The DUNSCOMBE family at Stocks, Aldbury
Stephanie writes : Here's the background to my question:
I am a postgraduate student at the V&A Museum and I'm conducting research into a mirror held there in the collections. This mirror is very large, made up of several panes of glass, and is painted around the edges with flowers and other decorations - a very expensive item - potentially made for Kensington Palace and painted by the French artist Jean Baptiste Monnoyer [1636-1699], or his son, Antione Monnoyer [Died 1747]. It was donated to the museum by The Honorable Mrs. Humphrey Blezard, who lived at Stocks House in Hertfordshire. She stated that the mirror came with the house when she acquired it from Mrs. Humphrey Ward,
The mirror also has a family crest at the top - which we believe was added after the mirror was created - which is the crest of the Stocks branch of the Duncombe family.
I am trying to find out which member of the Duncombe family first owned the mirror and placed their crest upon it. Initially I believed it might be Sir Charles Duncombe - because he was so exceptionally wealthy - but I recently read a biography about him 'Great Goldsmith' and it doesn't mention him ever having lived near Stocks.
Mrs. Blezard also stated that there was a family myth that the mirror was given to an owner of Stocks, who was a brewer to the crown, by King James II, whilst he was still Duke of York, as a thank you gift for having housed either him or a friend during the plague in London.
She asks a number of questions of which the most significant is: Can you think of any member of the Duncombe family who lived, or who once lived/grew up, In/near Stocks, who later became wealthy enough or important enough to have bought or owned such a mirror, then could you tell me their name? Quite a speculative question, I know, but even guesses would help.
I started by looking in the relevant county histories. There is no mention of Stocks or a Duncombe at Aldbury in Chauncy (published 1700) or the far less comprehensive Salmon (published 1728). I am sure that if they were aware of a very rich landowner in Stocks who might buy a copy of their books, they would have included a mention. Clutterbuck (published 1815) gives describes the Duncombe monuments in Aldbury church (See Cussans below) and has an undated reference to a John Duncombe acting in an official capacity (perhaps as churchwarden) but apart from the inscription no mention of Stocks. It includes two detailed Aldbury pedigrees which include no mention of Duncombe.
The Victoria County History (published 1908) states that it came into the possession of Robert Duncombe, son of William Duncombe of Barley End [now a farm about half a mile from Stocks, just over the county boundary into Bucks - parish of Pitstone], ancestor of the Lords Feversham, who died in 1630 [Burke, Peerage, under Feversham]. From Robert, Stocks descended to John Duncombe, on whose death in 1728 the estate came to his son John who died in 1746, and was buried in Aldbury Church.
I quote the description of the Duncombe Memorials as described by Cussans (published 1879)
At the west end of the aisle, on the north wall, are two tablets to members of the family of Duncombe. On the first :-
To the Memory of JOHN DUNCOMBE of Stocks, Esq, and HANNAH his Wife, one of the Daughters of JOHN ALLEN of Gretton in the County of Northampton Esq. By whom he had nine Children, of which two only survived them JOHN and WILLIAM. After having in the Evening of his Days retir'd from Business and devoted himself to the Service of God, he departed this Life Sept 12, 1728, Aged 83.
HANNAH DUNCOMBE died Jan. 27, 1710, aged 59. She was of a benevolent Disposition, And in all respects bore an amiable Character.
ARMS beneath :-Per chevron gules and argent; * three Talbots' heads erased counter changed, for DUNCOMBE: impaling, per chevron gules and ermine; in chief, two Lions' heads erased or, for ALLEN.
On the second tablet:-
To the Memory of JOHN DUNCOMBE, Esq. late of Stocks, and ELIZABETH his Wife, the Daughter of WILLIAM LOWNDES Esq. of Chesham in the County of Bucks, who lie buried in this Isle: They had six Children of whom only Elizabeth, their eldest Daughter, survived them.
Mrs. DUNCOMBE died in Childbed, August 7, 1712 in her 23rd years
JOHN their eldest Son died of the Small-pox, Apr. 1725, at the Age of 20.
Their Son LEWIS died of the same Distemper, Dec. 26, 1730 at MERTON COLLEGE, OXFORD, and at the same Age. He was distinguished there by his pregnant Parts and uncommon Genius.
Mr. DUNCOMBE died June 30, 1746, in the 67th Year of his Age. By the express Direction of his Will it is declared to Posterity that he enjoyed the uncommon Blessing of being happy beyond Expression in the sweet Society both of his first and second Wife, ELIZABETH, the Daughter of NEHEMIAH ARNOLD, Esq. by whom he had one Son and two Daughters all now living ....
ARMS beneath :- Party of three: I, Argent; fretty azure the interlacings each charged with a Bezant; on a Canton gules, a Lion's head erased or, gorged with a Laurel branch proper, for LOWNDES: III., DUNCOMBE as before, surmounted by an Inescutcheon charged with Cules; a Chevron ermine between three Pheons or, for ARNOLD: III.; ARNOLD.
Jean Davis's book Aldbury, the Open Village is the only detailed published history of the Village. The following paragraph comes from a chapter describing the village as it would appear to a surveyor operating at the start of the 19th century
Retracing his steps down the steep, chalky slope, the surveyor passed two cottages, part of the Stocks estate; ahead he could see in the centre of Stocks Park itself the fine house, not yet thirty years old, built by Arnold Duncombe a year before he died in 1774. The family had been first recorded in Ivinghoe where, in 1488, Ralf Duncombe and his four sons, "villeins and bond slaves", were made free men by the Bishop of Winchester perhaps to take on some local post of responsibility on the Bishop's behalf. Descendants had lived since then just across the parish at Barley End in Pitstone (known nowadays as Duncombe Farm) and also at Stocks since 1503. Just three hundred years later the last link with the Duncombes was wearing thin with the increasing frailty of William Hayton whose wife, Clara Duncombe, had died in 1790.
A later paragraph says:
The title of the estate appears to have originated with one Richard Stokkis or Stokes, the copyholder from whom William Duncombe acquired the property in 1503. Before Richard Stokkis occupied it the copyholder was Walter Hills: this succession gave rise to the reference, in John Duncombe's will of 1685 and in later deeds, to his holding as "Waterhills alias Stocks", a baffling corruption in such free-draining country! It was, in effect, "Richard Stokkis's place", abbreviated to "Stocks"'.
The book also makes it clear that the 1773 Georgian House was a new build on a new site, the old house being a half timbered building which was left as a farm house. Clearly Arnold Duncombe, who built the house, must have had some money, and would have been interested in furnishing it - so possibly was the person who brought it to the house, and perhaps had the coat of arms added. A check on Rootsweb showed that Arnold Duncombe (1724-1774) never married and it provides a family tree which you can explore online for his ancestors and cousins. He was the only surviving son on John Duncombe (1679-1746) of Stocks by John's second marriage. His will was proved at the Prerogative Court of Canterbury in March 1774 - and this could well contain relevant information.
However there appears to be a much more significant link with William Lowndes (1652-1724), a major politician who, in recognition of his services, Queen Anne conferred upon him the office of Auditor of the Land Revenue for life - so he clearly had top level contacts with royalty. The most relevant document is the following marriage settlement (from the index of A2A)
If this is the right William Lowndes, and I think it must be, we now have a possible route for the mirror (assuming it was in Kensington Palace). Queen Anne gives it to William Lowndes, and it then goes to his daughter Elizabeth, first wife of John Duncombe, of Stocks. Alternatively the tradition may be true and James II (as Duke of York) gave the mirror to William Lowndes's father (who probably lived in Buckinghamshire).
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