Malvern Hall was built some 300 years ago on the site of Malvern Farm. The farm was sold by Robert, Lord Brooke to a Mr Aglionby of Balsall about 1640. Mr Aglionby sold the farm to Job and Ann Murcott in 1657 and they, in turn, sold the estate to the Rev. Henry Greswold (1628-1700) in 1680. It was Henry’s eldest son, Humphrey, who built Malvern Hall.
Rev. Henry Greswold
Henry Greswold was baptised at Yardley in 1628 and was the fourth son of Humphrey Greswold (1594-1660) and Elizabeth Bourne. After studying at Trinity College, Cambridge (1645-49) and being admitted to Gray’s Inn (1656), Henry became the Rector of Solihull in 1660 and held the living until his death in 1700. His three older brothers predeceased him and he inherited estates from his eldest brother Humphrey Greswold (1622-1671) who had been married twice but had no children.
Henry Greswold married Ann Marshall in 1667 and they had 13 children (eight daughters and five sons).
Henry Greswold’s will makes no specific mention of the Malvern estate but settles his real estate equally between his four surviving sons – Humphrey, Henry, Marshall and John.
Humphrey, who built Malvern Hall, died unmarried in 1712 and left to his brother, “Marshall Greswold and to his heirs and Assigns for ever all that my Messuage or Tenement which I lately built lying and being at Malvern in the Parish of Solihull aforesaid and all houses, outhouses, Barns, Stables and appurtenances threreunto belonging and all my Estate and Tithe in and to the same And also to him I give and bequeath all my Goods household stuff and implements of household in and about the same Messuage or Tenement.”
Rev. Marshall Greswold and family
Rev. Marshall Greswold (1673-1728) inherited the Malvern Hall estate from his brother, Humphrey, in 1712. He married his first cousin once removed, Martha Makepeace in 1719, when he was 45 years old and she was 23, and they had seven children (five sons and two daughters).
Two of the sons died in infancy. The remaining three sons each inherited Malvern Hall in turn before the estate passed to their sister’s son and out of the direct male Greswold line.
Marshall died on 8th February 1728, aged 55, and is buried at St Edburgha’s Church, Yardley. There is a memorial inside the church, erected by his wife to “the best of husbands“, describing him as “a good husband and a tender father, a good landlord, master, and neighbour, and exceeding charitable to the poor. He was beautiful in his person, of a mild and compassionate temper, and greatly lamented by all that new him.” His grave was uncovered in 2014 during repairs to the church.
Marshall left Malvern Hall itself to his widow, Martha, and the remainder of the Malvern Hall estate to their eldest child, Humphrey. Martha felt hard done by in terms of her inheritance and contested her husband’s Will in the Court of Chancery. This meant that a grant of probate of Marshall Greswold’s estate was delayed until 1744 – some 16 years after his death. She did win a greater financial settlement but the distribution of Marshall’s estates appears to have been unaffected by the litigation.
Martha settled Malvern Hall itself on her eldest daughter, Mary Greswold (1724-1757) upon Mary’s marriage to David Lewis in 1744. It seems that Martha continued to live at Malvern Hall until her death in 1755. After a brief period of living in Meriden following their marriage, David and Mary Lewis apparently moved to Malvern Hall and lived there with Mary’s mother, Martha.
Martha’s son Humphrey Greswold (1720-1746) had inherited the remainder of the estate (not including Malvern Hall itself) from his father, Marshall. Humphrey died unmarried and without children and stipulated in his Will that his share of the Malvern Hall estate should be held by his Trustees with £1000 being set aside for his youngest sister Martha, as she had not been remembered in their father’s Will. Whilst a minor, she would benefit from the interest on this sum before being paid the £1000 on attaining the age of 21.
Once this legacy was paid, the Malvern Hall Estate would go to Humphrey’s brother, Marshall (1721-1749) and the heirs of his body, with a special condition that their brother John and his heirs be allowed to hold and enjoy the premises. If Marshall died without issue or refused to ratify John’s rights, then the estate would pass instead to their brother, John.
