The Hon George Shirley
A man of forceful behaviour
1705 - 1787
Lord of the Manor of Ettington
George Shirley was the second son of Sir Robert Shirley, 1st Earl Ferrers by his second wife, Selina Finch. He was born at Staunton Harold in Leicestershire, the principal family seat. When his elder brother Robert died, unmarried, in 1738 he became Lord of the Manor of Ettington in Warwickshire. When his mother died in 1762 he inherited Heath Lane Lodge in Twickenham.
Writing in 1873, Evelyn Shirley noted that: "in his youth he was much distinguished for his personal appearance, his activity, and his pedestrian feats."
Clearly a man of forceful personality and a strong sense of his status, George liked to have his own way. However, life at Twickenham was different from Ettington where he was Lord of the Manor and master of all he could survey from his house.
Brushes with the Twickenham community
His first recorded brush with the Twickenham community was in 1768 when the parish surveyors removed the paving in Heath Lane which had for many years provided a visual connection between his frontage and his land across the Lane, to the north. They sent him the bill for the work and he took legal advice about paying which, although reassuring was probably more expensive.
His next encounter was with a neighbour, John Blake whose property, Cross Deep Lodge adjoined Heath Lane Lodge. There was a dispute, possibly territorial, and George built a house in the corner of his riverside meadow across the road to obstruct Blake's view of the river. Blake was a lawyer who advised Walpole, who recorded the matter in a letter of 1780: "the people here have christened Mr Shirley's new House, Spite Hall…as ill natured an act as possible."
Clearly the dispute was in the public domain although George actually named the new house Shirley House and presented it to his daughter on her marriage.
Then, in 1780, George obtained a licence from the manor court to build a tunnel beneath Cross Deep connecting his garden with Shirley House. When he then applied to the trustees of the new turnpike he was unanimously refused permission, although himself a trustee. Blake was another of the trustees of course.
There was another problem; George had built a wall separating Shirley House from the road and this caused problems with rainwater drainage. Naturally he ignored repeated requests for remedial work to alleviate flooding.
Finally, in 1783, perhaps tired of Twickenham he had Heath Lane Lodge demolished, the building materials and the land sold, and retired to Ettington where he died in 1787.
Anthony Beckles Willson, Mr Pope & Others at Cross Deep, 1996
E P Shirley, Stemmata Shirleana, 1873
Manuscript documents at the Warwickshire County Record Office, Warwick