COTON HALL

A Georgian mansion with Victorian additions. Not much remains of the house that General Robert E. Lee’s family once knew

Coton Hall 13 (Savills)
Image: Savills.

The selling-point or Coton Hall is inevitably its connection with the de la Lee family, probably of Norman descent, who owned a sizeable chunk of Shropshire for about 500 years. This was their ancestral home, and in 1636, Richard Lee emigrated to Virginia, where he prospered in tobacco. Another descendant, Richard Henry Lee, was one of the signatories of the American Declaration of Independence, and Robert E. Lee was commander of the Confederate States Army.

The present house was built about 1800 for Harry Lancelot Lee, the last of the family to live at Coton Hall, in the Parish of Alveley. In his book In Search of the Perfect Home, Marcus Binney says “the elegant simplicity of the house is pure Regency, but to Victorian tastes it was a little too plain, and a picturesque Italianate tower and wing was added about 1860.”

With attention drawn to the American link, Coton Hall was on the market for £2.2 million back in January 2017. Eighteen months later, still unsold, the guide price has been quietly dropped to £1.85 million.

Coton Hall 1 (Savills)
Image: Savills.

According to Marcus Binney, the house is hidden until the last moment, and it is the ruined chapel on the grass circle in front that first comes into view. With its fine interiors, the cellars are of interest, being two-storeys deep, and on the lower level is an entrance to a tunnel which leads to the chapel.

There is another side to Coton Hall’s history, one that is often overlooked. The Lee relationship might have ended with Harry Lancelot Lee, but by the time he died in 1821, he had already let the estate to a local curate.

Coton Hall (Share History)
Image: Share History.

Coton Hall was bought by James Foster (1786 -1853), an iron-master and coal-master of Stourbridge. In 1831 he sat in Parliament for the Liberals, became High Sheriff of Worcestershire in 1840, and became the head of the firm of iron-masters, John Bradley and Company. Foster’s wealth was immense and later allowed him to buy Stourton Castle. When he died in 1853, he left his fortune to his nephew, William Orme Foster of nearby Apley Park.

Coton Hall came into the possession of Edward Lloyd Gatacre (1806 -1891), head of one of Shropshire’s most ancient families, having settled at Gatacre Hall in the reign of Henry III. Educated at Rugby and Christ Church, Oxford, he became one of the oldest magistrates in the county and filled the office of High Sheriff in 1856.

Gatacre put the estate up for sale in 1851, and it was bought by the Reverend Edward Ward Wakeman (1801-1855), a man much esteemed for his great kindness to the poor, and his works for charity. He was the son of Sir Henry Wakeman, 1st Baronet, and Sarah Offley, and married Louisa Thompson in 1835. Wakeman also acquired the Hanley Court estate in 1855, under the will of the Rev. T. H. Newport, but died only months afterwards.

Coton Hall - Shrewsbury Chronicle - 25 Jul 1851 (BNA)
Shrewsbury Chronicle, 1851. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.

His eldest son and heir, Offley Francis Drake Wakeman (1836-1865) only came of age in 1857, and the affairs at Coton Hall were briefly managed by his uncle, Offley Penbury Wakeman (1799-1858), 2nd Baronet of Periswell Hall, in Worcestershire.

After over-exerting himself in a cricket match in 1865, Offley Wakeman was found lying in a pool of blood, his death caused by the rupture of a blood vessel. His brother, Henry Allan Wakeman-Newport (1841-1923), had inherited the Hanley Court estate, and Coton Hall was awarded to the youngest brother, Edward Maltby Wakeman (1846-1926).

Edward graduated from Christ Church, Oxford, with a Master of Arts, became a Chartered Accountant, a J.P., and was awarded Honourable Lieutenant-Colonel in the 3rd Battalion Shropshire Light Infantry. He married Edith Mary Buchanan in 1874, and had two children, Gladys Louisa Wakeman and Edward Offley Wakeman, an only son, who died within his first year.

Coton Hall 15 (Savills)
Image: Savills.

In 1878, the roof of the chapel collapsed, and all the Lee monuments were moved to Alveley Church.

Colonel Wakeman died in 1926, and left instructions that his funeral should be ‘the plainest possible description, and that all unnecessary expense should be avoided’. He was drawn in an open bier to the grave at Alveley Church by those whom he had employed. Edward left his property in trust for his daughter, with the request that the successors to the property assumed the name and arms of Wakeman. Gladys Louisa had married Captain Hugh Davenport Colville, Royal Navy, in 1906, and legally changed their name to Wakeman-Colville in 1927. They stayed at Coton Hall until the 1930s.

JMC4 - Church Explorer
Image: JMC4 – Church Explorer.
Coton Hall 3 (Savills)
Image: Savills.

In the 1940s, Coton Hall was home to Mr and Mrs Howard Thompson.  The house, which had always maintained a modest degree of secrecy, was opened to the public for one-day in 1956, and was described in the Birmingham Daily Post:

“On show in the Hall – the ancestral home of Gen. Robert E. Lee – will be four of the main rooms. These contain many art treasures, including superb paintings of the Lee family, who owned the hall for more than 500 years.

“In front of the Hall stands the remains of a chapel built in 1275, which was at one time the private domestic chapel of the reigning monarch. It was used by King Alfred the Great and Edward the Confessor. The latter laid a rent charge on the manor which is still paid. A subterranean passage leads from the Hall to a crypt beneath the chapel

“The Hall, which stands on a hill, 550 feet above sea level, commands a wonderful view of the valley and the large trout lake.    

