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Chapter TitleNotes

Melksham

Title :Place House, with some account of the Selfe Family. ( Pages 193 - 201)
Author :T. G. J. Heathcote
Book Type :Buildings
Publisher :
Date :1903
ISBN :
Journal :Wiltshire Notes and Queries. Vol. IV
Full Text :Wiltshire Notes and Queries
March, 1903

Place House, Melksham, with some account of the Selfe Family.

The following words form part of a letter written by Mr. Hughes, of Devizes, to Mr. Richard Jenkyns, of Wells. Both gentlemen were lawyers, and the latter was part owner of the house which was the subject of enquiry:-


"I have a London friend desirous of returning to Wiltshire "if he could purchase a comfortable house in a pleasant situation. Passing frequently through Melksham I have observed the house, some years ago occupied by Mr. Paul Newman, to be shut up, and which, upon enquiry, I find belongs to you.
Devizes, 24 Ja., 1787."


This house, which was commonly known as Place House, stood facing the Market Place of Melksham, and, as an ancient and picturesque object, was plainly visible to all travellers along the Great Bath Road. It therefore seems strange that a man, who was a lawyer living in a neighbouring town, and who was also Steward of the Manor of Canhold, in Melksham, where he regularly held Courts, should have been ignorant of the history of this particular house, especially as the subject of his enquiry was the capital messuage of the chief manor of Melksham, to which Canhold was only subordinate. It is proposed, therefore, in this short paper, to give some account of Melksham Manor House. In the year 1734 Mr. Isaac Selfe, junr., caused a map to be made of his estate by a surveyor named J. Cole - the plan of Place House is extracted from this map.

In the year 1539 the Prioress and Nuns of Amesbury surrendered into the hands of the King their Melsham estates, which they had held for about 250 years. This property, which consisted inter alia of the Lordship of the Manor and Hundred, was granted to one Henry Brounker, who had already made purchases of real estate in the neighbourhood. At some uncertain date, perhaps about 1550, he built a residence for himself on the site (as appears likely) of an earlier "Court" or "Manor Place", to use Leland's phrase, where the Amesbury Steward had been wont to hold the Manor and Hundred Courts. It should be noted, therefore, that the house we are treating of was built for a resident lord, who was a man of considerable wealth. Three generations of the family lived here: Henry Brounker the founder, his son, Sir William, and his grandson Henry. On the death of this last Henry, about 1600, it became manifest that the Brounker estate was heavily involved, and as a matter of fact, in the course of the next twenty or thirty years, all the property was alienated with the exception of Erlestoke, to which place William Brounker, the heir, retired with his wife Anne, daughter of Sir John Dauntesey. Meanwhile, Place House was occupied for ten or eleven years by Henry Brounker's widow and her second husband, Ambrose Dauntesey.

After their death, in 1612, the house apparently was occupied by the steward; it is not, however, clear in whom the ownership was vested for the next forty years.

In the year 1657 (Oct. 22) Place House changed hands. The vendors were Messrs. Yates, of London; Danvers, of Baynton; and Hill, of London. The purchaser was Isaac Selfe, of Melksham, gentleman. The property conveyed consisted of "All that Capital Messuage" etc. in Melksham, now or late in the occupation of Edward Stratton the younger, with the courts, gardens, etc., containing by estimation 5 acres. The consideration money was £310.

It is recited in the Indenture that in 1652 the estate had belonged to Sir John Danvers (the regicide), who no doubt had come into possession on his marriage with his second wife, Elizabeth, daughter of Ambrose Dauntesey, of Place House.

For one hundred years then the house had belonged to the Brounker family and their connexions. For two hundred years more ist remained with the family of the new purchaser. This gentleman was the younger surviving son of Mr. Isaac Selfe, of Beanacre, whose monument, still in Melksham Church, was noticed by John Aubrey. Old Mr. Selfe, after making his fortune as a clothier, had made considerable purchases of land in the parish on the break-up of the Brounker estate, and had died early in the year 1657, leaving his eldest son, Jacob, settled at Beanacre.

