Augustus Clissold – From Stoke Newington to Tunbridge Wells

Written by Charmian Clissold-Jones (Augustus Clissold’s three times great niece, descended from his brother, the Rev. Henry Clissold, 1795-1867)

“Broadwater Down is a noble thoroughfare, 50 feet in width, planted with an avenue of ornamental trees and situate about 400 feet above the level of the sea. On both sides are handsome Mansions, 46 in number, each surrounded by spacious ornamental grounds of from one to ten acres. It is therefore an exceedingly choice residential position .” So ran the advertising promotion in a sale catalogue for No.1 Broadwater Down in 1885. It was a road inhabited by affluent, respectable families, such as (in 1881) Henry Hewitson at No.3, a retired merchant and shipowner, William Woodward Doke at No. 2, a retired stockbroker and William Newbold at No. 7, a director of a Mexican Railway Company in London.

At No. 4, lived the Rev’d Augustus Clissold MA, a retired clergyman from London, who spent time at his country home in Tunbridge Wells from the 1860’s. The Census Returns of 1871 reveal that, aged 73, he lived there with his wife Eliza, his sister-in-law Mary Wood, and five servants. However, his main residence was in Stoke Newington in London, in a fine house built by Joseph Woods for his uncle Jonathan Hoare in about 1790 and set amidst 53 acres. Formerly known as “Crawshay’s Farm”, then “The Park”, it eventually became  known (from 1889) as “Clissold Park”. The story of how the property came into the Clissold family is very romantic, but tinged with sadness and mystery.

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Augustus Clissold was born in 1797 near Stroud, Gloucestershire, one of 13 children, of  whom 5 sons and two daughters grew up. His father, Stephen  Clissold,  had founded the Ebley Cloth Mills, but none of his sons followed him into the business. Augustus took his BA degree at Exeter College, Oxford in 1818 and his MA in 1821. In 1823 he was admitted to priests orders and held for some time the curacies of St. Martin-in-the-Fields and St. Mary in Stoke Newington. He fell in love with Mr William Crawshay’s daughter, Eliza, who was a regular worshipper at St. Mary’s, but marriage was out of the question  as Eliza’s father  refused consent, and even threatened to shoot the messengers whom the lovers were forced to employ.

William Crawshay, who lived at Crawshay’s Farm, came from a remarkable family of ironmasters. His father Richard, had built up the ironworks at Cyfarthfa in South Wales, transforming it from a sleepy backwater into a boom area in the early days of the Industrial Revolution. In 1803 the Cyfarthfa ironworks were the largest in Britain and renowned for the quality of output. Guns for HMS Victory were made there and in 1802, Nelson visited the ironworks with Sir William and Lady Hamilton.  In 1810, William had inherited £100,000 from his father, from an estate valued at well over a million pounds – a truly astronomical figure at that time. (Indeed, in the Sunday Times Rich List of April 1999, they placed Richard Crawshay at No.6 of the ten richest people in England in 1799. -The value, in the year 1999, being £240m)

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William Crawshay I – 1764-1834

William had inherited a highly complex business arrangement with many partners, including two of his highly competitive brothers, and a convoluted interlinking between the Cyfarthfa Works, the ‘London House’ that sold the products and the Rhymney Ironworks. His success at resolving the many incompatible issues,and strengthening his own position within the company, revealed him to be a master manipulator and businessman, able to exploit rifts and weaknesses in his opponents and grab opportunities whenever possible.When he died, he was said to be the largest individual ironmaster in the world.

The  Crawshays were men of strong, unyielding and independent character, with a driving ambition to make the most of the opportunities which presented themselves. While William I lived in his beautiful house in Stoke Newington and attended to the trading business carried on there, his son, William II managed the Cyfarthfa works at Merthyr Tydfil. There was much personal conflict between each successive father and son.

William I was wealthy, powerful, shrewd and autocratic but he was far fonder of his children than Richard had been of him. Nevertheless, he expected them to be subservient to his dictates, while they were strong-willed and resented his autocratic rule. Fear of dis-inheritance (as William I had at one time been disinherited by his father) kept the sons from open rebellion. So, William remained the paternal autocrat until his death in 1834, only defeated by his daughter Mary, whose dowry he paid in full although she persisted in marrying against his wishes. He refused to attend the wedding or have anything to do with her husband, Capt. Wood.

So it was against this background of family character and history that Eliza faced defeat in her wishes to marry the Rev’d Augustus. She appears to have been of more gentle and considerate nature than her sister Mary and her brothers. During Mary’s quest for permission to marry, Eliza wrote to her favourite brother William II, begging him not to take sides or do anything “either as friend or foe”, that might offend their father. She was frightened lest William II went too far and lost his promised inheritance, the Cyfarthfa ironworks. She was always urging him to be prudent, calling her father,” the king”, and pointing out the futility of opposition, “The king, my dear William, is quite determined to have his own way and I hope his three legitimate sons, the Princes Richard, William and George will never oppose him.” She was a shrewd, witty woman, particularly devoted to her mother and middle brother, William. It must have been a dull existence for her.

