Edward Berkeley Portman was the first son of Edward Portman and Lucy Whitby, daughter of the Rev. Thomas Whitby of Portman Place, Middlesex. He was born on the 9th of July in 1799. Edward’s father was a housing developer and politician who had taken advantage of the expansion of London by continuing the development of the family’s land there which had been begun by his father. The Portman Estate, consisting of about 110 acres in Central London, is still owned by the Portman family. An ancestor of Edward’s, Sir William Portman of Somerset, who later became Lord Chief Justice to King Henry VIII, had originally acquired the land in Marylebone which, at that time, was chiefly used for pig parming and for the disposal of night soil. Edward’s family also owned extensive lands in the counties Somerset and Dorset.
Edward was educated at Eton and Oxford, where he took a first class degree in 1821. When his father died in Rome, in 1823, Edward was with him. Edward inherited his father’s land and title, as well as £70,000. At first the estates were not on a sound financial footing, but rising property values in London soon remedied the situation, and Edward became a very wealthy and well known member of society. He was a Member of Parliament for Dorset from 1823 and for Marylebone, in London, from 1832. In 1837 he was created Baron Portman of Orchard Portman after which he was an active member of the House of Lords. In 1873 he became Viscount Portman of Bryanston and from 1839 to 1864 he was Lord Lieutenant of Somerset.
Although the basis of Lord Portman’s wealth was his london property, and despite his parliamentary duties, he took a keen interest in Agricultural affairs, and based himself in Orchard Portman, near Taunton in the county of Somerset, and at Bryanston House, near Blandford Forum in the county of Dorset. He eventually disposed of most of his estates in Somerset and settled in Bryanstone.
Lord Portman was an active supporter of the Royal Agricultural Society and on several occasions was its president. He was a keen agricultural reformer. For example, in the village of Bryanston he built a massive range of new farm buildings, cut back into the hill to provide space for easy movement of materials, and with barn machinery and a saw mill powered by a steam engine. The innovations which he introduced on his estates included the promotion of crop-rotation, which allowed a wider variety of crops to be grown, and the introduction of new types of farm machinery. He ended the old system of perpetual leases for his tenants and, as the small farms became vacant, he combined them into larger, more profitable units. Despite these clearances, he was seen as a generous landlord.
The illustration on the left, a rather stylised hand-coloured etching which is dated 1823, shows Lord Portman in London.
Lord Portman was a progressive politician who usually sided with the Whig party against the Tories. He was a supporter of Catholic emancipation and he frequently urged for reform of the corn laws which kept prices high for producers but made food very expensive for labourers. In 1854 he began to sell loaves to the labourers on his estates for less than their cost price (the price was 6d for a 4lb loaf), a decision which was reported as far afield as a Scottish local newspaper, the Elgin Courant, and Morayshire Advertiser. He angered his neighbouring landowners by agreeing to raise wages to 10s. a week for day labourers. In 1830 he made a long speech urging an inquiry into the state of the poor and he advocated assisted emigration as a way of providing an escape from poverty.
Lord Portman was married in 1827 to Lady Emma, a daughter of Henry Lascelles, Earl of Harewood.
By 1883 Lord Portman was one of the richest men in England, with an estimated annual income of about £100,000. He died at his home in Bryanstone in 1888 after which his son, William Henry Berkeley, succeeded to the peerage.
Several members of the Parsons family worked for Lord Portman. The first of them was George Parsons who was born in Kington Magna, Dorset, in about 1807, the son of George Parsons, a yeoman farmer from Charlton Horethorne in Somerset. George’s mother, Jane, was the sister of John Weston Peters, a major land-owner and successful businessman, who knew Lord Portman and was one of his stewards. George shared Lord Portman’s interest in modern agriculture, he invented and manufactured agricultural machines including steam engines. He eventually built a large factory in which to make them, the Parrett Works, near Martock in Somerset. George formed an association with Lord Portman, acting as his agent and sometimes representing him at social events. For example, on the 6th of December 1844, at the annual meeting of the Yeovil Agricultural Society, when a toast was proposed to “Lord Portman, Lord Lieutenant of the County”, George Parsons responded on his behalf. For a few years, George and his wife lived in the Steward’s House in Bryanstone, Dorset, near to Blandford Forum. Bryanstone was Lord Portman’s main residence. By the early 1850s George had moved back to Somerset to concentrate on his own business interests but his younger brothers, Henry and Uriah, began to work as stewards to Lord Portman.
Henry Parsons and Uriah Parsons were born in 1821 and 1823 respectively, in Charleton Horethorne, Somerset. Their father George Parsons had moved there from Kington Magna, Dorset. Henry grew up in Charlton Horethorne and, by his 20s, he was taking on work as a land agent, working for a variety of clients. By 1851 he had moved to Haselbury Plucknett, near Crewkerne, in Somerset, where he and his wife lived at the Manor Farm. George built up an excellent relationship with Lord Portman and, in June 1855, he hosted the celebrations for the marriage of his lordship’s eldest son, Henry Berkeley Portman, who eventually became Viscount Portman. The bride was Mary Selina Charlotte FitzWilliam, daughter of William Charles FitzWilliam, Viscount Milton.
