George Anthony Aufrère (1794-1881)

George Anthony Aufrère

Written by Kevin Grice

Occupations: Landowner and Yachtsman
Location: Windermere

Family Background

George Anthony Aufrère settled in Bowness-on-Windermere in about 1840. However his lineage can be traced much further to the south and east. The surname derives from the French word for goldsmith ‘orfèvre’ and the Aufrère family were indeed of noble French stock. Etienne Aufrère was President of Toulouse at the close of the 15th century and his descendants were proud Protestant Huguenots who left France for Holland after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685. Their connection with England began in the early 1700’s when Israel Antoine Aufrère (c.1675-1758) came to London as Minister at the French Chapel in St. James’s Palace. The next generation acquired land in Norfolk, both at Hoveton near Wroxham Broad and at Foulsham near Dereham, which jointly became the family seat for successive generations. One of this colourful family was jailed in 1722 for shooting a maidservant.

George’s grand-father Anthony Aufrère (1729-1814) was thus a landowner and magistrate in Norfolk. He married Anna Norris (1728-1816) at Hoveton in 1753. She was the only daughter of John Norris (died 1734) another landowner of nearby Witton and Anna Carthew of Suffolk; her younger brother John Norris (1734-1777) was the founder of the Norrisian professorship of divinity at Cambridge University. Anthony and Anna had fifteen children, seven sons and eight daughters of whom George’s father Anthony (1757-1833) was the eldest. Of their other sons, George John (1769-1853) and Philip DuVal (1776-1848) were both educated at Norwich Grammar School, Westminster School and Cambridge University before becoming clergymen, Charles Gastine (1770-1799) became a First Lieutenant in the Royal Navy and died on board the frigate HMS Lutine that was wrecked off the Dutch coast carrying a massive shipment of gold bullion, and Thomas Norris (1773-1835) became a wealthy civil servant for the East India Company. Of their daughters, Sophia (1763-1845) married William Dawson and as Mrs Dawson played cards at Windsor Castle with King George III and Queen Charlotte, and Harriet (1765-1846) married Robert Baker, barrister-at-law, and afterwards knighted. They had thirteen children and a number of their sons began a long line of military figures, all named Aufrère Baker, who served with distinction in the Indian and British Armies throughout the 19th century and later in the British Army and the Royal Air Force in both World Wars.

George’s father Anthony Aufrère was born at Hoveton Old Hall on 30th November 1757. As the eldest son, his parents had in mind a legal career for him and he was admitted to Gray’s Inn in 1773, aged only 15, being called to the Bar there on 15th February 1782. He had however by then already got into serious financial difficulties and by early 1785 he had given up the law and was living in France ‘his debts having exceeded all reason’. By late 1785 he was in Italy where he flourished as a translator as well as becoming an antiquary and a scholar. He was fluent in German, as well as in French and Italian, and in 1787 he moved to Germany where he translated an essay on the great German humanist and poet Ulrich von Hutten, a work at the time attributed to Goethe but later to Herder. In 1798 appeared his popular anti-revolutionary pamphlet ‘A Warning to Britons against French Perfidy and Cruelty’, a work recently described as ‘one of the most widely circulated pieces of atrocity literature from this period’. Anthony and his family went back to France in 1802 and there he was imprisoned by Napoleon in May 1803. In consequence the family spent eleven years under house arrest in various French cities and it was not until 1814, following the death of his father at Hoveton Hall on 11th September, that Anthony returned to Norfolk and his inherited lands. These were defined by Commissioners’ Decisions under various Inclosure Acts in 1813, 1815 and 1828 and comprised two substantial agricultural estates totalling over 1,600 acres, each with its own manor house. 

