The Twickenham Museum
People : Lawyers and Clergy

Thomas Wildman
Lawyer and MP
1740 - 1795

Detail from a portrait of Thomas Wildman by George Romney (1734-1802), reproduced by courtesy of messrs Payne Hicks Beach

Family Background

Thomas Wildman, was the tenant of Gifford Lodge on Twickenham Common from 1789 until his death there in 1795. The third of five sons, and a daughter, of Edward, of Scambler House, Melling and Elizabeth née Bagott, he came from a rural background in Lancashire. He was born at a farmstead at Barking Gate (sometimes Yeat, now Barkin Gate) in Roeburndale, south of Wray, a village near Hornby, about eight miles to the north-east of Lancaster. The family had been settled in the area for several generations, the farm itself having been built, or perhaps extended, by Thomas's grandfather, Richard, in 1709: there is a stone over the front door with this date and Richard's initials. The house appears to have been extended on three occasions . Wray parish registers note a Wildman at the farm as early as 1662: Robert Richard Wildman died there in that year.

The house, rescued from dereliction by the present family, exists today as a working farm extending to 200 acres.

A Survey of the manor of Hornby, prepared between 1579 and 1585 notes a number of Wildman tenants: Anthony, Christopher and John were engaged in farming at Bentham, a few miles to the east of Hornby. Edward paid rent there for unspecified premises.

Archive material in the Lancashire Record Office illuminates later family and property connections in the Hornby area. In 1684 George and Edward Wildman, perhaps brothers of Richard, held property in Tatham, a settlement to the east of Hornby.1 In 1750 Edward Wildman, Thomas's father was noted holding a 7 year tenancy of a messuage and lands in Barking Yeat. In 1746 he had built a house for himself and Elizabeth, in Wray, with another datestone: E & E W. A messuage and land at Cold Cotes, to the east of Hornby, formerly in the ownership of Thomas Wildman, deceased, is noted in 1797. Thomas's elder brother Richard enjoyed the benefit of the rents of land and a farm at Cragg, to the south-east of Wray.

In 1777 Thomas, noted as a kinsman of Anne Fenwick a widow of Hornby, was the beneficiary of property there by her will of 1775.4 Anne, a devout Roman Catholic and the widow of John Fenwick (d1757) of Burrow Hall and Lord of the Manor of nearby Claughton, was the daughter of Thomas Benison of Hornby Hall, Attorney of Lancaster and Hornby. Benison was also Agent or Steward for the estates of the Honour of Hornby where his family had long been established. The exact kinship has not been ascertained but other records show that the families were connected and it can be suggested that this led to Thomas being articled to Thomas Benison the Attorney: the start of a career in the law.

10 New Square, Lincoln's Inn


Clearly Barking Geat, and even Lancaster, offered few opportunities for the ambitious Thomas Wildman. He moved to London where he was joined by his younger brothers Henry and James. Progress was swift: by 1764 Thomas had become a solicitor and an attorney of the Court of King's Bench. He became a partner in a very successful firm of solicitors in Lincoln's Inn (Coulthard & Wildman) and was admitted as a member of Lincoln's Inn in 1773.

He also displayed political energy, being apparently of a radical persuasion in a fragmented political scene, and in 1764 he took a house in Albemarle Street in order to accommodate a club formed in opposition to the Earl of Bute. Horace Walpole wrote to Lord Hertford on 22 January that “The new club at the house (Wildman's) that was the late Lord Waldegrave's, in Albemarle Street, makes the ministry very uneasy; but they have worse grievances to apprehend!” and noted the name of the club as “The Cotery of Revolutionists, or Anti-Ministerialists, from the French word Coterie, vulgarly called a 'club' in English”. Another report, printed in the St James Chronicle for 28-31 January stated that “…it is pretended that it has been intimated to the Naval and Military officers of condition, that they must not think of being ever seen in the new tavern opened in Albemarle Street for the reception of the noblemen and gentlemen of the opposition”. Apparently there were 106 members by 9 February.

