The Cricket St Thomas estate, originally a manor, included most of the northern part of the parish of Winsham and for generations many Winsham people have lived and worked on the estate.
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The estate was purchased in 1966 by the Taylor family as a 1036-acre property in the early stages of decline. The present manor house was built after a fire in 1820 and was designed by Sir John Soane. There were four farms, 26 cottages, Cricket House with 20acres of gardens and two secondary houses. In 1997 a Wildlife park was opened and has enjoyed up to 350,000 visitors a year for many years.
The BBC television programme "To The Manor Born" was filmed on the estate and written by a member of the family. It had over 24 million viewers at its peak. The Grade II listed Georgian manor house was the setting for Grantleigh Manor in the BBC television series "To The Manor Born" aired between 1979 and 1982. The creator, Peter Spence, lived in the village of Cricket St Thomas.
Over the years the estate has been a leader in Rural Diversification with the result that the various activities on the estate now employ over 262 people.
The estate began retailing milk on the doorstep in 1980 and by 1995 was bottling over 1,000,000 pints per day. It was also at the forefront of the campaign to produce "Real Dairy Ice-cream" under the Cricket St Thomas label. The dairy factory you will see today was sold to Lubborn Cheese in 1999 following the severe decline in the doorstep business and milk prices.250 Friesian cows are milked in a single unit on the farms. This has declined from the 600 cows that were milked on the four farms when dairy production was profitable.
Some 300 acres have now been put under the Stewardship scheme and are grazed by sheep in an effort to stem the declining agricultural returns. Cricket House and the Wild Life Park were sold to the Warner Holidays in1998 after being run by the family for nearly 30 years. After a £20 million development it now houses a 220 bed hotel and leisure spa for adults only and is 95% full all the year bringing much needed trade to the local economy and other leisure businesses in the area. It employs 180 local people.
The parish church in the gardens of Cricket house now employs its own chaplain to minister to the 450 guests and 262 staff that work on the estate. There are 200 acres of mixed amenity woodland that are managed for shooting and forestry. There is a private estate water supply that provides all the water for the Cheese making operations, the hotel and all the properties on the estate. This provides the estate with a valuable second income.
In 1995 one of the younger members of the family developed out door garden heaters and barbecues originally made in the estate workshops. Now housed in a purpose built factory on site it employs 25 staff with an annual turnover of £2.5 million.
An old silage pit site has recently been granted planning permission for the "on farm" composting of organic green waste. This new diversification is due to start in the next two months and should provide a valuable source of organic fertiliser and compost for the arable land.
The income from these various diversifications will hopefully help to offset the present continued decline in incomes from the traditional farming and food production.
The history of the manor can be traced back to before the Norman invasion. It was mentioned as Cruche in Domesday Book (1086) possibly derived from the Anglo Saxon cruc, meaning a hill or ridge - a reference to Windwhistle Ridge that formed the manor's northern boundary. It was described as 'Land of the Count of Mortain' paying tax to the king for six hides, or 720 acres. It had two slaves, six villagers, five smallholders and a variety of livestock - in total valued at 100 shillings.
The manor later passed to the De Cricket family and then, around 1328, it was acquired by Sir Walter de Rodney, ancestor of Admiral, Lord Rodney. The manor was later sold to the Preston family, one of whose members, Sir Amyas Preston, captured the Admiral of the Galeasses of the Spanish Armada. He also led an expedition, in 1595, against the Spanish Main and launched a naval raid on Jamaica. In 1775, the estate came into the possession of Captain Alexander Hood (1727-1814), who became a Vice-Admiral and second in command of the Channel fleet during the Napoleonic Wars. Lord Nelson and Lady Hamilton were frequent visitors to the house.
