20 June 2020

Finding a missing branch
on the Wolseley family tree
and a Precentor of Killaloe

The Precentor’s stall in the choir in Saint Flannan’s Cathedral, Killaloe, Co Clare … William Wolseley was Precentor of Killaloe in 1857-1859 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

I was telling stories in Tarbert earlier this week about the Revd Sir William Augustus Wolseley (1865-1950), the eccentric 11th baronet in the Mount Wolseley branch of the family, and was prompted to recall in a blog-posting this morning my memories of Sir Charles Wolseley (1944-2018), the 11th baronet in the branch of the family that lived at Wolseley, near Rugeley in Staffordshire.

I was prompted to tell the stories of these two very different 11th baronets for overlapping reasons: Sir William Wolseley, as curate in the Kilnaughtin or Tarbert parish, had been one my predecessors of sorts, while my meetings with Sir Charles Wolseley in Rugeley and Lichfield in the early 1970s, became part of pilgrimage in life, and a journey that began in journalism but that eventually led to ordained ministry.

In a number of postings, I have been pointing out that the family trees of the two branches of the Wolseley family are often very difficult to disentangle, and at times there have been interesting shared encounters between the Comberford family and the Wolseley family in Staffordshire.

But there was at least one other member of the Wolseley family who was also my predecessor in another sort of way: the Ven William Hulbert Wolseley (1821-1899) was the Precentor of Killaloe for a few years in the mid-19th century (1857-1859), a position that I have held in these dioceses since 2017.

William Hulbert Wolseley was born on 16 June 1821, one of two sons of Major Robert Benjamin Wolseley and Alice Warren. Major Robert Benjamin Wolseley was a younger son of the Revd William Wolseley (d. 1800). Before ordination, that older William Wolseley (Archdeacon Wolseley’s grandfather), had been a captain in the 8th Hussars, and fought in the Seven Years’ War, when he took a standard at Dettingen. After ordination, he was Rector at Tullycorbet and Clontibret.

This William Wolseley was, in turn, a son of Sir Richard Wolseley (1696-1769), the first baronet in the Irish branch of the family. He was the father of a large family, including Cadwallader Wolseley (1806-1872), who was Archdeacon of Glendalough; Major Garnet Joseph Wolseley of Goldenbridge House, Dublin, who was father of both Viscount Wolseley, the famous general, and Frederick Yorke Wolseley, who gave his name to a famous car; William Wolseley, grandfather of the Revd Sir William Augustus Wolseley of Tarbert; Dr John Rogerson Wolseley, great-grandfather of Sir Garnet Wolseley (1915-1991), who succeeded as 12th baronet when he was a humble, Merseyside cobbler; and Major Robert Benjamin Wolseley (1790-1840), father of Archdeacon Wolseley, one of my predecessors as Precentor of Killaloe.

The equestrian statue of the Viscount Wolseley at Horse Guards Parade, London (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

This William Hulbert Wolseley was a first cousin of Viscount Wolseley and a first cousin of Charles Wolseley, father of William Wolseley of Kilnaughtin. He was born in Co Sligo almost 200 years ago on 16 June 1821, and was educated at Trinity College, Dublin. He was ordained deacon in 1847 and priest in 1848.

One of William’s earliest appointments was as the Precentor of Killaloe (1857-1859). Later, he was the Rector of Kilrush, Co Clare (1862-1899), Prebendary of Inishcaltra in Killaloe Cathedral from 1864, and Archdeacon of Kilfenora (1885-1899).

Archdeacon Wolseley was twice married. He first married Elizabeth Dawson in 1847, and they had a large family of seven children, three daughters and two sons, the last of whom, John Francis Wolseley, died in 1947. He was almost in his 80s when he married his second wife, Nina Sadleir, on 11 March 1899. He died two months later on 9 May 1899 at the age of 77, at the Glebe in Kilrush, Co Clare. Despite this large families, his descendants died out in the male line in 1947.

His only brother, the Revd Robert Warren Wolseley (1823-1909), was also an Anglican priest. He too was educated at TCD, and was a curate at Saint Silas, Liverpool (1848-1855).

The Revd Robert Warren Wolseley was the ancestor of James Douglas Wolseley, who is probably the 13th baronet in the Irish family. But the Wolseley family tree is so difficult to untangle that he has been unable to prove his claim to the family title since Sir Garnet Wolseley died in 1991, leaving this Irish title without a successor for almost 30 years.

