George Wyndham, 3rd Earl of Egremont

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George Wyndham
Earl of Egremont
George wyndham egremont.PNG
George, earl of Egremont, from an original picture by T. Phillips; engraved by J. S. Agar.
Born (1751-12-18)18 December 1751
Died 11 November 1837(1837-11-11) (aged 85)
Occupation agriculturist

George O'Brien Wyndham, 3rd Earl of Egremont (18 December 1751 – 11 November 1837) was a British peer. A direct descendant of Sir John Wyndham, he succeeded to his father's titles in 1763 at the age of 12, inheriting estates at Petworth, Egremont, Leconfield and land in Wiltshire and Somerset. He later inherited the lands of the Earl of Thomond in Ireland. He was a great patron of art and interested in the latest scientific advances. He was an agriculturist, a friend of Arthur Young, and enthusiastic for canal building, investing in many commercial ventures for the improvement of his estates. He was also not entirely indifferent to politics.

For some time the painter Turner lived at his Sussex residence, Petworth House, and many painters including John Constable, C. R. Leslie, George Romney, the sculptor John Flaxman, and other talented artists received commissions from Egremont, who filled his house with valuable works of art. The earl was a sponsor of the Petworth Emigration Scheme intended to relieve rural poverty caused by overpopulation. Generous and hospitable, blunt and eccentric, the earl was in his day a very prominent figure in English society. Charles Greville says, he was "immensely rich and his munificence was equal to his wealth"; and again that "in his time Petworth was like a great inn".

Early life[edit]

Egremont was born on 18 December 1751 to Charles Wyndham, 2nd Earl of Egremont, and the Honourable Alicia Maria Carpenter.[1] He was educated at Wandworth and Westminster Schools.[2] In 1774 he added O'Brien to his name on inheriting extensive estates in Ireland from his uncle, the Earl of Thomond. He went on two grand tours to Italy in the 1770s. At the family's newly built London residence, Egremont House, he associated with fashionable Macaronis.[3]

Patron of the arts[edit]

Engraving of a bust by J E Carew

Egremont was a patron of painters such as Turner and Constable, and sculptor John Flaxman who contributed an heroic group of 'Michael overthrowing Satan' for the North Gallery. Turner spent a lot of time at Petworth House and had a studio on an upper floor. He painted landscapes of Petworth, Arundel, and one of the earl's canal projects, the Chichester Ship Canal. Like his father, the earl also collected French furniture, as when he visited Paris in July 1802 during the Peace of Amiens, buying a pair of five-light candelabra supported by bronze female caryatids with upraised arms and with their legs flanked by seated gryphons holding up the ends of their tunics so as to reveal their feet, supplied by M. E. Lignereux.[4]


The earl was an enthusiast for canal building which would allow agricultural improvement on his Petworth estates by bringing in chalk from Houghton for liming and coal to replace scarce supplies of firewood, releasing more land for food production. The first venture was the Rother Navigation, making the River Rother navigable to Midhurst. Failing to find any reliable contractor to build the navigation during the time of Canal Mania most of the work was done by the earl's own estate workers.[5] Starting from Stopham the navigation reached Petworth in 1795 and Midhurst in 1796. A branch to Haslingbourne, south of Petworth, the Petworth Canal was then built, initially intended to be extended north to link to the River Wey, and initial surveys were conducted. This idea was soon abandoned when the cost of locks needed to reach the north side of Petworth was realised.[6]

Chichester Canal circa 1828 by J.M.W. Turner

In 1796 the earl purchased 36% of the shares in the Arun Navigation Company, saving it from liquidation when it was burdened with the £16,000 cost of building the Coldwaltham cut and Hardham tunnel.[7] Having abandoned plans for a canal from Petworth to Shalford and keen for the nation to have an inland waterway linking London and Portsmouth, safe from natural hazards to coastal shipping and naval attack by the French, the earl turned his attention to linking the River Arun to the River Wey in Surrey. The Arun Canal had extended the navigable length of the River Arun to Newbridge on the road from Wisborough Green to Billingshurst and the Wey and Arun Junction Canal was completed in 1816 to connect to the Godalming Navigation. The completion of the Portsmouth and Arundel Canal, including the Chichester Ship Canal, in 1823, completed the London to Portsmouth route for barges and also the earl's investment in canal building.[8]

A number of vessels were named Egremont, including a barge on the Arun Navigation,[9] a brigantine built at Littlehampton for coastal trading, but wrecked on the Goodwin Sands after only two years, and later a steam tug used to tow barges across Chichester and Langstone harbours for the Portsmouth and Arundel Canal.[10]


