William Maurice Wright

William Maurice Wright was the squire of Wold Newton from 1879 to 1956.

Upon the deposit of the Wright papers at the Lincoln Archive the archivist wrote the following report, in effect a rather entertaining biography.


The deposit by Mr. C. J. Ollard of the library and family papers

of the late William Maurice Wright of Wold Newton was very briefly

mentioned in the last Archivists’ Report (p. 43.) During the last year

work has proceeded on the collection: the library has been installed in

a special room in the administrative block of the archives building, put

in order, catalogued and indexed. For this work, as for help in many

fields, we are indebted to Mr. David Smith who undertook the cataloguing

and indexing of the books as light relief from his thesis on

Bishop Hugh of Welles.

The Wright library is particularly strong in ecclesiastical history,

art and architecture, liturgiology, ecclesiastical biography and in English

topography and local history. There are also a fair number of books

on European topography, especially on France, whose cathedrals and

churches, together with those of his own country, were the consuming

love of Mr. Wright’s life. An interest in field sports is also displayed

in a number of works, including a run, not quite complete, of the

Sporting Magazine from 1805 to 1823.

Work on the documents is not so far advanced as on the library,

largely because of the complete disorder in which they were found,

scattered through almost every room in Wold Newton Manor. They

consist mainly of the personal papers of William Maurice Wright and

other members of the family. Although a summary list of the collection

will have to wait till the next report when the remainder of the

deposit, which includes correspondence and weather records, has been

dealt with, enough work has been done to give a clear idea of the

contents of some of the main sections. It is on a preliminary examination

of these that what follows is mainly based.

The Wrights had been established at Wold Newton for many years

as tenants of the Brocklesby estate when William Wright bought Newton

from the Earl of Yarborough in 1870. He died in 1879, as the result

of a riding accident, leaving his widow to bring up four girls and three

boys. The eldest son was William Maurice, born in 1873. We can

follow his career in detail in the diaries which he kept from 1894 until

his death in 1956. Together with a parallel series, kept

by his brother Parsons, from 1903 to 1966 they give fascinating

pictures of life at Wold Newton, described by two contrasting characters.

After preparatory schools, Malvern College and a coach at Basing,

William Maurice went up to St. John’s College, Oxford, in October

1892. His first year or so at college, although he did not keep full

diaries, is covered by the cryptic comments written in the minute space

left for memoranda in calendars for 1891-4; remarks such as “Heard

Father Ignatius ” (Feb. 5th 1893) and, “ Shotover hill, no joke”

(Feb. 28th 1893).

His first extended diary (octave size, three days to a page) was

commenced in 1894 and he used the same form for the rest of his life,

normally filling in all the available space and rarely, if ever, missing

a day. At the beginning of the first diary, “ in case this book

may be read years after “, he gives a summary of his family background

and describes a normal day at Oxford: “ Lectures from I0--1.

Very rarely more than one lecture a day, usually I0-11 a.m.” At

some of the less interesting lectures he whiled away the time by drawing

caricatures, usually episcopal figures in copes and mitres, in his note

books or diaries. Apart from lectures, “ awful bosh ” in many cases,

his diaries bear witness to a recurrent struggle to rise in time for 8

o’clock Chapel, which he usually reached in an “ unwashed and halfdressed” state.

Outside the lectures, the essay writing, the reading, where his

wrestling with Stubbs’ Constitutional History were constantly interrupted

by the invasions of his friends, he seems to have sampled most

of the amusements which Oxford had to offer; the theatre, the river,

long walks in the surrounding countryside, a constant round of tea

parties and ‘I wines “. He attended debates in the Union, where

“ Belloc of Balliol speaks awfully good ” in December 1894,

also using the Union library to pursue his particular interest in genealogy

and family history when he should have been attending a lecture

on Aristotle. There is no evidence that he ever spoke himself in one

of the Union debates, but he did take part in those in St. John’s Junior

Common Room, supporting “ lady undergrads" in November 1894;

his maiden speech in a previous month had been in favour of religious

education in Board Schools.

Among a number of college clubs of which he was a member were

the Archery Club and the King Charles Club. The latter, for all its

Royalist and High Tory ethos, seems to have been a club for mild

social wining and dining and even milder gambling, where Wright

regularly lost about 2/- each week. His refusal to attend the club on

January 30th 1895, “ the anniversary of his martyrdom and so hardly

the time for a club called after him . . . to assemble to feast ” aroused

the indignation of some of the other members and further unspecified

“rows” later in that term prompted his resignation.

In view of his many extra-curricular activities it is not surprising

that William Maurice Wright should note in his diary that his tutor,

W. H. Hutton, "apparently thinks I am a pleasant pupil but not a hard worker"

(8th Dec. 1894). Hutton, himself a Lincolnshire

man, was to remain a lifelong friend until his death, as Dean of

Winchester, in 1930. Another tutor, Leighton Pullan, also remained

in close touch with Wright until the end of his life. It was probably

his churchmanship, most of all, which endeared him to them, for his

consuming interest in ecclesiastical history, architecture and liturgy

was in complete contrast to his apparently lukewarm affection for the

broader fields covered in the School of Modern History.

St. John’s’ College in the 1890s seems to have been notorious in

more Protestant circles as a hotbed of High Churchmen. Such subjects

as the use of incense and vestments in church services were a constant

source of interest to Wright and his friends. He censed his own room,

his friends’ rooms, the college library and “a hostile bible meeting“.

