The Dyotts of Freeford

A packed June meeting welcomed Richard Dyott to share with us a relaxed excursion through the family history of the Dyotts, resident at Freeford since the fourteenth century. Many of us have dabbled in family history research and although Richard explained that his efforts were a little rudimentary, his talk delved into many obscure documents unearthed from the Staffordshire County archives.

So, initially, we were invited to cast our minds back to the Domesday Book. Freeford, or rather Fraiforde (there are many alternative spellings) is identified as a substantial manor with a holding of about 720 acres, held by one Ranulph, as subject of the Bishop of Chester. Freeford's Anglo Saxon definition is "the ford beside the heathland". Richard's conclusion was that there was indeed a ford of the Darnford Brook here, adjacent to Whittington Heath. In early mediaeval times, a leper hospital was established at Freeford, as was a quarry to source building stone for the cathedral (hence Quarry Hills Lane). The spelling Freeford emerged during the thirteenth century and reference is made to Edward II pausing there in 1326, before entering the city. John of Freeford was the local member of parliament by 1377. He had three daughters and so the estate became divided on his death, not to be reassembled for 300 years.

Richard then rapidly moved on to 1549, when family research has revealed the first appearance of the Dyotts. John Dyott appears on the scene, having moved from, possibly, Dorchester on Thames. He set the scene for succeeding generations, being a barrister and local civic dignitary. His son, Anthony was also a barrister. Recorder of Tamworth and an Inner Temple barrister, he became MP for Lichfield. He successfully reassembled the three parts of the Manor of Freeford. His son, the first of many Richards, married into the Dorringtons of Stafford, owners of its iconic High House. Indeed, intermarriage over the next 400 years has seen the Dyotts linked to many prominent Staffordshire families. Inevitably, the Dyotts were affected by the Civil War,leaning towards the royalist side, but managed to survive with their property intact. Richard was charged by Cromwell's men with involvement in the Battle of Edgehill, but pleaded that although he was present, he took no part in the battle! John, brother to Richard is said to have landed the lucky shot from the cathedral tower that killed Lord Brooke.

Richard's son, another Richard, had a son, Matthew who married Elizabeth, daughter of John Boulton and sister to Matthew Boulton, who went on the establish a great manufacture at Soho, Birmingham, in partnership with James Watt. Two Richards later (currently, there are ten generations in the family) we find this Richard Dyott starting to construct a new Freeford Manor, although resident at a property on the site of the former Woolworths store in Market Street. One hundred years later a Richard Dyott is again Recorder of Lichfield, This Richard became the first President of the Staffordshire Agricultural Society and by all accounts set an example as a great agricultural improver. With no issue, the estate was inherited by his brother, General William Dyott. His distinguished army career saw service in Ireland, Nova Scotia, the West Indies, Egypt and the Netherlands. He became an ADC to King George III. Before settling at Freeford House, he rented Hanch Hall. Notable for expressing sometimes robust views in his diaries, their publication after his death gives a fascinating account of contemporary life. He was succeeded by his son, predictably another Richard, who became MP for South Staffordshire. At his death in 1891, it is said that 15,000 people attended his burial - at midnight! With no issue, the estate then passed to his cousin, Richard Barnaby who adopted the Dyott name. His son predeceased him, so that at his death, his grandson, Richard Dyott inherited. He married Mary Paget of Elford Hall. Subsequently, Richard's talk brought us up to date with the arrival on the scene of his grandfather and father.

Richard's self-effacing view that he hadn't done much to fully research his family's history was not borne out by the hour's talk. It was a fascinating exploration into local and national history from the perspective of one family. Keep up the research, Richard!

Roger Hockney
June 2016