Isaac Selfe, the younger son, was about 22 years old at this date. On taking possession of Place House in October of the same year it may be inferred that repairs were necessary after forty years of what was practically non-occupation. It is certain that he built a new principal entrance, where he set his initials, I.S., and the date, 1658. He married a lady of whom all I know is that her Christian name was Anne (perhaps, from the arms on her monument, she was a Johnson or Johnston), that she was living at Place House as late as 1706, at New Sarum in 1722, and was dead before 1730. Mr. Selfe appears to have had some idea of establishing himself as a landed proprietor. Some real estate was settled on him by his father, and he purchased other lands on his own account, inter alia, a farm, still known as "Bessells", of which the vendor was Charles, Earl of Westmoreland. Isaac Selfe, of Place House, died in 1682, in his 48th year, leaving three surviving children: Jacob, who succeeded at Place House; a younger son, Thomas; and a daughter, Mary, who, in 1701, married Ambrose Awdry, of Seend.

Jacob Selfe, the eldest son, lived at Place House, and died in 1730, unmarried. A short time before his death he made a settlement of his real estate in favour of his only brother, Thomas, and his issue, with remainder to his cousin, Captain Jacob Selfe, of Beanacre, and his issue, with ultimate remainder to his own right heris.

Thomas Selfe, younger son of Isaac and Anne, was educated at St. John's College, Oxford, where he took the degrees of B.A. and M.A., having matriculated in 1691, æt. 15. In 1696 he married Elizabeth, sole heiress of Henry Smith, of Lowbourne, Melksham. Mr. Selfe took Orders, and, in 1717, was instituted to the Rectory of Bromham, where he lived until his death in 1741. Mrs Selfe died in 1728, leaving two sons and three daughters. Parson Selfe married, as second wife, a widow named Webb, by whom he left no issue, and concerning whom I have practically no information.

The two sons of Thomas and Elizabeth pre-deceased their father; though both married, neither left issue. Thomas die in 1726, æt. 27; Isaac in 1738, æt. 32.

On the death of the Rector of Bromham, in 1741, the Place House estate passed to Captain Jacob Selfe, of the Beanacre family, who died, unmarried, in 1757, whereby the reversion passed to the right heirs of Jacob (the grantor of 1730), who were his three married nieces, viz., Elizabeth (Stone), Anne (Jenkins or Jenkyns), and Margaretta (Yorke), the daughters of Parson Selfe.

The profits of the undivided estate were shared between the three families, until, in the next generation, Richard Jenkyns, of Wells and Melksham, partly by inheritance, partly by settlement, and partly by purchase, became sole owner. After his death, in 1806, a re-settlement of the whole estate was made in favour of the issue of Samuel Heathcote, of Shaw Hill, who had married Elizabeth stone, a granddaughter of the lady of the same name already mentioned.

In 1859 Mr. Thos. Jenkyns Heathcote succeeded to the estate, and, as Place House was by this time unfit for habitation, it was sold to a building company, by whom it was pulled down and the land marked off in building lots.

So it was that a Tudor mansion, after an existence of three hundred years, was swept away. Some people at the time were inclined to censure the last proprietor for permitting its destruction. It must, however, be noted that its history had long been forgotten. At the beginning of this paper an extract is given from a correspondence that took place in 1787-8, concerning a proposed sale of Place House. It appears that even then it was in a ruinous condition, and its history unknown. From the year 1738 till 1860 it had been let to various tenants, who used it for trade purposes; and it often lay vacant. The Brounker family had made it their home for about sixty years, and the Selfes for eighty; during the remainder of the period (upwards of one hundred and fifty years) it went begging, as one may say, for an occupier. This means destruction for any house.

In this short paper it has been possible to give no more than the bare chronology of a Wiltshire Manor House. No personal history has been introduced, though abundant material is at hand. Attention should, however, be drawn to the Diary of Thomas Smith, of Shaw House, near Melksham, relating to the years 1722-3. This was published in the earlier numbers of the Wilts Arch. Magazine, under the editorship of the late Canon Jackson. From the entries in this Diary we get a vivid pi9cture of the way of life of contemporary Selfes, of Place House, and of their cousins at Beanacre, by a gentleman who was not only their friend and neighbour, but also of their kin.

These arms, as borne by SELFE, are copied from a piece of silk, 15½in. by 14½ in. by 10in.; we believe that there is no record of the family or the arms in H. M. College of Heralds; the difference, a label on a crescent, is that of the eldest son of a second son, or the eldest son of the head of the second branch of the family.



Abbreviations used:
  • WAM Wiltshire Archaeological & Natural History Magazine
  • WNQ Wiltshire Notes and Queries

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