It is possible that the family was here before the Norman Conquest. The compilers of the Domesday Book in 1086 recorded that 'Saswolo' (or Sewallis) held this manor of 17 hides from Henry de Ferrers and mention no previous Saxon owner, which increases the likelihood of continuity of tinure from before the Conquest. It was his grandson, another Sewallis, who became 'de Shirley' when he moved to the village of that name in Derbyshire, while still retaining his interests in Ettington.
The Manor House
The Manor House of Ettington, or more anciently known 'Eatingdon' derived from "Ea" in old English, signifying water, and "Dune" an ascending ground, is built at the extreme end of the parish, on the north-eastern bank of the river Stour, which is the division between the counties of Warwick and Worcester.
That Ettington might lay claim to have been of some note, even before the Conquest, is proved by the Roman remains which are continually found there, such as coins of the lower Empire, brass ornaments, and great quantities of Roman-British pottery. From these circumstances some people believe it might have been the site of a Roman villa.
The antiquarian, Sir Thomas Shirley who lived during the reign of Charles I , wrote: "Close by the church is a very ancient mansion house built by an ancestor of this family so long ago that the memorie, by the revolution of so many ages, is utterly lost and forgotten; for the ancient form and structure of the house is a witness beyond all exception of its pristine antiquity, it being covered with so unknown a covering that none can tell with what it was made, plainly sheweth that it was built in so ancient times, that stuff whereof the texture was made is many ages since, not only worn out of the kingdom, but also the very knowledge that ever any such thing was within this realm".
The House was mentioned in 1287 when the Rolls of Parliament show that Sir James Shirley petitioned Edward I for restitution of the "Manor of Eatingdon" unjustly detained from him by Ralph Shirley, his son, and again in 1294 when Ralph Shirley represented the City of Warwick as the first Knight of the Shire, in Parliament. He and his wife are commemorated in the old church at Ettington where their effigies are still to be seen. (their son, Sir Thomas inherited Ettington, see below).
The present Manor House is the third to occupy the site. The original was of Saxon construction and the second of Tudor, which was rebuilt in the 18th and 19th centuries, and incorporates an elaborate Victorian-Gothic facade, together with many other interesting features of this architectural period.
In 1740, considerable additions and alterations were made by the Honorable George Shirley, and in 1850 Evelyn Philip Shirley (author of the Stemmata Shirleiana book), cased the roof in the popular Victorian style from designs by John Pritchard of Llandaff.
This fine old mansion has sculptured panels on the outer walls, showing incidents in the History of the family of Shirley. (see below...Friezes).
Shirley crests over the fireplace at Ettington
Over the Entrance
1. The foundation of the Church of Eatingdon, by Saswalo or Sewallis, the ancestor of the Shirley family, in the reign of William the Conqueror. He is represented with his family kneeling, and offering a model of the church to the bishop, who is giving him the espicopal blessing. Above is the ancient coat of the family, paly of six or and sable.
Over the Western Bay Window
2. Henry, grandson of Sewallis, sells his birthright to his brother, Sewallis, in the reign of Henry II. Above their heads are the coat of Ireton, ermine two bends gules, and Shirley, paly of six or and azure, a quarter ermine. From the elder brother, the now extinct house of Ireton, and from the younger brother Sewallis, the Shirleys are descended.
3. Sir Sewallis de Eatendon, knight, grandson of the last Sewallis, represented on his horse with his shield, taken from his great seal. He died in the reign of Henry III, having been to the crusades. He is here represented with the cross born before him, and his arms, a paly of six and sable.
4. Sir Ralph Shirley, grandson of Sir Sewallis, elected the first knight of the shire for the county of Warwick, in the 23rd year of King Edward I, anno 1294. Above is the coat of Shirley, impaling Waldershef, for Margaret, his wife, daughter of Walter de Waldershef.
Over the Eastern Bay Window
5. Sir Thomas Shirley, son of Sir Ralph, in the Holy Land. His page is bringing him the head of a Saracen, whom Sir Thomas is represented to have vanquished and decapitated. This is the traditional origin of the family crest. Sir Thomas was dead in 1363. Suspended from a palm tree are the arms of Shirley, impaling Basset of Drayton.
