Downton Castle is situated at Downton on the Rock close to the border with Shropshire, and in the parish of Leintwardine. It should not be confused with Downton Hall which is a few miles the other side of the border.
The Knight Family at Downton Castle
Richard Payne Knight
Born in 1750, Richard Payne knight was the eldest son of the Rev. Thomas Knight; he was a somewhat sickly infant and consequently managed to avoid a formal education either at school or at home due to his father’s indulgence of him.
However, once his father died in 1764 he attended grammar school and became a first class scholar in Latin, then Richard took up the study of Greek after leaving school and it was to become a lifelong passion.
Richard’s health was still not the best, and he decided to go to Italy – presumably for the climate – where he fell in love with the arts, including sculptures by Greeks. He began to amass a collection of art and antiques, especially bronzes and Greek coins, which he kept in a specially appointed room in his house in Soho Square, London.
Richard Payne Knight had been bequeathed the Downton Estate by his father, and when he came back from Italy he put his energies into building a magnificent house. Although he was elected into Parliament in 1780, he was not particularly interested in politics.
In 1814 Richard was made a Trustee of the British Museum, and he left his entire collection of art and antiques to this establishment on his death on 24th April 1824. Although he died in London, his body was taken back to Herefordshire and buried at Wormesley Church.
Thomas Andrew Knight
Thomas Andrew Knight was born at Wormsley Grange (click here for Wormsley Grange), near Weobley in Herefordshire on 19th October 1758, and was the youngest son of the Rev. Thomas Knight whose father had amassed a great deal of money through hard work and expertise as an Ironmaster. This was way before steam was used to smelt and produce iron, and the factories had to be next to running streams or rivers.
One of the Rev. Knight’s biggest forges was at Downton on the river Teme, and it was here that he built Downton Castle in the 18th century.
Thomas Andrew Knight lost his father when aged only 3, and the lack of a father figure possibly helped to shape his future; he was a country boy and was able to freely roam the fields instead of being chained to studies, and it was said that not a leaf or blossom unfolded its bud, or an animal or insect crossed his way, but it made an impression on his infant mind.
At the age of 9 he went to school in Ludlow, and then Chiswick, before going to Balliol College Oxford, but when he got back to Herefordshire, he continued with his study of nature and revelled in breeding programmes for animals.
After his marriage to Frances Felton in 1791 he initially lived at Elton Hall, Ludlow, but later moved to Downton Castle in 1809 when his brother, Richard Payne Knight, moved to London.
Thomas Andrew Knight the Horticulturist
Knight devoted a great deal of his time to studying cider apple trees, and to working out a solution to the problem of them becoming less productive and more diseased. He realised that the common method of grafting was not a huge success, and conducted several experiments over time, and fertilised the blossom of hardy crab apple trees with pollen taken from cider and dessert fruits, and then sowing the artificially impregnated trees. In the late 18th century, he sent his first paper to the Royal Society and from then on never looked back, being hailed as a very superior vegetable physiologist.
He published a book entitled “A Treatise on the Culture of the Apple and Pear, and on the Manufacture of Cider and Perry”, and was hugely knowledgeable on the subject, extending his research and expertise to plums, strawberries, nectarines and all manner of fruit.
Thomas Andrew Knight the Farmer
Thomas was also a great lover of Herefordshire cattle, and was considered a very good judge of the breed, so was frequently asked to judge at agricultural shows; he himself had the largest herd of Hereford Cattle in the country, known famously as the Leinthall herd. It was he who sought to improve the breed of draught horses by crossing big London dray horses with his own breed of a smaller more compact horse, but he died before seeing the results.
A letter to the paper in 1833 showed how he combined his desire to teach good agricultural practices with good treatment of his tenants – at the time, crops were not doing well generally, partly due to a lack of understanding of how to manage the land and the produce grown there. He was roundly praised thus:
“….although we have had occasion to mention the liberality of T. Andrew Knight Esq. of Downton Castle in various ways, by his late good judgement it will give a stimulus to his tenants to benefit themselves, and improve his land, and an example to all with the landed interest. Mr. Knight has given this year three prizes to his tenants – the first, ten dozen of hurdles to that tenant who grows the best 20 acres of turnips – the second, six dozen to the one who grows the best 15 acres; and the third, four dozen to the one who grows the best 15 acres. Those accustomed to farming must know the culture of turnips is the best method to clean the ground and to improve the land.”
