In the 19th century the Gilbert family were convinced that they were descended from the Gilberts of Compton in Devon, and used their coat of arms, despite thorough research by both Davies Gilbert and Carew Davies Gilbert having failed to establish a connection. Davies Gilbert thought that they left Devon in the middle of the 16th century; they were certainly established in Sussex by 1567 when Thomas Gilbert was buried at Willingdon. Possibly this was the same Thomas Gilbert who had been assessed in the hundred of Baldslow, north of Hastings, for the subsidy of 1525. According to family tradition, he had married a daughter of William Waller of Groombridge, whose sister Eleanor married Thomas Parker of Ratton in Willingdon, a view supported by the connections between the families in the next generation. [Sequential numbers in [square brackets] refer to the References following the main text.]
Thomas's son John matriculated at Hart Hall, Oxford at the age of 18 in 1567, the year in which he succeeded to whatever property his father held. He obtained his BA in 1568-1569 and MA 1572. He was described as of Willingdon, gentleman in 1594 when he acted as surety in the marriage of Erasmus Waller of Greenwich and Margaret Waller of Willingdon. In 1600 at Wilmington he married Joan Wade, the widow of John Honey (d 1599), whom she had married at Wilmington in 1586. It may be that he then moved to Wilmington as his children, Mary, Elizabeth, Nicholas and John were baptised in that parish in 1601, 1602, 1603 and 1607 and his wife buried there in 1618. He was described as of Wilmington, gentleman in 1619 when he acted as surety to his stepson John Honey of Wilmington, gentleman, and of Alfriston in 1621 when his daughter Mary married Thomas Boleyne of Blackfriars, London, chandler. He was however buried at Willingdon in 1627. There is no evidence that John Gilbert ever lived at East Blatchington, the lordship of which he had bought from Edward Gage of Bentley in Framfield and Edward Gage of Wormsley Grange, Herefordshire, in 1603.
John Gilbert was succeeded by his elder son Nicholas, who in 1628 married Ann, daughter of John Parker of Folkington, a younger son of the Parkers of Ratton and probably a distant relation. Their elder children were baptised at Folkington and from 1639 at East Blatchington. He is subsequently described as of that parish, and probably took up residence at the manor house. The Gilbert property in Wilmington may have passed to his brother John, whose son John was described as of Wilmington when he made his will in 1696.
Nicholas Gilbert's wife Ann died in 1652 and, in accordance with the custom of borough English, her Folkington property passed to their youngest son Edward, aged six months, his father acting as guardian. In 1656 at Wilmington Nicholas married, as his second wife, Mrs Elizabeth Westbourne of Hellingly, widow. He was buried at East Blatchington in March 1678, making provision in his will for his four surviving sons including William, 'if he comes to England to demand it', and three surviving daughters. His daughter Ann married John Willard of the Dicker in Chiddingly, founder of the Eastbourne dynasty of lawyers who were later to become associated with the Gilbert family. Nicholas's widow Elizabeth was still alive in 1680.
It was Nicholas' eldest son and heir, Thomas Gilbert, who moved to Eastbourne and purchased property which formed the nucleus of the vast Gilbert estate there. In 1653 when only 19 he bought land at Greenham in Folkington. The first definite evidence of his residence in Eastbourne is assessment for a house with four hearths in the 'Town' part of the Hearth Tax return of 1665. This was probably the copyhold messuage (unidentified) and lands, held of the manor of Eastbourne Parker, which he purchased from Thomas Scarlett in the 1660s. Perhaps he divided his time between Eastbourne and Willingdon as he is described as of Willingdon in February 1671 when he married in that parish Mary, daughter of Thomas Foster of Eastbourne. Certainly his children were baptised in Eastbourne in the 1670s except for Nicholas, who is nevertheless stated to have been born in the parish by the Gilbert pedigree. His wife Mary Gilbert was buried at Eastbourne in 1675.