Sussex cows at Stag Park

War with France and population growth made famine an ever present danger in the early nineteenth century and there was an urgent need to maximise food production using any land that could be cultivated. In the 1820s, emigration, mostly to Canada, was promoted as a means of relieving rural unemployment and poverty. Egremont's protégé Thomas Sockett, Rector of Petworth, promoted the Petworth Emigration Scheme, which sent 1800 people from Sussex and neighbouring counties to Upper Canada between 1832 and 1837. The earl sponsored those living on his land by the entire £10 per head cost of the passage if they joined the scheme.[11][12]

The Reverend Arthur Young stayed at Petworth House while conducting his surveys of agriculture in England. The earl established a pedigree herd of Sussex cattle from the local breed, commended by Arthur Young who wrote that they "must be unquestionably ranked among the best of the kingdom"[13] The herd is maintained at Stag Park to the present day. Devon and Hereford cattle, together with crossbreds were also kept. Different breeds of sheep were tried and exotic Tibetan Shaul goats producing fine wool for hatters.[14]

Stag Park model farm was created in the northern part of Petworth Park on land cleared from scrub and gorse with between 700 and 800 acres divided into fields and drained.[15] Land previously used for producing wood fuel could now be used for food production as wood had been replaced by coal coming by the new canal system. Crop rotations including turnips, tares, wheat, barley, oats and grass were introduced. Potatoes were grown at Petworth and rhubarb as a medicine. More unusually Young describes opium production at Petworth, with juices from the incised poppy heads being scraped into earthenware bowls and dried in the sun. The 1797 crop was the largest grown in England, and was said to be purer than imported opium.[16]

The 24,000 acre estates in Yorkshire at Wressle and Leconfield in the East Riding, Catton and Seamer in the North Riding, and Spofforth and Tadcaster in the West Riding were also greatly improved with £26,000 being spent on drainage and fencing alone between 1797 and 1812.[17]

As well as breeding horses and introducing improved machinery, the earl was keen to continue using draught oxen when they were going out of favour elsewhere. Young records that traditional wooden yokes were found by experiment to be superior to horse-style collars.

John Ellman, writing in The History, Antiquities and Topography of the County of Sussex by Thomas Walker Horsfield (1835), writes of Egremont:

Horses—This county must not boast of their breed. The Earl of Egremont, with a spirit of liberality which pervades all his actions, gives to farmers, in the neighbourhood of Petworth, the opportunity of breeding from his valuable stud; his lordship also affords the eastern part of the county the same opportunity, by giving the use of one of his best bred horses to Mr. Brown, the venerable training groom at Lewes; his lordship also gives annual premiums to the breeders of the best colts, shewn at Egdean fair, near Petworth.

Egremont bought land at Houghton in 1800 where he developed chalk pits, which Arthur Young reported in 1808 as producing 40,000 tons annually. A canal cut was dug from the River Arun to allow chalk to be moved by barge to lime kilns on higher reaches of the river system, including one at Haslingbourne, south of Petworth.[18]

Other enterprises[edit]

Paper mills were established at Duncton, south of Petworth and Iping, west of Midhurst.[19] Near Northchapel a government factory was set up to produce high quality charcoal for making gunpowder by heating alder wood in iron cylinders heated by coal.

At Spofforth in North Yorkshire geologist William Smith was employed to search for coal and iron ore deposits. £1,000 was invested in sinking test wells through 1803 and 1804, including the use of steam engines to pump out water. Six thin veins of coal were found but nothing of commercial value.[17]

Horse racing[edit]

Egremont maintained a racing stud near Lewes and had his first winner at Lewes in 1777. Assassin won the Derby in 1782, the first of five Derby winners and five Oaks winners.[20]


Tombstone effigy in St Mary's Church, Petworth

Egremont was a member of the Whig party. In 1787 he bought the pocket borough of Midhurst and used it to return his two younger brothers, Charles and Percy, to the House of Commons. Charles only served one parliament for Midhurst and by 1796 the seat had been sold on to Lord Carrington.[21] When the party split in 1792 over the French Revolution he sided with the more conservative faction who supported Prime Minister William Pitt in his condemnation of the "wicked and seditious" writings of radicals such as Thomas Paine.[22] He was opposed to the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1832 which introduced the harsh workhouse system. When William Hawley the Sussex Poor Law Commissioner visited Petworth House in October 1835 he was politely received but informed that the earl considered the Act "one of the worst measures that could have been devised".

