Origins of Our Name

- by former Hagley Director Glenn Porter

Friends and visitors often ask, "Why do they call it 'Hagley?'" All we know for certain is that the name was already in use well before E. I. du Pont expanded downstream from Eleutherian Mills in 1813 by purchasing the land that became the Hagley Yards. It was described in an 1813 document as "Hagley an Est[ate]," and it had been called Hagley at least as early as 1797, when its owner (Philadelphia Quaker merchant Rumford Dawes) applied for insurance on buildings at "a place called Hagley situated on Brandywine Creek."

Dawes had acquired the property in 1783. Since the name Hagley did not appear on the documents transferring ownership at that time, it seems likely that it was Dawes who gave the name to the Brandywine location. In 1783 the site included (near the bottom of what we call Blacksmith Hill today) a water-powered slitting mill to produce cut nails. The next year Rumford Dawes constructed an eight-room, two-story dwelling, along with an adjoining kitchen and a flour mill, all of stone. He used the estate as a rural retreat, as well as a milling site. The principal house, Dawes wrote Stephen Girard in 1808 from Hagley, had "a Piazza fronting on the Brandywine, that has . . . a fine flow of water affording an agreeable murmur."

Researchers have never discovered a "smoking gun" to prove it, but it seems likely that the Delaware Hagley was named for an English estate that was well-known in the second half of the eighteenth century. No other place of that name is known to have existed in eighteenth-century Europe or America.

The English Hagley is a village, a parish, and an estate located in the West Midlands countryside approximately ten miles southeast of Birmingham. It is, in English parlance, "the seat" of Viscount Cobham, whose forebear, George 1st Lord Lyttleton, completed the sandstone house called Hagley Hall in 1760. Last summer my wife Barbara and I had the opportunity to visit Hagley during a trip to England for a meeting of the Society for the History of Technology. We received a fine tour of the restored house and estate, portions of which can now be rented for private parties or events. Perhaps the simplest explanation for the appearance of the name in America would have been through an immigrant from the West Midlands. (We do not know the origins of Rumford Dawes or his family before he ap-peared in the Philadelphia directory in 1785.) But it could also have come through other means.

Hagley Park, which surrounds the Hall, was already famous in the mid-eighteenth century as a leading example of the English style of landscape architecture created by William Kent, Capability Brown, and Humphry Repton. (Such arranged "natural" landscapes, often adorned with classical temples and columns, became the rage throughout Europe and replaced countless earlier, more formal gardens.) The Lyttleton property was described in many English guidebooks and books on gardens, including two published in 1777 by J. Heely, entitled Description of Hagley Park and Letters on the beauties of Hagley, Envil and the Leasowes (Jefferson bought a copy of the Letters on his garden tour of England in 1786).

Hagley Park's praises had also been sung even earlier in British poet and dramatist James Thomson's The Seasons, which first appeared in an American edition in Philadelphia, also in 1777. Thomson (1700-1748) was enormously popular in the eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries. His work was issued in hundreds of editions and translations throughout Europe and America. (Our library holds several volumes of Thomson, including a 1779 Paris translation once owned by Eleuthera Bradford du Pont and an edition published in Georgetown, D.C., in 1814 and acquired in 1818 by Margaretta E. Lammot, who in 1824 married E. I.'s son Alfred Victor du Pont.)

A wealthy merchant such as Rumford Dawes could have known of the rural beauties of the famed English estate and might have named his Brandywine property accordingly. (Dawes was a bookish enough gentleman; he held a membership in the Library Company of Philadelphia from 1789 to 1815.) So, it is all conjecture, but we think that's probably why they call it Hagley. These lines from Thomson's The Seasons certainly seem to fit our stretch of the Brandywine:


". . . thro' Hagley Park
thou strayest;
. . . There along the dale,
With woods o'er hung, and shagg'd with mossy rocks,
Whence on each hand the
gushing waters play,
And down the rough cascade white-dashing fall,
Or gleam in lengthened
vista thro' the trees,
You silent steal; or sit
beneath the shade
Of solemn oaks, that tuft
the swelling mounts,
Thrown graceful round
by Nature's careless hand"