Certainly, the house also served as a hostelry under Wildman's ownership because a misdemeanour by one Thomas Heydon, a member of the staff, led to his trial for theft at the Old Bailey on 22 May 1765. Wildman appears to have been considerate in supplying him with provisions during his confinement before the trial. Happily too, Heydon was acquitted(

In 1770 Alderman William Beckford appointed Thomas a member of the council to manage the immense fortune that his son William, aged 9, was about to inherit. It was a position which enabled Thomas and, later, his brothers to further their own interests. They were closely involved with William Beckford's business affairs for many years, managing his various sugar plantations in Jamaica. Through this connection they obtained possession of Beckford's Quebec Estate, a sugar plantation near Kingston in 1790. This was the source of considerable wealth for the brothers, and it cascaded down to the next generation in due course.

Just how, at the age of thirty, Thomas obtained this position invites speculation. William Pitt, 1st Earl of Chatham was godfather to the young Beckford and one of the council. Thomas had probably encountered him through his political activities in Albemarle Street. Stated to have been a friend of John Wilkes and a kinsman of John Horne Tooke, the young lawyer could have been seen as a potentially useful working member of the council.

Beckford spent much time out of the country, apparently leaving Thomas in charge of his affairs. In 1786 he was involved in the dispute with the Rev Samuel Henley about the publication of Beckford's fantasy novel Vathek, and appears to have had the care of one of the various manuscripts. He was responsible for releasing (or diverting) funds intended for construction at Fonthill. Beckford wrote to him from Paris on 29 November 1791: “…I have the most delightful apartments, and the best wine and the best Bristol waters, and the bed, everything. You cannot expect therefore that I should leave one farthing of the sum you have (of mine) undrawn for. No, no, you may curtail at Fonthill as much as you judge convenient - I have forgotten Fonthill - and everybody in England except yourself and Mrs Wildman.” The friendship prevailed and Wildman expressed concern about an apparent brush with Roman Catholicism, provoking a reply on 22 August 1795: “…Those who have been entertaining you with my change of religion are either Knaves or Simpletons. I am just what I have always been in that respect - an Amateur…but no Professor. You have seen me perform at St Sulpice, if you please to recollect, and so you might see me perform upon this theatre. Beyond a few genuflections or expressions in time with the rest of the audience, I defy Mr W. and all his set to prove anything….” Thomas died four months after this exchange.

Wildman's time as an MP was brief: in 1795 he sat as one of the two MPs for the pocket borough of Hindon in Somerset as substitute for Beckford who, on 31 December 1794, had taken the Chiltern Hundreds.

As a bachelor Wildman may have lived in his chambers in New Square, Lincoln's Inn. These were a set of rooms in a building constructed for lawyers in about 1690 and, standing today, are occupied wholly by the firm of which he was a partner. However, perhaps in anticipation of marriage, he bought the 99 year lease of 16 Bedford Square in 1785 from Joseph Shrimpton, a City corn factor. The house was nearly new, built when the square was laid out in 1775. Wildman may have engaged Sir John Soane to carry out some alterations. Today it is the London headquarters of the Paul Mellon Foundation. However, marriage to Sarah Hardinge or Hardin (1751-1830) at St Clement Danes in 1786 led to the start of a family and the need for a country seat for a growing household, at a fashionable village with healthier air than London's.

The memorial to Thomas Wildman in St Mary's Church, Twickenham

At Twickenham

Sarah apparently owned a property in Suffolk: Bacton Hall. However, in 1789, Wildman took a lease of Gifford Lodge on Twickenham Common, just vacated by General John Gunning. He died there on 21 December 1795 and was buried on Christmas Day, probably in a vault, in St Mary's Church where there is a large memorial on the wall of the south gallery. The monument carries his coat of arms granted by the College of Heralds in 1776. It also states him to have been buried “nearby”. On the floor of the south aisle of the church there is a stone incised with the letter W, perhaps marking his place of burial in one of the known vaults beneath. The memorial is signed Moore / Smith Londini. This could have been John Francis Moore who had carved the statue of Alderman William Beckford, William's father and who worked for William himself at Fonthill Abbey. Smith was perhaps Nathaniel, known to have worked for a number of sculptors.

