Micro Residency, Archaeology Team: The Geneaology of Erddig House

Family Tree of the Yorkes,

Family Tree of the Yorkes, © Erddig, Clwyd. The National Trust Guidebook 1988

Joshua Edisbury, member of the Edisbury family of Marchwiel, Flintshire is described in The Chronicles of Erthig on the Dyke by Albinia Lucy Cust (1914) as “not at all a satisfactory husband, but never an unkind one, and to judge by his letters, a devoted lover after ten years of married life”. [1] Edisbury built Erddig House, which was designed by Thomas Webb in 1683, and started laying out the garden in 1684-87 by demolishing the old house and recycling the materials into the new house implying that the former was erected on a different site to the latter [2]. For Edisbury it was a costly and disastrous exercise financially and he was forced into re-mortgaging parts of the estate to meet the demands of his creditors. In support his brother John borrowed money from the fees belonging to the court of the Chancery until he was eventually forced to resign his office and bought to trial when repayments could not be made. John died in 1713 leaving Joshua in a legal battle to repossess his estates. Later that year the Court of the Chancery ordered the estate to be sold to the highest bidder. The estate passed to John Meller in 1714, Meller had succeeded John Edisbury as one of the Masters of the Chancery. John Meller of Erddig (1665-1733) made many improvements to the house extending it by adding 2 wings to the North and South. He also began laying out the current parkland as it can be seen today [2]. He was unmarried and on his death the house and estate passed to his nephew Simon Yorke, originally from Wiltshire, who became Simon Yorke I of Erddig (1696 –1767). From this point onwards the Yorke Family were the custodians of Erddig for over 2 centuries. (Taking this into account although the history at Erddig House is considerable and relatively long in terms of human habitation it could be considered a snapshot in time in relation to the ancient landscape that surrounds it, dating as it does back to early medieval and medieval times.)

Simon’s son and heir, Phillip Yorke I (1743-1804) made improvements to the House & Grounds and due to an inheritance of property from his uncle James Hutton he won the hand of Elizabeth Cust (1750-1779), daughter of Sir James Cust, Speaker of the House of Commons. Phillip Yorke I is most well-known for his antiquarian studies into the history of Wales resulting in the book The Royal Tribes of Wales, 1799. This book is on display at Erddig in The Tribes Room so named because it is decorated with the Heraldry and Coats of Arms reproduced from Philip’s book. Upon his death the estate passed to his eldest son Simon Yorke II (1771-1834) and then onto his son Simon Yorke III (1811-1894). In 1846 he married his cousin Victoria Mary Louisa Cust (1824-1895), the youngest daughter of Sir Edward Cust. Their son Philip Yorke II (1849-1922), inherited the estate on their deaths and was succeeded by his eldest son, Simon Yorke IV (1903-1966). Finally the estate passed to his brother and the last remaining heir of Erddig, Philip Yorke III (1905-1978). [3] Both brothers remained lifelong bachelors and Philip Yorke III led a colourful life as a travelling actor, the manager of a band of players and a tour guide on the continent.

In later life Philip, the last custodian of the Erddig legacy, was faced with considerable repairs required to Erddig House as the result of undermining in the area. Mining subsidence had caused considerable damage to the property and it had dropped by a substantial number of feet whereby large cracks were running through the walls of the house causing water damage and in places the ceiling was propped up with supporting steel girders. Damage occurred in a considerable number of the rooms leaving them in a ruinous state including the beautifully restored Chapel and the Tribes Room. The Designed Garden had all but disappeared into an overgrown wilderness and considerable work was required to restore it to its former glory utilising both contemporary methods and historic knowledge of the horticulture at Erddig. For Instance a double row of pleached Lime Trees can be seen at Erddig. Pleaching is a 17th – 18th Century method whereby trees are trained to grow outwards. These trees and various other garden avenues present at Erddig mark the site of the original garden walls.

In order to preserve the legacy of Erddig Philip approached the National Trust and negotiations ensued resulting in the conveyance of the property to the National Trust which opened to the public in 1977. Philip Yorke III died a year later in 1978 safe in the knowledge that the Yorke family legacy and rich history of Erddig would remain intact. The National Trust have undertaken considerable repairs, restoration and conservation of the property, the lives and history of its inhabitants, their relations, their treasured belongings both monumental and humble as well as the garden and grounds. They continue to do so today, preserving this considerable slice of life and Welsh History so the house, gardens and grounds can be enjoyed, cherished and shared with generations to come.

1] The Chronicles of Erthig on the Dyke Vol.1, Albinia Lucy Cust, London: John Lane, The Bodley Head, 1914:pp.37
2] Landscape summary & details extracted from A Brief History of the Landscape by Kathy Laws, Archaeologist at the National Trust
3] Archives Wales, Flintshire Record Office, Erddig MSS Administrative and Biographical History ://www.archiveswales.org.uk/anw/get_collection.php?coll_id=1154