Thomas Holte was wealthy and well connected. He studied at Oxford and the Inns of Court and paid James I for a Baronetcy in 1611. The family remained Royalists, which proved expensive of both life and property during the Civil War. In a volume of documents relating to Aston Hall and its owners, an anonymous description states that ‘The Ancient deeds and writings of the family being destroyed when Aston House was plundered in the time of the Rebellion in 1641…’ [MS 3152/2 (259648)]
This may explain why there seems to be no real record of building the house surviving in Archives and Collections. There are, however, many other documents, especially title deeds and rentals relating to the Holtes. There is fascinating schedule of household goods and furnishings dating from 1654, part of a counterpart lease for 80 years from Dame Anne Holte, widow of Sir Thomas Holte, to Sir Robert Holte of Aston (her step-grandson), of the Advowson of Aston Parish Church, Aston Hall and Park and all other property of Dame Anne in Aston and Handsworth.Had all the furnishings from that schedule survived, the house would be full of table boards and frames, feather beds and bolsters, fire irons and pewter plates!
In the great hall there were three table boards and frames, one iron grate and one brass candlestick priced at £4. 18 shillings. There were more tables and seats in the great parlour and in the three little rooms by the great stairs were one close stool, feather beds, bolsters, pillows, blankets, “one white gauzie rug”, matresses, cupboards, chairs, stools, curtains and curtain rods, bedsteads, shovels, tongs, bellows, augers “for boring alder poles”, and two gutter nets. Quite a collection!
In the kitchen there was a table board, “one great chest to put pewter in”, cleavers, pot hooks, pots ladles, racks, grates, six spits, and kettles. In the scullery were “thirty pewter dishes great and small”, a brass mortar and an iron pestle.
Upstairs, in the best lodging chamber there were, rather oddly if it was the best chamber, one broken bedstead and one broken “liverie cupboard”. Another bedroom fared better, with a little “turkie woorke carpet”, a mattress, a quilt, a double valance, a feather bed, bolster, pillows, blankets and curtains.Sometimes we are given information about the fabrics. There was a “velvett footestoole”, “Orris’ hangings” [I think this is Arras], some “kittermuster stuff” curtains [I think this is woven wool fabric from Kidderminster], one green rug and one red rug. There were also holland (fine, plain-woven linen) and hurden (coarse fabric made from hemp) sheets and pillowcases, a damask tablecloth and damask napkins.
The house also had a cheese chamber with a cheese press and a lemon press, “a launderie” with washing vats, as well as a stable and saddle house and a slaughter house with “one beefe axe”.
The lease and schedule can be found in Archive s& Collections as MS 21/1/2/2/7 [Holte 17].
At a later date, in 1848, on the death of James Watt junior, who had been tenant there since 1819, other inventories of Aston Hall’s furnishings, books and plants would be compiled for sale.
But that’s another story……
The main Holte Collection is catalogued as MS 21. There are additional Holte records in MS 20 and MS 3069, MS 3444 and MS 3887, as well as some in other collections, for which please see our online archive catalogue.
The most approachable account of the Holtes and Aston Hall is Oliver Fairclough’s This Grand Old Mansion (BMAG 1984) and you can, of course visit the splendid building and see for yourself!