Wildman's death was noted in the Gentleman's Magazine in March 1796:

“The late Mr. T. Wildman was an eminent solicitor, and partner with, but not in any way related to the late Mr. Coulthard of Lincoln's Inn. As a practitioner in the law, he was a man of intelligence, endowed with a mind active and ever fervid for the good of his client, whose cause he seemed to make his own, and in the close of which he was seldom unsuccessful…..the ardour of his zealous endeavours, added to the natural warmth of his mind, has more than once introduced Mr. Wildman among the squibs of the day, in some strokes of wit, probably from the pen of an unfortunate opponent, who has too late known that a firm and active solicitor can make the worse the better case”.

Wildman married comparatively late in his life, so when he died he left a young family, a widow aged 44 and his eldest son Thomas (1787-1859) then only 9 years old. There were four more children, Edward, George, John and a daughter Mary all presumably living at Gifford Lodge, but none of them baptised at St Mary's Church. By his will (PCC Prob11/1270), made on 6 April 1795 he provided for Sarah in her lifetime with an annuity of £1500 and an immediate payment of £1,000 together with the lease of his house in Bedford Square. He bequeathed £10,000 each to his children except his eldest son Thomas, to whom he left all his (undescribed) personal estate. He also provided for payments to possible further children, writing: “and all my children thereafter to be born….son or sons…daughter or daughters (to be paid) at twenty one”. This suggests that he contemplated a longer life, with additions to the family.

Sarah, named as the executrix of the will and guardian of the children had to address herself to the management of the estate. Leaving aside the Jamaican plantation, earning substantial profits, which was probably looked after by Thomas's brothers, there were properties in England, indicative of the extent of Thomas's estate at his death. Records note the sale of Newton Manor at Daresbury, Cheshire in 1803,5 the Manor of Shillingham and Trehan at Trehane in Devonshire in 18066 and Rushbury Manor with 242 acres in Shropshire in 1808.7 There was other property, in Lancashire at Hornby, Caton and Farleton, but the status of Bacton Hall is uncertain at present.

Heathfield House in Turnham Green c1800

Later family history

Sarah did not remain in Twickenham; she moved to Heathfield House at Turnham Green in 1796, where she brought up her five children: four sons attending Harrow School in succession, and remaining there until 1825. She may then have taken up residence at Newstead Abbey in Nottinghamshire, now the residence of her eldest son Thomas.

Heathfield House stood opposite the south-west corner of Turnham Green, straddling what today is the start of Heathfield Gardens. Sutton Lane marked the western boundary of the estate. The house was somewhat larger than Gifford Lodge and the land more extensive. Copyhold of Sutton Manor, it was of uncertain style, either late 17th century or perhaps built by Lord Egmont (1711-70) in about 1765, an amateur architect and designer of Enmore Castle in Somerset. The house took its name later from George Eliott, Lord Heathfield the Governor and defender of Gibraltar. He died in 1770 and the house came into the hands of Alexander Mayersback, a London physician, and so to Sarah Wildman. She passed the house in 1825 to the Revd. Samuel Curteis and it was demolished in 1837. The Victoria County History notes that “ The botanist William Aiton laid out the grounds for Lord Heathfield, whose house was an Italianate building: the main block of five bays contained two storeys, basement, and attics, with round-headed windows on the first floor and a pedimented porch, and was flanked by single storeyed wings.” 8 The porch looks to be a later addition, out of scale with the building, otherwise the style of the building suggests the earlier date of about 1700.

“After its demolition the fine wrought iron entrance gates were bought by the duke of Devonshire for Chiswick House There is a picture of the building in volume 2 of Daniel Lysons' The Environs of London, Chiswick, on page 195.

The memorial to Margaret Wildman in St Mary's Church, Twickenham

Later burials at St Mary's
Sarah died at Newstead Abbey on 2 November 1830, aged 79 and was brought to Twickenham on 6 December as stated in the burial register. A small plaque beneath her husband's memorial recording her burial was erected by the family.

