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The Hornyold Family

The Hornyolds appear to have lived in Worcestershire since before the Conquest, one John de Hornyng Wold, a former Saxon chief, being hanged in 1068 for stirring up discontent against the Normans. Another John de Hornyold is recorded as High Sheriff of Worcestershire in 1315.

The family moved into the Hanley area in 1547, when John Hornyold – Auditor of the Exchequer to Henry VIII, Governor of Calais and Receiver of Normandy and the remainder of the English possessions in France – leased Blackmore Park, an estate of 200 acres, from the crown. A year later, he bought it for £450, rebuilding a house that had existed on the site since at least 1280 when one Adam de Blackmore was a taxpayer. Hornyold’s son John II, a devout Catholic, continued as Auditor of the Exchequer under Queen Elizabeth and in 1559, shortly after her accession, bought the lordship of the manor of Hanley from the crown for £851 9s 6d. This acquisition was made just before Catholics began to be fined for not attending Protestant services; not long afterwards John lost his position at court. He retired to Blackmore Park and concerned himself with his estate, complaining in a letter written to the Lord High Treasurer of England in 1573 that the chase was being harmed by excessive felling of trees by local potters to fire their kilns.

With Catholics liable to be convicted of high treason, the Hornyolds had to practice their faith surreptitiously and two secret hiding places were built into Blackmore House for visiting priests. One of the few ways to increase their wealth was to marry into other landed Catholic families. John’s son Ralph married Margaret Lygon from neighbouring Madresfield and his grandson, John III (1583-1643), married Elizabeth Russell, daughter of Sir Thomas Russell, who owned Hanley Hall among other properties.

English Civil War

By the early 17th century the family had considerably enlarged its estates, a survey of Malvern Chase in 1628 finding that John Hornyold owned over 2000 acres. But the Civil War plunged the family into turmoil. They paid £12 a month to each side to avoid being plundered, but this only postponed the inevitable, for John and his son Thomas (1628-1705) were leading royalists. Thomas fought at the Battle of Worcester in 1651 and helped to secure the escape of the future Charles II. He then rode to Blackmore House, took a large sum of money, and fled to Bristol, where he gave the money to the king to support him in exile. Thomas lived abroad until the Restoration in 1660, but his estate was plundered and £5000 worth of timber cut down. In addition, he was fined £3000 by parliament for supporting the royalist cause. When Charles II returned to the throne, the Hornyold estate was restored, but Thomas was never compensated for his lost timber or the money given to the king. However, the family fortunes revived with the marriage of Thomas’s son Robert to the heiress Bridget Windsor, whereby the family acquired the castle site, its lodge, and four mills.

As Catholics, the Hornyolds were excluded from Parliament, the law, universities, and commissions in the army and navy. But commerce was open to them and Thomas II (1718-1799) became a partner in the London banking firm of Robartes & Hornyold. He added a Georgian wing to Blackmore House and in 1768 acquired property in the Malvern, Upton and Cradley areas worth £16,000. His wife Mary kept an account book of expenditure on their six children. At the age of 7 their son Thomas III (1755-1814) received ½ guinea pocket money for the year. In 1767 he left Edgbaston School and, prevented from attending Oxford or Cambridge universities, was sent to the Catholic equivalent in France, the English Jesuit College of St Omer. Finally, in 1775 when he was 20, she records an expenditure of £25 0s 6d “for my son learning to fence and dance in London”. His education was complete.


In 1778 Parliament passed a bill that allowed Catholics to purchase land, make wills, mortgage, and secure their property on equal footing with Protestants. This enabled the family to enlarge their estate so that by 1786 it comprised Blackmore Park mansion, the manor of Hanley Castle, 12 houses and gardens, 500 acres of arable land, 300 acres of meadow, 500 acres of pasture, 100 acres of wood and 500 acres of furze and heath. The lord of the manor’s ancient privileges and responsibilities included the periodic holding of courts to settle minor matters. A typical notice to the bailiff of the manor in 1791 reads: “You are hereby required to summon all the freeholders and other persons who owe suit and service at the view of Frankpledge [hearing of accusations] and Court Leet [petty offences] and Court Baron [rights and duties, disputes between tenants, etc] of Thomas Hornyold Esq, Lord of the Manor, personally to appear on Tuesday 15th of November at 10 o’clock in the forenoon then and there to do and perform suit and service according to the custom of the manor”.

