The Ruxtons of Ardee

taken from Co Louth Archaelogical and Historical Journal

Written by William Arther Fitzherbert Ruxton

My grandfather Admiral William Fitzherbert Roxton FRGS, born 1830, made a considerable effort to discover the origins of the Roxton family. He was never able to satisfy himself about his English roots but the author of “the Norman People” suggested to him in 1874 that RUXTON was a corruption of ROXTON. About 1240 Geoffrey de Roxton held half a Knight’s fee at Roxton in Lincolnshire from the barony of Percy and the family were apparently benefactors of the Nun Appleton Priory, Yorkshire, in the parish of Bolton Percy. Certainly, according to the Lincolnshire archive record of wills there were a lot of Roxton/ Ruxton families in Lincolnshire in the 15th and 16th centuries but nothing in the records to connect them with Ireland. There is a hamlet of Roxton one and a half miles south of Immingham.

The earliest trace in Ireland which he could find was of John Roxton born in 1531 at shanboe, parish of Rattaine, County Meath who had a son, also John, born 1556 who was known to live in shanboe between 1625 and 1635 (one has to remember that the Admiral was researching before many early Irish records were destroyed). The second John’s will was dated 1634 and signed Ruckstone which led me to make unsuccessful enquiries in Hertfordshire where there was a 17th century family Ruck of Ruckston and where there are two Ruxton hamlets.

John Ruxton 1556

The second John had three sons and probably three daughters. The elder son, Henry of Shanboe and beactive, left a will dated 5 December 1682 which bore a seal with three bulls. The significance of this is that in one 1862 the Office of Arms, Ulster confirmed the arms and crest, including the three bulls at the request of William Ruxton of Ardee House as belonging to all descendants of William Ruxton born 1743. (Henry had a son John who may have married Susanna Jephson in 1672.  If so his father-in-law Alexander Jephson was executed for treason in 1662. John certainly had children).

The younger son was William of Cloncarry, County Meath, described as dying young, but he did marry and wrote wills in 1671 and 1674. Some reports say he had sons William and Henry.

Captain John Ruxton, 1616

The middle son John, later known as captain John, was born in 1616 and is thought to have married twice. It was he, in consideration of his Commonwealth Army Service, who received land in Ardee. He was High Sheriff of Louth in 1659 and MP for Ardee between 1661 and 1666. In 1666 by Royal letters patent of 26th of October he was granted various properties in and around Ardee including the Carmellite Abbey. (Mr Harold O’Sullivan wrote to me in 1990 saying that John Ruxton had in excess of 700 acres as a result of the grant which suggested that in the Commonwealth period he would have had in excess of 1000 acres).

Captain John had 5 sons and probably 3 daughters. Captain John and the eldest son, also John, born in 1642 were involved in the fantastic plot of 1663 to 1664 to blow up Dublin Castle. Captain John MP was accused of high treason and expelled from the House. John junior went to Dublin University and was MP for Ardee in 1671 but died in 1673 without marrying.  Another son Henry, wrote a will dated the 8th of November 1682 and had a son Henry of Drogheda, who married Hannah Barry on 17th of October 1727 but the family do not seem to have flourished. There were Ruxtons in Drogheda until at least 1817.

The remaining three sons, William , Reverend Charles and Matthew were all attainted in 1688 presumably as Protestants refusing loyalty to James II. Matthew, the youngest fled to England at this juncture but returned. He married and settled in County Meath, (will dated 1720). His son John of Ballabony, (one of the estate’s, with Tully, granted originally to captain John) in 1721 married Mary Eccleston of Drumshallon, County Louth. They had four sons and two daughters. The third son, Henry Thomas Bellingham Ruxton, married Susanna Willis of County Monaghan in 1769. One of their offspring married a well-connected Scottish lady, Anna Maria Hay. He died in Brenchley, Kent in 1828 in the same year as he but the Broad Oak estate in benchley.  

