The Sayers of Richmond, Surrey

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Notwithstanding the loss of the early registers of Worsall, there does exist evidence (5) that the family of at least one Sayer lived in that parish after 1635. This man was John the son of Francis Sayer. In 1610 he had been witness to a deed of settlement made by John Sayer senior, the head of the family, and twenty-five years later had inherited a house and 4 oxgangs in Yarm under the old squire's will (6). The ownership of Worsall Manor passed to Lawrence Sayer but it seems that the younger John had been the occupier of the estate and continued to manage it, for in the Recusancy returns of 1637 and 1641 (7) he is described as John Sayer, gent, of High Worsall (8). His wife Margaret, whose maiden name was probably Metcalfe, was also a recusant.

John died in 1658 and his daughter Anne was granted administration of his estate (9), the widow and son Francis having renounced. As will be seen later, there is evidence that another son, named James, remained at Worsall, and that one of his younger sons, Robert, was born there about 1660 (10). No Sayer appears to have paid Hearth tax at Worsall in 1662, so the family had presumably left the parish by that date. In 1688 Robert Sayer, having sold some land to Sir Marmaduke Wyvill (11), is described as of Stockton.

The parish registers of that town show the baptisms of Robert's sons: William in 1694 and James in 1695. Robert was buried in 1732 at Marton, a few miles south-east of Stockton, and was survived by his wife Elizabeth - not surprisingly for she attained the age of a hundred and one. Her burial is recorded at Stockton.

Their younger son, James, was apprenticed in 1713 to Thomas Burdus, a Durham attorney (12). He married Thomasine, daughter of John Middleton Esq. on 29th July 1718 at Durham Cathedral and died at Sunderland in 1736. About twenty-five years later his widow deposed that she had often been told both by her husband and by her father-in-law Robert Sayer, that the latter's father had been named James and his grandfather, John; and further more that both of them had lived and died at Worsall. This statement, which, in default of register entries, seems positive enough, is the authority for the family's connection with Worsall. A handwritten pedigree dated 1763 (view) purports to trace the family's descent from John Sayer of Worsall (1486-1530). Although this is broadly speaking correct, the first half of the document contains several inaccuracies and is of only limited value. The second half appears more trustworthy.

James Sayer of Richmond

The eldest son of James and Thomasine was born at Stockton and when christened there in May 1719 was named after his father. This boy later came to London, was admitted to the Middle Temple in 1758 and called to the Bar in 1760. In 1755 he was living in Essex Street, Strand, (13) and in that year he married Julia Margaret Evelyn at Chelsea Parish Church. Her father, Edward Evelyn Esq. of Godstone, was one of the well-known family that had included John Evelyn the diarist and his wife was Julia, natural daughter of James, 2nd Duke of Ormond.

James Sayer's will (14) shows that Julia Margaret was his second wife. There are indications that the maiden name of the first Mrs Sayer was Beaumont but no other details are known, nor is there any reference to children by that marriage.

In 1765 James was holding the post of Deputy Steward (15) of the Royal Manor of Richmond in Surrey and he later became Steward, a position that he retained until his death in 1799. He was also Deputy High Steward of Westminster and appears to have been a personal friend of George III. He lived at the Manor House, Marshgate – the old name for Sheen Road (16). The house had been "wayhold of the Manor of Richmond" but it is recorded that the King was so attached to James that as an act of grace he enfranchised the property to him and made it freehold.

James Sayer's daughter, Frances Julia, remained single until she was nearing fifty. She then married the Chevalier Charles de Pougens (17), a distinguished man of letters , literary counsellor to the Dowager Empress of Russia and a member of the Royal Institute of Paris. The de Pougens lived at Vauxbuin near Soissons where Madame de Pougens, widowed in 1833, spent the rest of her long life. She died in 1850, aged ninety-three and was buried beside her mother in the Evelyn family vault at Godstone. A number of her admirable letters were fortunately preserved; extracts from a series written while visiting Paris shortly before the French Revolution and from a later set describing her time in France during the eventful years of 1814 and 1815 are given in an Appendix later in this document.

