The Delavals

The Delavals, like most northern barons clashed with King John and they played a part in forcing him to sign Magna Charta in 1215. The family nearly died out in the 15th Century but a James Horsley, whose mother was a Delaval, changed his name to Delaval so the line continued. The family played a prominent part in the life of the county – several served as High Sheriff of the county, others became Members of Parliament

The Delaval Family originally came from La Val in France. They were kinsman of Duke William of Normandy and came over with his army in 1066. Their descendents settled in Northumberland around 1095. The King granted lands to them in Seaton, Callerton and Dissington. At Seaton they built a small fortified Dwelling near the existing Saxon church, they rebuilt the church and dedicated it in 1102, this church named ‘The Church of Our Lady’ became their private chapel. It is still in use today.
Some served as Border Commissioner. Their estates slowly expanded as they acquired land at Biddleton, West Heddon, Horsley and Holywell.

The old tower at Seaton was extended as their fortunes grew. Mention is made of a Tudor Manor House, then a Jacobean Mansion. Records also mention that a Sir Ralph Delaval (1576 – 1625) had 20 children and converted the estate from arable farming to pasture. Later the estate was turned over to tenant families.

The Delavals were fortunate to have coal under their estates and they encouraged the exploitation of this resource. In 1660 the Delavals built a pier at Seaton Harbour to protect the entrance so that more coal and salt could be exported.

By the end of the 17th Century, the Delaval Estates were in crisis due to ill-conceived will making, lawsuits and contesting of rights to land. Sir John Delaval was crippled by a legacy due to his niece and secured on the estate; he could not pay his debts. At this critical point, Sir John’s cousin, Admiral George Delaval purchased the estates. George had made his money in the navy and as an envoy for Queen Anne. He set about transforming the estates.

Admiral George approached Sir John Vanburgh with a view to modernizing the old mansion at Seaton. Vanburgh advised demolition and rebuild. So the site was cleared of everything except the ‘Church of our Lady’, and Vanburgh started to build what some considered being his masterpiece – Seaton Delaval Hall. Work started in 1718 and continued for about 10 years. Unfortunately Admiral Delaval fell from his horse and died in 1723 before the hall was completed. He left his estate to his nephew, Captain Francis Blake Delaval.

Francis Blake Delaval inherited Ford Castle and estates on the death of his mother (hence the name Blake). He married Rhoda Apreece of Doddington in Lincolnshire who inherited a large estate, so Francis owned three estates. Francis was a naval Captain who had little money of his own, so although he inherited large estates his income was relatively low. Francis moved in to Delaval hall around 1726 and over the next 20 years had 8 sons and 4 daughters. As his children grew older the Delaval reputation for gay and exciting living began. Francis died in 1752 after falling down the steps of the hall.

Rhoda Delaval (1725 – 1757)

Eldest child of Captain Delaval. Like all her family she was celebrated for her beauty and accomplishments, she was an artist of repute. She married Sir Edward Astley of Melton Constable. Her only son eventually inherited the Delaval estates on the death of the last Delaval in 1814.

Francis Blake Delaval (1727 – 1771)

Eldest son of Captain Delaval inherited the estate on the death of his father in 1752. The most notorious of the family, a practical joker with a flair for theatrical entertainment, he was not really interested in running the estates, he left that to his brothers. His principle interest was the pursuit of pleasure but he was elected a Member of Parliament on three occasions, usually by dubious means. He also became a soldier for a while and was decorated for bravery in 1760. He spent his life in debt, and married an elderly widow simply to get her money. He had several mistresses and at least two illegitimate children. Francis Blake Delaval died alone in London in 1771, leaving large debts, which were never paid off. He was buried in the Chapel of Our Lady after an extravagant funeral.

John Hussey Delaval (1728 – 1808)

Took over management of the estates on the death of his father. A good organizer and manager, he completely reorganized the estates. At Ford he brought farming practice, which had changed little in centuries, right up to date. Farm rents went up 10 times in about 30 years. With his brother Thomas, he modernized Seaton Sluice harbour and introduced glass making, improved productivity in the coal pits and introduced pumping engines etc. He made the estates profitable.

John Hussey Delaval married twice. By his first wife he had several children but unfortunately his son predeceased him. He was made a baron in 1776 and died in 1808. He left the Ford estates to his wife and granddaughter and the Delaval and Doddington estates to his surviving brother Edward.

Edward Hussey Delaval

Edward’s early life was devoted to study and scientific experiments. He was a fellow of Pembroke Hall, Cambridge and spent most of his life in London and rarely visited Seaton Delaval. His friends and associates were scholars and he wrote papers on artificial gemstones, lightening conductors etc. Edward spent his last years at Doddington and never visited Seaton Delaval after his brother’s death.

After John Delaval’s death in 1880, the Delaval Family never lived in Seaton Delaval hall again. A caretaker was left in charge. When Edward Delaval died in 1814 the Delaval line died out. The estate was inherited by the Astley Family of Melton Constable (Rhoda had married Sir Edward Astley). The Astleys had estates in Norfolk so rarely visited Seaton Delaval. The Hall caught fire in 1822 and the central block was seriously damaged. It was not repaired until 1860. Delaval hall was not occupied again until the 1980’s when the present Lord Hastings (The Astley Family revived the Hasting title in the 1840’s) moved in, and he now lives in the west wing.

I wish to thank Martin Green, of Seaton Sluice for the above information.

Further Reading, ‘THE DELAVALS: A FAMILY HISTORY’, by Martin Green. Published by Powdene Publicity Ltd, Unit 17, St Peter’s Wharf, Newcastle upon Tyne NE6 1TZ (tel: 0191-265 0040). £12.95. Softback