Dwight Family of Chesham

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2010 - present

Dwight family -The Pheasantries,Berhampsted
reproduced from The Chronicle by permision of Berhampsted Local History and Museum Society and Jenny Sherwood

Although the attention of rail travellers is no longer drawn to the existence of Dwight’s Pheasantries, as the train slows on its approach to Berkhamsted, the name Dwight’s Lane still lingers in the memory of older residents and the honk, honk of pheasants can still be heard in the gardens of Ivy House Lane, to evoke memories of earlier times.
‘M.DWIGHT’S PHEASANTRIES, Berkhamsted, by appointment to H.M. the King’ was there for all to see as the train approached from Bourne End.  An enquiry of the Royal Warrant Holders’ Association confirmed that the firm of M. Dwight Pheasantries joined on 1st January 1934. M. Dwight is listed in the 1934 edition of the London Gazette as ‘Purveyor of Stock Game’ to George V  (Privy Purse department). The firm received a warrant from George VI on 18th February 1941 and then later from Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, on 1st January 1962. The Warrant was cancelled in 1967 as a result of the company going into voluntary liquidation.  The entry in the Association register shows Sidney Reginald Dwight to be the nominee in 1934 and D.B. Dwight  to be the grantee in 1962. Further notes indicate that the partnership was turned into a private company in June 1960. 
  Dwight’s Pheasantries has, however, a much longer history than simply dating back to 1934 when the Royal Warrant was granted, exactly how long is more difficult to determine. In the Society’s Collection there is an advertising leaflet for Dwight’s Pheasantries, which lists the following information: ‘M. Dwight’s Pheasantries, Berkhamsted 1934. Established 200 years. Holders of ‘the Field’ Certificate 1931 (S.R. Dwight, A.G. Dwight, P. Dwight- Proprietors. ) Station Berkhamsted, (½ mile). L.M.S. Railway, 26 miles from Euston. Telegram Dwight Pheasantries Berkhamsted. Telephone 312 Berkhamsted. The Oldest and Largest Game Farm in England. Established 200 Years.’ There is no doubt that at that time M. Dwight’s Pheasantries was a large and flourishing business, but who was M. Dwight and had the firm really been in existence in Berkhamsted since 1734?
   We turn now to a book published in the early years of the last century ‘Herts in the 20th century, Historical Survey’, by J E Vincent MA. ‘Contemporary Biographies,’ Edited by WT Pike 1908. The entry under William Dwight provides useful information. ‘William Dwight, The Pheasantries , Northchurch , Berkhamsted, son of the late Matthew Dwight of Sydney House , Berkhamsted, born Northchurch 1843, educated at Berkhamsted Grammar School , Senior partner of the firm of M. Dwight, game farmers, established by his grandfather about 120 years ago, since which sure and steady progress has been made and at the present time the output of eggs amounts to about 180,000 per annum, which are distributed to various parts of the UK, many are exported to France, Belgium, Germany, U. S. etc. Many birds are reared by the firm for stocking purposes. Member of the Game Guild. Now the oldest tenant on the Ashridge Estate.  One of the Directors of the Gas Company. Married 1875 Jane, daughter of John Williamson of Wendover, Bucks. Marriage registered in High Wycombe’.
   120 years prior to 1908 would indicate that the firm was founded in about 1788. If this statement is accurate it would appear that ‘established 200 years ago’ in 1934 is somewhat of an exaggeration. On turning to the census returns for the year 1841 we have Matthew Dwight aged 27 listed as a Pheasant Breeder living with his wife Sarah and baby daughter Elizabeth aged 5months, not in Berkhamsted, but in Buckland  Common. He was also born in Buckinghamshire.  In trawling through the entries for Buckland Common it was found that there was an inordinate number of Dwights living in that little hamlet not far from Cholesbury. It seems very probable that they were all related to one another. Most of them were listed as agricultural labourers and Matthew’s wife, Sarah, was also a straw plaiter, in common with many other women in the village. Among the many Dwights, however, was one Stephen Dwight, aged 55, also a pheasant breeder, living with almost grown-up children Colley, Daniel and Jonathan. It seems unlikely that two pheasant breeders were working separately in a tiny hamlet. More probably they were working together and Stephen was perhaps Matthew’s father. Only a search in the parish registers of Chesham and the surrounding areas would perhaps indicate the parents of William’s father, Matthew, and then the grandparents.  Not very far away in Chesham Vale were also a Daniel Dwight, 54, and his son Samuel aged 23, both listed as sawyers and pheasant breeders. Maybe they were also related.
