Chronology of the Lives of the Famous Shirley Brothers of Wiston
An Account of Sir Thomas Shirley's (the elder) audience with Queen Elizabeth
Pedigree of the Shirleys of Wiston Manor
The Manor of Wiston appears under the name of "Wistanestun" in the Domesday Book, the register of all his English possessions made by William the Conqueror after 1066. It was then in the possession of William de Braose who, as one of his most powerful followers, had received wide areas of the county of Sussex as a reward for his services to the King. Since the Conquest only four families have owned and lived on the the Wiston Estate.
The house remained in the ownership of the de Braose family until the middle of the 15th Century when John de Broase (whose grave, covered with a splendid brass, can be seen in the Church beside Wiston House), died without a male heir.
Wiston passed through marriage into the hands of the Shirley family. The mediaeval manor house of the d Broases no longer suited 16th Century tastes, and Sir Robert Shirley had a new house built in the 1570's. The Shirley House was much larger than the present one. The south wing stretched further westwards, occupying the space where the Conservatory now stands. A three-storied wing, now completely vanished, ran parallel to the present west terrace, while the east courtyard (outside the present main door) was enclosed by a range of buildings which have also completely disappeared.
Although the Shirley family were rich enough to have the House built, they found themselves in financial difficulties, attributed to acting as Treasurer to Queen Elizabeth I, and forfeited Wiston House in the early 17th Century. The House passed to the Crown, was granted to the Earl of Middlesex, and later was owned briefly by the Earl of Thanet, before being bought in 1649 by Sir John Fagge (of whom an excellent portrait by Robert Walker hangs in the Library). The Fagges lived at Wiston House until 1743 when the male line died out and Elizabeth Fagge married Charles Goring.
The Church at Wiston
The Church is a typical English manor church, standing beside the manor house itself, but serving the whole parish. It is an ancient foundation, also being mentioned in the Domesday Book. However, like the House, it underwent radical restoration in the mid-19th Century; little is left of the earlier structure, and nothing at all of the Norman building. Just inside the entrance, on the west wall near the font, is a chart giving the dates of the various parts of the building, and a short historical survey. The font-basin, though not its stand, is late 12the Century, and made of native Sussex marble. The coloured inserts in the otherwise plain east and west windows are mediaeval; all that remains of the original glass. The oak screen behind the west door is 17th Century.
The Church has always been the burial place of the various families living at Wiston. Among its monuments, those in the south aisle, formerly a votive chapel, are most notable, especially John De Broase's brass, dated 1426, and the remains of what must have been a substantial piece of sculpture commemorating Sir Richard Shirley, who died in 1546. A third interesting monument in the north wall of this south aisle depicts a recumbent child. The clothing of this figure, and the fact that its feet rest upon a lion, as do those of John de Broase on the brass, suggests that it may commemorate the infant whose early death brought about the inheritance of Wiston by the Shirley family. The Church bell is dated 1745.
Photos of Wiston Manor, Sussex taken during Shirley Association England trip in 1992
Wiston After the Sherleys
Sir Charles Goring began to alter the Elizabethan House in the 1740's. It was then that the House was much reduced in size, particularly with the demolition of the outer buildings of the eastern courtyard, including the original gatehouse. The truncated ends of the wings on each side of the courtyard were refaced as is evidenced by a stone set near the ground on the eastern facade of the north wing which reads "April 15, 1747". Fortunately, the decision was made to retain the Elizabethan hammer-beam roof and the windows of the Great Hall, whereas in many other reconstructions of English country houses in the 18th Century such features were "modernised ". Whoever, this was the period of Gothic revival architecture, and the chimney-piece and wall embrasures in the Great Hall are taken directly from Batty Langley's "Gothic Architecture Improved", published in 1741-42. From this period also date the rococo plasterwork decorations to the walls of the great Hall, apparently also based on Langley's designs, but probably by Italian workmen.
The 19th Century was another period of enthusiasm for reconstructing historic houses. Wiston House was again remodeled in the 1840's by a then fashionable architect, Edward Blore (1797)1879). Blore proposed to demolish the entire Tudor structure, leaving the Great Hall as a picturesque ruin in the Park, and building an entirely new house on another site. Fortunately, he had to be content with altering and largely rebuilding the south wing of the House. Blore also placed in its present position the piece of partly Elizabethan stonework which can be seen on the north wall of the south wing. this is variously said to have been the original chimney-piece from the Great Hall, or alternatively the pediment of a gateway leading from the old west facade into the Park.
Wiston House contains many old wood carvings, notably in the Library and on the main staircase. They are probably of Italian and Flemish origin, and were collected by Reverend John Goring, the grandfather of the present owner. The most valuable are three mediaeval panels over the library fireplace, depicting scenes from the book of Esther. The fourth of these panels is built into an archway half-way up the main staircase. Above this panel is another interesting piece showing the confrontation between St. Hubert and the deer which he had been hunting. The carved paneling in the broad passage leading from the staircase hall to wheat is now the Conference Room is probably French late 18th Century, and this passage is therefore known as the French Gallery.
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