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St. Anne's Church, Siston, viewed from SE Robert Atkyns]]'s The Ancient and Present State of Gloucestershire. Viewed from E.

Siston (pronounced "sizeton") is a small village in South Gloucestershire, England east of Bristol Castle, ancient centre of Bristol, recorded historically as Syston, Sistone, Syton, Sytone and Systun etc. The village lies at the confluence of the two sources of the Siston Brook, a tributary of the River Avon. The village consists of a number of cottages and farms centered around St Anne's Church, and the grand Tudor manor house of Siston Court. Anciently it was bordered to the west by the royal Hunting Forest of Kingswood, stretching most of the way to Bristol Castle, always a royal possession,caput of the Forest. The local part of the disafforested Kingswood became Siston Common but has recently been eroded by the construction of the Avon Ring Road and housing developments. A conservation area since 1989, the village and environs have statutory protection from overdevelopment.


Descent of the Manor

Berkeley of Dursley

The Domesday Book of 1086 records Siston at an annual value of 8 marks, assessed at 5 hides, amongst the lands of the Norman magnate Roger de Berkeley I (d.1093), held in-chief from the King.[1] Roger's possessions and influence, centered on the royal demesne of Berkeley Castle, Dursley, ranged from Gloucester in the north to Bristol in the south, The Cotswolds to the E. and Bristol Channel to the W. Dr Neil Stacy has reconstructed the early history of Siston as follows.[2] In 1127 Siston was occupied by a certain "Matron" Racendis, possibly the widow of Roger II (d.1127) de Berkeley.[3] She attempted to bequeath it to Glastonbury Abbey, which held neighbouring Pucklechurch, seemingly to deprive her nephew William of control of it,[4] who was administering her son's inheritance during her lifetime. She stated that she held the manor freely with no other claim upon it. The Abbot sent knights and monks to Siston to visit Racendis on her death bed to remind her of her promise, only to find monks already in attendance from another Abbey, also claiming her body and property. Following a public hearing and the payment of 40 marks[5] by Henry of Blois, Abbot of Glastonbury, to Racendis, probably to go to the other claimant house as compensation, the manor subsequently was recognised as being held from Glastonbury, still however tenanted by the Berkeleys. This position was perhaps formalised by a charter (now lost)[6] from King Henry I (1100 1135), uncle to Abbot Henry. A further charter of confirmation was granted by King Stephen (1135 1154) in January 1138 describing Siston as rightfully held by Glastonbury, as its ancient possession.[7] Stephen was the brother of Abbot Henry, both being sons of the Count of Blois, by Adela, 4th. daughter of William I. The proof offered of an ancient holding may have been a charter forged in the scriptorium of Glastonbury, as Dr. Stacy suggests.[8] However, in 1153 Roger III de Berkeley, possibly the son of Racendis, claiming it his property by inheritance, attempted to dispose of Siston in marriage settlement on a daughter of Robert FitzHarding, betrothed to his son and heir. Robert FitzHarding was a wealthy merchant of Bristol and a financier of Duke Henry of Aquitaine (future King Henry II, 1154 1189, rival of Stephen). This double marriage contract, binding the son and heir of each man to marry a daughter of the other, was signed at the house of Robert FitzHarding in Bristol in the presence of Duke Henry and 16 witnesses. It was an attempt to restore good relations between Roger de Berkeley and Robert FitzHarding.[9] FitzHarding, earlier in 1153, had been given Berkeley Castle by Duke Henry and became 1st. Baron Berkeley, leaving Roger de Berkeley with a truncated lordship centred on Dursley.[10] Glastonbury appealed to Duke Henry, who abruptly ordered the Earl of Gloucester to restore Siston to Glastonbury. The Earl of Gloucester effected a compromise whereby The Dursley Berkeleys would continue to hold Siston, but paying knight's service for it to the Abbey as overlords. Professor Crouch, writing in 2000, stated: "in the past 10 years the manor of Siston has become a very significant place in the understanding of what was happening in King Stephen's reign, largely due to the documentation that the contest for its possession generated"[11] In 1218 Siston was handed over by Glastonbury with other temporalities to the Bishop of Bath & Wells, and continued to be held in chief by that see until Dissolution. The knight's service seems to have lapsed by the middle of the 13thC.[12]

Walerand of Whaddon, Wiltshire

Armourials of Robert Walerand: "Argent, a bend engrailled gules" Siston eventually passed by marriage to Robert Walerand (d.1272), Justiciar to Henry III, one of the four chief ministers of the Crown, eldest son of William Walerand of Whaddon, Wiltshire, and Isabel, daughter of Roger de Berkeley of Dursley, by her 2nd. marriage.[13] By 1242/3 Walerand had succeeded to his patrimony of Whaddon, part of the Domesday barony of Walerand the Huntsman, whose descendants had often held the New Forest and Forest of Clarendon in fee. In 1245, on the death of the last Marshal Earl of Pembroke, he was made custodian of his lands in west Wales, including Pembroke Castle. From 1246 1250 he was High Sheriff of Gloucestershire and keeper of Gloucester Castle. In 1253 he held the stewardship of the New Forest and in 1255 was made keeper of the Forest of Dean and Constable of St. Briavel's Castle. In 1259 he became keeper of Bristol Castle. Walerand gained huge land holdings throughout the kingdom largely acquired as forfeited lands of Hugh de Nevill after Evesham in 1265 and is recorded as holding on his death, among many other manors:[14]

Siston, the manor with the advowson of the church including pasture in Kingeswod held of Sir Henry de Berkele, Lord of Dersleye, by service of 1 knight's fee.

