[The following transcript is from a document written in 1951 by Bertie Blount]
The marriage of John Leach Panter to Sarah Downes on 14th October, 1801, represented the union of two vary different types: for John Leach Panter was a clever young civil servant belonging to a family which had recently begun to rise from obscurity, while Sarah Downes came from a very ancient and honourable family which was in process of a disastrous decline.
It maybe that ‘Panter’ is a surname of occupation, but, unlike ‘Butler’ or ‘Carpenter’ or ‘Smith’, the word ‘Panter’ survived only in the surname. It derives from occupation in a pantry, originally something more than a place where plates are washed and silver cleaned. We can, if we indulge our fancy, imagine our first Panter ancestor to acquire a surname as presiding over tbe preparation and issue of the finer things to eat and drink in same castle or great house. Perhaps the office was hereditory, and so the surname became firmly established.
Be that as it may, it is certain that the Panters were West Country folk. Richard Panter, of Ross-on-Wye, married in 1698 a Miss Jones of Tredegar. He is said to have been a brewer. They had a son, Richard, who was the father of William Panter, the first of the family who is more than shadowy. William, to judge by his beautiful silver, which is still in the family’s possession, was a man of substance. He lived at Westbury-on-Trym and is buried at Walcote, near Bath. He married, soon after 1770, Anne, daughter of Mr. Leach and his wife Anne, nee Bolster. This Anne Leach, mother-in-law of William Panter, and, therefore, John Leach Panter’s grand-mother, has left various relics which are now scattered through the family, including a miniature portrait which makes her appear a strong-minded, indeed, formidable, old lady. She was born in 1707 and died 8th November, 1790.
William and Anne Panter had a large family. Besides John Leach, there were William, the eldest and a bachelor, who worked in the City of London; Frederick, who died shortly after his second birthday; Philip, a naval chaplain who served in H.M.S. “Bellerophon” and was afterwards Rector of Nettlecombe in Somerset, and who also remained a bachelor; George, who died in Madeira; and four girls, none of whom married, who appear as old ladies, flanking John Leach and Sarah, in the Jubilee picture.
The family of Downes was firmly established for six centuries – perhaps for longer – in Cheshire, where they owned the estates of Shrigley, Worth and Butley. The written records of the family go back to about the year 1200; family tradition – now, alas, perished – is said to have carried the story back to Saxon times. They were landowners, with a substantial rent-roll, who lived quietly on their estates, no doubt prominent in local affairs, but never outside their county. Only one Downes has achieved a niche in history. Families were usually large, and the younger sons were often apprenticed. The grandson of one of those younger sons, John Downes, was a grocer of London who supported Cromwell and was one of King Charles’ judges. He is one of the signatories, the last, of the famous death-warrant. He is said to have been a man of indecisive character, and, from the position of his name, he evidently found it difficult to make up his mind whether to sign it or not. He fared better than most of the regicides, many of whom were either executed or murdered, for be was sentenced at the Restoration to a perpetual, but easy, imprisonment.
The family’s financial troubles seem to date from the latter part of the 18th Century. In 1747, Edward Downes died, and, at about the same time, his oldest son. The second son, Peter, (who married Anne Craven) had been sent to India to make his fortune, and returned to take up his unexpected inheritance. It nay be that he acquired expensive ideas in the East, or the decline may have begun earlier, but when the time come for him to hand on to his son Edward, the estates were heavily involved, and Edward was not the man to put things right. Be was educated at Christ Church, Oxford, and had classical tastes, for he translated “John Gilpin” into Latin Elegiacs. Unkind people have said that it was the most useful thing he did in his life: Eventually, about 1818 he had to sell all his estates and died, a bachelor, soon after.
Edward left two sisters; Sarah, who had married John Leach Panter, and Bridget, who did not marry. The latter continued to live in the Shrigley area, and is buried in the churchyard of Shrigley Church, built in the reign of Henry VII by her ancestor. At her death Sarah became the technical “heiress” of the Downes family, though there was little enough to inherit. However, by this time, the Midland coalfields were developing fast, and the mineral rights under the former Downes estates had become valuable. John Leach Panter attempted to establish his title, by virtue of his marriage to Sarah, to those rights, but failed. It is no doubt to this which he refers in his Jubilee Speech, where he says that “had the Law taken its course” he would have made good provision for his family.
The Downes portraits now belong to Mollie Panter-Downes (Mrs. Robinson). The garnet Jewellery, now scattered among the family, was originally acquired by Peter Downes. It has been suggested that it represents his savings in India. Shrigley House, a rambling Elizabethan mansion, was destroyed by fire not long after the sale. It was rebuilt in the heavy style of the 1820’s and is now a convent.
Shrigley Church contains a number of Downes Monuments, and is well worth a visit. There is also a fine brass to an early Downes and his wife in the chancel of Macclesfield Church, a few miles away.
NOTE. Tbe Downes papers, from which the Downes Family Tree was worked out some eighty years ago, now belong to Mrs. Percy Blount. They go back to the 13th Century, and include “general pardons” sealed with the Great Seal, dated 2 Henry V, 29 Henry VI and 16 (?) Elizabeth. Those papers are now being put in order, and examined for their place-name interest at University College, London.