The Watnall Hall graves - who is buried there?

Photo:Watnall Hall

Watnall Hall

Photo:Colonel Sir Lancelot Rolleston and Lady Maud

Colonel Sir Lancelot Rolleston and Lady Maud

Photo:Sir Lancelot and Lady Maud's Golden Wedding

Sir Lancelot and Lady Maud's Golden Wedding

Photo:Grave of Sir Lancelot and Lady Maud

Grave of Sir Lancelot and Lady Maud

Photo:Vice-Admiral Robert Rolleston

Vice-Admiral Robert Rolleston

Photo:Fanny Lilian Rolleston

Fanny Lilian Rolleston

Photo:Watnall Hall with Sir Lancelot standing guard

Watnall Hall with Sir Lancelot standing guard

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'The Watnall Hall graves - who is buried there?' page

A guide to the Rolleston family graves

By Chris Appleby

Anyone who has walked the grassy fields above Watnall has probably discovered the lonely and deserted graveyard surrounded by an old holly hedge. It is the family plot of the Rolleston family of Watnall Hall which used to stand nearby. But who exactly is remembered there and what are their stories?

At Christmas 1910, several of those buried there gathered at the hall for the traditional festive family reunion and, as you can see from the pictures, signed their names for posterity on a piece of headed hall notepaper.

There are three graves, all from one generation of the Rolleston family, fathered by Colonel Lancelot Rolleston MP (1785-1862). The Rollestons had lived at the hall since Tudor times but this was the first time any of them had been buried here. The hall stood 50m away tucked just below the hillside where the modern houses on Rolleston Crescent now are. The hall and gardens were demolished in 1962 to make way for them. It's a beautiful spot with views to several counties and it's nice to think of the siblings lying in peace together under the glorious overarching heavens. 

Grave 1 - Vice-Admiral Robert Sidney Rolleston (1849-1926) and Fanny Lilian Rolleston (nee Fraser) (1874-1957) 

Grave 2 - Eleanor Anne Tennant (nee Rolleston) (1853-1917) and John Robert Tennant (1851-1918) 

Grave 3 - Colonel Sir Lancelot Rolleston KCB DSO (1847-1941) and Lady Maud Rolleston (nee Dalzell) (1859-1949)

Vice-Admiral Robert Sidney Rolleston - 2nd son of Colonel Rolleston. In 1863 at the tender age of 13 he was packed off to join the Navy. That may appear rather young but it was the typical age for younger sons of aristocratic families to go to sea. His father had also died the year before so he would have had to grow up fast. He had an eventful career, was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant in 1873, trained the young King George V and his brother Prince Albert Victor as naval cadets on HMS Britannia at Dartmouth, sailed the world in command of numerous ships, was Commander of the battleship HMS Royal Oak from Feb 1903-Sep 1904 and eventually retired as a Vice-Admiral in 1920.

Fanny Lilian Rolleston (nee Fraser) - By far the youngest of this generation, she was born in 1874 in Madras, India. She died in 1957 and was the last person to be buried in the family graveyard. She was the daughter of Major-General Alexander Robert Fraser of Torbreck (near Inverness) and Edinburgh (1820-1900). He gained the rank of Major-General in the Madras Cavalry Staff Corps and as the young laird of Torbreck in 1833, reputedly owned the old claymore sword of Rob Roy McGregor the notorious Scottish cattle rustler and outlaw. When they married in 1901, Fanny Lilian was 27 and Robert, now a Royal Navy captain, was almost 52. None of the Rolleston siblings had any children so was this marriage of first cousins perhaps a desperate act to save the Rolleston line? The Rolleston family must have been desperate to produce an heir and marriages between cousins were not so frowned upon as they are today, especially for the aristocracy. It still took them 11 years until their daughter Elma (Eleanor Maud) was born in Fulham on 11th April 1912. By then Robert was 63 and Fanny was 38. Elma was the thin thread that kept the family line going to this day. The whole Rolleston family must have been so delighted when she finally came along. 