Clearly the escheator of Gloucestershire was in error about Siston still being held from the Berkeleys, a mistake his successors were to make on at least two further occasions, when it was stated to be held in chief from the King, royal orders then being procured to halt the "intermeddling". Walerand, who seemingly had such a vast choice of residences, was apparently in residence at Siston, before and after all these grants were made. He was gifted by the King in 1256 eight breeding breamfish to establish a vivarium or larder pond at Siston.[15] This is an amusing detail, surely trinkets given arising from some promise in an after dinner discussion between the King and Walerand, then his steward, about the latest trends in fish breeding. ("I'll send you some and you can see for yourself!" is perhaps how the conversation ended). At the time these fish were received at Siston Walerand was employed on important business, raising money for Henry's 2nd. son Edmund to take up the crown of Sicily, offered by the Pope in 1254. His forceful exactions were one of the causes of the rebellion of Simon de Montfort and the Barons' War, ended at the Battle of Evesham in 1265. In 1265, possibly as a personal reward for his assistance at Evesham, the King gave an order to his Forester in Melkesham, Wilts (15 m. to SW.) to let Walerand have 5 live buck and 5 live doe fallow deer for the establishment of his park at Siston.[16] This was possibly the nucleus of the 1,000 strong herd there in 1607 referred to in the Cecil Papers. The park had been augmented with the permission of Walter, Bishop of Bath & Wells from former Abbey lands at Pucklechurch, at the yearly rent of 1d.[17] Walerand married in 1257 Maud Russell daughter of Sir Ralph Russell of Kingston Russell, Dorset, who had inherited the Newmarch estates, including Dyrham (3 m. E. of Siston), from his wife Isabel, whose wardship and marriage his father Sir John Russell(d.c.1224)[18] had purchased on the death without male heir of her father James, Baron Newmarch.[19] This marriage, to the daughter of his neighbour at Dyrham, is surely further evidence as to Walerand's actual residence at Siston. Maud brought Dyrham to Walerand as her Marriage Settlement, thus unifying the two manors briefly (in anticipation of the Denys's), but as Walerand died sine prole Dyrham reverted to the Russells[20] and Siston passed to his heir, nephew Sir Alan Plokenet.

Plokenet of Herefordshire

Sir Alan Plokenet (d.1298), was the son of Walerand's sister Alice (Walerand's intended heir, nephew Robert Walerand, (b.1256) (son of his elder brother William and Isabel de Kilpeck) was deemed an "idiot" legally incapable of inheritance). The Plokenet family was from Plouquenet, Brittany. Sir Alan's main lands were in Herefordshire, and he was buried at Dore Abbey, south west of Hereford, which he had endowed. Alan's son Alan II inherited Siston as evidenced by the law suit of Novel Disseisin brought against him in 1320 by Sir Nicholas de Kingston his retainer, who claimed he had been unjustly deprived of his "free tenement of Siston"[21] Clearly Plokenet himself was not in residence at Siston, unlike Walerand. Alan II d.s.p. 1325 and the property seems to have passed to Alan I's sister Joan (d.1327) who had m. Sir Henry (Edward?) de Bohun. The union was sine prole. Eleanor de Bohun, daughter of the Earl of Hereford and wife of James Butler 1st. Earl of Ormond (cr.1328) certainly inherited the manor of Kilpeck, Hereford, from an Alan Plokenet, apparently at the request of Queen Isabella, so may have received Siston also.

