18 January 2023

A fruitless search for a link
between the Ansons of Lichfield
and the streets of Wolverton

Anson Road, Wolverton … in search of a connection with Lichfield and the family of the Earls of Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

On the way between Stony Stratford and Wolverton, on the northern fringes of Milton Keynes, I regularly pass by Anson Road, off Stratford Road, at the west end of Wolverton. The name made me ask whether there was a link between Lichfield and the Earls of Lichfield in the Anson family on one hand and the street names in Wolverton on the other.

When the Lichfield title was held by the Lee family, George Henry Lee (1718-1772), 3rd Earl of Lichfield and Chancellor of Oxford University, was chair of the Radcliffe Trustees and was instrumental in shaping what became the Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford. I saw his portrait while I was staying in the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford after my stroke last year.

However, this particular Earl of Lichfield was not part of the Anson family, and the title of Earl of Lichfield died out in the Lee family in 1776, a century before the terraced housing and streets of Wolverton were developed on the Radcliffe Estate.

The title of Earl of Lichfield was revived for Thomas Anson at the coronation of William IV in 1831, and I searched in the Anson family stories to see which member of the family had given Anson Road in Wolverton its name.

Anson Road was named after Sir William Reynell Anson (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

So, it seems, Anson Road was named after Sir William Reynell Anson (1843-1914), 3rd Baronet, once a trustee of the Radcliffe Estate. Anson was a jurist, Warden of All Saints’ College, Oxford, an MP for Oxford, and the author of two standard works on law.

The title of baronet in the Anson family was first given to his grandfather, Sir William Anson, in 1831. He was a younger brother of both Thomas Anson, 1st Viscount Anson, and General Sir George Anson, and the uncle of Thomas Anson, who became 1st Earl of Lichfield that same year, in 1831.

Sir William Anson was born at Walberton, Sussex, on 14 November 1843, the eldest son of Sir John William Hamilton Anson (1816-1873), 2nd Baronet, and Elizabeth Catherine (née Pack), making him a second cousin of Thomas Francis Anson (1856-1918), 3rd Earl of Lichfield – a very different 3rd Earl of Lichfield to the Radcliffe Estate trustee in Oxford who was instrumental in founding the Radcliffe Hospital.

William Anson was educated at Eton and Balliol College, Oxford. He took a first class in both Classical Moderations, 1863, and Literae Humaniores (‘Greats’ or philosophy and classics), in 1866. He was elected a Fellow of All Souls’ College, Oxford, in the following year.

Anson was called to the Bar in 1869, and went on the home circuit until 1873, when he succeeded to the family title of baronet. In 1874, he became Vinerian reader in English law at Oxford, a post attached to a Fellowship of All Souls’ College, which he held until he became the Warden of All Souls’ College in 1881.

Anson became an alderman of the city of Oxford in 1892, chair of the quarter sessions in Oxfordshire in 1894, was Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University (1898-1899), and Chancellor of the Diocese of Oxford in 1899. In that year he was elected, without opposition, as MP for Oxford University as a Liberal Unionist, and so he resigned as vice-chancellor of the university.

In Parliament, Anson had an active interest in education, and was a member of the newly created consultative committee of the Board of Education in 1900. He became the first Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education in 1902, and held the post until 1905. He became a Privy Counsellor in 1911.

Anson took an active part in the foundation of a school of law at Oxford, and taught law to undergraduates at Trinity College, Oxford, from 1886 to 1898. His volumes on The Principles of the English Law of Contract (1884) and on The Law and Custom of the Constitution in two parts, ‘The Parliament’ and ‘The Crown’ (1886-1892), became standard works.

Sir William Anson died on 4 June 1914, aged 70. He never married and the title of baronet passed to his nephew, Sir Denis Anson, who drowned in the Thames in July 1914, aged only 25. The title is now held by Sir Philip Rowland Anson, who became the eighth baronet in 2018.

So, I could find no direction between the Ansons, Earls of Lichfield, and the development of Victorian housing and streets in Wolverton. Instead, the story of William Anson led me to the peculiar decision to name some of those streets after colleges in Oxford.

But more about those street names on another day.

A portrait of George Henry Lee, 3rd Earl of Lichfield, in the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

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