Lincoln’s History: Sir Cecil Wray

Sir Cecil Wray, 13th Baronet Wray of Glentworth, was born in 1734 into an ancient Lincolnshire family. In 1752, still some months away from his eighteenth birthday, Cecil inherited the baronetcy and the family estates (in Lincolnshire, Norfolk and Yorkshire) when his father, Sir John Wray, 12th Baronet died.

Sir Cecil stood for parliament as a Whig representing Retford in Nottinghamshire (he won the seat in 1768) and then Westminster between 1782 and 1784. However, during this latter period, Sir Cecil stood up in the House of Commons to oppose the East India Bill proposed by Charles James Fox and he denounced the coalition between Fox and Lord North; subsequently – and with the support of the Tory party – at the 1784 election, Sir Cecil tried to oust Fox from representing Westminster. In the print below, the naval officer Sir Samuel Hood (Tory) is shown as Themistocles, Charles James Fox, the Whig candidate is Demosthenes and Sir Cecil Wray, who had switched allegiance from the Whigs to the Tories is depicted as Judas Iscariot. In the end, Sir Cecil finished last, a result which he contested for some time.

The Rival Candidates: Sir Samuel Hood, Charles James Fox and Sir Cecil Wray
© The Trustees of the British Museum

The wits and wags of the day had a field time with Sir Cecil after the 1784 election; not only had he appeared to betray Charles James Fox but he was also – reputedly – a bit of a skinflint. He drank ‘small beer’, his grand house in Pall Mall was left unfinished and he proposed plans to abolish Chelsea Hospital and to tax maid-servants in order to ease the National Debt.

Sir Cecil's Budget for Paying the National Debt. In the foreground, the veterans with wooden legs and on crutches try to get away from the crumbling facade of the Chelsea Hospital. In the background, a group of women, outraged by the proposal to abolish the Chelsea Hospital and to tax employers of maid servants, attacks with brooms and a slop jar the proposal's author, Sir Cecil Wray.
In the foreground, the veterans with wooden legs and on crutches try to get away from the crumbling facade of the Chelsea Hospital. In the background, a group of women, outraged by the proposal to abolish the Chelsea Hospital and to tax employers of maidservants, attacks with brooms and a slop jar the proposal’s author, Sir Cecil Wray. Met Museum

We have a different reason to pour scorn upon Sir Cecil, however. In 1750 he built a house on Eastgate in Lincoln, to the northeast of the Cathedral. This house, named Eastgate House, was extended in 1763 but an old stone structure interrupted Sir Cecil’s views of Lincoln Cathedral. That couldn’t be allowed, and so the edifice was demolished… unfortunately for us today, that structure was the remains of the Roman Upper East Gate to the city.

The remains of Lincoln's Roman East Gate, drawing by Nathan Drake c.1740.
The remains of Lincoln’s Roman East Gate, drawing by Nathan Drake c.1740. Image via It’s About Lincoln.

This particular gate had only been rediscovered in 1730 as it had been walled up and formed part of the north gable end of a house on one side and a stable on the other.

Eastgate House was further added to in the nineteenth-century; Sir Cecil’s original house has gone the same way as the remains of the Roman Upper East Gate and no longer survives but one of the later wings can still be seen. It is now part of the Lincoln Hotel and, in front of the hotel, the foundations of the old East Gate – all that remained after Sir Cecil’s handiwork – are visible. They were uncovered in 1945 during excavations to lay new sewers. Before it was pulled down, the East Gate looked very similar to the nearby Newport Gate, which – as it was not blocking an important view – has managed so far to stand the test of time, although, in recent years, lorries have been known to get stuck beneath it, causing damage.

Newport Arch, Lincoln by Nathan Drake, 1756
Newport Arch, Lincoln by Nathan Drake, 1756; The Collection: Art & Archaeology in Lincolnshire (Usher Gallery)

Around the same time as he was destroying the Roman heritage of the city of Lincoln, Sir Cecil started building a country seat at Fillingham, about ten miles north. This fine house, built in the style of a Gothic castle, he named Somers or Summer Castle after his wife, Dame Esther Wray née Summers (or Somers), although it is also now known as Fillingham Castle.

Little is known of Dame Esther; she was born around 1735 and is said to be the daughter of a James Summers. We love a challenge, and have tried our hardest to uncover Dame Esther’s origins but – at the moment – we are having to admit defeat although we can add a little more information to her story. From our research, it appears likely that she is from Essex and certainly the Wrays were married by the summer of 1763 for the Leeds Intelligencer newspaper recorded ‘Sir Cecil Wray and Lady’ amongst the arrivals in Scarborough in their 19th July edition.

Summer Castle, Fillingham, Lincolnshire, 1804.
Summer Castle, Fillingham, coloured plate from A Selection of Views from the County of Lincolnshire, 1804.

Her brother John Summers (variously recorded as Sumers and Sommers) lived at Fairsted in Essex in the mid-1760s. There, together with his wife, Jane, he baptised three children, Esther and Eades in 1764 and a second daughter, Charlotte a year later. Eades and Charlotte later lived with their aunt at Summer Castle. Another of her nieces, who also lived at the castle, was Esther Taylor who, in 1785, married Captain Charles Hare, RN; various others of this family lived at Billericay in Essex.

On the 11th January 1804, when Sir Cecil Wray wrote his will, he named his wife’s great-niece, Elizabeth Ann Jeffries who was residing at his castle. Elizabeth Ann was born c.1786 in Essex; during 1804 she made not one but two marriages, both – luckily – to the same man, William Thomas Goodchild, a naval officer who had been born on Christmas Day 1777 at Christiansted, St Croix in the Virgin Islands. Goodchild was the grandson of Isabella Wray, the sister of Sir John Wray, 12th Baronet.

South east view of Fillingham Castle in Lincolnshire, from The Tatler, 30 October 1901.
The Tatler, 30 October 1901

Sir Cecil Wray died in 1805 and was buried at Fillingham; his wife, Dame Esther Wray lived at Summer Castle until her death in 1825, aged 89 years. What remains of Summer Castle is now a private residence: the remains of a gatehouse and lodge can be seen on the side of the A15.

Remains of the gate and entrance lodge to Summer Castle, Fillingham, Lincolnshire.
The remains of the gate and entrance lodge, via Google Maps.


Sources not mentioned above:

Will of Sir Cecil Wray of Fillingham, Lincolnshire, National Archives PROB 11/1421/217

Will of Dame Esther Wray, Dowager of Summer Castle, Lincolnshire, National Archives PROB 11/1697/79

Relevant parish registers

Lincolnshire Echo, 22nd October 1945

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