Sir Edward Joseph Smythe, Bt., who was  born 3 Aug. 1787 and whose birth is recorded in Wootton Wawen Parish Register. He married Frances, daughter of Sir Edward Bellew of Barmeath, on 23 Oct. 1809. In 1831 he was High Sheriff of Shropshire, and he died 11 May 1856. He seems to have divided his time between Wootton  and Acton Burnell. On the banks of Wootton Pool, a large lake at the  rear of the Hall, there was formerly a loop-holed hut in which he used to  lie in wait for the wild ducks. Food was placed nearby to entice them,  and an old keeper told Mr. W. F. Tempest, whose father was sometime  tenant of the Hall, that he would wait for hours until he got a good  pot-shot into the middle of a flock!  

His son, Sir (Charles) Frederick Smythe, Bt., who was born 16 Mar. 1819, and married on 17 Oct. 1855 the Hon. Mary Stonor, next succeeded  to the estates. He, like his father,     was High Sheriff of Shropshire in 1867,  and during his ownership of Wootton the Hall was frequently let.  On 14 April 1880 Sir (Charles) Frederick Smythe sold the manor and  estate of Beaudesert to the father of the present owner, Mr. Samuel  Kington Cattell. At Sir Frederick’s death on 14 Nov. 1897 the Wootton  estate was divided and a portion of it passed to his brother, Sir (John)  Walter Smythe, Bt., while the Hall with the surrounding land was  left to his widow, who gave it to their daughter Mary Frances, wife of  Mr. Oscar Henry Blount, of Windsor. Mrs. Blount let the Hall as her father had done, and towards the close of last century Capt. H. L. Wickham was in residence. Later it was occupied by Mr. George J. Eveson until Mrs. Blount sold it in 1904 to Mr. George Henry Capewell  Hughes, of Birmingham, with that part of the estate which surrounds it.  Mr. Hughes died in 1906, and his widow sold the Hall with the Pool  and a portion of the estate, in 1912, to the present owner, Mr. Robert  Darley Guinness, who now resides there. Mr. Guinness was High Sheriff of Warwickshire in 1924.

To his son, Mr. Richard Smythe Guinness, the writer is indebted  for some of the information about the Hall contained in a following  chapter. The Smythes no longer hold any land in Wootton.        

Wootton Hall, a mansion of considerable size, is situated very  pleasantly among trees, well back from the main road and not far from  the Church, with a small park in front and an extensive lake at the rear  called Wootton Pool. Prior to 1906 there was an iron hurdle fence and  retaining wall between the park and the main road. The view of the  Hall from the road was then one of great charm, it being near enough for  passers-by to see the architectural features, and the cascade at the  junction of the two streams near the bridge added to the beauty of this  English scene. The late Mr. Hughes, however, erected in its place the present balustrade, including in it the wing walls of the county  bridge, and substituted a new lodge for the old Georgian one, all of  classical design. In 1912 trees were planted to form a screen - unhappily,  perhaps, a necessity in these days of constant motor traffic. The milestone on the bridge records the distance from London as 100 miles.  

The house as it stands is of Italian design and built of stone, mainly  in 1687, with a finely carved oak cornice attributed to Grinling Gibbons.  Its principal front, which faces south, has a projecting bay in the centre  surmounted by a large triangular pediment containing the arms in oak  of Francis, second Lord Carington impaled with those of  his second wife, Lady Anne Herbert: three lions rampant. Crest : a peacock’s  head ducally gorged. Supporters: Dexter, a man-at-arrns in complete  armour holding in his dexter hand a banner of St. George; Sinister, a lion rampant. The windows on the ground floor have pedimental heads,  alternatively triangular and circular. The entrance here is insignificant  and the main entrance is at the west side of the building. The construction of the house is somewhat unusual, for while on the south and east  it has three floors, on the west it has four. This is perhaps accounted for  by an earlier building having been incorporated into the western portion,  of which there are still traces to be found. The panelling, too, in this  part of the house appears to belong to the late Tudor period. At that  time the Smiths had just acquired the Duke of Buckingham’s Manor,  and Francis Smith and his mother were adding to their lands, so that it  is very likely they were the builders of this older part. Francis mentions  his house at Wootton in his will. The panelling of the other part of the  house is certainly later work, and evidently dates from the late Stuart  period, including the fine panel work and carving in the Dining Room and Morning Room. From the appearance of the masonry and the  presence of the initials of Francis, second Lord Carington, and his wife,  Anne, with a peacock’s head, the family crest, and the date 1687 on the  lead rain-water heads of the south front, there can be no doubt that the  house was built by them at that time, with the probable exception of  the small portion to which reference has been made. There is a tradition  that Sir Christopher Wren prepared the plans for the work, but no evidence is forthcoming to support it. He was, however, living in Warwickshire at the time (although he did not purchase Wroxall Abbey, situated some six miles from Wootton, until 1713), and it is known that he and Grinling Gibbons were associated together in similar Work at Arbury.  

