The collection comprises photographs, correspondence, business papers, geneaological papers, etc., of the Hancock and Capel families. The collection has been arranged into 4 series: records relating mainly to the Hancock family (A\AGI/1); records relating mainly to the Capel family (A\AGI/2); records relating to both Hancock and Capel families (A\AGI/3); miscellaneous records (A\AGI/4).
The Hancock Family:
The Hancocks have lived in West Somerset for at least 700 years, although only relatively few members of the family remain in the area now. Wiveliscombe, a market town some 10 miles west of Taunton, was the centre of their lives but they came originally from the area to the north-east of the town: Ford, Lydeard St Lawrence, Fitzhead and Halse. The mill at Holcombe - still standing today - was acquired by the family around 1500. They were of yeoman stock, land owners, not greatly wealthy but well-to-do, and they became active in a number of rural industries: serge-maker, fuller, tanner, malster/brewer, clothier, soap-maker. Probably all on a small scale and - until the middle of the 18th century - linked to traditional farming activities.
But the industrial revolution of the second half of the 18th century caused the spread of new ideas and technologies. Cottage industries began to be replaced with factories, water power by steam, money lenders by banks. Philip Hancock (1740-1812) and his wife Mary Crocker of Milverton (1744-1822) had five children. One son died young and another emigrated to The United States of America, but two others took advantage of the wider possibilities becoming available locally and brought themselves up in the world. Philip (1767-1838) was an attorney-at-law and banker who built himself a fine Georgian home at Ford House. William (1769 - 1849) began as a draper but soon, during the first decade of the 19th century started both a brewery and, with his brother Philip, a bank. William married Mary Froude of Knowstone in 1806.
One of their four children - another William (1810-1896) - took over responsibility for both the bank and the brewery, expanding that in Wiveliscombe - it became the largest employer in the town - and starting another in Cardiff - well placed to quench the thirst of the miners and steel-workers of South Wales. This younger William rebuilt the family home adjoining the Square in Wiveliscombe to make an imposing town house, known as Court House, of an adequate size to hold his wife Mary (nee Sweet-Escott), ten sons and one daughter. They were a sporting family: seven of the sons played rugby football for Somerset, one of them (Froude) played for England and another (Frank) for Wales. Ernest managed the William Hancock bank. Froude and Frank ran the breweries, but found time - together with Ernest - to hunt either stags and/or foxes several days a week. Other sons joined the army or the church, one farmed, another became a renowned eye-specialist.
The next generation were dispersed widely over the country. Few of them took any active part in the family businesses or even lived in the area. The Bank was sold to the Wilts and Dorset Bank. One of Ernest's sons worked briefly in the Wiveliscombe brewery but managment of Arnold and Hancock, as it had become as a result of an amalgamation, passed to Willoughby Hancock, a cousin and descendent of Philip. In 1955, after 150 years of successful independent operation, it was bought by Ushers of Trowbridge and finally became a part of Watney Mann. Brewing was discontinued but, in recent years, part of the old premises have again been used to brew beer on a small scale. The Cardiff brewery outgrew that in Wiveliscombe: as William Hancock & Co. it remained independent until it was finally bought out by Bass Charrington in 1968.
The Capel Family:
For about 140 years (1839-1979) three generations of the Capel family lived at Bulland Lodge, a late Georgian house in the parish of Chipstable, at the edge of the Brendon Hills and close to the market town of Wiveliscombe in West Somerset.
The Capels were a well-known family in Herefordshire and Gloucestershire but, apparently following some family problems, Arthur Capel (1815-1889) left Stroud in 1839 with his mother and several younger siblings and, having bought the Bulland estate, established the family there. In 1858 he married Elizabeth Keats, the daughter of a retired army officer living at Springhill in Wiveliscombe. Arthur was a JP and lived the life of a country gentleman, running the estate and active in local affairs.
Their only child was another Arthur (1854-1931) who, after Marlborough and Trinity College Oxford, was called to the Bar at Lincoln's Inn. He married Amy Norton, the sister of a successful London barrister. They lived all their married life at Bulland, both of them active in local, county and diocesan affairs.
Of their three children, Arthur John (known as Jack or Ben) (1894-1979) inherited the estate. After following his father to Marlborough, he went up to Trinity College Oxford. But after a year, the First World War broke out and he was commissioned in the Somerset Light Infantry. Very soon he transferred into the Royal Flying Corps, which later became the RAF. He became a professional airman and, after a varied and successful career, retired in 1945 as an Air-Vice-Marshal. For the remaining 30 years of his life, he ran the Bulland estate and took on the traditional duties of a country squire: he hunted, was a pillar of the parish, became a J.P. and a County Councillor and was Deputy Lieutenant and High Sheriff of Somerset.
In 1934 he married Austin Robina (Bobby) Moody, the widow of a fellow RAF officer. Their only child, Anne Capel (born 1936) married Peter Deshon in 1959 and lives in Hampshire. On her father's death, she sold the house at Bulland but retained all the land, as well as a small house for her own use.
The Hancock/Capel Connection:
In 1926 Charles Hancock (1895-1976), the eldest son of Ernest Hancock (one of the ten sons) and of Hilda Fox (of the Wellington Quaker family) married Hester Capel (1898-1992), the younger daughter of Arthur and Amy Capel.
Charles and Hester first went to live in Queen Camel, in the eastern part of Somerset, where Charles - after war work at the Westland Aircraft Co. in Yeovil - had set up an electrical engineering business. In 1939, by which time there were three children, the business was transferred to Wiveliscombe and the family went to live at Castle, a house outside the town where Charles had lived as a boy. After the closing down of the business, Charles bought more land and ran the farm and woodlands. Hester continued the Capel family tradition of public service by becoming a JP, a Rural District Councillor and a Governor of both the Wiveliscombe schools.
(Introduction compiled by R.F.Hancock, January 2005)