Further acquisitions of land were made following the Enclosure Act of 1795, which saw a dramatic rearrangement of the road system around Hanley Swan. In particular, the straight roads from Blackmore Park to Gilberts End and from Hanley Swan crossroads to the Malvern Hills bisected by the road from the Three Counties Showground to Barnards Green were carved across virgin land, allowing Thomas III to consolidate his holdings.

Squire Hornyold

Inheriting this estate at the age of 23, Thomas Charles Hornyold (1791-1859) soon established a reputation for extravagance, buying a pack of foxhounds and leading the life of a Regency sporting squire. Following another Enclosure Act in 1817, he snapped up the remaining 100 acres of common land around the pool at Swan Green, but made a serious mistake when he stood guarantor for his unprincipled and spendthrift brother-in-law, John Joseph Weston. By 1821 his debts amounted to a staggering £37,210 and drastic measures had to be taken to avoid bankruptcy. He began the development of Malvern Wells at the western edge of the estate, but in 1828 he had to let Blackmore House and live abroad. In 1830 he sold a substantial estate in Staffordshire that had been in the family for generations and even more reluctantly was forced to cut down some £13,000 worth of magnificent timber for which Blackmore Park was noted. This was the last remnant of the great forest of Malvern Chase, of which in 1573 John Hornyold had written “the grete oakes were so thick together that a wayne [wagon] cold not passe but in certain places”.

As his finances improved, Thomas Charles devoted himself to county business and earned the reputation of the most popular man in Worcestershire, being styled “The Old Squire”. He took an active part in the campaigns for Catholic emancipation and was elected High Sheriff of Worcestershire in 1841. Three years later, as a mark of their affection for him, his tenants gave him a beautifully decorated silver tankard inscribed “Presented to Thomas Charles Hornyold Esq by his grateful tenantry in token of respect for his conduct as neighbour and friend and in admiration of his principle as a landlord whose motto is Live and Let Live.” Thomas Charles was the last of the male Hornyold line. Under the Hornyold’s Estate Act of 1854 the estate passed to his nephew John Vincent Gandolfi, who added the name Hornyold when he inherited it in 1859.

The Gandolfi family, of Italian extraction, had settled in England in the 18th century and became wealthy silk merchants. John Vincent Gandolfi-Hornyold (1818-1902), who was a Marquis of Genoa, had already shown an interest in Hanley by financing the building in 1846 of a catholic church, monastery, now the presbytery, and school at a total cost of £30,000. He demolished the ancestral home at Blackmore Park and replaced it with a Jacobean-style mansion in 1867. The old house had been infested with rats. “These brutes could not be well got at and were a terror at night to any servant who was downstairs. A terrier dog killed 14 in the scullery, and occasionally I have seen them upstairs”, recorded John Vincent’s son, Thomas Charles II (Charles), in the family history book.

The new mansion was designed by the architect David Brandon and built by George Myers, the builder of the Houses of Parliament, using bricks from the Hornyold yard near Cliffey Wood on the Severn. Charles (1846-1906), remembering that his great-uncle felled timber to raise money, planted numerous limes, horse chestnuts, elms and sycamores, “trees which are long-lived and handsome, but of little value for timber… to put temptation away from future lords of the manor.” He continued to plant trees throughout his life, including Spanish chestnuts, oaks, mulberries, planes, and a row of 11 Wellingtonias at the back of the house.

But on 14th October 1881, a hurricane destroyed 140 trees on the estate, and nearly every tree within half a mile of the house was damaged. Ten years later to the day, another ferocious gale uprooted many other trees. And in 1893 a severe drought, the worst in living memory, left all the ponds half empty and the wells dry. Six years later, after another drought, Charles wrote, “In my opinion, all the country has been over-drained, which causes droughts in summer and floods in the late winter.” That year, 1899, he noted that at last the whole park was fully planted, his oldest trees being 33 years old. The slow growth of the trees reminded him how short even a long human life was. He reflected, “I realise how those who live 100 years hence when I am forgotten will enjoy the fair scenery.”

