Like many country houses Adlington had a purpose during wartime. However, the cost of upkeep meant it had to open its doors to the public afterwards.
In August 1942, Adlington Hall the historic home of the Leghs, had been in the possession of the family since 1352, when they first acquired it in the reign of Edward III.
The then-chatelaine, Mrs Cynthia Combermere Legh (1896-1983) , had turned a large part of the house into a maternity hospital for the wives of servicemen of all ranks, with a staff of skilled nurses and all the modern equipment. It was opened by St. Mary’s Hospitals, Manchester, under the title of ‘St. Mary’s Services Maternity Hospital’.
Wonderful oak-panelled rooms had become wards and nurseries, and inmates of the hospital were able to sit in the Great Hall, where stood the organ on which Handel, when a guest at Adlington, played and composed his music.
The Hall stood on a site that in Saxon times was used as a hunting lodge. After the Norman Conquest it passed to Hugh Lupus, Earl of Chester, and nephew of William the Conqueror.
In the thirteenth century it was granted to the Norman family of De Corona, and it was from their union with the De Leghs of Booth that its occupants were descended.
Successive generations of De Leghs carried out additions and alterations at Adlington, but the Hall still retained its ancient splendour. It was quadrangular in shape, and was in early times surrounded by a moat. The Great Hall was built between 1450 and 1505, and there were additions in typical black-and-white half-timbered Cheshire style, in 1581. Of this, the north-east corner and the east wing still stood, but the remainder had undergone rebuilding. The north front was added about 1600 and was built of dark-red brick; the west wing was rebuilt in 1749 and the south front – in Georgian style – in 1757.
All over England, Scotland and Wales, and for the most part for the same reason (the necessity of providing for upkeep), great mansions were being opened up to the public after the Second World War, and the public was flocking to these places, drawn in part by the rich treasures displayed, and in part perhaps by a natural curiosity to see the background of life as it was lived in the spacious days of privilege.
In April 1950, Adlington Hall became the latest to open its doors. The house is still privately owned by the Legh family and is open to the public for guided tours at advertised times.
Note:- While staying at Adlington Hall, Handel was inspired to write the Harmonious Blacksmith by hearing the notes from the anvil of the little wayside smithy near the hall.
A house that has changed significantly as the result of two fires within five years and the need to downsize.
Hainton Hall stands on the Lincolnshire Wolds between Lincoln
and Louth, and about seven miles south-west of Market Rasen. The mansion we see
today looks very different to the one that stood here one hundred years ago. It
was a large and handsome mansion standing in a well-wooded park of 145 acres,
and the seat of the Heneage family since the reign of Henry III.
The hall was built in 1638 with later additions, and a rebuilding and raising of the west wing, and the facing of the whole house in stucco, by Peter Atkinson in 1809. A porch was added by William Burn in 1875.
However, a series of events in the first part of the
twentieth century means that its modern appearance looks remarkably different.
In June 1919, a fire broke out at Hainton Hall, where Edward
Heneage, 1st Baron Heneage (1840-1922) had just recovered from an
illness that had lasted two months. He and Lady Eleanor Heneage, as well as a
full complement of domestic staff, were in residence when the blaze was
The fire occurred on the afternoon of Sunday 8 June and the
estate fire brigade had started tackling the flames before summoning fire
brigades from Lincoln, Wragby and Grimsby. As was often the case the firemen
were faced with the difficult task of securing ample water supplies, the only
immediate source being from a small fishpond on the estate.
The firemen made strenuous efforts to overtake the already
serious advance made by the fire, but the flames had made such headway that one
wing of the mansion was very soon destroyed.
All available help was used to rescue furniture and valuables
from inside, and these were carried out onto the lawn.
The fire was eventually brought under control around
midnight. The firemen had successfully saved the south and west fronts, but the
east wing, consisting of the servants’ quarters, had been lost.
It was later thought that a carelessly thrown peace
celebration firework was responsible for the fire.
Although there were no casualties amongst its residents, a Grimsby fireman, Albert Barrcroft, was killed when he was pinned beneath half a ton of falling debris, and one of his colleagues, William Watkins, injured by the fire.
