Thomas Vernon (lawyer)

Last updated

Thomas Vernon (25 November 1654 – 5 February 1721) [1] [2] was an English chancery lawyer, and Whig MP for Worcester. He was probably born at Hanbury Hall. [3]


Early life

Thomas Vernon was the great grandson of Rev Richard Vernon, and was descended from the Vernons of Whatcroft, who were related to the medieval Barons Vernon of Shipbrook, Cheshire.

The Vernon family was a wealthy, prolific and widespread English family with 11th-century origins in Vernon, Normandy, France. Their extant titles include Baron Vernon and Vernon baronets of Shotwick Park.

Rev Richard Vernon was born in Audley, Staffordshire, and was presented to the living of Hanbury, Worcestershire, in 1580. It was a rich living, and Richard married well, and by the time of the death of his grandson, another Richard, in 1679, they had built up some landholdings in Hanbury and the surrounding parishes.

Audley, Staffordshire village in Staffordshire, United Kingdom

Audley is a rural village approximately four miles north west of the town of Newcastle-under-Lyme in Staffordshire, England. It is the centre of Audley Rural parish.

Hanbury, Worcestershire village in the United Kingdom

Hanbury is a rural village in Worcestershire, England near Droitwich Spa and the M5 motorway.

Richard Vernon (1615–79) studied in the Middle Temple, and may have practised as a lawyer in London in the civil war period, and in 1672 sent his eldest surviving son Thomas to study there as well, and he completed his legal studies in 1679 when he was called to the bar. When a student, Thomas was fortunate to have caught the eye of one of the leading chancery lawyers of the day, Sir Anthony Keck.

Middle Temple one of the four Inns of Court in London, England

The Honourable Society of the Middle Temple, commonly known simply as Middle Temple, is one of the four Inns of Court exclusively entitled to call their members to the English Bar as barristers, the others being the Inner Temple, Gray's Inn and Lincoln's Inn. It is located in the wider Temple area of London, near the Royal Courts of Justice, and within the City of London.

Born in 1630, Keck had been called to the bar of the Inner Temple in 1659, and was elected a bencher (a member of the governing body) in 1677. On 4 March 1689 he was named a commissioner of the great seal with Sir John Maynard and Serjeant Rawlinson by the new King William III – these commissioners replaced the notorious Lord Jefferys as Lord Chancellor, who fled as James II left the country. Knighted the next day, Keck held office till 14 May 1690. He also served as MP for Tiverton from 1691, and he died in his house in Bell Yard, off The Strand in December 1695. Keck died a very rich man, but he had to provide for no less than nine daughters, and on 5 January 1680 [4] one of them, Mary, was married to the young Thomas Vernon.

Inner Temple one of the four Inns of Court in London, England

The Honourable Society of the Inner Temple, commonly known as Inner Temple, is one of the four Inns of Court in London. To be called to the Bar and practise as a barrister in England and Wales, an individual must belong to one of these Inns. It is located in the wider Temple area of the capital, near the Royal Courts of Justice, and within the City of London.

William III of England 17th-century Stadtholder, Prince of Orange and King of England, Scotland and Ireland

William III, also widely known as William of Orange, was sovereign Prince of Orange from birth, Stadtholder of Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht, Gelderland and Overijssel in the Dutch Republic from 1672 and King of England, Ireland and Scotland from 1689 until his death in 1702. As King of Scotland, he is known as William II. He is sometimes informally known in Northern Ireland and Scotland as "King Billy".

James II of England 17th-century King of England and Ireland, and of Scots (as James VII)

James II and VII was King of England and Ireland as James II and King of Scots as James VII, from 6 February 1685 until he was deposed in the Glorious Revolution of 1688. The last Roman Catholic monarch of England, Scotland and Ireland, his reign is now remembered primarily for struggles over religious tolerance. However, it also involved the principles of absolutism and divine right of kings and his deposition ended a century of political and civil strife by confirming the primacy of Parliament over the Crown.

