Ashton Court was originally the property of Sir Thomas Arundell. It was purchased during the 16th century (1545) by John Smyth, who was a successful Bristol merchant from Small Street. He was (according to Robert Dunning's 'Somerset Families') an exporter of wheat, cloth, leather and lead to Spain and France. He imported oil, dyes, wine, iron, fish and salt. The need to develop local sources for iron explains the family's expansion into mining which later produced their greatest wealth. "Customer" Smythe (of the Wiltshire Smythe line) also had extensive involvements in the process of iron ore and copper mining in nearby South Wales.
The trading Ledgers kept by John Smyth give access to a wealth of maritime information about his connections with trading ships/owners of Bristol (including those with the Codrington family which later features in Smyth/e-Smith genealogy). These Primary Sources are linked to academic courses run by Dr. Evan Jones of Bristol University. A CV for Dr. Jones is linked below where he is credited with information relating to the smuggling fiesta that seems to have been enjoyed by so many of the city's top merchants and politicians of the time - including John Smyth/e!
John Smyth of Small Street was married - his wife's name was Joan. Their eldest son, Hugh Smyth, was born in Clerkenwell, London in 1565 which suggests strong ties with London and probably the Smyth families of that city; but it was through their son, Matthew (see portraits page) that the line was continued. Matthew Smyth's son, Sir Hugh Smyth of Ashton Court married Elizabeth Gorges. He and his wife are both buried at Long Ashton Church. Dame Elizabeth Gorges (d. 1658) lived out her days at Lower Court in Long Ashton. After her husband died, she married her cousin, Sir Ferdinando Gorges (d. 1647) who, in turn, was connected with Sir Thomas and Sir John Smith (Smyth) of the Wiltshire Smyth/e line of 'Customer Smythe' whose offspring were instrumental in the settlements of America.
The Gorges family of Wraxall, (Somerset) and Samuel Gorges: The male line devolved on Ferdinando Gorges of Ashley (1663-1738) whose two sons Richard and Ferdinando died young when it was settled on Richard Gorges MP (b.circa 1708) of Kilbrew and Ballygawley, Co.Tyrone, Ireland. The Smyth family was widely represented in Ireland by this time. See the Smyth of Ireland links below.
A Margaret Wilson appears in the Ashton Court Smyth pedigree. She was the daughter of Christopher Wilson, Bishop of Bristol and married Sir Hugh Smyth of Ashton Court. Sir Hugh Smyth left no legitimate children. He died in 1824. It is known that Smyth family from Yorkshire married a Wilson daughter of Dallam Tower. "George Smyth, Esq., son of J. Smyth, Esq., of Heath Hall, Yorkshire, married the heiress of Dallam Tower, assumed the name of Wilson, and succeeded to the estates in 1824. George Edward Wilson, Esq., of Heversham, being his son and heir apparent."
This branch of the Smyths was granted a coat of arms in 1544. They developed extensive land interests in the area as well as quarry and mining rights over vast tracts of land; but the family name at Ashton Court (and the title) eventually faded away. When there was no male heir, the Bristol line was carried through the Way and Upton families by Florence Smyth and Mary Smyth, daughters of Thomas Smyth and his wife, Jane Whitchurch, of Staplelton, Gloucestershire. Thomas Smyth was the second son of Sir Jarrit Smyth of Bristol. Eventually, John Henry (Sir) Greville (Upton) Smyth inherited Ashton Court (as a minor). See "Smyth Vs Smyth" below.
Click here to visit a comprehensive family site (the site of J.P. Minot) which outlines much of this Smyth genealogy and contains references to India, detailed background and portraiture/photographs of the Smyth/e family of Ashton Court - including family connectors and which also traces the line to its conclusion in the early 20th century.
On the left, arms from the 16th?/17th? Century tomb of Edward Smythe, St. John's Church, Whitchurch, Bucks. Next to it, the conjoined arms of Way and Smyth (Ashton Court). On the right, the arms of Way. The device of the three fish is impaled with Smyth/e on the earlier and quartered on the later arms before its impaling with Smyth ...
The following quote from a further Way/Upton site of California is significant given the name Benjamin and the Way/Smyth family connections added to the reference to "Dissenters". Note that modern Cavendish family of this line is bracketed as (Francis Smyth).
