A family home at the centre of rural life and work
Lived in by one family through inheritance and marriage for over 875 years and never sold, Dudmaston embodies nearly a millennium of local history. Today, the Hall is home to the Hamilton-Russell family, and continues to revolve around the rhythms of the local community.
Dudmaston first appears in a deed of c.1127 when Helgor of Holgate granted a manor called Dodemannestone with half a hide of land to a Norman knight, Harlewyn de Butaille, whose family then adopted the local name of Dudmaston.
The Wolryches arrived on the scene nearly three centuries later, when in 1403 the heiress Margaret de Dudmaston married William Wolryche of Much Wenlock.
Francis Wolryche (1563–1614) was only a small child when he succeeded his father in 1566 as head of the Wolryche family. We do not know how he was brought up, but in 1588, at the age of 25, he married into the world of high-flying Elizabethan lawyers and politicians, a connection that was to prove important for the next generation.
Evidence for the kind of house this large family occupied is sparse. Its character and even its exact site remain a mystery, despite recent archaeological surveys. An early map shows a drive west from the road, still visible as raised ground, leading to the present orchard.
Francis Wolryche’s oldest son Thomas was 16 when his father died and studying at Cambridge. He was taken under the wing of his uncle, the Exchequer lawyer Edward Bromley, who was a trustee of the estate under Francis Wolryche’s will. Life for Thomas and Ursula Ottley, the lady he married in 1625 was not straight forward, thanks to a series of upsets in his local and political life.
The late 17th Century
Francis, the eldest son of Sir Thomas, studied at Cambridge and inherited in 1668 at the age of 41, but proved incapable, and was declared a lunatic.
By an Act of Parliament in 1673 he retained the title until his death in 1689, but the estate was settled on his younger brother John who was a member of Gray’s Inn and, like his father, was elected MP for Much Wenlock. He married Mary Griffith, the daughter of the royal chaplain Matthew Griffith.
The new house
Sir Thomas Wolryche, 3rd Bt (1672–1701) was only 13 when he inherited, and any plans for rebuilding the house were put on hold. It was his marriage to Elizabeth Weld in 1689 which prompted action.
Before Sir Thomas’s fine new house was completed, tragedy struck; he died from tuberculosis at the age of only 29 and the title passed to his ten-year-old son. John, 4th Bt grew up to be an irresponsible spendthrift. John drowned in the river after celebrating a winning day at Chelmarsh races in 1723.
The estate, left with heavy debts and no male heir, was eventually settled in 1741 on John’s sister Mary for payment of debts to the sum of £14,000. On Mary's death, the estate passed to the nonagenarian Colonel, who bequeathed Dudmaston to a distant cousin, George Whitmore.
The new owner from 1775, a nephew of George Whitmore, was William Whitmore (1745–1815), the 30-year-old son of a Southampton wine merchant. He found little in the house; furniture and silver had been given away.
William Whitmore made gradual repairs and improvements to the house and the estate. He added new stables and an extension to the brewery, and made a start on the rebuilding of the Dudmaston farms.
William Wolryche-Whitmore (1787–1858) inherited Dudmaston on his father’s death in 1815. In 1810 he had married Lucy Bridgeman, daughter of the Earl of Bradford, who brought a welcome dowry. The young couple clearly found Dudmaston gloomy and old-fashioned, and in the 1820s alterations were put in hand by the local builder, John Smalman of Quatford.
William Wolryche-Whitmore died in 1858 leaving Dudmaston to his brother-in-law, the Rev. Francis Laing, vicar of Quatt, who was married to Mary Dorothea, William’s sister. The house was let to an Australian sheep farmer, and it was only in 1864 that it was again occupied by the family.
Geoffrey Wolryche-Whitmore (1881–1969) became the Agent of the estate in 1908 at the age of 27, having trained on the progressive estates of Apethorpe and Buscot. Full of enthusiasm for his new role, he travelled to Germany to study modern methods of forestry, with the aim of making the Dudmaston estate an economic success. In 1910 he planted 200 acres of woodland on sandy soil not suitable for farming, and established a sawmill at Holt.
Geoffrey Wolryche-Whitmore had no children. It was agreed in 1952 that Dudmaston would be inherited by his niece Rachel, with the understanding that the estate would ultimately pass to the National Trust. But for Rachel, Dudmaston was a distant dream for many years.
In 1943 she had married a diplomat, George Labouchere, whom she had met in 1940 while working at the Admiralty. In 1966, on Sir George’s retirement, the Laboucheres made Dudmaston their home, but with the intention of displaying the house to the public.
Dudmaston was gifted to the National Trust in 1978 by Rachel, Lady Labouchere and after she died in 1996 the mansion, as she had specified, became the family home of her Hamilton-Russell cousins.