6. The death of Sir Hugh Shirley, son of Sir Thomas, at the battle of Shrewsbury, on Saturday the 20th of July, 1403. Sir Hugh was one of the four knights who, clothed in the royal armor, successively encountered and fell under the victorious arm of Douglas in single combat.
7. Sir Ralph Shirley, son of Sir Hugh, on the eve of his departure for the wars in France with King Henry V, makes over to his mother, Beatrice, the care of Ralph, his infant son and heir, and to Richard Elebet, clerk, and others, the fee of his estates.
Over the Drawing Room Windows on the South Side of the House
8. The expedition of Sir Ralph Shirley, son of Sir Hugh into France with his band of archers, previous to the siege of Harfleur and battle of agincourt, 1415. Sir Ralph is represented taking leave of his mother. The arms of Shirley appear conspicuous on the banners of his archers and retainers: on a shield are the arms of Shirley impaling Basset of Brailesford, as also on the last subject.
9. Sir Ralph Shirley, great-grandson of the preceding Sir Ralph, being dubbed a Knight by King Henry VII on the battle field of Stoke in 1487. The Royal arms appear on the banner and horse trappings; on one side are the arms of Shirley, impaling the coat of Shetfield of Butterwick.
Over the library window are three panels, representing incidents in the lives of three celebrated Shirley Brothers, the sons of Sir Thomas Shirley of Wiston, in Sussex, and representative of a younger branch of this family.
10. The attack of Sir Thomas Shirley, the younger, of the "Three Brothers", on the Turks, in the Island of Zea, in the Archipelago, in 1603.
11. Sir Anthony and Sir Robert Shirley, the two younger of the "Three Brothers", leading the Persians against the Turks, and teaching them the use of artillery, in the year 1599.
12. The famous Sir Robert Shirley's reception at the court of King James I, as Ambassador from Shah Abbas, King of Persia, in the year 1611.
13. The foundation of the Church of Staunton Harold, in Leicestershire by Sir Robert Shirley, Baronet, great, great, great-grandson of the last Sir Ralph, in the year 1653. Sir Robert and his wife, Katherine Okeover, and their son Seymour, are represented on one side; on the other, the clerical friends of Sir Robert during the persecution of the Church by Cromwell: Dr. Hammond, Dr. Gunning afterwards Bishop of Ely, Dr. Sheldon afterwards Archbishop of Canterbury, and Dr. Dolben afterwards Archbishop of York. Above the arms of Shirley, impaling Okeover, and the motto: "He loved our country and hath built us a synagogue", being the text from which the funeral sermon was preached on the death of Sir Robert, (father of the first Earl Ferrer), in 1656, by Dr. Sheldon.
14. The committal of Sir Robert Shirley, Baronet, to the Tower of London, (where he died) by the Usurper, Oliver Cromwell, in 1656, in consequence of his loyalty to his Church and King.
On either side of the principal window of the gallery, are two statues carved in stone, representing King Edward the confessor, and her present most gracious Majesty. They stand in niches beneath angels, bearing shields, charged with their respective arms.
These statues intended to represent the period during which the house of Shirley has flourished at Eatingdon (Ettington). Over the entrance-door is the ancient coat of Sir Sewallis de Ethindon (Ettington), (paly of six and ermine), with the legend: Loyal je Suis, and between the windows of the cloister or corridor, on either side of the entrance, are heads of the first eight kings after the conquest, carved by Mr. Edward Clarke. At one end of this cloister which is roofed with glass, are the following lines on a small tablet: "Four score and fours, if God gives strength, The web of life is spun; Four score and four, the Cloister's length, A statue mile is run". Under this tablet is an Iron Chest from the Spanish Armada.
The marble pillars which flank the front door, and also those within the hall, are from the Shirley estate near Carrickmacross in Ireland.
The Entrance Hall
The mantelpiece (see photo above), is of oak, in the Elizabethan style, and carved by the late Mr. Wilcox of Warwick, in 1857. Beneath two large shields, representing the ancient and modern arms of Shirley and the figures of Faith, Hope, and Charity, is the following legend: "These be the Pales of black and gold, The which Sewallis bore of old: And this the coat which his true heirs, The ancient House of Shirley bears".
The Shirleys seem to have favored the decorating of their house with rhymes. In the servants' hall is one bidding the inmates" "Drink, be merry and be wise, Quarrel not, tell no lies".