Benjamin Way - "1669 - He was appointed to the Rectory of West Stafford, Dorset, and the following year to that of Frome Billet in the same county. From thence he was ejected as a Nonconformist in compliance with the Act of 1662; and he went to Dorchester as an Independent Minister. There he remained till 1675, when, at the age of forty-four, he accepted the invitation of a congregation of Protestant Dissenters, and removed to Bristol to officiate in Castle Green Independent Chapel."
See Benjamin James Francis Smythe and his story - and the search to link him to his ancestral line. The father of this latter is named (on a Norfolk Marriage Certificate) as Francis Smythe, a 'Cooper Master'.
Click on Sir Greville Smyth's image to access further notes and Ashton Court Smyth/e pedigree. In viewing other Smyth/e portraiture, note the settings and symmetry of the eyes in each case - for any similarities.
In 1939, Ashton Court was requisitioned by the War Office, used in turn as a Transit Camp, RAF HQ and American Army Command HQ. The last Smyth owner died in 1946. Lady Smyth - Dame Emily (Way) Smyth(e), (pictured) the wife of Sir Greville Smyth(e) - left the mansion and its grounds to the Bristol City Council. However, for a time, it was used as a police training facility and it was stripped of all its furniture, painting and most of its architectural features. Very little is left of the interior. For 13 years the house, already in disrepair, lay empty. Damp, dry rot, beetle attack and vandalism all played their part in further dilapidation. When the City Council bought the Estate it was realised that much expensive work would have to be carried out. But gradually considerable conservation and restoration has been achieved and is still continuing.
Site Note: There is an Ashton Hall in Lancashire which was given to the Lawrence family after the 3rd Crusade by King Richard Ist. The Smith/Smyth/e families of Yorkshire, Durham and Lancashire appear to have had connections with the Lawrence family - a Smyth ancestor achieved the original coat of arms for conspicuous courage at the same time as the Lawrence's ancestor 'de Lancaster' at the Siege of Acre.
In September 1852, Arthur Way was steward of Ashton Court for his under-age nephew, (later Sir) Greville Smyth. A man claiming to be Sir Richard Smyth (son - illegitimate, according to pedigree qv - of the late Sir Hugh Smyth) insisted the estate and another at Stapleton belonged to him. According to Ways journal, Sir Richard told him: I wish you to discharge the household as my own servants are coming here, and I request you will hand me the keys of the Mansion. But you need not hurry, sir, I will allow you two hours to take your departure. Way immediately accused the visitor and his solicitor of attempted daylight robbery and ordered them to leave the house. They refused and servants carried them out by the arms and legs and dumped them in the drive.
There were further ugly confrontations between the occupants and the claimant, who made his home in St Vincents Priory, in Sion Hill, Clifton, a suburb of Bristol. There is an old story that the Priory was built over a cave used by Roman Catholics for secret masses in times of persecution.
Sir Richard - Thomas Provis - even circulated all the Smyth tenants, calling upon them to pay their rents in future to him, and there were rumours that he was preparing to take Ashton Court by force. Way engaged three policemen and armed the servants. His journal states: Had all the men mustered at Ashton Court, loaded the guns with swanshot and had the garden pikes brought into the house and dispersed them ready for use. The attack never materialised and the whole issue was resolved in 1857 at Gloucester Assizes where Sir Richard was unmasked as Thomas Provis a former horse-thief. This false claim to the extensive Smyth Estates at Ashton Court meant his transportation to Australia.
"Of 15 Bristol merchants from the 16th century recently identified as being involved in a smuggling ring, ten served as mayors, sheriffs or MPs of the city. Some were all three. Others included customs officers, a mayor of Gloucester and even senior officials in the navy.
The Bristol men included some of the city's most important 16th century figures including John Smyth, who founded the fortunes of the Smyth family of Ashton Court, and Nicholas Thorn, a major Bristol benefactor and the son of Robert Thorn, the principal Bristol backer of Bristol's early voyages of discovery to North America. For such men, with power and wealth behind them, crime really did pay."
Arrived on this page from an external source? Click below for the full site directory.