Marshall obtained Letters of Administration on 21st October 1746 to deal with the estate of his late brother, Humphrey. It would seem that Marshall was unable to complete the administration of the estate before his own death in 1749 and his brother, John, obtained a grant on 5th April 1749 to deal with Humphrey’s estate left unadministered by Marshall.
It appears that their sister, Martha, attained the age of 21 in 1749 so, presumably, she then received the £1000 from her late brother Humphrey’s estate. She died unmarried in 1755.
Marshall Greswold also died in 1749 and his Will appointed as Trustees his brother, John Greswold, as well as his cousin, Benjamin Palmer (1712-1772) of Olton End, and William Shakespear of Knowle, to manage his estates for his young son, Humphrey Greswold (1747-1756). Humphrey died at the age of just nine so, under the terms of his father’s Will, the Malvern Hall Estate then went to Marshall’s brother John Greswold (1727-1760) who had previously been granted the right to live there.
John died unmarried and without children so the male Greswold line in this branch of the family now became extinct and the name continued at Malvern Hall only as a forename or as a surname adopted in order to inherit the estate.
John’s will, dated 4th December 1759, appointed his brother-in-law, David Lewis, as his sole executor. He also appointed his cousin, Benjamin Palmer of Olton and David Lewis as his Trustees to manage his estate until the beneficiaries came of age. He made some minor bequests: £100 to his godson, Charles Steward (son of Thomas Steward of Birmingham); £50 to his servant Adam Snape (on top of any wages owing to him); and a year’s wages to each of his other servants (over and above any wages due to them).
He also left £2000 each to his nieces, the three daughters of David and Mary Lewis – Anna Maria, Magdalene and Elizabeth, to be paid when they reached the age of 21 or upon the day of their marriage.
He also left to their brother, Henry Greswold Lewis, the sum of £100 per annum, divided into four equal installments, to be paid to him beginning three months after his 18th birthday and continuing until he inherited the rest of John’s estates on attaining the age of 21. John left all his goods, chattels and personal estate to his brother-in-law, David Lewis.
The Lewis family
John Greswold’s sister, Mary Greswold, had married David Lewis in 1744 and they had three daughters and one son, none of whom had any legitimate children. The marriage settlement of David Lewis and Mary Greswold in 1744 apparently granted Malvern Hall to David Lewis for the term of his life. Mary Lewis died in 1757.
There was a case in the Court of Chancery brought by Sarah Bosworth (c.1722-1776) and her second husband Rev. James Bosworth against David Lewis and his only son, Henry Greswold Lewis.
Sarah (née Oldershaw) was the widow of Marshall Greswold (1721-1749) and mother of Humphrey Greswold (1747-1756). She seems to have claimed that she was heir to her young son’s estate so applied to the law to receive his share of the Malvern Hall estate rather than it reverting to her son’s uncle, John Greswold, and then to the Lewis family. However, the claim went against the Bosworths in 1765 and they also seem to have lost a subsequent appeal.
David Lewis died at 2am on Saturday 20th November 1773, after suffering from “gout in his head, after a few days’ illness” according to the Police Gazette, 26th November 1773. He died intestate and Letters of Administration were apparently granted to William Richard Wilson of Knowle Hall, guardian of David Lewis’s only son, Henry Greswold Lewis (1754-1829) who was then 19 years old.
In August 1783, John Soane, whom Henry Greswold Lewis had met in Italy, travelled to Malvern Hall and made a survey of the house. Digitised copies of the subsequent drawings, plans and descriptions of the hall are available at Sir John Soane Museum Collection Online. Wings were added on either side of the house, a new cornice and blocking course were put up instead of the former balustrade over the main block, and the entrance front was given an elliptical stone portico of the Doric order.
