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A Short History of Maxstoke Castle

 

CHAPTER 4:    THE DILKE FAMILY

The origins of the Dilke family are uncertain but it is believed that they came to England from southern Denmark, or what is now Schleswig-Holstein, and settled, with others from that region, in the east Midlands.

The first member of the family of whom there is anything known is Thomas Dilke (I), who was born about 1500. He held the post of Bailiff to the Abbot of Leicester and it seems that, by wise speculation in land, he amassed a considerable fortune. His son, Richard, was born about 1535 and died in 1594. A memorial to him can be seen in the church at Kirkby Mallory in Leicestershire, depicting him with his first and second wives and thirteen children. Richard's eldest son, Thomas (II), later Sir Thomas, married Anne, daughter of Sir Clement Fisher of Packington and, in 1599, purchased the Castle and estate from Sir Thomas Egerton. A portrait of Anne hangs in the Oak Drawing Room and she and Sir Thomas appear carved in effigy at the top of the mantelpiece.

The first few years of the 17th century must have been a period of great activity at Maxstoke for the new owner was engaged in restoring the Castle and carrying out extensive alterations to adapt it to the style of living of the period and to his personal taste. The principal works undertaken were the division of the Great Hall into two storeys, the completion and decoration of the principal rooms of the north range and the enlargement of the Banqueting Hall windows. It is possible that, at this time, the Castle was re-roofed with large, red tiles, replacing the small, stone tiles of earlier years (examples of both were recovered during the restoration of the Castle in the 1970s).

Sir Thomas Dilke (II) died in 1618 leaving two sons, the elder named Thomas (III) (1589-1632) and the younger, Fisher (1595-1660). The latter, a physician by profession married Sibell, daughter of Nicholas Wentworth of Lillingston Lovell, Oxfordshire. It was from this Fisher Dilke that the Victorian statesman, Sir Charles Wentworth Dilke, Bart., was descended and that branch of the family - and the name Fisher - survives to the present day in the direct male line.

Thomas (III), the elder son, married twice - his first wife being Howard, daughter of Edward Devereux of Castle Bromwich. She had one son who died young. He married secondly, Elizabeth Bonham who, having borne him four sons and two daughters, outlived him by 56 years.

On Thomas (III)'s death in 1632, his eldest son, William (I) (1615-1669) inherited Maxstoke and was thus in occupation during the Civil War. For a time, until 1648, the Castle was garrisoned by Lord Brooke with fifty soldiers and on two occasions the Council of State considered rendering Maxstoke untenable. It must have been a difficult and anxious time for William (I) and in 1651 he was obliged to "give security in 2000 pounds that his house called Maxstock Castle shall not be used of or possessed by our enemies". In the event the Castle was not seriously slighted, though it probably suffered to some extent from military occupation. It seems unlikely that any further improvements or major works were carried out during this period.

William (I) was twice married - first to Lettice, daughter of Robert, Lord Digby. She died in 1656 without issue. His second wife was Honor, daughter of humble, Lord Ward of Birmingham. She outlived her husband by 30 years having borne him four sons and a daughter - the youngest son being born after his father's death.

In 1660, William (I) was commissioned a Lieutenant in No. 2 Troop of the Warwickshire Militia (14). (The Quartermaster of that Troop was Francis Fetherston who, in 1682, was slain by a trooper in Kensington Fields after an argument. The coat he wore that day hangs in the Banqueting Hall.)

William (I)'s eldest son, Ward, was only seven years of age when his father died in 1669 and so, not for the first time, a widow was left in charge of Maxstoke. Shortly before Ward came of age in 1681, a robbery took place at the Castle, the culprit being a coachman who had served the family for many years. With an accomplice, he swam the moat and surprised the family and servants in their beds. Having bound them hand and foot, the robbers encountered the jester, Tom Grainger, bound his hands and forced him to show then where the plate was kept. The robbers then swam the moat and escaped. The jester gave the alarm and released the occupants of the Castle who gave chase and caught up with the thieves at Uxbridge. Many years later, some of the silver was recovered from the moat when it was being cleaned out. A portrait of Tom Grainger hangs in the library.

