The Ruxtons of Ardee
(reproduced by kind permission of the author)
My grandfather Admiral William Fitzherbert Ruxton FRGS, born 1830, [after whom Ruxton Island near Vancouver was named. He also apparently captured the last slave trading ship off the coast of Africa. Ed.] made a considerable effort to discover the origins of the Ruxton family. He was never able to satisfy himself about his English roots but the author of The Norman People (1) suggested to him in 1874 that RUXTON was a corruption of ROXTON. About 1240 Geoffrey de ROXTON held half a knight's fee at ROXTON in Lincolnshire from the barony of Percy and the family were apparently benefactors of the Nun Appleton Priory, Yorkshire inthe parish of Bolton Percy. Certainly according to the Lincolnshire Archive record of wills there were a lot of ROXTON / RUXTON families in Lincolnshire in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries but nothing in the records to connect them with Ireland. There is a hamlet of ROXTON one and a half miles south of Immingham (and another one to the East of Bedford, England, and one in Texas ! Ed.)
The earliest trace in Ireland which he could find was of John Ruxton born in 1531 at Shanboe, parish of Rattaine, Co Meath who had a son, also John, born 1556 who was known to live at Shanboe in 1625-35. (One has to remember that the Admiral was researching before many Irish records were destroyed.) The second John's will was dated 1634 and signed Ruckstone which led me to make unsuccessful enquiries in Herefordshire where there was a seventeenth-century family, Ruck of Ruckstone, and where there are two Ruxton hamlets.
The second John had three sons and probably three daughters. The eldest son, Henry of Shanboe and Bective, left a will dated 5 December 1682 which bore a seal with three bulls. The significance of this is that in 1862 the Office of Arms, Ulster confirmed the arms and crest, including the three bulls at the request of William Ruxton of Ardee House as belonging to all descendants of William Ruxton born 1743. (Henry had a son Johnwho may have married Susanna Jephson in 1672. If so his father-in-law Alexander Jephson was executed for treason in 1662.John certainly had children.)
The youngest son was William of Cloncarry, Co Meath, described as dying young, but he did marry and wrote wills in 1671 and1674. Some reports say he had sons William and Henry.
The middle son John, later known as Captain John, was born in1616, and is thought to have married twice. It was he, inconsideration of his Commonwealth army service, who received land in Ardee. He was High Sheriff of Louth in 1659 and MP for Ardee1661-6. In 1666 by royal letters patent of 26 October he was granted various properties in and around Ardee including the Carmelite Abbey. (Mr Harold O'Sullivan (2) wrote to me in 1990saying that John Ruxton had in excess of 700 acres as a result of the grant which suggested that in the Commonwealth period he would have had in excess of 1,000 acres.)
Captain John had five sons and probably three daughters. Captain John and the eldest son, also John, born 1642, were involved in the 'fanatic plot' of 1663-4 to blow up Dublin Castle. Captain John MP was accused of high treason and expelled from the House. John junior went to Dublin University and was MP for Ardee in 1671 but died in 1673 without marrying. Another son, Henry, wrote a will dated 8 November 1682 and had a son Henry of Drogheda who married Hannah Barry on 17 October 1727 but the family do not seem to have flourished. There were Ruxtons in Drogheda until at least 1817.
The remaining three sons, William, Rev. Charles and Matthew were all attainted in 1688 presumably as Protestants refusing loyalty to James II. Matthew the youngest fled to England at this juncture but returned. He married and settled in Co Meath (will dated 1720). His son, John of Ballabony, (one of the estates, with Tully, granted originally to Captain John) in 1721 married Mary Eccleston of Drumshallon, Co Louth. They had four sons and two daughters. The third son, Henry Thomas Bellingham Ruxton, married Susannah Willis of Co Monaghan in 1769. One of their offspring married a well-connected Scottish lady, Anna Maria Hay. He died in Brenchley Kent in the same year as he bought the Broad Oak estate in Brenchley. It was his son, John Henry Hay Ruxton who, after an army career largely in Australia, became the first chief constable of Kent in 1857 (a post he retained until 1894outliving all his original recruits). A younger brother, George Frederick Augustus, born 1821, wrote the books Adventures in Mexico and the Rocky Mountains and Life in the Far West (London, 1849). These books originally published by Murray are still available in the USA, but unfortunately he died young [age 28 Ed.]. There is a Ruxton family vault at Brenchley church and a plaque on the church wall which describes the (Kent) Ruxton descent from Captain John Ruxton who received the Ardee estates in 1666 from Charles II. There are no male (Kent) Ruxtons left.