|2nd Dec 1726||Born in Butleigh, Somerset, to Vicar Samuel Hood and his wife Mary.|
|1740/41||Entered Royal Navy (at same time as older brother Samuel).|
|1746||Appointed lieutenant (at same time as brother Samuel).|
|1756||Promoted to Commander. Soon afterward, he became Flag Captain of H.M.S. Minerva under Admiral Saunders. He was assigned to the Mediterranean. Saw action Quiberon Bay and the Bay of Biscay. Captured the Warwick (former English ship previously captured by the French).1778: In command of H.M.S. Robust.|
|Sept 1780||Promoted to Rear Admiral of the Red Squadron (at the same time brother Samuel became Rear Admiral of the Blue).|
|1782||Commanding from H.M.S. Queen (under Lord Howe), participated in the relief of Gibraltar.|
|1787||Promoted to Vice Admiral.|
|1793||Commanded from H.M.S. Royal George (2nd in command to Lord Howe).|
|1794||Participated in the "Battle of the Glorious 1st of June." For his daring, he was created "Baron Bridport."|
|1795||Participated in the Battle of Lorient. Captured 3 French warships.|
|1795-1800||Commander of the Channel Fleet. Retired and was created "Viscount Bridport" in 1800.|
|1814||Passed away at age of 87.|
In the portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds, Reynolds may have employed the marine painter Richard Wright to paint the naval action in the background. It shows Hood recapturing the British ship Warwick in the Mediterranean in 1761.
Created Baron Bridport in recognition of his wartime exploits, he died childless in 1814, the barony then passing to his great nephew Samuel Hood, who was married to Nelson's niece Charlotte.
Samuel Hood, 2nd Baron Bridport, was born in 1788. Between 1816 and 1860 he spent over £250,000 on laying out the gardens and grounds at Cricket St Thomas. He dammed the stream that runs through the grounds, creating the chain of lakes, and planted a wide range of ornamental trees and shrubs. The Baron rose to the rank of General and became Lord-in-Waiting to Queen Victoria. He died in 1868 and is buried at Cricket St Thomas. His wife Charlotte Mary née Nelson (1787-1873) also died, and is buried, at Cricket St Thomas.
Their son Alexander Nelson Hood, 3rd Baron and 1st Viscount Bridport, was born in 1814 at Marylebone, London. He succeeded his father as third Baron Bridport in 1868 and the same year the viscountcy held by his great-great-uncle was revived when he was created Viscount Bridport, of Cricket St Thomas in the County of Somerset and of Bronté in the Kingdom of Italy. In 1873 Bridport also succeeded his mother as Duke of Bronté, a title created for his great-uncle Lord Nelson. Bridport was also a Groom-in-Waiting from 1841 to 1858, Clerk Marshal to Prince Albert from 1853 to 1861, Equerry to Queen Victoria from 1858 to 1884, a Permanent Lord-in-Waiting to Queen Victoria from 1884 to 1901 and Honorary Equerry to Edward VII from 1901 to 1904 and served as a Deputy Lieutenant of Dorset, Devon and Somerset. His closeness to the Court of Victoria may explain the building of Jubilee Hall in Winsham, in celebration of her Golden Jubilee in 1887. In 1897 mounting debts forced him to sell the estate to Francis James Fry, the chocolate manufacturer. Hood died in 1904 at Royal Lodge, Windsor Park but is buried at Cricket St Thomas.
W.H. Paull gives an insight into the relationship between the Cricket Estate at the end of the 19th Century and the beginning of the 20th. The book can be read on this site here.
In those days the estate at Cricket St Thomas gave employment to the whole of the village. In the house itself there were over thirty servants kept. My own father worked for Lord Bridport, and often discussed him with me. He was described as a very hard man, but this was probably a reflection on his position in life. He does however appear to have been a very generous man, and the village hall we have today was given to us by his Lordship on the occasion of Queen Victoria's Jubilee, hence the name.
After Lord Bridport sold up the estate, and split up the farms, the place then became the residence of the Fry family, the cocoa people, and these were the Lords of the Manor in my time. They were a much respected family, noted Quakers, and very good, and most generous, to the whole of the village. They took a personal interest in everyone who worked on the estate or had any connections with them. They were very much a part of the village, as the war memorial will verify, when among the names you will find Harold Fry, who fought, and died, with the rest of the lads.