Corbet of Caus, Shropshire

Arms of Corbet of Siston & Hope: Argent, a raven proper within a bordure sable bezantee How Siston manor came to the Corbets is not clear, but Sir Peter Corbet, grandfather of Margaret, was seized of it when he died in 1362. It is however known that their Tenancies-in-Chief of Alveston ( north west of Siston) and Earthcott, Glos., which holdings were to determine the devolution of Siston, had arisen on the m. of Sir Peter Corbet (d.1362) to Elizabeth FitzWarin, da. of Walter FitzWarin (d.1363) of Alveston. The marriage is likely to have arisen due to the two families anciently being neighbouring Marcher Lords in Shropshire and the Marches.[22] Siston seems to have been the residence of Peter Corbet in Glos. as Alveston and Earthcott were occupied by the de Gloucester family, holding from FitzWarin, when granted to Peter Corbet. Unlike Alveston and Earthcott, Siston was not held in-Chief from the King, but from the Abbey of Bath and Wells.[23] The Corbets descended from Norman Marcher Lords of Caus Castle, Shropshire, which name was taken from Pays de Caux, Normandy. Their "Liberty" in the Marches is estimated to have covered between and , and was exempt from royal writs, the Corbets assuming for themselves the rights of High Justice, imprisoning and executing men with impunity.[24] The Corbet branch at Siston, whilst it had lost most of the ancient lands to collateral Corbet branches, nevertheless was the senior line of the Barons of Caus[25] When Peter Corbet died, he left 10-year-old fatherless triplet grandchildren, as his descendants, John, deemed the eldest, William and Margaret. Their father William, who had m. Elizabeth Oddingseles, had predeceased his own father, having had a short life. It is not known to whom the wardship of John the heir was granted, but the second son William was granted to John Gamage "by the King's Order". The Gamages were a Norman family descended from Godfrey de Gamage who m. Joan de Clare, one of the co-heiresses of "Strongbow", 1st. E. of Pembroke (d.1176) and were based at Rogiet, directly across the Severn Estuary from Bristol.[26] John died young aged probably just under 21 in 1374. The lack of records suggests he had not attained his majority. His younger brother William, soon out of wardship at 21, thereupon inherited the Corbet estates. His sister Margaret, pivotal to the future descent of Siston, was married off to William Wyriott from Orielton in Pembroke,[27] which was 6 m. S.W. of the Corbet manor of Lawrenny. It appears that she had been granted the manor, possibly by her brother out of his new inheritance, as her marriage settlement. Margaret and Wyriott probably set up home in Pembroke, intending to spend the rest of their lives there. However, just 3 years after the death of John, William Corbet died too,[28] without progeny, aged 24, and Margaret was left sole heiress of the Corbet estates, with her husband Wyriott holding in her right. These estates comprised Alveston and Earthcott (Green), both in Gloucs., both held in-Chief, Siston, Lawrenny, and Hope-juxta-Caus in Shropshire.[29] The future devolution of Siston depends entirely on the possession by Margaret of the two Tenancies-in-Chief of Alveston and Earthcott. These were held directly from the Crown, unlike all the others, held from Mesne Lords. A Tenancy-in-Chief without a male tenant was likely to escheat, that is revert back to the Crown. The King relied on his Tenants-in-Chief to be his agents in the shires, to raise troops for him and to perform Knight Service. He could not afford to leave ladies, educated to the gentler things in life, in such positions as the manor would simply not fulfill its feudal role. Only two years after she had inherited the Corbet estates from her brother, William Wyriott her husband also died, without issue, in 1379. Margaret now found herself as just such a widow Tenant-in-Chief.

Effectively Margaret now became a pawn of the King. As a female Tenant-in-Chief she could not marry unless by Royal Licence; naturally the King wanted to select his own tenants based on his own pragmatic criteria - were they loyal and effective soldiers and good local diplomats for the Crown? Any choice of husband she might make would be refused, because probably the King had a long waiting list of useful men for whom he wished to find vacant royal manors, the revenues from which they would be expected to use in Crown service. Here was the essence of mediaeval feudalism. Margaret had the simple choice: either relinquish the family estates, possibly retiring to a nunnery, or to a life of social obscurity married to a man likely to be beneath her station, for she would have no land to bring to a marriage, or accept the man selected by the King as his new Tenant-in-Chief for her husband, and remain. Any new husband would on such marriage automatically become the life tenant (in her right) of all her lands and the revenues therefrom, including Siston, not just the royal manors of Alveston and Earthcott. Thus the future devolution of Siston became tied to that of Alveston, which was disposable at the King's choosing. Edward III had died three years before in 1377, leaving his 10-year-old grandson Richard II, son of The Black Prince who had predeceased his father, as nominal King. In that year of 1380 King Richard II, just 3 years into his reign, was aged just 13, clearly too young to appoint his own tenants-in-chief. The question arises as to who was then wielding this significant power of patronage on the King's behalf. Although the kingdom during Richard's minority was in the hands of a series of "continual councils" it seems not implausible that John of Gaunt (1340 1399), Richard's uncle then aged 37, Duke of Lancaster and son of Edward III, would have had some influence in the matter, although never having been a formal member of these councils. It was not until Richard was 15 two years later in 1382 that he wrested back his kingdom from his councillors. That he had been proposed by Gaunt would be speculation, but certainly some powerful hand rather than the mere force of romance caused Margaret Corbet to accept the young esquire from Glamorgan, Gilbert Denys as her new husband. Margaret and Denys were married in 1380, and the long connection of the Denys family with Siston and Gloucestershire as a whole had begun, for as Sir Robert Atkyns, the 18thC historian of Gloucestershire, stated about the Denys family "There have been more High Sheriffs from them than from any other family in the county".[30][31][32]

Denys of Waterton, Glamorgan

leopard's]] faces or jessant-de-lys azure over all a bend engrailled azure Denys's career had begun in the service of John of Gaunt. It was on the Duke's behalf that in May 1375 he had taken formal custody of the manors of Aberavon and Sully in Glamorgan, part of the holdings of the late Lord Despenser. In 1359 Gaunt had married Blanche of Lancaster, heiress of great estates including Ogmore Castle in Glamorgan,[33] 3 m. S.W. of Waterton, Denys's home. One must assume that Denys had come into the service of Gaunt in connection with duties at Ogmore Castle, possibly stewardship.[34] Denys was to make his mark as a soldier rather than an administrator, and his military service started in March 1378 when he took out royal letters of protection to go overseas as a member of Gaunt's expedition.[35][36] He is recorded again in 1383 similarly engaged.[37] In 1395 when in Parliament as a Knight of the Shire for Gloucestershire, Denys was one of the 40 MP's who are believed to have supported the "Twelve Conclusions" proposed by the Lollards, the religious reforming group.[38] John of Gaunt had at one time been a Lollard supporter although by 1395 his enthusiasm had waned, the movement having been recognised as one associated with popular unrest. Denys was from a well-established Glamorgan family, likely already bearing coat-armour, but seems not to have had a manor of his own. The Inquisition post mortem of Sir Lawrence de Berkerolles of 1415 refers to Denys merely paying rent in Waterton, Glamorgan, "together with others".[39] John Denys is stated in the Golden Grove Book of Welsh Pedigrees to have been his father, and this must surely be the John Denys of "Watirton" granted a lease at Bonvilston by Margam Abbey in 1376,[40][41] yet as John was apparently the youngest of 5 brothers, unlikely to inherit paternal lands, Waterton was probably a fairly modest home, acquired through John's own exertions.[42] Although the Corbet marriage produced no male issue[43](Sir Gilbert Denys married secondly (c.1404) Margaret Russell, eventual co-heiress of Sir Morys Russell (d.1416) of Dyrham) all the Corbet manors, including Siston, Lawrenny in Pembroke and Hope-juxta-Caus, Salop., nevertheless passed to the Denys's likely due to a settlement by Margaret Corbet similar to that referred to in an Inquisition Quod Damnum of 1382:

