Wistow is a deserted mediaeval village (enclosed in the early seventeenth century) a few miles south-east of Leicester; it consists only of the church, the Hall, two outlying farms and a few houses. The neighbouring village of Newton Harcourt is a chapelry of Wistow, and the vicarage of Kilby (formerly a perpetual curacy) is held in plurality with that of Wistow.
The Halford family had owned Wistow since the early seventeenth century, and in 1641 Richard Halford was created a baronet for his services to the Royalist cause. It is said that Charles I slept at Wistow before the battle of Naseby, and after the battle he and Prince Rupert in their flight stayed there and exchanged for inconspicuous saddles their richly decorated ones, which are still kept at the Hall.
The first baronetcy became extinct in 1780 when Sir Charles Halford, the seventh baronet, died without issue. He left his estates (after the death of his widow, who married secondly the Earl of Denbigh) to the eldest son of his cousin. Dr. James Vaughan
James Vaughan was a Leicester physician of some repute, and was instrumental in the foundation of the Leicester Infirmary in 1771. Several of his sons achieved eminence in their careers. John Vaughan became a serjeant at law in 1799, a Baron of the Exchequer in 1827, and a Justice of the Common Pleas and a Privy Councillor in 1834. He was knighted in 1828. John's son Henry Halford Vaughan became Regius Professor of Modern History at Oxford in 1848.
The Rev. Peter Vaughan became a Fellow and later Warden of Merton College, Oxford, and Dean of Chester. His sister Almeria Selina was apparently his housekeeper at Merton before she married Dr. Hughes, Principal of Jesus College. Charles Richard Vaughan became a Fellow of All Souls, Oxford in 1798, and subsequently entered the diplomatic service. He was ambassador to the United States of America from 1825-1835, and was knighted in 1833.
The Rev. Edward Thomas Vaughan was vicar of St. Martin's, Leicester from 1802-1829, and also held the living of Foston, a deserted village near Wistow. His second wife was Agnes Pares (of the Leicester banking family), and three of his sons (Charles John, Edward Thomas and David James) succeeded him as vicars of St. Martin's. Charles John Vaughan later became headmaster of Harrow and Dean of Llandaff. The work of David James Vaughan for education in Leicester was commemorated in the naming of Vaughan College
Henry, Dr. James Vaughan's eldest surviving son, was educated at Rugby School (of which he later became a trustee), Christ Church, Oxford, and Edinburgh University, where he studied medicine. After practising in Scarborough for a short time, he established himself in London; in 1793 he was elected physician to the Middlesex hospital (a post he relinquished in 1800) and physician extraordinary to the King. In 1794 he became a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, and in 1800 he gave the Harveian Oration. His practice grew in importance, particularly after he had attended the Duchess of Devonshire and Charles James Fox in their last illnesses in 1806. George III created him a baronet in 1809, on which occasion he changed his name to Halford by Act of Parliament.
In 1810 Sir Henry was called in to advise on the case of Princess Amelia and his surviving correspondence (most of which dates from after this time) shows that he enjoyed the friendship and confidence of many members of the Royal Family. He was one of the physicians who attended George III from his illness in 1810 until his death (see I. Macalpine and R. Hunter, George III and the Mad-Business) and also attended Queen Charlotte and her daughters, Princess Charlotte of Wales, George IV, William IV and Queen Victoria. The Duke of Cumberland (later King of Hanover) consulted him over the eye disorder of his son Prince George, and treated Sir Henry as a friend as well as a physician. Sir Henry also enjoyed the personal friendship of many of his other distinguished patients, such as the Duke of Wellington and the Duchesse de Dino.
In 1813 Sir Henry was present at the opening of the coffin of Charles I, of which he published an account. On this occasion he removed the vertebra which had been cut through by the executioner's axe, and kept it at Wistow. After his death his son returned the bone to Queen Victoria.
