The Earls of Wilton

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It was Sir John Egerton (1656 - 1729) who brought Heaton into the ownership of the Egerton family when he married Elizabeth Holland in 1684.  His great grandson, Sir Thomas Egerton (1749 - 1814) inherited the title and estate as a 7 year old and when he was 21 set about creating what is largely the park we have today.  Sir Thomas was created 1st Earl of Wilton in 1801, becoming the first peer in the family.

1st Earl of Wilton
Throughout his life Sir Thomas seems to have been an almost perfect example of an 18th century country gentleman.  He was conscientious in his role as a local and county official, a man of taste and fashion and devoted to his family.  For 12 years he was MP for Lancashire, tirelessly supporting the interests of Manchester in the House of Commons.  He was fiercely loyal to George III, raising the Royal Lancashire Volunteer Regiment, which held a number of prestigious duties.  His loyalty earned him elevation to the peerage first as Baron Grey de Wilton in 1784 and then to 1st Earl of Wilton in 1801.

Lord Wilton had a passion for music, was an accomplished cellist and judging by the contents of his library, fascinated by science, astronomy, travel and architecture.  He engaged in country pursuits, particularly archery, founding the Lancashire Bowmen and donated sums to the local poor.  

The great tragedy of his life was that 5 of his 6 children died in his lifetime.  His eldest daughter Eleanor was the exception, and married Richard Grosvenor of Eaton, who later became first Marquess of Westminster.  It was her second son, Thomas who in a special arrangement, inherited the Wilton titles and took the name Egerton when he came of age.

2nd Earl of Wilton
The 2nd Earl was a very different character from his maternal grandfather.  He married Lady Mary Stanley, daughter of the 12th Earl of Derby and to their contemporaries they seem to have been an unattractive couple.  Their sister-in-law said in 1831 that, ‘the Wiltons take no pains to make themselves agreeable in public.  I do not think that Lady Wilton has as much sensitivity as a deal board, by which those that live with her may also be a deal bored'.

Not everyone disliked them however. They had a stylish lifestyle and entertained at Heaton on a grand scale. Some of the more colourful celebrities of the day were guests at their lavish parties.  The Duke of Wellington, General Tom Thumb, the young Disraeli and the actress Fanny Kemble were frequent visitors.  The celebrated actress recorded her reminiscences of Heaton in her book ‘Record of a Childhood'.

Lord Wilton was considered to be one of the leading sportsmen of his age being an expert horseman and keen yacht owner.  In 1827 he established the Heaton Park Races that were run on a course on the site of the present lake.

After his wife died in 1858 Lord Wilton spent less time at Heaton in favour of his houses in Melton Mowbray and London.  His attempt to sell the park in 1866 was unsuccessful and he died in 1882.

The historical content of this page has been written with reference to the following publications:

1.    Transactions of Lancashire & Cheshire Antiquarian Society (1983) - The 1st & 2nd Earls of Wilton and the Creation of Heaton House by James Lomax MA. Vol 82 Moxon Press Ltd, Ilkley
2.    Heaton Hall: A Short Account of its History & Architecture. Manchester City Council Cultural Services Dept, Manchester City Art Galleries, 1984.
More information about Heaton and the Earls of Wilton can be found in the Greater Manchester County Record Office.