The Greatheed family
The Greatheeds were by no means the first family to occupy Guy’s Cliffe but it was with the arrival of Samuel Greatheed that the house and the estate really seem to have begun to take shape.
Samuel Greatheed bought Guy’s Cliffe in about 1750 having previously rented the house. He was a Whig MP for Coventry and came from a wealthy landowning family. He married Lady Mary Bertie, daughter of the Duke of Ancaster & Kesteven, and they had two children: Peregrine, who died of consumption at the age of 17, and Bertie, who would go on to inherit the estate. Samuel died in 1765 when Bertie was just six years old. Lady Mary died in 1774 when Bertie was 15.
Following his father’s early death, Bertie was placed under the guardianship of members of his mother’s family. He finished his education in Germany and it may have been there that he developed his taste for foreign travel. In 1780, he married his first cousin Ann Greatheed (often known as Nancy), and their son, also called Bertie, was born the following year.
Bertie senior was interested in the arts and wrote poetry and a play. He went on a four-year grand tour of Europe with his wife and young son from 1782 to 1786 and made several other visits to the continent including in 1803 where the family, along with many other British visitors, became prisoners of war in Paris. During this time they became acquainted with Napoleon Bonaparte along with many other members of British and French society. When they were eventually allowed to leave Paris, it was on the condition that they did not return to England so they went via Dresden to Italy. It was in Italy that young Bertie died of influenza at the age of 22.
Bertie and Ann were devastated at the death of their only son and they seem to have very largely retired to Guy’s Cliffe in 1805. Bertie became a great local benefactor using his fortune to support many projects and good works in the area. It was also from this time that Bertie put his greatest efforts into the development of the house and its gardens.
Bertie and Ann both died in 1826 just a few months apart and before all his endeavours in the walled garden had reached their fruition.
Young Bertie was a gifted artist; his paintings of Napoleon Bonaparte impressed the Emperor’s family and probably led to the family being given favourable treatment during their detention in Paris. Shortly after young Bertie’s death, the family learned that he had a daughter as a result of a liaison “with a woman of low birth” in Dresden. It was said that they had married but there is no evidence to support this. Bertie snr and Ann arranged for the girl to be brought to England, named her Ann Caroline and raised her at Guy’s Cliffe.
Ann, who had begun life with her mother in Dresden, clearly thrived in her new surroundings and as she grew older her fortune began to attract suitors. She married Charles Percy, a nephew of the Duke of Northumberland and must have moved in the highest society. However, according to some accounts, her “low birth” made her the subject of unkind comments.
She seems to have inherited her grandfather’s love of Guy’s Cliffe and was very successful at local horticultural and flower shows with her gardener Manuel Elliot. She also inherited Bertie’s philanthropic nature and was associated with many good works in this area. At the time of her death in 1882 it was said that she, “Enjoyed a wide reputation for gentleness and benevolence”.
Hers must have been a remarkable life beginning in the humblest of circumstances in Germany and ending with her becoming a titled Lady and a member of one of the oldest and greatest families in the country.
The Percy family
The Percys came to Guy’s Cliffe when the Hon. Charles Percy, a cousin of the Duke of Northumberland, who had married Ann Caroline Greatheed in 1822, inherited the house and estate on the death of Bertie Greatheed in 1826. History does not look entirely kindly on Charles who was seen by some as marrying Ann Caroline for her money and was said to have led, “A largely aimless life”. He had taken up government appointments abroad before becoming a member of parliament and serving in Ireland.
In 1865, when his brother became the 5th Duke of Northumberland, he became Lord Charles Percy. He died in 1870 while staying at Alnwick Castle and is buried in the family vault in Old Milverton parish church.
Lord Charles bequeathed Guy’s Cliffe to Lord Algernon Percy, who was the second son of the 6th Duke of Northumberland. Lord Algernon married Lady Victoria Edgcumbe in 1880. He was a member of parliament until 1887 when he left Westminster and made Guy’s Cliffe his permanent home. Lord Algernon followed the Greatheed tradition of service to the community and among his many local activities he was for several years Chairman of the County Council. His only son, also Algernon, was killed at the Battle of Jutland in 1916 and his daughter Katherine inherited the estate when Lord Algernon died in 1933.
The Heber Percy family
Katherine Percy married Captain Josceline Heber Percy in 1904. They inherited the estate in 1933 but we believe that Katherine and her family continued to live in East Sussex and Guy’s Cliffe ceased to be a permanent family residence. The Heber Percys were the last family to own Guy’s Cliffe before the house was sold and the estate broken up in the late 1940s.