After this diversion we must return to William, possibly the second son of Captain John as it is from him that the Ruxtons of Ardee descend. He had a son William by wife Anne (surname unknown but said to be of an Elizabethan settler family) and a daughter Margaret. This William was born in 1697 and died 15 February 1751having married Mary Gibbons of Mountainstown, Co Meath in 1718.He was an MP in 1749. William and Mary's eldest son, John William, was born in 1721 and went to Dublin University. He married Letitia Fitzherbert, who was co-heiress of Shercock and Blackcastle, Co Meath. As a result these properties came to the Ruxton family as Letitia's brothers all died without issue.
John William, having previously lived in the High Street (now Market Street) built Ardee House in 1780, now a hospital for the elderly, with the lands mostly sold for housing and a golf course. At the 1768 parliamentary election Thomas Tisdall having lost the election got up an unsuccessful opposition to the Ruxtons (John William and his younger brother Charles) who were prominent members of the 'independent interest' of the smaller landlords who banded together against the 'leading interests'. In a manuscript compiled c. 1775 by the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant on various M.P.s John Ruxton is described as 'always in opposition' and presumably to identify him it is mentioned that he has brothers, one the Surgeon General and another (? Charles) 'Gentleman of the Bed-chamber to my Lord Lieutenant'.
The Surgeon General was William who lived at Hooey's Court in Dublin. He was one of the founders of the Dublin Society of Surgeons (March 1780). He died in 1783 aged 62. He had at least six children. The eldest boy, John, was granted an M.A. by Dublin University in 1785 and practised at the Irish bar. Their eldest daughter Elizabeth married James Barlow of Dublin.
Red House, Ardee
John William had three other brothers and two sisters. Of these Captain Charles M.P., born 1726, married Elizabeth Parkinson of 'Red House', Ardee and it was their son, William Parkinson Ruxton, who built the three-storey house of Regency appearance which we now see. This must have been after 1806 when he inherited theproperty with a small older house. William Parkinson married Anna Fortescue who brought up the children of her brother Chichester Fortescue who died in 1826 (the mother having died in 1824). The elder boy became Lord Clermont and his younger brother, another Chichester Fortescue, later to become Lord Carlingford, was ultimately left the Red House property as William Parkinson and Anna had no children. Edward Lear, a close friend of Chichester Fortescue, writing in 1858 when staying at Red House wrote to Lady Waldegrave (Chichester Fortescue's wife)
"But the wonder and crowning part of Redhouse is the aunt, Mrs. Ruxton - at 85 she has all the activity of mind and body of persons at 60 - out in the garden at 7 and not to bed before 11... She is immensely fond of Fortescue, no wonder for he is just like a son to her...She is in a word atiptop Christian multiplied by 20 and I never believed I could see so much to admire in any old lady." (3)
Later after she had died he wrote to Chichester Fortescue'...Do you remember how we used to do the Gospels and Epistles in Greek at the Parlour at Red House till at a given hour, dear old Mrs Ruxton used to call for God Save the Queen and we all absquatulated [Orig. US : departed Ed.].' (4)
Of the other younger brothers and sisters of John William(born 1721) one Samuel appears to have been unmarried and served in the army. Another Gilbert Gibbons married in 1770 Elizabeth Gason, daughter of Richard Gason of Killeshallue, Co Tipperary and had daughters. According to the Cork News he weighed twenty-eight stone, probably at death. The youngest sister, Ann(e?), married Arthur Wolfe in 1769. He became Lord Kilwarden, LordChief Justice of Ireland. In 1795 Anne was created a baroness.
We must now return to John William who built Ardee House. His eldest son, William of Ardee (and now also 'of Shercock'), kept up the tradition of becoming an M. P. In 1785 he married Annie Upton, daughter of Christopher Henry Upton of Glyde Court and Isabelle née Clarges. As a result of this union the Ruxtons inherited two pictures from Lely's studio of King Charles II and General Monk, Lord Albemarle. The Uptons were royalists but the pictures are more likely to have come from the Clarges connection as General Monk was married to Anne Clarges whose only son died young. Isabelle's father, Colonel Christopher Clarges, Royal Irish Dragoons, was a member of the HellfireClub in Dublin.
William Ruxton, as a member of Grattan's Parliament, cast oneof the three votes against the 1800 Act of Union. He was offered a peerage to vote in favour but refused.
John William and Letitia his wife were able to endow their two younger sons, John and Samuel, with the Blackcastle estate. The older, described as John of Blackcastle, eloped in 1770 with Margaret Edgeworth (5) who was being courted by the eccentric Thomas Daly, later author of the History of Sandford and Merton, whose manners were described as being uncouth. The book despite its title is a humourless children's moral tale. Margaret was the aunt of Maria Edgeworth (1767-1849), the novelist and educationalist, and with her daughter Sophy was confidante and critic of Maria in nearly all her literary work, e.g. Castle Rackrent. A gentleman once said of Margaret(6) 'if I were to see Mrs Ruxton sitting in rags, as a beggar on the doorstep I should say "Madam" to her'. John was associated with the building of the Boyne canal and towards the end of the eighteenth century converted Blackcastle (not a large house) into a cottage orné.