Frances Julia's brother, Edward, James's only son, was educated first at Westminster and then at Harrow. He was admitted to the Middle Temple in 1777, becoming a barrister in 1783 and later a Commissioner of Bankrupty (18). In 1784 he published his "Observations on the Police or Civil Government of Westminster with proposals for their Reform", and in the Dictionary of Living Authors (1816) he is described as a very ingenious poet and an excellent painter. He is also said to have produced a number of admirable caricatures. He never married and when he died in 1834 (19) his estate, estimated at about £5000, was administered by his nephew Robert Sayer acting on behalf of Frances Julia Sayer de Pougens.

Among the papers collected by A.A. Barkas, one time Borough Librarian at Richmond, is a drawing of the Sayer tomb in the burial ground in Vineyard Passage, the inscriptions commemorating seven members of the family. The tomb itself has now disappeared but one of its stone slabs, with the names of James and his son and daughter still legible, is set in the ground near the southern boundary wall.

Robert Sayer the Printseller

James Sayer had a younger brother Robert who was born in 1725 after their parents had removed to Sunderland. Like his brother, Robert Sayer came to London as a young man. Here he established himself as a print seller about 1750, succeeding "M.Overton" who had been carrying on Philip Overton's business at the sign of the Golden Buck on the south side of Fleet Street. The house was later known as 53 Fleet Street (21). In 1755 he took a partner named John Bennett but from 1784 onwards managed the business alone. He also had premises in Bolt Court, Fleet Street, which are referred to in his will as a manufactory for printing geographical and other maps.

An article on Painting and Engraving by Andrew Shirley in "Johnson's England" contains the following passage:-

"Print shops were the galleries of the ordinary citizen and there he could purchase for a few shillings the portrait of any topical character. Thomas Bowles and Philip Overton were leading publishers of the portrait print but the trade had its pirates too, like Robert Sayer, whose hacks turned out cheap versions of better work; from their large number we can guess the demand."

Whatever his reputation among print sellers Robert Sayer seems to have found the business sufficiently lucrative. His assistants, Messrs. Laurie and Whittle, carried on the business after his death.

Robert Sayer and Dorothy Careless married at Datchworth near Welwyn about 1754 (22). It seems not unlikely that she was of the same family as Colonel Careless who was Charles II's companion in the famous oak tree and whose name the King afterwards changed to Carlos when granting him a special coat of arms. Robert and Dorothy had seven children but their family Bible makes melancholy reading; no fewer than six of those children (23) died in infancy, the only one to survive being James who was baptised at St Dunstans-in-the-West in 1757. Mrs Sayer died in 1774 and Robert then appears to have followed his brother to Richmond where by 1780 he owned the Mews House with a 2-acre field adjoining it, and also a house in the Richmond Hill district.

It was in 1780 that Robert married his second wife, Alice Longfield, a widow (25). This lady's brother, Mr. Tilson, had bequeathed to her a house near Richmond Bridge, with remainder to a Mrs Peacock. Robert Sayer bought this reversion and the Richmond rate books show that he was assessed at £5.5.0d for this house. By 1790 this had increased to £6.2.6d and an additional assessment of £2.12.6d was made for a wharf and for vaults under the approach road to the bridge which ran directly in front of the home. Richmond Bridge was opened in 1778 and before it was constructed the house would have fronted onto the road leading down to a ferry and the vaults of course would not have existed.

Robert left Bridge House to his widow for her lifetime (26), and then to his son James, his nephew Edward and his niece Frances Julia successively. In the event it was inherited by James and was in the hands of James's grandson at least as late as 1887. This is shown in a lease of that date from the Commissioners of Richmond Bridge to Lieut-General Sayer for 42 years. The house has now been demolished and its site together with its original garden forms part of a public riverside pleasance.