Saint Senan’s Church, Kilrush, Co Clare … Archdeacon William Wolseley was Rector until his death in 1899 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Memories of the Wolseley
family and the road to
journalism and ordination

Sir Charles Wolseley and his second wife, Imogene Brown, in 1992. After their bankruptcy, they had to rely on friends

Patrick Comerford

As part of the poetry and arts short films being produced in Tarbert, Co Kerry, by local poet and writer Paddy Creedon, I have recorded two stories about 19th century curates in the Tarbert who had very different backgrounds.

The Revd Sir William Augustus Wolseley (1865-1950) was a curate in the parish for almost 20 years, and later inherited one of the two titles of baronet in the Wolseley family. The Revd Dr Alexander Patrick Hanlon (1814-1898) worked as a curate in Ballylongford during the Great Famine in the 1840s, and claimed a very different title – he claimed to be the Chief of the O’Hanlon family and called himself The O’Hanlon.

I briefly referred to the Wolseley family tree, how there are connections with the Comberford family in south Staffordshire, and how there are two different titles of baronet in the two, interconnected branches of the family, one associated with Mount Wolseley in Tullow, Co Carlow, and the other, older title, associated with Wolseley, between Rugeley and Stafford in Staffordshire.

As we were filming these stories, I thought of my happy and pleasant meetings with Sir Charles Wolseley of Wolseley, who died at the age of 73 two years ago (5 March 2018) and the consequences of those meetings for my own adult life.

In 1966, to mark the ninth centenary of the Battle of Hastings, many English newspapers searched for families who could say without doubt that they were in England from before the conquest. After exhaustive searches, they found two families that could make this claim, and both families lived in Staffordshire: the Cliffords and the Wolseleys.

The original Wolseley Hall, near Rugeley, Staffordshire, before its demolition

The Wolseley family were given their estate by King Edgar in 975 AD as a reward for ridding the area of wolves. Wolseley Park House was a 34-room Georgian home, built for the Wolseley family in 1793.

A few years later, the Lichfield Mercury commissioned me to write a number of features on historic families in the Lichfield and Rugeley area. The series begin with a full-page feature in the Lichfield Mercury and the Rugeley Mercury on the Wolseley family and Sir Charles Wolseley.

It was a well-edited feature, with a fine photograph of Charles and Anita and their young family, who welcomed me to Wolseley Park House. More features followed on the Dyott, Anson, Levett and other families, and I built up a portfolio that helped to set me up for a 30-year career journalist.

At the time, I was in my late teens training as a chartered surveyor, and Charles Wolseley was then a chartered surveyor with Smith Gore in Lichfield, driving a trademark red sports car around town, commuting daily between Lichfield and Wolseley.

Sir Charles Garnet Richard Mark Wolseley was born on 16 June 1944. His father, Captain Stephen Garnet Hubert Francis Wolseley (1918-1944), died in France six weeks later. He was a forward spotter with the Royal Artillery and was returning to his regiment when he was shot by what is now described as ‘friendly fire.’ He died on 31 August 1944, leaving a widow, Pamela and two children, Patricia and Charles.

When Captain Stephen Wolseley’s father, Sir Edric Wolseley, the tenth baronet, died in 1954, Charles succeeded as the 11th baronet. He then 10 and at prep school in Saint Bede’s, Bishton. He moved to Ampleforth at the age of 13 and joined Father Walter in Saint Cuthbert’s House.

From Ampleforth he went to Royal Agricultural College in Cirencester, where he trained to be a chartered surveyor, later becoming a Fellow of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, (FRICS). Back at Wolseley in the late 1960s, he joined the then Staffordshire Yeomanry in the Territorial Army. He was a member for five years and called himself the ‘armchair lieutenant.’

He married Anita Fried from Epsom in 1968, and they had three daughters and a son, Annabelle, Emily, Lucy and Stephen.

When I met him, he was already working as a chartered surveyor at the Lichfield branch of Smiths Gore in Lichfield, known for its rural property consultancy services. Smiths Gore started in 1847, and was merged in recent years with Savills.

He could not understand why I wanted to move from surveying to journalism. I had already inquired about finishing my training with Wintertons in Lichfield, and he wondered why I would not join him at Smiths Gore instead. He was still in his 20s, and he pointed to lifestyle he already had.

I never joined the staff of the Lichfield Mercury, nor did I pursue the prospect of joining either Smiths Gore or Wintertons in Lichfield. Instead, I became a sub-editor with the Wexford People and moved to The Irish Times in 1974.

