THE EARL OF PANMURE, THE CAUSE OF THE STUARTS, A FORFEITED ESTATE & THE YORK BUILDINGS COMPANY, A STORY OF A LOST CAUSE, GEORGIAN SPECULATION & GEORGIAN FARCE.
By Douglas Norrie, July 2008
James Maule of Ballumbie was a staunch Royalist and a Privy Councillor to King James VII of Scotland (and II of England). He became the Fourth Earl of Panmure on the death of his elder brother George. Earl James and his brother Harry Maule of Kelly were great adherents of the cause of the Stuarts despite the family having embraced the Reformed Religion as far back as the time of their grandfather, Sir Robert Maule in the Reign of James VI (of Scotland) and I (of the Union).
Earl James and his brother, Harry Maule of Kelly were involved in the Jacobite Army at the Battle of Sheriffmuir on the 15th November 1715. Earl James was wounded and taken prisoner. He was being held in a cottar house guarded by six government dragoons when he was heroically rescued by his brother Harry Maule and they escaped to Ardoch where Earl James recovered sufficiently to return to Dundee to recover from his wounds.
Sheriffmuir was fought to an inconclusive end and so James Stuart, known to some as James VIII and III, to others as the ‘King of England’ (Chevalier de St. George) and to those on the Hanoverian side as the ‘Old Pretender’, continued with his plan to land in Scotland. He landed at Peterhead in the dying days of 1715 and was entertained by Earl James at Brechin Castle on the 2nd January 1716 and subsequently at Panmure. It was said that the bell of Carmyllie Kirk was ‘rent’ at the rejoicings of the Chevalier’s visit to Panmure.
The rebellion, of course, failed because of a lack of popular support in Scotland and because the promised support from France did not materialise. James Stuart and his entourage embarked at Montrose to escape to France and shortly thereafter, he was followed by Earl James and his nephew, the treacherous Earl of Mar. His brother Harry Maule of Kelly fled to Holland.
There is a tradition at Panmure that the ‘Old West Gates’ at Panmure were not to be opened again after Earl James left Scotland. Whether this tradition will survive in the current ownership is open to question! (The Webmaster was told that a Japanese TV crew managed to 'persuade' the authorities to open the gates some years ago !
There was a local legend (most recently committed to print by the late Colin Gibson), that Earl James did, in fact, return to Panmure to visit his Estate also his wife, Lady Margaret, who was the youngest daughter of the powerful Duke of Hamilton. It was said that he returned disguised as a beggar. The truth of that legend will never be known, but from his letters, we know he retained his interest in Panmure. Despite the difficulties, Earl James and Lady Margaret did correspond and they met regularly in France. In the 'Registrum de Panmure', some of these letters are reproduced. In one, Lady Margaret tells of being robbed by two highwaymen between London and Dover, and in another, Lady Margaret advises Earl James on how to address his letters to her to avoid them being intercepted.
Earl James was attainted for high treason and his Estates were forfeited to the Crown. He was however, twice afforded the opportunity to have his Estates returned and to allow his return to Scotland, provided he would take the oath of allegiance to the House of Hanover. This he refused to do, despite Lady Margaret protesting that refusal was ‘’done out of a very ill designe’’, and he died in Paris in April 1723.
The Panmure Estate, at a rental of £3,456, was the largest of the confiscated properties, but other estates forfeited included Marischal, Southesk, Linlithgow, Fingask, Pitcairn, Winton, Kilsyth (all Scotland), and Widdrington (in Northumberland, England). A further tranche of estates were confiscated after the 1745 rebellion.
The acquisition, management and disposal of the forfeited estates caused the Government no end of trouble and Commissioners were appointed to act for the Government. Right from the start, the body of the Scottish people were greatly prejudiced against the Commissioners and their management was thwarted at every opportunity. The creditors of the forfeited proprietors reasonably raised actions against the estates for payments of debts. This however turned into a farce with all sorts of spurious claims being made by friends and relatives of the dispossessed lairds to the Court of Session, which were readily granted. Another device that was used to thwart the Commissioners efforts to obtain possession was to dispute the ownership of the forfeited estates. The Court of Session seems to have been happy to go along with this and claimants for ownership of the estates sprang up from all quarters.
The tenants of the forfeited estates also refused to recognise the factors appointed by the Commissioners and continued to pay their rent to the previous owners. The tenants on Panmure were induced to pay their rent to Lady Panmure. All this chaos must have created happy times indeed for the legal profession in Scotland.
Eventually, however, the forfeited estates, including Panmure, were prepared for sale in 1719 and 1720, but it was impossible to find buyers for such a large amount of landed property in Scotland. Very few Scots were prepared to bid against the rightful owners of these estates. Also Scotland was still rather impoverished due to the rebellion and the Darien debacle of 1698-1701.
As there were no Scottish buyers for these estates, the ‘Company of Undertakers for Raising the Thames Water, in York Buildings, London, in England’ came to the aid of the government.
York House was at one time the London residence of the Archbishops of York and stood between the Strand and the River Thames, just a little to the North - East of what is now Charing Cross Railway Station. In 1665, Charles II gave ‘letters-patent’ to Ralph Bucknall and Ralph Wayne empowering them to erect buildings in the grounds of York house for the purpose of supplying the inhabitants of the City with water. The Company was incorporated in 1691 and traded respectably and very profitably for the next 20 years. The first decade of the 18th century became a period of wild speculation of which the ‘South Sea Bubble’ was one example. A solicitor called Mr. Case Billingsley with five associates bought the whole stock of the ‘Yorks Buildings Company’ for £7,000 and in October 1719 the Company floated a joint stock fund of £1,200,000 for purchasing the forfeited estates. The money was at once forthcoming and by the end of the year, the fund stood at £1,259,575 and the £10 shares stood at £305.