The prizewinners were Mr. Ashwood of Downton who grew 40 acres all equal in goodness; Mr. Edward Ashwood the second, and Mr. Edwards of Cop Hall, the third.
He was a much loved man by all accounts, and he took great pleasure in making sure that the poor and destitute were fairly dealt with; he was extremely good natured, gentle and intelligent and was thought of as a true English country gentleman. He died in 1838 in London.
Lavish Coming of Age Party for Thomas Andrew Knight Jnr
In the evening, the tenantry of R. Payne Knight followed a playing band to the Castle, bearing a very expensive blue satin flag.
“In 1817 on Monday June 23rd the only son of Thomas Andrew Knight came of age, when the happy event was celebrated with every demonstration of joy and respect in the vicinity of Downton Castle. At a very early hour on Monday morning, the bells of Leintwardine were set in motion to ring a merry peal, being the birthday of Mr. Knight. Two oxen were roasted whole, one at Bringewood Hill and one at Long Lantall; at place a band of music attended, and eight hogsheads of cider were given to the populace, with six hundred loaves of bread, independent of twenty one hogsheads of old beer, given by Andrew Knight at the Castle. In the evening the tenantry of R. Payne Knight preceded by a band of music, went in procession to the Castle with a most costly flag, painted on blue satin with the family crest encircled with a palm, and having an angel at the top holding a scroll. There was a motto on the flat “May his happiness increase with his years” and at the bottom was a fabulous gold fringe – it was presented to Thomas Jnr. By R. Hoy; The Rev. T. Price of Birriton; J. Smith of Paton, and Mr. Wheeler of Trippleton.
Mr Hoy gave a speech, in which he eulogised on the respect held for the Knight family and offered the beautiful flag as a gift from tenants and neighbours saying that they hoped that while even a vestige of the flag remained, the name of Knight would inhabit the Castle and descend to future ages.”
Thomas Jnr answered most eloquently and emotionally and assured them that he would never forget their kindness and attention to him on that day.
More than 200 ladies and gentlemen from the neighbourhood were invited to tea, supper and a ball, with the Castle being lit up and the ballroom decorated with plants and flowers. At midnight, the supper rooms were opened and were described as an enchanted fairy palace, with every delicacy of the season provided – also many wines. The ladies ate first with Mrs. Knight presiding, followed by the gentleman with the birthday boy sitting at the head of the table. After eating, he left for the ballroom leaving Mr. Hoy to preside over the gentlemen and he kept them in high spirits until six in the morning. Those in the ballroom danced the night away and everyone felt that the occasion was a joyous and successful occasion.
Sadly, the hope of a long life at Downton Castle with children and heirs was not to be, and Thomas Andrew Knight Jnr died aged 31 following a shooting accident.
The Death of Thomas Knight
His death was a tragic accident; one Thursday, a party of his friends met at his father’s mansion preparatory to the Ludlow Assembly that evening of which he was to have been President. In the morning, they went hunting but returned early when no fox was found.
Thomas Knight was keen to further entertain his friends, so took a couple of them pheasant shooting in the woods near Downton. About a mile from the castle, a pheasant rose, and one friend brought up his gun to shoot – at the very instant that he pulled the trigger, Thomas came from behind a tree into the line of shot, and received most of the charge which entered one eye and penetrated his brain.
The friend was beside himself with horror and remorse whilst Thomas was taken home where two surgeons, Baines and Wakefield, declared that they were very much afraid that Thomas was in great danger.
Thomas died at ten the following morning surrounded by family.
The Hereford Journal Eulogy for Thomas Knight
Blessed with an understanding of the first order – heir to a large fortune – and rich in mental endowments, Mr. Knight was equally remarkable for his unassuming deportment, his exemplary moral worth, his contempt for the vicious, and his respect for the virtuous.