“The main feature of the four-acre grounds are the trees, which have plaques attached to indicate their variety. Behind the Hall, overlooking a valley, stands a magnificent cedar tree, planted 226 years ago. In the same year, Thomas Lee sent some seeds to Coton from Virginia. These seeds have now flourished into the tall red chestnut trees in Coton Park.”

Marcus Binney says the ruined chapel is no antiquity. “Local historians have claimed that this is the chapel of ancient Saxon kings, but it is a simple Palladian box with a pretty Strawberry Hill Gothic window in the east end. It is attributed to Shrewsbury architect, Thomas Farnolls Pritchard.”

Coton Hall, built in mellowed sawn grey stone, with a slate roof, is being marketed by Savills and offers excellent family accommodation. Particularly notable are the well-proportioned reception rooms, with their high ceilings and decorative architectural detail. The additional Victorian wing, with Italianate turret, blends admirably with the Georgian part of the house.

Coton Hall 4 (Savills)
Image: Savills.
Coton Hall 5 (Savills)
Image: Savills.
Coton Hall 6 (Savills)
Image: Savills.
Coton Hall 7 (Savills)
Image: Savills.
Coton Hall 8 (Savills)
Image: Savills.
Coton Hall 9 (Savills)
Image: Savills.
Coton Hall 10 (Savills)
Image: Savills.
Coton Hall 11 (Savills)
Image: Savills.
Coton Hall 12 (Savills)
Image: Savills.
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KNEPP CASTLE

A fire in a country house. The night a mansion burned to the ground

Knepp Castle Fire (Knepp Wildland)
The year 1904 was a disastrous one for fires in country mansions. In total, there were 14 fires, including Knepp Castle near West Grinstead. The house was built in 1806 by the Regency architect John Nash, ­commissioned by Sir Charles Burrell, the son of Sophia Raymond, a Sussex heiress, and William Burrell, a local lawyer. (Image: Knepp Castle).

Soon after midnight, on the morning of Monday 18th January 1904, Sir Merrick Burrell, 7th Baronet, woke in the south wing at Knepp Castle and found that something was amiss. There was a strong smell of smoke and his greatest fears were about to be realised. Stirred into action he quickly surmised that the old mansion was on fire. Sir Merrick aroused Lady Burrell and called the household, but it seemed the fire had got such a strong hold that escape was the obvious option. As everyone made a hasty exit the instruction was given to summon the Horsham and Warnham Fire Brigades.

Sir Merrick returned to Lady Burrell’s room to find the bedclothes alight and the floor burning. He quickly retreated and within minutes the floor gave way, collapsing onto the room below. So rapidly had the fire progressed, it became apparent that all ordinary means of extinguishing it were useless. The only thing left to be done was to save as much portable property as possible.

It was dark outside, the only illumination coming from the flames, and the occupants could only watch as the house burned. In the confusion, Lady Burrell and the frightened children were whisked through the night to West Grinstead Park, the home of Mr and Mrs Rolls Hoare, where they would remain for weeks.

The air was thick with dense smoke, the fire running around each room between the plaster and the walls, until walls, floors and ceilings all blazed together, the roof falling in shortly before the arrival of the Horsham Fire Brigade at 2.30am, an hour-and-a-half after the discovery of the fire. Fortunately, they were quickly followed by the Warnham Court Brigade, but were endangered by the flow of molten lead falling from the building.

It was a scene of chaos as firemen struggled to get water from the lake in Knepp Park and onto the flames. Bravely they battled, but it was a long time before they could be satisfied it was under some sort of control. In fact, it wasn’t until the afternoon before an air of calm descended over the scene.

In the light of day nothing much was left of Knepp Castle except for blackened walls and a mass of ruins, and it was perhaps a miracle that nobody had been killed. Practically whole of the old portion of the house had been destroyed and all that remained was a water and smoke damaged servants’ wing.

Knepp Castle - Country Life Archive - 1830 print showing large lake to east (CL)
A view of Knepp Castle from an 1830 print showing the lake to the east. Water from the lake was used to fight the fire in 1904. Afterwards there was criticism of the Horsham Fire Brigade. (Image: Country LIfe Archive).

Knepp Castle had been a splendid Gothic castellated building erected in 1806 by John Nash for Sir Charles Merrick Burrell (3rd Bt.), about two miles away from the fragments of an ancient castle. The interior of the mansion had been in the highest degree elegant and commodious. The principal rooms had been spacious and lofty, especially the Library, Dining-Room and Drawing-Room, of which the first two were 36ft x 20ft, the circular staircase was 20ft in diameter and 30ft high.

Sir Merrick Raymond Burrell (1877 – 1957) was educated at Eton, became a lieutenant in the 1st Royal Dragoons, and served in the South African War. He owned about 9,000 acres and married, in February 1902, Miss Wilhelmina Winans, daughter of Walter Winans, an American millionaire. He had succeeded his father in 1899.

In the days after the fire there was the realisation that a great deal more had been lost. Knepp Castle had a fine collection of valuable paintings. The most valuable of these were housed in the gallery, collected by Sir William Burrell, 2nd Baronet, who had been a Fellow of the Royal Society, and according to Murray’s Handbook, included eight Holbein portraits, notable examples of Van Somer and, more important still, a few Van Dyck’s.  Thankfully, the Drawing Room pictures, which included two Romneys, had been saved. The safe, plate and many valuable items had also been secured but the Burrells had lost virtually all their personal clothing.

Lady Burrell’s grandfather, Mr Winans, was in the Russian fur trade, and the family had a splendid opportunity of acquiring the finest furs. A chinchilla mantle, which had only arrived the day before the fire, was valued at £200. It had come by rail and had been fully insured for the journey. In the ordinary course it would not have been sent up from the station until the following morning, but unluckily the staff thought, from the heavy insurance, that the parcel was important and delivered it immediately. Lady Burrell ruefully commented that “promptitude is not always a virtue.”

