My Earliest Ancestors (so far!)
Sleigh’s History of Leek records that the Mountforts of New Grange were well established freeholders in the Moorlands of Staffordshire as early as 1240. They were yeoman farmers of sufficient prosperity to have left documentary evidence enabling the family tree to be traced with some certainty back to Richard Mounkford who was a member of a Jury sworn in at Leek, Staffordshire in 1399.
In 1516 a Mountford accompanied William Egerton of Wall Grange the King's Comissioner sent to investigate a murder committed during rioting in Leek. The Abbot of Dieulacres objected to this outside interference and intervened with two hundred of his servants and tenants to prevent the commission from doing their work. After a protracted chase around Leek (during which an arrow was fired at Egerton) the Commissioner and his companions (including Mountford) took refuge in St. Edward's church where they were besieged for three days. As a result, the Abbot was imprisoned in London for several years. On his return he made an attempt to reform behaviour at the Abbey but he was deposed for his efforts.
Thomas Whitney, one of the Monks who had been present in Leek during the incident in 1516, became the last Abbot of Dieulacres in 1523. Shortly afterwards he leased Easinge, one of the Abbey's granges, to Richard Mounford (Maybe the grandson of Richard fl. 1399 and probably the Mountford who accompanied Egerton in 1516). When Richard died in about 1526 Whitney granted a transfer of the lease to Mounford's thirteen-year old grandson (also Richard). On the remarriage of Mounford's widow Agnes to William Armett, the new step-father took over the farm and appropriated all its revenues. Rather than defending his tenant's rights, the Abbot stood by and did nothing.
After his twenty-first birthday in 1535, Richard decided to stand up for his rights and took possession of Easing Farm. The Abbot directed Armett to evict Mounford – which he and his men did with great violence. “They emptied the premises of all Richard's belongings, ill-treated his cattle, and assaulted the young man himself in a most cruel and malicious way. Not content with this, they then pulled down one of the two houses which comprised Easing Farm, destroying such goods as still remained inside, thus leaving Richard homeless. Abbot Whitney then indicted Mounford before the Justices of the Quarter Session on a charge of forcible entry.” Fortunately for Mounfort his friends and kinsmen were so outraged that they brought the matter to the Court of the Star Chamber. The outcome of the case is not recorded but Mounford appears to have regained Easinge and it remained in the Mountfort family for several centuries.
In 1564, shortly after the dissolution of Dieulacres, Thomas Mountford of Easinge, the son of the younger Richard, purchased New Grange. Easinge remained in the family, passing to Thomas’ younger son, Ralph. New Grange became the family home until the 19th century. The house was still standing until it was demolished for the extension of the Meerbrook Reservoir in the late 20th century. Its foundations can still be seen at the edge of the reservoir near the visitors' centre.
Several generations after the purchase of New Grange, Thomas and Mary Mountfort of New Grange had a son, Thomas, baptised 21 May, 1753. Mary was a Finney, a family who claimed descent from John, Baron Finis, a blood relative of William the Conqueror. This Thomas married Anne, daughter of John and Anne Hulme of Wetwood on 15th August, 1773. Thomas and Anne had ten children of whom the third was William, baptised 14 Aug 1785 at Meerbrook.
At the age of twelve, William was apprenticed to Jonathan Broadhurst, a Baker of Scholar Green, a few miles away just over the border in Cheshire. Having served his apprenticeship he moved to Hanley. On 30th November 1809 he married Ann Brookes the daughter of ‘Mr Brookes of the Weeping Cross, near Stafford’. at Tixall. The couple remained in the Potteries for the next eleven years until the financial depression caused by the end of the Napoleonic Wars encouraged them to emigrate to South Africa.
The Mountfords settled at Nurney Farm, Manley’s Flat, between Grahamstown and Bathurst. Life in South Africa was hard. The settlers had little outside support and had to be very self-reliant. There were frequent skirmishes with the local native population. William and two of his sons are listed amongst settlers who received compensation for losses sustained during 'the war with the Kaffir Tribes, between the months of April and December 1846.'
Ann died in 1863 and was followed by William in 1869. Mountforts were still living at Nurney Farm in the late 20th century.
The discovery of my Staffordshire ancestors (see An Unlikely Coincidence) led to the Mountforts. This family had already been extensively researched by Gloria McLeod. I was lucky to find that Gloria had deposited a copy of her book The Mountforts of the Moorlands at the William Salt Library in Stafford. Most of the information on this page is taken from Gloria's book expanded by material from Michael Fisher's online Dieulacres Abbey, Leek, Staffordshire.