Weston was sold to pay gambling debts

PUBLISHED: 12:29 02 March 2006 | UPDATED: 08:58 24 May 2010

On a recent afternoon I stood face to face with Henry Winter who, nearly 300 ago, is said to have lost so heavily at the gaming tables that Weston, of which he was lord of the manor, had to be sold to pay his

On a recent afternoon I stood face to face with Henry Winter who, nearly 300 ago, is said to have lost so heavily at the gaming tables that Weston, of which he was lord of the manor, had to be sold to pay his debts. For a long time now he has been on his knees praying for forgiveness for his misdeeds, and he did not rise to meet me.As a former lord of the manor one might expect to find him in Weston Parish church, but the great Winter or Wynter family, although considerable landowners in this district, did not live at the insignificant little fishing village of Weston of their day. Their seat was Clapton Court, Clapton-in-Gordano, about four miles from Clevedon. The medieval court is there today with its original porch tower, and the winters are gathered in their chapel in the 13th century church on the hill above their old home. It was there that I met him.It was a pleasant run to Clapton-in-Gordano. You need only follow the Weston-Bristol road as far as Congresbury. I there turned off into Yatton, and out through Claverham and across the pleasant by-roads through typically rich Somerset grazing fields. The area is not very well sign-posted, but if one has the afternoon or evening before one, what does it matter? One is bound to come out somewhere.I took a wrong turning but eventually found myself in Nailsea. And so to Wraxall, a pause at the roadside to view the impressive church tower, and then the left turn by the church and the road up over the hill, with another left turn for Clapton.It is interesting country, this land of Gordano, a lengthy prong rising out of former marshland. It has its links with early man in its Cadbury camp, and when people settled in the locality there came the manor houses and the churches. Many of the roads remain little more than country lanes. Clapton-in-Gordano, with its old Black Horse Inn and charming cottages, lies comparatively unspoilt on one of these narrow highways. The village pub is close enough at hand for Clapton folk, but they have a long way to go to their church, which lies well out of the village, hidden behind trees on the hillside close to Clapton Court. There is a short, steep climb up a field path to get to Clapton Church. Like so many churches built on eminencies it is appropriately dedicated to the Archangel, St Michael.Before introducing you to the Winters, you must first meet the Arthurs, another ancient family into which they married, and who have even earlier links with both Weston and Clapton.The association of the Winters with this part of Somerset appears to have begun about 1592, four years after the defeat of the Spanish Armada. Long before that the manors of Clapton, Weston and Aschombe were held by the Arthur family, who appear to have been descendants of the Earls of Gloucester.Historian Collinson wrote: "This manor was held of the honour of Gloucester by a family who lived in the place.... In the reign of Henry I Wido de Clapton held an estate here of Robert of Gloucester. To him succeeded Arthur de Clapton, who was owner of lands in Clapton, 25th year of Henry I, and was succeeded therein by Nigel FitzArthur, in the time of Stephen."The successors of this Nigel assumed the name of Arthur."William de Clapton was the builder of the red sandstone Clapton church that glows so warmly in keeping with the red hillside from which its stone was quarried. Lords and ladies of the Arthur family must have sat on the early 14th century oak benches in the church, which are among the oldest in England. In a bellcote above the chancel of the church is an old Sanctus bell, the translation of an inscription which is: "I ring when the great bells stop for the feeding of the servants (of the Lord with his holy bread)."The name of the Arthur family appears very early in the records of Weston. In 1492 there was a lawsuit between John Payne and John Arthur, lord of the manor of Weston and Aschcombe regarding fishing rights at "Ankers Hed".In former times, when the fish yield of the Bristol Channel was considerably greater than it is today, the fishing rights were very valuable. John Payne complained that John Arthur, with 10 of his servants, fished in his fishery and took 100 horse loads of fish called barons, "four hundred young cod or Tubbelyns, three hundred Haddockes, and two hundred Whitynges". Since the fish were caught in the month of November we may presume that the "barons" that were carried away by the cartload were sprats.John Arthur