According to Central News Telegram, the damage was estimated at £60,000, with furs belonging to Lady Burrell valued at £6,000 alone.

Knepp Castle - Postcard from 1904 (eBay)
The fire at Knepp Castle started behind the entrance hall fireplace and quickly spread to the library, immediately below the bedrooms. The floor fell in only a few minutes after Sir Merrick and Lady Burrell had escaped. The nursery was not in any danger, and the two children escaped unharmed. (Postcard from 1904).

As might have been expected, the fire at Knepp Castle was talked about for weeks afterwards. The fire appeared to have started at the back of a recently altered chimney in the entrance hall, taking hold of bookcases in the library behind, quickly running around the room, and at length setting fire to the ceiling and floor of the bedroom above, in which Lady Burrell had been sleeping.

Most interestingly was a war of words that appeared in local newspapers about the worthiness of the fire brigade. The West Sussex County Times reprinted a letter that had originally appeared in the February issue of the Parish Magazine:

 ‘Criticism of voluntary workers, though in this case necessary, are undesirable in the pages of our magazine. Still, in the public interest, we cannot help stating one fact plainly noticeable to all the onlookers, and that is the fact that the Horsham Fire Brigade, in spite of many willing helpers at the pumps, were comparatively useless in a fire of such magnitude, and could not have controlled the fire without the help of the Warnham engine (which threw up more water than the combined efforts of the other two), a serious state of things when one considers the money residences in the district whose owner would naturally look to Horsham for help, should occasion require.’

This prompted an angry response the following week from an angry reader called Ernest G. Apedaile:

‘I should like to point out that the Horsham Brigade is purely a volunteer one, and, personally, I feel strongly that all honour is due to its members for their splendid turn-out, especially when it is borne that the fire occurred in the middle of the night, when the men had to leave their beds, and that many of them must have lost the following day’s work and pay. Considering that their engines are manuals, and the many disadvantages they had to labour under, I think they acquitted themselves well on this occasion.’  

Another reader made a rather subtle suggestion. ‘It would be a great advantage if the Fire Engine Station were on the telephone!’

And the dialogue continued until there was a more realistic comment from Onlooker, also in the West Sussex County Times:

“I would like to ask him (Sir Merrick) if, for a small town like Horsham, with a voluntary brigade, supported by voluntary contributions, he can expect to have sufficient apparatus to cope with an outbreak satisfactorily. Most of the large residences are ‘said to be dependant on Horsham for help’ have got at least some description of fire appliances of their own. C.J. Lucas (Warnham Court), Sir Henry Harben (Warnham Lodge), Sir Edmund Loder (Leonardslee) and others are very well equipped, but although there are always tons of water close at hand at Knepp, by some mysterious reason or misfortune any provision for dealing with an outbreak of fire seems to have been a secondary consideration.”

(Note – After a fire at Warnham Court in 1901, Charles Lucas created the Warnham Court Fire Brigade, with a horse-drawn steam appliance and fire crew made up from the estate).

Sir Merrick Burrell found it quite impossible to answer all the kind letters of condolence which had been written to him after the fire. He reflected the loss of the entire library, nearly all the pictures, practically all valuable furniture, all clothing, lace, furs and nearly all Lady Burrell’s jewels, thought to have been safe in the ‘warranted fireproof’ safe.

03-rebuilding-knepp-castle-jan-18th-1905 (familyhistorymusingsbymarian)
The rebuilding of Knepp Castle. Plans were drawn up shortly after the fire. The outside walls, which were left standing, were practically kept in their original condition, but the interior was slightly rearranged. Once completed the house had to be refurnished, as nearly all its contents had been destroyed in the fire. (Image: familyhistorymusingsbymarian).

Two months after the fire, Sir Merrick announced his intention to rebuild Knepp Castle as soon as possible. Externally, the castle was to remain like its former appearance, as the outer walls, with their castellated towers, were to be preserved.  It turned out to be a complete reconstruction of Nash’s original with the addition of a third floor Bachelor Wing.

The start of the new century turned out to be a bad one for Sir Merrick. He allowed his agricultural tenants an abatement of fifty per cent on their rents to show his sympathy with them in what turned out to be a bad season. In 1907 he was granted a decree nisi in the Divorce Courts because of Lady Burrell’s misconduct with Henry James Phillips King, an officer in the Royal Horse Artillery. She had stayed, it was stated, at Bournemouth and at Nice with the co-respondent. A year later the engagement was announced between Sir Merrick and Miss Coralie Porter Porter, the daughter of John Porter Porter, of Belle Isle, Co Fermanagh.

Knepp Castle was the headquarters of the 1st Canadian Division during WW2 and narrowly escaped being burned down a second time when a desert stove exploded in the pantry.

Knepp Castle -The Tatler - 1 Dec 1948 (BNA)
Happier days. This image appeared in The Tatler on 1st December 1948. Knepp Castle was a regular meeting place for local hunts. The restored country house shows no evidence of the fire, some 44 years earlier. (Image: British Newspaper Archive).

Note:
In the week that this was written, Eleanor Doughty in The Telegraph, wrote about Knepp Castle. Within this article, Isabella Tree, the writer and wife of Sir Charles Burrell, 10th Baronet, who both live in the house, revealed a piece of handed-down information from the fire:

“Charlie’s grandfather had just been born, so there was a nursemaid up tending to the baby, otherwise they’d have all gone up.” 

A farce ensued. “They were trying to get the furniture out, and got the grand piano stuck in the front door, so nothing else could get in or out. Meanwhile, a new under-footman had been sent to get the fire brigade, but he got lost, so the fire brigade wasn’t coming, the piano was stuck in the front door, and eight Holbeins went up in smoke in the dining room, with ­everything under-insured.” 