He was a most affectionate son and brother, a kind and indulgent landlord almost adored by his tenants, and to the poor, a discriminating and benevolent friend. Whilst a mere youth he had selected the sterile regions of the north as the first sphere of his travels, and escaped many perils in the adventurous excursion. He afterwards visited the Continent, and with a mind improved by travel, and a truly English heart, despising the littleness which seeks distinction amongst the follies of the age, he chose the nobler and more virtuous career of usefulness; and in the bosom of his affectionate and admiring family, fulfilled the amiable duties of an English country gentleman. He gave employment alike generous and considerate to all the poor and aged around him, visiting them at their humble dwellings with a courtesy that enhanced even the boons of charity and kindness; and providing for their wants and the permanent welfare of their families, he was justly termed the poor man’s friend.
By his equals he was universally beloved, admired and respected, and was distinguished by liberality, generosity, benevolence and charity.
He gave bright promise of future eminence in the more imposing duties of public life, by the best of all pledges, moral worth, in a private station, and those duties he would have doubtless been called upon to fulfil if providence had spared him.
To the truth of all we have shortly said, the deep regrets alike of the rich and the poor in the vicinity of Mr. Knight’s late happy residence and of his friends in more distance places, bear ample testimony, and by them his virtues will long be remembered, and his early death deeply lamented as a serious private calamity and a public loss.
The youngest daughter of Thomas Andrew Knight Snr, Charlotte, married Sir W.E. Rouse Boughton, Bart. Of Downton Hall, Salop (a few miles away from Downton Castle) in 1824. It was reported that on the day of the wedding, Bringwood hill opposite Downton Castle, was ablaze with the light from bonfires; four sheep were roasted and five hogsheads of cider were given to the populace along with two fat oxen distributed to the poor of Downton and Leintwardine.
There was a brilliant display of fireworks at night, and thousands cheered with fervent wishes for the lasting happiness of the pair.
Elizabeth was the second daughter of Thomas Andrew Knight Snr, and she married Francis Walpole the younger son of the Hon. Robert Walpole, formerly Envoy Extraordinary at the Court of Lisbon, and grandson of the first Lord Walpole of Walterton.
When she died, her body was brought back from Eaton Square, London to Ludlow where she was laid in the Feathers Hotel before being interred in the family vault in Elton in Herefordshire, where she was born.
Most of the shops closed for the day, and the bell of St. Lawrence tolled for an hour.
The ownership of Downton Castle
As reported above under the life of Thomas Andrew Knight Snr, the Castle was owned by his brother, Richard Payne Knight and upon his death in 1844 there was much consternation amongst the Knight family residing in Downton Castle, as well as amongst the tenantry and others, with their future seemingly in doubt.
However, the validity of Richard’s Will was proved in the House of Lords in favour of the possessors of the property, i.e. Mrs. Knight the widow of the late Thomas Andrew, brother of the testator. The relief was clearly enormous, and a huge banquet was arranged to celebrate.
There seemed to follow a period of uncertainty at Downton Castle, and it was reported in the press in 1848 that the house and gardens were in a deplorable and neglected state.
In 1852, Downton Castle was advertised for let, fully furnished, and was described as being the residence of the late Thomas Andrew Knight.
Andrew Johnes Rouse Boughton Knight
Andrew Johnes Rouse Boughton Knight was the second son of Sir William E. Rouse-Boughton, tenth baronet, of Lawford Hall Warwick, by his wife Charlotte, youngest of the three daughters and co-heirs of Mr. Thomas Andrew Knight of Downton Castle.
In 1857 he added the name “Knight” to comply with a direction in the will of his grandfather.
In 1858, Andrew Johnes Rouse Knight married Eliza, the youngest daughter of John Michael Severne of Thenford House, Northamptonshire, and the celebrations were out of this world, starting with the firing of cannon at dawn at both Downton Castle, and Downton Hall over the border in Shropshire. Many fine oxen, with bread and ample supplies of cider were provided for the “peasantry” along with the opportunity to play old English sports. Ludlow fair fell on the same day, and many neighbouring farmers and tradesmen of the town were unavoidably prevented from joining in the festivities, so it was arranged for them to have a dinner at the Feathers Hotel the following week.
Once again, the festivities were not confined to Downton Castle, but were shared with equal zeal by the tenantry at Dowton Hall, the residence of Sir Charles Boughton, brother of Mr. Knight. A series of rather funny donkey races were well contested, and there was general merriment throughout the day. They went on to have three sons and four daughters.