It was his son, John Henry Hay Ruxton who, after an army career largely in Australia became the first chief constable of Kent in 1857 (a post he retained until 1894 outliving all his original recruits). A younger brother George Frederick Augustus born 1821, wrote the books Ruxton in the Rockies and adventures in Mexico (London 1847) and Life in the Far West (London 1849). These books originally published by Murray are still available in the USA, but he unfortunately died young.  There is a Ruxton family vault at Benchley church and a plaque on the church wall which describes the Kent Ruxton descent from captain John Ruxton who received the Ardee estates in 1666 from Charles II. There are no male (Kent) Ruxtons left.

William Ruxton, 1697

After this diversion we must return to William, possibly the second son of Captain John as it is from him that the Ruxtons of Ardee descend. He had a son William by wife Anne  (surname unknown but said to be of an Elizabethan settler family) and a daughter Margeret. This William was born in 1697 and died on 15th of February 1751 having married Mary Gibbons of Mountainstown County Meath in 1718. He was in MP in 1749. William and Mary’s other son,

John William Ruxton and Letitia Fitzherbert

John William was born in 1721 and went to Dublin University. He married Letitia Fitzherbert who was co-heiress of Shercock and Blackcastle, Co Meath. As a result these properties came to the Ruxton family as Leticia’s brothers all died without issue.

John William, having previously lived in the High Street, (now Market Street), built Ardee House in 1780, now hospital for the elderly, with the lands mostly sold for housing and a golf course. At 1768 parliamentary election Thomas Tisdell having lost the election got up an unsuccessful opposition to the Ruxtons  (John William and his younger son brother Charles) who were prominent members of ‘the independent interest’ of the smaller landlords who banded together against the ‘leading interests’. In manuscript compiled circa 1775 by the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant on various MPs John Ruxton is described as “always in opposition” and presumably to identify him it is mentioned that he has brothers one of the surgeon general and  ?Charles. ‘Gentleman of the Bed-chamber to my Lord Lieutenant’.

The Surgeon General was William who lived at Hoey’s Court in Dublin. He was one of the founders of the Dublin Society of Surgeons, March 1780. He died in 1783 aged 62. He had at least six children . The eldest boy, John, was granted an MA by Dublin University in 1785 and practiced at the Irish bar. Their eldest daughter Elizabeth married James Barlow of Dublin.

Siblings of John William Ruxton, 1721

John William had three other brothers and two sisters. Of these Captain Charles MP born 1726, married Elizabeth Parkinson of the Red House, Ardee, and it was their son William Parkinson Ruxton who built the three Storey House of Regency appearance which we now see. This must have been after 1806 when he inherited the property with a small older house. William Parkinson married Anna Fortescue who brought up the children of her brother Chichester Fortescue who died in 1826 (the mother having died in 1824). The elder boy became Lord Clement and his younger brother, another Chichester Fortescue, later to become Lord Carlingford, was ultimately left the Red House property as William Parkinson and Anna had no children. Edward Lear, a close friend of Chichester Fortescue, writing in 1858 when staying at the Red House wrote to Lady Waldegrave  (Chichester Fortescue wife)

But the wonder and crowning part of Red House is the aunt, Mrs Ruxton – at 85 she has all the activity of mind and body of persons at 60 – out in the garden at 7 and not to bed before 11 … she is immensely fund of Fortescue, no wonder for he is just like a son to her … she is in a word a tip top Christian multiplied by twenty and I never believed I could see so much to admire in any old lady.

Later after she had died he wrote to Chichester Fortescue … Do you remember how we use to do the Gospels and Epistles  in Greek in the parlour at Red House till at a given our, dear old Mrs Ruxton used to call for God Save the Queen and we all absquatulated.

Of the other younger brothers and sisters of John William, born 1721, one Samuel appears to have been unmarried and served in the army. Another Gilbert Gibbons married in 1770 Elizabeth Gason, daughter of Richard Gason of Killeshallue, County Tipperary and had daughters . According to the Cork News he weighed 28 stone probably at death. The younger sister, Ann,  married Arthur Wolfe in 1769. He became Lord Kilwarden, Lord Chief Justice of Ireland. In 1795 Ann was created at Baroness.

