History of Wigmore House

Roger Howell has speculated on the significance of the name of “Wigmores” which was not only a house in Castle Street but was attached to at least two acres of land.  He is still investigating the origins of the name but so far his hypothesis is as follows;

“The name Wigmore has excited much curiosity as to its origin.  It occurs in the form of Wiggs moores as a description of two and a half acres of ground belonging to Thomas Stafford, in the Tithe Terrier of 1696.  It is said to be bounded on the north by John Mabbutt’s garden and orchard, on the east by Mr Stafford’s Mundays Lands, south by his tenement? and garden and west by the high street of the Borough.

Mrs Causton who lives in Wigmore House today says the Prowse family of which she is a member spent many years trying to discover some link with Wigmore in Herefordshire, but with no success.  Wigmore Castle was the seat of the Mortimers, the powerful lords of the welsh marches who established and patronized Wigmore Abbey which lies a mile and a half north of the castle.

A chance remark by Meg Wise about John Wigmore an Abbot of St Peter’s Abbey Gloucester (the present cathedral) led me to investigate the his life and work.  The 17th century description of Wiggs moores ground and also the form Wigmores House found in the Indenture of the 29th September 1841 amongst the Lion House deeds, suggest that the name of the property possibly derives from an owner or builder rather than a place.

Abbot John Wigmore turned out to be a very interesting person indeed.  He was Abbot from 1329 to 1337 when the sudden accretion of wealth to the abbey after the burial of Edward II there in 1327 and the resultant influx of pilgrims and, more importantly, the patronage of Edward III, allowed him to embark on a programme of rebuilding of the south transept of the abbey.  The Abbot was said to be skilled in mechanical arts, clever with his hands and liked nothing more than to join in with the work of the builders working on the abbey, also a gifted embroiderer he obviously had an artistic flair.  At about this time a new style of architecture was being pioneered by the court in London which borrowed some elements from the French Rayonnant style and employed the four centred arch, thought to derive from Persian architecture.  Eventually these elements fused into the typically English Gothic style now know as perpendicular. Its first appearance was in St Stephen’s chapel in the Palace of Westminster where the master mason was Thomas of Canterbury, and by 1332 the royal mason William Ramsey was employing many of it elements in the chapter house and cloister of St Paul’s Cathedral.  It seems more than likely, given the king’s interest in the Abbey, that Thomas of Canterbury was employed by Abbot Wigmore for the design and remodelling of the south transept.  Since St Paul’s cathedral and part of the Place of Westminster were both destroyed by fire, the south transept of Gloucester Cathedral is the earliest surviving example of the style now in existence.

Besides the south transept John Wigmore had also caused to be built the Abbot’s chamber on the south west side of the Abbey, (later known as the Deanery).  He also built the large grange at Highnam which lies about two miles to the west of Gloucester and completed the Abbot’s chamber adjoining the great hall there, to which he added the small hall with its chapel.

Abbot Wigmore’s penchant for building takes on an added significance when we discover in Rudder’s New History of Gloucestershire that the Abbots of St Peter’s Gloucester owned eight sumptuous houses (1) The Vineyard near the town of Gloucester at the end of the west causeway (now demolished) (2) at Hartpury, (3) at Prinknash, (4) at Newnham, (5) at Berkeley, (6) at Thornbury about twenty miles to the south west (which makes it clear that he means Thornbury Gloucestershire not Thornbury Herefordshire), (7)The Manor Place at Frocester and (8) Bromfield Manor near Ludlow in Shropshire.  Could it possibly be that Abbot Wigmore either had Wigmore House in Thornbury built or, at least, was in some way associated with it?  It would have been a very convenient place for the Abbots to stay on their way to Bristol or the southwest on business.  Perhaps future research will resolve the matter, careful reading of the mass of medieval and later documents concerning Thornbury may provide us with further clues.”