The Zoffany Pictures

Johan Zoffany, the fashionable German painter, produced three pictures of the Sayer family. The first of these, painted in 1770, shows Robert's son James, aged 13, with his fishing rod, and a very charming piece of work it is. The other two paintings are portrait groups and in the smaller of the two it is clearly the garden of Bridge House that Zoffany has used as a setting. Robert Sayer is seen seated on one side of his second wife and his son James stands on the other. Behind them can be seen the back of Richmond Bridge House and to the left in the distance, is Richmond Bridge. The painter allowed himself some licence in the relative positions of the house and the bridge but contrived a very attractive composition thereby. The date of this picture is probably between 1780 and 1783; that is, soon after Robert Sayer remarried and acquired the house and before Zoffany left England to work for seven years in India.

The late Miss Ethel Sayer who owned the pictures in 1930, identified the older gentleman on the left as old Robert Sayer with his niece Frances Julia standing on the right with James Sayer and his wife and baby son Robert. It is now known, however, that old Robert died before his grandchildren were born – in fact before his son had married – and also that James's wife died within a few days of the birth of Robert, her second child. It seems therefore that Zoffany not only introduced a posthumous portrait of old Robert Sayer but very likely one of James's wife as well. If she was painted during her lifetime then the baby she is holding must have been her first son who died in 1796 aged eleven months. If this is the case, it gives a guide as to the date of the work. These discrepancies are puzzling but, when all is said and done, they need not effect one's enjoyment of a very pleasing picture.

The paintings came onto the market in the early 1930s, the smaller group fetching £980 and portrait of young James fetching £1020. The larger family group is in the possession of Sir Reginald MacDonald-Buchanan.

The Duke of Clarence

The 1790 rate books of Richmond show that, as well as Bridge House, Robert Sayer had a house "next above Samuel Pechell's "Going up the Hill", that is, on Richmond Hill, four or five properties above a small side street called the Vineyard. This is the house referred to in the Vestry Minutes for June 1794 "Mr Sayer's house on the hill with a field garden and offices having been let to H.R.H. the Duke of Clarence for £420 ready furnished, resolved that Mr Sayer be assessed for the same for Poor and Highway Rates at £200 p.a.". (The Mr Sayer referred to here must be James; his father had died in the previous January.

The Duke's address in the Universal British Dictionary for 1791 is given as Richmond Hill. His connection with Mrs Jordan began in that year and he installed her at Petersham Lodge in October. But as the Vestry Minutes shows he continued to rent a number of houses in Richmond itself as well. Mrs Jordan remained at Petersham Lodge until she and the Duke removed to Bushey Park in 1797.

It has long been assumed that the Georgian residence in the Vineyard known today as Clarence House was the house referred to in the Vestry Minutes, but recent investigations by the Borough Librarian tend to show that despite its name, Clarence House was never occupied by the Duke or by Mrs Jordan and moreover that it was not one of the Sayer properties as had seemed possible.

After 1800

Robert Sayer died – of a lingering illness to quote the Gentleman's Magazine – in January 1784 at Bath and was buried at Richmond in the cemetery in Vineyard Passage. His will reveals that he had property in Birmingham as well as in London and Richmond. Eventually it all devolved upon his son James.

Six months after his father's death James Sayer married Anne Eleanor Plimpton at St James's Clerkenwell. They were living in Queen Square, Bloomsbury, when, after losing their first child, their son Robert was born on 1st February 1797.

But tragedy was to follow; Mrs Sayer died two weeks later at the age of twenty-eight. A macabre entry in the Family Bible tells us that the baby was "privately christened over his mother's corpse".

The widowed James died in 1803 when he was forty-six (28). He was then living in Dover Street, Piccadilly, and Robert his seven-year-old son was under the care of the Rev. Mr Goodenough. James's will, in which he is described as of Richmond Hill, nominates his cousin Frances Julia Sayer – still unmarried - as one of the child's guardians. This was a wise choice. A codicil directs that the testators body shall on no account be interred without being "opened" and names three gentlemen, one of whom, it is hoped, may agree to undertake that office.

