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Target - 1992 - The Spy Who Did Come Back From The Cold

The house shown here is the original Ferrand home. Much altered by the Wickham family.


The following is a copy of an article by Gary Firth published in the Target in 1992.

"The Spy Who Did Come Back From The Cold"


For several centuries the tiny community of Cottingley was dominated by the Old Hall, which stood at the top of the village.

This elegant Jacobean mansion was probably built by Robert Ferrand on the site of another hall, which housed the Gascoigne and Frank family in Tudor times.

The Wickham family occupied the house in the 18th century.

Cottingley Hall was the birthplace of two men who were to make their mark on British history.

One occupant, William Wickham, became a British master spy during the years following the French Revolution.

Wickham, born in 1761, studied at Harrow and Christ Church College, Oxford, where he formed friendships with Charles Abbott, later Lord Colchester, and William Wyndham Grenville, afterwards Lord Grenville.

After Oxford, Wickham moved to the continent to study civil law at the University of Geneva. There he married the daughter of a university professor and made friends with a number of eminent Frenchmen, Swiss and Germans.

Following the execution of the French king in 1793, England broke off all diplomatic relations with France but Lord Grenville, the Foreign Secretary in Pitt's government, approached his old school friend to head the British Secret Service, and act as eyes and the ears of the British Government in the Swiss Cantons.

The idea was for Wickham to keep in touch with all various elements of disaffection in France and Central Europe particularly royalist sympathisers and, if possible, to organise anti-revolutionary uprisings throughout France.

Wickham was provided with unlimited funds but Grenville could afford him no official recognition.

In fact, his mission was so secret he never appeared at the Foreign Office and his orders were drawn up by Grenville himself in his own handwriting and copied by Wickham at his home in Genoa.

For seven years Wickham assisted thousands of fleeing French aristocrats to escape from their country.

He financed (140,000) a regiment of Swiss volunteers to support the ill fated uprising of the Prince de Conde and paid thousands of "agent provocateurs" to fan the flames of counter revolution.

Following the defeat of Holland and France in 1794, he corresponded regularly with members of the deposed French Royal family. His agents infiltrated the Revolutionary Directory, several military councils and many political clubs, so that whatever secret instructions were given to French envoys, generals or admirals, all were certain to reach the ears of the ubiquitous British agent in Switzerland.

It was information passed to London from Wickham, which thwarted the French invasion of Ireland in 1797 and prompted French officials to demand his removal from Switzerland.

For a while his life was in danger and he was lucky to escape a French kidnap attempt upon his carriage.

With the arrival of Napoleon Bonaparte, Cottingley's Scarlet Pimpernel was summoned back to Britain, although he returned to France briefly in 1799 to liaise with the Austro-Russian invasion of France.

In 1802 he was appointed Secretary of State for Ireland and four years later made a Lord of the Treasury. He eventually retired from the diplomatic service on a substantial pension.

In December 1794, the English Foreign Secretary had paid tribute to Wickham's work when he wrote "A few words to express to you how completely all the King's servants have been satisfied with the manner in which you have executed the very delicate transactions with which you were entrusted."

He eventually retired to his new family home near Southampton. He died in Brighton in 1840 and a monument was erected in York Minster.

A master spy indeed.