In March 1678 Thomas Gilbert inherited East Blatchington, sold Greenham at Folkington, and the following year purchased another Eastbourne property, a messuage and ten acres, copyhold of Eastbourne Gildredge, from James Moore. This was later called Stream House and can possibly be identified as the building on the corner of Moat Croft and Star Lane. In 1688, as owner of the two Eastbourne houses, Scarletts and Moores, he was granted a licence to build a new pew in the parish church. In the 1670s he had added to his Eastbourne estate twenty acres of copyhold of Eastbourne Parker, purchased from John Renn, and three acres of marsh from Ann Pelham, and to his East Blatchington estate ten acres of land purchased from Humphrey Rowe's executors in 1694. In 1689, on the death of his mother-in-law, he inherited her Iden property, having already inherited other property there from his wife. In 1699 he bought a barn, close and lands in Alciston late Rowe's, with sheep leases and bullock pastures, from Edward Dyne and Thomas Smith.
From as early as 1667, Thomas was acting as steward of his father's manor of East Blatchington and in the next decade he obtained the stewardship of Eastbourne Gildredge, Peakdean and Hartfield Pashley in the 1670s. He was also active as an attorney in various lawsuits, notably the dispute concerning the ancient custom of parish breakfasting between William Wilson, bt and Thomas Alchorne, in 1687-1691. Alchorne at the same time was battling with Thomas Gilbert over payment of tithes due to him as farmer of the parsonage of Eastbourne. Perhaps legal activities in London led to his leasing houses in King Street, Butcher Close and Christopher's Alley in Upper Moorefields.
Thomas Gilbert died in March 1705 and was buried at Eastbourne. His son Nicholas was left the manor and advowson of East Blatchington with a messuage, barn, stable and croft and the property bought from Rowe's executors. He left his Eastbourne property and the remainder of the East Blatchington estate, together with the leases of his London property, to his daughter, Mrs Mary Weeks, widow, and friend Thomas Bysshe, the vicar of Eastbourne, in trust for sale for the payment of his debts on a bond; any surplus was to be held for the benefit of his three grand-daughters, Mary, Elizabeth and Olive. The property was also acquired by his son Nicholas, who may have had to purchase it from the trustees. Mary Weeks was still alive in 1714 and her daughter, Mary, was the mother-in-law of Spencer Compton and grandmother of Charles Compton, later 9th Earl of Northampton.
Thomas' heir, Nicholas Gilbert, had been educated at Horsham Grammar School and trained as a lawyer like his father. He matriculated at St Johns College, Cambridge in 1691 and was admitted to the Middle Temple in 1692. In about 1695 he married Mary, daughter of Nicholas Eversfield of Charlton near Steyning and his wife Elizabeth, one of the surviving daughters and co-heiresses of Nicholas Gildredge, who had died in 1668.
The Gildredge family, settled at Withyham in the 14th century, had moved to Willingdon by the early 16th century. In 1554 Thomas Gildredge purchased one third of the Manor of Eastbourne, including lands in the Upperton area, and five years later he acquired the old James residence, which the family made their manor house. Nicholas Gilbert's wife's share of this large Eastbourne estate, centred on Gildredge House, was conveyed to him in 1697, and by 1704 he had obtained the shares of her aunts Mary Beard, Ann Wood and Jane Townley, and of her sister Jane. It is uncertain whether he moved into Gildredge House, which was probably inhabited by Gildredge's third wife Sarah and his widowed mother-in-law. Certainly Nicholas Gilbert was described as of Eastbourne in 1697, and his children were all baptised there. By 1700 he was churchwarden and in 1710 parish surveyor and in the early 1700s he was involved in Eastbourne lawsuits.
His acquisition of the Gildredge estate, together with his acquisition of his father's Eastbourne and London property, must have proved a great drain on his finances. In 1706 he sold land held of Folkington Manor, Scarletts and the land which his father had acquired of John Renn and Ann Pelham, and in 1708 and 1710 he mortgaged the Iden estate, Stream House and Ockley Wood in Hailsham, part of the Gildredge estate. This was insufficient, and when he died in 1713, leaving a son aged only seven, he instructed his executors to sell his East Blatchington and Iden estates as well as the leasehold property in London. His debts amounted to £974 and in 1716 a bill in Chancery was brought by his creditors. The Iden estate was sold to Samuel Shepherd and the Blatchington estate to Colonel John Fermor. The funds raised by these sales were still inadequate, and the executors borrowed £1000 on a mortgage of the manor and farm of Eastbourne Gildredge.