In the aftermath, Lord Heneage contributed £500 towards the support
of the dead fireman’s widow and children, the Grimsby Fire Brigade Committee
stating that £1,100 was available to the dependants. As a sequel to the fire,
it later decided to insure its firemen against fatal accidents .
Lord Heneage died in 1922, and by remarkable misfortune the mansion was to catch fire again in July 1924.
The outbreak was discovered in a suite of bedrooms by a maid-servant,
probably caused by fused electrical wiring, and the estate fire appliances
(that had been brought up to date since the fire of 1919) set to work. Unfortunately,
they were inadequate to cope with the flames, and by the time the Lincoln Fire
Brigade arrived an hour later the building was once again a mass of flames.
On this occasion, the new Lord Heneage, George Edward
Heneage (1866-1954), was away at the Lincolnshire Show, a guest of Lord
Yarborough, and returned immediately.
People from all over the district, attracted by clouds of
dense smoke, arrived to render assistance in once again rescuing priceless art
treasures and antique furniture and piling them high on the lawn. Lord Heneage,
accompanied by his cousin, Lieut-Col A.P. Heneage, superintended the collection
The damage was reported to run at ‘something like’ £25,000,
the whole of the principal rooms completely gutted, and the ceiling of the
drawing-room destroyed by water. An attempt to remove valuable books from the
library had been abandoned because the roof had started to fall in, and molten
lead was dripping from above. Ironically, the books were later found to be
undamaged. Even though the library itself was saturated, the heavily recessed
bookcases had saved most of the collection.
The dining-room had escaped damage but not so the Adam
ceiling in the drawing-room where cracks had appeared in the delicate white and
The priceless collection of family portraits, going back to
the sixteenth century, had suffered not so much from the fire itself, but as
from moisture and the hasty way in which the pictures were carried to the lawn.
Many were mottled by damp and others scratched or marked. A picture of Lord
Heneage’s grandfather, presented by the tenantry in 1855, had a hole right
through the canvas.
In a bizarre set of circumstances, sightseers flooded from
all over the county to gain a glimpse of the hall, and for two days Lord
Heneage threw the grounds open.
When the second Lord Heneage died in 1954 the estate passed to the nine-year-old James Neil Heneage from another branch of the family. During his minority the trustees demolished the east wing in 1956 and removed the top storey of the central block (even though it had been listed in 1952).
In 1957 parts of the estate in Legsby, Barkwith, Torrington and Willingham were sold off largely to pay death duties.
When James Heneage came of age and inherited the estate, he commissioned the architect W. H. Hemmings to rebalance the external appearance of the Hall, the work being completed in 1975.
This country house, described as “one of the finest houses in the South of England” was Anthony Salvin’s first major commission.
Mamhead House, in the Haldon Hills, Devon, is one of those country houses that hasn’t been able to find its identity in recent times. For many years we have known this Grade I-listed Tudor-Gothic property as Mamhead Park, and it has just been launched on the market at Strutt & Parker, price on application.
This is one of many houses that has stood on the estate.
Mentioned in the Domesday Book, the estate passed through several distinguished
families. In 1547 it was bought by the Balle family. In 1672, Peter Balle, an
attorney to Queen Henrietta Mara, was awarded a baronetcy for his services.
Later, William of Orange billeted his supporters on the estate. It passed into
the hands of the Earl of Lisburne who sold it to Robert William Newman, MP, in
Robert Newman was a senior partner of Newman and Co, general
merchants of Dartmouth. Originally Hunt, Newman, Roope, Teague and Co, the
company had buccaneered out to Newfoundland, and commenced selling salted
codfish to Portugal in the 1500s, encountering wines of that country through
bartering fish for wine. In time, the company built up its own shipping fleet.
When Robert Newman bought Mamhead Park for £106,000 the
original house was built on low-ground, without the views across the Exe
Estuary. He turned to Charles Fowler, an architect born in Cullompton and
articled in Exeter, who produced several E-shaped plans for his client. Fowler
probably intended to rebuild Mamhead Park on the site of the existing house.
