The Prance Family


Hampstead in the early nineteenth century was a village on the outskirts of London set on a hill from which you could see a panorama of the countryside and to the east the city of London with St Pauls Cathedral. The painters Constable and Romney had a studios and lived there for a number of years and painted several pictures of the area. To this day it is one of the most sought after residential areas of London.

Hampstead Parish Church 1759

ROBERT PRANCE 1798 - 1869

Robert Prance

William Prance the elder of Plymouth 1755-1813 married secondly Hannah Gibbs and had two sons and two daughters by her. Her Eldest son Robert was born 8th.April 1798 was educated in Plymton and for a while was a clerk in his father's business. There is a wonderful letter that he wrote to his half brother Samuel describing his journey on horseback to london at the age of twenty four. The journey must have taken him a fortnight and his horse had to cover over two hundred miles.

Robert became a member of the London Stock exchange in 1824. He was one of the Members and was also one of the first to be allowed to act as both jobber and dealer. He started a firm as R.Prance which later became Robert Prance and Co. In 1849 Robert played a prominent role in the exposure of George Hudson who had perpetrated fraudulent dealings in the developing railway companies. It was a huge scandal. Hudson had provided half of England with a network of railways and had entered parlaiment as a Tory. He was a briliant but eccentric man who controlled many important businesses beside the railways. He was however flawed and Robert Prance was partly instrumental in the disclosure of his financial shenanigans and in sorting out the affairs of the various companies involved. For this he was amply rewarded and no doubt his reputation greatly benefited as a result. Hudson eventually fled to France having lost his complete fortune and later returned to England penniless.

In 1825 Robert married Sarah Rooke of Barnstaple, N.Devon. First they lived in Pilgrims Lane, Hampstead but later took a lease on the property known as Frognal. Here he lived in considerable style where the footmen wore plush breeches with white stockings and powdered hair. He built stables for eight horses and the house came with extensive gardens and land. He was justice of the peace and became Chairman of the Bench at Hampstead for many years, a guardian of the poor and a generous donor to Christ Church of which he was one of the founders and trustees. He must have amassed a considerable fortune because in addition he purchased several estates. There are contemporary portraits of him which in time it is hoped to include here. His grandson recalled an impression of a typical early victorian parent, decidely strict, clever and ambitious, a hard working and upright man fond of horses, horticulture and agriculture, making a benevolent squire. He was a patron of art and helped more than one young artist. Robert died on 15th. February after a seizure the year before and was buried in the Hampstead Parish Churchyard.


Hampstead Parish Church 1990

Reginald Heber Prance was the second son of Robert above who, on his father's death, became head of the firm of Robert Prance and Co. which was one of the leading firms in the Consol Market, The Grand Trunk Railway of Canada Market and the India Rupee Market. The firm dissolved in 1885 and Reginald did little business himself after that date. He owned the Stanley Portlarge Estate, near Winchcombe, Gloucester and another in Kent. The Portlarge estate is still owned and farmed by Prances. He was a much travelled man, doing India, went twice to Tasmania and was in San Francisco during the earthquake and went over the Andes when about 72 years of age!

At one time he was a very rich man and gave large sums to the Church. He helped build St.Stephen's church and gave the organ. To Hampstead Parish Church he gave a new organ, choir stalls and decorated the chancel. At Christ Church, Hampstead he enlarged and remodelled the organ which his father had given. He also restored the west window of Tewksbury Abbey and gave money to a number of other churches and monuments. Like his father Robert he was very keen on art and had a fine collection of pictures among them Turner's Liber Studiorum which was later sold at Christies in 1894. A number of the most important pictures were bequeathed to the National Gallery.

Reginald died 20th.July 1912 in his 84th year and was buried, like his father, in Hampstead Parish Churchyard.