His son Robert, despite of his inauspicious entry into the world, seems to have had a prosperous life. After going to Eton he was admitted to Lincoln's Inn in 1817 and in 1820 he married Frances the daughter of G.H Errington Esq. of Coton Hall, Staffordshire. The marriage took place at Bagnères-de-Bigore in the south of France, Robert being described as of Trinity College Cambridge when he had just taken his B.A. degree. He became an M.A. three years later. For a short while he and his wife lived in Essex and after 1823 until about 1844 at White Lodge, Sibton, Suffolk. Robert Sayer was High Sheriff of Suffolk in 1835 and later lived for a time at Pierrepont Lodge, Surrey. In 1850 he inherited all the property of his aged cousin and former guardian Frances de Pougens. Her property would have included the Manor House, Marshgate, Richmond, which came to her on the death of her brother Edward and which is given as Robert Sayer's address in a Richmond Directory for 1853. He sold part of the Manor House grounds to the London and South Western Railway but the house itself and its gardens remained in the family's hands until sold by auction in July 1914 for £2,750. The whole area has now been built over but the names Manor Road and Manor Grove mark the site. The house actually stood where Manor Road meets Sheen Road.

The date of Robert's death has not been discovered. "Alumni Cantabrigienses", giving an outline of his school and college career, ends it by stating that he died on 3 August 1826. This manifest error seems to have been due to an announcement in the Gentleman's Magazine of the death on that date of another Robert Sayer at Thurloxton, Somerset.

The elder children of Robert and Frances Sayer were Frances Julia, born in 1824 (30), James Robert Steadman, born in 1826, and Louisa Cardine born in 1828. These were followed by another daughter Emily Ann, and in 1832 a second son Frederick. Emily married Douglas Parry-Crooke of Darsham, Suffolk (31), and I am indebted to their grandson, Mr Charles Parry-Crooke, for allowing me to study the 1763 pedigree and the elder Robert Sayer's family Bible; also for some very interesting verbal information.

James, the elder of the two sons referred to above, entered the Army, his commission as a Cornet in the King's Dragoon Guards being purchased on 23 May 1845. Subsequent commissions – all by purchase - were as follows : Lieutenant 1848, Captain 1850, Major 1857 and Liet-Colonel 1859. After serving in the Crimea he was posted to India, where at Oostacamund, Madras, his marriage took place in 1862. It is said that in those days James was anything but well-off and perhaps that is why he married the daughter of a wealthy Calcutta merchant (32). The lady's name was Sarah Ann Blundell and she is reputed to have been cordially detested by the rest of the family. James Sayer was promoted to full Colonel in 1864 and finally became a Leut-General and a K.C.B with honorary Colonelcy of his regiment. He died in London in 1908 leaving one daughter, Ethel Florence who died unmarried. It was after Lady Sayer's death that Miss Sayer sold the Zoffany pictures.

The General's younger brother Frederick was born 2 August 1832 (33). He went to Rugby in 1846 and on 20 November 1850 the Queen signed his Commission as 2nd Lieutenant in the 23rd Regiment of Foot, the Royal Welsh Fusiliers. His portrait in uniform was painted by O.Oakley in February 1851 and was later inherited by his grandson William Sayer in South Africa. He was appointed 1st Lieutenant on 4 October 1852.

At this time Frederick Sayer was accounted the fastest runner over 100 yards in the British Army and beat Lieutenant John Astley-Slater of the Scots Guards in a memorable race run at Windsor in the presence of the Court. The guardsman was fully expected to win and large sums of money had been wagered on the event. Frederick's athletic prowess, however, was soon cut short, for in September 1854 a wound received at the battle of Alma left him lame for the rest of his life. When Queen Victoria distributed decorations in St James's Park he was wheeled past her in a bath-chair to receive his medal.

Frederick was promoted to Captain at the end of 1854 and in the following August was appointed Deputy Assistant Quartermaster General. He is said to have been a remarkably attractive young man and a great favourite at Court. A letter from Queen Victoria to King Leopold of Belgium gives some indication of this. Writing from Windsor on 29 January 1856 she says :" My dearest Uncle, you will kindly forgive my letter being short but we are going to be present this morning at the wedding of Phipp's daughter with that handsome, lame young officer whom you remember at Osborne. It is quite an event and takes place at St George's Chapel which is very seldom the case…..".