Hoveton Old Hall dated from about 1567 but in 1809-1812 a new house called Hoveton Hall had been built to a design by Humphrey Repton (1752-1818) and in 1814 Anna was still in residence, dying there less than two years later on 11th April 1816. She was buried on 18th April 1816 at St Peter’s Hoveton and her death was reported as deeply lamented by her family, regretted by her neighbourhood and mourned by the poor, by whom her loss was most severely felt. She had given her whole life ‘in the exercise of every feminine and moral virtue’. Thereafter however, perhaps owing to continuing financial constraints, Hoveton Hall was to be tenanted out, mortgaged and finally sold by Anthony in 1828 to Christabell Burroughes (1764-1843), a wealthy widow with a passion for gardening. It is now a private estate with much-lauded gardens set alongside a Grade II listed house. Anthony and his family, when in England, resided instead at Old Foulsham Hall, another Elizabethan manor previously the home of Major-General Philip Skippon (1600-1660), Commander of the Parliamentary forces at the battle of Naseby, the remaining part of which is now also a Grade II listed building. Anthony however spent most of his last years in Italy and he died in Pisa on 29th November 1833 and is buried in the Old British Cemetery in Leghorn (Livorno). His will left the bulk of his estate to his wife and son but included a legacy of £3,000 to his daughter Louisa so not all of the family wealth had been lost.

In Pisa in 1785 Anthony Aufrère met General James Lockhart (1727-1790) who had been involved in the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745 following the path of his own father George Lockhart (c1681-1731) who had been a leading rebel thirty years earlier. James Lockhart thereafter became a general in the service of Empress Maria Theresa, who had raised him to the dignity of a Baron of the Holy Roman Empire and decorated him with military orders. In 1785 he was attached to the household of the Grand Duke of Tuscany and in Italy with him was his daughter Marianne Matilda Lockhart (born 10th October 1774). The relationship between Anthony and Matilda flourished over the following years and they were married at St George’s, Hanover Square in Mayfair on 19th February 1791 when she was only 16 years of age but a Countess of the Empire in her own right. After the marriage, perhaps for financial reasons, the couple chose to live in Germany and their daughter Louisa Anna Matilda was born in Heidelberg on 17th November 1792. In 1818 she married George Barclay (1790-1869) a merchant of New York (and a nephew of Thomas Barclay, British Consul to America and a member of the Commission which settled the border with Canada) and they lived in America for the rest of their lives. Anthony Aufrère was in time to edit and publish in 1817 in two volumes ‘The Lockhart Papers’, detailing the family’s involvement in the rebellions of 1715 and 1745 and it remains his most significant work. Upon his death, his widow Matilda returned to Scotland and she died at 112, Princes Street in Edinburgh on 14th September 1850, being buried alongside her father in the Lockhart family tomb in Dryden just outside the capital.


By 1793 Anthony and Matilda had returned to England from the Continent and their second child George Anthony Aufrère was born in Newton just outside Chester on 18th June 1794 and baptised at nearby St Oswald’s Church in Backford just two days later. He served in the British Army from the age of 15 in 1809, initially as an Ensign in the 53rd Regiment of Foot in India until early 1815. His service in the rest of that year however was as a Lieutenant in the 9th Lancers and, attached to the Austrian Army, he fought at the Battle of Waterloo ‘…at the head of a troop of cuirassiers’ Afterwards he returned to India as a Lieutenant in the 9th Lancers until 1818 and then as a Lieutenant in the Light Dragoons from 1819. He ceased active duties in about 1826 but continued to receive half pay as a retired British officer until 1833 when he was given the honorary retirement rank of Captain. By the time of his father’s death in that year, the estate of Hoveton had gone but George Aufrère did then inherit Old Foulsham Hall together with its 600 acres. 

On 3rd September 1828 George Aufrère was in Germany in the footsteps of his father to marry, at the British Residency in Hamburg, Caroline Wehrtmann (born 1809 in St Petersburg), the second daughter of John Michael Wehrtmann, a Hamburg merchant who also had lands at Osterrade in the Duchy of Holstein. The couple returned to Foulsham to live and had no children. George described himself thereafter simply as a landed proprietor living on independent means.

In about 1840 they came to Westmorland and built a residence called Burnside .(also known as Burn Side and Burneside) overlooking Bowness Bay, where they spent most of the rest of their lives. During the next 40 years, they witnessed the rapid growth of the village where ‘new settlers of all ranks seemed to start from the ground in every quarter’. They employed five servants at first according to the 1841 Census but this slowly increased as they got older and in the 1881 Census compiled just before George Aufrère died, there were eight servants including a sick nurse. George however retained ownership of the estate at Foulsham, which was let to various tenants, until his death and accordingly his place on the Norfolk Electoral Registers. He also served as a JP for Norfolk for in excess of 48 years between 1826-1874.