The other son, Samuel (described as Swinnerton, part of the Blackcastle estate), married in 1785 May Haviland, daughter of General Haviland, but they had no children. He assumed the additional surname Fitzherbert and on dying in 1826 left his main estate to Richard Ruxton, second son of his older brother John. Richard then assumed the additional surname Fitzherbert. Richard inherited from his parents the main Blackcastle estate which thus in a sense reverted to the Fitzherberts. However Richard who had married Elizabeth Selina Staples of Dunmore, Queen's County in1807 had no children and they adopted in tragic circumstances Thomas Rothwell, grandson of his aunt Mary (née Ruxton), who had married James Corry of Shantonagh. In 1838 he married Francis Vesey from which union stem the present Fitzherberts of Swinnerton and Blackcastle. Thomas assumed the name Fitzherbert in 1863.
Richard replaced the cottage orné at Blackcastle in 1828 with the mansion of which one can still see the ruins overlooking the River Boyne (on which there is still a Ruxton lock). He died in 1840 when described as vice-lieutenant of Meath, whilst his wife Elizabeth Selina died in 1863.
William Ruxton, the heir to Ardee and Shercock, died in 1821aged 78. His eldest son, John Fitzherbert, broke tradition by going to Oxford University rather than Dublin. In 1820 he married Anne Elizabeth Coddington of Oldbridge, Co Meath. In 1823 he was high sheriff. However in 1826 he died. There were four sisters and six brothers; of these Henry of Monalty (Carrickmacross)married Isabelle Carlyle of Cradoxtown, Co Kildare (a grandson was Sir George Abraham Grierson (1851-1941), oriental scholar [mentioned here Ed.] ), another Clarges of Rahanna married Marianne Barnewall, daughter of Sir Robert Barnewall, whilst William Samuel married Elizabeth Young of Rogerstown, Co Louth: Charles married Mary Fraser-Tytler, Major George (high sheriff in 1851) wedded Mary Odell, Dorothea likewise the Rev Townley Filgate, Anne the youngest child married the Rt Hon. Edward Lucas of Castle Shane. This leaves Arthur described in Burke as of Ardee House. He, like his older brother, married a Fraser-Tytler, Christina, of Aldourie Castle, Invernesshire and Sanqhar House, Morayshire. Theonly explanation I have of the description 'of Ardee House' is possibly that his father having died when he was young, he tookup residence with the even younger heir to Ardee, William, born1823.
I descend from Arthur, a member of the King's Inns, Dublin,who died in 1894. His eldest son, William Fitzherbert, born 1830at the Fraser-Tytler property, Sanqhar House, Morayshire is the admiral referred to in my opening passage. His son, my father, was Captain Walton Cornelius Grinnell R.N. His elder brother, onetime Lt. Governor of Nigeria married but had no children. Though I have met many Ruxtons in many parts of the world and corresponded with several abroad as well as in the U.K. and Ireland, neither I, nor my father, have ever found any living male descendants of the Ruxtons of Ardee except ourselves (and now my sons). Most of the Ruxtons I have identified seem to come from Scottish families with no Irish connections. There are Ruxtons in Australia who believe that they came originally from Ireland (Castlebar, Co Mayo) but neither I nor they have proved a connection with Captain John. A question mark must however remain particularly as there were several Ruxtons in Dublin at the end of the eighteenth century though I think the Drogheda line died out in the early nineteenth century. In the nineteenth century there were Ruxtons at Castlebar (CoMayo) and Tullamore-Kilbride (Westmeath).
Young William the heir to Ardee mentioned above went like his father to Oxford and was high sheriff in 1849. In 1854 he married Carole Diana Vernon but he predeceased her by nine years and she left Ardee House, originally letting and then selling. In 1878,before he died, according to Hussey de Burgh's Landowners of Ireland he owned 2.262 acres. They had seven children, mostly girls. The youngest son, Charles Harcourt, born 1870 lived part of his life in South Africa and married at least twice. One boy, William Ralph, was killed in South Africa in November 1914,whilst another, Fane, possibly by his second wife, was killed quite young in 1941 winning the M.C.