In a letter to John Constable in 1819, Henry was less than complimentary of John Soane’s work:
I have brought the house to nearly what it was 60 years ago – before that Modern Goth, Mr Soane, spoilt a handsome house by shaving clean every ornament, architraves, coins, keystones, string courses, & ballustrade, the latter I could not replace, all the rest I have accomplished.
In 1784, Henry Greswold Lewis married the Hon. Charlotte Bridgman, eldest daughter of the Earl of Bradford. Unfortunately, she was addicted to laudanum and alcohol and the couple separated after a year of marriage. They remained separated for six years before reuniting, although they did not have any children.
It is possible that Henry had an illegitimate daughter – Mary Freer – who was baptised at St Alphege Church, Solihull on 16th September 1795. Her mother was also Mary Freer, a spinster. Officially described as Henry’s ward, Mary Freer lived at Malvern Hall and was described as “of Malvern Hall” when she married Thomas Robert Wilson-ffrance of Rawcliffe Hall, Lancaster in 1818.
Papers in Birmingham Archives suggest that John Howard Galton had proposed marriage to Mary Freer in September 1815 but that the relationship was not approved of. The catalogue entries note that Henry Greswold Lewis appeared to have assumed parental responsibility for Mary Freer.
Henry became acquainted with the artist John Constable c.1807 and he commissioned Constable to paint his ward, Mary Freer. Constable also painted portraits of Henry Greswold Lewis, which were distributed to family members, including Lord Bradford at Weston Park.
In 1819, Henry wrote to John Constable and mentioned his ward, Mary, now married to Thomas Robert Wilson-ffrance. He described her as:
quite well – & mostly happily married. Nothing can be more satisfactory. – He is a steady, good tempered, & well disposed young man, & extremely attached to her, as a man should be to a wife.
Henry was godfather to the eldest daughter of Mr & Mrs Wilson-ffrance, Mary Greswolde Wilson-ffrance (1820-1853), and presented the baby with a silver-gilt christening bowl and cover, bearing the Arms of France quartering Wilson and impaling Greswolde.
Henry was very interested in family history and it was in 1818 that he decided that the name Greswold ought to have a final “e” and so he changed the spelling of his name to Henry Greswolde Lewis. Those who subsequently inherited the Malvern Hall estate also used this form of the name.
The parish magazine, Solihull and District Monthly Magazine, April 1895, in a “Sketch of Solihull, May 1840” describes how Henry Greswolde Lewis had allotted a portion of Malvern Hall’s spacious parkland for a deer park. He is said to have purchased the deer, at considerable cost, from Aston Park, Birmingham which, at the time, was being sold in lots. The deer were disposed of by subsequent owners of the Malvern Hall Estate, who converted the old deer park into a farm.
Henry Greswolde Lewis died on 12th July 1829 at his estate at Radford Semele, near Leamington Spa. After lying in state at Radford for several days, his body was taken back to Malvern Hall. The extensive funeral procession of coaches of some of his tenants and of his family and friends, including Lord Bradford, left Malvern Hall at 2.30pm on 24th July 1829 and arrived at Yardley at 5pm, where Henry’s mortal remains were interred in the family vault. The funeral was attended by some 140 horsemen and “an immense number” of people on foot.
Henry’s Will bequeathed land left to him by his father to his Lewis cousins in Wales but the bulk of his estate was entailed in the descendants of Henry Wigley. The entail was to be in the male line only, each holder of the lands to take the name and arms of Greswolde only.
He also left an income of £400 per annum to Mary Wilson-ffrance, plus a trust of £6000 for her three daughters. He also left a legacy of £10 to her mother, described as Mary Freer, widow.
The Wigley family
Henry Greswolde Lewis died without issue and, as none of his three sisters had any children, Malvern Hall devolved to descendants of Henry’s great-aunt, Anne Makepeace (1695-1731), sister of his grandmother, Martha Makepeace (1696-1755).