There were two further Wildman burials at St Mary's. On 10 April 1817 George Wildman Esq aged 24 of Turnham Green, Chiswick was buried, perhaps in the vault. The service was conducted by the Vicar of Chiswick. This was Thomas's son, born in 1793, though not baptised at Twickenham. He is recorded as a barrister of Lincoln's Inn.

The fourth burial at St Mary's was in 1825. In the north gallery there is a memorial to the Lady Margaret Wildman, aged 25, wife of John Wildman, buried on 2 November in a vault beneath pew no19. Her address was given as Devonshire Cottage, Richmond and the service was conducted by the Rector of Christchurch, St Marylebone. This was the young wife of Thomas's son John, a daughter of the 6th Earl of Wemyss and March who had assumed the additional name of Charteris in order to inherit the estate of the notorious Francis Charteris (1665-1732), of whom Pope wrote: “Here Francis Ch --- s lies - be civil! / The rest God knows - perhaps the Devil.” Francis had acquired the Honour of Hornby and the Castle in 1713, and reputedly established there a seraglio, together with the manor of Tatham and much land thereabouts including some in Roeburndale. This might have led to a connection with the Wildmans and so this later marriage; but this is somewhat speculative.

James Wildman (1747-1816)

Wildman's brother James actually went over to Jamaica as Beckford's plantation overseer. There he married Joanna Harper before returning to England. By 1794 he was wealthy enough to buy the Chilham Castle estate in Kent from Thomas Heron. He had his son baptised James Beckford Wildman (1789-1867), William Beckford himself being his godfather. His son inherited in 1816 having great plans for the renovation of the mansion, but these did not materialise in his lifetime, and “he is best remembered in Chilham for being responsible for the building of the village school, and for planting the avenue of Limes between the house and the square”. He died in 1867, having already sold the estate to Charles Hardy in 1861 to cover debts which had accrued to the family plantations in the West Indies.

He married Mary-Anne, daughter of Stephen Rumbold Lushington of Norton Court, Governor of Madras and formerly MP for Canterbury

Incised stone with letter W in the floor of St Mary's Church, Twickenham

Thomas Wildman II (1787-1859)Wildman's eldest son Thomas inherited considerable wealth, the various Jamaican estates being still highly profitable. Following schooling at Harrow from 1796 until 1805 he spent a year at Christchurch, Oxford before entering the army. He took part in the Peninsular Campaign, keeping a diary of his experiences there. With two of his brothers, Edward and John, he was at the Battle of Waterloo, acting as aide-de-camp to Lord Uxbridge. One of the last cannon shots fired that day hit Uxbridge in the leg, necessitating its amputation. According to anecdote, he was close to Wellington when his leg was hit, and exclaimed, "By God, sir, I've lost my leg!" -- to which Wellington replied, "By God, sir, so you have!" According to Wildman, during the amputation Paget smiled and said, "I have had a pretty long run. I have been a beau these 47 years and it would not be fair to cut the young men out any longer." Five days later, the Prince Regent created him Marquess of Anglesey.

In 1816, shortly to be Lieut-Colonel, Wildman married Louisa Preisig of Appenzell, Switzerland. There were no children of the marriage. The following year, he bought Newstead Abbey from his old school friend, Lord Byron, for £94,500 and proceeded to restore the mansion. He spent £100,000 on this and remained there until he died in 1859. He received a full obituary in The Gentleman's Magazine for December that year. There is a mausoleum to the memory of the Wildmans in Mansfield's Nottingham Road Cemetery.