The young heir Nicholas was sent to school in Lewes and the executors' accounts include payments for his wigs and clothes from tradesmen in the town. When he came of age in 1727 he was described as of Horsham and was probably living with his uncle, Charles Rochester, at Denne Place. Certainly his sister Mary, eight years his senior, died in about 1716, supposedly from a cold caught there dancing with castanets at sunrise after a ball. On coming of age, Nicholas Gilbert presumably moved into the Gildredge manor house and, according to Mary Ann Gilbert, the row of fine horse chestnuts which in the 1820s ornamented one side of the moat in the orchard were planted to celebrate the event. She also says that, although he was brought up to law, he was 'solemn and slow and did not much improve his fortune'. Admitted to Lincoln's Inn in 1736, he acted as deputy steward of Eastbourne Parker manor, and steward of East Blatchington, Peakdean and the Medley manors of Buxted, Allington, Otham, Tarring, Claverham, Penkhurst, Withdean Cayliffe and Sharnden. In 1736 he adminstered the Medley estate during the minority of Samuel Medley  and in 1767 he is described as an attorney of the Court of King's Bench. He was very active as trustee of the marriage settlement of his sister Olive who in 1744 married John Winton of Southover, gentleman, formerly a citizen and fishmonger of London. Olive was married from Dean Street, Soho, which may have been used by Nicholas Gilbert as a town house.
In 1732 Nicholas married Susannah, daughter of John Acton of Ripe and Ann, the daughter of Henry Rochester, and therefore cousin of his uncle Robert Rochester, one of his father's executors. The settlement specifies the property in Ripe which was to pass to him, and which he still held at his death. Otherwise he seems to have increased the Gilbert estate only slightly by the purchase in 1733 of a few acres adjoining the Gildredge Manor holding, a small amount of arable in the South Laines and ten sheep leases in 1752, and a small piece of marsh (Willow Marsh) in 1755. It appears that he rented out the Gildredge manor house between 1750 and 1763 and lived there only from 1764. In about 1770 he purchased the Bridge Coffee House in the Cliffe, Lewes for his son Thomas, who set up a grocery business there.
At his death in 1774, he was succeeded by his son, also Nicholas, who considerably added to the estate, particularly in Eastbourne. He purchased what later became Dyers and Pillories Farm in 1783 from Sir John Lade, some 60 acres in Willingdon and further afield purchased marshland at Coldharbour in Westham and Blueberries in Pevensey; he was appointed expenditor of Pevensey Levels in 1775. He also occupied land held of the vicar of Pevensey, whose tithes had been collected by his father in 1731. In 1772 he married Catherine, daughter of the Revd Thomas Barton of Warbleton and sister of the curate of Eastdean and Friston, part of whose fortune consisted of interest on a bond for £1700.
A lawyer, like his father, Mary Ann Gilbert remembers her uncle's hospitable manner of receiving his friends at Gildredge House, amongst whom were Mr Hare of Herstmonceux Castle and his family. Nicholas Gilbert's marriage was childless, and on his death in 1797 his estate passed to his brother Charles.
Charles, like his brother, was a lawyer, and had been articled to his father in 1753, and admitted as an attorney of the court of King's Bench and as a solicitor in the court of Chancery in 1758. Presumably, because his brother practised in Eastbourne, he decided to move to Lewes and in about 1755 he became articled to Richard Watts. From 1767 he occupied 23 High Street, Lewes. His account books  and legal papers  show a very active business all over Sussex, as steward of both manors and estates, including that of the Duke of Dorset. He also held public office, as a commissioner of Newhaven Harbour from 1767, trustee of several turnpikes from 1761 and as deputy lieutenant of the Cinque Ports in 1804.