Both sisters were granddaughters of Anne Greswold (1631-1669), a sister of the Rev. Henry Greswold (1628-1700) who had bought the Malvern Farm estate. Anne married Henry Palmer, and their daughter, Mary Palmer (1661-1702) married William Makepeace. It was William & Mary’s daughter, Anne Makepeace (1695-1731) who married into the Wigley family that subsequently became the heirs of Henry Greswolde Lewis.
As Henry Greswolde Lewis’s grandparents, Marshall Greswold and Martha Makepeace, were themselves first cousins once removed, Henry was doubly-related to the Wigleys. As a result of this his heir, Edmund Meysey Wigley (1798-1833), great-grandson of Henry Palmer & Anne Greswold, was both Henry’s third cousin twice removed (via his maternal grandfather) and his second cousin once removed (via his maternal grandmother)!
Edmund Meysey Wigley inherited a life interest of the Malvern Hall estate (plus an income of around £8,000 per annum) from Henry Greswolde Lewis. Under Henry Greswolde Lewis’s will, the trustee having custody of the title deeds to Malvern Hall was Thomas Chattock, a Solihull solicitor, who continued to manage the property for Edmund Meysey Wigley who was mostly away from the area.
Edmund adopted the surname Greswolde as a result of Letters Patent granted in August 1829 by King William IV that allowed him to:
henceforth assume and take the surname of Greswolde, in addition to and after his present surnames of Meysey-Wigley; and that he and they [his issue] may bear the arms of Greswolde
Edmund Meysey Wigley of Shakenhurst, Worcestershire was an officer with the 6th Eniskillen Regiment of Dragoons. At the time he came to inherit Malvern Hall he was a Captain, but in February 1830 he purchased a commission as Major. In July 1832, he purchased a commission as Lieutenant-Colonel from Lord George Lennox for the sum of £20,000. It appears that this sum was raised by selling annuities for which insurance policies, including one of £5,000, in favour of the Right Hon. Henry Hobhouse, was taken out on Colonel Meysey Wigley Greswolde’s life.
Following Edmund’s death in 1833, the insurance company – Eagle Assurance – refused to pay out the sum assured and the case went to the Court of Exchequer in July 1835. The basis of the company’s defence was that the declarations given by Edmund Meysey Wigley Greswolde in July and December 1831 regarding his health were false, which made the insurance policy void.
Specifically, he had declared that he was not subject to epileptic fits and nor was he of intemperate habits. Soldiers from his regiment testified that he ate little but was a hard drinker, having eight glasses of brandy before rising each morning, drinking brandy and sherry throughout the day, and having a bottle of brandy in the evening. The regiment’s surgeon who attended to him during his last illness also testified that his death, attributed to cholera, was also partly as a result of fits owing to his heavy drinking.
Contrasting evidence was also given to the court by his mother and his two sisters that he was a strong man in robust health and very active. A surgeon who had attended him for some 30 years also testified that he never had fits and was of a strong constitution. A relative, who stayed at Malvern Hall for six days with Edmund after his inheriting the property in 1829, testified that he always went to bed at 10pm, leaving his guests carousing until two or three o’clock in the morning and that, whilst jovial and social, the Colonel was always “fit for the drawing room.” The jury, after hearing the evidence, found against the insurance company.
Colonel Edmund Meysey Wigley Greswolde never married and died in Cahir, Ireland on 6th January 1833. His younger brother, Rev. Charles Meysey Meysey Wigley, had died in 1830 so the Greswolde estates then devolved to his uncle – his father’s younger brother, Henry Wigley (1760-1849). Henry assumed the surname Greswolde in February 1833, as did all four of his children – Elizabeth (1799-1855), Mary (1802-1859), Edmund (1804-1836) and Ann (1805-1869).
Henry Greswolde and his only son, Edmund Greswolde (1804-1836) were the last male heirs specified in the Will of Henry Greswolde Lewis, apart from Henry’s brother, William Wigley, who was unmarried and apparently incapable of managing his own affairs.