Chancery Lawyer

Thomas and Mary had no children, and instead Thomas concentrated on his legal career. No doubt with the help of his father in law, he soon established himself as a successful lawyer in the court of chancery. The family's two residences in Hanbury – Astwood and Spernall Hall – were occupied by other members of the family, so Thomas and Mary spent their early years in London in his house at Bell Yard, opposite the entrance to the Middle Temple. But in 1692 his unmarried uncle John Vernon died in Spernall Hall, and from thence forth Thomas used it as his Hanbury residence. There is some evidence in the will of his uncle that rebuilding was already taking place, but it was not for another 10 years that Thomas Vernon started the main rebuilding campaign that resulted in building of Hanbury Hall, an elegant brick mansion that still stands today.

Hanbury Hall Grade I listed historic house museum in Wychavon, United Kingdom

Hanbury Hall is a large stately home, built in the early 18th century, standing in parkland at Hanbury, Worcestershire.

Successful Chancery lawyers could command high fees, and Thomas Vernon was as successful as anyone in this field, and his success was also mirrored in the position in The Middle Temple. In 1703 he was elected a bencher, and in 1706 'reader' a post that by then had become mainly symbolic, but carried a great deal of prestige. Finally in 1717 he was elected treasurer for the year, effectively the leader of the Inn.

Properties, investments and expenses

Hanbury Hall 2015-12-30 Hanbury Hall.jpg
Hanbury Hall

Within five years of being called to the bar Vernon had enough spare money to start investing in property, and later in life he left a list of his purchases. These start in 1685 with properties in and around Hanbury as he tried to enlarge his existing family estates, but some were further afield. In 1700 the manor of Shrawley, a parish to the west of the county just across the River Severn, came up for sale by the Cliffe family, and after investigating the prospects, which included timber from Shrawley Great Wood of over 300 acres (1.2 km2), he managed to acquire it for £13,000. Shrawley remained an important Vernon possession through to modern times, and the heir to the last member of the Vernon family lived in Shrawley Woodhouse till she died in 1980.

Only two of Thomas's eight siblings married, and one was his sister Elizabeth who married another lawyer, Roger Acherley of the Inner Temple in 1692. Unlike Thomas Vernon, Acherley seems to have been in constant financial trouble, and in 1717 his brother in law paid him £8,650 for an estate in Shropshire that he had bought earlier. But Thomas's greatest achievement was the building of Hanbury Hall. No building accounts survive and it is not even known who the architect was. A carved stone pediment above the main entrance has the date 1701, but this is believed to be a nineteenth-century addition, and a study of all the evidence leads to the conclusion that a completion date of around 1706 is more probable. For one thing, the extensive murals in the hall and staircase were painted by Sir James Thornhill and were completed in 1710 (as shown by a representation of Dr Sacheverell), and it seems unlikely that Vernon would have waited nine years to finish the interior decoration.

Hanbury Hall was later criticized by the family friend Dr Treadway Nash as being of an outmoded form of architecture with many small rooms, and substantial alterations were undertaken inside by a later occupant Henry Cecil, who had married the heiress Emma Vernon in 1776. The main effect of these was to increase the size of the interior rooms, but the outside of the hall has been little altered, and is today very much like its original form over 300 years ago.

Towards the end of his life Vernon boasted that he had kept a careful note of all his legal fees, and that these amounted to over £120,000. But buying land was difficult in those days – estates only came on the market if the owner's succession failed or if he was in financial difficulties, and on Thomas's death in February 1721 he left over £20,000 in cash for his executors to buy land in and around Hanbury if and when it came available.

MP for Worcestershire in 1715 and death in 1721

Thomas Vernon capped his career in 1715 by being elected Whig MP for Worcestershire in the first parliament of George I. But there is no evidence he played any significant role in parliament, probably because he continued his legal practice until his death in 1721.

Estate left to Bowater Vernon

In his will he left his second cousin Bowater Vernon as heir to his landed estates, but a dispute developed as his brother-in-law Roger Acherley felt that as his closest relative and heir at law he should have benefited. Acherley challenged Vernon's will on a number of counts, mainly on the basis of technical errors in the codicil which was drafted on Vernon's death bed. Although it is true that it was not well drafted (ironic in view of Vernon's career), the Court of Chancery dismissed the case on the grounds that the testator's wishes were clear even if there were some irregularities in the wording. But Acherley was reluctant to give up, and took the case to the House of Lords in 1726, but with a similar result, thus leaving Bowater Vernon free to enjoy his magnificent inheritance.