In 1792, at the age of 61 and no doubt with a view to retirement, he purchased from Stephen Lushington the fine mansion adjoining the Gildredge Manor estate. It had been built in about 1765 by his father, the Revd Henry Lushington, vicar of Eastbourne and Charles Gilbert's brother-in-law, from the fortune of his eldest son Henry, an East India Company merchant who had been murdered in 176352. In 1777 Lushington had married Charles' sister Mary as his second wife, and her stepson Stephen, a director of the East India Company like his brother, on inheriting the mansion from his father presumably had no wish to live there. Included in the sale were all household goods, linen and furniture (except plate), pictures, beer, rum, orange shrub arrack and brandy. Five years later, in 1797, Charles inherited the estate of his elder brother Nicholas, including the old Gildredge manor house. Having no use for it as a residence, he sold the furniture including, according to Mary Ann Gilbert, a complete suit of armour, a family heirloom probably dating from the 16th century. His demolition of part of the house showed that he had no intention of its again becoming the family seat; it then degenerated into a farmhouse. He rather spent considerable sums on enhancing the Lushington mansion and extending and developing the gardens and grounds. It is likely that he and not Lushington was responsible for the thatched hermitage (still standing) which is portrayed in the fine views which he commissioned from Thomas Poppleton between 1800 and 1810.
In 1801 he wrote that, although still registered as an attorney, he had not acted for many years  and concentrated on extending his estate in Eastbourne, Willingdon and Pevensey and extending it into Eastdean (including the manor of Birling) and Hailsham. He took his farming business seriously, selling wool and stock at Smithfield. Charles Gilbert saw the potential for the development of Eastbourne as a watering-place and managed the waste, which was held in common by himself and the two other manorial lords. Lord George Cavendish, however, opposed further development.
In 1760 Charles had married Sarah, daughter of William Stanford of Westdean, but she died childless in 1769. On his death in 1816 his immediate heirs were his maiden sister Susannah, who survived him by only one month, and their niece Mary Ann. His will shows the range of his interests and his legal mind. He left money to the poor of Lewes All Saints, to a charity for the relief of widows and orphans of poor clergy in Sussex, to Lambeth Asylum and the hospitals of St Luke, St Bartholomew and Magdalen in London, and arranged for the completion of the school he had founded in Eastbourne in 1814. His house at Lewes was to be sold (to his partner Francis Harding Gell, if he wanted it) and his leasehold houses and their contents at Sea Side in Eastbourne were to be at his sister's absolute disposal. She seems to have had a particular interest in them, and had her own movable summerhouse there. All his freehold property was to go to her for life with remainder to Mary Ann, but the copyhold property was to vest in his trustees, John Hoper and Richard Andrew Turner, who were to use the proceeds from the sale of his personal estate (apart from household goods and furniture) and the Lewes house to augment the estate by the purchase of property 'intermixed or contiguous' to it.
The inventory lists furniture, household equipment, books, garden implements, and the contents of the hermitage, (shells, fossils, telescope, conversation stools and a ewe sheep in a glass case), room by room in the house and outbuildings.
Charles' niece Mary Ann was the daughter of his younger brother Thomas, who had kept a grocer's shop in the Cliffe, Lewes. It was there that she was born in 1776 but in about 1781 the family moved to The Croft, a fine rented house on the north side of Southover High Street. Her father died in the following year leaving (by her own account) his widow and daughter almost penniless. The family's 'elegant' furniture was sold and they moved to the house of Ann's mother, Ann Cossum, in Hastings. In her reminiscences she describes her schooling, their financial problems and her mother's ambitions for her. In about 1799 they moved to 10 Devonshire Street, Portland Place, London, and from 1804 leased 6 Holles Street, Cavendish Square. After her mother's death in 1807, she frequently stayed with her uncle Charles at Eastbourne. In 1808 she married, at Northiam, Davies Giddy, the son of the Revd Edward Giddy, curate of St Eoth in Cornwall and his wife Catherine, heiress of John Davies of Tredrea in the same parish. An MA from Pembroke College, Oxford, he had become MP for Helston in 1804 and from 1806 until 1832 represented Bodmin. He took a prominent part in parliamentary investigations connected with the arts and sciences and his scientific interests subsequently led to his presidency of the Royal Society.