Poor Eliza. Her father was said to have an incurable aversion to the church and its ministers (but possibly to one in particular!) In 1812, Mr Crawshay built a wall on the north side of the churchyard (adjoining his property) with foundations 10 feet deep, to prevent, it is said, the sexton thrusting surreptitious coffins under his estate. In 1816, he proposed building a wall 10 feet above the ground of the churchyard.

The Rev’d Clissold came from a respectable family himself, but it would appear that the main opposition to him from Mr Crawshay was for his unorthodox religious beliefs. He was well thought of by the congregation and was hard working and conscientious, but was greatly troubled by points of doctrine. While in this frame of mind he read a book called “The True Christian Religion” by Emmanuel Swedenborg and became an enthusiastic student of his writings.

So it was not until Mr Crawshay died in 1834 that Eliza was finally able to wed Augustus,which she did on the 6th May 1835. She was by then 45 years old. The marriage was attended by her brother George and by Stephen Clissold, brother to Augustus, which suggests that it was acceptable to both families. Eliza brought a beautiful house and great wealth to the marriage. It gave financial independence to her husband, so that after 1840 he practically withdrew from Church of England work and devoted himself to study and to writing and to advancing the cause of the New Church.

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Clissold House in Stoke Newington – The main residence of Augustus and Eliza Clissold between 1835-1877

He became a member of the Swedenborg Society in 1838 until his death, and was the author of a large number  of ecclesiastical works of reputation, such as  “The Spiritual Exposition of the Apocalypse,” “The Practical Nature of Swedenborg Writings” and “The Re-Union of Christendom”. He was on the Committee of the Society for a number of years and served some time as Chairman, helping to resolve an internal dispute within the Society with William White in 1861. During the whole of his association with the Society, he was most generous financially, giving regular financial donations and purchasing for them the lease on their new headquarters in Bloomsbury Street. At his death the Society  received a legacy of £4,000. Altogether he must have contributed something like £8,000 to them.

This generosity to the Society caused some concern amongst some of his family, prompting a great niece to write, “to think that wicked old Augustus in his old age, took up Swedenborgian religion, and left them his fortune of £30,000 which should have come to my father. Aunt Diana, who lived with her brother, turned too, and the Society got her £5,000 as well.” (The legacy to the society, left by Augustus  in his will, was in fact £4,000.)

4 Broadwater Down, Tunbridge Wells
No. 4 Broadwater Down, Tunbridge Wells

After Eliza’s death in 1877, Augustus spent most of his time at No.4 Broadwater Down and there he died in October 1882. They are buried next to each other in the cemetery in Tunbridge Wells. His sister, Diana, wrote of him that “ he led so studious a life that it is difficult to find external incidents to relate. When at Stoke Newington he lived in his library, and here I never disturbed him.”   

The Swedenborg Society paid him a well deserved tribute, acknowledging “with gratitude the munificent assistance of Mr  Clissold for many years, and also the benefit of his Christian counsel at all times, as well as the example of his Christian character.”

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The couple had no children, so after his death, Augustus’s life interest in “The Park” in Stoke Newington, held by virtue of his wife, reverted back to the Crawshay family. It was eventually sold to the London County  Council in 1886 and opened as a park in 1889.  It  was a minor Botanical Garden which had been designed as the grounds of a gentleman’s residence. Today, the fine house is sadly rather neglected  and used as a tea room, and in much need of renovation and care, but it is the name of Clissold, and not that of  Crawshay that has remained permanently attached to the estate.

And the mystery? Early one morning in 1982, a lady was walking her dog, along one of the paths in the park. She saw a figure wearing mourning clothes, a long black skirt and coat with a black hat and veil, approaching along another path. She thought they would meet when the two paths crossed, but the figure just disappeared. Puzzled, she asked a Park Keeper about the incident. He confirmed that she had just seen the ghost of Clissold Park!

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Sources:

1. Cyfarthfa Castle,by Stephen Done. (Booklet from the Museum, Cyfarthfa Castle)

2. The Crawshays of Cyfarthfa Castle,by Margaret Stewart Taylor.

3. The Crawshay Dynasty,by John P.Addis.

4. Stoke Newington, The Nineteenth Century,by A J. Shirren. (The Shirren Papers in the Hackney Archives.)

5. The Growth of Stoke Newington – A Model for Other Local Studies,by Jack Whitehead.

6. New Church Magazine, Vol VIII,1889, (held at the Swedenborg Society, London.)

7. Letter from the Honourable Secretary, Mrs Griffith, Ph.D, at the Swedenborg Society, to the Town Clerk, A.J.Shirren, Town Hall, Stoke Newington,3rd July 1950.

8. The Dictionary of National Biography

9. Ghost Story related by Jeanne Clissold, as told to her by Professor Cushing at London University. Prof. Cushing had visited a friend who had seen the ghost.

10.  Family papers.

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