Related Research Articles

Viscount Cobham

Viscount Cobham is a title in the Peerage of Great Britain that was created in 1718. Owing to its special remainder, the title has passed through several families. Since 1889, it has been held by members of the Lyttelton family.

Thomas Bromley English lawyer and politician

Sir Thomas Bromley was a 16th-century lawyer, judge and politician who established himself in the mid-Tudor period and rose to prominence during the reign of Elizabeth I. He was successively Solicitor General and Lord Chancellor of England. He presided over the trial of Mary, Queen of Scots and died three months after her execution.

Holt Fleet village in United Kingdom

Holt Fleet is a village in the Wychavon district of the county of Worcestershire, England. The church is dedicated to St. Martin, and dates from about the 12th century. Holt Bridge, over the River Severn, was designed by Thomas Telford, and opened in 1830.

Thomas Vernon (Member of Parliament) British politician

Thomas Vernon (1724–1771) was a landowner and Member of Parliament (MP) in eighteenth century England.

Henry Cecil, 1st Marquess of Exeter Marquess of Exeter

Henry Cecil, 1st Marquess of Exeter, known as Henry Cecil from 1754 to 1793 and as The Earl of Exeter from 1793 to 1801, was a British politician who sat in the House of Commons between 1774 and 1790 and succeeded to the peerage as Earl of Exeter in 1793.

Kington, Worcestershire village in United Kingdom

Kington is a village in Worcestershire, England. Situated near to Flyford Flavell, the earliest known recording of Kington in the Domesday Book under "cyne-turne" – the "King's farmstead".

Nicholas Lechmere English politician

Sir Nicholas Lechmere (1613–1701), of Hanley Castle in Worcestershire, was an English Judge and Member of Parliament.

Sir Thomas Lyttelton, 4th Baronet, of Hagley Hall, Worcestershire, was an English landowner and Whig politician who sat in the House of Commons from 1721 to 1741. He held office as one of the Lords of the Admiralty from 1727 to 1741.

Shrawley village and civil parish in the Malvern Hills District in the county of Worcestershire, England

Shrawley is a village and civil parish in the Malvern Hills District in the county of Worcestershire, England. The village is situated on the western bank of the River Severn. The northern and southern boundaries of the parish are two small tributaries of the River Severn, Dick Brook to the north and Shrawley Brook to the south. To the west is Hillhampton, the north west and north is the parish of Astley and to the south Holt.

Thomas Vernon may refer to:

Roger Acherley was an English lawyer, constitutional writer and politician.

George Wylde, sometimes Wild, was an English lawyer and politician who sat in the House of Commons at various times between 1584 and 1611.

Sir Anthony Keck was a British lawyer and politician. He was a member of Parliament between 1691 and 1695, and served as Commissioner of the Great Seal in 1689–90.

St Mary the Virgin, Hanbury Church in Worcestershire, England

The church of St Mary the Virgin is an Anglican parish church in the village of Hanbury, Worcestershire. Its earliest parts date from about 1210 and it is a Grade I listed building. The church was the family church for the Vernon family of nearby Hanbury Hall.

Lyttelton family

The Lyttelton family is a British aristocratic family. Over time, several members of the Lyttelton family were made knights, baronets and peers. Hereditary titles held by the Lyttelton family include the viscountcies of Cobham and Chandos, as well as the Lyttelton barony and Lyttelton baronetcy.

Thomas Coventry was a British lawyer, financier and politician who sat in the House of Commons between 1754 and 1780.

Sir Harry Foley Vernon, 1st Baronet was a British Liberal Party politician.


  1. [Vernon Family, National Trust]
  2. History of Parliament Online
  3. Wardle. Terry Heroes and Villains of Worcestershire 2010 The History Press, Stroud p134 ISBN   978 07524 5515 0
  4. History of Parliament Online
Parliament of England
Preceded by
Samuel Pytts
Sir John Pakington, Bt
Member of Parliament for Worcestershire
With: Sir John Pakington, Bt
Sir Herbert Pakington, Bt
Succeeded by
Sir Thomas Lyttelton, Bt
Sir Herbert Pakington, Bt