THE LANGFORD BROOKE FAMILY OF MERE

This family and its estate are being studied as part of an adult education class run by the Department of Continuing Education at Keele University called Fine Arts and Society in the Late Georgian Country House. The family muniments are deposited at the John Rylands Library in Manchester.

The Brooke, later Langford Brooke family lived at Mere from the middle of the 17th century until the early 1990s.  The last male heir, Colonel Ronald Langford-Brooke, died in 1980 and his wife in 1993.  There was a sale of the Old Hall and contents in May 1994. Peter de Figueiredo and Julian Treuhertz in Cheshire Country Houses, describe Mere Old Hall as a late 17th century house remodelled in 1809-1815 and subsequently truncated in 1836. When Mere New Hall was built the old house was let to Manchester merchants and manufacturers during the 19th century. The New Hall was built about 1834 to the design of Thomas Johnson of Lichfield in a red brick Elizabethan style. The main block was destroyed in a fire in 1975 and the building is now the Mere Golf and Country Club (Grid Ref. SJ 727816)

By comparison with the research on the Leicesters at Tabley House and the Egertons at Tatton, relatively little has been undertaken on the Brooke family and there are very few published articles.  The two most recent accounts do not reveal their sources of information.  They are an item in Country Life, (Vol. CLXXXIV, No. 20, 17 May 1990 on p. 204) and the sale catalogue produced by Christie’s in 1994.  A short article in the series Cheshire Families and their Seats (Advertiser Notes and Queries, 1 1882, p. 168-9) is based on Burke's History of the Commoners.  There is an article on the family in Burke's Landed Gentry of 1879.  Ormerod (The History of the County Palatine and City of Chester, three volumes, London, 1819)  quotes family trees drawn up by Sir Francis Leicester (1674-1742). The following three paragraphs, with small additions, are taken from the Sale Catalogue of 1994, the author of which is denoted as R.C.R.

The ancient seat of the Royalist de Mere family, Mere Hall estate, was acquired for Peter Brooke, younger son of the Parliamentarian Thomas Brooke of Norton, in 1652. He was MP for Cheshire in 1657 and knighted in 1660, anad one of the last to be so honoured under the Commonwealth regime. Sir Peter was appointed High Sheriff of Cheshire in 1668 and of Lancashire in 1674 . Sir Peter proceeded to rebuild the old Hall in the Carolean style with a balustraded low pitch root and stone quoins. Dissatisfied, however, he turned his attentions to his other estate at Astley, Lancashire, leaving his heir, Thomas, to reside at Mere where the Brooke family continued to flourish. They were model landlords, and each of four succeeding generations of the family in the 18th Century married well culminating with the marriage in 1756 of Peter Brooke, to Elizabeth Langford, daughter and heiress of Jonas Langford of Theobalds, Hertfordshire, the owner of substantial estates in Antigua in the West Indies.

Following his eldest son Jonas’s tragically early death in Milan in 1784 (whilst on the Grand Tour), Peter Brooke was succeeded by his youngest son Thomas, who added his mother's maiden name of Langford to his surname, thus starting the family name of Langford-Brooke. Thomas Langford-Brooke immediately commissioned Samuel Wyatt to rebuild the house. The plans and elevations survive but they were never executed and it was not until circa 1813 that Mere was again remodelled, almost certainly to designs of Samuel’s reworked by his nephew Lewis Wyatt. It was conceived as a classical villa and the long facade was dominated by a Pantheonic domed entrance front. Like many of their neighbours, most obviously the Egertons of Tatton, the Brooke family combined the patronage of the Wyatt family of architects with that ot the Gillows family of London and Lancaster for their furniture.

The Wyatt villa was short-lived however, the majority being destroyed by a disastrous fire shortly after the succession of Peter Langford-Brooke. He turned to the Lichfield architect Thomas Johnson to build a New Hall on another part of the estate in the romantic Old English or Elizabethan style at a cost of £15,000, into which he moved in 1837. (Peter Langford Brooke was drowned when he fell through a hole in the ice while skating on the mere on 9 January 1840 and his widow moved back to the old hall. Mere Old Hall, after repairs and modifications, was let until 1914, when William Prinsep Langford-Brooke, finding the New Hall unmanageable, returned and he proceeded to remodel the principal suite of rooms in the Adam revival style. He lived there until his death in 1927, when he was succeeded by his son Ronald.

The family tree shown below is drawn from several sources. I am grateful to Mrs. Griffiths, the daughter of the late Colonel Ronald Langford-Brooke for allowing me to consult The Genealogy of the Brooke Family of Norton Priory, Mere Hall and Astley Hall, by James Finlayson, of which only 25 copies were privately published for the family in 1869. The information has been compared with that in the second edition of Ormerod's work and Burke's Landed Gentry, 1879. The tree below shows seven generations from Sir Peter Brooke who purchased Mere, to the last heir, Thomas William Langford Brooke, who died in 1872.  In addition, some dates have been added or confirmed from the Parish Registers of Rostherne, which have been examined in detail from the middle of the 17th century. These records revealed details of children who died in infancy and who had been omitted from published genealogies.  The information on the branch of the family at Astley Hall near Chorley in Lancashire has been taken from the booklet, Astley Hall Museum and Art Gallery, available at the hall.

The numbers refer to the generation and children are listed in order of birth where this is known. The name was not hyphenated until the end of the 19th century.  In Burke, the sons are usually listed in order first, followed by the daughters.  The article in Landed Gentry 1879 has the following preamble:
 

"The late Thomas William Langford Brooke Esq. of Mere Hall in Cheshire, born 8 May 1843, succeeded his father in 1865 and died unmarried in 1872.  The Mere Estates are now enjoyed by his mother, Catherine Mary, Mrs. Langford-Brooke and will eventually descend to her nephew Capt. Henry White Langford-Brooke, son of the late Henry William White Esq. of Monar in Ross-shire, by Alexandra Eliza his wife, the daughter of Col. Alexander MacLeod.  He assumed the additional surname of Langford-Brooke by royal licence in 1874."

From the family tree we see that Catherine Mary Langford Brooke and Alexandra Eliza White were sisters.  Thus in 1879 it was envisaged that the estates would pass via Mrs. Langford-Brooke to her sister’s son and therefore out of the Brooke family. It is assumed, but not proven by my research, that no male heirs remained from younger sons of earlier generations.
 

Astley Hall

Astley Hall in evening light, 11 June 2002

Footnote 1. According to Ormerod, Vol. III, page 741, the daughters, who all died young, were Sophia, Felicia, Francesand Elizabeth. He does not mention John, baptised in 1755. However, George Heron and two of his brothers, William and Peter Kiffin, and two sisters, Ann Meriel and Catherine, are mentioned in the will of their uncle, Peter Brooke. Felicia and Frances Elizabeth are not mentioned in published accounts of the family and probably died in infancy.The following monuments of the Brooke family are at St. Mary's, Rostherne. They are on the north side of the church in an area curtained off for the preparation of services and choir practice.

 

Elizabeth Brooke

Elizabeth Brooke wife of the late Peter Brooke, died 15 Dec. 1809

Jonas Langford Brooke spacer Thomas Langford Brooke
Jonas Langford Brooke died at Milan,on 19 July 1784, aged 26.   Thomas Langford Brooke, died 21 Dec. 1815

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