  We know that not very long afterwards the young family moved to the detached eastern end of the parish of Northchurch, since William, aged 7 in the 1851 census, was born in Northchurch, as were his younger sisters, Sarah and Mary, aged 3 and 1 year respectively. By this time Matthew, again listed as Pheasant Breeder, has two eighteen -year old male servants. 
What caused Matthew and his young family to leave the little village where he was born and where apparently his father and possibly grandfather had been before him is uncertain. Perhaps it had something to do with the action of the Commission of Enclosures in dividing up a large part of the land of Buckland Common in 1842  that led Matthew to look elsewhere to farm and to breed his pheasants. Maybe it was felt that Berkhamsted had more to offer than Chesham and its surrounding countryside at that period.
  There is no doubt that it was Mathew Dwight who first built up the firm of Dwight’s Pheasantries in Berkhamsted, which was to be extended by his sons, William and Frederick, and subsequently by William’s sons until it went into voluntary liquidation in 1967. It is possible also that Stephen’s father was a farmer and bred pheasants and with the custom of passing the grandfather’s name onto the next generation was also Matthew. Perhaps the firm was called M. Dwight simply because Matthew was the first Dwight to establish the Pheasantries in Berkhamsted. We may never know.
   It is difficult to tell exactly where the young family lived when they first came to Berkhamsted. It seems very likely that they were somewhere in the eastern detached part of Northchurch parish almost certainly with land north of the railway but in accommodation not far from the canal. By 1861the family is listed as living in a house between the Lock House and Rose Cottage , simply listed as ‘Canalside’. This could well be Lismere House, or as it was then called, Lismere Cottages. In the 1871 census Matthew is nowhere to be found , but we know that the two sons, William and Frederick were living at that time with John King, a railway clerk, their brother-in-law, in Bank Mill , together with one of their sisters. They were both pheasant breeders.
By 1881 Matthew had definitely retired and was living with his second wife, Sophia, in Sydney House in Berkhamsted High Street. By this time also William and Frederick had obviously taken over the family business. William was 37, married, a farmer and pheasant breeder. He had 32 acres and employed 11 men and 3 boys and had a son, William, aged 4. They were living at Ivy House Farm, probably the house that was later called the Pheasantries and now Gutteridge Farm. Frederick Dwight is living with his wife, Caroline, a daughter and a son, a monthly nurse and one servant, in New Lodge Cottage. He is listed as a farmer’s son, which might indicate that at this stage he was very much a junior working on the business.
  By 1891 William and Jane had produced 7 sons and 2 daughters. He is listed as a farmer and pheasant breeder. His address is simply ‘The Common’. Frederick is now living at ‘Fairview’  and has two boys and 4 girls. He has a nursemaid and a general servant. His mother-in-law, of independent means, lives with them. He is now a farmer and pheasant breeder, so definitely involved in the family firm, second only to William.
In the 1901 census William and some of his family were still living at the Pheasantries whilst Frederick and family were at Castle Hill Farm. If we now turn to some of the Directories from the 1890s through to 1937 we can confirm that William and Frederick ran the business jointly after their father retired and that when some of William’s children were old enough to help with the business Frederick moved from ‘Fairview’ to Castle Hill Farm where he concentrated on farming. Three of William’s sons particularly concentrated on the business, Sidney, Arthur and Percy, but Captain Edward John Dwight was still a partner in the firm although never actively involved. He lived at West Mount, Gravel Path. Sidney lived at the Pheasantries and Arthur at Little Heath Great Farm, Sunnyside. When we consider the position of the various houses in which the Dwights lived we can see how extensive was their domain and their influence in this part of the town. They occupied land, some owned and some leased from Earl Brownlow, which stretched almost to Bourne End and Potten End in one direction through beyond Well Farm and over to Castle Hill Farm. The land was required to breed their pheasants or to provide grain to feed them.
   Every year 20,000 young pheasants were raised at Berkhamsted and, in order to maintain a strain of strong and vigorous birds, a complete change of pure breeds was introduced into the stock every breeding season. The success of the business is indicated by the fact that William Dwight on his death, aged 74, on 18th February 1917 left £91, 495 in his will.  The firm continued to do well almost until its end. In 1965 the laying pheasants produced over 100,000 eggs in one laying season.
