WILLIAM SOTHEBY was born into a life of privilege on the ninth of November 1757. He was baptised at St Georges Church Bloomsbury the son of William Sotheby, a colonel in the Coldstream Guards, and Elizabeth Sloane. His links to Southampton stem from his mother’s family as his maternal grandfather was William Sloane of South Stoneham House, Swaythling.
In 1766 William Sotheby's father died. As he was only nine he became the ward of two guardians, Hans Sloane junior M.P. with roving portfolio (MP for Newport, Isle of Wight, 1768–1780, Southampton, Hampshire, 1780–1784, Christchurch, Dorset, 1788–1796 and Lostwithiel, Cornwall, 1796–1802) and Philip Yorke.
He was educated at Harrow School. The illustration is of Harrow in 1615.
William Sloane, Sotheby’s grandfather, was born in Killyleagh, County Down, Ireland. He was the brother of Hans Sloane, the founder of the British Museum, and bought South Stoneham House (pictured left) in 1740. His son, Hans Sloane (junior) Sotheby’s uncle, inherited this estate as well as Paultons Park.
As with most women of this era little is known of Elizabeth Sloane, Sotheby‘s mother but he wrote at least two poems dedicated to her. One was written 27 years after her death (left) and one on her death, both give an insight into their relationship.
An extract from “On the Death of my Mother” 1790:
Spirit! I thank thee for each tender care
That train’d my infancy; the babe the while
Feeling no pang the mother did not share,
Giving no recompense beyond a smile
Sotheby, having taken an immediate leave of absence on joining the Dragoons in order to study at Angers, left his studies there late in 1776 and spent the winter and spring enjoying the societies of Vienna and Berlin then travelled via the south of France to return to his regiment late 1777. At that time they were defending the coast against the incursions of John Paul Jones, a Scottish naval captain of the United States Navy who brought the American War of Independence to British waters. Sotheby’s leisure time was spent with Lord and Lady Elcho in Edinburgh .
In 1774, aged seventeen, Sotheby purchased a commission into the 10th Dragoon Guards. It has been said that his taste for literature grew in the ‘country quarter’ in which his regiment was posted.
This could have been Chateau d’Angers, Angers, France, where he studied at the military academy (pictured below), or Edinburgh, a regiment posting, where he first met Walter Scott.
In 1780 Sotheby left the army and married heiress Mary Isted of Ecton.
Some biographers of Sotheby suggest this enabled him to retire from the army and allow him to take up a literary life. However, he had himself inherited Sewardstone, Epping Forest, which had been the property of his family since 1673, thus making him the Master Keeper of Epping Forest. It could be surmised this provided him with sufficient means to translate and write poetry without fear of destitution.
Mary Isted was the granddaughter of Thomas Isted who had purchased the Manor of Ecton in 1712 which is present on the Domesday survey. Her father Ambrose developed the estate and was visited by Samuel Johnson and Thomas Percy in 1764. An account of this visit reads like an episode of Black Adder. Percy was at the time of the visit preparing to publish the Reliques of Ancient English Poetry which was based on a manuscript rescued from the house of a friend before it was put on the fire by the maid.
Ultimately the Sothebys grandson Charles inherited Ecton Manor and Hall in 1881. It remained in the family until 1954 when Commander Sotheby sold the house and its contents. This collection included items dating back to 1712 and Sheraton, Hepplewhite and Chippendale furniture, paintings by Breughal, Holbein, Tintoretto and Thomas Lawrence. Under the stewardship of the Sotheby’s the contents of the library were sold including Caxton’s 1480 Chronicles of England, a 1623 Shakespeare first folio and a 14th-century bible.
On their marriage William and Mary Sotheby moved to Bevois Mount in 1780. He focused on studying classic literature and writing poetry. He produced his first book of poetry in 1790.
During their eleven years at Bevois Mount they had seven children:
William Ambrose (b. 1781)
Charles (b. 1782)
Maria Elizabeth (b. 1784)
Frances (b. 1785)
George (b. 1787)
Hans (b. 1788)
Harry (b. 1790)
All were baptised at St Marys church, Southampton except it seems William.
On leaving for London in 1791 Sotheby wrote “Farewell to Bevois Mount”. This relocation was precipitated by the death of his mother necessitating his taking charge of the family estate.
The family moved to his inherited childhood home – Fair Mead Lodge in Epping Forest – and property in London. There are two London properties associated with Sotheby: 13, Lower Grosvenor Street, Hanover Square and 47, Upper Seymour Street, Portman Square. Deeds for Grosvenor Street are dated 1720–1816 and he is documented as living there 1818–1833 followed by his son Charles who was resident there 1833–1845. Seymour Street deeds are dated 1819 and a letter from Samuel Coleridge, 18th July 1802, to Sotheby after their first meeting is to this address.
A second letter from Coleridge to Sotheby, September 1802, is sent to Lodge, Essex. John S. Hill in “A Coleridge Companion” states that “It is, probably, the most important letter about critical theory that Coleridge ever wrote”.
It seems that the Sotheby family shared their time between London and Sewardstone as Sotheby describes Fairmead
The keeper's Lodge, our summer seat,
A wild, sequester’d, still retreat.
© Bevois Mount History
© Bevois Mount History