By then, Charles had become an associate partner at Smiths Gore in 1974, and we lost contact with each other. He too soon left Lichfield to become Lord Egremont’s agent at Petworth, managing the estates at both Petworth in Sussex and Carlisle.

He continued to return to Staffordshire, and during the shooting season there were fortnightly shoot meets at Wolseley. Charles and Anita divorced in 1984, and later that year he married the American writer Imogen (Jeannie) Brown, originally from Dayton, Ohio, who was researching a book on American heiresses who married impoverished English aristocrats.

Wolseley Park House was a 34-room Georgian home, built for the Wolseley family in 1793. The house was crammed with giant portraits of his ancestors, dating back to the reign of James I. Above the staircase, near the games room, was a giant painting of his great-grandmother, Anna Theresa Murphy, being confirmed by Pope Leo XIII.

Wolseley Centre … between Rugeley and Stafford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Charles took a brave step in 1987 when he decided to leave Petworth and return to Wolseley with plans to open the 45-acre landscaped gardens, attracting 250,000 visitors a year.

Wolseley Garden Park cost £1.73 million and was opened by Lord Rothschild in 1990. But the place only took in between £26,000 and £30,000 on gate receipts in its first year. The bank withdrew funding before the garden park was completed, and so had little chance of succeeding.

Charles was made bankrupt in May 1996 with debts of £2.5 to £3 million, which he blamed on the recession and high interest rates. He lost the 1,490 acre Staffordshire estate that had been given to the Wolseley family by King Edgar in 975 AD as a reward for ridding the area of wolves – the latest generation had failed to keep the wolf from the door.

Wolseley Park House and the Wolseley estate … in hands of the Wolseley family from the year 975 (Photograph: Stefano Martini / Staffordshire Past and Present)

As parts of the land were sold off to repay his debts, Charles was allowed to stay at Wolseley Park House for a time. At one stage, his debts reached an estimated £4.6 million. The tabloid press referred to him in headlines as the ‘bankrupt baronet,’ but the people of Rugeley were kind and supported them in many ways. Frequently they discovered gifts of food, money and even a car delivered to the house.

Wolseley Park House too was sold off for an undisclosed sum by the Royal Bank of Scotland, which had been secured creditors for the failed garden park venture. The Wolseleys were left with the standard pension credit for married couples. They moved into a new barn conversion near Penkridge offered by friends, and there they lived in genteel poverty.

The Wolseley family motto is Homo Homini Lupus, ‘Man is a wolf to his fellow man’ – it became a lived experience for Charles Wolseley in recent years.

I wrote to him when I heard about his problems, enclosed a cutting of that full-page the Lichfield Mercury and the Rugeley Mercury. I thanked him for an opportunity that secured a career in journalism that lasted most of my adult life, and thanked him too for that offer at Smiths Gore.

My visits to Lichfield had been life-changing in more ways that he or I would have ever realised. A visit to the chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield, on one sunny afternoon at the time had a profound effect on my religious life – little did I realise it was the beginning of the pilgrimage that would shape my future and eventually lead to ordination.

In his reply, he enclosed photographs of his daughter’s wedding in Malta – the same daughter who featured in that photograph in the Lichfield Mercury – and stories about his son Stephen. We agreed to meet again for dinner some time in the future when I was back in Lichfield, or perhaps in Dublin.

He was stoical and good-natured about his new circumstances, even as his debts mounted to several million pounds. Underneath all the bluster lay a heart of gold. His friends describe him as kind, considerate, loving and a great friend in spite of all the knocks that would have brought down any other man. Among his friends, he enjoyed talking about gardening, and when he gave the Latin names of plants he was never wrong. He was also a fine watercolour artist.

We never had that dinner – in Lichfield or in Dublin. Sir Charles Wolseley died on 5 March 2018. His funeral took place on 24 March 2018 at Saint Joseph and Saint Etheldreda Catholic Church, Rugeley.

The title has passed on to his son, Sir Stephen Garnet Hugo Charles Wolseley, as 12th Baronet. He went to school at Worth Abbey. He married the former Mary-Kate Quinlan, and they are the parents of two sons: Nicholas William Garnet Wolseley (born 2010) and Patrick Anthony Charles Wolseley (born 2014).

Wolseley Park House, near Rugeley, Staffordshire, was built in 1793