Standing in a small area of woodland on the edge of a field in Leomansley is a stone with the inscription ‘Greville’s Belt W.W.W 1923‘. It isn’t a gravestone, although you can see why some have mistaken it for one, but a marker erected by the then owner of the Maple Hayes estate, William Worthington Worthington, to commemorate the planting of this small belt of trees, named after his eldest son (William) Greville Worthington.(1)
In 1918, William Worthington had inherited Maple Hayes from his father Albert Octavius Worthington, a partner in the Burton brewery that carried his family name, who had originally purchased the estate in 1884. However, Greville Worthington would not inherit the estate from his father. In the early hours of 17th March 1942, whilst serving as a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve at Dover, Greville drove through a restricted area. Although the sentry on duty ordered him to ‘Halt!’ twice, he failed to stop.The sentry opened fire and Greville was fatally wounded, dying in hospital ten days later. A verdict of accidental death was recorded. In the October of the following year, there was another family tragedy. Lady Diana Worthington, Greville’s former wife, went missing from her home Weston Manor in Olney. A scarf and a coat were found on the banks of the River Ouse and after a week of searching, Diana’s body was recovered from the water.
Greville and Diana had four children together – Caroline, Anna, Charles and Benjamin. I have not yet been unable to find out much about what happened to the children following the deaths of their parents. However, we do know that when William Worthington died in 1949, nineteen year old Charles was his heir. (2) William’s death brought the Worthington era at Maple Hayes to an end and in 1950, the estate was sold. The house and around twenty three acres were acquired by Staffordshire County Council for educational purposes. Since 1981, the site has been occupied by the Maple Hayes Dyslexia School. The remainder of the estate, some 1,500 acres including farms, cottages and agricultural land, was sold to a trust.(3)
As well as Greville’s Belt, other areas of woodland were named after Worthington family members. Lady Muriel’s Belt, Herbert’s Spinney and Fitzherbert Firs still appear on maps of the area, as mentioned in BrownhillsBob’s recent post on Leomansley. Are there more stone markers to be found in these places? I also noticed a house on the site of the old playground of Christ Church School, near to the church, which has a plaque saying ‘W.W.W 1920‘. Surely another reference to William Worthington Worthington, although exactly what the connection is I don’t know as yet. The Worthington family may no longer reside at Maple Hayes but their names still echo in the landscape that surrounds their former home.
(1) I have seen similar stones marking ‘Parker’s Plantation’ and ‘The Roundabouts’ at the Pipe Hall Farm, owned by The Woodland Trust.
(2) W.G.W had a younger brother Albert Ronald Worthington, born 1904 and died in 1951. but according to the County History, it was grandson Charles, eldest son of W.G.W that was W.W.W’s heir.
(3) Until last year, around 360 acres of the former Maple Hayes estate was still owned by the trust. However, in April 2012 it was sold to new owners The Crown Estate for just under three million pounds.
Burntwood: Manors, local government and public services’, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield (1990), pp. 205-220.
The Lichfield Mercury archives
Nottingham Evening Post archive