While Egremont may have remained aloof from day to day affairs, his secretary Thomas Sockett, Rector of Petworth, was deeply involved with poor relief and emigration, and became engaged in bitter disputes with the commissioner over provision of relief to Petworth paupers and the running of the Petworth Emigration Scheme. There was coverage in the national press and Sockett, together with other witnesses from Petworth, gave evidence to a House Of Commons Select Committee in March 1837.[23]


A Yeomanry force was revived at Petworth House in 1795 "in case of invasion or internal commotion", reflecting aristocratic nervousness following the French revolution. Composed of landowners and tenant farmers this cavalry force was naturally commanded by the most powerful landowner, the earl himself. Volunteers provided their own horse while the government paid for maintenance and basic equipment. Egremont himself bought extra arms, helmets, cloaks and feathers from London. Volunteers gained exemptions from taxes on horses, hair powder and from road tolls. By 1798 the force had fifty two members.[24]


Egremont financed the building of a market house at Petworth in 1793 on the market square where bulls had previously been tied to a stake for baiting by dogs. The earl ended this cruel practice and also the practice of "throwing at cocks", which involved throwing wooden staves at cockerels, the thrower winning a bird if it was stunned or had its legs broken. This had been done at the Midhurst road turning.[25] The Market House or Town Hall was built of stone and adorned at the northern end with a bust of William III.[26]

The earl provided land in 1784 for a new House of Correction, to replace the previous gaol, which had been a squalid place consisting of two unheated rooms and unable to be enlarged to provide the work which was considered essential for the moral improvement of inmates. Delays were caused by petitioning by rate payers against the costs they would have to bear.[27] Thirty two cells in two storeys were built over brick arch arcades to prevent tunnelling out, and the institution opened in 1788 near the present police station and court house. Prisoners were kept in strict solitary confinement, never allowed to speak to each other; even when in chapel they were in individual high sided box pews. Exercise in the outside yards, called "airing", was also done individually.[28]

Town gas was introduced in 1836 when a gas works was built in Station Road, using coal brought to Coultershaw wharf by barge and later by rail to Petworth railway station. A monument which stands at the north end of East Street was given by the townspeople to show their gratitude to the earl.[29]

The second-hand spire which Egremont bought from a Brighton church for St Mary's Church became crooked and was taken down in the 20th century, but the great wall which he had built around Petworth Park is still a feature of the area. Built of sandstone masonry over two metres tall, some fourteen miles of wall surrounds the park and subdivides it into three parts, the deer park in the south, then a large area of woodland, with farmland and woods in the northern part. The stone road which runs the length of the park to emerge at the junction of the Ebernoe road with the A283 once continued northward, passing to the east of Northchapel and through Frith Wood to rejoin the A283 London road at a pair of gatehouses which still stand to the north of Northchapel village. This road provided a private bypass of the toll gate at Northchapel for the earl's family and friends.

Personal life[edit]

Rosalie Duthé painted by Henri-Pierre Danloux

As a young man in London Egremont gave a gilded coach to Mlle Rosalie Duthé, sometimes called "the first officially recorded dumb blonde",[30][31] a French courtesan who had moved to London during the French revolution, with whom he was frequently seen at the opera. He was later close to Lady Melbourne whose son William Lamb, later Prime Minister, was widely regarded as Egremont's son and was said to look remarkably like him. Lamb often spent time at Petworth House as a child and continued to visit Egremont until the end of the earl's life.[32] Egremont called off a planned marriage to Lady Maria Walpole, a granddaughter of Prime Minister Sir Robert Walpole[20]

Egremont inherited the recently built Egremont House in Piccadilly and it was known as a haunt of Macaronis. As his country base he hired Stansted House during 1775 and 1776 while renovation work was in progress at Petworth House.[33] He also spent much time at Brighton where he had a house in Kemptown, East Lodge on the east side of Upper Rock Gardens. He attended Brighton and Lewes races and visited the Prince Regent at the Royal Pavilion. Egremont was known for his philanthropy, being a founding subscriber of the Royal Sussex Hospital.[34]

Egremont maintained around fifteen mistresses[35] who had more than forty children between them at Petworth House.[36] It is recorded that the peace of the household would often be disturbed by disputes between the children, with their respective mothers joining in. The children, of the more favoured mistresses at least, especially those of Elizabeth Ilive, were educated by Thomas Sockett, a protégé of the earl who became Rector of Petworth while also acting as the earl's secretary. On 16 July 1801 Egremont married Elizabeth Ilive, already having seven illegitimate children by her. Their eighth child, Elizabeth, died in infancy and Ilive left Petworth after this to live in London. He also had four or five children with Elizabeth Fox and many others by other women.[35]

In earlier centuries a horse fair was held at Egdean in early September. It was one of the last occasions on which Egremont was seen out in public before he died.[37] The earl gave a £20 prize for the best three year old colt or filly.[38]

The earl died at Petworth House on 11 November 1837. He was succeeded by his nephew George Francis Wyndham, 4th Earl of Egremont, who inherited the Somerset estates, and on whose death the Earldom of Egremont became extinct. Petworth, however, and estates in Yorkshire and Ireland passed to Colonel George Wyndham, the eldest natural son of the third Earl. In 1859 he was created Baron Leconfield. Henry Wyndham inherited the family lands in Cumberland.


