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September 9, 2015 / Apley Estate - Hamiltons

A very short history of the Foster family & the Apley Estate

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The Stourbridge Lion’s first run, as depicted by Clyde Osmer DeLand c. 1916

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Images source: Wikipedia

Portrait of Mr W O Foster, Source - Hamilton archives 2

William Orme Foster, by Sir Francis Grant

Little by little, I’m preparing the fourth Apley archive exhibition for the Creamery Cafe at Apley Farm Shop. This one will be quite different from the first 3 & will include more about the Foster family & how they made their fortune, enabling them to buy the Apley Estate in 1867. They handed it on to the Goulburns, then the Hamiltons – hence it’s now [my husband] Lord [Gavin] Hamilton running it. One of my brothers in law, John Hamilton, recently wrote this concise summary & has allowed me to share it here:

“The Foster family, who bought the Apley Estate (Shropshire) in 1867, had established its fortunes at the birth of the industrial revolution and by the late 19th and early 20th century the descendants of these pioneering Midlands industrialists had created ‘an earthly paradise’ at Apley.

Before moving to Apley, the Fosters lived at Stourton Castle outside Stourbridge (Worcestershire) where his family had made its fortune. In 1853, William Orme Foster had inherited from his uncle, James Foster (whose portrait hangs in Apley Farm Shop), his house, the massive sum for those times of £700,000, and ownership of the enterprise they ran together: the John Bradley & Co ironworks. This was one of the leading iron foundries of the early industrial revolution. In 1828, one of its early subsidiaries Foster Rastrick & Co manufactured ‘The Stourbridge Lion’, which was purchased by the Delaware & Hudson Canal Company. On 8 August 1829 in Honesdale, Pennsylvania, it became the first steam locomotive to run on a railway in the United States.

Apley Park sits in exquisite parkland on the banks of the river Severn. The neo-gothic house was reputedly considered as a potential country residence by Queen Victoria before she settled on Sandringham in Norfolk. Much later it was also said that the Nazi High Command had considered it as a possible headquarters should it have ever invaded Great Britain during the Second World War.

Amongst those living at Apley in the late 1890s was Foster’s grandson, the young Gerald Tyrwhitt-Wilson – later Lord Berners – whom Nancy Mitford later immortalised as the eccentric Lord Merlin in her novel The Pursuit of Love. In his autobiography First Childhood, Berners, a celebrated composer, artist and aesthete, called Apley “an earthly paradise for children”. He described it as “a huge neo-gothic building of grey stone built towards the end of the 18th century. It was a little like Strawberry Hill in appearance and if not quite so airy and fantastic in its architecture, was quite as turreted and castellated.”

Apley is also believed to have been the inspiration for PG Wodehouse’s Blandings, the home of Lord Emsworth and the setting for some of Jeeves’ and Wooster’s most celebrated escapades. Wodehouse’s mother lived in the nearby village of Stableford and the family is known to have visited Apley. By the mid-1920s, Apley Park and its contents had been inherited by Major Arthur ‘Jimmy’ Foster, who lost his leg while serving as an intelligence officer in the First World War. Jimmy Foster continued to collect paintings, furniture and books.   However, in 1962, soon after his death Apley became a boarding school and many of its contents were sold.”

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