Gilbert Deneys and Margaret his wife to settle their manors of Alveston and Earthcott and the hundred (i.e.Court) of Langley on themselves and the heirs male of their bodies, with remainder to the heirs of the body of Margaret, remainder to the right heirs of Gilbert[44]

Siston is not mentioned, but the manor devolved similarly, not reverting back to distant Corbet relatives. The marriage, assumed above to have been an arranged one, was a personal success for the couple as Sir Gilbert requested in his will[45] to be buried next to his apparently beloved first Corbet wife in Siston church, although his much younger 2nd. Russell wife, mother of his children, survived him by 38 years. Following the death of Sir Gilbert, a dowry life interest in Siston passed to his young Russell widow and thence to her even younger second husband, John Kemeys of Began. Margaret Russell in her turn had apparently had a replacement husband thrust upon her by higher powers, possibly in the form of Gaunt's son Henry Beaufort, Bishop of Winchester, shortly to be member of the Regency Govt. of Henry VI, and his soon-to-be son-in-law Sir Edward Stradling. Curiously Denys had had the honour to nominate Beaufort overseer of his will.

Kemeys of Began, Monmouth

At the time of Denys's death in 1422 it seems that Bishop Beaufort had been planning to marry off his illegitimate daughter Joan,[46] the result of a youthful affair with Alice FitzAlan, da. of the Earl of Arundel. The man he seemed to have chosen for her was 33 -year-old Sir Edward Stradling of St.Donat's, Glamorgan, (6 m. S.E. of Ogmore) who was well known to Denys.[47] Stradling was awarded the lucrative wardship of Morys Denys, Gilbert's 12-year-old son and heir and at the very same time Stradling obtained the marriage of Gilbert's widow Margaret Russell for his much younger nephew John Kemeys. It seems clear that the powerful moving hand behind the grants of Morys's wardship and Margaret's marriage was Bishop Beaufort. In 1422, the year of Denys's death, Henry V had died to be succeeded by his 10-year-old infant son Henry VI, great-nephew of Beaufort. Beaufort was immediateley appointed a member of the Regency Government. He was thus in a position to dispose of wardships of infant Tenants-in-Chief like Morys Denys (again due to his holding of Alveston and Earthcott) and of marriages of widows of Tenants-in-Chief, such as Morys's mother. It seems that the wardship of Morys was effectively the marriage settlement offered to Stradling with the hand Joan Beaufort, for they were married the next year in 1423.

John Kemeys (pron: "Kemmis") (d.1476) thus became on marriage to Margaret Russell, Denys's widow, Lord of Siston for his lifetime, for the manor seems to have been her dowry, traditionally one third of the estate. He was son of John Kemeys of Began (6 m. N.E. of Cardiff Castle, caput of the Lordship of Glamorgan) by Agnes da. of Sir William Stradling of St. Donats, Glamorgan and nephew to Sir Edward Stradling. Sir Edward married off his ward Morys to his daughter Katherine, who thus became a matriarch of the Denys family.[48] Although they had long shared interests in Coity, Glamorgan, the Stradling connection with the Denys's across the Severn in Gloucestershire had begun in 1416 when Sir John Stradling, the elderly first cousin of Sir Edward's father, had married Joan Dauntsey, the young widow and 2nd. wife of Sir Morys Russell, father-in-law of Denys, thereby capturing a life interest in her large dowry.[49] This event however, occurring whilst Sir Gilbert was still alive (he outlived his father-in-law by 6 years) may have happened with Deny's blessing, even encouragement. He had been a neighbour, friend and ally of Russell, was by then himself a powerful individual, and must have had some concern and influence over the disposition of Russell's widow. It is unlikely to have been a love match due to the great age difference, nor was it dictated by the Crown as the fine referred to above shows. Possibly John Stradling was an old Glamorgan friend of Denys, who deemed him a suitable match on personal grounds. Yet the marriage of Denys's widow Margaret Russell to Kemeys must surely have been engineered by Sir Edward Stradling, especially as Denys in his will had urged Margaret Russell his widow to take a vow of chastity. Within 7 months she had remarried Kemeys.[50] Maybe Stradling was quite legitimately reaping his reward, by ensuring that the benefit from the Corbet manors procured for Denys by his grandfather-in-law John of Gaunt passed permanently into the family of his own daughter, and temporarily as a life interest to his nephew. Kemeys lived the remainder of his life as Lord of Siston, representing Gloucestershire in Parliament for a term. His son Roger died insane in 1484, but not also after having played a role in public life. His son founded the Bedminster, Som. line of Kemeys.