He was deputy Lieutenant and magistrate for Herefordshire and Salop, and served as High Sheriff for Herefordshire in 1860, as well as being chairman of the Wigmore bench of Magistrates, and was for many years a guardian of the poor.
He died in 1909 , leaving a fortune of £240,000. £11,000 had been allocated to each of his two daughters, but some legacies were revoked or reduced by codicil due to the huge increase in taxation on landed estates and the amount left to his daughters was considerably reduced.
His oldest son, Charles Andrew Boughton Knight took over Downton Castle and estate and died at the house in 1947.
Downton Castle Household and servants 1861 Census
|Andrew B. Knight||34||Land Proprietor b. Stanton Lacy|
|Charles A.B. Knight||1||Son b. Downton, Herefordshire|
|Mary Beavan||42||Housekeeper b. Rutland|
|Margaret Shea||57||Nurse b. Lambeth, Surrey|
|Martha Whittall||30||Housemaid b. Shropshire|
|Mary Downes||21||Kitchen Maid b. Shropshire|
|Betsy Shelding||22||Under Nurse b. Worcestershire|
|Charlotte Jarratt||22||Housemaid b. Leintwardine, Herefordshire|
|Elizabeth Mansell||19||Kitchen Maid b. Bayston Hill, Shropshire|
|John Griffiths||32||Coachman b. Ledbury, Herefordshire|
|Walter Spencer||24||Footman b. Suffolk|
|John Pope||19||Groom b. Tenbury, Gloucestershire|
Downton Castle Household and servants 1871 Census
|Andrew Boughton Knight||45||Landowner b. Salop|
|Eliza Boughton Knight||33||Wife b. Westbury, Salop|
|Charles Boughton Knight||11||Son b. Downton, Herefordshire|
|Anna L.F. Boughton Knight||9||Daughter b. Downton, Herefordshire|
|Katherine E. Boughton Knight||6||Daughter b. Downton, Herefordshire|
|Mary G. Boughton Knight||4||Daughter b. Downton, Herefordshire|
|Florence Boughton Knight||3||Daughter b. Downton, Herefordshire|
|Andrew G. Boughton Knight||2||Son b. Downton, Herefordshire|
|Henry Hohler||13||Visitor b. London|
|Frederick Hohler||11||Visitor b. Berkshire|
|Mary E. Rogers||21||Governess b. London|
|Anne Meridith||46||Housekeeper b. Worcester|
|Sarah Doyle||43||Head Nurse b. Dorset|
|Fanny Vigar||22||Under Nurse b. Somerset|
|Anne Ganett||18||Under Nurse b. Northamptonshire|
|Martha Whittal||39||Housemaid b. Radnorshire|
|Anne Whitney||29||Housemaid b. Radnorshire|
|Jane Hammond||17||Housemaid b. Leintwardine, Herefordshire|
|Sarah Reynolds||26||Laundry Maid b. Salop|
|Clara Weaver||20||Laundry Maid b. Salop|
|Anne Watkins||23||Kitchen Maid b. Oswestry, Salop|
|Sarah Bursell||20||Scullery Maid b. Leintwardine, Herefordshire|
|George Dalziel||36||Butler b. Durham|
|Thomas Storey||26||Footman b. Redcar, Yorkshire|
|James Steel||21||Footman b. Leicestershire|
|Maurice Hills||15||Groom b. Chipping Norton|
Downton Castle Household and Staff 1881 Census
|Andrew J.R. Boughton Knight||54||Magistrate, Landowner b. Stanton Lacy, Salop|
|Eliza R. Bought Knight||44||Wife b. Westbury, Salop|
|Lily A. Frances Boughton Knight||19||Daughter b. Downton, Herefordshire|
|Katherine E.R.B. Boughton Knight||16||Daughter b. Downton, Herefordshire|
|Mary G.R. Boughton Knight||14||Daughter b. Downton, Herefordshire|
|Florence R. Boughton Knight||13||Daughter b. Downton, Herefordshire|
|Edmund M.R. Boughton Knight||5||Son b. Downton, Herefordshire|
|Anna Von Balliodz||30||Visitor, Governess b. Prussia (British Subject)|
|Maria Belchamber||27||Cook b. Dartford, Kent|
|Emily Roberts||28||Lady’s Maid b. Cheltenham Gloucestershire|