When in February 1895 the President of the college accepted a cross

for the altar in the college chapel for which William Maurice Wright

had collected much of the money, he wrote, “Thus achieved another

point, 3 cheers!”. Apart from the College chapel, services

at several Oxford churches, meetings of the English Church Union and

frequent visits to Mowbray’s shop, as “ the young Ritualist enthusiast ”

(25th Jan. 1895), took up a great deal of time.

These Oxford influences are reflected in his purchases of vestments,

ornaments and decorations for the church at Wold Newton and

in his efforts to encourage the cause of High Churchmanship in the

parish (arousing the local Methodists at one point to cries of ‘No

Popery’). Most of the rest of the family shared his interest

in the affairs of the parish church: visits were constantly exchanged

between the Manor and the Rectory, and the Succession of new curates

was observed with interest, pleasure or dismay:

1st Apr. 1894. New curate arrives and causes tremendous consternation.

Looks as though he had lately resigned his position as

pubkeeper. Mother feels sick when she sees him.

For some time William Maurice Wright himself had very serious

thoughts of entering the Church as a career. However, a miserable

fortnight in December 1897 at Ely Theological College, where he went

to see how he liked the life, discouraged him completely. For a landowner

and, by now, a Justice of the Peace, used to complete independence,

to be “ treated in so absurdly juvenile a way “, to be aroused

at 6.15 a.m. by “ that miserable school bell “, to suffer the discipline,

the cold, the fatigue, and, above all, the meals was too much.

He settled down to life at Wold Newton, busying himself with parish

affairs, his work as a J.P., Diocesan committees, his antiquarian

interests, gardening and estate business, interspersed with trips the

length and breadth of Britain and, most years, a holiday abroad to

study church architecture. Sometimes there is a separate journal

covering these holiday trips in greater detail than his main diary.

The most amusing journal is one relating to a holiday in France

in 1905 as the passenger in a motor cycle combination driven by his

friend Herbert Mather. William Maurice Wright travelled

in the “trailer”: a photograph shows it to have been a kind of

armchair on wheels which was pulled along behind the cycle.

After several !soakings his real troubles began I0 kilometres short of

Chartres in pouring rain and gathering gloom, when a trailer tyre burst

and could not be repaired: he walked the rest of the way pulling the

trailer, while his companion went on to find a hotel. After repairs

they went on towards the Loire at a “terrific and really alarming

pace some of the way“. The final blow fell between Blois and Chambord:

the tyre burst beyond hope of repair and Wright pulled the

trailer 17 miles, deserted once more by his friend. For the rest of the tour

they travelled by train. Apart from transport problems they narrowIy

avoided incineration in Chartres Cathedral, when a flare-up of offertory

candles nearly set the building on fire. There was a great rush of

worshippers to get out but, “ I remained in my seat with a few English


Throughout his expeditions at home and abroad he’ was an assiduous

collector of postcards: the deposit includes more than fifty

volumes of views collected between 1890 and the early 1950s. Many of

the cards are ones sent by Wright to his family or by friends to him,

but the majority have not been used for correspondence. While mainly

consisting of views of ecclesiastical buildings, they also include family

snapshots, views of Wold Newton, pictures of horses and cars. (Many

more family pictures are to be found in a separate series of photograph

albums, one of them consisting of photographs of his Oxford friends,

while many more loose postcards and photographs have yet to be

fully sorted). Interesting little groups of cards are those showing

Edward VII at Biarritz pictures of various ships which

plied in the Bournemouth area and cards celebrating the

opening of the Simplon Tunnel in 1905, showing the first train and

the machines used for tunnelling. Albums belonging to his

brother Edward Wright show examples of traction engines and farm

machinery at work as well as a few election scenes, probably at Alton,

Hants., where he lived.

Two volumes containing postcards received by Parsons Wright

between 1903 and 1914 are very entertaining. Their main

contents are photographs of actresses, seaside postcards in dubious

taste and, above all, motoring cartoons, for motoring and amateur

entertaining were his two great loves. His services as singer and

comedian were in demand at innumerable parish and private house

concerts in the neighbourhood of Wold Newton. Much of the time not

spent in rehearsing for these was passed in, around and often underneath

his succession of motor bikes, motor trikes and motor cars,

or “jawing in the garage” with like-minded acquaintances. The

splendours and miseries of the heroic age of motoring emerge vividly

from his pre-war diaries, as may be seen from the following few

extracts from the 1903 diary, with which we conclude:-

Feb. 5th. Fool about trying to improve trike compression but fail.

Apr. 16th. Dr. Stedman arrives and ‘talks in the garage like a

maniac about the various qualities of motor bike’ not on the market

. . . His trike needless to say has broken down.

May 5th. Wire comes after lunch to say [new] car has arrived

in London [from Paris].

May 21st. Busy all morning, afternoon and evening trying to get

my beastly car to start. All my attempts prove futile.

June 20th. Car goes wrong coming home. We take 4 hours to

do the 4 miles. Push the blooming affair the last 2 miles.

Sept. 14th. Slight bother with Mr. Chapman’s horse from Waltham

. . . The horse became frightened and took the fence, leaving the

covered cart with the shafts in the air. The man . . . was in the

midst of paraffin, parcels of sugar, Lipton’s tea, plum cake etc.,

but quite intact."

Click here for more pictures of him.