William of Ardee and Shercock, 1821

We must now return to John William who built Ardee House.  His eldest son,  William of Ardee (and now also of Sherlock), kept up the tradition of becoming an MP. In 1785 he married Annie Upton, daughter of Christopher Henry Upton of Glyde Court, and Isabelle, nee Clarges. As a result of this union the Ruxton inherited two pictures from Lely’s studio of King Charles II and General Monk, Lord Albemarle.  The Uptons were royalists but the pictures are more likely to have come from the Clarges connection as General Monk was married to Ann Clarges whose only son died young. Isabelle’s father Colonel Christopher Clarges, Royal Irish Dragoons was a member of the Hellfire Club in Dublin

William Ruxton as a member of  Grattan’s Parliament cast one of the three votes against the 1800 Act of Union. He was offered a peerage to vote in favour but refused.

Siblings of William of Ardee and Shercock

John William and Letitia, his wife were able to endow their two younger sons John and Samuel with the Blackcastle estate.  The older, described his John of Blackcastle, eloped in 1770 with Margaret Edgeworth who was being courted by the eccentric Thomas Daly. later author of History of Sandford and Merton, who’s manners were described as being uncouth. The book, despite its title is a humourless children’s moral tale . Margaret was the aunt of Maria Edgeworth (1767 to 1849), the novelist an educationalist ,and with her daughter Sophy was confidante and critic of Maria in nearly all her literary work eg Castle Rackrent. A gentleman once said in Margaret if I were to see Mrs Ruxton sitting in rags as a beggar on the doorstep I should say “Madam” to her. John was associated with the building of the Boyne canal and towards the end of the 18th century converted Blackcastle, not a large house, into a cottage orne.

The other son Samuel, (described as of Swinnerton, part of the Blackcastle estate, married in 1785 May Haviland, daughter of General Haviland, but they had no children.  He assumed the additional surname Fitzherbert and on dying in 1826 left his main estate to Richard Ruxton, second son to his older brother John.

Richard then assumed the additional surname Fitzherbert.  Richard inherited from his parents the main Blackcastle estate, which thus, in a sense, reverted to the Fitzherberts . However Richard who had married Elizabeth Selina Staples of Dunmore, Queens County in 1807 had no children and they adopted in tragic circumstances, Thomas Rothwell, grandson of his aunt Mary, (nee Ruxton), who had married James Corry of Shantonagh. In 1838 he married Frances Vasey from which union stem the present Fitzherberts of Swinnerton and Blackcastle. Thomas assumed the name Fitzherbert in 1863.

Richard, son of John of Blackcastle

Richard replaced the cottage orne at Blackcastle in 1828 with the mansion of which one can still see the ruins overlooking the River Boyne (on which there is still a Ruxton lock). He died in 1840 when described as vice Lieutenant of Meath while his wife Elizabeth Selina died in 1863.

John Fitzherbert

William Ruxton, the heir to Ardee and Shercock, died in 1821 aged 78. His elder son John broke tradition by going to Oxford University rather than Dublin. In 1820 he married Anne Elizabeth Coddington of Oldbridge, County Meath. In 1823 he was High Sheriff. However, in 1826 he died.

John’s brother, Henry of Monalty and other siblings

There were four sisters and six brothers: of these Henry of Monalty (Carrickmacross) married Isabel Carlyle of Cradoxtown, County Kildare (a grandson was Sir George Abraham Grierson (1851 to 1941), oriental scholar) and other Clarges of Rahana married Marianne Barnewell, daughter of Sir Robert Barnewell,  whilst William Samuel married Elizabeth Young of Rogerstown, Co Louth:  Charles married Mary Fraser-Tytler, Major George, (High Sheriff in 1851) wedded Mary Odell. Dorothea likewise the Reverend Townley Filgate, Ann the youngest child married the right honourable Edward Lucas of Castle Shane.

Arthur Ruxton, ancestor of the author

This leaves Arthur described in Burke as of Ardee House. He, like his older brother, married a Fraser-Tytler, Christina, of Alsdouie Castle, Invernesshire and Sanqhar House Morayshire. The only explanation I have after the description of Ardee House is possibly that his father having died when he was young, he took up residence with the even younger heir to Ardee William born 1823.

