Nostell Priory: Who were the Winns?

Within the Nostell Priory collection we hold over 250 volumes, 384 bundles, 6 folders, 4 files and 1276 items worth of material relating to the personal papers of the Winn family from the 13th to 20th century. This includes papers relating to the baronets themselves but also their family members. From these papers we gain a better understanding of who the Winn family were and how they interacted with each other.

The Winn family made their fortune in the textile trade in London and used this wealth to buy property, including Nostell Priory in 1654 which became the family seat. We are lucky that so much of their extensive correspondence survives, which is not always the case for historic houses, and allows us an insight into the family dynamics of a prominent Wakefield family.

One interesting family drama that arises out of these records centres on Esther Sabine Winn. She was born on the 26th November 1768 and was the daughter of Sir Rowland Winn, 5th Baronet and his wife Sabine Louise d’Hervat. In similarity to a Downton Abbey storyline, where Sybil Crawley marries the family chauffeur Tom Branson, Esther married the Nostell baker John Williamson in January 1793 causing a major rift in the family. In Britain at this time social hierarchy was of vital importance, and it was perceived that Esther had married beneath her station.

Five years after Esther’s marriage relations with her family were still difficult, with Esther receiving a letter from her Aunt Mary Winn who warned Esther to “be on your guard, should your brother want you to sign any papers or parchments” as there was a conspiracy to deprive Esther of her fortune relating to the Thornton Estate. Around the same time, there is letter written by Esther to her “Dearest Love”, who we assume to be her husband John Williamson. She writes “the circumstance about the baker from Scotten is very curious indeed, what is our folks now afraid of there is no more daughters left, they much therefore be afraid of their countrymen being conjurers or that they should run away with my mother herself”. This sarcasm highlights the bitterness Esther must have felt, and when Sabine died in 1798 they still hadn’t reconciled their differences with Esther being excluded from her mother’s will.

Their difficult relationship and the scandal surrounding Esther’s marriage did not stop Esther’s three children John, Charles and Louisa from becoming closely tied to Nostell Priory and eventually inheriting the estate. John was granted the surname Winn and a coat of arms on the 1815, and three years later Charles and Louisa were also given permission to use the surname and coat of arms.

WYL1352-D3-6a-1 Winn Arms, John Winn (previously John Williamson), 1815

WYW1352/4/1/7/1 Grant conferring John Williamson of Nostell Priory with the surname of Winn and coat of arms 27th March 1815


You can explore the WYW1352 Nostell Priory catalogue online here:

If you have any questions about this collection please contact:

By Dominique Triggs, Archive Assistant


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