When Mary Ann succeeded to the Gilbert estate on her uncle's death in 1816, Giddy took the name and arms of Gilbert and commissioned a copy of the detailed survey of Eastbourne, just undertaken for the incumbent, Dr Brodie, by William Figg of Lewes. He divided his time between Eastbourne, the town house in London and Tredrea in Cornwall, which he had inherited from his mother in 1803. He and Mary Ann extended the Gilbert estate in Eastbourne and Eastdean and in 1833 purchased the large Wannock estate in Jevington and Willingdon. They purchased a grander house in Cornwall, Trelissick, which was to become the main Gilbert seat. Davies carried out extensive improvements on their land in the Pevensey Levels and Mary Ann developed allotments on waste land for unemployed labourers, and founded agricultural schools at Willingdon and Eastdean. She produced various papers on agricultural subjects and Davies edited Cornish carols and mystery plays and produced 'The Parochial History of Cornwall'. Some of their work was printed on their own press at Eastbourne, where their daughter Catherine acted as compositor. Davies Gilbert's interest in the local history of Eastbourne and of the Gilbert family are shown by his notes, by his arrangement of the family archives (his original bundles with their labels have been preserved in this list) and his investigations into the origin of the Gilbert, Gildredge and Davies families. (The article by David Philip Miller, 'Gilbert [formerly Giddy], Davies (1767-1839)', published in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography in 2004, was written without knowledge of the Gilbert archive at ESRO.)
Davies Gilbert died in 1839 and Mary Ann in 1845, leaving a son, John Davies Gilbert. Unlike his parents, who had divided their time between Cornwall, Eastbourne and London, John preferred to live at Trelissick and to leave the running of the Eastbourne estate to his steward Francis Harding Gell of Lewes and an old gardener, Benjamin King, who acted as bailiff. In 1851 he married Ann Dorothea, daughter of Robert Shapland, Lord Baron Carew, linking himself with an ancient West Country family, his sister Catherine having already married John Enys of St Gluvias, Cornwall in 1834. His only surviving child, Carew Davies Gilbert (1852-1913), was born at Trelissick in 1852 and John died at Prideaux Place, near Padstow in 1854. He had done very little to add to the Sussex estates but Charles Gilbert's trustees had made considerable purchases and were to carry on this consolidating work well into the 1870s.
Since Carew Davies Gilbert was only two, his mother was appointed guardian and she and the trustees took a very active part in the development of Eastbourne as a watering place; the potential of the town had also been realised by Lord Burlington, shortly to inherit the title and estates of his second cousin the 6th Duke of Devonshire. In this work she employed Nicholas Whitley, a Cornish land surveyor, civil engineer and writer on geology and meteorology. Even before John Davies' death, the valuable waste at the Crumbles had been partitioned in 1845 between Lord Burlington and the Gilberts, paving the way for the development at Seaside and Burlington had secured the extension of the London Brighton and South Coast Railway to Eastbourne in 1849. In the 1850s gas and water companies were formed, a Local Board established, and in 1859 Christ Church, Seaside was built, largely with funds from Ann Dorothea, to serve the newly developing estates in that area. In 1858 the trustees had obtained power to grant building leases for 99 years and in the 1860s and 1870s Nicholas Whitley drew up development plans for the Upperton area.
Carew's coming of age in 1872 coincided with the second phase of the development of Eastbourne and he, like his mother, was happy to let Nicholas Whitley work alongside the Duke's surveyor, Henry Currey, and for Nicholas' son Henry Michell Whitley to succeed to his position. Carew had been educated at Trinity College, Cambridge and in 1872 was admitted to the Inner Temple. A great traveller, he spent the 1870s visiting Cornwall, Scotland, Norway and Germany on his yachts Stella and Windflower, and the USA, New Zealand, Australia, the Far East, China and Japan by train.
In 26 April 1881 he married Grace Katherine Rosa, daughter of George Staunton King Massey Dawson of Ballinacourte, Co Tipperary, Ireland and they probably divided their time between the Manor House, Eastbourne and Trelissick. Certainly Carew was very much involved in church, schools, hospitals and charities in Eastbourne. The Princess Alice Hospital which opened in 1883 was built on a site given by him and he also gave the land for St Anne's Church, Norway Mission Chapel and St George's, Salehurst Street. At the Jubilee in 1887 he granted the town a lease of the Seaside Recreation ground and in 1887 and 1909 the corporation purchased from him fifteen acres of land for Gildredge Park. He and his surveyor Nicholas Whitley planned a new garden city at Birling Gap, to be called Southdown Bay, but he failed to interest the railway companies in building a branch line to serve it. He was also involved in the Seaford Bay Estate Company.
In Cornwall Carew Davies Gilbert served as a magistrate, deputy lieutenant and high sheriff, as well as acting as a magistrate in Sussex, though he rarely took his seat on the bench and never sought election as a county councillor. An ardent Conservative, in 1885 he founded the Eastbourne Review to support the Conservative cause.
