Keeping up with the Moretons: around the World in 300 years, the Rise and Rise of an English Noble Family

I have wanted to go to Brewood (Staffordshire) for a while and I was thrilled to be finally entering the parish church of St Mary and St Chad at last. We stepped through the porch abandoning the warm summer weather for the gloom of the church interior.

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The exterior of St Mary and St Chad in Brewood, Staffordshire. The church is typical of the region, being built in sandstone. The south aisle (pictured) was added by George Edmund Street, a Victorian revivalist architect in 1878-80.

The range of memorials was impressive enough, the Giffards of nearby Chillington had established the chancel as some form of family mausoleum, so I ventured into the nave to explore the dusty memorials left as reminders of past parishioners.

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One of many generations of the Giffards of Chillington whose tombs overcrowd the chancel.

One memorial, occupying its own quiet corner, was of particular interest to me. Hanging low down on the sandstone wall was a seventeenth century tablet belonging to the Moreton family. Two tiers of couples knelt facing each other, carved eyes focusing in a stare of permanent devotion, each couple’s children kneeling below them.

The Investigation Begins

My Pevsner guidebook helpfully informed me the two couples immortalised in stone were Edward Moreton (d. 1630) and his wife Margery (d. 1633) with their son, Matthew (d. 1669) and their daughter-in-law, Sarah (d. 1672).

I set out to explore the Moreton family, Brewood Parish Registers allowing me to weave an image of this local gentry family, breathing life into the stone figures before me.

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A detail of the Moreton Memorial showing Edward and Margery Moreton.

Web of Power

The Moretons had originated in Wilbrighton in Staffordshire and had acquired property in a village near Brewood through marriage. One advantageous marriage followed another and by the late seventeenth century, Matthew’s son had married Elizabeth Ducie, daughter of another member of the gentry.

The family was spreading its web rapidly over the power connections of the Staffordshire gentry.

Propelled to Greatness

The son of Matthew and Elizabeth, Matthew Ducie Moreton was created 1st Baron Ducie in 1720, advancing the fortunes of this ambitious family. Having risen from mere gentry to a new level of aristocracy, the family propelled itself further on its path of greatness.

As I traced the line of descent further, colourful figures leapt out from pages of parish records, county histories and genealogical tables. Each generation took me on a journey across seas, through deserts, from the heights of political power to the lows of isolation.

The Moretons and America

By the time I reached 1739, Francis Reynolds-Moreton (1739-1808) came bellowing onto the scene. Francis was a naval officer and British politician who commanded a ship, HMS Monarch, in the naval engagement with the French at the Battle of Chesapeake in September 1781.

Francis proudly proclaimed he lost not one man aboard his ship at the Battle of Chesapeake. Further investigation reveals this was because, he positioned himself at the rear of the British fleet during the battle.

Unfortunately, for Francis, the Royal Navy suffered a defeat allowing the French to bring through siege equipment and reinforcements which enabled the Franco-American army to take Yorktown. This victory secured the independence of the Thirteen Colonies, later to become the U.S.A.

Francis was, however, more successfull in other areas. Later in his career a group of islands in the Pacific came to bear the family name of Ducie. How had this family from rural Staffordshire stepped so dramatically onto the global stage?

Another Moreton, the Hon. Augustus Henry Moreton Macdonald, built a re-built castle in Scotland at Largie and published a work with an incomprehensible title; ‘Brief Analysis of the Natural Laws that Regulate the Numbers and Condition of Mankind

To the Australian Outback

My journey following the rise of the Moreton family took me further from Staffordshire than I imagined. By 1834 I had reached Australia struggling to keep up with Berkeley Basil Moreton (1834-1924) and 4th Earl of Ducie (after the family had been pulled up to the rank of peerage in 1837).

Berkeley was a sheep and cattle farmer in Queensland who became engaged in Australian politics. His son became a dairy and fruit farmer in Australia.

Ducie Islands are still a British Overseas Territory despite claims by U.S.A. Their remoteness means they are uninhabited apart from a few birds, some fish and a lot of crabs.

Ancestral Home

With Basil Howard Moreton (1917- 1991) the title was back in England at the family’s ancestral home in Totworth Court, Gloucestershire.

Totworth had been built for the 2nd Earl Ducie in the Tudor style between 1843 and 1853. The 3rd Earl Ducie later developed an arboretum on the site which rivalled the more famous Westonbirt Arboretum nearby.

Gloucestershire Farmers

Finally, my journey had brought me to the present Earl (a member of the peerage) who inherited in the 1990s. His ancestral home still stands, although it is no longer owned by Moreton family, and is a hotel.

The family now quietly farm the surrounding Gloucestershire countryside, not far from their humble origins in Staffordshire.

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The Moreton family now quietly farm the Gloucestershire countryside.

Role of Significance

My journey had taken me from seventeenth century Staffordshire, across the Atlantic to the violent crucible of a new country and around to the Pacific and Australia. Over a period of over three hundred years, this Staffordshire gentry family had risen to play an unexpected and significant role in national and international history.

As I left the gloomy interior of Brewood’s parish church to embrace the sunshine, I smiled at the Moreton memorial standing quietly in the corner of a country church, unbeknown to these early Moretons, their descendants now lay scattered across the globe.

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