   Photographs show rearing fields with rides cut from grass and clover, with hens and coops spread evenly along them and an article, which appeared in ‘The Sphere’  on 30th September 1922 gives some idea of how the pheasantries were organised at this time. ‘Here there are no fewer than 400 broody hens and 8,000 pheasant chicks. The birds are hatched and reared by the thousand and sent to all parts of the world. Japan, the land of flowers and birds, has been supplied with birds from this Hertfordshire establishment. Eggs also are sent out. These range in price from £5 per hundred in the earlier weeks of the season to half that price later on, the anxiety of shooting men to have well-grown birds ready for the autumn explaining the difference to some extent. The men charged with the care of the birds are on duty day and night: they are armed with shot-guns to beat animal marauders – foxes, cats, stoats, weasels, or others. In each coop there is a foster mother to every 15 chicks. The bird field has 400 coops.’
  Dwight’s Pheasantries advertised, with great pride, in their 1938 brochure, that they had supplied Squire Osbaldeston, born 1787, died 1866, a great sportsman and valued customer. In their archives they held a letter dated 28th March 1846 written by the Squire to his steward in Pickering, Yorkshire, and asking him to order 8 Hen Pheasants from Dwights. Also in the archives are several invoices to Baron de Rothschild at Mentmore, dated 1851, 1852 and 1855.
    Both William and Frederick Dwight and later William’s son, Sidney, particularly, took an active part in local affairs. When the new church at St. Michael’s and All Angels, Sunnyside, was consecrated in 1909 the first churchwardens were Edward Mawley of ‘Rosebank’ and William Dwight of ‘the Pheasantries. In 1886 when a committee was set up to establish a larger and more permanent church to replace the Mission Room in George Street, Frederick Dwight was on the Committee. When the new church  was set up Mr Frederick Dwight and Mr Thomas Hill were appointed sidesmen. In October 1888 a meeting was held to form a Football Club for Sunnyside. Both William and Frederick Dwight were appointed Vice-Presidents along with Edwin Pearson, Edward Mawley and HH Cooper. The Dwight brothers kindly offered to lend a field free of charge and matches were arranged at once. In 1898 William Dwight was elected together with Edward Mawley as churchwarden, and continued to serve as such until 1917. Both Dwights continued to serve on the Church Committee. In 1903 the choirboys enjoyed ‘High Tea’ at the Pheasantries and two days later the wardens, choirmen and sidesmen dined together by kind invitation of Mr and Mrs W Dwight. Mrs F Dwight also assisted with Sales of Work and was Secretary of the Church Work Society. Both Mrs W and Mrs F Dwight contributed to the fund to purchase a new American Organ for the Church in the late 1880s.
The next generation of the family also took an active part in the parish. William’s youngest son, Sidney Reginald Dwight, was churchwarden at Sunnyside from 1940 to 1960. Another son, Captain Edward John Dwight had many successes shooting at Bisley, was gazetted to the 2nd (Herts) Volunteer Battalion Bedford Regiment 1899, commanded Berkhamsted Company as Captain since 1903 and captained Berkhamsted Town football team for several seasons. He was also a member of the Berkhamsted Lodge of Freemasons.
  Reports indicate that the firm continued to flourish until the 1960s. The Royal Warrant was renewed by Queen Elizabeth II in January 1962. There were, however, indications that the future was not so secure. With the death of Sidney Dwight in 1960 the partnership had become a private company and the responsibility devolved onto the next generation. A perusal of the Dwight family tree goes a long way to explain why Dwight’s Pheasantries folded. Whereas William Dwight, Matthew’s son, had produced seven boys and two girls, these boys were either childless or produced only girls. The one exception to this was William’s eldest son, William Henry, who had three boys and one girl. William Henry was a good businessman and had he lived things could well have turned out differently. Sadly, he died suddenly in 1926 leaving his widow with four young children. Unfortunately there was the added complication that he died intestate. Had he made a will, as the eldest son, it is likely his children would have had a larger share in the business. Of his three boys, Charles Robert had died in 1946, the eldest, William Gerald, had no interest in the business. It was left to Douglas Brian the youngest, to take over the reins. Sidney’s widow went to America. Brian had only a small share in the business and all attempts to increase his share foundered and the firm was obliged to go into voluntary liquidation. The firm was sold as a going-concern to a Buckinghamshire firm of pheasant breeders. The last Dwights to live at the Pheasantries, Brian, Nelly, Michelle and Diana, moved to the small farm they had bought the other side of Aylesbury, the two girls riding over on horseback! Dwight’s Pheasantries was no more.


2010 - present

© 2012 by Roger Lane No animals were harmed in the making of this site.

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