The Owners of Wanstead Park Part 10: 1784-1825


This is the tenth in a series of articles giving brief biographical sketches of the people who owned the Wanstead estate over 800 years. Links are given to sources of additional information on this site and elsewhere.

Sir James Tylney-Long (1736-1794) was the eldest son of Sir Robert Long, 6th Baronet, and his wife Emma Child, sister of John, 2nd Earl Tylney. James Long succeeded his father as 7th Baronet in 1767, and inherited the family estates, including the manors of Draycot and Athelhampton. He inherited the Wanstead estate in 1784 from his uncle, Earl Tylney, and took the additional name of Tylney.

Married twice, Sir James Tylney-Long had three daughters and a son by his second wife Catherine Sydney Windsor, daughter of the 4th Earl of Plymouth. An unassuming and modest man, he is not recorded as ever having spoken in thirty two years as a Member of Parliament. Sir James was a generous benefactor to charity, and largely paid for the rebuilding of Wanstead’s parish church around 1790.

For further information on Sir James Tylney-Long see History of Parliament Online.

Sir James’ son, also James, was born two months before his father’s death and became the 8th Baronet. However, he died in 1805, just before his eleventh birthday. The Tylney and Long estates passed to his eldest sister, Catherine, then aged about sixteen.

Catherine Tylney-Long
Catherine Tylney-Long

In 1812 Catherine Tylney-Long (1789-1825) married William Wellesley-Pole, to her subsequent great misfortune. His father, also William, was a brother of the great Duke of Wellington and a politician, albeit one of no great distinction. The elder William was to be created Lord Maryborough in his own right in 1821 and later succeeded to the family title as 4th Earl of Mornington in 1842. Following their marriage, William and Catherine assumed the ungainly married name of Pole-Tylney-Long-Wellesley, though they tended to use “Long-Wellesley” informally.

Born in Ireland, William Long-Wellesley had been a difficult child, resistant both to discipline and attempts to educate him. From his mid-teens, he ran up large debts, and brief experiments with careers in the diplomatic service and the army ended badly. At length, he decided that his salvation lay in marrying an heiress and, after six unsuccessful proposals and despite her mother’s qualms, he was eventually accepted by Catherine Tylney-Long.

Having decided to use Wanstead House as their principal residence, Long-Wellesley and Catherine felt that the house and its gardens required significant refurbishment. The estate had been little used by its successive owners since 1764, as the 2nd Earl spent most of his time abroad and Sir James Tylney-Long preferred the Long family’s ancestral seat at Draycot Cerne. Though Wanstead had been occasionally rented out (including to members of the exiled French Royal Family 1802-10), it had become run-down. Also, many of the house’s furnishings were considered out of date.

While the desirability of undertaking improvements offers some mitigation for the calamities which followed, there is no shortage of evidence that William Long-Wellesley was wildly extravagant. The refurbishment he embarked upon was nothing short of spectacular: a newspaper report in 1814 said that Long-Wellesley “is fitting up Wanstead House in a style of magnificence exceeding even Carlton House [the Prince Regent’s palace in Pall Mall]. The whole of the interior will present one uniform blaze of burnished gold.” Long-Wellesley also commissioned considerable work on the gardens: Humphry Repton and Lewis Kennedy both produced proposals, some of which were acted upon and are still traceable today.

A further drain on the Long-Wellesleys’ finances was William’s pursuit of his political ambitions. In the years after Waterloo his election campaigns are known to have cost him tens of thousands of pounds, from which he derived little lasting benefit. Long-Wellesley also gambled, though he later claimed that his debts from that cause were “exaggerated”. In addition, he claimed that he had suffered unexpected losses which were not of his making –

I found that I had been robbed to an enormous amount by the person who had the control and management of my large expenditure at Wanstead for upwards of three years … the debt, in which this man involved me amounting to about £50,000.

The truth or otherwise of Long-Wellesley’s attempts at self-exculpation is anybody’s guess, as many of his records were – perhaps conveniently – lost in a fire in the 1830s. However, at best his excuses tell only part of the story. While it is difficult to reconstruct precisely what happened, it is indisputable that a large part of Catherine’s immense inheritance – in which William had a life interest – was dissipated in little more than a decade.

The Long-Wellesleys’ marriage seems at first to have been happy. It survived the onset of their financial problems, as well as some early infidelities by William, and in 1822 William and Catherine departed to the continent together. This was generally assumed to be for the purpose of escaping their creditors. Shortly thereafter, they sought to begin the process of addressing their debts by selling first the contents of Wanstead House, and then the fabric of the building itself, along with the timber in the park. Wanstead was sacrificed because they decided it would cost too much to maintain, given their need to retrench. They also felt it was not necessary to maintain their standing, given their possession of a number of other properties. To placate the creditors, and add credibility to their intentions, trustees were appointed for their affairs, including Lord Maryborough.