denied committing a felony and asked to be tried by a jury. He claimed that the place where the trespass was supposed to have occurred was 10 acres of land at "Ankers Hed," which were dry when the tide receded and were consequently part of the foreshore and part of the manor of Weston of which John Arthur, father of the defendant, was owner.Payne for his part claimed that he and his ancestors from time immemorial had held the rights to seven fishing stalls fixed in half-an-acre of land at Anchor Head, and consequently there had been trespass. Unfortunately the record of this old lawsuit is incomplete and we do not know how it ended.In 1595, one of the heiresses of Edward Arthur, lord of the manor, successfully claimed from Queen Elizabeth one third of the local estate formerly held by her father, on promise of military service. The Arthurs and the Winters made Clapton their home, but no doubt when visiting the estates in the Weston district they stayed at the old Ashcombe Manor house or an earlier building on the same site.Clapton Court is believed to have been built by Richard Arthur about 500 years ago, and the Arthur arms impaling Berkeley are over the entrance porch beneath the battlemented tower, one of the few surviving features of the old house. Richard Arthur married Alice, daughter of James, Lord Berkeley, in 1465.At one time the Clapton manor was held solely on the service of a red rose to the King on Midsummer Day.A John Arthur is the first recorded incumbent of Clapton church, and another member of the family was also a priest here. Sir William Arthur, who was Constable of Bristol in the time of Edward II, rebuilt the court, and also erected the first Arthur chapel in the church. Another of the Arthurs was High Sheriff of Somerset.In the 1860s a beautiful old oak screen which had once stood in the great hall of Clapton Court had been turned out of doors and was exposed to the weather under a stone arch as the entrance to the garden. It was subsequently restored and presented to the church, and now stands at the back of the aisle.In his book, West Country Manors, W J Robinson says that the court, now converted into a farmhouse, is only a shadow of its former self. It once had an extensive eastern wing which included a large baronial hall. He draws special attention to the "beautiful and quaint old archway" that forms the entrance to the grounds.The manor of Clapton eventually passed by marriage into the Winter family. William Winter, of Lydney, Gloucester, a nephew of Sir William Winter, of Lydney, who was Vice Admiral of England, married Mary Arthur. She was the daughter and heiress of Clapton's last Arthur squire, Edward, who died in 1595. In the right of his wife William Winter became lord of Clapton, and in 1632 the manor of Weston also passed into the Winter family.Whether or not the Winters of Clapton wished to live in peace on their estates beside the Severn Sea they were unable to. They were caught up in national events. Members of the family were involved in the Gunpowder Plot.In the Civil War William Winter, of Clapton, was taken prisoner by the Parliamentarians. He protested that he had never been in arms against them, but his kinsfolk in Gloucester and Worcester were ardent Royalists. Sir John Winter, for instance, fortified and garrisoned Whitecross at Lydney, and courageously held out for a long time against Puritan forces from Gloucester.The unfortunate William Winter, of Clapton, was clapped into prison, and there he died in 1649. He left two small children, Henry and Grace, who were put under the guardianship of Hugh Halsewell and Samuel Gorges, of Charlton. In later years Grace married the son of her guardian, Samuel Gorges. Henry wed Katharine, daughter of Sir Popham Southcott, of Bovey Tracy.It is Henry we see in the elaborate tomb in the Arthur chapel at Clapton church. In armour, he kneels at a prayer desk and faces his wife. Between them in a sort of little house is the figure of their child daughter. She holds a skull in her hands, signifying that she died before they did. Above the memorial are trumpeting angels, and below lions.When Henry Winter died in 1685 apparently there was not even enough money in the estate to finish off a memorial to him. It is said that he lost his fortune at the gaming tables.After his death his son and heir, another Henry, who was barely 21, had no alternative but to turn the manor of Clapton and all other estates over to Sir John Smyth and another trustee to be sold in settlement of his father's debts. The records state: "Henry assigned Clapton and Weston-super-Mare for payment of his debts."This article, edited by Jill Bailey, was originally published on August 12, 1966

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