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According to a map of about 1630, the Church Field, which lies between Main Street, St Margaret's Church and the site of the demolished manor house, was at the centre of the original village of Wolston. If you imagine cottages here, the position of the church makes more sense, otherwise it is rather remote from the village we see today.
A fire in 1634 destroyed at least two of these original houses and George Warner, the Lord of the Manor at that time, suggested that replacements should be built elsewhere. A combination of fire and a man's desire to see his fine manor house fronted by good pastureland seems to have conspired to give us this rather lovely rural and unusual setting for the church today, now part of a conservation area. We are in the manor of Wolston, divided from the manor of Marston Manor - by the brook which runs through the centre of the village.
The original Wolston manor house may have been on a moated site just west of the church, beside the River Avon. We don't know when the manor house first moved to the site here, just south east of the church, but this is where it was shown on the map of 1630 and where it remained until the house was demolished in 1928.
After the royalist George Warner lost his estates during the civil war they were snapped up cheaply in 1650 by Sir Peter Wentworth, whose father had married the daughter of Roger Wigston of the Priory. This resulted in a dispute about the title to the estate at the Restoration but the Wentworths kept it and Sir Peter was assessed for paying tax on 13 hearths in 1670. Sir Peter died unmarried and the estate passed to his great nephew Fisher Dilke who took the name Wentworth.
In 1712 the manor house was bought by Letitia Pinchen, whose daughter, also Letitia, married John Wilcox of Brandon. John Wilcox called himself Lord of the Manor but his widow retained ownership of it, which shed doubt on his use of the title.
Letitia Pinchen's daughters sold the estate in 1740 to a wealthy and independent widow, Susan Hubert, who rebuilt the house. Nat Alcock's article about Susan's pre-nuptial agreement of 1751 includes an inventory of her personal possessions. This gives us a detailed account of what the mid 15th century Wolston manor house and its furnishings were like. Susan owned a good deal of expensive jewellery, several pictures, including a rather dubious Rubens, a quantity of silver-plate and some fine walnut and mahogany furniture. Even the servants' hall had a mahogany table and 10 walnut chairs. As well as Susan herself, the house was occupied by her daughter, Susannah Sophia, her companion, Susan's maid, the cook and the butler with no doubt more servants in the outbuildings/and gardens.
In 1766 Susan Huberts daughter, Susannah Sophia, married George Scott, an army Major (later General), who was an illegitimate son of the Duke of Buccleuch. The Wolston estate was held in trust for them but was later sold to payoff Georges debts and was bought in 1826 by William Wilcox. On his death in 1853, the estate passed to his son, Charles Walford Wilcox, whose family lived there until the house was demolished in 1928. The family, no longer in Wolston, still own parts of the estate today.
The house, which had been altered since-Susan Hubert's day, stood in an area of parkland fringed by woods, known as The Grove. In order to not spoil the view as the owner and his guests took leisurely carriage rides in the grounds the corn mill standing on the river bank was given decorative and attractive ecclesiastical style windows.
At the front, the drive swept in a large arc from the road over a small bridge and a local man wrote in the early 1900s: "It was lovely to see the Carriage & Pair travelling in & Out of the Manor House grounds. The Manor House was a lovely large house. They employed quite a large staff of men & women. There were servants of all kinds including cooks and butlers, and outside were grooms, gardeners, farm-hands and keepers”
In the 1891 census there were 7 servants listed: 2 footmen, a housekeeper, lady's maid, nurse, housemaid and kitchen maid. The Wilcox family were obviously good employers, retaining a number of servants over many years. Emily Copson was -with them for 40 years and Joseph Drinkwater was coachman to Mr Wilcox for 50 years.
The manor house was the first house in the village to have electric lighting, powered by its own generator. The kitchen garden is now partly occupied by the primary school with the wall forming the side of a walkway between modern buildings.
In 1911 Charles Wilcox’s daughter, Mary Hilda, married Captain Eric Hoffgaard. Their son, Robert, reverted to using Wilcox as his family name. Their youngest daughter, still alive in her 90s in 2010, says that the house was demolished because her mother felt it was a dark and damp place and was probably responsible for the deaths of five of her brothers and sisters.
The house was demolished in 1928; we have details of the sale. For instance, the staircase made of oak and deal was sold for £13, whereas the walnut panelling went for £450 and a Jacobean chest for £89.5s. Following the demolition of this, the original manor house, the family renamed the C18th house at the top end of Main Street as The Manor House - this building remained in the Wilcox's ownership until 1952.
Wolston Manor, the ancestral home of the Wilcox family, was situated amid a wealth of artistic and well-wooded grounds, and many Rugby people became acquainted with the sylvan beauty of the surroundings by visiting the Annual Flower Show there.
Some years ago, the late Mr. Wilcox let the Manor to Admiral Sir Reginald Baron, and during that time he occupied the Gate House.
On the Wolston Manor estate at that time there was a delightful old stone structure - Priory Farm - that for many years was tenanted by the late Mr. John Cave. The ancient arched doorway leading to the entrance hall was one of its chief delights; and the quaint dormer windows in the upper storeys, with their equally picturesque gables and pinnacles, were amongst the best preserved in the district.
There was a quaint chamber beneath the broad oaken staircase, where one of the earliest printing presses was employed. It is a matter of history that at Wolston Priory (now the Priory Farm) some of the Martin Marprelate tracts were surreptitiously printed.