Sir John Swinnerton constructed Hilton Hall, or Hilton Manor House, as it was first known, early in the fourteenth century. The Hall remained the home of the Swinnerton family for two hundred years until a daughter, Margaret Swinnerton, inherited the Hall and in 1547 married Henry Vernon, a descendant of Richard de Vernon, who had arrived from Normandy with William the Conqueror in 1066. The Hall then remained in the Vernon family for four hundred years, in a direct line through 12 generations of Vernons.
By the 16th century there were several branches of the Vernon family amongst the gentry of England, one of them being Admiral Vernon who, in 1739, captured the Spanish stronghold of Porto Bello with only six ships and duly became famous throughout Europe.
The Portobello Tower, which still stands on the hill fronting the Hall, was erected in the Admiral’s honour.
The most lasting legacy of Admiral Vernon, who was nicknamed “Old Grog” due to the boat cloak he habitually wore and made of a rough silk called grogram, is for his order forbidding the serving of raw spirits to his ships’ companies. In an attempt to stem drunken behaviour he ordered that the two half-pint rations of rum or brandy served daily be watered down. The order was very unpopular with the seamen of the day, who named the resulting diluted drink “Grog” in his honour.
Other interesting residents of Hilton Hall include, Richard Vernon (1726 – 1800) a horse breeder, trainer and successful gentleman jockey. A founder member of the Jockey Club and known to his contemporaries as “Father of the Turf”. Diomed, one of Richard’s horses bred and trained at the Hall became the historic winner of the first ever Derby in 1780.
By the eighteenth century the Vernons were moving in ever-higher circles, Henry Vernon (1748-1814) at the age of 13 was a Page at the Coronation of George III. Two of his daughters married nobility – Anne to Lord Berwick and Henrietta to the Earl Grosvenor, whilst a third, Caroline became a favourite at the Royal Court after she was appointed as Maid of Honour to Queen Charlotte in 1768.
The Vernon Family was not without their scandals however and Henrietta, now Lady Grosvenor, became the centre of Court conversation in 1770 when stories of her association with the Duke of Cumberland, the youngest son of King George III, circulated wildly around London society.
Lucy Vernon, who unlike her sisters Anne, Henrietta and Caroline did not enjoy good health and did not follow them into society was, however, immortalised in the painting “The Sempstress” by Romney before her death at the age of twenty eight.
Throughout its history, successive descendants of John Swinnerton extended and improved the Hall. It reached its present form shortly after 1829 when Major General Henry Vernon, who fought alongside the Duke of Wellington, embarked on the rebuilding of the Hall.
Substantial sums had been left to him for the purpose by his sisters: £35,000 by Henrietta, the celebrated Lady Grosvenor and £7,000 by Caroline, Queen Charlotte’s Maid of Honour.
It is ironic that the imposing Hilton Hall with its dominant male ancestry, nine of which were named Henry, exists by the legacy of two of its daughters. The sisters would, we are sure, be pleased their home still flourishes in the gardens and elegant surroundings they loved so much.
Hilton Hall:- Successor to the rights and titles pertaining to the Lordship of the Manors of Hilton & Essington