At his death in 1913, he was President of the Eastbourne Division of the Conservative Association. He was buried at Eastdean.
Carew left his Eastbourne estate to Minnie (b 1882), the eldest of his five daughters, there being no son, and his other estates in Sussex to his second daughter Patience who had married Major Charles Henry Harding, of Tullamaine Castle, Co Tipperary, Ireland (b 1868), on 19 April 1904. Their son Charles (b 1905) adopted the name Davies-Gilbert in 1926. In 1923 he sold the Manor House at Eastbourne to the Corporation and in 1952 was resident at Chestnut Lodge, Herstmonceux. On 20 July 1935 he married Sybil Madeleine, daughter of Captain Mark Sauin Poore; their eldest son, the depositor, was born on 1 December 1940.
1 Sussex Record Society 56 162.
2 Foster, Alumni Oxonienses
3 Sussex Record Society 1 19.
4 Sussex Record Society 1 114, 126.
5 GIL 4/11
6 AMS 6326/24
7 GWY 2/1
8 AMS 6326/23
9 See the will of her son Joseph Westbourne of East Blatchington, W/A 35/366
10 GWY 2/1
11 GIL 1/2
12 GIL 4/290/2
13 GIL 1/3
14 GIL 2/11/4
15 GIL 4/11
16 Sussex Topographical Surveys, Iden Parish, Tenement analysis
17 GIL 4/11
18 GIL 4/1
19 GIL 4/2
20 See his will, AMS 6326/25
21 J Venn and J A Venn, Alumni Cantabrigienses
22 See the Gildredge cartulary, GIL 1/4/1 for the build-up of their property which included the Manor of Hartfield Pashley.
23 GIL 1/4
24 GIL 1/4
25 GIL 4/3,6,8
26 GWY 2/1; GIL 1/2
27 GIL 4/9/4
28 GIL 4/9/2-3
29 GIL 4/9-12
30 GIL 4/13
31 GIL 4/9/4
32 GIL 4/313
33 GIL 4/313
34 GIL 4/15/5
35 GIL 4/15/16
36 GIL 4/16
37 AMS 6454 20/5.
38 GIL 1/5
39 GIL 1/6
40 GIL 1/7
41 GIL 4/20 and Sussex Weekly Advertiser 18 Apr 1770
42 GIL 4/20
43 GIL 1/17
44 LT Westham and Pevensey
45 GIL 4/21/1
46 GIL 4/15/2
47 RAF, account-book of the Revd Thomas Barton, 1768-1781.
48 GIL 4/36/5
49 ADA 113a
50 GIL 4/24-32
51 GIL 4/34/1-6
52 GIL 1/25; ACC 7526/3
53 GIL 1/25/101
54 GIL 4/36/5; ACC 7526/3
55 GIL 4/36/5 and GIL 3/7
56 GIL 4/36/1-5
58 GIL 1/33,38,39
59 GIL 3/9/1-3
60 GIL 3/8/3
61 GIL 4/37/1-2
62 GIL 4/39/4
63 Sussex Weekly Advertiser 10 Jun 1782
64 GIL 4/313
65 see DNB
66 For Mary Ann's friend, Mary Frewen's account of the marriage, see AMS 2193 and for a biography of Davies Giddy see A C Todd, Beyond the blaze: a biography of Davies Gilbert (1967)
67 GIL 3/17/1
68 GIL 1/78-79
69 A C Todd, 'An Answer to Poverty in Sussex', Agricultural History Review 4 (1) (1956), 45-51
70 ACC 7526/3
71 Reminiscences of William Figg, GIL 3/44/8
72 For the development of Eastbourne by the Dukes of Devonshire and the Davies Gilberts, see David Cannadine, Lords and Landlords: the Aristocracy and the Towns 1774-1967 (Leicester University Press 1980)
73 GIL 3/44/8
74 Information about Carew has been taken from his personal papers, GIL 4/369-633, and his obituary in the Eastbourne Gazette 3 Dec 1913
75 For his obituary see Eastbourne Gazette 3 Dec 1913
76 Burke's Landed Gentry, 17th edn (1952)