Alas, Newman rejected each plan, excited by new building styles and preferring
a new house about 400 yards up a hill to the west of the old mansion.
Newman instead gambled on Anthony Salvin, an aspiring young
architect, who grasped his first major commission. Built of mellow Bath stone,
Salvin retained one of Fowler’s original ground plans into the design and
construction commenced in 1827 and the shell completed by the following year.
It was a slow-build. The new house was funded out of Newman’s income and its
interiors weren’t completed until 1833.
Mamhead Park was a ‘marriage house’ for his new bride, Mary, and one befitting a man of his status. Robert Newman had become MP for Exeter in 1818 and became a baronet in 1836.
He was succeeded by his son, Captain. Sir Robert Lydston
Newman, who was killed at the Battle of Inkerman in November 1854, and Mamhead
passed to his brother, Sir Lydston Newman, whose son, a prominent churchman,
was created Lord Mamhead in 1931.
He died unmarried in 1945, leaving life tenancy of the
estate to his brother-in-law, Frederick Lumley.
On succeeding in 1948, Sir Ralph Newman, great-grandson of
the first baronet, was able to buy back furnishings but eventually abandoned
the idea of living on a grand scale.
In 1954, he sold the estate, but retained the house and 20
acres, choosing to let the fully furnished property to an evangelical
organisation. Mamhead was sold to Dawlish College for Boys in 1963 and was
acquired by a property company in 1988, who converted the house and stables
into offices, at one time occupied by the Forestry Commission.
Mamhead Park returned to private use in 2000 and twelve
years later was bought by a group of overseas investors, headed by Richard
Fuller, for £8 million.
After considering various uses, including an ill-fated
wedding business, the mansion is once again available to buy.
The sale also includes Grade II*-listed Mamhead Castle, also
designed by Salvin as stables at the same time as the big house, a copy of a
pele tower at 14th century Belsay Castle in Northumberland, and
currently providing six office suites.
One hundred years ago. The mid-Gloucester correspondent for the Cheltenham Chronicle reported that the whole of the Lypiatt Estate had been sold by private treaty and that the new owner intended to take up residence soon.
“There is much historical lore surrounding the fine old Elizabethan mansion. The mansion has been in the hands of faithful servants since the death of Lady Dorington, and it is hoped that with the advent of a new owner some of the former glories of Lypiatt will be revived.”
The house was Lypiatt Park, mostly of the 16th century, once belonging to Throckmorton, of Gunpowder Plot fame. A west tower and crenelated parapet were added by Jeffry Wyatville as part of his works of 1809-1815. An extension was added by Thomas Henry Wyatt in 1877 for Sir John Edward Dorington, a Conservative politician. He died in 1911 and his widow had been in failing health until her own death in 1913.
The house and most of the estate was bought by Walter John Gwyn in 1919 and occupied by his sister and brother-in-law, Judge Hubert Bayley Drysdale Woodcock. However, the house was later leased to Barbara Grace Talbot, widow of Major John Talbot, until her death in 1938. It is debatable how long Walter Gwyn spent at Lypiatt Park, but he was certainly resident here from 1939 alongside the Woodcocks.
Gwyn died in 1940 and Judge Woodcock remained here with his daughter until it was sold in the early 1950s. Falling into a state of disrepair it was bought by the Modernist sculptor Lynn Chadwick (1914-2003) who restored the house, and which remains in the family.
On this day, one hundred years ago, the Daily Express reported that Lord Swansea had decided to sell his ancestral home, Singleton Abbey, Swansea, owing to rates, taxes and the general increase of the cost of upkeep.
The whole estate of 250 acres and the mansion, with its priceless contents of 70 fully furnished rooms was going to auction.
“I don’t want to do it,” said Lord Swansea, “but it is a sad necessity. To keep up the place as I should like would entail £100,000 a year, and I have not the means to do it. That accounts for my living away from Swansea so largely. It will be a great wrench to part with the place, but it is inevitable.”