Knepp Castle (Paisley Pedlar)
A modern-day image of Knepp Castle, whose parkland is now a 3,500-acre wild estate. Over the last 20 years, Knepp has become an open landscape where animals roam free. The estate is home to 450 deer, 30 Tamworth pigs, 30 Exmoor ponies, and some turtle doves. (Image: Paisley Pedlar).

HEALEY HALL

Like the British woollen industry, this Georgian mansion fell from grace but is a worthy restoration

Healey Hall 1 (OTM)

It’s taking a long, long time to sell Healey Hall, near Rochdale. The estate agent brief suggests that ‘a property of such distinction rarely comes to the market making this an exciting opportunity for any perspective buyer’. Look further and you will see that Healey Hall has been a difficult property to sell.

The house gets its name from the de Heley family, who are believed to have had land in Heley (the old name for Healey) before the Norman Conquest, and a stone still preserved at Healey Hall bears the date of 1250, though the stone was not cut until later date. The original mansion was rebuilt in 1618 and this in turn was superseded by the existing mansion in 1774.

The Grade II listed house was built by John Chadwick, armour-bearer and treasurer of the district, who used the cellars of the Jacobean hall as the foundation of the present Georgian property. ‘Its massive walls, not usual in a private Mansion, are formed in general of ponderous stones cramped with iron and lead and bound together with grout-work.’

Healey Hall Original (JP Sutcliffe Files)

Healey Hall 1775 (JPSutcliffeFiles)

Colonel John Chadwick was the last of his family to live at Healey Hall and was responsible for an inscription on the large frontal stone that was reinstated in recent years.

Healey Hall was later occupied by the Tweedale family whose woollen manufacturing business was founded in nearby Healey Dell.

It isn’t surprising that the house had long associations with wool. During the Industrial Revolution the area was at the core of the textile industry and when A.T. Radcliffe bought Healey Hall, he was typical of those wealthy Victorian businessmen blessed with a family fortune.

For some years he was in partnership with his nephew, Gerald Radcliffe (1872-1942), the son of his brother, Joshua W. Radcliffe of Werneth Park, Oldham, and carried on a woollen business at Green Mill in Rochdale.  When his uncle left Healey Hall, Gerard Radcliffe bought it and remained until he retired from business. He left the area and settled down on a country estate, Elton Hall, at Ludlow.

Healey Hall was sold to the Heape family and became home to Robert Taylor Heape (1848-1917) and his brother Richard Heape (1850-1927). Robert and Richard were partners in R. and J. Kelsall, later becoming Littlewood and Heape, and on retirement transferring to Kelsall and Kemp (more of which later).

Robert was famous for his lavish benefactions to Rochdale Art Gallery. Between 1901 and 1913 he presented about one hundred pictures and three pieces of statuary to the gallery, and for many years his gifts formed the nucleus of the permanent collection. He remained at Healey Hall until 1908 when his brother Richard took over the estate.

Richard Heape, J.P., had retired from business in 1892 and owned the Harley estate with which the family had been associated since 1726. Like his brother, he was keen on the arts and sat on the Libraries, Art Gallery and Museums Committee of Rochdale Corporation. He died in 1927.

Healey Hall 2 (OTM)

Healey Hall 3 (OTM)

Healey Hall 4 (OTM)

The Roe family were the last of the big woollen families to live at Healey Hall. Reginald Claude Roe, J.P., (1881-1942) moved in after Harold Heape, the last of his line to live there, vacated to a nearby cottage in 1940. Born in Brisbane, Australia, but educated at Balliol College, Oxford, he came to Rochdale in 1905 to join Kelsall and Kemp Ltd, and some four years later was made a director. He was also a director of its associated companies – Kelsall and Kemp (Tasmania) Ltd, Thomas Heape and Sons and J. Radcliffe and Co – all established firms with historical links to Healey Hall. His widow, Morag, remained after his death in 1942.

The decline of the British woollen industry also reflects in the fortunes of the mansion. No longer viable as a family home it became a 12-bedroom nursing home in the 1980s. When that home closed in the 1990s the building was vandalised, and many internal features were lost, damaged or destroyed.

When Jason Stead bought it in 1999 the property had been granted planning permission to become a restaurant, but it was in poor condition and had been lived in by a tramp. “The hall had been boarded up and derelict. Before this it had been fitted out and was a nursing home for many years. In common with many listed buildings of this type. The hall had only received superficial works mainly decorative to bring it in line with the nursing home requirements.”

Healey Hall 5 (OTM)

Over the next four years he renovated every one of its 36 rooms and embarked on a massive restoration project. Happy to use it as a temporary family home there was still the issue of its long-term future. Healey Hall was put up for sale at £2.7 million in 2007 but failed to find a buyer. In 2009 there were plans to turn Healey Hall into a ‘residential alcohol therapeutic facility’. Despite being granted planning permission the option was never taken up. Four years later, there were suggestions it might become a 11-bedroom country hotel.

Nine years later offers are wanted in excess of £1.35 million The house has multiple reception rooms, 11 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms and a lower ground floor with potential for leisure use. It stands in 12 acres split between open fields, parking and formal gardens. Maison Haus

HEATHERDEN HALL

Pinewood outrivals Hollywood. A home where history was made 

Heatherden (Heritage Calling)
Once there was a big country house that stood in 92-acres of beautiful parkland. However, in October 1936, The Sphere published photographs from Heatherden Hall, at Iver Heath, when it was about to change its existence forever. The house had been converted from a grand mansion into Britain’s newest and largest film studio. This Victorian house had been turned into a residential club for the stars and was about to enjoy an exciting and completely different future.

