"Sir" Harry STAPLEY, & his brothers Frank & Walter

The most famous STAPLEY was undoubtedly the regicide Anthony 1590-1655, one of the 55 signatories to King Charles I death warrant.
Anthony was a descendant of the Twineham STAPLEYs from Richard c.1445-1505.
Anthony’s two sons John and Anthony jun. were not loyal to Cromwell and undoubtedly this was divisive in the family. However it did secure a knighthood and baronetcy for John. Genealogical research shows that Sir John had no surviving male heirs at his death in 1701 (his son Herbert MP for Seaford 1678 had died 1698), the baronetcy therefore became extinct.

So it was surprising to come across reports of Sir Harry STAPLEY claiming descent from Sir John.

First “evidence” of Sir Harry’s claims came via papers at the Sussex Record Office: “1905- Stapley Papers from The East Sussex County Record Office, Lewes. 37 pages printed for private circulation by Sir Harry Stapley”, The Stapley Papers give the author's name as Sir Harry Stapley FSA (Ireland).
Shirley STAPLEY is a published genealogist and commented “We did find a few errors and we suspect that Sir Harry took some of his information from Reverend Turner who also made a few mistakes in his charts. Shirley also noted that another researcher in a 1978 letter had said "The man who called himself Sir Harry couldn't prove that he had descended from Sir John Stapley of Patcham but he was a grandson of Robert Stapley of Framfield". Yet another Stapley researcher had noted a will of an Isaac Stapley of Brighton who died in 1892 and probate was granted to Harry Stapley and Walter Stapley.

Shirley then found this entry in Dod's Peerage dated 1900:

As the claim represented a significant departure from hitherto known facts, it offered an interesting new line of investigation into the STAPLEYs.

Working from known facts and collecting prime documentation included searching the GRO index , obtaining certificates, and checking censuses yielded the following:

23 Dec 1847
Henry BROMLEY (3rd Baron MONTFORT) married (2) Ann BURGHAM. He died in 1851 and left her a rich widow.  In 1861 she is decribed as Hon. Lady MONTFORD, and living with her are nephew & niece: Percival & Anne TURNER she nee HARDCASTLE.  Lady MONTFORD died in 1878 and Anne TURNER inherited money from Aunt Lady MONTFORD. Percival TURNER died in 1879 and a year later Anne married George BLESSLEY.

4 May 1854

Isaac STAPLEY (policeman, s/o Robert) married Mary Ann HILTON at Hove.  son Harry born later that year

24 Jul 1876

Harry (21, architect, s/o Isaac) married Sarah PAGE (widow nee SHELDON), (Harry's father Isaac described as "Gentleman")

1881 census

Harry (28, architect, born Brighton) & Sarah at 1 Torrington Street, St. George Bloomsbury London MDX, with (step?) daughter Effie* (7) born London, (Harry's father Isaac is coal merchant at Hove.)


5 Jan:  Harry's brother Frank (architect, s/o Isaac) married Eliza Sutherland (father Isaac described as "Merchant")
Dec: George BLESSLEY's 1st wife Anne TURNER nee HARDCASTLE died at Marylebone, left 9.528.

1 Jul 1885

George BLESSLEY (40, Gentleman, widower) married his deceased wife's "Niece" Ann Bromley GUY (25) at Ryde IOW.   Ann Bromley GUY was first cousin once removed of Anne HARDCASTLE, therefore Lady MONTFORT's Great-niece.
2 daughters: 1886 Georgie Marguerite & 1887 Muriel Kathleen 

26 Jan 1886

Harry's first wife Sarah died at Paddington


10 Feb. George BLESSLEY died, leaving 23,278 to his brother & widow Ann nee GUY.

14 July: Harry (32, Esquire) married Ann Bromley BLESSLEY (nee GUY, 27, widow) (his father Isaac described as "Gentleman, deceased")  thus he became Georgie' & Muriel's step-father.

19 Jan 1890

death of Ann Bromley STAPLEY (30, wife of Sir Harry STAPLEY) leaving 13,683 with Harry as sole executor.         Was the money for the education & upbringing of step-daughters Georgie & Muriel?

1891 census

father Isaac retired at Hove,;  Issac's wife Mary Ann is not found in any census after 1871

Harry living at Bailey's hotel on "own means"

Jan 1892
Harry [35] "Gent" travels from New York to Liverpool on "Majestic"

16 Jun 1892

Isaac STAPLEY died. Estate 19 Probate granted 3 May 1894 to sons Harry and Walter.

Mar 1897
"Sir" Harry Stapley [40] "Gentleman"  travels from Cape Town to London on "Beachley"
1901 census
Harry living on "own means" with Helen MOUSELL, whom he married in 1903
1911 census
Harry's stepdaughters both living in Wales.  George married & Muriel about to marry
Harry’s birth entry was not found in the GRO index around 1852-56, but his baptism was found in the Hove BTs: March 1855, son of Isaac (Policeman) and Mary Ann. *Effie is almost certainly Emma Page 1870 from Sarah's first marriage.

So some confirmations, but some queries arose. Noted that Harry’s father is Isaac, not John as in Dod’s. How could he get that wrong? In fact the Dod’s entry is full of errors.

It wasn’t difficult to find Harry’s father Isaac; baptised 1827 tenth of 16 children of Robert STAPLEY of Framfield. Isaac married Mary Ann HILTON (not HOLDON as in Dod’s).

At the 1881 census Isaac was age 53 a coal merchant at 10 Farm Road, Hove, Brighton with son Walter & 2 lodgers. Wife Mary Ann is missing. In 1891 he was still there with another son John but no wife present.