I descend from Arthur, a member of the Kings Inns, Dublin, who died in 1894.  His eldest son, William Fitzherbert,  born 1830 at the Fraser-Tytler property, Sanqhar House, Morayshire is the admiral referred to in my opening passage. His son, my father was captain Walton Cornelius Grinnell RN. His elder brother, one time Lieutenant governor of Nigeria married but had no children.  Though I have met Ruxtons in many parts of the world and corresponded with several abroad as well as in the UK and Ireland, neither I nor my father have ever found any living male descendant of the Ruxtons of Ardee except ourselves  (and now my sons).

Origin of the name Ruxton

Most of the Ruxtons I have identified seem to come from Scottish families with no Irish connections. There are Ruxtons in Australia who believe that they come originally from Ireland (Castlebar County Mayo), but neither I nor they have proved a connection with Captain John. A question mark must however remain particularly as there were several Ruxtons in Dublin at the end of the 18th century though I think the Drogheda linke died out in the early nineteenth century.  In the nineteenth century there were Ruxtons at Castlebar (Co Mayo) and Tullamore-Kilbride (West Meath).

William Ruxton, 1823

Young William, the heir to Ardee mentioned above went like his father to Oxford and was High Sheriff in 1849. In 1854 he married Caroline Diana Vernon but he predeceased her by nine years and she left Ardee house, originally letting and then selling. In 1878, before he died, according to Hussey de Burgh’s Landowners of Ireland he owned 2262 acres. They had seven children, mostly girls. The youngest son Charles Harcourt, born 1870, lived part of his life in South Africa and married at least twice. One boy, William Ralph was killed in South Africa in November 1914 twice another, Fane, possibly by his second wife, was killed quite young in 1941 winning the MC.

John Fitzherbert Vernon

The heir, John Fitzherbert Vernon born 1863 at Ardee but dying in the USA in 1892 (ie before his father) as a result of polo accident, married Mary Chickering of Boston USA in 1887 (she remarried in 1894). However they had two children, Dorothy Frances Vernon and William Vernon Chickering born 1891 in the USA. In the 1930s for at least one  season he was MFH Cattistock Hunt in Dorset. My father had a story that he was sold a dud horse by the Kent Ruxtons (see above) and as a result was not friendly to the English relations. He came to some prominence in the last war as representative of the British Red Cross in the USA. he married three times and had a daughter Anna Cronkite and another by Ruth de Rham (born Ledyard). One daughter survives married.

The Ruxton Arms

It would be interesting to know when the hotel known as the Ruxton Arms in Ardee ceased to bear that name. in 1824 the inn keeper was listed in Pigot’s directory as Nicholas Devin. I have a bill dated 1879 when their proprietor is shown is M Duffy who was who on November 10-11 charged the guests 2s for breakfast and 5d for grog.  The bill is headed with the family crest and motto Jam Jam.

Ruxton claim on Black Castle

A fascinating mystery involves the Ruxton/Fitzherbert intermarriage which is even more confusing than I had outlined above as William Ruxton, the Surgeon General in 1754 purchased Blackcastle (Registry of deeds Dublin) –  presumably Letitia’s sons got it back. I’m indebted to Trevor Fitzherbert of Swynnerton (current spelling) for the following narrative.

Nevertheless, apparently every generation of the Ruxton family of Ardee maintained a claim over the Black Castle property which they were entitled to exercise on one particular day of the year. The exact reasons for this claim are uncertain (they would have been perfectly clear over 50 years ago) though local intuition states that it was supposedly on account of ‘a flaw in the title deeds’.

Presumably this infers that the Ruxtons of Ardee felt entitled to the entire patrimony of Letitia Fitzherbert (who married John Ruxton MP (1721 – 1785), though obviously the Fitzherbert side of the story was such that Black Castle did not constitute part of the diary to be given to her husband and his heirs or assigns (who seemingly got Shercock).

