The Wilbrahams of Townsend House

Large gold 16th century ring incised with the arms and initials of the owner, Richard Wilbraham (1525-1612), on display at Nantwich Museum.

The Wilbrahams of Nantwich are an ancient Cheshire family, whose origins can be traced back to the early 13th century. This article concerns the branch of the Wilbraham family who lived at Townsend House, Nantwich, for two centuries, from 1580 (when the house was built) to 1780 (when the family moved away from Nantwich).

Richard Wilbraham (1525-1612)

Townsend House was built by Richard Wilbraham. Richard married Elizabeth Maisterson in 1550 and they had four sons: Richard, Roger, Thomas and Ralph. Richard (senior) began the Wilbraham Diary, which subsequent generations of the family would continue for 400 years. He recorded, often poignantly, births, marriages and deaths in the family and also significant events in Nantwich – a flood in 1574, the Great Fire in 1583, a famine in 1585 and a great plague in 1604. His eldest son died in London in 1601 and Thomas Wilbraham, his grandson, became his heir.

Thomas Wilbraham (1589-1643) 

Thomas Wilbraham was born and brought up in London; he married Rachel Clive in 1619; they came to live at Townsend House and raised their family of six sons and two daughters there. Thomas made many alterations and improvements to Townsend House and its garden. It was said that: “Under Thomas Wilbraham Townsend House reached its zenith. Great pains were taken with the gardens and orchards, the best of the then known fruit trees being planted”.

Thomas served Charles I as a Gentleman of the Privy Chamber and when the Civil War broke out in 1642, he found himself in the minority in the Parliamentarian stronghold of Nantwich. He was imprisoned in Townsend House for refusing to contribute to the Parliamentary cause and left Nantwich on being released, dying at a friend’s house in Sussex in 1643. He was succeeded by his second son, Thomas, (1622-1649) who was in France when his father died; Thomas only survived his father by a few years, dying “of Bleeding at his House in Nantwich”. The third son, Roger, then inherited the Wilbraham estates which “stood deeply charged with Debts & Portions” as a result of the Civil War. 

Roger Wilbraham (1623-1707)

Roger was born at Townsend House in 1623; he married Alice, one of his Wilbraham cousins from Dorfold, and they had 11 children in 12 years. Of these, only four survived to adulthood and their mother died in 1676, the year after her two eldest sons. The catalogue of all these bereavements makes sad reading in the Diary. Roger lived on at Townsend House as a widower and was described as “an active and never-failing guardian of the rights and interests of the town”.

Randle Wilbraham (1663-1732)

Roger was succeeded as head of the family in 1707 by the older of his two surviving sons, Randle, who also took an active interest in local affairs and charities; he and his brother Stephen endowed and administered the Blue Cap Charity School in Nantwich.

George Wilbraham (1741-1813)

Randle was in turn succeeded in 1732 by his son Roger (1694-1754) who had three sons, George, Roger and Thomas. George was the last Wilbraham to live at Townsend House. In 1780 he moved his family to Delamere Lodge at Cuddington and Townsend House stood empty for some years; it was eventually sold on George’s death in 1813.