Denys of Alveston and Dyrham

It was not therefore until the death of John Kemeys in 1476 (predeceased by Margaret in 1460 and Morys Denys in 1466) that the Denys family regained possession of Siston. The Denys residence had meantime been at Olveston (next to Alveston) where the remains of their fortified manor house, Olveston Court, possibly built by FitzWarin, can be seen.[51] Apparently they preferred nevertheless to reside thereafter at Dyrham, the nearby manor inherited from the Russells (together with Kingston Russell in Dorset), which became the definitive seat of Sir William Denys, son and heir of Sir Walter. One must assume the Siston pre-tudor manor house to have been re-enfeoffed (i.e.let on life tenancy) or perhaps lived in by one of Sir William's sons. The Denys family held Siston from the death of Kemeys in 1376 until 1568 as evidenced by the Cecil Papers.[52]

Billingsley, Trotman, Rawlins

It was conveyed to Queen Elizabeth in mysterious circumstances involving a deliberate mortgage fraud, to settle a Crown debt of the Denys's. It was then sold to a speculator, Robert Wicks, who sold it in 1608 to Sir Henry Billingsley (jnr), thence through temporary hands by sale in 1651 to Samuel Trotman Esq., It remained in the Trotman family for 252 years including the tenures of Fiennes Boughton Newton Dickenson, who m. Harriette Elizabeth Trotman, the heiress of the Trotman line, and his eldest son who sold it in 1903 to Mr J. Ernest Rawlins, a bucaneering pioneer of the English Colony in Hanford, California, who having left England as a young man in 1877, farmed, played polo, set up a bank, a coal mine, brick factory, and built an opera house. Rawlins sold the manor in 1935, seemingly having suffered in the Wall Street Crash, and the historic contents of Siston Court were dispersed at auction. In 1940 the empty house sheltered children evacuated from London's East-End. The Court is presently divided into apartments in separate occupation.

St.Anne's Church

tympanum]] depicts the Tree of Life. The bullet marks on the oak door are said to be those of Cromwell's troops who used the church as stables on the way to the Battle of Lansdowne, 1642[53] St Anne's Church has an 11th century Norman south porch with rounded notched (or "zig-zag moulded") arch and tympanum, and a 13th or 14th century tower.

Baptismal font

The 11thC baptismal font is of lead, unusual in England. Only about 38 leaden fonts survive in England, nine of which are in Gloucestershire, the greatest number in any county.[54] During the Civil War the Roundheads stabled horses in the Church. It is remarkable that the font was not on that occasion or on many others melted down for bullets. Other similar fonts exist in the Lady Chapel, Gloucester Cathedral (given to the cathedral in 1940, originally from St. James's Church, Lancaut, Glos., now ruined); at Frampton-on-Severn; Rendcomb-St-Peter and at Dorchester Abbey. The Siston font displays 6 figures, three of which seem to be of Christ, as a nimbus is shown. The other three may be some of the Four Evangelists, who hold their own gospels and bless with two fingers of their right hands. It appears that the prototype of this font, as the finer versions show, had 12 figures, possibly the Twelve Apostles. There are 12 niches shown on the Siston font, but six are filled with acanthus scroll-work.


Although the feudal manor historically was held from the Abbey of Bath & Wells, the Parish Church fell within the Diocese of Worcester. The Advowson or Right of Patronage, previously vested in Lords of the Manor, was gifted in perpetuity by Mr J E Rawlins in 1937 to the Bishops of Bristol.[55] Mr Rawlins also gifted extra land for the graveyard to the north of the church in 1916,[56] possibly needed for WWI casualties.

The McCalmont murals in St. Anne's Church, Siston

Leaden baptismal font, late 11thC, St Anne's Church, Siston. The McCalmont paintings can be seen on the chancel arch The pre-Raphaelite style wall painting after Burne-Jones on the chancel arch of angels worshiping was executed in 1911 by Margaret Anna McCalmont (1863 1937) (Mrs Rawlins of Siston Court) based on the two frescos by Benozzo Gozzoli c.1459, commissioned by Cosimo de Medici, in the chancel of the chapel of Palazzo Medici Riccardi in Florence.[57] Other alterations were also effected. McCalmont had family connections in Florence going back to before 1836, when an ancestor Sarah McCalmont was buried in the English Cemetery. She had effected similar murals and stained glass in the Redwood Chapel in Hanford, Calif. which the English Colony there had founded. She seemed motivated in her art by a desire to bring Enlightenment through Culture, as a parallel force to Religion, and thus sought to bring the power of possibly the highest culture ever known, that of the Medici Princes of Florence, to Siston, for the benefit of her community. It is interesting to note that she was looked upon as a kindly employer by her servants, and in London urged them to visit matinee performances at the theatre, perhaps another manifestation of her cultural evangelism.[58]

Siston Court

Grade one-listed Siston Court was built by Sir Maurice Denys (1516 1563).[59] This evidence comes from a letter summarised in the Cecil Papers[60] dated 1607 to the Earl of Salisbury from an agent offering him the property for sale:

Offers for sale the manor of Siston Glos., from Bath & from Bristol, heretofore the land of Sir Morris Dennis, present owner Mr Weeks. There is a new house of stone which cost 3,000 built by Dennis; a park which will keep 1,000 fallow deer & rich mines of coal which yield almost as great revenue as the land