Heatherden, with its tree-lined driveway, was built about 1865 by Charles Frederick Reeks, who also designed St. Margaret’s Church at nearby Iver Heath. However, after the Canadian financier and later Conservative M.P. for Brentford and Chiswick) Lieutenant-Colonel Walter Grant Morden bought the property in 1914, he employed the architect Melville Seth-Ward to create the grand country house seen today.

These changes were made between 1914 and 1928 and included a huge ballroom, stone gallery, Turkish bath and a swimming pool, and were reputed to have cost £300,000. (Morden later claimed that the cost was actually between £20,000 and £25,000). The gardens to the south, with their serpentine paths, specimen trees, sunken garden, cascade and lake with ornamental bridge, were laid out at the same time.

twroda008
In 1929, firemen fought a moorland blaze which threatened to destroy Heatherden Hall. The fire destroyed about 60 acres of grass and woodland. “The fire was about a quarter of a mile away, where some woods were ablaze. Fortunately the wind was north-west. Had it been west the flames would have been carried direct to the hall.”

Colonel Grant Morden was a Canadian, who came to England at the end of the 1890s with a big reputation, and combined business with politics after the war. He was born in Ontario in 1880, educated at the Collegiate Institute of Toronto, and in his business career he founded the British Commonwealth Union and Canada Steamship Lines Ltd. Before long he controlled over a hundred steamers and became interested in various timber and land companies. Morden also obtained the assets of all the cement companies in Canada, which resulted in the formation of the Canada Cement Company Ltd. He arrived in England to found a business for making office furniture and bookcases and became associated with no fewer than thirty-five companies, one of the biggest ventures being the flotation of the British Cellulose and Chemical Manufacturing Company, which eventually had a capital of £6 million. (It specialised in the manufacture of cloth dope used in aeroplane construction).

Morden had a distinguished career in World War One. He served as the personal staff officer to General Sam Hughes and operated in France as an airman, turning Heatherden Hall into a convalescent home for Canadian soldiers.

He combined his busy business life with a vigorous open-air life. Shooting and hunting were his favourite sports, and his hobbies included the breeding of horses and pedigree cattle. The magnificent grounds at Heatherden Hall contained tennis and squash courts and a golf course, which were threatened by a big forest fire in 1929. At one time he owned a yacht claimed to be the one of the best-equipped medium-sized yachts in existence. It had cost him £21,000 but was eventually sold by the bank for £4,000.

Heatherden - The Tatler Nov 9 1921 (BNA)
Some of the guns at Heatherden Hall in November 1921. Left to right: Standing – Commander Neligan, R.N.R., Colonel Sir Mathew Wilson, Bart., the Hon. Harry Stonor, Captain the Hon. Thomas Hay, and Captain J. Bell White, R.N.R.; Sitting – Lord Desborough, Colonel W. Grant Morden, M.P., and Major-General Lord Lovat. (British Newspaper Archive).

In 1931 Morden was declared bankrupt with total liabilities of £151,280. He told the London Bankruptcy Court how he had made and lost a fortune. He said he had been financially interested in over forty companies and in the big slump in securities in 1929 his shareholding greatly depreciated. At one time he had been reported as being a millionaire with household expenses in 1928 of £30,000 – by 1930 these had been reduced to £10,000. The bank seized his assets, including Heatherden Hall, and when Morden died, aged 52 in 1932, he was suffering from serious heart trouble and practically blind. He left just £10 in his will.

For a short time Heatherden Hall became a country club but in 1934 the estate was acquired by Charles Boot, head of the enormously successful Sheffield building firm of Henry Boot and Sons. He lived at Thornbridge Hall, Derbyshire, but the purchase of Heatherden had nothing to do with it becoming a family home.

Charles Boot 1874- 1945
Charles Boot (1874 – 1945). He was the eldest son of Henry Boot and the driving forced behind Henry Boot & Sons in the inter-war period. As well as creating one of the largest contracting and house-building firms of its time, he was a staunch advocate for better housing and the virtues of private rather than local authority housing. He was the creator of Pinewood Studios and his building firm constructed most of the facilities.

Boot’s dream was to establish a film studio that would rival those in Hollywood and make Britain a big film producer. He went off to Hollywood on a fact-finding mission and returned within months with plans to establish Pinewood as the studios we know today. Those plans were to cost more than £1 million and the first chairman of the company was the millionaire flour-miller and film entrepreneur Mr J. Arthur Rank.

Heatherden Aerial
The development of Pinewood Studios. The stages were modernly equipped as any in Hollywood and covered over 7 acres. Adjoining was the administrative block and residential club – Heatherden Hall – where there were eighty bedrooms available for those who wished to live near their work. (British Newspaper Archive).

Boot and Rank employed the architects A.F.B. Anderson and H.S. Scroxton to develop the parkland to the north of the house, called Pinewood (in Rank’s words, ‘because of the number of trees which grow there and because it seemed to suggest something of the American film centre in its second syllable’). The mansion was used as a residential club and a large administration block was built alongside the house. The studios opened in September 1936 and  grew to become a mainstay of the British film industry, home of the Rank Organisation and the birthplace of hundreds of films including The Red Shoes (1947), The Ipcress File (1965), Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968) and the James Bond and Carry On series. Heatherden Hall itself has frequently been used as a film location, as well as to accommodate visiting actors, directors and production staff.