The Dining Room
The dining room is 37 feet in length and 20 feet in width. Entrance to the dining room is through a depressed Tudor arch, part of the more ancient house, to which this portion of the Mansion belongs. The ceiling was erected by the Honorable George Shirley, about the year 1740.
The wainscot is of teak and walnut, inlaid with different colored woods, exhibiting the Saracen's Head, the crest of the family, with the horse-shoe and knot, the badges of the Ferrers and Bouchiers, now represented by the Shirleys; above is repeated the ancient Devereux motto: "Loyal je Suis", and 67 shields, bearing the arms of the principal matches of the paternal ancestors, and of the sons and daughters of the house. There are also two shields with the single arms of Shirley and Lechmere, and the dates 1842, and 1860.
Beyond the Dining Room, and entering it by means of a concealed door, is the small domestic Chapel, ( not to be confused with the old church). On the exterior are the two first verses from the one hundred and forty-fifth psalm, on a band running around the building, declare its sacred use: " I will magnify thee, O God my King, and I will praise thy Name for ever and ever. Everyday will I give thanks unto thee, and praise thy Name for ever and ever. Amen".
Within, a brass plate thus inscribed, gives the date of its foundation: In the eight hundred year From the Norman Church of England, when Saswalo the Baron was Lord of Etendone, his descendant, Evelyn Philip Shirley, built this Chapel for the praise and worship of Almighty God, in whose sight a thousand years are but as yesterday. The Glories of our Blood and State are shadow, not substantial things. There is no armour against fate. Death lays his icy hand on kins.
The library is 41 feet in length by 19 feet in width. Facing the Dining Room door, across the colored tessellated floor, bearing the motto "Loyal je Suis" and Earl Ferrers entwined horseshoes and crest, is the Library. This was formerly the entrance hall and was built in 1740. It was later remodeled and made into a Gothic Library. It has a stone chimney piece, a copy from one in Windsor Castle, and the beautiful stained glass window above it was brought from an old chapel near Campden.
A concealed "bookcase door" leads from the Library to the Great Drawing Room, (see photo above), and it is interesting to see the great thickness of the old walls, with double doors between the rooms.
Story of the Toad: During the casing of the northern wall of the library in August 1859, on removing part of the old brickwork, a live toad was found in a small recess in the wall, where it is supposed to have been built in 1740. There was no appearance of the access of air to the place where it was found. It is thought the toad must have been in there since 1740. The workmen preserved it alive in a bottle for a period of three months; it declined all food. The reptile is commemorated by a carving in stone near the place where it was discovered.
The Great Drawing Room
The Great Drawing Room is 50 feet in length by 24 feet in width and was built by the Honorable George Shirley in 1767. The ceiling was designed by Italian craftsman and added in 1843. This outstanding room recalls old times of gracious living. Its windows lead out onto an expanse of lawns and meadows, which slope down to the River Stour.
Evelyn Philip Shirley, author of Stemmata Shirleiana, named his son Sewallis after his earliest known Shirley ancestor. Sewallis was the founder of the Kennel Club and was the last Shirley to live at Ettington Park. After his death in 1904, the house was leased first to Mr. Robert Guinness, then to Constance, Duchess of Westminster.
After Ettington, the Shirleys lived at their Irish estate. However, the Shirleys are regular visitors to Ettington Park and have local farming interests even to the present time around Ettington.
Ettington has had many uses since the family lived there. Since 1935 it was used as a nursing home, public school, POW residence, hotel and even a disco, until it was devastated by fire in 1980. Three years later, with an injection of capital from sufficiently interested parties, the house was restored to its former glory as one of the great hotels in England, and in keeping with present day expectations, incorporates every modern facility the leisure seeking guest could wish for.
The Grounds surrounding the House
In the extensive grounds are to be seen the Wishing Well, ancient Cedar trees, and underground passages with concealed entrances and exits.
It is recorded that in 1653 the park had 200 light and dark fallow deer. A diminished number still roam the parkland.
The mention of a priest in the Domesday survey indicates the existence of a church, dedicated to the Holy Trinity, by Saswallo, as recorded in the register of Kenilworth Priory. Some remains of this original church still exist at Ettington, including an ancient font and the tower of St. Nicholas. The mill mentioned in the Domesday Book as attached to this manor has within the last century been removed. St. Thomas A Bucket was adopted as the patron saint.
