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Tour of Isley Walton

James Wood, who was a Court Assistant at the time of the grant of the Charter of James I in 1621, died in 1629. In his will dated 1st August 1625, which was proved on 29th July 1629 in the prerogative court in Canterbury, he became the Company's most generous benefactor when be bequeathed the Manor and Lordship of Isley Walton (260 acres) in Leicestershire.

In 1823, the Company bought the adjacent property of Jonathan Bosworth for £3,900 which was part freehold (87 acres) and part leasehold (60 acres) held from Christ's College, Cambridge, which brought the total acreage up to 407 acres, and the road-side public house was bought in 1839 for £200. In the 1850's, the lease of the estate was held by a difficult and troublesome tenant, Thomas Mills, and the resulting litigation in Mills v Bowyers (1856) was ruinously expensive. In 1857 the Master, Alderman Thomas Finnis, lent £1,350 @ 5% for seven years secured on the estate to enable the Company to clear its debts. Mr Mills surrendered the lease, having received compensation for tenant's improvements, and died in 1858. After a number of short lets, a lease was granted to the Marquess of Hastings but, with cheap grain imports from America, agriculture was not profitable and the estate became a drain on the Company's resources. It was sold to Lord Donington (who married into the Hastings family) in 1890 for £18,000, with the help of a mortgage of £10,000 granted by the Company. He died in 1895 and the estate was bought by his land agent, John Gillies Shields JP CC. He had lived at the Manor House since 1882, he took a great interest in the estate and he purchased the Lordship of the Manor in 1918. It was he who put the Bowyers coat of arms on several of the estate buildings as a tribute to the Company's memory.

Over the years the Company donated funds to the poor of Isley Walton and provided support to the village schoolteacher up until when the estate was sold. Donations were also made to the village church and its organ. This activity continued into the 1990's when a further donation was made to the organ fund.

It is now thought that the proceeds of the sale of estate, rather than being lost in the stockmarket crash, were simply eroded by inflation as, at that time, most of the funds of the Company were invested in fixed income government, local authority and corporate bonds. However, Wood's generosity has never been forgotten and a silent toast to his memory is drunk at every Livery Dinner.

Simon Leach
December 2008

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