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Life & History Section
Life & History, Introduction
The Watertons Brief History
Autobiography
Charles Waterton Portraiture
Early Years
Spain
A Brief Marriage
Edmund Waterton
Life As The Squire

Final Resting Place

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Wanderings in South America

Click to enlargeCharles Waterton (1782 - 1865).
Squire of Walton Hall
Traveller, Naturalist and Conservationist (born 3rd June 1782, died 27th May 1865). Affectionately accorded the title "Squire" by the locals. (Picture from Illustrated London News 24th August 1844.)

This pioneering naturalist opened what is now recognised as the World's first nature reserve in the grounds of his estate at Walton Hall near Wakefield in the West Riding of Yorkshire. Over some 30 years he recorded 123 species of birds in Walton Park.

His great interest in nature took him to both South and North America. His travels were recorded in his book Wanderings in South America, The North-West of the United States, and The Antilles in the Years 1812, 1816, 1820 & 1824.

He brought large quantities of the poison curare (wourali), still used in modern medicine, into Europe in the belief that it might cure rabies, and he invented the Waterton taxidermy method, a way of preserving animals without stuffing them.

Although known as the Squire of Walton, he could have styled himself the 27th Lord of Walton#, had it not been for the Reformation, which took his family's title away. Read a brief history of the Watertons.
(# apparently, his son, Edmund was also said to have made a claim to be the 27th Lord, a slight confusion of numbers, perhaps.)

He was a devout Catholic who took a firm stand on religious matters - particularly the relationship of the State and the established order.

He lost his young wife soon after the birth of his only son, Edmund; the son eventually sold Walton Hall to family enemies - the Simpsons.

He fought against pollution - for the small village of Walton also harboured a pollution pioneer - one of many such pioneers in the world during and since the Industrial Revolution. This entrepreneur was Edward Thornhill Simpson, a soap manufacturer. Mr Simpson was the unofficial adopted son of an earlier soap manufacturer, William Thornhill Hodgson (who died before the legal battle with Waterton). Hodgson & Simpson acquired the triangle of land that became known as Soap House Yard.

When Hodgson killed himself, Simpson took over the business and it thrived. This manifestation of the Industrial Revolution contributed to pollution in and around the village. It was the cause of a long running dispute between Squire Waterton and the Pilkingtons on the one hand and the Simpson family on the other.

The Squire won the battle, and the Simpsons went off to pollute Wakefield (and to create employment, it must be said), but Waterton lost the war when the Simpsons acquired Walton Hall after his death, following the sale of the estate by his son Edmund.

The Heronry and Stubbs Wood or Piece still exist within the walls of Walton Hall. The Waterton Country Discovery Centre is at the nearby Anglers Country Park at Wintersett.

Although Squire Waterton had brothers, a sister, a son and relatives scattered around the world, he was essentially the last in a long, distinguished line of Watertons to live at Walton Hall. His son, Edmund, lived there for a short while, but, sadly, his continuing financial problems forced him to sell up and move to Lincolnshire.

Today, Walton Hall is a hotel and leisure club under the name of the Waterton Park Hotel.

Walton Park, where the Squire spent many hours observing wildlife, is now home to a golf club ("Waterton Park") in a splendid setting. There is public access to some areas of the park.

There have been a number of works by and about Charles Waterton covering his life as an adventurer, a naturalist and as a country squire. No attempt is made here to write another; instead, I intend just to illustrate some of the highlights of the life of the Squire. A list of links and reference sources may be found on the Charles Waterton Links page.

Read an extract of autobiographical notes by Charles Waterton.

No Sir!
Charles Waterton - a Squire and a Gentleman, but not a 'Sir'.
The English word 'squire' is a shortened version of the word 'Esquire'. It comes from the Old French 'escuier' (modern French écuyer), itself derived from the Late Latin scutarius ("shield bearer"), in medieval or Old English a scutifer. The Classical Latin equivalent was armiger, "arms bearer". The term has evolved in its uses, referring in the Middle Ages to a trainee knight; after that to the leader of an English village, often a justice of the peace (JP) or a Member of Parliament (MP).

In English village life from the late 17th century until the early 20th century, there was often one principal family of gentry, owning much of the land and living in the largest house, sometimes the manor house or an important grange. The head of this family was often called "the squire".

Charles Waterton was one such "squire", regarded with affection and respect by the locals of Walton and Wakefield. He was not a 'Sir', as he had not been knighted by the monarch. However, he was, of course, a member of the gentry and a significant landowner; he also lived in the biggest house in Walton. ("Squire" - thanks to Wikipedia and the Oxford Online Dictionary for some of this information.)

Click to enlarge
An old view of Walton Hall from Richard Hobson's book (1).
For more about Walton Hall, click here.

Notes
1. Charles Waterton: His Home, Habits and Handiwork. Reminiscences of an Intimate and Most Confiding Personal Association for Nearly Thirty Years, by Richard Hobson MD., 1866.

Books about Walton, Charles Waterton, Guyana, and more!
See a selection of
books about Walton,
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Charles Waterton - Life & History - An Introduction
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