The Dining Room, formerly called the White Room from the white  paint (this has only recently been removed by Mr. R. D. Guinness) which covered its panelling, was for some time prior to the building  of the Chapel in 1813 used as a chapel within the house for the family, and  for other Roman Catholics, who entered through a door from the grounds.  Previous to this, the building at the rear of the house (now the laundry)  was used for divine service. It has a cross on the brick-work of one of  the chimneys, and it is said that a carved and gilt oak beam, a relic of  this chapel, long remained within. Earlier still there is reason to believe  that the chapel was situated in the present kitchen. The front staircase  was inserted in 1904 by the late Mr. Brettell, builder, of Wootton, who  had a good name for church work in oak, but the oak back staircase with its many short flights appears to date from the rebuilding in 1687.  Upstairs there is what is called the Canopy Bedroom, formerly the Alcove  Room, occupied for a time by Mrs. Fitzherbert when she lived at the  Hall, and which was decorated by her. In this room over the bed recess  there is a canopy, on the pilasters of which are represented the Prince of  Wales’ feathers; and at the same end of the room are two powdering  closets in use at that time. Mrs. Fitzherbert was Maria Anne, daughter  of Walter Smythe of Brambridge, Hampshire, second son of John Smythe of Acton Burnell. Her husband having died, she was married secondly  to the Prince of Wales, afterwards George IV, on 21 Dec., 1785, and  is said to have been his only love, although he subsequently married  Caroline of Brunswick in 1795 during the life-time of his first wife.  

The chapel in the White Room was dismantled when the Roman Catholic Chapel was built in 1813 by Catherine, Lady Smythe (née  Holford), two years after her husband died, at a cost of £4,000. This  building, which is of red brick in the Italian style of architecture, is  80 feet long, 30 Wide, and 32 feet high to the crown of the arched ceiling.  It was opened in 1814 for divine service and dedicated to SS. Mary and  Benedict. According to Hannett the interior was of an ornate character.  The roof was divided into compartments for decoration and the east  window was filled with stained glass. The altar, of fine marble, was  sculptured at and brought from Rome, and the tabernacle was carved out  of a solid piece of Carrara marble and surrounded by coloured marble  pillars with gilt capitals. The pulpit was Grecian, the gift (in 1853) of  the Rev. P. J. Hewitt, a former priest. There was a small organ of fine  tone, constructed mainly by the Rev. Dom. Benedict Deday, O.S.B.,  who was chaplain there from 1806 till 1845, and who died on 7 Nov., 1845.  When Mr. Hughes bought the Hall in 1904, the long period of Roman  Catholic ownership came to an end and the Chapel was turned into a music room. The sacred ornaments were removed to the new Church on  the hill near the Railway Station, and the bodies of persons buried were  also translated there. Mr. Hughes contributed liberally towards the  building of this Church, which is dedicated to Our Blessed Lady and  St. Benedict.  

Mr. Wilfrid F. Tempest of Ackworth, Yorkshire, who was living at the  Hall during his father’s tenancy of it (which began in 1860 and lasted  five years until his death) and for two years longer with his mother (who stayed on until the lease expired in 1867), has kindly given the writer  some interesting details relating to those days. Mr. Tempest says that when they went there the old oak panelling in the house was painted  white all over, and even down to the frame of a picture (this carved frame, attributed to Grinling Gibbons, was sold in 1904) in the library,  which was carved in willow. On one side of this picture hung a pheasant  among flowers, with wings extended - on the other side a game cock.  There were (and still are) the Priest’s rooms - one below the other - communicating by a staircase built in the thickness of the wall, which  still exists except on the ground floor. When the door on the top of the  staircase was closed it matched the panelling, and one could not  tell that a door existed. Father Bishop is said to have hidden in the house  for several years in the days of persecution. Mr. Tempest also told the writer that there was a dairy in the enclosed courtyard, and among the  servants at the Hall was one named Betty Harris, who would never go  into the dairy at night as she said she could see the figure of a man sitting  in the corner! The sequel is remarkable, for a little later, in 1861, when  the dairy was pulled down, two skeletons - one of a tall man and the  other of a woman - were found under the floor at the exact spot where  she had seen the ghost! Father Hewitt has left on record at the Catholic  Church a signed statement about this discovery, dated 4 July, 1861, as  follows:  

