Detail image of the Hungerford Deed’s first page, with reference to Lumley Hungerford Keate’s residence at Studley House highlighted. Original image courtesy of Michael Barnes, Smithsonian Institution Archives, Accession 19-150.

Tracing Inheritance in the Hungerford Deed

The Hungerford Deed split an inherited estate between two sisters—but what do we know about those properties? We’ve dug deep into one of them here.

During this period of extended telework, I have turned from my normal conservation treatments to digital efforts, including research into the Hungerford Deed, and have learned a staggering amount of fascinating information. In various posts on the The Bigger Picture, I’ve covered the family history contained within the legal document, information about the legal structure and content, and most recently, a few tidbits about the Deed that spark my interest and my hopes for the Deed’s future.

I hope it’s clear that from the breadth of topics already covered in my posts that there is a wealth of knowledge to be gleaned from the Deed. I could probably spend the rest of my career digging in to the minutiae! But in the midst of my research, I have been slowly refining my focus and drilling down into what I feel are the essentials for our readers.

One of those areas is where I’d like to focus in this post—the specific family lands mentioned in the Deed, that are divided between Elizabeth Macie, James Smithson’s mother, and her sister, Henrietta Maria Walker (for ease of reference, I’ll refer to them together as the Keate sisters, their maiden name, which will also help keep track of their relationship to other family members).

So many questions arise: how did these lands come into the family? Are they long-term inheritance properties or recently acquired parcels? Who had custody of them previously, within and without the Hungerford family? And what, if anything, do we know about those places today? These questions can’t be answered firmly in all cases, but I’m going to focus on one property in particular and share what I have learned about it by digging through Hungerford family wills.

In my research so far, one of the properties that comes up again and again is Studley House. When the Keate sisters became co-heirs to their deceased brother, Lumley Hungerford Keate, properties in Studley were part of that inheritance—in fact, Lumley was resident at Studley House at the time of his death, which we know because it is specifically stated in the Hungerford Deed. The property is located in the village of Studley, near a market town called Calne, about 100 miles from London on the motorway.

A close-up view of a parchment sheet, with a wavy indented top edge, covered closely with black ink

As I researched family documents held at the National Archives of the United Kingdom online to learn more about the family and their inheritances, I came across numerous Hungerford relatives’ wills. One of the first wills I encountered was that of Walter Hungerford, the Keate sisters’ great-great-uncle, younger brother to their paternal grandmother, Frances Hungerford Keate. (You can access his will yourself on the UK National Archives’ website.) 

Walter was the heir to their family’s wealth after his elder brother, George, died prematurely (in fact, according to the History of Parliament: The House of Commons, edited by Dayton, Cruickshanks, and Handley, much of Walter’s prestige or prominence in life was due to opportunities vacated by his brother’s untimely death, including seats in Parliament and his position as heir). We know that the Studley House and property were acquired at some point prior to Walter’s adulthood. It was his primary residence and a base from which he acquired other local lands to amass wealth and influence. Walter had no children of his own. In his will, he left Studley House to his nephew, George Hungerford, and to George’s male heirs “lawfully begotten,” creating an entail restricting ownership in the next generation to male descendants, which fans of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice or of Downton Abbey will be familiar with.

As it happened, George didn’t father any sons, either, and his only daughter, Eliza, died young. Per the terms of Walter’s will, the house passed to John Keate, another nephew, and father of Macie, Walker, and their brother, Lumley. In addition to Studley House, John Keate, also inherited manors called Rodbourne (another legacy that initially went to his cousin, George) and Durnford, both of which are properties mentioned in the Hungerford Deed. 

So, to recap, we know that Walter’s fortune descended to John Keate, whose family is the crux of our interest. Lumley, as we know, died intestate and without heirs, leaving his sisters co-heirs. But which Keate sister received Studley House—and what do we know about the property today?

A close-up view of a parchment sheet, covered closely with black ink writing. A passage is highlight

Though Studley House is not mentioned by name in the Deed’s property lists or schedules, a quick web search helped us to determine the property’s fate. British History Online gives a detailed history of Calne, the market town closest to Studley, and its environs. According to the entry, a manor house was documented as early as 1240, but the house we’re concerned about is thought to be a later construction on the same site. It was further replaced by a farmhouse built from stone rubble, believed to date from between 1773 and 1800. Another site, Historic England, the planning and supervisory body of English Heritage’s historic properties (similar to the National Register of Historic Places in the U.S.) focuses on the stone farmhouse. Along with details of the house’s construction, the page describes a date plaque declaring the house to belong to the Earl of Crewe “to whom the Studley House estate passed from the Hungerford family.” (You can also see an image of the farmhouse on this page.) 

How did that occur? Genealogical research, including that done by Heather Ewing in her biography of James Smithson, shows us that Henrietta Maria Walker’s daughter, Henrietta Maria Anna, married John, 2nd Baron Crewe; their descendants were raised to an earldom and, later, marquisate. This research reveals that Studley House was passed to Walker and thence to her Crewe descendants. Further, according to the Historic England page, Studley House belonged to a Norborne family in 1611, and came into the possession of the Hungerfords in the late 17th century, at least a few generations before Walter left it to his nephews. 

A final, tantalizing note from Historic England indicates that Studley House burned down in about 1800, on the later end of the estimate British History Online offered as a construction date of the farmhouse. Henrietta Maria died in 1803, so she was almost certainly in possession of the property when the fire occurred. Perhaps the stone rubble the farmhouse was built from came from the burnt ruins of the manor house? Whatever the answer to that question might be, it’s a fascinating thought.

How does all of this add value to our understanding of the Hungerford Deed? There are two principal thoughts that come to my mind. First, seeing the history of some of these properties and their current state brings them into sharp relief against the dry legalese of the Deed and offers them a tangibility that might otherwise be absent. A visitor to rural Wiltshire could visit these properties and see for themselves where the Hungerfords lived, loved, and sued each other. Second, the very human story represented in these tangled paths of inheritance enhances our knowledge of James Smithson as his family’s character is brought to life. Smithson clearly came from a family of passionate temperament; I believe this helps us better understand his passion-driven and somewhat unusual decision to will his fortune to a nascent country that he never visited, to found an institution “for the increase and diffusion of knowledge.” His family’s legal dealings, represented in the Hungerford Deed, are helping us fulfill that very mission, even now. This is his legacy.

Related Resources

    • A Tale of Three Contracts,” by William Bennett, The Bigger Picture, Smithsonian Institution Archives
    • ‘To Have and to Hold’: Parsing the Legal Framework of the Hungerford Deed,” by William Bennett, The Bigger Picture, Smithsonian Institution Archives

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