I do not know if the Ruxtons ever exercised their claims, though the date set aside on which they could do so was Saint Peter’s day, 29th of June (like knocking on the gates of heaven!). If St Peter’s fell on a Sunday then the date was postponed to the following day, June 30, according to the diary of Thomas Fitzherbert (1814 – 1879) which covers the period from 1837 to 1846

Apparently on 29th of June, all the gates leading to the domain were locked and guarded and nobody was permitted to either enter or depart the property. It was stipulated that if the Ruxtons could enter Black Castle, they could not be turned out and were entitled to stay on as owners of the property. From dusk to dawn four large bonfires were lit outside the main gateways on all the roadways leading to Black Castle. This was generally known as the bonfire night and all the men in the district would stand guard whilst consuming quantities of porter which was supplied to them. Some elderly people in Navan remember this custom which was continued annually with Bertie fitter with debt until Bertie for herbert’s death in 1939

I have seen two written references to this custom. Thomas Fitzherbert’s diary (in the care of the National Library of Ireland in Dublin) gives no further reason for the practice other than … to preserve our rights (ie the Fitzherbert right to Black Castle). The estate accounts dated 1860, under the section entitled ‘Payment on account of Demesne in hands in of Trustees’ has a column stating ‘To cash paid 4 when stopping passage thro’ Demesne, (29th of June 1859) to preserve right – 10s 0d.

So long as the Ruxtons could be prevented from entering the Demesne on St Peter’s day, the Fitzherberts could preserve their right to Black Castle.

The writer of this article would be delighted to hear from anyone who can expand on this record even if their research contradicts his own

William Ruxton
Icehouse Wood
Oxted, Surrey

For more information on Black Castle, follow the link

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7 thoughts on “The Ruxtons of Ardee”

  1. I found your article on the Ruxton family most interesting.
    While researching my family in the Ardee Catholicc Register, I came across the following entries and was wondering if you have any knowledge of any member of a Ruxton belonging to the Catholic Faith.
    5/2/1788. William Ruxton and Margaret Timmings (Commons?)
    Witnesses: Thomas Timmings (Commons?) and Edward Carroll

    7/1/1789: Pat to William Ruxton and Margaret Timmings
    Sponsors: James Hughes and Ann Timmings

    28/11/1790: Mary to William Ruxton and Margaret Timmings
    Sponsors: Part Markey and Margaret Hughes

    10/3/1792: Ann to William Ruxton and Margaret Timmings
    Sponsors: Pat Timmings and Cathy Mathews

    Sponsor at Baptism:
    Birth: Cathay to Michael Kirk and Mary McCann
    Sponsors: William Ruxton and Margaret Commons.

    6/3/1795: James to William Ruxton and Margaret Commons
    Birth: Matthew Ricardson and Bridget McCartney

    3/10/1797: Thomas to William Ruxton and Margaret Commons
    Sponsors: indephirable ……….

    I could not find any further reference to this family in the Register. They may have moved elsewhere.

  2. Hello. Wonderful article. I happen to own a set of books that has the Jam Jam crest and belonged to your grandfather.

    1. Hello Nick. Only just come across this. I am Charles Ruxton, eldest son of William, author of the above (died 2017). Can you say a) what the books are and b) your connection

  3. Do you know any info about Eleanor Ruxton born 1820 to Henry and Margarita Ruxton. She was married to wealthy New York land developer Cornelius Donnellon claimed to be of Ardee Ruxtons?

  4. Does anyone know anything of more humble Ruxtons from Ardee? My 4xg grandfather was a John Ruxton born near Ardee around 1729. A cooper by trade he enlisted in 1747, serving as a private and corporal in the 6th Regiment of Foot, until his discharge in 1769 when he was admitted as a Chelsea Pensioner. In 1764/65 his regiment was at Carlisle where he baptised a daughter, Ann, by an unnamed local girl (possibly Elizabeth Creighton). He appears to have returned to Carlisle after his discharge and fathered a further two children, probably by the same woman, before probably dying there in 1786. His descendants continued to use “Ruxton/Roxton’ in the Christian names of their children for at least three generations. Any thoughts welcome.

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