The bride's names were Maria Henrietta Sophia but she was better known as Minnie. She was the eighteen-year-old daughter of Colonel the Hon. Charles Beaumont Phipps, keeper of the Queen's Privy Purse, Treasurer to the Household of Prince Albert and a younger brother of Lord Normanby (35). As the Queen's letter shows, both she and the Prince attended the ceremony, and the royal wedding present was some fine silverware; a monogrammed dinner service and a tea-set. This splendid heirloom is now in the possession of the Sayer family in South Africa.

Altogether it was no more than fitting that the first of the eight children of Frederick and Minnie Sayer should have been resoundingly christened Victoria Alma. The baptism took place at Windsor in December 1856.

When the Queen invested recipients of the V.C. and reviewed the Crimean troops in June 1857 Captain Sayer D.A.Q.M.G. headed the royal entourage as it processed in to Hyde Park. In August his Majesty Napoleon III nominated M. Frederic Sayer a Chevalier of the Imperial Order of the Legion of Honour, 5th class, in recognition of his distinguished service before the enemy on the late war. The Queen's consent to the acceptance of the insignia by Captain Sayer, late of the 23rd Regiment is dated 17 December 1857. That year also saw the publication of his collection of despatches and other military records relating to the Crimean war.

The good fortune so far enjoyed by Frederick Sayer was evidently resented in some quarters, for in January 1858 the Times printed a letter protesting against the bestowal of so many favours and honours on Captain Sayer. This drew a spirited reply on 28 January from Sir D.A.C Montagnes Darling late of the Light Division, to the effect that Captain Sayer had joined the Light Division Transport while in Bulgaria before the Crimea was invaded; that he fell ill during the voyage across the Black Sea but, declining to remain on board with the other invalids, followed the Division independently after it landed; and that though he might well have remained with the rearguard, he obtained leave to rejoin his corps as soon as the fighting at Alma began. Here, nine out of fifteen officers of the 23rd Foot were killed and one of Captain Sayer's ankles was destroyed by a musket shot. He was taken to Scutari and after some months sent back to England – a cripple for life.

A rejoinder to this letter, signed by "A.Linesman" was written on the following day. It was admitted that Captain Sayer had volunteered for duty, though unwell, and that no reflection could be cast upon his gallantry or courage but it was pointed out that owing to his wound he saw scarcely any war service and yet had been "overwhelmed with decorations, staff appointments and Court favour to an amount that can only be accounted for by his subsequent matrimonial connection with Privy Purse". Captain Sayer, so the letter continued, was allowed – contrary to all precedent – to retire on his half-pay when the 23rd was about to sail for China and since then had filled three distinct staff appointments. Moreover, far from being a hopeless cripple entirely incapable of regimental duty, he presented at Court balls and festivities "a perfect model of youth, health, manly beauty and vigour". Are we, asks "Linesman", to believe, as intimated by the Royal Gazette, that Captain Sayer had been selected out of all the British Army for singular decoration by the Emperor of the French? And if so, for what? – because he served with the Commissariat, because he was for a few days in the Crimea and was wounded in the foot? – because he avoided hard and dangerous duty in the Crimea, China and India? – or because he married a Phipps?

No doubt much to "Linesman's" annoyance, Frederick Sayer was appointed Police magistrate at Gibralter in 1859, but six years later, in December 1865, he was obliged to resign from his post owing to bad health. Two events during those six years may be noted: in 1862 his "History of Gibraltar" was published and in January 1863 he was elected to a fellowship of the Royal Geographical Society.

It may be inferred that despite "Linesman's" ill-natured comments, Frederick Sayer was a very able and industrious servant of the Crown, for in 1867, when, still under forty, he was appointed to the Governor Generalship of New South Wales. But tragically enough he died at Cairo in February 1868 while on his way to take up his duties in Australia. A letter from Princess Louise has been preserved in which she condoles with Harriet Phipps on the death of her brother-in-law and refers to "poor dear Minnie". Harriet Phipps was a lady in Waiting until the death of Queen Victoria.

