John Saunders Sebright was born at Sackville Street, Westminster on 23 May 1767, the eldest son of General Sir John Saunders Sebright 6th Bart; from whom, on his death in 1794, he inherited his title, fortune and estates including the family mansion, Beechwood.
It was during his time, on 30 November 1838, that the Flamstead Tithe Grant was signed and in that it is stated that Sir John was entitled to the tithes from 2,698 acres of Flamstead’s total of 5,801 acres of which he owned the land as well as the tithes,
He was a friend of Thomas Coke of Holkham, later Earl of Leicester (1754-1842); both were prominent parliamentary rebels, both were agricultural reformers and both enjoyed a good wager. Sir John would often stay for short periods at Holkham and usually travelled with a favourite dog. On one occasion, he was boasting to fellow guests after dinner about how clever his dog was, when Lord Erskine took him up on it with the comment, “I wouldn’t mind betting my dog is cleverer than yours’”. There was no way he could be allowed to get away with that and so a wager was struck as to which dog could be taught the cleverest trick in a year. At the appointed time they met again and with fellow guests in eager anticipation and acting as judges, both animals were ordered to execute their party tricks. Lord Erskine’s dog retrieved a roasted oyster from the fire without damaging either itself or the oyster, while Sir John’s dog took a glass of wine to a guest pointed out to it without spilling a drop. We are not told who won on this occasion, nor indeed the amount of the wager.
A large crowd assembled and there was heavy betting, said to be fifty guineas to ten in favour of the Norfolk plough, which duly completed the task to an acceptable standard in the appointed time and Sir John paid up in good grace.
A boxing match for the title of Champion of England had been arranged for 18 May 1808. The pursewas to be £250 a side. Rumour had it that the fight was to be held at Woburn and the contestants were John Gully from Bristol and a Lancashire steamboat captain called Bob Gregson, but the Marquess of Buckingham got wind of it and took out an injunction against it. Nevertheless, the preparations for the contest continued and a considerable crowd in every sort of conveyance made its way out of London in the general direction of Woburn on the day decided upon. Having ventured well past Dunstable, rumours about the site were rife and there was much confusion. Eventually they were diverted with much secrecy to Beechwood Park, where Gully knocked out Gregson in the 24th round after 58 minutes. John Gulley never fought in a ring again and in course of time became a member of Parliament. There is a dell within Beechwood Park that is still known as ‘Gully’s Bottom’.
The Reformer reported on 8 January 1842:
‘Sir John distributed his usual donations of bread and meat to all the poor of the Parish of Flamstead on Christmas Day. It is not generally known that the worthy Baronet has endowed the Parish of Flamstead with £30 a year for ever, to be distributed amongst the poor of the parish in blankets and warm clothing every winter season and that he also gives soup every winter to 30 poor families and 25 widows and widowers‘ .
Sir John died at Turnham Green a little over four years after that piece was written and the Hertford Mercury reported on 25 April 1846:
‘The funeral took place on Wednesday at Flamstead, such was the respect paid to the deceased baronet’s memory that on the arrival of the funeral cavalcade at Hemel Hempstead every house and shop was closed and the whole population lined the town and road for a considerable distance’.
By the Dacorum Heritage Trust Ltd
9th March 2011