Harry stated in 1888 that his father was deceased? Isaac was actually alive until June 1892.

Harry went from Architect in 1876/86, to Esquire in 1888, to Sir and Baronet in 1890. This rapid elevation in social status occurred during his 18 month marriage to rich widow Ann Bromley GUY/BLESSLEY. 

Ann was the daughter of Thomas GUY, born Uckfield Sussex in 1859. In 1881 she was living with, and as niece of, George and Anne BLESSLEY of Marylebone. George’s first wife Anne died in Dec 1884 leaving 9528 and within a few months (July 1885) George married "niece" Ann Bromley on the Isle of Wight.  However George enjoyed only 3 and a half years of this union before he too died in Feb 1888, leaving Ann as a "well-off" 28 year old widow, and on 14 Jul 1888 Ann married Harry.

Tracing Harry’s STAPLEY line back from Isaac we find grandfather Robert baptised 1784 at Rotherfield (This is the Robert STAPLEY described in the Rev. Turner’s Sussex Collection of papers as “A decayed member of this family still lives in Framfield........ He has told me of the general belief of his family that an evil influence seems to hang over them in retribution for for their guilty participation in the Rebellion..... ”.

Robert was s/o Cornelius STAPLEY b. 1752, traceable to Nicholas b. 1711, William b. 1668, Richard b. 1637, John b.1604, John b. c. 1574 (all Rotherfield). No John or Herbert!

In the 1901 census Sir Harry was 44 "living on own means", visitor to Helen Mousell (31) born Ballarat Australia, milliner at 63 York Ter L., Marylebone. He married Helen in 1903, this time claiming his father was John STAPLEY, deceased gentleman. After his death in 1926, probate was granted to his widow Helen, a mere 39-0-0.

Harry's father Isaac Stapley born 1827 at East Hoathly, a descendant of the Rotherfield STAPLEYs, who have been be traced back to Nicholas c.1480.
Most of Isaac's children led very interesting lives:

Harry's siblings, issue of Isaac:

James born 1856 married Mary Ann Wilcox CHESHIRE in 1880, worked as a butler, no known surviving children, died 1922.

Frank, described as Heir Presumptive in the Dods Peerage entry, turned out to be more accomplished than Harry. After a spell in South Africa (thereby missing the 1881 UK census) he married Eliza SUTHERLAND and they went to Victoria Australia where he became a leading Melbourne Architect and worked with Melbourne City Council 1887 to 1893. He was Melbourne's Chief Advocate of Town Planning and was influential in that for 30 years. Member of City Council from 1901. Mayor 1917 to 1918. Alderman 1921 to 1939. Frank became the subject of Society interest, when following the death of his elder brother Harry (1926); he refused to claim a family title of dubious authenticity, observing, "It would hardly harmonise with conditions out here"!!!

Frank visited his brother Walter in New Zealand in 1926.
Frank died in Melbourne in 1944.

photo in the Melbourne Town Hall

Catherine born 1860, married Matthew THOMPSON, 6 sons, Matthew died young in 1893.  There are living descendants in Brighton SSX & (via son Jack) in Western Australia.
Catherine then married George SPINK in 1895, 2 more sons Bert & Rance, but she died in 1903 at Brighton leaving 2 infants sons.  Bert was killed in WW1; Rance served in Royal Navy, visited NZ in 1933, married 1964, died at Brighton 1969.

Walter qualified as a Veterinary Surgeon (D.C.V.Sc.) in 1892 before being appointed to the Natal Civil Veterinary Department. There he married Mildred Thompson, but resigned in 1898 and returned to England. In 1899 travelled to the USA (with wife) where he took his M.D. degree.
He worked in New Zealand  1905-1908 (where he married Sybil CANNON nee PEARSON) before accepting an invitation to join the staff of Melbourne University lecturing in anatomy for 5 years.  He returned to New Zealand in 1912 practicing as an M.D. in Cambridge, Waikato, NZ.
Brother Frank visited Walter in 1926 shortly before he died; Walter is buried at Haitapu cemetery.  His obituaries do not mention his brothers.
Sybil's forename varied from birth as Lizzy, to Eliza, Daisy Sybil, Sybil, & Sybil Jane.  Sybil's daughter Constance CANNON born in California, married Robert SAWERS in NZ in 1914.
photo supplied by Cambridge (N.Z.) MuseumWalter STAPLEY photo
John Arthur born 1876, was still at home in 1891, #5699 in West Riding  (Duke of Wellington's ) Regiment in South Africa 1897.

Conclusions and Summary:

Harry was the son of Isaac policeman and later a coal merchant, and apparently trained with his brother Frank as an architect. He married two widows and a spinster, preferred to describe his father as a Gentleman or Merchant as well as "deceased" when he wasn't. During his second marriage 1888-90 he rose from "Esquire" to "Baronet" and by 1900 had documented his claim to that title and claimed his father was "John" deceased gentleman. His brothers Frank and Walter were genuine "achievers".


Sir Richard

"Sir" Harry had a cousin who was a real Knight: Harry and Sir Richard STAPLEY were both grandsons of Robert STAPLEY 1784-1855. Sir Richard was born 1842 at Fletching and was a co-founder and director of the prosperous clothing business of Stapley and Smith of London Wall. For more than 30 years he was a member of the Corporation of London, representing the ward of Cripplegate Within. A past Master of the Gold and Silver Wyre Drawers Company, he was knighted in 1908 for services to the Liberal Party. The Sir Richard Stapley Educational Trust was established in 1919, its origins stemming from his life-long concern with educational and philanthropic causes. He died at sea sailing home from Jamaica ("The Times").
One wonders if Harry & Richard actually knew each other?

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