Thomas Harrison portrait

I recently received news that this portrait of Thomas Harrison (1734-1809), which hung in Wolverton House for about 200 years, turned up in a New York auction house about 18 months ago. It sold for $1500.

He was the man who built Wolverton House in the 1780s. He came to Wolverton as land agent for the Radcliffe Trust in 1773. He was also land agent for earl Spencer and performed legal roles for the earl of Uxbridge. Harrison came from a modest family in Yorkshire, but he was a very clever man and he made a lot of money from industrial dealings in the midlands and Wales. In particular, his efforts on behalf of the earl of Uxbridge to settle the copper mining dispute in Anglesey, probably earned him £20,000. At a time when the average worker might support a family on £20 a year, that was serious money. As land agent to the Radcliffe Trust, he was paid only £40 a year.

Wolverton House was built for £1,840, again, a lot of money for the time, and, since he built it on Radcliffe Trust property, he never actually owned the house. nevertheless, it suited him and his family.

He then set about making many business investments. At the turn of the 19th century he purchased several properties in Stony Stratford, including the Three Swans (92-94 High St) and the Bull, and bought the Water Hall estate in Bletchley, which later became known as Bletchley Park. He also built the ill-fated aqueduct over the river Ouse, which spectacularly collapsed in 1808 and had to be replaced by the Iron Trunk.

He was successfully sued by the Grand Junction Canal for £9,262, which Harrison had no trouble in paying. A decade or so later, his second son, Richard, was involved in the failing Stony Stratford Bank. There was no bankruptcy as Richard Harrison was able to call upon his family resources to pay off creditors and avoid bankruptcy.

Thomas Harrison’s father was a maltster in Hartshead, Yorkshire, so young Thomas had a comfortable middle class upbringing, but at his death he had a sizeable fortune. His eldest son, John, became an Alderman and Mayor of St Albans and had business contracts with the navy. His second son, Richard, took over from his father as land agent for the Radcliffe Trust and continued to live at Wolverton House. His first marriage was apparently a disaster and the couple quickly separated. He was not free to marry again until 1840, when he was able to start a family at the age of 60. He died at Wolverton House in 1858.

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