Haetherden 1 - The Sphere Oct 31 1936 (BNA)
Panelling from the Cunard liner, Mauretania, adorning the walls of the board room at the newly created Pinewood Studios , which had just opened at Iver, Buckinghamshire, and were being occupied by various film companies. (British Newspaper Archive).
Haetherden 3 - The Sphere Oct 31 1936 (BNA)
The Picture Gallery in the residential club, where there were many good examples of nineteenth century art. The club was in Heatherden Hall, originally built at a cost of £300,000 by Lieutenant-Colonel Grant Morden. (British Newspaper Archive).
Haetherden 2 - The Sphere Oct 31 1936 (BNA)
‘Mr Gladstone rides to Piccadilly in an old-time bus’: A canvas by Alfred Morgan which seldom failed to attract the attention of visitors to the Picture Gallery. It was dated 1885, when the great statesman was nearing the end of his long parliamentary career. (British Newspaper Archive).
Haetherden 4 - The Sphere Oct 31 1936 (BNA)
Where a hearth is at the threshold: The main entrance of the administrative offices was something of a curiosity, being formed from the elaborately carved oak fireplace adorned with hunting scenes and other designs. It was finished in 1568, and came to PInewood from Irlam Hall in Derbyshire. (British Newspaper Archive).
Haetherden 5 - The Sphere Oct 31 1936 (BNA)
The fireplace in what was now the Cocktail Bar, showed the following inscription: ‘In this room, on November 3, 1921, the ratification of the Irish Free State Treaty was settled by the Earl of Birkenhead, Viscount Long, Viscount Younger of Leckie, Sir Malcolm Fraser, Bart., and Lieut.-Colonel W. Grant Morden, J.P., M.P.’ (British Newspaper Archive).
Carry On Nurse.avi_000118360
Millions of people have seen Heatherden Hall without actually knowing it. This scene is from ‘Carry on Nurse’ (1959) when the country house doubled as Haven Hospital. (British Film Locations).
The Amazing Mr Blunden (Final Image Blogspot)
The final scene from ‘The Amazing Mr Blunden’ (1972) when Heatherden Hall was put to good use. In the same film it was also made to look fire-damaged and derelict. (Final Image/Blogspot).
PinewoodAerial
Pinewood Studios today. The film and television studio is at Iver Heath, about 4 miles from Slough, 2 miles from Uxbridge and about 17 miles west of central London.

THE CASTLE

Typical of 20th century decline. A once great mansion that fell on hard times. The fall and rise of a country house

The Castle 1 (Urban Base)

It’s taking a surprisingly long time to shift The Castle at Castle Eden. Offers are wanted in the region of £2.5 million, a reduction of nearly £500,000 since being advertised in 2017. This Grade II listed mansion was built about 1765 by William Newton for Rowland Burdon III, a merchant banker. It was embellished with gothic detail by architect Sir John Soane about 1780 and there were later additions, including a prefabricated concrete palm-house on the west front, by F.R. Hicks in 1863.

The Burdon family go back a long way. They lived at Stockton-on-Tees from the reign of Edward IV, and one of them, Robert Burdon, was Mayor of Stockton in 1495, and the first Rowland Burdon was Mayor of Stockton-on-Tees nine times. It was in 1758 that his great-grandson Roland Burdon III bought the dilapidated Castle Eden estate from William Throckmorton Bromley and became the family seat for nearly 200 years. According to Historic England the estate was in poor condition and unenclosed, the chapel was in ruins and the house had gone. He set about enclosing the land, in 1764 re-erected the church and a year later built the house we know today. It has three storeys and a seven-bay entrance front. The central three bays are canted and the whole property carries a castellated parapet.

The Castle (Durham County Council)
The exterior of The Castle. This photograph is thought to date between 1900 and 1909. (Durham County Council).

No expense was spared constructing the country house. Burdon bought nearby Horden Hall, simply to cannibalise it for its staircase and its Jacobean fireplace, while its parkland was carefully planned to hide distant views of the flourishing Shotton Colliery. Within this hidden idyll the family remained until the 20th century despite almost losing it through some poor financial investments along the way.

It might have been paradise for the Burdons, but J.B. Priestley wasn’t enamoured when he visited the area in 1933: “I stared at the monster [the Shotton tip], my head tilted back, and thought of all the fine things that had been conjured out of it in its time, the country houses and townhouses, the drawing-rooms and dining rooms, the carriages and pairs, the trips to Paris, the silks and the jewels, the peaches and iced puddings, the cigars and old brandies; I thought I saw them all tumbling and streaming out, hurrying away from Shotton – oh, a long way from Shotton – as fast as they could go.”

The Castle 1 (Northern Echo)

When Colonel Rowland Burdon died in 1944 the family’s fortunes, like the surrounding area, had diminished and were to be found living in more modest houses in Yorkshire and New Zealand. In 1947, arrangements were made for the National Coal Board to move into The Castle, as headquarters No 3 for the area, and remained for twenty years. “It is a charmed spot concealed from the scarred industrial landscape which surrounds it”.

As might have been expected the occupants didn’t care too much for their new surroundings. One commentator described the house as being ‘savagely raped and institutionalised – the staircase was torn out and consigned to a nearby museum while six-inch holes were hammered through the cornicing to fit central heating pipes’.

Northern Daily Mail - Sat apr 20 1946 (BNA)
The Castle, pictured in 1946, a year before being sold to the National Coal Board as offices. (British Newspaper Archive).

When the NCB moved out in 1967, The Castle was left to stand derelict and probably fortunate to survive the demolition men. It was sold in 1979 to a private owner, who carried out some work to halt the decay, but remained unoccupied. By 1983, it was on the market again and proved to be a stubborn property to sell. Described as being ‘a poisoned chalice’ for each local estate agency chosen, in turn, to sell it, it wasn’t until 1999 that the mansion found a buyer.