The nucleus of the house was built in 1784 by Edward King, a customs official. In 1817 it was bought by the industrialist John Henry Vivian who extended the house and later engaged architect Peter Frederick Robinson to re-model it in neo-gothic style.
Ernest Vivian, 2nd Baron Swansea, sold Singleton Abbey to Swansea Corporation for £115,000 in July 1919, and died three years later.
The council wanted to develop the estate largely for housing purposes and gifted the mansion to the Swansea University College in 1923 – still used today as offices for Swansea University on its Singleton Park campus.
The descendants of Sir Thomas and Lady Edith Dixon look on with anguish, as this Victorian country house, gifted to the people of Belfast in the 1950’s, falls into ruin.
Back in April 1956, the gift of Wilmont House, at Dunmurry, Co Antrim, might have seemed a blessing to Belfast Corporation. Lady Edith Dixon offered Wilmont and its 140 acres of land to the city, with the wish that it be used as a hospital, convalescent home or home for old people, and that the lands be used as a public park. The old lady was winding down her affairs, the only other stipulation was that she be able to occupy the house and lands for her lifetime, thereafter they should be managed by the Corporation for “the greatest good of the citizens of the city.”
Lady Edith died in 1964 and her wishes were granted. Wilmont House became a home for the elderly, a role it carefully fulfilled until closure in 1992. However, by now the old house was less of a good thing, and more of a burden for Belfast City Council.
By 2013, Wilmont House had been used for occasional events, as a parks office for the council and briefly as the headquarters for the Belfast Marathon. A proposal for a seven-year refurbishment was rejected, the house was too expensive to maintain, and the only viable option might have been to hand back Wilmont to the Dixon family.
Six years later, the situation hasn’t changed. Wilmont House has deteriorated, windows are broken and boarded-up, and the Grade B1 listed former country house is designated a ‘Building at Risk.’
Its sorry condition hasn’t gone unnoticed by the Dixon family. This week the Belfast Telegraph reports that Andrew Dixon (58), a great, great nephew of Lady Edith, has told Belfast City Council that it should make “alternative arrangements” if it cannot look after the stately home in its most famous park. ‘The family has watched on in horror as the derelict house in the grounds of Sir Thomas and Lady Dixon Park in south Belfast has gradually decayed since it was handed over to the council by his great, great aunt.’
It is suggested that discussions took place at Belfast City Council several years ago on the future of Wilmont House during which it was suggested the Dixon family should be contacted to discuss its future. According to Andrew Dixon that call never came.
The situation at Wilmont House is no different to many other country houses that ended up in the care of local authorities. A recent Country Life article on Oldway Mansion at Paignton, in Devon, reads remarkably similar, although on a grander scale.
Wilmont House was one of three houses that belonged to the Dixon family – the others being Drumadarragh House and Cairndhu, also in Co Antrim. Drumadarragh remains in the family, the seat of Lord and Lady Glentoran, but Mr Dixon fears that Wilmont might go the same way as Cairndhu in Larne, another property gifted by the family, presented to the Northern Ireland Hospitals Authority in 1947, which now lies in ruins.
Andrew Dixon might be frustrated by events at Wilmont, but Belfast City Council remains restrained over the situation. “We’re currently preparing an invitation for expressions of interest to go to the market to seek a suitably qualified developer for the restoration and regeneration of Wilmont House, to bring it into a new use. As part of this, we’re pursuing efforts to get in touch and engage with the beneficiaries of the will of Lady Dixon.”
For now, Wilmont House is surplus to requirement and only time will see how it emerges from a distinctly despondent period.
The house was built in 1859, ‘a plain two-storey red-brick Victorian house, with a three-bay front and balustraded porch.’ It replaced a 1740 property built for William Stewart, the son of John Stewart of Ballydrain, an important farming family.
In 1855, the estate had been sold to Alexander Mackenzie Shaw, a Belfast brewer, but he was quickly forced to sign over the property to the Northern Banking Company in lieu of debts of £12,505. About 1858, it became the property of James Bristow (1796-1866), a director of the aforesaid bank, who demolished the run-down old house and substituted it with the present mansion designed by Thomas Jackson, one of Belfast’s outstanding architects.