|Louise Agnet||20||Lady’s Maid b. Switzerland|
|Martha Whitall||49||Nursemaid b. Wiltshire|
|Kate Alexander||21||Nursemaid b. Salop|
|Fanny Staley||20||Nursemaid b. Leintwardine, Herefordshire|
|Janet Crump||23||Kitchen Maid b. Wellington, Salop|
|Martha Magness||20||Scullery Maid b. Hereford|
|Harriet Russell||23||Stillroom Maid b. Onibury, Salop|
|Elizabeth Cox||18||Schoolroom Maid b. Northampton|
|George Dalziel||49||Butler b. Durham|
|William Harris||28||Footman b. Ludlow, Salop|
|Charles Noveraz||31||Footman b. Berkshire|
|Thomas Harrison||17||Usher b. Wigmore, Herefordshire|
Downton Castle Household and Servants 1901 Census
|Andrew Rouse Boughton Knight||74||Landowner and Army officer b. Stanton Lacy, Shropshire|
|Eliza Rouse Boughton Knight||64||Wife b. Westbury, Shropshire|
|Mary G. Boughton Knight||33||Daughter b. Downton, Herefordshire|
|Florence Rouse Boughton Knight||32||Daughter b. Downton, Herefordshire|
|Margaret Peareth||11||Granddaughter b. Northamptonshire|
|William Peareth||8||Grandson b. Northamptonshire|
|Eleanor McCausland||33||Visitor b. Marylebone|
|Alice C. Greathead||30||Visitor b. India|
|Winifred J. Corbett||32||Visitor, Governess b. Oswestry, Salop|
|Jane Broom||55||Housekeeper and Cook b. Shineton, Salop|
|Harriet Tudor||50||Lady’s Maid b. Monmouthsire|
|Henry Purchase||44||Butler b. Cockerham, Lancashire|
|Charles Preston||25||Footman b. dindor, Somerset|
|James Winterburne||21||Footman b. Whitby, Yorkshire|
|John Monnington||19||Usher, b. Downton, Herefordshire|
|Elizabeth Adams||27||Housemaid b. Liverpool|
|Mary Pitt||23||Housemaid b. Bromyard, Herefordshire|
|Bessy Edge||24||Kitchen Maid b. Whitchurch, Salop|
|Alice Watson||18||Scullery Maid b. Whitchurch, Salop|
|Mary Monnington||19||Scullery Maid b. Whitmore, Staffordshire|
|Florence Cattell||20||Housemaid b. Oxfordshire|
|Harriet Davis||67||Laundress b. Leintwardine, Herefordshire|
|William Cook||18||Groom b. Stanton Lacy, Salop|
|William Davies||19||Groom b. Knighton, Radnorshire|
Downton Castle Household and Servants 1911 Servants
|Eliza Rouse Boughton Knight||74||Widow b. Herefordshire|
|Florence Rouse Boughton Knight||43||Daughter b. Herefordshire|
|William Henry Coles||24||Butler b. Northamptonshire|
|Mary Rawle||37||Lady’s Maid b. Weston Super Mare, Somerset|
|Bertha Edwardes||19||Housemaid b. Kington|
|Alice Moles||15||Scullery Maid b. London|
|Minnie Evans||25||Parlourmaid b. Downton, Herefordshire|
|Clara Davis||35||Cook b. Ledbury, Herefordshire|
The following employees were not living in the Castle, but in premises in the grounds:
|John Evans||48||Coachman||b. Salop|
|Mary Evans||47||Wife||b. Salop|
|Nellie Evans||14||Daughter||b. Downton, Herefordshire|
|Bessie Evans||12||Daughter||b. Downton, Herefordshire|
|Alice Evans||11||Daughter||b. Downton, Herefordshire|
|Harry Evans||9||Son||b. Downton, Herefordshire|
|John Evans||7||Son||b. Downton, Herefordshire|
|John Thomson||38||Gardener||b. Scotland|
|Ellen Thomson||39||Wife||b. Scotland|
|James Thomson||5||Son||b. Scotland|
|David J. Griffiths||24||Gardener||b. Pembrokeshire|
Currently, the Castle and Estate is not open to the public, but it has been developed as a centre for shooting pheasants, and many of the farm buildings have been put to good use as Lodges for the shooting parties.
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