The Staffordshire Hilton: What do you know?

Hilton Hall – a great house, saved and restored from the edge of destruction. Image from the Hilton Hall website.

A really interesting piece here reaches me from old friend of the blog Stuart Cowley about a place not far from here that I know very little about, and hadn’t previously considered: Hilton Hall.

Stuart, you’ll remember if you read the blog regularly has written wonderful articles previously about his childhood at Chasewater, local marching band culture and history, his involvement in the golden days of local radio and he also shared a wonderful local history book for Chasetown.

It’s an honour and a joy to feature work here by Stuart and of this quality, and it’s also nice to feature subjects that are so interesting, but also a little out of our normal range – so thanks to Stuart for that.

I’m sure readers will want to contribute and comment – and I have a feeling that there Peter Cutler may have some stuff to say. Feel free: comment here or mail in – BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com. Cheers.

Hilton Hall as depicted on Apple Maps. Note the folly on the left. Click for a larger version.

Stuart Cowley wrote:

Hilton Hall

Afternoon chap,

Up until about three weeks ago I hadn’t given the place where I’ve gone to work, Hilton Hall, much thought and it had never occurred to me why Hilton park services had that name. I’ve travelled past the high brick wall on the Wolverhampton Road, Featherstone without giving any thought to why it was there and a few times whilst on the M54 I’ve caught sight of what I thought was just a small folly of some sort or even some old mine workings in the trees of that area off the M54 junction and never given it a second thought until now. The place is a little gem and full of history so I thought I’d highlight it for your blog, regardless of it sitting in either Essington or Featherstone either way it is very much local. I visited it briefly on the way to the cinema at Wolverhampton one day before I started there and my eldest daughter took a random photograph that really captures the beauty of the place well showingthe main building and part of the moat:

Image supplied by Stuart Cowley.

The place is now used as offices and also as a wedding venue and has a small dedicated team that look after the building and grounds. It is a haven for wildlife of all sorts and is a credit to all that work for the complex. There is an interesting structure next to the lake that has been restored over the years.

These photographs from the Hilton Hall website:

As if the beauty of the place isn’t enough, I do find the history of it fascinating.

I can’t improve on what is detailed in Wikipedia so have lifted text from it:

History of the building

The original manor house was commissioned by Sir Henry Swinnerton early in the 14th century.[1] In 1547 the marriage of Margaret Swynnerton to Henry Vernon of Sudbury Hall, Derbyshire took place: both were members of an important recusant families.[1] The house and estate were inherited by Margaret in 1562, on the death of her father Humphrey Swynnerton, the deed being dated 8 May 1564,[2] and incorporated into the Vernon estates on her death.[1]

The house was rebuilt, in early Georgian style, in about 1720 by Henry Vernon, High Sheriff of Staffordshire.[3] The main block is of three storeys and carries giant corner pilasters capped by urns.[3]

The Vernon family erected an unusual hexagonal tower in the grounds, which they dedicated to the memory of Admiral Edward Vernonand his capture of Portobelo, Panamafrom the Spanish in 1739.[1]The monument is Grade I listed.[3]

The family sold the estate to the nuns of the Order of St Joseph of Bordeaux for use as a convent in 1955.[4]Between 1986 and 1999 it was occupied by Tarmac plcas a corporate headquarters.[5]It is now a commercial office and business centre.[6]

The tower that was erected is what I think sits just away from the house and is partially hidden by a small group of trees, dedicated to Edward Vernon, it’s worth knowing more about him and one of the battles he was involved in:

Admiral Edward Vernon (12 November 1684 – 30 October 1757) was an English naval officer. Vernon was born in Westminster and went to Westminster School. He joined the Royal Navy in 1700 and was promoted to Lieutenant in 1702. After five years as Lieutenant, he was appointed Captain in 1706. His first command was HMS Rye, part of the fleet of Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell.

Vernon had a long and distinguished career, rising to the rank of Admiralafter 46 years service. He fought during the War of the Spanish Succession, rising to the rank of post-captain and commanding the West Indies Station. During the War of Jenkins’ Ear Vernon was a Rear Admiral and commanded the Jamaica Station. In 1739 he was responsible for the capture of Porto Bello, seen as expunging the failure of Admiral Hosier there in a previous conflict. However, a later amphibious operation against Cartagena de Indias suffered a severe defeat.

Vernon served as MP on three occasions and was outspoken on naval matters in Parliament, making him a controversial figure.

The origin of the name “grog” for rum diluted with water is attributed to Vernon. He was known for wearing coats made of grogram cloth, earning him the nickname of Old Grog, which in turn came to mean diluted rum. The use of citrus juice helped to avoid scurvy. Mount Vernon, the home of the first American president George Washington, was named after Vernon. Washington’s elder brother Lawrence served under Edward Vernon, and gave it his name.