Much of this information has been obtained by reference to the search engine A2A (Access to Archives), a data base covering archival holdings of record offices throughout England. 1 Lancashire Record Office, Benison & Fenwick papers RCHY 2/1/53: Lease for 7 years of a messuage or tenement called Barking Yeat and lands in Hornby and Roeburndale in the occupation of Edward Wildman2 Lancashire Record Office RCHY 2/2/106, 17 Feb 1684/5: Release (lease missing) of 2 messuages, 2 mansion houses, 2 barns, a turfhouse and gardens belonging, closes called Walkerwife field, the Bent lying at the foot thereof, Birkbridgeholes, half of the Calfe end next to the hill, common of pasture in the wastes of the manor of Tatham; these premises being considered to be a quarter of Whittwray tenement which was purchased by George and Edward Wildman from the Rt. Hon. Thomas Lord Morley and Monteagle, Robert, Earl of Cardigan and Francis, Lord Brudenell3 Lancashire Record Office ref. RCHY 2/1/60, Probate copy, 3 Jun. 1777, and original will, 10 Apr. 1775 [PCC Prob11/1032], of Ann Fenwick of Hornby, widow,…. devising to her kinsman Thomas Wildman of Lincoln's Inn the piece of land, barns and buildings 'adjoining the Mansion House' formerly copyhold and purchased from Mr Charteris in August 1774. The “infamous” Francis Charteris acquired Hornby Castle in 1713. His son-in-law, also Francis, had taken the name and died in 1772. The family sold the property to John Marsden of Wennington Hall in 1789.4 Lancashire Record Office, DDX 112/11, 14 Feb 1797, Benison & Fenwick papers: Release by way of a mortgage: for £500: James Redmayne of Yarlsber in Ingleton, co. York, gent. to Margaret Pedder of Lancaster, spinster:-- messuage in Coldcotes formerly in possession of Thomas Wildman decd., with closes called the Over Myer, the Little Parrock, Pickle Myer, Scale Myer, Borwins Three Dales in the Further Townfield called Scabb Land, Gate Land, and Farr Land (3r), in possession of J.R. 5 Cheshire and Chester Archives and Local Studies DDX 233/11, Newton Manor, near Daresbury, Assignment of Mortgage : 4 Apr 1803 Sarah Wildman of Turnham Green, co. Middlesex, wid. (extrix. of Thomas Wildman of Lincolns Inn, co. Middlesex, esq., decd.), …George Heron of Daresbury, clerk, eldest son of George Heron 6 Cornwall Record Office: Whitfords of St Columb Major WH/1/3835/1,2 20/21 July 1798, Thos. Wildman, infant, Sarah Wildman of Turnham Green, Mddx., wid., Stephen Drew of Saltash, esq., to Jas. Buller of Downes, Devon, esq.7 From: 'Rushbury', A History of the County of Shropshire: Volume 10: Munslow Hundred (part), The Liberty and Borough of Wenlock (1998), pp. 52-72, and Shropshire Record Office 515/6, pp. 314-15; 1359, box 35, conveyance 24-5 Mar. 1808; cf. Gent. Mag. lxv (2), 1060, 1111; V.C.H. Mdx. vii. 78; Hist. Parl., Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 578. ( 'Chiswick: Other estates', A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 7: Acton, Chiswick, Ealing and Brentford, West Twyford, Willesden (1982), pp. 74-8 ( See also: Daniel Lysons 'Chiswick', The Environs of London: volume 2: County of Middlesex (1795), p195.

Further reading

Dr Rosalys Coope, The Wildman Family and Colonel Thomas Wildman of Newstead Abbey, Nottinghamshire, Transactions of the Thoroton Society of Nottinghamshire vol XCV, 1991 (to which this article owes much)
The Correspondence of Horace Walpole, vol38, pp461 & 294: to Lord Hertford, 22 Jun 1764
Michael Birks, The Young Hussar: The Peninsula War Journal of Colonel Thomas Wildman
Lewis Melville, The Life and Letters of William Beckford, Heinemann, 1910
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (for Francis Charteris)
Christopher Tyerman, A History of Harrow School, Education, 2000
Thomas Moore, Notices of the Life of Lord Byron. John Murray, 1885
Thomas Faulkner, The History and Antiquities of Brentford, Ealing and Chiswick, 1845
Colonal W H Chippindall, A Sixteenth Century Survey and Year's Account of the Estates of Hornby Castle, Lancashire, printed for the Chetham Society, 1939

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