The heir, John Fitzherbert Vernon, born 1863 at Ardee but dying in the U.S.A. in 1892 (i.e. before his father) as a result of a polo accident, married Mary Chickering of Boston, U.S.A. in1887 (she re-married in 1894). However they had two children, Dorothy Francis Vernon and William Vernon Chickering born 1891 in the U.S.A. In the 1930s for at least one season he was M.F.H.Cattistock Hunt in Dorset. My father had a story that he was sold a dud horse by the Kent Ruxtons (see above) and as a result was not very friendly to his English relations. He came to some prominence in the last war as representative of the British Red Cross in the U.S.A. He married three times and had a daughter by Anna Cronkite and another by Ruth de Rham (born Ledyard). One daughter survives, married.
It would be interesting to know when the hotel known as Ruxton Arms in Ardee ceased to bear that name. In 1824 the inn keeper was listed in Pigot's Directory as Nicholas Devin. I have a bill dated 1879 when the proprietor is shown as M. Duffy who on November 10-11 charged the guest(s) 2s. for breakfast and 5d. for grog. The bill is headed with the family crest and motto Jam Jam.
A fascinating mystery involves the Ruxton/Fitzherbert intermarriage which is even more confusing than I have outlined above as William Ruxton, the Surgeon-General, in 1754 purchased Black Castle (Registry of Deeds, Dublin) - presumably Letitia's sons got it back . I'm indebted to Trevor Fitzherbert of Swynnerton (current spelling) [SwynnertonLodge, Blackcastle, Navan Tel: 046-21371 Ed.] for the following narrative:
Nevertheless, apparently every generation of the Ruxton family of Ardee maintained a claim over the Black Castle property which they were entitled to exercise on one particular day of the year. The exact reasons for this claim are uncertain (they would have been perfectly clear over fifty years ago), though local intuition states that it was supposedly on account of a 'flaw in the title deeds'.
Presumably, this infers that the Ruxtons of Ardee felt entitled to the entire patrimony of Letitia Fitzherbert (who married John Ruxton M.P. (b. 1721, d. 1785),though obviously the Fitzherbert side of the story was such that Black Castle did not constitute part of the dowry to be given to her husband and his heirs or assigns (who seemingly got Shercock).
I do not know if the Ruxtons ever exercised their claims, though the date set aside on which they could do so was St Peter's Day, 29 June (like knocking on the gates of heaven !). If St Peter's fell on a Sunday, then the date was postponed to the following day, 30 June, according to the diary of Thomas Fitzherbert (1814-79) which covers the period from 1837 to 1846.
Apparently, on 29 June, all the gates leading into the demesne were locked and guarded and nobody was permitted to either enter or depart the property. It was stipulated that if the Ruxtons could enter Black Castle, they could not be turned out and were entitled to stay on as owners of the property. From dusk to dawn four large bonfires were lit outside the main gateways on all the roadways leading to Black Castle. This was generally known as 'the bonfire night' and all the men in the district would stand guard, whilst consuming quantities of porter which was supplied to them. Some elderly people in Navan remember this custom, which was continued annually until Bertie Fitzherbert's death in 1939.
I have seen two written references to this custom. Thomas Fitzherbert's diary (in the care of the National Library of Ireland in Dublin) gives no further reason for this practice other than '...to preserve our right' (i.e. the Fitzherbert right to Black Castle). The estate accounts dated 1860, under the section entitled: 'Payments on account of Demesne in hands of Trustees' has a column stating: 'To cash paid 4 when stopping passage thro' demesne, (29 June 1859) to preserve right- 10s. 0d.
'So long as the Ruxtons could be prevented from entering the Demesne on St Peter's Day, the Fitzherberts could preserve their right to Black Castle.'
The writer of this article would be delighted to hear from anyone who can expand on this record even if their researches contradict his own.
William Ruxton, formerly resident at 'Woodlands',Icehouse Wood, Oxted, Surrey RH8 9DW, England.
He can be contacted through firstname.lastname@example.org
1.Morris Beaufort, The Norman People and their descendants in the British Dominions and the United States of America.
2. H. O'Sullivan, 'The Plantation of the Cromwellian Soldiers in the Barony of Ardee, 1652-1656', C.L.A.H.J., xxi, 4,(1988), 415-52; see also D. Mac Iomhair, 'The Carmelites in Ardee', C.L.A.H.J., xx, 3, (1983), 180-9.
3. Lady Strachey (ed.), Letters of Edward Lear to Chichester Fortescue and Frances Countess Waldegrave (London,1907)
4. Lady Strachey (ed.), Later Letters of Edward Lear to Chichester Fortescue and Frances Countess Waldegrave (London,1911)
5. A Memoir of Maria Edgeworth with a Selection from her Letters by the late Mrs [Frances] Edgeworth (3 vols, London,1867).
[Please see The Journal of the CountyLouth Archaeological and Historical Society,1996 Volume 23 (Part 4) pp. 387-392, for the original. Ed.]
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