The Castle (Keys to the Past)
The Castle, empty and decaying, photographed here before restoration in 1997. (Keys to the Past).

Sue Gillman came to visit her father’s grave in the adjoining churchyard: “The first I knew about it was when we approached the churchyard and saw a big sign saying, ‘Castle for sale’.” Having persuaded a security guard to show him round, her husband Tony discovered a scene of despair. “The house was full of dogs’ poo,” he says. “It was a warm summer’s day outside, but inside it was cold. The building was boarded up and had been heavily institutionalised and the gardens were completely overgrown. The unusual, pyramidal cupola above the central atrium turned out on closer inspection to be an aluminium greenhouse hastily erected in a vain attempt to keep out the rain. In fact, water had been pouring through the roof, down three storeys on to the floor of the hall. The asking price was £500,000, around which, hardly surprisingly, some negotiation was permitted.”

Within two years a large part of the house had been restored although the older part still required restoration and remained empty. However, the value of The Castle had already soared to £1.3 million.

The Castle 7 (Urban Base)
The past few years have been kind to The Castle. Refurbishment continues although the size of the property is deemed too big for its owners. Once again it is a showcase on the property market. According to estate agents Urban Base, The Castle comprises; Orangery, Grand Reception Hall, Drawing Room, Dining Room, Sitting Room, Games Room, Breakfast Kitchen, Cloakroom. Nine superior bedrooms comfortably accommodating up to eighteen at any one time, luxury bathroom suites. Externally there is approximately 14 acres of beautiful landscaped gardens and mature woodland, along with ample parking for up to eight vehicles. A golf course occupies the former parkland.

The Castle 2 (Urban Base)

The Castle 4 (Urban Base)

The Castle 3 (Northern Echo)

The Castle 9 (Northern Echo)

The Castle 11 (Northern Echo)

The Castle 8 (Northern Echo)

The Castle 9 (Urban Base)

The Castle 6 (Urban Base)

The Castle 10 (Urban Base)

The Castle 15 (Urban Base)

CHATSWORTH HOUSE

A stately home without a Duke. How its treasures were cared for in the absence of the Duke of Devonshire

Chatsworth 1 - The Sphere - Dec 28 1946 (BNA)
The ancestral home of the Dukes of Devonshire. In 1946, the 10th Duke had placed Chatsworth and its treasures on a caretaking basis, as he didn’t expect to live there for many years, partly on account of high taxation and partly on account of the servant problem. (British Newspaper Archive).

The domain of Chatsworth was purchased by Sir William Cavendish and it was he in 1553 who began the old mansion, which after his death in 1557 was completed by his widow, Bess of Hardwick. Here in succeeding years Mary Queen of Scots was five times imprisoned. The present mansion includes the old Palladian pile started in 1687 by the first Duke of Devonshire and the north-wing added in 1820.

With its 636,000 visitors a year, Chatsworth House may have become one of our greatest stately homes. However, life in the Duke of Devonshire’s grand mansion wasn’t always a bed of roses. In 1946, The Sphere painted a rather bleak and uninspiring outlook for the house, a stark contrast to its present-day fortunes.

Back then, ‘one of the private treasure-houses of the nation’ was reduced to one housemaid, a sole survivor of a pre-war domestic staff of forty, and the whole house was being kept on a caretaking basis.

Chatsworth House was without a Duke. Taxation of the time made it impossible for him to live there in the old style while the servant problem was almost insuperable. It was suggested that one day the Duke might return to his Derbyshire home, but he himself didn’t expect this to happen for many years.

The custodian was Edward William Spencer Cavendish (1895-1950), the 10th Duke of Devonshire, who was still reeling from the loss of his eldest son and heir, William John Robert Cavendish, Marquess of Hartington, who had been killed in wartime action two years before. The future of Chatsworth would have rested on the shoulders of Billy Cavendish (and his wife, Kathleen Kennedy), but instead the weight of responsibility later fell to his second and younger son, Andrew Robert Buxton Cavendish (1920-2004).

Chatsworth 2 - The Sphere - Dec 28 1946 (BNA)
Mingled with the shrouded furniture in the Sculpture Gallery are examples of the genius of Canova, Thorwaldsen, Chantrey and Wyatt: During the war, when Chatsworth was used as a girls’ school, this gallery was converted into a storeroom for some of the principal treasures. (British Newspaper Archive).
Chatsworth 3 - The Sphere - Dec 28 1946 (BNA)
Restoring and preserving the great pictures of Chatsworth. Captain T.S. Wragg, who had been librarian at Chatsworth since 1933, at work on the surface cleaning of a painting on copper. (British Newspaper Archive).
Chatsworth 4 - The Sphere - Dec 28 1946 (BNA)
Mr G.H. Constantine, technical assistant at the Graves Art Gallery, Sheffield, at work on a landscape. He spent two days a week cleaning and restoring the Chatsworth pictures, paying particular attention to the regulation of the atmosphere. The Chatsworth pictures included works by Holbein, Titian, Reynolds and Murillo. (British Newspaper Archive).

The Chatsworth estate was saddled with debt. Death duties, liabilities from previous incumbents and a depression in British agriculture had all contributed to its downfall. In 1920, Devonshire House, the family’s London mansion, had been sold to developers and later demolished; Chiswick House, a Palladian villa in West London was sold to Brentford Council in 1929.  However, the financial burden refused to go away, and it was quite impossible to keep Chatsworth House occupied.

While Chatsworth was mothballed everything was being done to preserve its treasures, including its magnificent library, with its 35,000 books, including many irreplaceable first editions, and the art collection, including canvases by Murillo Van Eyck, Titian, Reynolds and other masters.

