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12 March 2007
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House with its roots in history
Coton Hall
Coton Hall including the ruined chapel
In the United States, the name of General Robert E. Lee is one that commands great respect - especially in the South, where he's fondly remembered as the finest Confederate general of the American Civil War.
LISTEN
audio BBC Radio Shropshire's Michael Howell visits Coton Hall - and gets stuck in the tunnel! (28k)
WEBLINKS

Robert E. Lee Memorial Association
This is the website for the organisation which looks after Stratford Plantation, the Lee family home in Virginia.

General Robert E.Lee has become a hugely important figure to Americans since the Civil War, and this site goes a way towards explaining why - and how he's connected with one of the most successful TV series of all time.

FPD Savills
View the estate agent's details on this house.
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites.

SEE ALSO
Local history section
For more information about all aspects of Shropshire's past.
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FACTS

General Lee is regarded as America's best soldier ever. He graduated from the West Point military school with not a single demerit point - something no-one has ever done before or since.

He joined the U.S. Army but offered his services to the breakaway Confederates when the American Civil War of the 1860. His feats as a general in the Confederate Army made him famous on both sides.

When the war ended with the Confederates losing, Lee narrowly avoided trial for treason, but was instead stripped of his rights as a citizen. He was finally pardoned of any wrongdoing more than 100 years later by President Jimmy Carter.

But was isn't known so widely is that General Lee's family came from Shropshire, and the family home still exists.

For 500 years, the Lee family owned a sizeable chunk of the county in the parish of Alveley, near Bridgnorth.

Coton Hall from side
Another view of the building

The family, originally-named de la Lee and probably of Norman descent, lived in Coton Hall from the 1300s onwards.

And it's only because the present-day Coton Hall has recently come up for sale that the Lees of Shropshire have come to light again.

Present day Coton Hall was built soon after 1800 for Harry Lancelot Lee, in the Georgian style. At the time the estate ran to 5,000 acres.

General Robert E. Lee
General Robert E. Lee

Although the present building is only some 200 years old, the Lee family's connections with the land go back 1,000 years. The previous building on the site was also called Coton Hall - and it was from here that Robert E. Lee's ancestors left for America in the 1600s.

They originally went there to trade, and one or two returned to England after a few years, but one branch forged new lives for themselves in the young country, acquiring land and power.

Two of them, Richard Henry and Francis Lightfoot Lee, were the only brothers to sign the Declaration of Independence.

General Robert E. Lee's father was 'Light Horse Harry' Lee, a famous soldier of the American War of Independence, where he was known for his courage in fighting the British.

Coton Hall interior
Inside Coton Hall

And by a bizarre paradox, he may well have been reponsible for the deaths of soldiers from Shropshire - elements of the 53rd Regiment, which later became the Shropshire Regiment, were all but wiped out and the remainder captured at the Battle of Saratoga in 1777.

Light Horse Harry resigned from the army as soon as the British were defeated, and settled down to raise the family that included the young general.

Robert E. Lee went into military college at West Point and became a career soldier in the U.S. Army. But when the American Civil War broke out, he sided with the Confederate states, as his home state of Virginia was one of them.

After four years of war it was Lee who signed the surrender, and then did his utmost to embrace the new United States until his death in 1870.

Inside Coton Hall
Inside Coton Hall

Today Lee is perceived as an American hero, and not just an icon for Virginia or the southern states whose troops he led.

And, according to the current owners of Coton Hall, several of Lee's descendents have been to visit and cast their eye over the ancestral seat.

But little remains of the house that Robert E. Lee's ancestors would have known.

In the grounds of Coton Hall is one of the last remnants of the early buildings - the ruins of a chapel that probably dates from the 13th Century.

But it's underground where the strongest traces of the old Coton Hall remain. The house's cellar is two storeys deep and in the lower of the two levels includes the entrance to a tunnel.

Inside Coton Hall
Inside Coton Hall

According to the estate agent FPD Savills, the tunnel runs all the way to Alveley village two miles away, although it's been concreted off beyond the chapel for safety reasons.

Coton Hall passed out of the Lee family when Harry Lancelot Lee died in 1821 and the house was immediately sold, ending the Lees' long association with this part of the world. In 1878 the chapel roof collapsed and all the Lee monuments were moved to Alveley church.

The house itself was extended in about 1860, when a new wing and an Italianate tower were added, but apart from that the house has survived remarkably well - all the fireplaces and cornices are original, for example.

But if you're thinking of buying it, this house may make a considerable hole in your pocket. It, including the 6.5 acres of land it stands in, is currently on sale with a guide price of £1.25 million.

 
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