Wiverton Hall and Tithby

Church of Holy Trinity, Tythby in 1910.
Church of Holy Trinity, Tythby in 1910.

IN the rich vale of Belvoir, almost midway between Bingham and Langar, there stands, half hidden by lofty trees, a pleasant and picturesque residence. Leland, the antiquary, says, ‘Half a mile ere I came to Langar I came by Sir John Chaworth’s Manor-place called Warton Hall,’ and it needs but a glance at the grounds which surround the present mansion to see that it occupies a site which has long been used for residential purposes.

To the west, on rising ground, is the little church and parish of Tithby; to the south the wooded eminence crowned by the church of Langar; and to the east a wide expanse of fertile country, with the Leicestershire hills and the lordly castle of Belvoir for the background. Among the earliest owners of this pleasant site after the Conquest were several who took as their surname that of the parish of which they had become possessors. Thus we have mention in Thoroton of a Sir Richard de Wiverton, Knight, a descendant of Richard de Barnston, who gave portions of his property to the monasteries of Thurgarton and Welbeck.

The principal proprietor in the time of Henry III. was Sir William de Heriz, and the manor passed from him through the Brets and Caltofts to Sir William Chaworth; ‘which Sir William, in right of Alice, his wife, was co-heir of. the last Lord Bassett, of Drayton,’ the owner of Colston Bassett.

Patrick de Cadurcis (Chaworth) was a native of Brittany, who accompanied William the Conqueror to this country, and was a Baron by tenure under that monarch. The descendants of this warrior had held property in this county long before Wiverton came into their possession. Laurencius de Cadurcis was returned as Knight of the Shire for Nottingham to the Parliament at Westminster in 1313; and Thomas de Chaworth was summoned as a Notts landowner to perform military service in 1314.

The late 15th century gatehouse to Wiverton Hall in the 1930s.
The late 15th century gatehouse to Wiverton Hall in the 1930s.

In the reign of Henry VI., Sir Thomas Chaworth, by a fortunate marriage, added largely to the family possessions. He became entitled to the inheritance of no less than five noble families; and with the acquisition of this great wealth was enabled to make a park at Wiverton, and is believed to have been the chief builder of ‘that strong house which, from henceforward, was the principal mansion of his worthy successors.’ At his death, which took place 37th Henry VI., he left vast estates to his relatives— his possessions in this county including property at East Bridgeford, Marnham, Edwalton, Clifton, Wiverton, Langar, Barnstone, Granby, Colston Bassett, Cropwell Butler, Cropwell Bishop, Tithby, Shelford, and Whatton. It would take up too much space to speak of each distinguished member of this eminent family, and we must be content to mention that in 1627 Sir George Chaworth was created Viscount Chaworth, of Armagh in Ireland, and that his son John, the second Viscount, was living at Wiverton when the troubles arose between Charles I. and his Parliament.

Like most of the county nobility and gentry, Lord Chaworth took up arms in defence of the monarch. Mrs. Hutchinson says he was ‘high in the Royal party,’ and on war becoming inevitable he fortified his house at Wiverton, and made it a garrison for the King.

In June, 1643, the Queen, on her way from Newark, wrote to his Majesty: ‘I shall sleep at Werton, and thence to Ashby, where we will resolve what way to take.’ Among other royal visitors were Prince Rupert and his brother, who, after repairing to Newark to give to the King a narrative of the surrender of Bristol, which was much criticised at the time, rode to Wiverton with about 400 of the flower of the royal troops, and stayed there until they could settle their future plans. From Wiverton it was that Prince Rupert addressed a letter to the Parliament, asking for a pass for himself, his brother, and other noblemen and gentlemen to leave the kingdom, consequent upon his exciting interview with the King and the painful recriminations that passed between them. Both Houses agreed to grant the pass as desired.

From Wiverton, which was still holding out in the royal interest, they marched sadly away to their several destinations, and on November 4, 1645, the little garrison commanded by Lord Chaworth surrendered to the troops under Major-General Poyntz. The General had taken Shelford by storm on the previous day, and, after resting the night at Bingham, went forward to Wiverton, ‘yielded upon terms, and was by order pulled down and rendered incapable of being any more a garrison.’ When Thoroton wrote there was little left of the ancient manor except the old gatehouse, ‘which yet remains a monument of the magnificence of this family.’

At a subsequent period another house was built, but the gatehouse, with its towers and turrets, is still fortunately preserved, forming the back part of the present mansion. The modern house was erected in 1814; between then and 1645 the premises had been used as a farmhouse. The old hall stood a little way behind its modern successor, and was surrounded by a moat, which is plainly to be seen. It had connected with it a chapel, which Thoroton observes ‘is a very good one in the house,’ though he thinks that the references in the ledger-book of Thurgarton to the church at Wiverton must refer to the churches at Langar and Tithby. In digging around the house bullets of various sizes are often met with; and in the central tower, through which there is a spiral staircase leading to the roof, indentations may be seen, which appear to have been made by the shot fired at the gatehouse when it was manfully defended. A leaden or pewter seal of the fourteenth century has lately been found. In its restored form the mansion continued the property of the Chaworths until the family became extinct in the direct male line nearly a century ago, when Mary Chaworth—the Mary of Lord Byron’s poems—‘ the last remaining of a noble race,’ conveyed the property to the family of Musters by her marriage in August, 1805, with Mr. John Musters, of Colwick Hall. Mr. Musters took on his marriage the surname of Chaworth, which is still borne by his descendants. He was a member of the ancient house of Musters in Yorkshire, and of Treswell, in Notts, who became possessed in the seventeenth century of Colwick Hall, long the property of the Byrons, as noted in a previous chapter.