The celebrations were described in the Taunton Courier :
INTERESTING NUPTIAL FESTIVITIES. — The parish of Haselbury, near this town, was, on Thursday last, the scene of unusual gaiety, consequent upon the marriage of the Hon. W.H.B. Portman, M.P., with the Hon. M.C.S Fitzwilliam, as announced in another column. The weather was beautifully fine, and the day was ushered in by the ringing of bells, and the firing of cannon. Flags floated from the Church Tower and the Manor House. At about 12 o'clock the arrival of visitors commenced, and continued till after 1 o'clock, when a large procession, headed by the Yeovil band, followed by a baron of beef, carried on the shoulders of twelve men, proceeded from Mr. Henry Parsons' house to the festive field. The cavalcade comprised, amongst others, the Rev. F. Dusantoy the Vicar of Haselbury, J.W. Peters, Esq., the Rev. H. and C. Hoskins, Mr. and Mrs. Henry Parsons, T. Hoskin, Esq., and Lady, Geo. Bullock, Esq., Messrs. Chapman, Culverwell, Marmont, Cuff, Lowman, Sparks, Templeman, Joliffe, Sherring, &c., &c. The field commanded a most extensive and beautiful view of the surrounding country. Large and spacious marquees, decorated with flowers, flags, and banners, on which appropriate mottoes and devices were inscribed, occupied the ground. Preparations for entertaining an open-air party of eight hundred were made, and about that number, mostly the peasantry of Haselbury, sat down to the good old English fare of roast beef and plum pudding. The baron of beef in the centre of the table was the object of general attraction. Lord Portman's tenantry, numbering about 300 of good and true men, with their wives and families, partook also of his lordship's bounty. The provision for the marquee party comprised joints, poultry, pies, wine, spirits, cider twenty-one years old, the latter presented by J.W. Peters, Esq., wedding cake, &c. &c. As soon as the party had dined, Mr. George Stokes, the excellent toast-master, bespoke silence, and Mr. Henry Parsons proceeded to introduce in due order the health of Her Most Gracious Majest, the Queen, with the usual other loyal and patriotic toasts, all of which having been drunk and vociferously applauded, Mr. Henry Parsons announced the great toast of the day, namely, 'Health and happiness to the Hon. Mr. and Mrs. Portman, and may every blessing attend their union.' Cheers upon cheers followed this toast; the healths of Lord and Lady Portman and family were then proposed, and most cordially drunk. Mr. Chapman then gave the toast of 'Mr. and Mrs. Henry Parsons,' which was most cordially received, and acknowledged by Mr. Parsons, who thanked the company for their presence, and for the cordial manner in which all had responded to the toats he had the honour to propose in connexion with the name and family of his noble patron, Lord Portman. The last toast, that of John Weston Peters, Esq., was eulogistically introduced by Mr. Lowman, coupled with the name of Mrs. Peters. By this time about 300 children were assembled and amply supplied with tea and plum cake. England's old sports the followed, and hats, bonnets, and caps were the rewards offered, and which were run and wrestled for; the dancing was kept up with great spirit, and all went off 'merry as the marriage bell.' At 10 o'clock a retreat from the field was sounded, and all moved in procession towards the old cross tree at Haselbury, where the glad and gay doings of the day were brought to a close amidst shouts and cheers. The recollection of Lord Portman's kindness and generosity, or the occasion of it, will never be effaced from the memory of thousands.”
Henry Parsons continued to act as a land agent for Lord Portman, and lived in Haselbury until the late 1870s when he moved two miles away to Misterton where he lived in the Manor House which he bought from Lord Portman.
Uriah Parsons, a younger brother of George and Henry, lived and farmed in Charlton Horethorne, where he had been born, all his life. Although he often assisted his brother Henry in the management of Lord Portman’s affairs, and sometimes acted as a land agent for other clients, his main interest was his farm.
You are free to make use of the information in these web pages in any way that you wish but please be aware that the author, Mike Parsons, is unable to accept respsonsibility for any errors or omissions.
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The information in these web pages comes from a number of sources including: Hampshire County Records Office, Somerset Heritage Centre; Dorset County Records Office; Southampton City Archives; the General Register Office; several on-line newspaper archives; several on-line transcriptions of Parish Register Entries; and several on-line indexes of births, marriages and deaths. The research has also been guided at times by the published work of others, both on-line and in the form of printed books, and by information from personal correspondence with other researchers, for all of which thanks are given. However, all of the information in these web pages has been independently verified by the author from original sources, facimile copies, or, in the case of a few parish register entries, transcriptions published by on-line genealogy sites. The author is aware that some other researchers have in some cases drawn different conclusions and have published information which is at variance from that shown in these web pages.
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