The British had a disaster in the Blockade of Porto Bello under Admiral Hosier in 1726. As part of the campaigns of the War of Jenkins’ Ear, the port was attacked on November 21, 1739, and captured by a British fleet of six ships, commanded by Admiral Edward Vernon. The British victory created an outburst of popular acclaim throughout the British Empire. More medals were struck for Vernon than for any other 18th-century British figure. Across the British Isles, Portobello was used in place and street names in honor of the victory, such as Portobello Road in London, the Portobello area in Edinburgh, and the Portobello Barracks in Dublin.[5]

Edward Vernon – Image from Wikimedia Commons.,

What I can’t work out is the link between the early Vernons and Edward in terms of family tree. I’ve also been unable to confirm if the folly in the grounds is the actual memorial referred to.

There is drone footage that at 6 minutes in shows the folly in the distance top right.

I work in the converted stable block and I have read somewhere of a link between the stables and the first Derby winner although I can’t pin that down as fact.

Another film shows it from another perspective:

And another showing the folly in the trees but not a clear shot:

So in just under a month the place is growing on me but maybe one or two readers of the blog can fill in the blanks so that I can appreciate the place even more.


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18 Responses to The Staffordshire Hilton: What do you know?

  1. andkindred says:

    Another excellent piece! I suspect the relative seclusion of the hall is why it has gone largely unnoticed – me too.

    There is a Portobello at the western end of Willenhall.

    Regarding family history, there is a tree on Ancestry that goes all the way back to Sir William De Vernon, who died in 1052, though details are rather scant. From the information on Wikipedia the Rt Hon James was son of Francis (jnr). In turn, he was son of Francis, son of Ralph Vernon (jnr), born 1515 Haslington, Cheshire, where earlier generations lived, going back to at least 1320. If you want me to explore / report further, please ask.

    Sir Cloudesley Shovell (what a bostin’ name!) is one of the characters featured in the book Longitude, by Dava Sobel, as a hapless exemplar of why a solution to the problem of longitude was urgently required. Well worth a read. You may be able to find a copy in your local library, or you could purchase via Alibris dot co dot uk, which is a great resource for new, second-hand, and out-of-print books.


    • stuart cowley says:

      Thanks for that Andy,I do find it fascinating and I haven’t even started on the nuns yet!

    • Pedro says:

      Around his 80th birthday in 1916 AL Vernon of Hilton Hall showed a representative of the Staffs Advertiser a beautifully executed document of the family ancestry, right back to one Vernon who came over from Vernon in Normandy with William the Conquerer. He also showed him a unique collection of fox brushes taken over a period of 50 years and arranged in glass cases recording the special circumstances of each run and exiting conditions of each kill.

  2. tonykulik says:

    Used to camp there with scouts (9th Bloxwich) back in the 60s and early 70s when the Catholic order of nuns owned the premises. Many many happy childhood memories of those days, camping several times a year and spending hours fishing the moat, as allowed by the nuns, although a sports club from Wednesbury Tube rented the water.
    Remember the supposed association with the first Derby winner. The stables were in a sorry mess back then, not like the refurbed offices they are today. The clock in the tower above them didn’t work back then and another myth was that it had stopped the minute one of the Vernons had died. Visited the hall a couple of years ago and took many pictures, will add a few here

  3. Pedro says:

    Well first of all we need to know the background music, the who knows what we will find.

  4. Pedro says:

    In 1951, after all the that history, the Vernon Family had to tighten their belts due to heavy death duties, ever increasing general taxation, and the rising cost of repairs. RL Vernon sent a letter to his 70 tenants, appreciating with all his heart that his decision may cause sorrow and disturbance to many.

    20 farms and freeholdings, 50 cottages at Hilton, Essington and Shareshill will be offered for sale. RL Vernon will still live at Hilton Hall.

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  6. Violet Leach says:

    Dont think the nuns owned it straight after the Vernons. Charles Pickard bought it from the Vernons.He built himself a house in the wood of Hilton lane. Knocked the front lodge down at the entrance of the Cannock road and built a new house for his one daughter.the other daughter had stables built off the back entrance by North lodge..

  7. Pam Dawes says:

    And now Highways England are going to put a duel carriage way right through this historic landscape !!

  8. Susan Hopton says:

    Very interesting! Like most people I drive by and wondered about its history and what lay beyond trees

  9. Pingback: Exploring the history of Rugeley’s lost hall | BrownhillsBob's Brownhills Blog

  10. bertha says:

    the so called folly in the grounds is actually an orangery, where citrus fruits were grown. Directly in front of the Hall there is a walled garden. A fig tree still flourishes near the gates and apricot trees face South. The walled garden is bounded by a hollow wall and used to be heated by straw packed into them and set aiight.

  11. Patricia Squire says:

    My Grandad was Head Gamekeeper to the Vernon’s we lived at keepers cottage Hilton Park back in 1940s and 1950 grandad died 1955 the cottage . I have many happy memories I remember the fox hunts and the pheasant shoots happy days

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