Whatever happened to the Earl of Mixbury?

November 2021

The Earl of Mixbury is a title that could have been, but never was. The Victorian houses in Mixbury should have been built much earlier than they were and only came about because of an unusual twist of fate.

Roundell Palmer was born in 1812, the son of Reverend W J Palmer, rector of Mixbury between 1802 and 1851. He grew up and went to school in Mixbury. In his 'Memorials: Part 1 - Family and Personal 1766-1865' (published in 1896-1898) he speaks very warmly about his family and the parish.

He went to Trinity, Oxford, where he won the Chancellor's Latin verse and essay prize. After Oxford he entered conveyancing chambers. He was called to the Bar (became a barrister) at Lincoln'd Inn in 1837 and began to practise at the Chancery Bar. At the age of 37 he took silk, the highest level of barrister. By that time , he had already been an MP for Plymouth for two years.

In 1861 he was appointed Solicitor-General, becoming Attorney-General in 1863. In 1872 he became Gladstone's Lord Chancellor, and he was created a Baron. Disraeli, on becoming Prime Minister in 1874, removed him but, on taking power again in 1880, Gladstone appointed him to the same position. In 1882 Roundell Palmer was created Earl of Selbourne. Roundell was an important and influential figure in government and the law.

However, he never forgot his childhood home. In his Memorials he was to write: 'My affection for Mixbury had often, while my father was alive, made me entertain in imagination the idea of purchasing (the castle site) and building a house on Castle Hill'. When he found out that Stanlake Ricketts Batson, the then Lord of the Manor - 'but who had no house there and seldom came near the place' was willing to sell his share of Mixbury, he made an offer for the castle site. 'I offered Mr Batson a price which was more than the fair market value, but this he would not take.' Perhaps Mr Batson was unable to overlook Roundell's father's criticism of him as an absentee landlord (he had another manor in Cambridgeshire) who neglected the village's housing stock and its inhabitants, and who had lobbied Bishop Wilberforce of Oxford to intervene on behalf of the tenants: SR Batson ignored Bishop Wilberforce as well.

Unable to come to Mixbury on his terms, Roundell moved to Selbourne in Hampshire where he set up his home. When he was made an earl in 1882, he took the title Earl of Selbourne. If he had bought the Beaumont Castle site and built his home there, he would presumably become the 'Earl of Mixbury'!

There are two postscripts to this tale. Firstly, Roundell's father and mother died in 1853 and 1867 respectively and were buried in Mixbury's churchyard next to the west wall of the rectory. But both of their gravestones, and others of his family buried there, have an earl's coronet, in relief, on them. This could only have been done after 1882: it is a sign of his enduring love for his family.

Secondly, SR Batson - the absentee landlord- died in 1871 and his son, Stanlake Henry Batson, inherited his father's estate in Mixbury, but, as fate would have it, he was a minor. He was only 12 years old and could not legally run his Mixbury inheritance. His father had, in his Will, put that responsibility in the hands of his mother, Gertrude, with guardians appointed to look after the boy's interests.

In 1872 a court case was instituted in the Stanlake Henry Batson's name by the guardians, against his mother - the case is recorded as 'Batson v Batson'. It was presented to the Court of Chancery which, among other things, had jurisdiction over the guardianship of infants. More will be known when the Court papers held in the National Archives at Kew can be inspected, but it is likely that the guardians felt SHB's mother was not looking after Mixbury in the boy's interests.

Whatever, in 1874 the Court determined that the old houses in Mixbury in the Batson portfolio be demolished and replaced with new buildings - the ones that can be seen today at the south end of the village. When he became of age it seems that young SH Batson inherited the new village! So Roundell's father's desire to address the condition of the housing stock was at last fulfilled, 20 years after his father's death. The co-incidence, of course, is that the Courts between 1872 and 1874 were overseen by the Lord Chancellor - Roundell Palmer.