ST. JOHN, Sir Walter, 3rd Bt. (1622-1708), of Battersea, Surr. and Lydiard Tregoze, Wilts.
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Family and Education
b. May 1622, 6th but 1st surv. s. of Sir John St. John, 1st Bt.† of Lydiard Tregoze by his 1st w. Anne, da. of Sir Thomas Leighton† of Feckenham, Worcs. m. c.1649, Joanna (d. 1704), da. of Oliver St. John† of Bletsoe, Beds. and Thorpe Hall, nr. Peterborough, Northants., l.c.j.c.p., sis. of Francis St. John*, 8s. (5 d.v.p.) 5da. (3 d.v.p.). suc. fa. 1648; neph. Sir John St. John, 2nd Bt. 13 Apr. 1656.1
Commr. scandalous ministers, Surr. 1654, security 1656, sewers, Bedford level 1662–3, recusants, Wilts. 1675.2
Sworn master, c.p. 1702–d.
St. John inherited from his father land in Lambeth together with Battersea and Wandsworth manors in Surrey, and the valuable profits of the ferry between Battersea and Chelsea. Although he added the family’s prodigious Wiltshire estates at his nephew’s death in 1656, Battersea continued to be his principal residence and the main beneficiary of his munificence – he built almshouses, was a regular benefactor to the poor, and helped improve the fabric of the church there. By marrying a distant cousin he united the two principal branches of an extensive and influential family which claimed lineage as far back as the 11th century; Sir Walter later celebrated the union by commissioning a partial genealogy of his family on a triptych in Lydiard Tregoze church. His own sobriety and piety were reinforced by the Puritan sympathies of his formidable wife, who, it was said in 1701, dressed in the ‘mode and garb worn above 30 years ago’, and also by his association with his father-in-law, Cromwell’s lord chief justice. Having sat in two of Cromwell’s Parliaments, his Presbyterian principles subsequently denied him the county seat in 1660 and led to his removal from the judicial bench ten years later. At the Revolution he became a fine representative of a particular strain of Whiggery, and it is no surprise to find him spoken of in 1690 as a ‘friend’ of the Harleys. However, he was not above resorting to prevarication, or even subterfuge, at election times. In 1690, having declined an offer to stand in Surrey, he put up once more for knight of the shire in his ancestral Wiltshire. Tory interests there found him diplomatically evasive. Lord Weymouth (Thomas Thynne†) was approached for support, St. John professing himself ‘not . . . willing to give the least offence to your lordship’, and when Lord Cornbury (Edward Hyde*) proposed an alliance St. John put him off but gave accompanying pledges of goodwill. Cornbury suspected a trick: there were rumours that, underhand, St. John had been persuaded by certain north Wiltshire gentry not to run as Cornbury’s colleague but to join forces with a fellow Whig and former brother-in-law Sir Richard Grobham Howe, 2nd Bt.* In the event he stood on his own, but Cornbury’s father Lord Clarendon (Henry Hyde†) still blamed him for the great expense to which the Hydes had been put. ‘No obligation or friendship’, he complained, ‘will bind some men.’ He was classed as a Whig in Lord Carmarthen’s (Sir Thomas Osborne†) list of March 1690 and as a possible supporter of the Country party in Robert Harley’s* list of April 1691. By the time Grascome came to draw up his list in 1693, St. John could be marked down on the Court side.3
Age and deteriorating health forced St. John’s retirement at the 1695 election, in favour of his son Henry I. Two years later a daughter-in-law was writing, ‘we are not yet without fears of good Sir Walter, who is often ill’. In 1700, in one of his last public benefactions, he founded a school at Battersea ‘for the education of 20 free scholars’, providing a house and garden to be endowed with 31 acres purchased in neighbouring Camberwell. His wife in her will desired that ‘if Sir Walter outlive me . . . he may not be removed to Lydiard, London or any other place from Battersea, where he has lived so long, lest it hasten his death’. Despite his apparent frailty, in 1702 he was made sworn master in the court of common pleas, with a salary of £600 p.a., an office he held until his death. He made his will on 8 May 1705, providing £200 to be invested in land and tenements for the use of his school. Described in December 1707 as ‘dying’, he eventually expired on 3 July 1708, at Battersea, where he was buried. He thus did not live to see the zenith of the career of his brilliant grandson, Henry St. John II*, upon whom he had fastened all his family’s hopes.4
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Author: D. W. Hayton
- 1. J. E. Taylor, Our Lady of Batersey, 78.
- 2. S. Wells, Drainage of the Bedford Level, i. 350;
- 3. Wilts. RO, D1/27/1/1, ff. 129–30; A1/110, Mich. 1660, f. 139; Herts. RO, D/EPF29, p. 90; H. T. Dickinson, Bolingbroke, 1–2; HMC Portland, viii. 28; BL, Verney mss mic. 636/44, John Verney* (Ld. Fermanagh) to Sir Ralph Verney, 1st Bt.†, 20 Feb. 1690; Bath mss at Longleat House, Thynne pprs. 9, f. 196; 24, ff. 158, 168; Clarendon Corresp. ed. Singer, ii. 308.
- 4. Locke Corresp. ed. de Beer, vi. 285; Taylor, 83–84; Marlborough–Godolphin Corresp. 909; Le Neve, Mon. Angl. 1700–15, p. 162; Dickinson, 2, 315.