Salisbury seems to have claimed not to have received the letter when pressed for an answer, clearly having decided against the investment opportunity.[61] Denys was second son of Sir William Denys (d.1533) of nearby Dyrham Park, Sheriff of Gloucestershire at his death and an Esquire of the Body of Henry VIII,[62] and Lady Ann Berkeley, daughter of 13th.Feudal, de jure Writ, Baron Berkeley, de jure 2nd. Marquis Berkeley (d.1506)[63] who had been disinherited[64] by his brother for marrying beneath his honour Isabel Meade, d. of a Bristol Alderman.[65] It was probably commenced post 1545 when Denys married aged 29 but before 1548 when he removed to Calais to take up the post of Treasurer. It surely must have been completed before his financial problems commenced about 1552.[66] The property adjoined the royal Forest of Kingswood to the west, and claimed right of "Purlieu" over a portion of it.[67] The pair of now empty niches on the internal facade of the wings are similar to the niches on the facade of Montacute House, Somerset, commenced later c. 1590,[68] which contain statues of the Nine Worthies, dressed as Roman soldiers, Renaissance Italian in inspiration.

The heritage of Sanderson Miller, gentleman architect

Sanderson Miller (1716 1780) was a wealthy amateur architect who married Susanna the daughter of Edward Trotman of Siston Court. He was a pioneer with Horace Walpole of the Georgian Gothic Revival, specialising in constructing follies such as octagonal towers and "ruined" castles. He apparently built for Mr Trotman the octagonal "pepper pot" gate houses and the lodge, and had certainly drafted plans for a "Poor's House" inscribed "Siston, Nov.21 1759", seemingly almshouses.[69] It appears these were never built. Yet Miller's heritage was not just in stone, for his 3rd. d. Hester m. Fiennes Trotman, her cousin and heir of Siston Court, from whom were descended its later owners. The Miller alterations appear to be the only ones made to the Denys's Tudor building by the Trotmans, who thus bequeathed an almost pure Tudor building to the 20thC, having avoided the common Georgian trend of demolition and rebuilding anew.

The Renaissance Tudor chimneypiece

An image of an interior from 1930 can be seen in Robinson op.cit.p. 168 showing Oliver Cromwell's cavalry jack boots, left behind by him[70] whilst lodging with Samuel Trotman, standing on an ornate Renaissance Tudor chimneypiece in the hall, which still displayed Trotman armorials in an elaborate plasterwork escutcheon. This may be the that referred to by Robinsonop.cit. as "among the finest in the County" which was shipped to Addis-Ababa Palace by Emperor Haile Selasse.[71][72] It is conceivable that Sanderson Miller had a hand in it, as the creation of ornate chimneypieces tempus James I was one of his specialities.[73] Although Siston Court had been built by the Denys's, they quite possibly spent very little time there, actually owning the building for only 20 years or so. Denys had no children to fill it with and his wife seems to have lived in his St.John of Jerusalem mansions in Clerkenwell or at Sutton-at-Hone, Kent while he was away in Calais. It remains nevertheless indisputably their monument. Yet it was the Trotman family who owned it for longest and were responsible for its preservation. It was a sad irony that perhaps from well-intentioned ignorance the Rawlins's hacked off the plaster Trotman armorials from this chimneypiece to reveal what they considered to be the original "valid" ones underneath, which turned out in any case to be those of Poyntz, not Denys, as Robinson inexplicably records. Denys was not descended from the Poyntz side of the family but the Stradling side, and Alice Poyntz the 2nd. wife of Morys Denys (d.1466) his great-grandfather was not an heiress, which would not warrant her armorials being displayed by the Denys family.[74]

Origins of the Denys/Dennis family of Siston

(The family name in historical documents is generally spelt "Denys" pre c.1600, "Dennis" post c.1600) The Denys family of Siston came most immediateley from Glamorgan.[75] It may have been of Danish origin, as is thought to have been the contemporaneous family of Denys of Devon[76] established before the 13thC at Giddicote, Black Torrington. It is well established that there was much connection in the Mediaeval times between the SW Peninsula, Glamorgan and Gloucestershire, therefore it is possible the two families sprung from a common origin. The ancient arms of Denys of Devon appear to make allusion to a Danish connection:[77] "Ermine, three bills or Danish battleaxes gules"[78] The arms of the King of Denmark were recorded in the Camden Roll (c.1280) as: "Gules, three axes in pale or".[79] Either or both families may have descended from the very ancient Denys family of Sock Dennis, Ilchester, Somerset.[80] William the Dane, perhaps father of John, was the founder of the Whitehall Almshouse in Ilchester c.1217.[81] John the Dane "Deneis", "heir of Robert de Beauchamp" (of Hatch) brought an action in 1224 concerning a carucate which Richard of Ilchester (Bishop of Winchester 1174 88) had conveyed to a certain William son of Ralph.[82] John the Dane held two fees in Sock of the Beauchamps of Hatch in 1236.[83] Cecilia was one of the co-heiresses of her brother Robert de Beauchamp, and m. one of the Turberville family, possibly descendants of Sir Payn "The Demon" de Turberville,(fl.c.1100) builder of Coity Castle, and one of the 12 legendary knights of Robert FitzHamon (d.1107) Lord of Gloucester and Conqueror of Glamorgan. The other co-heiress appears therefore to have been a Denys. Yet Gerard of Trent tells of King John wresting Sock and Bearley from the men of Ilchester to give them to William the Dane in exchange for nearby Petherton Park.[84] A 13thC exchange of land called "Deneysesdone" in Petherton Forest was certainly made with a "Haywardwyk" in Ilchester.[85] The Denys family from Glamorgan, whose pre-Gloucestershire pedigree goes back 6 generations as set out in the Golden Grove Book of Welsh Pedigrees to be 18thC), were likely to have been in the 13thC feudal tenants or officers, under Candleston Castle near Ogmore held by the Glamorgan branch of the Norman Cantilupe[86] family, by whom their coat of arms was seemingly granted as arms of patronage. [87] The earliest firm evidence of the Denys family in Glamorgan is from a charter dated 1258, witnessing an exchange by Gilbert de Turberville (Lord of Coity) of lands in Newcastle (Coity) with Margam Abbey (Clark, Cartae no. DXCIV).[88] Among the 5 witnesses are: Willelmo le Deneys and Roberto de Cantulupo. Cartae MXLIII dated 1376 is a lease by Margam Abbey to Johan Denys de Watirton (Coity), and we are very much on firm ground with the reference in the 1415 Inquisition post mortem[89] of Sir Lawrence de Berkerolles Lord of Coity to "rent in Waterton[90] which Gilbert Denys, knt., and others render yearly." Denys was by then established at Siston.

