Festive times in the days of the Smyth-Pigott squires

PUBLISHED: 10:48 12 June 2006 | UPDATED: 09:26 24 May 2010

An engraving of Brockely Church and Court. Brockely Court, reputed to be of 14th century origin, was the former manorial seat of the Smyth-Pigotts.

An engraving of Brockely Church and Court. Brockely Court, reputed to be of 14th century origin, was the former manorial seat of the Smyth-Pigotts.

For about 250 years the Smyth-Pigott family were virtually the rulers of North Somerset. It was said that they could walk on their own land from Bristol to Weston

Col Thomas Pigott, who married Florence Smyth, was the first of the family to settle in North Somerset.

For about 250 years the Smyth-Pigott family were virtually the rulers of North Somerset. It was said that they could walk on their own land from Bristol to Weston. The family seat was at Brockley, and they were lords of the manor of Weston (or Ashcombe as it originated), Kewstoke, Kingston Seymour and Brockley.While the people may not have altogether cared for being subject to the dictates of the Smyth-Pigotts, the family was generous and had good taste, and Weston has much to thank it for, including the planting of the Woods, the construction of the Kewstoke toll road, and the Boulevard. There were great festivities whenever a birth, marriage, or coming-of-age occurred in the Smyth-Pigott family. Oxen were roasted whole, beer flowed freely, and the whole district abandoned itself to rejoicing at the expense of the lord of the manor.In addition there were the audit dinners at which the estate tenants were sumptuously entertained, and a Pigott charity was distributed at Christmas to the poor. Things were so good at village Weston in 1825 that in the absence of distress the Pigott charity was able to hand 20 lbs. of beef, 12 quarterns of bread, and a ton of coal to one family.,One of the memorable Smyth-Pigott celebrations took place just before Christmas, 1881, and marked the coming of age of the young squire, Cecil Smyth-Pigott.The streets were bedecked with flags, and at night the principal thoroughfares were lit with variegated gas jets. Many peals were rung throughout the day and flags were hoisted on all the church towers.At 11am the Weston Harriers met on the lawn of the Grove. The Grove, or rather Grove House, was to be the future residence of the young squire, and the grounds later became Grove Park. As the meet assembled the Italian Band played selections of music.George Street Drill Hall was packed with scholars from the various Weston schools, who each received a threepenny bit, 1,494 being distributed.There were several celebration dinners, including a grand banquet at the town hall given at the invitation of Mr T Knight, chairman of Weston Town Commissioners, who were the forerunners of the Borough Council. Members of the Rangers' Football Club and the Premier Cycling Club took part in a torchlight procession, and this was followed by a fireworks display.The next evening more than 400 men and women who had reached the age of 60 sat down to "a plentiful spread" of roast beef and plum pudding, while on the lawn outside the Orpheus Italian Band played selections.The same evening the Squire attended a ball given in his honour at Brockley Court by Mr R L James and family. This event was held in the handsome oak panelled library, but so large was the company that the dancers overflowed into the entrance hall. The floors were of polished oak in splendid condition, and it was remarked that a fitter place for dancing could not be imagined.The ball was opened by Mrs Pigott and Mr S B Griffin and Mrs William Gage and Mr Cecil Pigott, who were top and bottom couples in a set of quadrilles.A corner of the room near the entrance was improvised as an orchestra stand for Mr Windeatt's Quadrille Band from Weston, and from this position the music was heard easily in both library and hall.Dancing continued throughout the night with unflagging energy, and although there were 24 numbers the dancers were so enthusiastic that they called for nine more which, we are told, were executed with a vigour and activity equal to the opening dance. At half-past four in the morning Mrs Pigott and the young Squire led off 'Sir Roger de Coverley' and nearly all the company took part in this old country dance, the lines extending the full length of the two rooms. Of the origins of the Smyth-Pigott family Group Capt Ruscombe Smyth-Pigott once commented: "The Pigotts are of undoubted Norman descent. The name, originally Picot, is still quite common in Normandy, and means either Pikeman or a nickname for a fellow with a big nose. All Pigotts you come across in England, and all Picots in Normandy, possess this nose!"A Rogerus de Picet appears in the Dives Roll of Battle Abbey as accompanying William the Conqueror to England. Twenty years later he is named in the Domesday Book (AD 1086) as being at