SEBRIGHT, Sir JOHN SAUNDERS (1767–1846), seventh baronet, of Besford, Worcestershire, and Beechwood, Hertfordshire, politician and agriculturist, born on 23 May 1767, was the eldest son of Sir John Saunders Sebright, sixth baronet, by Sarah, daughter of Edward Knight, esq., of Wolverley, Worcestershire. The father, a colonel of the 18th foot and lieutenant-general in the army, represented Bath in three parliaments (1761–1780), and died in March 1794. The family settled in Worcestershire early in the fourteenth century; it came originally from Sebright Hall, near Great Baddow in Essex (see Nash, Worcestershire, i. 78–9). Edward Sebright, who was high sheriff of Worcestershire in 1622, was created first baronet in 1626, and proved himself a zealous royalist; he inherited from his uncle, William Sebright (d. 1620), who was M.P. for Droitwich in 1572, the manor of Besford, Worcestershire, which the uncle purchased.
The seventh baronet served for a short time in the army and was attached to the staff of Lord Amherst. He always took some interest in military matters. He was elected M.P. for Hertfordshire on 11 May 1807, and continued to represent the county till the end of the first reformed parliament. He disclaimed connection with any party, but, while always anxious to support the executive, generally acted with the more advanced whigs. He was a strong advocate of economy in administration, of the abolition of sinecures and unnecessary offices, and of the remission of indirect taxation. He was in principle a free-trader.
Free from most of the prejudices of the country squire, he showed his liberality most signally in his attitude towards the game laws. On 5 April 1821 he seconded Lord Cranborne's motion for an inquiry into the game laws, and supported all subsequent bills for their amendment. In 1826 he attributed the increase of crime chiefly to their influence (Parl. Debates, 2nd ser. xiv. 1242–3). In 1824, and again in 1828, he spoke in favour of the repeal of the usury laws, and he ‘detested monopolies of all kinds.’ As a practical agriculturist, owning land in three counties, Sebright gave his opinion (17 Dec. 1830) against any allotments larger than kitchen-gardens, but was willing to try an experiment on a larger scale (ib. 3rd ser. ii. 995).
When, on 1 March 1831, Lord John Russell moved for leave to bring in the first Reform Bill, Sebright, as an independent member, seconded the motion (ib. 3rd ser. ii. 1089; Le Marchant, Althorp, p. 298), and cordially supported this and the succeeding reform bills. On 17 Dec. 1832 he was returned for Hertfordshire, at the head of the poll, to the first reformed parliament, but retired at its close.
In 1809 he published a valuable letter to Sir Joseph Banks on ‘The Art of Improving the Breeds of Domestic Animals’ (sm. 8vo). Sebright was also author of ‘Observations on Hawking, describing the mode of breaking and managing several kinds of hawks used in falconry,’ 1826, 8vo; and of ‘Observations upon the Instinct of Animals,’ 1836, 8vo.
He died on 15 April 1846. A portrait of him was engraved by S. Reynolds from a painting by Boileau. He built and endowed a school at Cheverell's Green, and a row of almshouses for sixteen paupers in the parish of Flamstead, Hertfordshire, where some of the family property lay. He married, on 6 Aug. 1793, Harriet, heiress of Richard Crofts, esq., of West Harling, Norfolk. She died in August 1826, leaving, with eight daughters, a son, Sir Thomas Gage Saunders Sebright (1802–1864), who succeeded as eighth baronet.
[Wotton's Baronetage, 1771, i. 261–3; Burke's Peerage and Baronetage, 1893; Walford's County Families; Nash's Worcestershire, i. 78–9 (with pedigree); Cussans's Hertfordshire, iii. pt. i. pp. 106, 113; Parl. Debates, 1807–34; Evans's Cat. Engr. Portraits; Foster's Alumni Oxon.; Brit. Mus. Cat.; Donaldson's Agricult. Biography, p. 97.] Information from Wikisource compiled by Gerald le Grys Norgate.
The Sebrights of Beechwood Park
(by Eric Edwards for The Dacorum Heritage Trust Ltd.)
Beechwood Park,near Markyate, is one of Dacorum’s finest country houses. Now an independent school, it was once the home of the Saunders Sebright family. During the 18th and 19th centuries, their story reflected their role in a wealthy and influential social life.
The Saunders Family
Beechwood Park lies on the ancient site of the Nunnery of St Giles in the Wood, founded c.1120. After its closure in 1537, the property passed through several hands until acquired in 1628 by Thomas Saunders of Long Marston. His great grand-daughter, Anne, married Sir Edward Sebright, the 3rd Baronet, of Besford in Worcestershire, establishing a family connection for the next two and a half centuries.
One of six children, only Anne herself survived childhood. A monument in St Leonard’s Church, Flamstead, is a poignant memorial (attributed to William Stanton, c.1690) to the early death of her brothers and sisters.
The Saunders family had already set about enlarging Beechwood, but it was Anne and Edward who created the imposing main façade, This work was completed in 1702. However Edward died soon afterwards and was not able to reap the reward of his work. He was taken back to Worcestershire and is buried at St Peters, Besford, rather than at Flamstead.
The Sebrights at Besford
The Sebrights had estates in Worcestershire before they acquired Beechwood Park, The family held the manor of Besford for three centuries but, after they chose Beechwood as their main home, it was generally occupied by various stewards.
A William Sebright purchased Besford in 1606 and Battenhall, now a suburb of Worcestershire, in 1614. It was his nephew, also Edward, who succeeded to the estate and who became the 1st baronet in 1626. He was a Royalist during the Civil War, raised a troop of horse for Charles I and was fined £1,200 for supporting the King.
In Worcestershire, the main estates were at Besford and also Wolverley, near Kidderminster. Besford was described by Habindgon as ‘a manor enriched with fair desmesnes and a parck of pleasure’. Its earliest timber-framed range dates from c1500.
The parish church of Besford, the only completely, timber-framed church in Worcestershire, retains a number of memorials to the Sebright family. Besford Court was sold by Sir John Gage Saunders Sebright in 1885 and, after a further sale in 1910, it became a Catholic school.
The present day Beechwood Park School was founded in 1964 and recent archaeological surveys and digs, sponsored by the school, have revealed remains of medieval walls and courtyards as well as artefacts such as brooches and drinking vessels dating from the medieval times. The school’s young archaeologists have been fully involved in making these exciting discoveries. They also have re-introduced the Sebright bantam into their school - 200 years on - the Sebright returns home!