An intriguing story about Heraldic Arms of the Thorp Family.

The heading shows part of an early map c1620 of King's Cliffe, a village in Northamptonshire.  It shows a church (in the standard map image) and also Parks with a wooden pailed fence. The park belonged to Lord Burghley Elizabeth I right hand man.    

 Ringers of church bells get around.  Between practising this art they sit in conversation around the ringing chamber. During one of many chats with the late Jim Brown at King's Cliffe he explained how he had met John Summerson in the village back in the 1940s when he was undertaking research into the life and works of John Thorpe.  Eighteen year old Jim, youngest churchwarden in Northamptonshire, was to take him to see the Thorp memorial  in the church. Henry Thorp the brother of John was also a churchwarden and gave the church a bell in 1592.  Henry Penn also cast a bell for the church in 1714.

John Watts was also working in the church.  The date of the movement is not known but an essay from a villager states- There was a clock in the tower which had a wooden frame and stone weights. It must have been by the man who had installed a number of wooden framed clocks for the area. 

Left. John Thorp depicted in stone on the front of the Victoria & Albert Museum London.  He is also carve amongst the famous architects on the Albert Memorial in Hyde Park. 

At the top of document-   Howard Colvin with John Summersons best wishes Nov 1949.
Colvin (1919-2007) was an Architectural historian. Fellow of St John's College, Oxford from 1948 until 1987.

Sir John Newenham Summerson (1904-1992), Architectural scholar; Director of Sir John Soane's Museum.
His account of the life and works of John Thorpe published in the 40th edition of the Walpole Society 1964-1966.

This writer is always up for a challenge. This was another chance to meet people of the present and also the past. 
He was to meet Dr Eric Till curator at Burghley House Stamford at his house in St. George's Square where they were to talk about John Watts Stamford clockmaker.  It was 10.30 am and the door opened to a tall smart 96 year old. It was past 1.00 pm when the writer was to leave.  'Michael will you wait just a minute. I have something for you to look at'.  He returned with a large photocopy. ' Have a read through this article on John Thorpe and the Thorpes of Kingscliffe and let me know what you think'. I did and this page is the result. Above left Summerson to Colvin the account given to the writer.  Right.  Summerson's Walpole Society account. The writer read both the substantial accounts a number of times but they lacked the important words-
John Thorp Surveyor General to Queen Elizabeth I.

A telephone call to Dr. Eric Till to let him have my comments was answered by his housekeeper. ' I am sorry Eric died this morning.'    
Eric Charles Till (Jack) 1904-2000.

The writer was given permission from Sir John Soane's Museum London, to use Sir John Summerson's work.

We can see on the top of the memorial Thomas Thorp Proavus (grandfather) so the spelling 'Thorpe' is incorrect as the surname is Thorp.

There was very little left of the inscriptions on a memorial to the Thorp family in King's Cliffe church. What was left the writer was able to reconstruct from details extracted from 'Bridges History of Northamptonshire'.  Photo to the left is the result. The memorial with the text returned.  In the centre of the main panel is a list of the 80 grandchildren of John's father, then a statement that they descend from an ancient Thorp family at Ashwellthorpe near to Wymondham Norfolk. 

This was contested at the 1618 Visitation of Northamptonshire and the heralds allowed no arms for the family.  Some living members of the Thorp family contested this and are convinced that the family did descend from Ashwellthorpe. 

The long story of John Thorp Surveyor (which cannot be included here) comes to a near conclusion.

Sir John Summerson’s account of John Thorpe of King's Cliffe in the Walpole Society Vol, 40, 1964-1966 page 12 mentions a will of John Thorpe of St. Martin’s in the Fields proved on 6 march 1688 and that he disposes lands, some in particular at King’s Cliffe in Northamptonshire, and he is certain that it is the will of the younger John Thorpe.  He also mentions on page 10 that there is no grant to John Thorpe or any of the family in the College of Arms. 

A footnote- for this information  I am indebted to Sir Anthony Wagner, Garter.

This statement was put to test in 2007 when the Australians (Ian Bourne and his wife Faith, a Thorpe)  asked the college of arms to look into details of their massive Thorp roll mentioned below   The reply was comprehensive, all in numbered sections, but rejected the main heading that they were related to the Thorp family at Ashwellthorp, in Norfolk.

The following information in 9 and 10 was also included-

9.         A work-book recording heraldic work done between 1657 and 1673 includes an entry for Thorpe. The Arms are Azure three Crescents two and one Argent on the centre point a Spur-rowel Or. No further information is given. [Coll Arm Ms WBƒ/62], very similar to the arms on the memorial in the church.

10.       A painter’s work-book includes the following entry including arms for a funeral:‘John Thorpe of St Martins in ye fields Surveyor Generall to Qu. Elizabeth had issue John Thorpe of London sometime of Richmond in Surrey & Harrow on the hill Com. Middx died the 20th of Novembr 1687 aets 84’.

For his funeral it would seem that twelve silk escutcheons, thirty-two of buckram and eighteen of coloured paper were prepared. Tricks of the Arms of Thorpe impaling Price and Beist suggest that the deceased may have married twice; the Arms of Thorpe are Azure three Crescents two and one Argent. [Coll Arm Ms WB I.B.14/67].

