WILLIAM ROLLESTON: THE ALMSHOUSES BENEFACTOR
William Rolleston, who died in 1672, was the last of the ancient Rolleston family to be involved with the manor and village of Rolleston. He was the elder son of Colonel William Rolleston and Ellinor Dickenson, his wife of Bradley in Staffordshire. The young William, like his brother Simon, was probably born at Bradley but grew up at Rolleston where William developed a lifelong love for the town and its people that was clearly demonstrated in the terms and bequests of his will.
Sacred to the memory of William Rolleston
Of Acton in the County of Middlesex Esqr. Who held various commands in the armies Of King Charles the First and Second.
And served for his Country in England, Scotland, France and Ireland
Being a downright Englishman But he acquired more permanent honour
and rendered greater service to posterity By having founded and endowed The Almshouses At This Place
He died A.D.1672
William Rolleston’s “inscription” on the wall of St Mary’s Church as dictated in his will
Around 1620, Gilbert Rolleston, lord of the manor and William’s uncle, mortgaged the family demesne manor and lands to Sir Edward Mosley, who was Attorney general of the Duchy of Lancaster and who separately purchased the copyhold manor from the Duchy. Gilbert remarried and moved to his wife’s property at Brinkley in Cambridgeshire, leaving Rolleston demesne manor to the stewardship of his nephew William.
William married Mary Whatton, daughter of William Whatton of Newtown Linford, but there were no children produced by the marriage.
William made his career with the army and served his King loyally in various theatres in England, Scotland, France and Ireland, as stated in the will and on his memorial plaque in the church. During the civil war, 1642-1649, William served as a staunch Royalist and later, with the return of Charles II from Flanders, he was a Major in the newly formed King’s Regiment of Guards.
It was during the civil war and before 1645, to William’s great regret and distress, that his high costs and expenses as an officer forced the relinquishment and final sale of Rolleston demesne manor to Sir Edward Mosley.
After the war, William purchased several properties with the financial assistance of a 2nd cousin, John Rolleston, secretary to the Marquis of Wellbeck, Duke of Newcastle. The first purchase was a lifetime lease at Kettleborough in Norfolk, clearly intended for the use and support of his elderley father. Later for his own use, he bought several parcels of land at Acton and Willesden in Middlesex. He subsequently arranged for the purchase of the fee farm rents of Rolleston, that he intended to use for charitable purposes towards the town and inhabitants.
In his will dated 23 July 1672, William included detailed instructions for the sale of his lands and distribution of the monies and management of his charities. He died later in the same year. The lands passed legally into the hands of his executors, Lancelot Rolleston of Watnall in Notts and Alured Rolleston, young son of John the financier, both of whom failed to sell the lands and enact the charities and both were dead by 1685. Via court actions, the lands eventually came into ownership of the two nieces of William, namely Mary and Elizabeth, the daughters and co-heirs of Simon, William’s brother. They retained the lands to their own use and profit and by 1708 the charities had still not been enacted, when the poor people of Rolleston brought their complaint before the court of the Solicitor General. The case must have been decided in favour of the poor people of Rolleston, because the charities were finally set up and trustees were appointed and the almshouses were built a few years later. A plaque on the wall of the almshouses states that they were built in the year 1712.
This represented the more important resolution of the will disputes, 40 years after William’s death.
OTHER VILLAGE BENEFACTORS
In addition to the Rollestons, other benefactors have enhanced our village. The first we know of is Bishop Robert Sherbourne, a wealthy and powerful churchman and diplomat in early Tudor times, who founded our Grammar School. It continued to educate Rolleston boys until the Council School opened in 1909, when a dispute arose about its ownership. Sir Oswald Mosley, the 4th Baronet, claimed that it had belonged to his family for many years but that the documents had been lost in a fire; the Rector, Canon Tyrwhitt, claimed it for St. Mary’s Church. The Rector had already on several occasions quarrelled with the Church Wardens, whom he bullied, and the Lord of the Manor, to the point of instructing a solicitor. As Sir Oswald could not prove absolute ownership, he offered to exchange it for an extension to the churchyard, on terms very favourable to the Church. After some shady dealing, Canon Tyrwhitt bought it for £100, and it was put in a Diocesan Trust. The building is still in almost daily use.
Thomas Caldwall, who died in 1554, “gave a cow to ye Church and made a beginninge for others to follow”. His sons, William and Florens each gave £50 “towardes ye mayntenance of ye scoole master” and £40 “for a stock and to ye Church clock and bridge”. St Mary’s Vestry still receives £3 a year from the Trustees of the Almshouses for the clock and bridge. His youngest son, Lawrance gave another £5 towards the schoolmaster’s salary
For many years, especially during the 19th century, the Higgott family worked hard for the church and the village. Samuel Higgott built the iron bridge across the Alderbrook near the Almshouses and his sisters, Hannah and Elizabeth, paid for an extensive restoration of the Almshouses in 1892.
It is impossible to exaggerate the lasting contribution made by the Mosley family. In their endeavours to provide employment for brick makers, builders and tilers, they left Rolleston a village of warm red brick. Sir Tonman Mosley paid for the enlargement of the schoolmaster’s house, now called Tudor House. Sophia Anne Mosley left so much money to the church that some of the capital was used to build the north aisle of St. Mary’s and the rest was put in a trust which still provides a useful income for the church. Sir Oswald “John Bull” Mosley, 4th Baronet, gave the land on which the Methodist Chapel was built as well as contributing to the building fund and paying for the vestry which was added later. He also gave the land on which the Victorian Commemoration Hall was built and paid the entire building costs. His son, Sir Oswald 5th Baronet, gave £50 towards the building of the Lych Gate War Memorial as well as seasoned oak from his estate.
In 1922, the endowment of Bishop Sherbourne and those of Florens Caldwall and William Rolleston were amalgamated to form the Rolleston Educational Foundation which still supplies deserving young people with grants for travel, books and equipment.