Location: Claverley, Shropshire, England
Surnames/tags: Gatacre Gataker
Extracts from Gatacre Records (by Major W. E. Gatacre -- died 1959)
[ Major William Edward Gatacre (1878-1959) served in South Africa and WWI being a prisoner of War in Germany. He was married twice and had 3 children.]
There was a time when family traditions were more honoured than they are today. That was before Horace Bound had pulled up the blind and, with a certain malicious humour, mocked the number of spurious ancestors clinging precariously to the higher branches of imposing family trees. Now proof is demanded for everything, and proof is seldom forthcoming before the middle of the 12th Century.
The venerable legend, it can be traced back for at least, 800 years that the family was established at Gatacre at the time of Edward the Confessor, can claim no exception to the rule.
The first recorded appearance of any member of the family is in the Pipe Roll of Henry II (1159-1160). This is solid ground and because public records begin at this time we can say, with as much assurance as is ever possible that the Gatacres have held the Manor in unbroken male possession since that time.
The feudal aristocracy which followed the first Norman Earl of Shrewsbury to the West was estahlished on the border as a buffer between the Welsh Tribes and the English of the Midland Counties. For this service it was given a considerable degree of independence of which it made full use.
These feuds, confined neither the original disputes nor the original combatants and one of them nearly brought history to an untimely end. At day break on 29th. Nov. 1352 two armed parties met at Dunston Heath on the road from Wolverhampton to Stafford. One was led by Hugh de Wrottesley, afterwards a companion of the Black Prince at Crecy and an original Knight of the Garter, and his kinsman Thomas de Gatacre, the other by Phillip de Luttey, Sheriff of Staffordshire and hereditary enemy of the Gatacres. In the ensuing fight the Sheriff was killed. This was a catastrophe because, through his wife he was related to the Lord Chief Justice, and some years previously, in 1338, another relative of the Chief Justice was killed in an affair in which William de Gatacre, brother of Thomas, had been engaged, and the combination of circumstances led to serious results. The case was tried at Westminster and as its result Thomas was imprisoned in the Marshalsea and later died in the Fleet Prison when the Black Death was sweeping the country. His estates were seized by the King, but Alice his wife, a lion-hearted woman with her full share of the family obstinancy (she was her husband's cousin) continued the legal battle against the Lord Chief Justice. For years she followed the Curia Regis with her Petition, refusing to be rebuffed and eventually the King intervened and transferred the case to the local court. The result was a foregone conclusion. Alice won her suit and lived to see her step-son (she had no children of her own) in full possession of his inheritance.
In a restless medieval world, the Gatacres prospered as they have never prospered since. Already before the 12th Century they had added, the Manor of Great Lyth, won from Walter de Upton in a wager of battle to their patrimony and by the end of the feudal period they had amassed a considerable fortune and were a family of some local importance.
William Gatacre lived in the transition period. Holding local government in their hands for generations, closely knit together by inter-marriage, the Gatacre position must have appeared to themselves and their contemporaries impregnable, and when William went to London to finish his education at the Inner Temple only a little cloud in the bright sky foretold the hurricane to come. It was the London of Erasmus. More where the new learning beckoned men on to an exciting and glorious future in which everything, even Utopia, might be possible and its patron, King Henry was still a healthy popular prince, very different from the besotted, bloodthirsty tyrant depicted by Holbein.
There is reason to believe that William Gatacre may have listened to the famous discussions in Sir Thomas More's garden in Chelsea. Perhaps it was there that the uncompromising, faith to which he adhered throughout the many changes of his public life was formed. Soon he was a member of the Oxford Circuit and then his name begins to appear on Commissions of Array and Commissions to collect taxes and as a Justice. Later he was Escheator of Salop and Steward of the F rest of Morfe. In Mary's reign he sat in Parliament as a Knight of the Shire and in Elizabeth's he was selected by Sir Henry Sydney, the Lord President, with Andrew Corbett and Andrew Fox to raise troops for the Queen's French war. He served every Tudor sovereign except the first. In his old age he fell on evil days and it was only the friendship of Henry Sydney and his former colleagues in office that protected him from persecution under the recusancy laws.
He was succeeded by his eldest son, Francis, "an obstinate Papist" and was admittedly one of the leaders of the "Catholic Party" whose proceedings occupy some space in the Acts of the Privy Council and several members of this party must have had knowledge of, even if they were not more deeply implicated in, the plots against the Queen's life. For 24 years he kept up the unequal struggle, imprisoned, fined, his estates administered by nominees, refusing to be either bribed or intimidated. He died as he had lived "An obstinate Papist". Francis was not the only rebel in the family. Thomas, his younger brother, suddenly declared himself a Protestant. He was, of course, disowned by his family and voluntarily giving up his inheritance, a considerable estate, he went out into the world a pauper. His friends helped him to continue his studies at Oxford and he eventually became Chaplain to Leicester and later Rector of St. Edmund the King, Lombard Street.
Both these brothers, whatever may be thought of their religious beliefs, showed a high degree of moral courage when as young men with all the advantages which family connections and money could give, they deliberately turned aside from the smooth road leading to worlds advancement and followed to the bitter end the narrow and unpopular paths mapped out by their convictions.
When Francis Gatacre died in 1599 the family was ruined, the recusancy laws having done their work. One after another the estates which had taken more than 400 years to accumulate were sold to pay the debt until, in the end, only Gatacre - and that little more than half, remained.
There is a tradition that King Charles called at Gatacre in his flight from Worcester but there is no proof that he actually entered it - he certainly passed close to it.
Time has brought changes at Gatacre also. A large red brick house, with many windows and a stone portion had taken the place of the border fortress continuously inhabited, with few alteration until 1764. Edward, the head of the family was a man of outstanding vitality, a good landlord, a conscientious magistrate, a kind considerate master, he was universally loved and respected by all classes. He kept his round list and his game book with as much care as his estate accounts and it would appear that in his day Gatacre must have been a very pleasant place to visit.
The French Revolution brought the family back into the mainstream of' English life and for the first time for 100 years a Gatacre rode armed at the head of his tenants in the service of the Crown. The Squire's son married an heiress and was richer than any member of the family since the Reformation.
Edward's new home has become a ruin. At a short distance it might well be mistaken for a great mass of creeper covered stone. Most of the windows are thickly covered with ivy. The storms of last winter brought several chimneys crashing through the roofs leaving gaping holes in the ceiling like windows opened for the the passage of a departed soul, but from the sodden walls still look down the faces, grave and gay, of women and men painted long years ago. Soon they too will have fallen and moss and wild flowers will spring up and soften the harsh edges of the heaps of brick and stone.
- ↑ Gatacre/Gataker family tree; compiled by Muriel Gataker Julius 1985
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