The family expanded the estate whenever possible. In 1873, after years of negotiation, Charles exchanged land with Sir Edmund Lechmere, whereby the Hornyolds gave up Cliffey Wood and Farm, the Hanley Castle site with Lodge Farm and Burley Mill, Hook Farm and a portion of Honeypots Farm in exchange for five large farms in Hanley and Welland, including Common, Danemoor and Firs (now the Three Counties Showground), which had been owned by the Lechmeres. “The interests of the two families now do not clash”, he reported.


Seven years later he wrote: “On the night of 4 February 1880 the mansion erected by my father was entirely gutted by fire. I was awoke at about a quarter past one o’clock by a housemaid at my door and by shrieks in two voices of “Oh, dear the house is on fire, what is to be done” and “I have done it, I have set it on fire”. The coachman and the groom rode to Malvern and Upton for the fire engines. By the time the 15 men for each engine had been roused, the horses harnessed and the two contraptions delivered to Blackmore Park, it was 3.30 am; half an hour later three splendid engines and 40 men arrived from Worcester. But by then the fire had taken control, sending sheets of flame 15 feet long over the chimney stacks. “It was certainly a magnificent as well as an awful and sad sight,” Thomas Charles noted. “The reflection in the lake in the park was extremely beautiful.”

“The police arrived at about 8 o’clock and caught three men and two women in the act of stealing. I have no doubt that five times this number escaped. By now 800 people had assembled, about 100 of them working under different leaders at stripping the house room by room. Sir Edmund Lechmere and others offered most valuable assistance. I am sorry to have to record that while everyone else worked with wonderful zeal and rapidity, the housekeeper Mrs Felston went to her own room and packed her boxes, leaving the linen room with its contents to the value of £5000 and upwards to be entirely consumed by the flames.”

Restored in 1883 at a cost of £12,000, the new mansion had all the facilities of an up-to-date Victorian country house: 28 bedrooms, a nursery wing, three bathrooms, 16 WCs, billiards room, and chapel; it was lit by gas and had central heating. In the grounds were fishponds, a walled kitchen garden and glasshouses for grapes, peaches, cucumbers, tomatoes, melons and figs. The following year the Malvern Hills Act was passed and the family gave up grazing rights to considerable land around the hills. In 1898 John Vincent made over all his estates to Thomas Charles II who, in 1899, was granted the title of Duke Gandolfi by Pope Leo XIII for services to Catholicism.


His son, Alfonso (1879-1937), named after his godfather, King Alfonso XII of Spain, became a distinguished scientist and was more interested in zoology than running a country estate. And so in 1919, the major part of this great 3266-acre estate built up over 370 years was sold in 170 lots. They included Quakers Farm (20 acres), Coverside Farm (127 acres), Blackmore Grange (5 acres), Merebrook and Blackmore End Farms (each around 150 acres), Cygnet Lodge Farm (61 acres), St Mary’s Villa (10 acres), the Hornyold Arms in Malvern Wells (25 acres), Holy Well Spring, The Wells House school (19 acres), what is now The Cottage in the Wood Hotel (7 acres), Essington Hotel (5 acres), The Ruby (a 17th-century residence, home of Admiral Benbow), as well as three quarries and some 200 acres of the Malvern Hills. The mansion failed to find a buyer at £15,000 and in 1921 Duke Alfonso sold its contents of more than 1600 items at an auction lasting six days. A second estate sale was held in 1926 when Stable Farm (49 acres), Home Farm (22 acres) and over 100 acres of pasture were sold, as well as the shell of the mansion to a developer, who stripped out the fixtures with any value. Soon afterwards a mysterious fire gutted the house and it was demolished. But the great portico entrance was salvaged and re-erected at what is now Malvern St James Girls’ College.

The present Blackmore House, which is owned by Antony Hornyold, grandson of the first Duke Gandolfi, was built in the 1930s close to the site of the old mansion.

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