George Aufrère was a member of the Bowness Local Health Board in 1869 and one of a number of wealthy local men who tried to have a cottage hospital built in Windermere in 1880/1881. He offered to contribute £450 on condition that a couple of rooms were set aside for contagious diseases and that it was a district and not just a local hospital. The scheme never came to fruition. Further the social scene of the Lake District was not neglected. George Aufrère acted as Steward at a number of prestigious balls held at the Low Wood Hotel and the Crown Hotel in Bowness in the 1840’s and with his wife was a mainstay of local society in and around Windermere in the early Victorian period.

George Aufrère died on 6th May 1881 at Burnside. He is buried back in Norfolk at Holy Innocents Church in Foulsham. His probate was granted out of the Carlisle Registry on 5th October 1881 to his widow Caroline. He left a net estate of £59,614, or in excess of £6.5 million in today’s money. His wife survived him for four years, herself dying at Burnside on 25th May 1885. It remained a private house until the 1960’s and is now a hotel.

Windermere Sailing Club

Since about 1830 sporadic sailing events between small numbers of boats had been held irregularly on Lake Windermere, mostly organised through the Ferry Inn. There were also intermittent rowing challenges, so that on 6th August 1849 for example George Aufrère umpired a skiff race over a two mile course on the lake between Curran’s Island and Storrs Hall Temple and its success led to consideration of an annual rowing event. The Ferry Inn Regatta had been restored after a gap of some years in 1848 when George Aufrère acted as a Steward and further serious sail racing continued in the following year when fifteen boats, belonging mainly to well-off residents of the area, competed for an elegant silver cup presented by Mr Astley of Fell Foot. George Aufrère had always had a passion for sailing and he entered that competition with his 27 foot yacht Victoria; he also again acted as Steward of the Regatta. The train link to Windermere (which had opened in 1847) had brought merchants and ship owners from Liverpool and industrialists from Lancashire to the area to sail and they possessed the wealth to commission yachts to their own fashions. Initially there was only cursory adherence to rules and common design, with a handicapping system being intended to level the performance of yachts varying in size from 14 to 36 feet. This system was however found clearly not to be working during the 1850’s and rules were needed to bring order and fairness to the sport and the umbrella of an exclusive club was thought the best way in which to achieve this. The Regatta in August 1859 brought these concerns to a head; it was in that year that George Aufrère presented ‘a handsome epergne’ (a branched ornamental table centrepiece) as a prize, courteously declining to enter his own yacht for the competition for it.

Accordingly the following year George Aufrère and his close friend Joseph Ridgeway Bridson (1832-1901), a bleacher and calico printer of Bolton, jointly founded the Windermere Sailing Club with George Aufrère chairing the inaugural meeting on 16th January 1860 at Burnside. He served as both Commodore and Treasurer in its first year, with Daniel Hutchins Belassis of Villa Lodge, Bowness as Secretary, and he remained as Treasurer until 1868 and then was again Commodore in 1869. Colonel George Ridehalgh (1835-1892), by then the landowner at Fell Foot, was the Club’s third founding father, serving as Commodore seven times between 1862 and 1890. The Rule Book of 1860 lists 26 Sailing Members and 18 Honorary Members of which Caroline Aufrère was one. Indeed the inclusion of four ladies in the list seems to indicate an intention that, from the start, there should be an active social life in the Club.

George Aufrère raced Mosquito to second place in both legs of the inaugural Regatta in 1860 and thereafter owned Ripple, the latter being a 20 foot racing yacht commissioned by him from Dan Hatcher (1817-1880) of Southampton and crewed by Morecambe Bay fisherman Tom Brown, who is shown as a visitor to Burnside at the time of the 1881 Census and who therefore must have remained a close friend of George for many years. In later life George continued to cruise on the Lake almost daily, often accompanied by his wife, right up until his death. Sir William Forwood (1842-1928), a Liverpool cotton broker and ship owner who joined the Sailing Club in 1868, wrote: ‘There will be few summer visitors to Lake Windermere who have not noticed the trim little yacht Ripple, owned by Mr Aufrère, in which he cruised almost daily, and which was a conspicuous object on account of its dark brown sails’.

George Anthony Aufrère is said to have had an aristocratic bearing, and was well known for brutally blunt and colourful language, perhaps stemming from his time as a cavalry officer and an attribute not unknown amongst helmsman of the Sailing Club today. He was however a generous, philanthropic and social man, regarded today as the father of the Windermere Sailing Club.


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