The last of the Cloth Barons - changes hands from the Duke to the Neales


The Neales, of Shaw House near Melksham, were a family of clothiers like the Halls and became the next owners of the manor, buying it for £15,000 in 1769. In 1775 Robert Neale became MP for Wootton Bassett He was a very rich man. He added a chapel and their family burial vault below to the parish church of All Saints He took an interest in an estate which could be lucrative, selling for example eighty acres of woodland to supply the demand for ship building timber which was then at its height. This woodland was not replanted. It also seems that he extended the accommodation at Lenton Farm by adding a large wing with two staircases to the old farmhouse: this would provide accommodation for the growing number of arable farm workers We know from Land Tax returns the names of some of the Neales’ tenants. John Dark (1751- 1814) is named as a joint tenant with Roger Spackman, a surname which with Bailey was later linked with the manor. He was succeeded in 1778 by Thomas Dark and then in 1799 by Mrs Dark. John’s children were all baptised in All Saints, Great Chalfield and the family graves are in the churchyard of Broughton Gifford where they were well known as yeoman farmers. Without further evidence it is not possible to say if they lived in the manor house or in part of it though we do know that by then it was becoming somewhat dilapidated and that parts of it were being used for storage of crops. In the 1840’s tenants got permission to turn the Great Hall into a five roomed dwelling which suggests that by then the rest of the house had become uninhabitable.

The estate was inherited by Grace Neale, Robert’s granddaughter. She had suffered the double misfortune of loosing her father when she was only one and her grandfather when she was three. The estate was administered for her by trustees as she grew up as a minor in London. Doubtless the Trustees thought mainly of short term gain and maintenance of the Manor house would have been a very low priority. She came of age in 1794 and married Sir Harry Burrard, a career naval officer, in 1795. Sir Harry later became Admiral and then MP for his home town of Lymington in Hampshire. He added Neale to his surname to inherit. So with this marriage the age of the cloth barons who owned Great Chalfield came to an end. The first flowering of the manor house had by then long faded. John Chessell Buckler, in a footnote to his 1828 study of The Royal Palace at Eltham, vividly describes the manor house at that time: ‘Neglect and decay are visible in every part of the edifice and comfort and convenience are disregarded, provided the rooms shelter the grain and the roads which convey it hither enable loaded wagons to pursue their sluggish course.’ The deeds of many other local properties in the district of Bradford and in Bath reveal the extent of the sales there by the Manvers family at that time. However they retained and rebuilt some farms in the area.

CONCLUSION – Changing times
John Hall had owned much land and many properties; as did the other local clothiers, particularly the Methuens. The final closing down of religious houses by Henry VIII which were recorded in the sixteenth century by John Leland, the first and only royal antiquarian, represents for many historians the end of the Middle Ages, when the church owned two thirds of the land. John Leland’s observations in Bradford, when he visited in the 1530’s, showed him that by then the clothiers ruled supreme in the town. Before them the Abbess of Shaftesbury with her huge estates needed the large barn now on Barton Farm to the west of the town to hold the produce of her local land. Thomas Tropenell at the end of the old era owed his early rise to patronage. The clothiers, prototype industrialists, made their own way from the start. Their fortunes were made locally. John Hall’s grandson, the 2 nd Duke of Kingston, had his wealth spread over many counties mainly in the north, where the industrial revolution was centred. The times had changed again.

This study then covers the span of five generations of the Hall family. Their varying fortunes can be traced through the history of their houses, and not least through the records left by John Hall’s aristocratic grandson and his ‘duchess’. Towards the end of this period while she was beautifying her houses in Estonia and Paris and Grace Neale was growing up in London little or nothing was spent on the sleeping beauty at Great Chalfield. The income rolled in from the farms and rented houses of the Kingston estates as the meticulous estate accounts from 1726 to 1780 reveal. The legacy the cloth barons left to Great Chalfield was not lost, for the very reason that they had largely left the house unchanged. It could be said that these five generations saw the cloth trade in the area rise from humble beginnings like them to its peak. After them came a slow decline. This cycle was mirrored in the fortunes of Great Chalfield.

Text by Hugh Wright    

A. Manuscripts
British Library : Thoresby Hall Collection Egerton Manuscripts Cat. 3533, 3647 & 3650-57. The Will of John Hall (proved Sept 1711) The National Archive Prob 11/523. Wiltshire and Swindon HistoryCentre, Chippenham: Deed of Immunity for John Hall, Cat 1796.2.7, Deeds and documents relating to Great Chalfield Cat 1320.1-10. All Saints, Great Chalfield Parish Registers for 17 th Century. Nottingham University Library: www Catalogue, The Manvers Collection.
B. Other 16 th/17th century sources
The Visitation of Wiltshire 1623 ed GW Marshall G Bell London 1882. Collection of Church Monumental Inscriptions of Wiltshire, 1822 Sir Thomas Phillipps, ed Peter Sherlock, Wiltshire Record Society Vol 53 1997 p273 All Saints Great Chalfield (Margaret Horton Tombstone). John Aubrey: Natural History of Wiltshire, David and Charles Reprints Redwood Press 1969. John Aubrey North Wiltshire Collections (edition of Hypomnemata Antiquaria) Canon JE Jackson 1862. John Aubrey A Life, David Tylden-Wright, Harper Collins 1991. John Aubrey and His Friends, Anthony Powell 1948.
The Civil War

The Accounts of the Parliamentary Garrisons of Great Chalfield and Malmesbury 1645/6, John Pafford, Devizes 1966. The Noble Revolt, John Adamson (for Sir Richard Gurney) Weidenfeld and Nicolson 2007. The Unhappy Civil War, John Wroughton Lansdown Press 1999. The Battle of Lansdown 1643, John Wroughton Lansdown Press 2008.
C Sources 19 th-21 st Century

Victoria County History of Wiltshire Vol 7 Bradford on Avon and Broughton Gifford. Wiltshire Archaeological and NaturalHistory Society Magazine:- Vol 1 1854 Leland’s Journey through Wiltshire Rev JE Jackson. Kingston House Bradford Rev JE Jackson. Vol 2 1855 Kingston St Michael (John Aubrey pp92-124) Rev JE Jackson. Note on Great Chalfield James Waylen pp 258/9. Vol 5 1859 Broughton Gifford Rev J Wilkinson (on Edward Horton). Bradford on Avon i) p360ff. The Hall Family Rev WH Jones ii)This article edited and brought up to date by J Beddoe The Library Press Bradford on Avon 1907. The Manor and Church of Great Chalfield Rev J Silvester Davies Bound offprint from Vol 23 of the Transactions of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Soc. 1887 (in Great Chalfield Manor Library with valuable hand written additions ). The Church Plate of the County of Wiltshire JE Nightingale 1891. Elizabeth, the Scandalous Life of the Duchess of Kingston Claire Cervat London Century 2003. The Beauties of Wiltshire vol 2 JE Britten London 1801. Wiltshire Edith Oliver Robert Hale London 1951. Wessex from AD 1000 JH Bettey Longman 1986. The Garden of the Hall, Bradford on Avon Gareth Slater, Wilts Garden Trust Magazine 2008. The Guide to Great Chalfield Manor, Oliver Garnett National Trust 2007. The Manor House and Church at Great Chalfield Wiltshire Thomas Walker 1837. An Historical and Descriptive Account of the Royal Palace of Eltham John Chessell Buckler 1828 JB Nichols and Son London. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Isobel Grundy OUP 1999.


Great Chalfield Manor, Great Chalfield, nr. Melksham, Wiltshire. SN12 8NH - Tel: 01225 782 239