‘About the end of June, 1861, when the workmen were pulling  down the old Dairy at the Hall, two skeletons (a man and woman)  were found in a hole 2 feet 6 inches long, 1 foot 6 inches deep, and  1 foot 6 inches wide, and about 16 or 18 inches below the floor near  the end next to the Chapel. By the size of the bones the man must  have been 6 1/2 feet high - the woman of ordinary size. Nearly all  the teeth of the man were perfectly sound. The police inspected  them, but nothing could be done as it was evident from the state  of the bones and small pieces of decayed wood round, thought to  have been portions of a box in which they had been buried, that  they had lain there a great number of years. I had the bones collected  and placed in a box, and buried them in my cemetery near the door leading into Mrs. John Whittington’s field. I blessed the grave,  but did not read the burial service over the remains. There are a  few more details in the printed paper below, cut from the Stratford-on-Avon Herald.’  

The cutting from the paper adds that the skeletons were in a doubled-up  position with the heads reclining downwards and the knees upwards.  The circumference of the head of the man round the forehead measured  21 1/4 inches, and of the woman, who is stated to have had a high, commanding forehead, 19 3/4 inches. It concludes by stating that it was  conjectured either that they were secretly buried here in an old cemetery,  after having been brought from abroad, when penalties were inflicted on the Catholic community, or that they were interred there after being  dug up in early times. Mr. Tempest, who was living there at the time,  says there was a tradition that one of the old family had married a dairymaid and disappeared, and it was presumed that they had been  murdered and buried there.  

At about the same time, Mr. William Keyte, who was bailiff of the  estate, found in an attic a small box containing what was evidently a human heart, and it is thought this may have been the heart of the first Lord Carington, who was murdered at Pontoise, which was always  said to have been preserved at Wootton. Mr. Tempest further informed the writer that many people said there was a ghost in the Hall, but that it  never troubled him. A little fox-terrier, however, which slept in his  room, used at times to jump on his bed trembling with fear! Captain  Haydock, who followed the Tempests as tenant of the Hall, told Mr.  Tempest that he was much troubled with spirit-knocking at his door,  and a friend who stayed with him had the same experience. The friend  tried to open the door to see what it was, but the door was pulled to  violently! He accused his host of practical joking, but he stoutly denied it.  Fishing in the pool was then very good, and one fish was caught  weighing 22 lbs. on a trimmer, and an eel weighing 4 lbs. Near the house  flows ‘the Serpentine,’ a broad stream fed partly from the pool and  partly from a very strong spring, and the small wood which surrounds  it is called ‘The Wilderness.’ The old mill (early last century paper-making was carried on in this large building as well  as corn milling, but the industry was discontinued about 1819 and the drying sheds  taken down. The corn mill continued in use until about 1912. Adjoining the Mill  is the Roman Catholic School, and east of it is the Roman Catholic Cemetery) was, and the pool still is, fed  by the small river Alne, into which the brook from Preston Bagot empties  alongside the pool. At the spot where the river opens out to the mill  pond there are flood-gates, and here was formerly an eel-trap. The eels  were by the force of the water washed into a well, which acted as a trap,  and as many as a hundredweight were caught at a time! There are  stews close to the pool and one nearer to the Hall, for fattening fish, which  all connected with one another.  

Not the least interesting feature at Wootton Hall is the subterranean  passage, access to which is gained from the cellars. It is about 300 feet  long and large enough for easy walking to a point near where the old  main road passed over it and where a shrubbery is said to have formerly  existed. What appears to be a branch-tunnel goes off in the direction  of the church, but this was partially filled in during alterations to the drive in 1904. The passage is built of red brick, having an arched roof with openings at various points covered with stone slabs, above which is  the earth. It does not appear to have been for drainage or it would not  have been made so large and end in such a small culvert as it does. ,  It is puzzling to know what its purpose can have been, though some think  it was a secret way from the Hall in the days of Catholic persecution;  but this is very doubtful.  

At the rear of the Hall are the remains of what appears to be an  earlier residence, now turned into outbuildings, and it seems that this  was originally the manor house of the Staffords. It was not their principal  residence and was probably occupied by their steward, except when they  visited it at certain seasons of the year. Near by is a dovecot, the lower  portion being ancient and built of stone, the upper part half-timbered  but of modern construction. These dovecots in the olden days served  a useful purpose. Cattle then had to be killed off in the autumn as foodstuffs were scarce, and the meat was salted down to be eaten during the  winter; so pigeons provided a welcome change of diet.  

In conclusion, it is a pleasure to observe with what tender care this  old English home is treated by the present owner and his family.