Mr. John Wicker and Mr. Robert Hackett attended the auctions in London of the forfeited estates on behalf of the Yorks Buildings Company. Despite protests by Lady Panmure, the Panmure Estate was exposed for sale on the 9th October 1719 at an upset price of £57,032. Agents on behalf of Harry Maule of Kelly bid to £60,300 which must have been their limit. The auctioneers offered to stop the auction till more security could be found, but two or three days would have been required to raise more money. An altercation ensued but the Estate was knocked down to Mr. Hackett of the Yorks Buildings Company for £60,400 after much protest.
Lady Panmure (Lady Margaret Hamilton) seems to have been a woman of great intelligence, energy and strength of character and she travelled to London where she managed to obtain from the Yorks Buildings Company, long leases on the two principle mansions. She settled at Panmure and Harry Maule of Kelly settled at Brechin Castle. According to the 'Registrum de Panmure', the senior members of the family seem to have been confident that they would eventually recover their Estates and the leases of these residences would secure their future until that happened.
Meanwhile, the Yorks Buildings Company, having bought up all the forfeited estates that were exposed for sale, were obliged to pay for these estates by August 1720. They discovered that they could not pay the money to the exchequer on the due date and sought an extra six weeks to pay. This was granted, and the company bought five more estates bringing the total purchases up to £303,913. Confidence in the Company was however severely shaken and the share price plunged. Allegations were made of ‘jobbery’ against the directors. That is to say that they had improperly enriched themselves at the expense of shareholders funds. It certainly appears that most of the £1,259,575 raised, simply disappeared. The shares, which in August 1720 had stood at £295, fell to £14 in November and were unsaleable. The Company tried a lottery as a means of raising extra funds but this too was a failure and further extra time to pay was sought from the exchequer and had to be granted.
The Company had great difficulty managing the estates and getting them to produce revenue. The tenants on the estates resented the intrusion of strangers and held fealty and continued to pay rent to the native proprietors. At this time, farm rents were paid partly in money and partly in produce. In 1716, the rental income of Panmure Estates was £3,456 but only £1,843 was cash. The rest of the rent was paid in wheat, barley, oatmeal, linen, chickens, butter and so on. Produce was stolen, documents were falsified and there were tales of oatmeal tendered in rent being bulked up with sand and other tricks of that sort. Thus the stage was set for fraud and pilfering on a grand scale, defrauding the London Lairds became a national sport and the management of the forfeited estates became a farce. On several of the estates, there were mines, quarries, salt pans or fisheries and the Company tried to work these, but a combination of deliberate mismanagement and fraud by local managers and staff led to serious losses which further added to the Company’s financial troubles. A lot of estate income came from the estates own meal mills, blacksmiths and wheelwrights shops, operating under the hated ‘thirlage’ system and these could not be made to pay either. The Acts of Parliament relating to the forfeited estates had insisted that all claims against the forfeited lairds had to be met by the Yorks Buildings Company. The local Scots were hugely successful in inventing endless claims against the estates. The Company also had to continue to support the churches and the parish schools out of estate income and everyone tried to ensure that that became as expensive as possible. Eventually the Company came to ruin and had to start selling land to survive. The Company survived to 1829, when it was dissolved by Act of Parliament, the Company having been involved in endless litigation since 1719 and the exchequer only received £1,107 as a net return on the forfeiture of fifty estates. Needless to say, lessons were learned and the estates forfeited after Culloden were managed directly by the Commissioners and seem to have been generally managed to the betterment of the Scottish people particularly in the Highlands.
Lady Panmure died in 1731, having spent a difficult lifetime of devotion to the interests of the family. She added substantially to the family landholding and among other purchases which she made, were the lands and barony of Redcastle or Inverkeilor, which she bought on the 8th December 1724. Lady Panmure had no children and Harry Maule of Kelly was heir to the titles. Harry Maule died in 1734. James Maule, his eldest son was a noted historian but he predeceased his father in 1729 and his brother William became heir to the titles. He was a noted soldier rising to the rank of General and served with great distinction in the battles against Frederick the Great’s armies in Silesia (Poland) at Dettingen and Fontenoy. He was elected Member of (the British) Parliament for (the constituency of) Forfarshire in 1735 and was created a peer of Ireland in 1743.
The Maule family having almost been ruined by their part in the ‘15, took great care not to get involved in the ‘45 and in 1764, William repurchased the Panmure estates (excluding the barony of Belhelvie in Aberdeenshire which was sold to other purchasers) from the creditors of the Yorks Buildings Company for £49,157, 18s. 4d this being 30 years purchase of the rental at the time. William died unmarried in 1782, thus ending the male line of the Maules. In 1726, his sister, Harry Maule’s eldest daughter married George, Lord Ramsay the eldest son of William, fifth Earl of Dalhousie, thereby linking the Maules of Panmure with the Ramsay family and the titles and lands of Dalhousie in the Lothians.
Finally, today stockbrokers are required to warn one that investments can go up as well as down. Imagine if in 1719, you had bought shares in the Yorks Buildings Company at £10 per share and seen them rise to £305 in three months. Selling them at, or around, the top, you would have made a fortune. If however, one had bought shares at or around the top at £305 and had held them to November 1720 to see them become unsaleable at £14 one would have been ruined. Then as now, the secret of making money out of shares is knowing when to buy and when to sell!
(Slightly edited by webmaster)
More information about the Panmure Estate and its history, together with information about some notable buildings on the Estate, photographs, etc. can be seen above and elsewhere on this site, Panmure 1, Panmure 2, Panmure 3, Panmure 4, Panmure 5 Panmure 6, Panmure 7, Panmure 8 and Panmure 9.
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This page was updated - 22 June, 2019