SELWYN, William (c.1658-1702), of Matson and Stonehouse, Glos., and Cleveland Court, St. James’s, Mdx.

From the text of a talk given by Nick Selwyn to the Richmond Local History Society in 2009:

“…we can see the family descent from William Selwyn, who died in Jamaica in 1702, where he had served as Governor-General. He had been a career officer in the King’s Guards under Charles II and James II and had made his peace with William of Orange during the Glorious Revolution. He had fought in the wars against Louis X1V and had risen to the rank of Major General. (There) is a portrait of him by Sir Godfrey Kneller, the court painter, who coincidentally lived at Kneller Hall in nearby Whitton, in a house he had built in 1709.

At that time the family lived at Matson, a smallish but charming Elizabethan Manor house situated in the Cotswold Hills, a few miles south-west of the city of Gloucester. The house and land was acquired by Jasper Selwyn between 1597 and 1614. He was a barrister and later Treasurer of Lincoln’s Inn, thereby commencing a close link between the Selwyns and Lincoln’s Inn, which was to re-emerge in the 19th century.

The Estate enjoyed a truly arcadian setting in the 18th century, which today has  sadly been completely destroyed by the worst kind of urban blight imaginable! Here we find our first Richmond link. There is a Matson Villas to be found at the junction of Sheen and Church roads. William Selwyn married well and was wealthy enough in 1694 to purchase a fine town house in Cleveland Row, St James’s, opposite the Palace. The house standing is the second house on this spot and is today the headquarters of Pilkington Glass. His wife Albinia Betenson inherited property in Chislehurst, Kent, a fact which later became immortalised in Richmond with the naming of Chislehurst Road. I will be coming back later to Selwyn related and inspired Richmond and Kew street and road names. The name Albinia was henceforth frequently used as a Selwyn family name.

Matson gained prominence in August 1643 during the Royalist siege of Gloucester when the House was requisitioned by Charles 1 with his two sons Charles and James. At that time there were springs on the steep hill behind the house, which controlled the city’s water supply, so Matson held a strategic advantage for the Royalists. The two boys spent much of their time confined to an attic room where they whiled away their days carving notches in the windowsill. Ultimately the siege was called off on 5th September, when the Royalists learned of the advance of the Earl of Essex. The King’s failed  attempt to capture Gloucester was one of the turning-points in the Civil War.

The contrast between this small rural manor house and their normal palatial London surroundings must have been pretty stark and it is recorded that on asking their father when they were returning home, their father replied despondently:  “Sadly  My  boys methinks I have no home to go to.”

Let us now return to the 18th century and the next generation of the Selwyn Lineage – the three sons of General William Selwyn:  John, Charles and Henry…

Brother Charles of whom sadly no portrait survives resigned his commission in 1715 and found a new career joining the Household of the new Prince of Wales, George Augustus of Hanover as Gentleman Usher and later first Equerry to his wife Caroline of Ansbach. Caroline it was who incidentally had Maids  of Honour Row  built for her ladies-in-waiting on Richmond Green in 1724-26. It was this appointment that brought Charles Selwyn to Richmond in 1718, since George and Caroline had chosen Richmond Lodge –formerly   Ormonde, Lodge, in what is today Old Deer Park, as their country residence. In 1718, Charles married at Somerset House, Mary, the widow of William Houblon, a nephew of Sir John Houblon, the first Governor of the Bank of England. The Bank of England was founded in 1694 at a time of similar national peril as we face today as the government desperately sought to raise funds to prosecute the war against the might of Louis X1V. The Houblons were wealthy Huguenots and a prominent Richmond family, who gave their name to Richmond’s oldest surviving Almshouses still in their original state founded by Rebecca Houblon in 1759. Rebecca lived with her sister in Ellerker House, which we know today, of course, as the Old Vicarage School.

In 1720, Charles and Mary bought a large area of farmland, mostly running up the slopes of the hill and stretching down to Kew parallel with the Kew Road. The land consisted of 105 acres and is well documented on early maps and plans, particularly Thomas Richardson’s map of 1771. The title to much of this land was copyhold, which meant that all transactions had to be registered and approved by the Manor Court. A curious feature of copyhold, under a branch of property law known as Borough English was that all land held by copyhold passed down through the youngest son or daughter, as it indeed did in the case of the Selwyn Estate…

SELWYN, Charles (1689-1749), of West Sheen, Surr.:

…Charles decided to bequeath the 105 acres valued at £192 a year to his brother’s younger son William, who came to live in Richmond in 1761, first at Larkfield Lodge, just off the Lower Richmond Road, and then a house called Pagoda House, later named Selwyn Court, built for him in 1810 on the Kew Road on the site of the present Christ Church in the area of Selwyn Avenue…

…I have already made reference to William Selwyn, who inherited the Richmond Estate from his uncle Charles. William was an astute lawyer, who continuing the family tradition, became Treasurer of Lincoln’s Inn, whilst residing at Selwyn Court. He in turn was succeeded by his son, also William, who likewise proved to be an able lawyer and had the honour of instructing Prince Albert in the niceties of British constitutional law. William was described by the Prince in a letter to Stockmar as “old, bald-headed, lame, with staring eyes, skin like parchment and a voice like a lion”.  One wonders whether with all their legal work they had as much time to devote to local affairs as Major Charles, but with their large Estate still intact they would have held a very prominent position in Richmond society and received an enviable income from their land. Whilst stopping at the traffic lights at the bottom of the Lower Mortlake Road as one enters onto the Richmond Circus, if one looks sharp right one can see two intertwined Initials WS dated 1853. This is the monogram of William Selwyn the younger and is one of the few remaining relics of the Selwyn Estate (see image).

The marble memorials of the two Williams together with those of their wives can be seen on the south wall of our parish church. The second William left the Estate to his heir and youngest surviving son, Sir Charles Jasper Selwyn ,Lord Justice of Appeal…”

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