Top Ten Essex families (i)

Looking down the list of past Essex High Sheriffs, it soon becomes apparent that names crop up repeatedly, sometimes in clusters, sometimes spread over many centuries. At least eight families provided four sheriffs, too many to make it into the Top Ten, which starts with those who came up with five.

Monument to Ralph Wiseman (died 1608) and his wife Elizabeth (died 1594) in St Mary and All Saints’ Church, Rivenhall. The monument was erected by Ralph following his wife’s death, in about 1598, and is thought to be the work of Garat Johnson the Elder. On the front of the chest are kneeling figures of their children, three boys and three girls.

The earliest of these is the Wiseman family, who appear only briefly on the shrieval stage between 1591 and 1660. They came to prominence in the reign of Henry VIII: John Wiseman was knighted at the Battle of the Spurs in 1513 and was one of Henry’s Auditors. His son John bought an estate at Great Canfield, which the family held until 1733; this branch of the family supplied William Wiseman, appointed sheriff in 1638, who had been created baronet in 1628 and died in 1643. Another branch lived at Rivenhall, the first sheriff being Ralph, appointed 1590, whose fine monument is in the church there. His son Sir Thomas was sheriff in 1611, and his son, also Sir Thomas, was appointed in 1658. He died during his term of office, which was completed by his son William, who at the Restoration in 1660 was able to buy himself a baronetcy at the special bargain price of £500. He was elected MP for Maldon four times, before his death in 1688. His widow sold Rivenhall Place, which had been built by Ralph, to the Western family, one of whom, Thomas Burch Western of Felix Hall, was High Sheriff in 1850–1 (and Lord-Lieutenant 1869–73).

Felix Hall, Kelvedon, in 2004: semi-ruined but still inhabited. It has since been restored.

Just overlapping with the Wisemans were the Abdy family. Anthony Abdy, an alderman of the City of London who died in 1640, settled at Albyns, Stapleford Abbots, where he built a house that was demolished in 1954 following war damage.  His son Thomas, created baronet in 1641, was sheriff in 1651–2; his seat was Felix Hall, Kelvedon, the first of four sheriffs (of four different families) to occupy that house. Sir Robert Abdy of Albyns, created baronet in 1660, and sheriff in 1660–1, was his younger brother. John Rutherford Abdy, sheriff in 1809–10, was great-grandson of Sir William Abdy, 4th baronet of Rivenhall, but this line died out with the death of the 7th baronet in 1868. Meanwhile the Albyns baronetcy had also died out, in 1759, but a new one was created in 1849 for Thomas Neville Abdy, High Sheriff in 1875–6. He was succeeded in 1877 by his son William, High Sheriff in 1884.

Faulkbourne Hall, seat of the Parker family.

That brings us firmly into the 19th century, and two families who quickly made their mark upon the shrievalty: the Parkers and the Courtaulds.  John Oxley Parker, farmer and estate agent of Woodham Mortimer Place, was High Sheriff in 1883–4, and his son Christopher William Parker, of Faulkbourne Hall, in 1906–7. Colonel Richard Cecil Oxley Parker (nephew of J. O. P., son of one of the founding partners of Strutt & Parker) was High Sheriff in 1942–3, John Oxley Parker (son of C. W. P.) in 1948–9, and his son Christopher William Oxley Parker in 1961–2.

Coming even closer to the present day, George Courtauld of Cut Hedge, Halstead, was High Sheriff in 1896–7, his son Samuel Augustine Courtauld of The Howe, Halstead, in 1916–17, and nephew William Julien Courtauld of Penny Pot, Halstead, in 1921–2, Augustine Courtauld (son of S. A. C.) of Spencers, Great Yeldham, in 1953–4, and George Courtauld’s great-grandson, also George, of Colne Engaine, in 2001–2.

[Many of the individuals mentioned here will be found in Essex Worthies: a biographical companion to the county by William Addison (1973).]

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