Item 9  have to be the arms of John Thorp Surveyor, which John Summerson would have been delighted with.   

 I asked the College of Arms could I use the coats of arms which were included with the above information. Yes was the answer but not for electronic publication. You can be assured that one drawing called Thorp is the same as on the memorial in Kingscliffe church.

The second in item 10 were arms made up for the funeral of his son John.   The writer obtained the will mentioned by Summerson.  P.R.O Reference: Prob/11/390. Proved 1688.   From it we find the following-

John Thorpe who is also of St. Martin’s in the Fields.

At the time of his death he has no wife.  The college of arms painters book indicates that he had two.  He has a daughter-in-law Elizabeth who’s husband John is dead. They had a son John Thorpe who is left much property and money.  There are two daughters with children, all are bequeathed large sums of money and silver.  He appoints two interesting men, Richard Bayly of Grey’s Inn and Arthur Maudett of the Inner Temple as his executors to whom he bequeathed valuable silver plate.  The will also mentions property in Kingscliffe.

Research is a bit like a gig-saw puzzle. One has to find the missing pieces. Some we will never find as they have long dropped out of the box.  At the beginning we have the Thorp arms on the King’s Cliffe memorial dated 1623 which Henry Peacham had given John Thorp about twelve years previous.


At this point we must look at page 172 and 173 of Henry Peacham's THE ART OF DRAWING WITH A PEN 1606 where two pages are shown below.  Peacham one time teacher as Kimbolton School was a great friend of John Thorp.  He also lived at St. Martin's in the Fields London near to the home of John.  On page 172, between the red squares, he is giving arms to John in a lesson in heraldry. These same arms are on the Kingscliffe memorial which is dated 1623.  On page 173 he is praising him and calls him his son.   I asked the College of Arms London about Henry Peacham. They replied saying he was not listed as a herald in arms.  If this is the case how did they have painters books with Thorp arms origially given by Peacham.  They also deny that they were involved with making the Thorp roll found in Australia.

In 2007  the writer was contacted by a Thorp family member in Australia asking for an exchange of information.  Exact details of names are not included here.   In a house somewhere in this great continent was a Thorp family tree.   The original document is 36ft long and 4ft 6ins wide, and is kept in a wooden box, inside a steel box.   It mentions that it was compiled by the London College of Heralds during the lifetime of a member of the Thorp family (Born in Oxford 20 March 1823) and after his death (26 February 1886) was in the keeping of his son Rev. William Thorp M.A. of Chatton Presbyterian Church, Northumberland (1890-1929) and eventually taken to Austrila.

The Genealogy and History of the Ancient and    Honourable Families Thorp,  Newton, Folker, and Fourdrinier                                                                     From the earliest period to the present day-   

Compiled and arranged by a Body of Antiquarians from the Heralds Visitations and Collections in Her Majesty’s College of Arms, the Collections of Pedigrees and Extracts;  Abstracts, Evidences, Titles, Grants, Deeds, Charters, Memoranda, Notes and References in the Harlcian, Cottonian, Egerton, Cole, Holme, Dugdale, Lansdowne and additional manuscripts in the British Museum;   Ancient Documents, References and Evidences in the Record State Papers of the Duchy of Lancaster Offices;  Inquisitions Post Mark;  Royal Patent in Juni Londinensi 3 John to 23 Edward IV;   Testa de Nevill;  Placitorum in Domo Capit West; Rotuli Chastarum;  Rymex’s Actu Regia AD 1101 to 1624.    Proceedings in Parliament,  Liber Regis;   Hundred Rolls;  Fine Rolls and about 100 volumes of references, local histories, genealogies, biographies etc and Wills, Registers, inscriptions, Monuments.”

In September of 2012 
Ron Thorp, a direct descendent visited Kirby hall built by Thomas,  the father of John.   Ron is usually seen at Historic car events and came to England when he attended the Goodwood Festival.  He is seen here with Michael Lee in the Inner Court with the copy of the family tree mentioned above and displayed to the left.

On the Kingscliffe memorial it states that the family descend from Aswellthorpe in Norfolk.  The window at the church, at the top, shows the original Ashwellthorpe arms. They then appear on the top of the long roll right, where many Thorp families descend until we come to the Thorps of Kingscliffe whose arms are shown here just below the window.

First Thomas proavus.
Second Thomas pater.
Third John of London.
Fourth Henry his brother.

We can only conclude that Henry Peacham originally gave the arms to John of London.  They were then found at the College of Arms London and used for the funeral of his son John Thorp so they must have become the official arms of-
    John Thorp Surveyor General to Queen Elizabeth I

The rest is rather a mystery. It could be that some person, a Thorp, visited Kingscliffe church years ago and decided that his or her family must descend from the Ashwellthorpe family.
Also why was most of the lettering on the memorial in the church removed. 

All the coats of arms of the Thorp family are displayed on the long roll.  One wonders how did the college find all the heraldry to paint these around the year 1823 especially where they come down to the Thorps of Kings Cliffe, as the family have arms that this writer has never seen.       We all like to think we come from good stock and from the top of this tree one could go on upwards to Jesus, Adam and Eve and then God himself.

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