Armourials of the Denys family

Denys monumental brass]] at Olveston The armourials of the Denys family are sculpted on the facade of the wings of Siston Court. The full blazon as anciently used is: "Gules, 3 leopards' faces or jessant-de-lys azure, overall a bend engrailled azure".[91] It must be assumed the two prominent Denys families in the S.W., if indeed related at all, branched out prior to the widespread adoption of armorials c.1250, and therefore adopted coat-armour independently. The basic arms of Cantilupe are "three leopards' faces jessant-de-lys"[92] and are still used as the official arms of the See of Hereford,[93] but reversed for difference, in honour of St.Thomas de Cantilupe, Bishop of Hereford,(d.1282), canonised 1320.[94] The arms of Denys of Glamorgan are the three Cantilupe leopards' faces jessant-de-lys, differenced by the overlay of a bend engrailled. As has been stated above, these arms are likely to have been granted by the Glamorgan branch of the Cantilupe family[95] to a member of the Denys family, probably one of their feudal tenants or officers, holding an important post within their manor of Candleston, which modern name is thought to be a corruption of "Cantilupe's-ton".[96] a few hundred yards west of Ogmore Castle across the River Ogmore, which formed the boundary of the Ogmore Lordship. As for dating evidence, the Margam Charter dated 1258 (Clark's Cartae DXCIV) concerning an exchange of lands between Gilbert de Turberville, Lord of Coity, and Margam Abbey, was witnessed by 5 people, including Roberto de Cantulupo and Willelmo le Deneys. It seems likely that witnesses to an important charter between high-status parties would themselves be high-status individuals, who would necessarily bear coat-armour. This suggests that the Denys family had been granted the Arms of Patronage before this time. Examples of these original arms survive earliest as shown on the Denys monumental brass [97] of Sir Walter Denys (1437 1505) at Olveston Church (next to Alveston). A colour depiction has survived (c.1509) drawn by Sir Thomas Wriothseley, Garter King of Arms, of the arms of Hugh Denys of Osterley (d.1511),[98][99] Groom of the King's Close Stool to Henry VII, Verger of Windsor Castle and great uncle of Sir Maurice Denys, showing the scene at the deathbed of the King at Sheen Palace, at which he was present.[100] The Denys arms are shown quartered with Corbet, with a crescent superimposed on the bend to denote a third son. The arms of all the heiresses married into the Denys family are also sculpted on the facade of the wings of Siston Court: Russell of Dyrham (1404), Newmarch (1224) and Gorges (c.1325)[101] (Russell heiresses), Danvers (1467)[102] and Corbet (1380). The Corbet Raven "Corbeau" is believed to have been the early emblem of the Viking Dukes of Normandy, whose hereditary standard-bearer was known as Roger Corbeau, who founded the Corbet family.[103]

Sir Maurice Denys (1516 1563) builder of Siston Court

Arms of Sir Maurice Denys (1516 1563) sculpted on south wing of Siston Court

It was the ambitious Sir Maurice Denys (1516 1563), great-great-grandson of Sir Gilbert, who bought out his elder brother Sir Walter's inheritance of Siston, probably in 1542 when the latter obtained Royal Licence to alienate Kingston Russell to Sir Maurice,[104]and erected the present mansion. He took the classic Tudor businessman's training as a lawyer at the Inner Temple and became heavily involved in property speculation and development during the Dissolution of the Monasteries. In 1540 he was awarded the Receivership of the dissolved Order of Knights of St.John, residing at a London mansion at Clerkenwell, the order's HQ, and at a former Commandery at Sutton-at-Hone in Kent. He had built a large mansion for the prominent Mercer Nicholas Statham at Brook Place, Sutton,[105] and in 1545 married his widow Elizabeth, thereby inheriting the house he had built. Sir Maurice borrowed greatly not only to buy out his brother's manor of Siston, but also Barton Regis,[106] a large part of adjacent Kingswood Forest, Abson and Pucklechurch from William Herbert, 1st Earl of Pembroke who had obtained the latter at the Dissolution from Bath Abbey, as well as a handful of other manors in Gloucestershire and elsewhere. Certainly Siston Court was designed to be Sir Maurice's grand seat after he had obtained a title of nobility. Yet his plans had been over-ambitious and his debts dragged down not only himself but also his brother, who as a beneficiary of the loan, was forced by the Crown to co-sign a bond. Sir Maurice had been appointed Treasurer of Calais, responsible for financing the military campaign there, yet was twice imprisoned in the Fleet seemingly for accounting irregularities, but was twice released and pardoned. The inference seems to be that he misapplied Crown funds to repay his personal debts. He was fully rehabilitated by Queen Elizabeth, and died in August 1563 at Portsmouth during an outbreak of plague whither he had been sent to pay troops. As dating evidence for Siston Court the following entry in the Cecil Papers is given:

