin famous throughout the world.
The Darwins are still lords of the manor of Elston and owners of the Hall, which has been much modernized and improved. Four almshouses were erected by Ann Darwin in 1744 for aged women.
There was a skirmish at Elston during the Civil Wars, but beyond this it has not been the scene of any noteworthy events of general interest.