Thomas Barton1695 - 1780
Thomas Barton had been brought up in Curraghmore, Co. Fermanagh and left his native Ireland in 1722 at the age of 27 years old.
He worked with his maternal uncles Thomas and William Dickson who had considerable trade in France. It was in this connection that Thomas was sent to France, first to Montpellier, then to Marseille. He was not therefore pre-destined to be a wine merchant but when in 1725 he went to Bordeaux with its importance as an Atlantic port, Thomas became interested in wine and soon founded his first company which was later to become Barton & Guestier.
He rapidly created a financially successful business with a regular clientele in Ireland. He was a man of great authority, firm but honest in his transactions ; by 1737 he had already made a small fortune and was well respected in Bordeaux where he became known as “French Tom”. In 1743 he introduced his son William to the business but William was a man of very different calibre to his father and their relations were never of the best.
At this time the French law known as ‘Le Droit d’Aubaine’ stipulated that estates of any foreigner dying in France would revert to the French Crown. Although Thomas had applied for French citizenship, this was not in fact granted until after his death. For this reason he never bought any vineyards in France preferring to invest his considerable profits in property in Ireland.
He did rent an attractive home in the Médoc, Château Le Boscq in Saint-Estèphe, but it was his grandson Hugh who became the first member of the family to actually own a vineyard. Thomas died in 1780 aged 85.
Hugh Barton1766 - 1854
After the death of Thomas Barton in 1780, the family possessions in France and in Ireland were inherited by his only son William whose acrimonious nature led to many disagreements, arguments and legal proceedings within and outside the family. William had nine children, six sons and three daughters.
The eldest sons inherited various estates in Ireland and Hugh, fourth son, became successor to the business in Bordeaux. Hugh was born in 1766. The wine trade had known periods of difficulty and the discord which reigned between William and his family did not make matters easier. Nevertheless when Hugh began his career as a wine merchant in 1786, aged twenty, the turn-over of the family business was estimated at 2,5 million pounds. With Hugh’s energy and inspired direction the company flourished until the Revolution broke out in 1793. In the meantime Hugh had married Anna Johnston, daughter of another Anglo-Irish family in Bordeaux. The 14th October 1793 Hugh and his wife were arrested and put in prison along with other British residents in Bordeaux.
Their property was seized and their future uncertain. William due to his ill-health was allowed to remain at home, albeit under guard. He sadly died on October 23rd before Hugh was able to see him again. Eventually and unexpectedly Hugh and Anna were released on 21st December 1793. They left France for a long period in England and Ireland but Hugh kept in touch with his partners in France and the business prospered to such an extent that he was able in 1821 to purchase Château Langoa and in 1826 a part of the Léoville estate, this part becoming Léoville Barton. In addition he purchased in 1835 some lands in Ireland in Co. Kildare. It was here that he built Straffan House, where future generations of the family lived and where Anthony, the present owner of the vineyards was born in 1930. Hugh continued his successful career until his death in 1854.
Ronald Barton1902 - 1986
Following Hugh Barton, three generations succeeded him as owners of the two vineyards but spent more of their lives in Ireland than in France. It was up to Ronald to become the first Barton since Hugh to make a serious contribution to the French interests of the family. Ronald was born in London in 1902.
Educated at Eton and Oxford, he came to Bordeaux in 1924 and immediately became interested in the affairs of Barton & Guestier, wine merchants in Bordeaux and in the vineyards of Langoa and Léoville Barton in St-Julien. Ronald’s father Bertram Hugh had bought out the interests of his brother and two cousins and was therefore in a position to leave the vineyards in their entirety to Ronald. He divided the shares in Barton & Guestier between Ronald and Derick, his eldest son, who also inherited the estate of Straffan in Ireland.
In June 1940, he hastily left France to join the "Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers" where he became a liaison officer with the Free French forces in England and then in the Middle East and the Syrian campaign.
He returned to France in 1945 to find the vineyards in a very neglected state. With great courage and optimism he restored them slowly but surely to their previous state and made some memorable vintages such as 1948, 1949, 1953, 1955, 1959 and many others. He remained at the helm almost up to his death in 1986. In the meantime in 1983 he donated the properties to his nephew Anthony. Indeed, Ronald has not had a child and wanted to hand over to a member of his family to keep the property left by his ancestor. When the latter wrote to thank him, Ronald replied “Do not thank me, thank Hugh. I have never considered it anything but my duty as custodian of the vineyards to hand them on to my heir in the best possible condition”. This he certainly did!