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The Cunliffes

Sir Foster's grandfather, also called Foster, was a Liverpool merchant. The earlier Foster started the family firm trading with the colonies in North America. The next generation were content to let managers increasingly run the business. They made money but the company ceased trading in 1759.

Instead, the Cunliffes settled down to become country gentry, aping the lifestyle of their social superiors. The Cunliffes continued to live at Acton Park until 1905.

The family connection with Wrexham ended with the death of the 6th Baronet, an Oxford academic, at the Battle of the Somme in 1917. On his death Acton Park was sold.

Foster Cunliffe (Sir Foster's grandfather) built up a thriving business as a Liverpool merchant. He was a leading figure in the city and was mayor three times. By 1720 Foster had built up a trading business with the plantations in Virginia. The company owned four slave trade ships and twelve cargo ships.

Sir Foster's father, Robert Cunliffe, took on the role of director of the company, while Sir Foster's uncle, Sir Ellis became MP for Liverpool, though he actually spent his time in Sussex. Robert appointed Richard Morris as manager.

Morris was a real businessman. He concentrated on importing low quality tobacco from Virginia and selling it to the French. The French were prepared to smoke tobacco that no one here would touch. By 1750 the Cunliffe company had 5 trading posts in Virginia and 26 ships working the Triangular Trade. They traded Cheshire salt, pig iron, white servants and slaves from Africa. They even won the contract to ship Jacobites into exile after the failed rising of 1745. It was not all plain sailing. The French traders wanted the Cunliffe Company's business and skirmishes were common. In 1750 Morris was killed in an accident involving a cannon on deck.

The Cunliffe Company's fortunes faltered after Morris's death. In 1759 the company ceased trading. By then the family were wealthy enough to live off their investments and to settled down to the life of the landed gentry.

Sir Foster was well suited to this lifestyle with his love of archery and the arts. After his death in 1834 his second son, Robert Henry, became the 4th Baronet. Robert served in the army in India with the East India Company. He died in 1859. His younger brother, George Cunliffe, was an important figure in Wrexham. As Vicar of Wrexham, he was involved in many of the local improvement schemes. He was particularly keen on bringing decent sanitation and water to the town. As a man of the church, he did despair of the local love of drinking and gambling. He gained notoriety as the man who stopped the racing at Wrexham Racecourse.

The 5th Baronet was Robert Alfred. Although, a soldier like his father, he found more time to be involved in the affairs of Wrexham. He became the Liberal MP for Flintshire in 1872 against his Conservative rival, The Hon George Kenyon. He was MP for Denbighshire between 1880 - 85. Robert Alfred was President of the Football Association of Wales. It was on his land in 1878, near the modern site of Acton School, that the first Welsh Cup Final was played.

The Welsh Cup - © and Courtesy of Football Association of Wales (FAW)

Robert Alfred died in 1905. His son, the 6th Baronet, was an Oxford academic specialising in military history. Unfortunately, he was killed at the Battle of the Somme on July 16th 1916, just one of the thousands who lost their lives on the Western Front.

The house and estate were put up for sale and the Cunliffe connection with Wrexham came to an end.