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, 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.

Charlotte Knight

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 Knight

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

 

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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