Children by Elizabeth Ilive;

  • George Wyndham, 1st Baron Leconfield (5 June 1787 – 18 March 1869)
  • Frances Wyndham (1789–1848)
  • General Sir Henry Wyndham (12 May 1790 – 3 August 1860)
  • Edward Wyndham (1792–1792)
  • William Wyndham (1793–1794)
  • Charlotte Henrietta Wyndham (1795–1870)
  • Charles Wyndham (1796–18 February 1866)
  • The Lady Elizabeth Wyndham (b. & d. 1803)

Children by Elizabeth Fox;


  1. ^ Wyndham, Hugh (1950). A family history, 1688–1837: the Wyndhams of Somerset, Sussex, and Wiltshire. Oxford University Press. p. 123. Retrieved 16 June 2013. 
  2. ^ Wyndham, Hugh (1950). A family history, 1688–1837: the Wyndhams of Somerset, Sussex, and Wiltshire. Oxford University Press. p. 217. Retrieved 5 February 2011. 
  3. ^ Jerrome, p. 62.
  4. ^ Peter Hughes (September 2008). "French fashion at Petworth". Apollo. Retrieved 13 February 2011. 
  5. ^ Vine, p.
  6. ^ Vine Lost Route to Midhurst, pp. 64–67.
  7. ^ Vine, Arun navigation, p. 7.
  8. ^ P.A.L. Vine West Sussex waterways ISBN 0-906520-24-X.
  9. ^ Vine, Arun navigation, p. 59.
  10. ^ Cuthbert, Ted (1988). Portsmouth's Lost Canal. Environmental Education Project. p. 30. 
  11. ^ Wright, Debates.
  12. ^ Haines and Lawson, p. 159.
  13. ^ Young, p. 226.
  14. ^ Jerrome, p. 65.
  15. ^ Young, pp. 188–189.
  16. ^ Jerrome, p. 64.
  17. ^ a b Sarah Webster (2006). "PROFESSIONAL NETWORKS AND THE EGREMONT ESTATES, 1796–1805". University of Nottingham. Retrieved 4 September 2013. 
  18. ^ Vine, Arun navigation, p. 54.
  19. ^ Haines and Lawson, p. 99.
  20. ^ a b Jerrome, p. 63.
  21. ^ Thorne, R. G. (1986). The House of Commons, 1790–1820. History of Parliament Trust. Retrieved 13 February 2011. 
  22. ^ Jerrome, p. 134.
  23. ^ Haines and Lawson, pp. 173–180.
  24. ^ Haines and Lawson, p. 59.
  25. ^ Arnold, pp. 90–91.
  26. ^ Arnold, p. 93.
  27. ^ Royall, p. 35.
  28. ^ Royall, p. 94.
  29. ^ Arnold, p. 97.
  30. ^ Joanna Pitman. On Blondes, Bloomsbury USA, 2004, p. 129.
  31. ^ Victoria Sherrow. Encyclopedia of hair: a cultural history. Page 149
  32. ^ Jerrome, pp. 62–63.
  33. ^ a b Haines and Lawson, p. 45.
  34. ^ Haines and Lawson, p. 65.
  35. ^ a b Haines and Lawson, p. 24.
  36. ^ Anne Campbell Dixon (27 July 2002). "UK: Nine centuries of grand mastery". The Telegraph. Retrieved 10 February 2011. 
  37. ^ Haines and Lawson, p. 191.
  38. ^ Sussex Agricultural Press The library of agricultural and horticultural knowledge 1830, pp. 274–275.


  • Arnold, F H (1864). Petworth: a sketch of its History and Antiquities, with notices of objects of archaeological interest in its vicinity. Petworth: A J Bryant. 
  • Jerrome, Peter (2006). Petworth. From 1660 to the present day.. Petworth: The Window Press. (Limited edition)
  • Haines, Sheila; Lawson, Leigh (2007). Poor Cottages & Proud Palaces. The Hastings Press. ISBN 978-1-904109-16-7. 
  • Vine, P A L (2000). Images of England The Arun Navigation. Stroud: Tempus Publishing Limited. ISBN 0-7524-2103-4. 
  • Vine, P A L. London's Lost Route to Midhurst The Earl of Egremont's Navigation. 
  • Royall, Michael (1999). The Petworth House of Correction. ISBN 0-9534846-0-2. 
  • Young, Arthur (1813). General View of the Agriculture of the County of Sussex. 
  • Wright, Glenn (1813). Moving Here, Staying Here: The Canadian Immigrant Experience. Library and Archives Canada – "Right of Passage: Debates". Retrieved 21 February 2010. 
Honorary titles
Preceded by
The 4th Duke of Richmond
Lord Lieutenant of Sussex
Succeeded by
The 5th Duke of Richmond
Vice-Admiral of Sussex
Peerage of Great Britain
Preceded by
Charles Wyndham
Earl of Egremont
Succeeded by
George Wyndham