On 4 December 1872 Minnie Sayer married Captain William Chaine of the 10th Hussars. Later, as Lt. Col. Chaine M.V.O. he was Master of Ceremonies to Queen Victoria and then to King Edward VII. An indenture dated 1874 appointing Chaine a trustee of his wife's final marriage Settlement notes that all eight children of Frederick and Minnie Sayer were still living.

Colonel and Mrs Chaine, with apartments in Kensington Palace, remained in close touch with the Court, Minnie being a personal friend of princess (later Queen) Alexandria. A Card written on 21 June 1893 by the future King George V is among the Sayer papers. It is signed "George" and thanks Mrs Chaine for her charming wedding present. There is also a telegram offering Colonel and W. Chaine and Mrs Harriet Phipps admission to the Throne Room at Buckingham palace when the body of King Edward VII lay in state there in May 1910. The Chaines died at Kensington palace within a year of each other; she on 21 December 1915 and he the following July.

As indicated above, Frederick and Minnie Sayer had seven children after the birth of Victoria Alma in 1856. They made their appearance for the most part at yearly intervals as may be seen from the details entered in their Old Prayer book. Our knowledge of their later lives is in most cases scanty. Victoria Alma died a spinster but all her three sisters married. Evelyn, who died childless before 1910, had married a Mr Slade – against the wishes of Mrs Chaine. The result was that mother and daughter are said to have become totally estranged. Mabel Sayer became Mrs Verschoyle and neither she [*] nor the youngest sister Harriet, whose married name was Hay, left any children. [* This assertion has subsequently been corrected by Barbara Elliott, the granddaughter of Mabel Sayer via her first marriage to Francis Savile Barton, who has provided further details of this part of the family.]

The eldest son, Frederick, was born in 1859. He served for a few months as a constable in the North West Mounted Police in Canada, purchasing his discharge in December 1885. His conduct was noted as "very good". He is next heard of in October 1889 when the Bus proprietors of Sydney, Australia presented him with a testimonial before his departure to England. No other particulars of his life, or the date of his death, have been found.

Francis, who was the youngest son, was disowned by his mother because he married without her approval. His son Douglas is thought to have lived at Durban and to have left one daughter by his second wife. Douglas's sister Evelyn married W. Lee and had two children. We are better informed about Harry Sayer, Minnie's third son. He left England for Canada in 1882 aged twenty-one and settled in Glenfell two years later. In about 1886 he married Emily Fitzgerald and in the following year built the farmhouse near Glenfell which was thenceforward the family's home. But for ten years, from 1905 to 1915, Harry lived at Glenfell itself where he became Municipal Clerk and had a real-estate business. His son, another Douglas, was the first Glenfellite to become a B.A. He did some teaching but later devoted all his time to the farm until his sister Maud died in 1967. The farm was then sold and in 1971 Douglas – still unmarried – was living with his friends in the neighbourhood.

Harry Sayer's brother Gerald (the second son) worked with him at Glenfell for two years before leaving for South Africa to take up farming there. Gerald's second name, Steadman, was that of a Godfather who was Lord Mayor of London. In 1899 he married Eliza Nicoll whose family, originating in Scotland, had settled in Durban about 1880. Their son, William Claude Frederick, was born in his grandmother's apartments in Kensington Palace on 8 July 1900 and christened in the Chapel Royal. Gerald took his wife and the infant William back to South Africa in 1901 but very soon afterwards was killed in action against the Boers. There exists a photograph taken at Harris Nek in 1901 showing Gerald, or Gerrie, Sayer, with his cattle rangers, a motley group of about twenty men, some in uniform, with a few natives in attendance in the background.

William Sayer, who was Gerald's only child, made his home in South Africa and farmed for over forty years in Natal. Having retired in 1965 he settled in Howick and began to interest himself in local government affairs. As already mentioned, some valuable family heirlooms ands many interesting papers had come into his possession. His totally unexpected illness and tragic death in Charing Cross Hospital occurred while he was on holiday with his wife in England in the summer of 1972. He had married Zillah Margaret MacFarlane and left three daughters all of whom are married.

With the death of William Sayer it would appear that, except for possible descendants of his uncle Frederick, his unmarried cousin Douglas in Canada was the last male Sayer of this family, and he died, childless, in 1974.

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