Sir Adrian Poynings to the Queen. Concerning the state of payments to the troops from Newhaven (i.e. Le Havre) at the death of Sir Maurice Denis (sic) Treasurer. Wherwell 28/8/1563. Cecil Papers, vol 1. no.924.

A similar dispatch had been made 3 days prior. Siston was sold before his death to satisfy his creditors, but with a right of repurchase for 2,200. His nephew and heir Richard Denys (1525 1594), son of Sir Walter, exercised the repurchase, but due to the depletion of the family funds, it was finally sold by Richard and his son Walter in 1568 for 3,200 to Robert Wicks.[107] Wicks offered it without success to the Earl of Salisbury in 1607 for 3,300[108] and then sold in 1608 to Sir Henry Billingsley (jnr) of Doynton Manor, Glos., the son of Sir Henry (c.1530 1606) Lord Mayor of London in 1596 and the first translator of Euclid into English. It passed in 1651 to Samuel Trotman Esq.

Decline of Denys/Dennis family

Another branch of the Denys family descended from Sir Maurice's uncle John, third son of Sir Walter (d.1505), and heir of Hugh Denys (d.1511), remained as Lords of the Manor of Pucklechurch until 1701.[109] Richard's brother Thomas fared best of all, albeit temporarily, having married the niece and heiress of cap manufacturer Sir Thomas Bell (snr.), thrice mayor of Gloucester and its richest citizen. The Dennis family of Gloucester by inheritance briefly became the main private landlords of the city, but most of their properties, situated on the outskirts, were destroyed during the Civil War siege.[110] In the 16/17thC the family had modernised its name to Dennis.

Royal visits to Siston

Sir Maurice Denys's patron was thought to have been Admiral Thomas Seymour, 1st Baron Seymour of Sudeley the ambitious and reckless younger brother of Protector Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset, brother of Queen Jane Seymour and uncle to Edward VI. Having been refused by Princess Elizabeth, he was determined to wed the ex-Queen Katherine Parr, even before a 9 month delay, considered by courtiers to have been seemly and constitutionally prudent, had expired. It may have been as a result of Denys's complicity in these arrangements that Katherine, widowed by H VIII in 1547, resided for 8 weeks of her future short life in a house within the vicinity of Siston, known as Mount's Court, held by the Strange family[111][112] She died in 1548, giving birth to the child of her husband Seymour, who is said to have neglected and ill-treated her. He was executed in 1549 by order of his Protector brother for treason, and Denys lost his powerful patron. Katherine's stay at Siston may provide further dating evidence for Siston Court, which it was suggested above was commenced between 1545 and 1548. Had the Court been finished before 1548, she might have stayed there instead, it being a higher status building than Mounts Court. Katherine had another connection to Denys in that her secretary and advisor was Walter Bucler, who had married Katherine Denys,[113] widow of Sir Edmund Tame II of Fairford, and aunt of Sir Maurice Denys. Bucler had sold Denys Wye College in Kent, which he had been granted by the King after the Dissolution. Furthermore, nearby Barton Regis manor in Kingswood Forest had been granted to Katherine by Henry as part of her dower, and perhaps by residing at Siston she wished to stay close to her source of revenue.[114] Queen Anne of Denmark, wife of James I, stayed at Siston Court in June 1613 whilst waiting to board ship at Bristol, as guest of Sir Henry Billingsley. She had been lavishly entertained by the Corporation of Bristol during the day, with massive military displays and mock sea battles between Turk and English mariners having been staged for her, immortalised in a versified account by Naile.[115] Bristol had always had a special relationship with the consorts of Kings, their marriage portions arising from the City's revenues, and the City thereby fostered a conduit to the seat of power. There is said to be a "Queen's Chamber" in the Court named in her honour. The Prince of Wales, later Edward VIII, visited the Court as guest of the Rawlins family[116]



  • Robinson, W.J. West Country Manors. Bristol, 1930. pp.168 172 (Siston Court)
  • Scott Thomson,G. Two Centuries of Family History. London, 1930. Appendix D pp.324 328 (Russell Pedigree)
  • Clark, Col.G.T. Limbus Patrum Morganiae et Glamorganiae: Being the Genealogies of the Older Families of the Lordships of Morgan and Glamorgan. 1886.
  • Bindoff,S.T. The House of Commons 1509 1558. London, 1982. vol 2, pp.31 34, 36 37
  • Biogs. of Sir M.Denys & Sir W.Denys-Roskell, J.S. et al. The House of Commons 1386 1421. Stroud, 1992 vol 2. pp.771 772
  • Biog. of Sir G.Denys, Chantler, P. History of the Ancient Family of Dennis of Glamorgan and Gloucestershire. South Molton, 2010.

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