During World War 2 Chatsworth had been occupied by the Penrhos Girls’ College and it had taken its toll. Fumes from moth-balls in stored carpets, and lack of oxygen due to occupation of rooms by large numbers of people, had affected many of the pictures. Inadequate heating during the acute coal shortage caused fluctuations in temperature which caused the canvas of paintings to contract and expand, leading in time to cracking and flaking.

A small staff of experts had been brought in to repair years of inevitable neglect. Pictures were being cleaned, and the books whose leather was becoming brittle were being dressed in ointment, developed by the British Museum.

Chatsworth 5 - The Sphere - Dec 28 1946 (BNA)
The elaborate alter-piece in Chatsworth’s private chapel. An example of the decorative style so typical of the mansion. The alter-piece is the work of Verrio, the walls and ceilings are by Laguerre, and Cibber’s figures of Faith and Hope surmount the alter of alabaster by Samuel Watson. Watson’s wood-carving, can be seen throughout the house. When these pictures were first published it would have been a rare opportunity for people to see inside the house. (British Newspaper Archive).
Chatsworth 6 - The Sphere - Dec 28 1946 (BNA)
In the Orangery. Stored furniture, sculpture and books. The large marble urn in the centre was a copy of the Medici Vase. The Orangery is now a gift shop. (British Newspaper Archive).
Chatsworth 7 - The Sphere - Dec 28 1946 (BNA)
A 15th century masterpiece restored to its pristine glory. Mr Constantine, technical assistant at the Graves Art Gallery, Sheffield, and Mr Thompson examining a canvas after its renovation. The pictures all have a protective coat of varnish, and this had to be removed before they could be submitted to the turpentine-and-wax restorative treatment. Inadequate heating as a result of coal shortage had caused considerable fluctuations in temperature, and this had caused deterioration of some of the valuable canvases. (British Newspaper Archive).

When the 10th Duke of Devonshire died in 1950 there were death duties of £7 million. The 11th Duke, Andrew Cavendish, along with his wife Deborah (‘Debo’), fought hard to keep the estate, selling tens of thousands of acres of land, transferring Hardwick Hall to the National Trust in lieu of taxes, and selling major works of art. Chatsworth House opened to the public in 1948-49, but it would take until 1959 for the 11th Duke of Devonshire to move back into the house. It was a happy outcome and the rest, as they say, is history.  Chatsworth House

Chatsworth 8 - The Sphere - Dec 28 1946 (BNA)
Leather-bound books needed constant care and attention. The covers often became brittle with age, and Captain T.S. Wragg, the librarian, was seen applying a dressing to the batch which he had selected for treatment form the shelves. This dressing had been developed by the Research Department of the British Museum and had been found to be the most effective. (British Newspaper Archive).
Chatsworth 9 - The Sphere - Dec 28 1946 (BNA)
A view of the main library, where half the collection was accommodated. When Chatsworth was rebuilt in 1687 by the first Duke of Devonshire this was the Long Gallery, and it was converted into a library by the sixth Duke at the beginning of the 19th century. The preservation of the books was an unending task, and expert binders were constantly at work on repairs and renovations. (British Newspaper Archive),

STOUTS HILL

A Georgian Gothic-style country house that became a boarding school and time share apartments

Stouts Hill 1 (KF)

The asking price of £2 million for Stouts Hill, on the outskirts of Uley village, appears somewhat modest in today’s property market. According to Knight Frank, Stouts Hill is an impressive Grade II* Strawberry Hill Georgian Gothic-style country house time share club/resort which sits in a stunning valley in the Cotswold Hill escarpment, surrounded by 22 acres. Subject to planning there is potential to convert the house back into a substantial family home. Stouts Hill was converted into timeshare apartments in 1979 and is currently arranged as 8 reception rooms, 9 apartments and 5 two bedroom cottages. The Stouts Hill Club Limited will cease operation on point of sale and subject to planning there is the potential to convert the house into a stunning family home.

Stouts Hill 4 (KF)

The historian, Nicholas Kingsley, in his ‘The Country Houses of Gloucestershire’, says Stouts Hill was bought in 1697 by Timothy Gyde, a clothier. In 1716, it was settled on his son Thomas who died in 1743. It passed to his son, Timothy Gyde II, ‘a man of different outlook to his father’. He built a new house, probably constructed by William Halfpenny, ‘entertained lavishly, kept a mistress, gambled, and paid insufficient attention to his business’. The inevitable meant that it was bought in 1785 by the Rev. William Lloyd Baker who lived here until his death in 1830. His son, Thomas Barwick Lloyd Baker, bought Hardwicke Court, near Gloucester, and Stouts Hill was used as a secondary home, occupied by a relation, Colonel Benjamin Chapman Browne, whose family remained until the early part of the 20th century. The Colonel’s son, Sir Benjamin Chapman Browne, was later Mayor of Newcastle-upon-Tyne and chairman of the Tyneside engineering and shipbuilding firm of Hawthorn, Leslie & Co Ltd.

Stouts Hill was let by Olive Lloyd Baker to the Hardinge Preparatory School who transferred here in 1935. ‘The picturesque and delightfully situated house has been modernised, is equipped with central heating and is in excellent order‘. Not that ‘delightful’, as it would appear to have been empty for two years, with no electricity or main drainage. It became known as Stouts Hill School, whose notable boarders later included Captain Mark Phillips and the actor Stephen Fry, closing in 1979.

Stouts Hill 5 (KF)

Stouts Hill 6 (KF)

Stouts Hill 7 (KF)

Stouts Hill 8 (KF)

Stouts Hill 9 (KF)

Stouts Hill 10 (KF)

Stouts Hill 11 (KF)

COUNTRY HOUSES WITH A STORY TO TELL

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