Monday, 14 October 2013

Sir Percival Willoughby ? - 1643

Heir to Wollaton Hall and its first resident.

If you ever need to impress a train buff with your mastery of railway trivia, Sir P is your man. In 1605 he built the first railway in Britain. Where? Strelley, Notts!

Percival isn't a very interesting character until he inherits Wollaton Hall and its various estates. Born - um, in the past... - he marries his cousin's daughter Bridget in 1580. They sometimes live with his parents, sometimes with hers, for the next 15 years. Family records are incomplete, but their eldest son is born in 1588. They have ten children in total, with nine living to adulthood.

In 1595 his mother in law Elizabeth dies, and a year later father in law Francis dies too. But the inheritance isn't smooth - there's no will, and there's a new baby on the way courtesy of Francis' second wife who was married and pregnant really quite quickly. Once the complications are resolved (baby dies, but it doesn't really matter because she was a girl) Percival has estates, and debts.

In 1599 the family move into Wollaton Hall, which cost a fortune to build and has stood empty for 11 years. A few years later Percival becomes Sir Percival - Queen Elizabeth dies and King James I begins his reign with a few knightings.

Like his father in law, Sir Percival was looking for investments to turn a profit. The railway was part of a coal mine - which wasn't a good investment. He also invested in the Newfoundland company - in an age of explorers and colonisation this must have seemed a good bet. Sending his third son - Thomas - to stake a claim Sir Percival hoped that there would be mining potential he could exploit. I'm fascinated that, when Thomas sailed home, he got a fatherly bollocking for failing to properly explore the new land. I don't really understand the legalities of Sir P's claim but it appears that it went slowly pearshaped over 20 years, and he lost money through the venture.

He was imprisoned for debt in 1606 and 'outlawed for debt' in 1622, 1623 and 1624. He resolved the debt each time by selling land but that decreased his income and - ooops - it happened again.

Bridget dies in 1629 after a 49 year marriage. So close to their Golden wedding anniversary! Sir P dies 14 years after that so he must have been in his 80s by then? There's a serious fire at Wollaton Hall in 1642. I can't find out if this is an accident, or a consequence of the Civil War. The interior is badly damaged and few repairs are made. Is Sir P unable to afford repairs? Or too old and infirm to make it happen? Either way, after his death in 1643 the house is left standing derelict until 1687.

Where did I get this information? It's mostly based on this University of Nottingham archive and this online history of parliament.

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