In 1697 Ward Dilke married Mary, daughter of Sir Edward Littleton of Tamworth, at one time Lord Chancellor. Mary Dilke's portrait, painted in 1691 by Goddard Dunning, hangs in the library with that of her father, her husband, painted in 1688 by Sir Godfrey Kneller, and two of their three children William (II) and Frances (1700-1740).

There are no significant alterations or additions which can be definitely attributed to Ward Dilke, though a plaque in the angle of the north and west ranges indicates that some work was done in this area. It seems, probable, however, that it was this time that the drawbridge was done away with. There is a reference to it being lowered in 1704, but no mention of it in later years. The present stone bridge was probably constructed around the middle of the 18th century.

Ward Dilke (1662-1728) owned the Castle during what must have been a fairly prosperous period in the family fortunes. The Dilkes were by now well established in Warwickshire and had been Justices of the Peace since the early 1600s. In March, 1708, the name of Ward Dilke was picked by the Queen as High Sheriff for that year.

The relationship between Ward Dilke and his wife seems to have been a difficult one - certainly in the later years of their marriage. Their daughter, Frances, left home and lodged for some years with the Wolferstan family at Statfold Hall in Staffordshire where she died in 1740. This was the home of her maternal aunt who had married Stanford Wolferstan, a member of an ancient Staffordshire family. Some indication of the conjugal state which Ward and Mary lived is revealed in a letter and bill for services sent to Ward Dilke in 1723 by his lawyer (15). The latter had to be summoned to the Castle one night to reason with Mrs Dilke who had packed up certain of the family silver plate and was about to leave with it. On another occasion he was sent for to make provisional arrangements "to confine my Lady, she threatening to murder Mr Dilke". Ward Dilke died in 1728 and is buried at Shustoke. His eldest son, Dudley Ward (1705-1722), had died at the age of seventeen so the Castle passed to the younger son, William (II) (1706-1753).

The fate of Ward Dilke's wife, Mary, is something of a mystery. There is no record of her burial in the registers of Shustoke or Maxstoke but, amongst the archives of the Castle, is a receipt signed by her dated 1733. It appears from this that she outlived her husband. It has long been supposed that she is the ghost of Maxstoke, it being said that she had a violent quarrel with her husband on the staircase of the Lady Tower as a result of an argument over money. It was said that in a fit of anger - to which she was clearly prone - she threw out of the window a bag of coins and that in her rage, she missed her footing and fell downstairs, breaking her neck. But clearly this cannot be so if she outlived her husband. (Some coins of the period were undoubtedly found in a corresponding position in the moat in later years, so part of the tale appears to be true). Without doubt, there is some "presence" in the first floor bedroom in the Lady Tower which has Been confirmed by a number of visitors to Maxstoke who, knowing nothing of the legend, have felt uneasy in the room. It may be that Mary Dilke like her daughter, left Maxstoke. It may be that she became insane - or perhaps she committed suicide. The mystery remains to be solved.

William (II) married Anne (1707-1749), daughter of Charles Russell of Thetford. Her portrait hangs in the library next to that of her husband who was High Sheriff of Warwickshire in 1740. By him she had three sons and two daughters. Of these only William (III) (1731-1801) and Dudley Ward (1738-1758) survived infancy. In 1759, William (III) married Mary (1734-1768), second daughter and co-heiress of Thomas Fetherston-Leigh of Packwood House, Warwickshire. This marriage united two ancient and adjacent Warwickshire families, though it was not until many years later that the name of Fetherston-Dilke was formally adopted. Portraits of William (III) and of his wife, Mary, hang in the Banqueting Hall. (She was a great niece of Jane Lane who was one of those who assisted King Charles II in his escape after the Battle of Worcester in 1651. Jane Lane later married Sir Clement Fisher of Packington, who rebuilt the Old Hall, now the residence of the 11th Earl of Aylesford).

On 12th August, 1762, a serious fire broke out at the Castle (16). It started due to a chimney fire in the nursery and destroyed about a third of the west range, including the nursery quarters, servants' bedrooms and the kitchen and storerooms. Fortunately the fire did not spread along the whole roof of the west range and it was the thick, southern wall of the original Great Hall which acted as a firestop. The part which was destroyed was not fully rebuilt but a single-storey range of rooms was constructed in the burnt out void and used as servants' quarters until the middle of the 20th century. In 1983, these were demolished and replaced by further modern reconstruction.

 

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