Nor was this the first time that the venerable old Scottish family of Clan Fraser had saved the Rolleston family line. In 1846 after the death of his first wife and of his only male heir, Robert's father Colonel Lancelot Rolleston aged 61 re-married to Eleanor Charlotte Fraser also of Torbreck, a small farming hamlet by Loch Ness just outside Inverness. Her mother was of noble Scottish blood, the 8th Earl of Lauderdale's daughter Lady Anne Maitland, who had had infamously eloped with the wild and dashing young laird Robert Fraser of Torbreck in 1807. In Torbreck they built their love-nest, Ness Castle. 

Eleanor Anne Tennant (nee Rolleston) - she didn't spend much time at Watnall Hall as when her father died in 1862 the Rolleston family were living in a row of seaside townhouses in Brighton. The 9-year-old Eleanor and her mother stayed on in Brighton during her teenage years while her older brothers were sent away to boarding school and the Navy. She married...

John Robert Tennant, son of Robert Tennant, the MP for Leeds and captain in the Yorkshire Hussars. He was from a modestly landed but entrepreneurial old Yorkshire family of Chapel House, Conistone-with-Kilnsey in beautiful Wharfedale. His father Robert, according to his obituary "was at one time a very large landowner in his native county, being possessed of five or six estates in Yorkshire, including three or four parishes in the North Riding. In Scotland, too, he owned an extensive estate at Auchnashellach, in county Ross, where he once entertained the Prince of Wales for a couple of days' shooting; and his possessions also included a large property at Rose Hall, Sutherlandshire, and the Ballochulish Slate Quarries"

Colonel Sir Lancelot Rolleston KCB DSO - Born on the 19th of August 1847 at Watnall Hall, he was the eldest son and heir of Colonel Lancelot Rolleston MP. He was the archetypal Victorian landed gentleman and a well-loved local squire, particularly by his local villagers in Watnall and his tenant farmers. Amongst his many schemes, he set up a farming cooperative to help them get their goods to market. His mother was Eleanor Fraser of Torbreck, near Inverness in Scotland, of the combative and soldierly Clan Fraser of Lovat.  He was educated at Wellington College, Crowthorne, Berkshire and at Christ Church College, Oxford University. He held the office of High Sheriff of Nottinghamshire in 1877. He fought in the Boer War, where he was badly wounded and was mentioned in despatches. As reward for bravely saving his life that day, Lancelot made Trooper Joe Haywood permanent landlord of the Queens Head pub in Watnall. He was Second in command of the 3rd Battalion, Imperial Yeomanry and a Nottingham magistrate for a remarkable 70 years. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (D.S.O.) in 1902. He was Colonel of the Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Mounted Brigade, Territorial Forces between 1908 and 1912. He was awarded the Territorial Decoration (T.D.) in 1909. He was appointed Knight Commander, Order of the Bath (K.C.B.) in 1911. He also served as Chair of Nottinghamshire County Council and his portrait still hangs in County Hall to this day.

Lady Maud Rolleston - Sir Lancelot's wife, was born 2 Sep 1859 in Bruges, Belgium as Charlotte Maud Dalzell, married 25 Feb 1882 aged 33 and died 13 Nov 1949 aged 90. She was the daughter of Colonel Hon. Robert Alexander George Dalzell and Sarah Bushby Harris of Eldon House, London in Canada. She was a force of nature herself and a fine watercolour artist. She was appointed Commander, Order of the British Empire (C.B.E.) in 1919 for her charity work. In 1900, aged 40, she followed her husband, who she calls Lance, to war in South Africa where using her skills at managing country houses and estates and her wide range of contacts she set up a convalescent home for wounded soldiers. She helped nurse Lance back to health after he was shot through the back during fighting near Lindley. Her many adventures there are documented in her book "Yeoman Service : Being the diary of the wife of an Imperial Yeomanry officer during the Boer War"

The full article about the Watnall Hall graves can be read on the "Tales from Watnall Hall" website here...

This page was added by Chris Appleby on 03/01/2024.

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