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John Corbett of Bourne, Kent
The story of the way in which John Corbett gained control of the Manor of Bourne, Kent brings no credit to the name.
He was the son of Edward of Blakeland (1649-1719) and Hannah Jenkes, and the grandson of Roger Corbet (1600-61) and Catherine Barnsley (1621-91) of Bobbington, Staffordshire.
Several members of this branch of the Moreton Corbett family were engaged in the practice of law at Lincoln's Inn and lived in London, some being Citizens and members of one guild or another.
The 2000 acre estate of the Manor of Bourne, Bishopsbourne, south of Canterbury stands in parkland and it was built between 1704 and 1707 by Lady Elizabeth Aucher nee Hewytt. Her husband, Sir Anthony Aucher had died in 1692 leaving his widow a considerable gambling debt of £10,000 to clear and four young children to support, Anthony, Hewytt born in 1686, Elizabeth and Hester. By 1704 she had reduced the debt to £1,400 whilst improving the estate at the same time.
She became the trustee of the estate, following the death of her husband (she being his second wife), on behalf of her 10 year old son, Sir Anthony who died two years later. Dame Elizabeth's second son, 8 year old Sir Hewytt, who was a delicate child, inherited the estate. He was, it will be shown, not only delicate but weak and foolish. To help her in its management Dame Elizabeth married her estate clerk Thomas Hunt in 1694 but he, unfortunately died 4 years later.
In the early 1700's the Elizabethan manor house needed rebuilding and with her son's approval work was begun and re-building commenced in 1704. It was anticipated that Hewytt would use the house when he became 21 in 1707.
Because of Hewytt's delicate health a tutor was engaged for him and when he was 13 it was decided that he should attend Trinity College, Cambridge.
John Corbett (aged 27 at the time) became a Doctor at Law at the same college in 1707, the year of Hewytt's majority, and he befriended the young man. He raised doubts in young Hewytt's mind as to Dame Elizabeth's management of the estate and the son accused her of mismanagement. He granted John Corbett the right to act on his behalf and he, in turn, brought pressure on Dame Elizabeth to hand over the account books, suggesting that the re-building of the house has been unnecessary. Furthermore Corbett said that Dame Elizabeth owed her son not less than £10,000 and that the annuity of £660 per annum which she received from the estate by her husband's bequest was no longer valid and it was reduced to £160 per annum.
She tried to have an unbiased party examine the accounts but Corbett refused saying that he had the sole right to decide the issue. Under extreme pressure she was persuaded to sign deeds drawn up by Corbett agreeing to the lower income from the estate. Within a short time, due to the money (payable at £40 quarterly) being paid irregularly she was soon reduced to destitution.
To add to her indignities Corbett in 1711 married her older daughter, Elizabeth, without Dame Elizabeth's permission. In the same year Dame Elizabeth was forced to sell her personal possessions to sustain her household and in 1712, having received no money from the estate for a year, went to Bourne House for accommodation and subsistence. There she was treated badly by her son and daughter and son-in-law and was not even allowed to eat at table having to exist on the left overs. The sympathetic servants who had known her in earlier and happier days fed her secretly and the local parson, a family friend, also supplied her with several meals each week.
In 1713 she left Bourne for Canterbury and presented a petition to Chancery for the restoration of her husband's bequest and for compensation for her ill treatment by her son, daughter and Corbett's. Her other daughter, Hester, had by then married the Reverend Ralph Bloomer, D.D., Prebendary of Canterbury and he supported her claims.
The case was heard over three days in 1715 at the end of which the Lord Chancellor remarked on Corbett's ill conduct to Dame Elizabeth, saying that he had been partial, was a friend of Sir Hewytt's and had no regard for Dame Elizabeth's interests. He had treated her harshly and had threatened and terrified her. Had acted unfairly towards her and had not drawn up proper accounts. He said the Manor house had been built in agreement with and at the behest of Sir Hewytt and that she had no interest in it except on behalf of her son and that she had signed the deed agreeing to the reduction of her husband's bequest under duress and she had been distressed by the hardships she had endured. In addition she had not received even that agreed amount. He also decreed that the accounts were to be examined by the Master of the Court and that recompense be made to Dame Elizabeth.
This was not done and in 1717 the case again came before the Lord Chancellor who said that Sir Hewytt and Corbett had been guilty of foul practices towards Dame Elizabeth and they had been the cause of delays and had not provided the accounts. A Receiver was appointed by the court to receive all rents and profits from the estate which were to be paid to her.
In 1716 the Court awarded her £24,695. This so infuriated Corbett and Sir Hewytt that they appealed to the House of Lords which appeal was dismissed in 1718.
Dame Elizabeth, not surprisingly, never returned to Bourne, preferring to live in Canterbury and when she died permission to bury her at Bourne was refused.
Sir Hewytt died unmarried in 1726 aged 40. He bequeathed his estate to his sister Elizabeth which then, in accordance with the law, became the property of John Corbett. He died in 1736 aged 55 and was buried in Shropshire.
His widow, Elizabeth, lived at Bourne until 1764 when she died aged 82. She and her husband had eight daughters of whom 5 survived to marry well. The estate devolved down through these descendants for 80 years. In 1844 the estate was purchased by Matthew (later Honourable) Bell.
Information Source: J C Noble http://website.lineone.net/~corbett_group/First/People/bourne.htm
Page last updated 22/11/2006