Unfortunately, during the course of the Long-Wellesleys’ travels in Italy, William became involved with another woman, Helena Paterson-Bligh, a protégée (and according to rumours later spread by himself, a natural daughter) of his uncle, the Duke of Wellington. Perhaps belying the frequent image of her as a passive victim, Catherine kept her head and tried to buy off her rival. Having failed to end the affair, she eventually returned to England, with her children but without her husband, in 1824. Even at this stage Catherine was careful not to burn her bridges with Long-Wellesley. No doubt keenly aware of the legal disadvantages to which women were subject at the time vis-à-vis their husbands, she expressed gratitude to him for giving her care of the children, and promised to be guided by his wishes in their education. On her arrival, Catherine enlisted the support of her father-in-law. Lord Maryborough was aghast at Long-Wellesley’s behaviour and visited him in Paris, in a vain attempt to broker a reconciliation. However, Long-Wellesley would not agree to forsake Mrs Paterson-Bligh, and the separation between him and Catherine became permanent.

By 1825, relations between the Long-Wellesleys had collapsed. Catherine made her children Wards in Chancery, and initiated divorce proceedings in the ecclesiastical courts. However, these were not completed as she died in September of that year, after a short illness, just short of her 36th birthday. Her decline was probably hastened by harassment from her estranged husband and the fear of losing her children. Catherine’s death came only a few months after the demolition of Wanstead House had been completed. The estate itself, being tied up in trusts, was beyond the creditors’ reach.

Long-Wellesley, estranged from his parents and pilloried in the press, was sued in 1827 by Captain Thomas Bligh for “criminal conversation” with his wife. Bligh won £6,000 in damages, and shortly afterwards filed for divorce. Long-Wellesley married Mrs Paterson-Bligh in 1828.

"A Scene in the Court of Chancery", by John Doyle (1829), depicting William and Helena Long-Wellesley. Image © National Portrait Gallery, London.
“A Scene in the Court of Chancery”, by John Doyle (1829), depicting William and Helena Long-Wellesley. Image © National Portrait Gallery, London.

For a while after his second marriage, Long-Wellesley might have appeared on the surface to be making a modest recovery from his self-inflicted wounds. He succeeded in being returned to Parliament in 1831, and continued to play the squire in the manors of Wanstead and Woodford well into the 1830s, also occupying the office of Lord Warden of Waltham Forest (which had been hereditary in the Tylney family). On closer inspection, however, all was not well. Long-Wellesley rapidly dissipated his new wife’s fortune before alienating her in turn by his adultery, this time with a servant. A formal separation agreement was drawn up in 1834, but Helena was effectively abandoned to destitution, as her maintenance was never paid during her husband’s lifetime. Long-Wellesley’s own life after 1825 was characterised by a series of grotesque adventures – including imprisonment in Boulogne, a libel action, duels, custody battles over his children, pamphleteering against his own and his late wife’s relatives, endless litigation over maintenance by his second wife, and disputes over unpaid wages by his housekeeper. He spent most of his last three decades in poverty and obscurity, prematurely aged, excluded from society, and latterly subsisting on a small allowance from his kinsman the 2nd Duke of Wellington. He died of heart failure at 69, in cheap lodgings, while eating a boiled egg.

William Pole Tylney Long Wellesley was Member of Parliament at various times for St Ives, Wiltshire, and Essex. From 1842 he was styled Viscount Wellesley, and succeeded his father as Earl of Mornington in 1845.

The manner in which William Long-Wellesley has traditionally been regarded may be gauged from two extracts from books. The first, from The Beaux of the Regency by Lewis Melville (1908) paints a vivid picture of some of the contenders for the hand of Catherine Tylney-Long, as well as giving some interesting details of Long-Wellesley’s later life. The other, from William Ernest Henley: Essays (1921) focuses more on his marital misadventures.

A degree of caution needs to be exercised in speculating about the psychology of long-dead people from social milieux very different to our own. However, it is striking that many aspects  of William Long-Wellesley’s behaviour appear characteristic of the vague spectrum of conditions described in his own time as “moral insanity” and nowadays more precisely as Antisocial (or Sociopathic) Personality Disorder.

For further information see this article and this from History of Parliament Online, and the text of a recent exhibition on William Long-Wellesley’s life.

With thanks to Steve Denford, Georgina Green and Geraldine Roberts for the information and comments they provided in relation to this article.