In the old church is a monument erected by Honorable George Shirley, when his father, 1st Earl Ferrer died in 1717.
First to have a Public Railway
Ettington Park was one of the fist places in England with a public railway. A horse drawn tramway linking Stratford with Moreton-in-the-Marsh ran alongside the main road outside the gates. It was built in 1826 by William James, the engineer who invented the tabular locomotive boiler. Unfortunately, the advent of steam power made it what a contemporary described as a 'superseded idea' even as it opened, although it continued in use until the 1880's.
The name 'Ettington'
E.P. Shirley was responsible for the present spelling of the name of his estate, which although pronouned as 'Ettington' was written as 'Eatington'. When the East and West Junction Railway came to the village, 'knowing how people will mispronounce names, he requested the directors to put up a sign on the station with the former spelling.
Ettington Park Hotel
Ettington Park Hotel has been named the most haunted hotel in the United Kingdom by the AA
The legendary ghost, 'the Lady in Grey', has been seen on the staircase at Ettington Park Hotel many times.
The clack clack sound of a snooker game in progress can be heard but no players are seen. There have been flying books in the Library Bar.
Eerie sounds of crying children are presumed to be two young Shirleys who drowned in the nearby River Stour, and are now buried in the shadow of the church tower.
With such a history, it is no wonder the building was chosen to provide the setting for 'The Haunting', the 1963 film of based on a book by Shirley Jackson called "The Haunting of Hill House"
NOTE FROM BETTY SHIRLEY: A side note to that which is printed above.
In 1986, a group of Shirleys from the United States stayed in the Ettington Hotel. One of the members told me many weeks later about an unusual happening in their room. (She knew nothing about the manor house being haunted and was quite surprised when I told her). She said that a wet swimming suit appeared in her bathroom that was not hers. The lid was repeatedly removed from her toothpaste. She expressed that sometime she felt a cool sensation in the room and thought it was just a draft. She is a believer that something unusual happened in her room and it certainly could have been the lady in Grey.
Inheritance of Ettington by the Shirleys
Sir Thomas Shirley, son of Ralph de Shirley and his wife whose effigies are commemorated in the old church at Ettington, inherited Ettington. He caused the death of his neighbor. However, he was pardoned by Edward III, and was in turn succeeded by Sir Hugh Shirley. He was killed in battle at Shrewsbury in the Royal Armor of Henry IV on July 30, 1403.
Sir Hugh was succeeded by his son, Sir Ralph, who resided principally at his manor at Radcliff-on-Soar, and died about 1443.
Sir Ralph was succeeded by his son, Ralph, who married the heiress of Staunton Harold in Leicestershire. He then removed his seat of residence to that estate which then continued to be the principal mansion of the elder line of the family, represented by the Earl Ferrers.
John Shirley, the elder son of this Ralph, was the father of yet another Sir Ralph, who had a son Francis, who married Lady Dorothy, second daughter of the Earl of Essex (Queen Elizabeth's favorite), and from this marriage the title of Ferrers came into the Shirley family a few generations later.
Francis Shirleys great great grandson, Robert Shirley, who built the church at Staunton Harold. Robert was the father of the 1st Earl Ferrers. Ettington was inherited by Honorable George Shirley, son of the 1st Earl Ferrers and his second wife, Selina. George erected the monument in the old church at Ettington when his father, 1st Earl Ferrer, died in 1717. (see photo above). The estate was alienated from the elder line of the family and has been inherited to the present by the descent of the Shirleys from the 1st Earl Ferrers and his 2nd wife, Selina. (The title of Earl Ferrer has continued in the descent of the Shirleys from the 1st Earl Ferrer and his 1st wife, Lady Elizabeth Washington, to the present and he is the 13th Earl Ferrer).
Major John Shirley is the present owner of Ettington Park and is the 33rd Lord of the Manor.
In 1986, over 100 Shirleys from the United States traveled to England for the 900th Anniversary Celebration of the continued ownership of the Shirley family in an unbroken line of descent. (See that page on this web site).
See the following page for a few more photos of Ettington Park
All Rights Reserved