Eleanor Morris-Keating and The Estcourt Family

Eleanor Morris-Keating and The Estcourt Family

We record with great regret the death of Eleanor Morris-Keating on 16th June 2012. She was by some degree our oldest member. Eleanor was born in 1915, the third of the four children of the Southeron Estcourt and, as she outlived her siblings, at her death, she was the last member of the family to have once held the Estcourt name. It, therefore, seems an appropriate time to recall something of the history of this ancient family, who were our close neighbours over some seven hundred years.

The Estcourt family must surely be one of the oldest county families in Gloucestershire. They were established in Shipton Moyne by the beginning of the fourteenth century and the Park had been created by 1515. A succession of manor houses occupied the site, but the last and largest was demolished in 1964 as many people in Tetbury will remember. The influence that this important family exercised on the town over many centuries must have been considerable, as their estates abutted on the boundaries of the town.

In 1598 when Hexham made his Survey of Tetbury for Lord Berkeley, who was then Lord of the Manor, all the property in the town had been leased out.  Most of the land attached to the manor was held by John Savage, but Thomas Estcourt Esq. held a considerable number of burgages and tenements in the town (including the "fair new building" which was The Close) and his brother, George, held even more. George also leased "all the profits of the fayres and markets within the Manor and Borough of Tetbury for 21 years" until Sir William Romney acquired these and gave them to the townspeople, probably to George's disgruntlement. Thomas was succeeded in 1599 by his son, Sir Thomas Estcourt. He and his wife, Dame Mary Savage, had no children, but seem to have had various nieces and nephews living with them at Lasborough. To provide for two of the younger members of their respective families a marriage was arranged between his niece, Mary Estcourt, and her nephew, Francis Savage, and the young couple were given The Close in Tetbury as their home. (It remained in the possession of the Savage family until the middle of the 19th century.)

This Sir Thomas was known as Sir Thomas of Lasborough and Estcourt, and he actually lived at Lasborough. Those who know this delightful valley may well think that this influenced his choice, but another reason may have been that there were, surprisingly, at this time two important estates in Shipton Moyne and it was the Hodges family who were actually the Lords of the Manor. In the eighteenth century, the Hodges family died out and in 1794 the heir to the estate sold the property and . the Manor to Thomas Estcourt, thus uniting the two estates. (Later their manor house was demolished: now only Hodges Barn and the adjacent cottages are left as reminders of this ancient estate.)

Other branches of the Estcourt family owned great swathes of property along the Gloucestershire / Wiltshire borders. One was the Pinkney branch, another was at Cam and another at Burton Hill, outside Malmesbury. At one time there were two important Estcourt houses in Long Newnton However the senior branch of the family was always the branch which had its seat at Estcourt in Shipton Moyne. Over the centuries property passed from one branch to another, but eventually, much of it came together in the possession of Edmund, who in his will, in 1754, left to Thomas, his heir, the Manors of Shipton Moyne, Lasborough, Dursley, Long Newnton, Shrewton and Rolleston and Frampton Mansell, farms at Bowldown and Calcott, lands and houses in the parishes of Avening, Sapperton, Minchinhampton and Tarlton and land and houses in Tetbury itself.

For the most part, the Estcourts played little part on the national scene but were content with their local role and status - and with the management of their interests and property. However in the sixteenth century "old Sir Thomas Estcourt" was one of the Knights of the Shires representing Gloucestershire and throughout the nineteenth century successive heads of the family represented North Wiltshire in Parliament. (It should be remembered that at that period the Wiltshire boundary ran to Tetbury town boundary.) When George T. J. Estcourt, later Baron Estcourt, died childless in 1915 there were no immediate heirs and the property passed to a distant cousin, Canon Edmund Walter Estcourt, at one time Rector of Long Newnton and in 1910 the Rector of Shipton Moyne. He passed it over to his son Thomas Edmund Southeron Estcourt, (who was for a short time MP for Pontefract in Yorkshire where the family also had property). This was Eleanor’s father.

After the Second World War, the estate was evidently in decline as were many old estates. When he died in 1956 the property passed to his elder son Desmond, at which point it became increasingly obvious that the estate could not be saved and, as Desmond was unmarried and his younger brother Giles had been killed in action in 1943, there were no male heirs to succeed. Estcourt House was demolished in 1964 at a time when many such large properties were deemed unsustainable. Had it survived another ten or fifteen years it might have been saved by being divided into a number of handsome apartments, as were others of its size and status. In 1996 the estate was finally sold to Sheik Khaled Abdullah and today is run as a stud farm as part of his Juddmonte Farms.

The society that Eleanor Estcourt was born into in 1915 was a very different society from the one we live in today. Brought up in Estcourt Park, and briefly, in Yorkshire and London she was privately educated and in the period between the wars she lived a life usual to those of her

Position in society. In 1937 she married Mr P.S. Morris-Keating at St Margaret's Westminster with 15 bridesmaids in attendance, leaving the church beneath the crossed swords of a Guard of Honour. After the retirement of Major Morris-Keating and the demolition of Estcourt House,  Eleanor and her husband lived at The Priory in Long Newnton. A plane had crashed on this old house during the war and had largely demolished it, but the Morris-Keatings employed the local and very widely respected architect, Oliver Hill, to design a new country house for them on the site and Eleanor was immensely pleased with it. However, much later, they moved to Walnut Cottage in Estcourt Park, very close to the house where her brother Desmond lived. After the death of her husband, this was felt to be rather too remote, so Eleanor moved into a small bungalow in Close Gardens, Tetbury, very convenient for the town. It must have been a very great wrench to leave the estate on which she had been brought up and which had belonged to her family for centuries but she seemed to settle down amongst us with great grace. It became her home and she remained here till her death on June 16th 2012. For her funeral, the church at Shipton Moyne was festooned with garden flowers - flowers in the colours which she loved, from her own garden and the gardens of her friends. She had left very specific instructions that there was to be 'NO EULOGY' and her wishes were respected then and must be so now, but the church was packed with her many friends.

Eleanor never spoke much about her heritage, but, attending church regularly in Shipton Moyne, she always sat alone in the Estcourt Chapel, thus paying the respect due to her ancestors and quietly claiming the privilege of her family membership. There are in the Estcourt chapel two splendid monuments, one to the Elizabethan Thomas and his wife and family, the other to Sir Thomas of Lasborough and his wife Dame Mary, which was brought here from the church at Lasborough in the nineteenth century. It was fitting that Eleanor's coffin rested here alongside them for the funeral service before she was buried with her husband in the churchyard.

Written by Pat Rees