Henry and Edmund quickly broke the entail set up under Henry Greswolde Lewis’s will, which would have resulted in Malvern Hall devolving to William Henry Bowen Jordan Wilson (1808-1887) if Edmund Greswolde died without male heirs. Breaking an entail was a common practice and the University of Nottingham website has a useful guide to the process.
Prior to the Fines and Recoveries Act 1833, Henry, as tenant for life and Edmund, as tenant in tail, would have needed to undertake a collusive court action known as a Common Recovery. From 1833, however, a simple deed of disentailment was all that was required to break an entail and leave the land owned in fee simple, meaning the owners could do with it as they wished. Edmund pre-deceased his father so, on Edmund’s death the entail was broken and the Malvern Hall estate devolved to Henry Greswolde in fee simple.
Henry appears to have settled one third of his estate on his daughter, Ann Greswolde, upon her marriage with her first cousin Francis Edward Williams in 1838. His two other surviving daughters, Mary Greswolde and Elizabeth Greswolde, each received one-third of the estate on their father’s death in 1849. Neither Mary nor Elizabeth married or had children so their shares of the estate ultimately devolved to their sister’s husband and his sons.
The Leamington Spa Courier 1st September 1849 carried an advertisement for Malvern Hall to be let on a lease, completely and fully furnished. It was described as a
most desirable family mansion, in a particular dry and salubrious situation, situated at a convenient distance from the Village and Parish Church, on a gentle elevation, and approached by Lodge Entrance and Carriage Drive, through a beautifully wooded Park of about 300 acres.
The article noted that it would suit “a first class family” or “a nobleman or gentleman of fortune, it being one of the best Country Mansions in the highly favoured County of Warwick.”
Elizabeth Greswolde died, aged 55, on 30th January 1855. She was unmarried and she left her share of the Malvern Hall estate to her brother-in-law Francis Edward Williams (1804-1885) for his lifetime and then it was entailed in the families of his sons.
The Greswolde-Williams family
Francis and Ann Williams had also received one-third of the Malvern Hall estate on their marriage but they initially set up home at Thorney Lodge, Doddenham, Worcestershire, which was part of the Williams estates. They were still at Doddenham in 1851, but the 1861 census shows Ann Williams living at Malvern Hall with her son, John Francis Williams.
Ann died in 1869 and it seems that her husband, who by this time had two-thirds of the Malvern Hall estate, left Malvern Hall and moved to the Derriana Lodge estate (which he probably leased) in County Kerry Ireland. The Malvern Hall estate seems to have been somewhat neglected after this time, with the Greswolde-Williams family largely absent and not playing any part in the public life of Solihull.
Ann’s sister, Mary Greswolde, died in 1859 and left her one-third share of the Malvern Hall estate to her nephew, Wigley Greswolde Williams (1839-1875), eldest son of Francis and Ann Williams or, failing this, to his brothers in turn:
- John Francis Williams and his sons or, failing these, to
- Henry Edward Williams and his sons or, failing these to
- Edmund William Makepeace Williams and his sons,
- then to daughters of her nephews and their sons.
All those who held the lands were to prefix the name of Greswolde to that of Williams within 12 months of succeeding, unless they were a minor, when the 12 months was to be taken from the coming of age. Any not doing this, and using a name other than Greswolde-Williams were to forfeit all claim to this estate.
In line with his aunt’s Will, Wigley took the additional surname of Greswolde, becoming Wigley Greswolde Greswolde-Williams. He died, aged 35, on 25th March 1875 at Grassendale Park, Aigburth, Liverpool.
Wigley had one son, Francis Greswolde William Haynes, who was born in 1865. However, Wigley didn’t marry the boy’s mother – Louisa Laetitia (“Tissie”) Haynes – until 1870 and so, under the legislation of the time, the child was still considered illegitimate despite his parents’ subsequent marriage. Therefore, he was unable to inherit as he would have done if he had not been born out of wedlock. A codicil in his father’s will provided for Frank (described therein as Francis Greswolde-Williams) to inherit all of his father’s real estate in Warwickshire over which Wigley Greswolde-Williams had power of disposition.