Sir Henry was president of the Royal College of Physicians from 1820 until his death in 1844. He was instrumental in securing the removal of the College to new premises in Pall Mall East in 1825, on which occasion he was made K.C.H. (Knight Commander of the Hanoverian Guelphic Order). He was given the G.C.H. (Grand Cross of the same Order) by William IV. He had great influence in the medical world, as his advice was frequently sought when medical appointments were to be made by the Crown, the government or other bodies; he also used his connections to further the careers of his family. Francis Hawkins M.D., who married Sir Henry's niece Hester, was apparently his partner or assistant (referred to as "Little Hawkins"); Sir Henry obtained for him the chair of medicine at the new King's College, London in 1831 (see no.879/33).
Besides his eminence in his profession, Sir Henry was known for the elegance of his compositions in both Latin and English. He had privately printed, for distribution to his friends, a volume of Latin translations of English verses, entitled Nugae Metricae, which he said he had composed in his carriage between visits to patients. He also wrote essays on medical and historico-medical subjects, including Tic Douloureux, The Influence of some Diseases of the Body on the Mind, and The Deaths of Some Illustrious [Eminent] Persons of Antiquity.
In 1796 Sir Henry married (Elizabeth) Barbara St. John, daughter of John, 10th Baron St. John and Susannah Louisa Simond. The latter inherited from her father Peter Simond a legacy to be paid from the Simond & Hankey estates in Grenada (West Indies), and part of this money was bequeathed to Lady Halford. However, the estates did not show any profit for a number of years, and eventually there were disputes within the St. John family over the matter (see no.1043).
Before he came into the Wistow estate in 1814, Sir Henry had already begun to buy other properties in the neighbourhood and, with Lady Denbigh's co-operation, had established tree plantations on the estate. As he was living in London this business was managed for him by his Leicester attorney, Caleb Lowdham. After inheriting the property, Sir Henry spent a great deal on improving it (see no.952/4, and the Victoria County History of Leicestershire, Vol. V, p.339).
Sir Henry died on 9th March 1844. A biography of him, The Life of Sir Henry Halford was published in 1895; the author, W. Munk, had studied this collection of papers. The second baronet had made notes for a projected biography of his father (see no.940).
Henry Halford, the second baronet apparently began but soon abandoned a career in the diplomatic service (see no.1058/1). In 1824 he married his cousin Barbara Vaughan; at first they lived at Maidwell, Northants., but later moved to Newton Harcourt. Henry Halford was a J.P., and in 1832 was elected as a Conservative M.P. for the newly-created Southern Division of Leicestershire. He held this seat until 1857. He was active on behalf of the framework-knitters, and introduced two Bills (the "Ticket Bill" which became law, and a proposal to amend it) in an effort to improve their condition - see Felkin's History of the Machine-Wrought Hosiery and Lace Manufactures, p.473.
Elizabeth, daughter of the second baronet, married her cousin Albert Pell, who was M.P. for South Leicestershire from 1868 to 1885. He was an authority on the poor law and on agriculture, (see Dictionary of National Biography). Like her brothers, Elizabeth Pell had no children. The younger brother, the Rev. John Frederick Halford M.A., was vicar of Kilby and Wistow from 1867-1881, and then of Brixworth, Northants.
Sir Henry St. John Halford, the third baronet, was educated at Eton and Merton College, Oxford. He was active in County affairs, being Chairman of the Court of Quarter Sessions from 1883 until his death, and of the County Council from its inception in 1889 until 1893. He was more widely known as a rifleman; he shot for England, and encouraged the introduction of the Lee-Metford rifle. He also promoted the Volunteer movement, and was colonel of the Leicestershire Battalion. He died in January 1897; an obituary is to be found in the Transactions of the Leicestershire Archaeological Society, Vol. VIII, p.291.
A few months before the third baronet's death, he purchased from his brother the latter's life interest in the Wistow estate under Sir Henry St. John's marriage settlement of 1853 (both brothers being childless). He also purchased the reversion of the estate from Mr. H.P. Beauchamp Vaughan, grandson of the Rev. John J. Vaughan, (Leicester Museum Archives Department: 12D43/124/30). Sir Henry St. John bequeathed the estate to his close friend the Hon. Thomas Francis Fremantle, later 3rd Baron Cottesloe and father of the present Baron. The fourth baronet, Sir John Frederick Halford, only held the title for a few months, dying in April 1897.