Broxton, Cheshire. A Gilbert Pigott of the same family married the daughter and heiress of Robert de Rolles, Lord of Butley, Cheshire.Coming down the years a William Pigot is named as a benefactor of Chester Abbey, while a John Pigott married a great heiress, Agnes de Westenhall. John is named as Justiciar of Chester 1400-1409.Next in the family history there is news of John Pigott being granted land in Queen's County, Ireland. The ruins of Castle Pigott there still survive, and the family's story takes a dramatic turn with the record that John Pigott was killed when his castle was stormed by rebels in the O'Brien rebellion of 1646. Indirectly it was the death of John Pigott in defence of the castle that led to the Pigott family becoming associated with this district. Pigott's younger son, Colonel Thomas Pigott, came over to England to report on the rebellion, and on his way back to Ireland stopped at Bristol.While there he received orders from Lord Inchiquin, commander-in-chief of the Protestant Army in Ireland to remain at Bristol and act as chief intelligence officer for Inchiquin who had fears that Charles I was entering into negotiations with the Catholic Army in Ireland.While in Bristol Thomas Pigott met Florence, a wealthy heiress, daughter of John, the first Lord Poulett. Effigies of the Pouletts are a striking feature of the family chapel at Hinton St Georges, Somerset.Florence was the widow of Thomas Smyth, of Ashton Court, and the Smyth family's history can be traced back to 1442, when they were Bristol merchants.Thomas was elected MP for Bridgwater when only 18, and in the same year married Florence. He lived in great style at Ashton Court and a note in his own hand-writing records that he kept 'nine female and twenty male servants'. He also kept a jester named Austin, who must have been one of the last of the line since there were few of them employed in the 1640s. The annual cost of Smyth's household at Ashton Court numbering 27 people, was £500, which would amount to several thousands today.In 1620 Smyth was elected Knight of the Shire. In the same year he was again elected MP for Bridgwater and made a freeman of the city of Bristol.During the Civil War he became lieutenant colonel of a regiment raised by Lord Poulett and joined the forces of the Marquess of Hereford. He was with forces besieged in Sherborne Castle where they held out for several weeks but were eventually forced to leave. They marched to Minehead where the leaders crossed to Wales by boat. While in Cardiff Thomas was taken ill with smallpox and died on October 2, 1642.After Thomas Pigott married the wealthy widow he planned to return to Ireland. His wife had one son Hugh, by her previous husband, who became the ward of his stepfather. Hugh inherited Ashton Court.His mother declined to go to Ireland, possibly because she regarded it a dangerous country. After all a lady accustomed to the lavish life of Ashton court might be expected not to look kindly on removal to Castle Pigott in Ireland, lately sacked by rebels and where her husband's father had been slain.There was another reason, however. Florence wanted to be near her son Hugh at Ashton. Hugh married Ann, daughter of the Hon Ashburnham, a devoted friend of king Charles I.Thus it was that Thomas Pigott, bowing to his wife's wishes, decided to settle in North Somerset and bought the manor of Brockley. The marriage of Thomas Pigott to Florence Smyth was the first of three inter-marriages between members of the Pigott family and the Smyths. When Group Capt Ruscombe Smyth-Pigott presented the Weston Corporation with a collection of family portraits a few years ago, in one of the most witty speeches ever heard in the council chamber he commented: "As regards the Smyths of Ashton, and the Pigotts of Brockley - three times intermarried - a one-sided cynic, after a study of the family archives, might sum up as follows: The Smyths left their anvil about the time of Henry V or VI and became Bristol merchants - purchasing Ashton and blossoming into baronets. The Pigotts, of Norman descent, have been terribly busy doing sweet nothing since the Conquest!"Lieut-Col Thomas Pigott, the first of the Pigotts to settle in these parts, bought the manor of Brockley from the Harveys. The first of the Harveys had held the manor in 1528, and earlier it had been in the possession of the famous Berkeley family, and before them it was held by the de Ashton and St Cross families.It was Colonel John Pigott, a son of Thomas, who added the manor of Weston to the Smyth-Pigott estates in the year 1696. At the same time he bought the manor of Clapton from the Winter family, the tradition being that Henry Winter had to part with them to pay for his late father's debts, which were the result of gambling.This article, edited by Jill Bailey, was originally published on December 2, 1966

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