Wigley’s younger brother, John Francis Williams (1840-1892) inherited his brother’s one-third share of the Malvern Hall estate. In January 1876, he was granted a Royal Licence by Queen Victoria, in line with his aunt’s will, to take the surname Greswolde in addition to his surname of Williams, becoming John Francis Greswolde-Williams. With the death of his father, Francis Edward Greswolde-Williams in 1885, John Francis Greswolde-Williams inherited his father’s two-thirds share of the Malvern Hall estate and became the tenant-in-tail of of the whole Greswolde and Williams estates. He owned more land than any single one of his predecessors and it was said that he was probably the wealthiest commoner in the United Kingdom.
He had married Mary Ann Jane Bund Willis in 1867 and it’s believed that they spent the early years of their marriage at Malvern Hall. However, John Francis Greswolde-Williams lived mostly at his estate in Henwick Grange, Hallow, Worcestershire, where he died in 1892. He had no children so his heir was his nephew, Francis Wigley Greswolde Williams (1873-1931), although John also made provision in his Will for his illegitimate nephew, Frank Haynes.
Francis Wigley Greswolde Williams was the son of John’s late brother, Henry Edward Williams (1843-1875) and also took the additional surname Greswolde on inheriting Malvern Hall in 1892, when he was 19 years old (becoming Francis Wigley Greswolde Greswolde-Williams).
Frank, as he seems to have been known, had inherited estates in 13 counties and was living on his estate at Knightwick, Worcestershire at the time of his coming of age party in 1894. Before the First World War he spent much of his time farming on his large estates in East Africa and he also served in the 5th Battalion, Worcestershire Regiment. His only son, Humphrey John Greswolde-Williams, was killed on the Somme in August 1917, aged 18.
Frank must have had the consent of his younger brother, Henry John Greswolde Williams (1875-1949), to break the entail as, in 1896, Frank put the Malvern Hall estate up for sale by auction.
The estate consisted of 148 acres, 2 roods and 16 perches and included the “well-known family mansion” with:
a noble suite of reception rooms, 18 bed and dressing rooms, ample domestic offices, stabling and agricultural buildings, excellent gardens and ornamental grounds, fishing pool and shrubberies, lodge, four cottages, a fine park, splendidly timbered with magnificent avenue half a mile in length, and ornamental lake formed by the River Blythe.
The purchaser of Malvern Hall in 1896 was David Troman, a bedstead manufacturer from Birmingham. After years of neglect the hall was in a poor condition so David Troman reduced the height of the building, removing the top storey. He also added bow windows and balustrading. A plan of his additions, approved by Solihull Council in June 1909, is at the Core Library, Solihull (ref.: SOL-PS-1-2-1315).
David Troman died suddenly on 12th August 1915, aged 58. Both of his sons had volunteered for the Birmingham Pals on the outbreak of war in August 1914 and, at the time of their father’s death, were awaiting posting to the front. The elder son, Charles Gordon Troman (1889-1916), an Old Silhillian, was killed in action on the Somme.
Following David Troman’s death, the Malvern Hall estate was put up for auction in October 1915.
Malvern Hall was bought in 1915 by Horace Brueton, a Birmingham industrialist, racehorse breeder and bookmaker. He seems to have made few changes to the house and sold it in 1926 to Solihull Rural Distict Council. It subsequently became home to a succession of schools – most recently, from September 2020, Solihull Preparatory School
If you have any further information on Malvern Hall’s history, please let us know.
Heritage & Local Studies Librarian
© Solihull Council, 2020.
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Solihull and its church by Robert Pemberton, 1905
Greswold of Malvern Hall unpublished research by Leonard C. Philpott, 1975 (copy available for reference at The Core Library, Solihull)
The Greswold family papers (held at Warwickshire County Record Office)