Harold's brother, Geoffrey, became a politician, and was at one time private secretary to Bonar Law. There were several daughters, and they took a very personal interest in the village school. I well remember the youngest daughter, Miss Connie, also Miss Norah, who was later to become Mrs Cooke Hurle, and took a prominent part in local politics. During this period, the Cricket St Thomas estate was like a public park, where you could wander at will, without fear of being stopped, or questioned, and if you happened to meet any of the family they would be delighted to meet you, and ask after your parents, particularly if they worked on the estate, and perhaps enquire as to what the future held for you, but always with kindly interest. My father worked on the estate all his life, and helped carry both Lord Bridport, and Mr F J Fry, to their last resting place. For this service, Mr Fry left my father the sum of Ten Pounds, such was his benevolence. When the Fry family moved away from Cricket, it was a particularly sad day for the village."
The big estate at Cricket St Thomas had contracted as it passed down from Lord Bridport to Mr Fry and onto Mr Hall, (my grandfather worked for them all) and many of the farms passed to private hands. The game was still jealously guarded by the game keepers. Mr White, Mr Hart and Mr Bagge come readily to mind, and they were feared almost as much as the village Bobby. For one period he was 'Tiny' Weaver, a giant of a man of 6' 7".
Francis J. Fry purchased the Cricket St. Thomas Estate in 1897. A wealthy man, he was co-proprietor of the famous chocolate business based in Bristol, J. S. Fry & Sons Ltd. The other co- proprietor was a bachelor cousin Joseph Storr Fry II, described as the ‘wealthiest man in Bristol’.
Francis Fry, although brought up in a Quaker family, from who he no doubt absorbed many values, became a ‘lapsed’ Quaker, and was more interested in civic activities than the Quaker religion. In 1897 he became Sheriff of Bristol. In 1900 he became Deputy Lieutenant of Somerset.
At the time of moving to Cricket St. Thomas, Francis Fry had married a second time, his first wife, Elizabeth Rake, having died in 1877.There were five children, from this first marriage, the youngest of which, Norah, who would have been twenty six years old at the time of the move, was the only child who played at active part in the Winsham community. He married his second wife, Elizabeth Pass, in 1885. They had two boys, Alfred Harold and Geoffrey Storrs. The 'Miss Connie' referred to in Mr W.H. Paull's account above may well have been a Elizabeth Pass's daughter from a previous marriage-she was not a Fry.
Norah Fry was to distinguish herself by her work in the fields of Mental Health and Learning disabilities. For fifty years she was to sit on the governing council of Bristol University, and in 1988 the University named their new mental health research centre after her. Sadly, Alfred Harold was killed in the Great War, and his name appears on the Winsham War Memorial.
Geoffrey Storrs went on to become a respected politician. He became private secretary to prime minister Stanley Baldwin throughout his parliamentary career, and was made a baronet by Baldwin, becoming Sir Geoffrey Storrs Fry CVO CB Baronet. of Oare in Wiltshire.
Much of the information above was derived from an excellent book published by Frenchay Village Museum - ‘J. S. Fry & Sons - A Rough Guide to the Family and Firm’. It is a ‘must read’ for anyone who is interested in the history of the famous chocolate business from its foundation until the end of the family’s involvement in 1967. Visit the Frenchay Museum Archives here.
The estate passed to two other families before being broken up in 1919 and sold off into private hands. The map of the sale indicates that the whole of the northern part of Winsham parish, from Lue Farm and Midnell Farm to the northernmost part of the parish adjoining the A30, including the hamlet of Purtington, was sold. During the latter part of the 20th century the grounds of the house contained a 46-acre wildlife park which today is an important conservation centre.
The manor had its own church, dedicated to St Thomas, first recorded some 800 years ago with registers going back to the 1560's. The present parish church was built in the 19th century. It contains memorials to members of Hood and Nelson families and has one of the few wooden fonts in England.