According to historian Eileen Black, Wilmont House was really a house of two-halves. One part was occupied by James Bristow, the other by his son, James Thomson Bristow (1827-1877), another banker.
Following J. T. Bristow’s death in 1877 the estate passed to his trustees, William Laird of Birkenhead, and his brother, Samual Smith Bristow of Liverpool, and was sold in 1879 to Robert Henry Sturrock Reade (1873-1913), of the York Street Flax Spinning Company. After his death, Wilmont passed to his son George who sold it to Sir Thomas and Lady Edith Dixon in 1919.
Sir Thomas Dixon (1868-1950), Privy Councillor for Northern Ireland, and a well-known figure in Irish and British racing circles, belonged to a family of shipowners and timber merchants who had been among the founders of modern Belfast.
His father, Sir Daniel Dixon, 1st Baronet, was the first Lord Mayor of Belfast and MP for North Belfast, half-brother to Lord Glentoran, president of the Ulster Unionist Council.
Thomas Dixon entered the business of his father, Thomas Dixon & Sons, timber merchants, and owners of the Lord Line Shipping Company of which he was a director. On the death of his father in 1907 he became managing director, a position in which he remained until the closing of the firm in 1938. (He was also a director of the York Street Flax Spinning Company).
When Larne was created a Borough in 1939, Sir Thomas was elected its first Mayor. He was a Senator until 1949, was a member of the Ulster Unionist Council from its inception and was appointed to the Privy Council in 1930.
He died in Harrogate in 1950 and was survived by Lady Edith Dixon (1871-1964), formerly Miss Edith Stewart Clark, daughter of Stewart Clark, of Cairndhu, and Dundas Castle, South Queensferry, whom he married in 1906.
Lady Dixon was appointed a Dame of the British Empire in June 1921, in recognition of her valuable work on behalf of all the services during World War One.
For the time being, Wilmont House must live with its memories. To the time when Captain Robert Falcon Scott, the famous Antarctic explorer, visited during his stay in Belfast in 1904. To 1934, when it became the temporary residence of the Governor of Northern Ireland when Government House at Hillsborough was damaged by fire, and to the Second World War when it was the headquarters of the American Army in Northern Ireland.
The last word goes to Andrew Dixon and the uncertainty over Belfast City Council’s ownership of the property: –
“They have said they would like to talk to the family. I have plenty of ideas on how it could be used and surely that’s more preferable than letting it go to ruin. I and my father Robin Dixon, Baron Glentoran, have already watched how another of the properties at Cairndhu in Larne has been handled and I would hate to see Wilmont House go the same way,” he said.
From the archives. January 1926. Haddon Hall had been unoccupied for nearly one hundred and fifty years. The new Duke of Rutland made it his duty to restore the old house and make it habitable again.
It was stated in the press that Haddon Hall, in Derbyshire, one of the most interesting and attractive manorial residences in England, was going to be closed to the public, who had long enjoyed the privilege of visiting it.
Its owner, the Duke of Rutland, whose ancestor, the third Duke, had been its last tenant about a hundred and fifty years before, was preparing it for occupation.
It was from Haddon Hall that the famous elopement of Dorothy Vernon and John Manners, the second son of the first Earl of Rutland, took place. To the betrothal of the pair Dorothy’s father, Sir George Vernon, the owner of the Hall and of many other manors and lordships, was opposed; but one night while dancing by a large party of guests was proceeding in the ballroom, Dorothy slipped out to meet her lover, with whom she rode off to Leicester, where they were married next day.
Dorothy was co-heiress of her father, and by the marriage Haddon Hall fell to the Manners family, of which her grandson, on succeeding as eighth Earl of Rutland, became the head. Dorothy’s name was preserved in Dorothy’s Garden, Dorothy’s Walk, Dorothy’s Door (through which she escaped on the night of the elopement), and Dorothy’s Steps (where she met her lover in readiness with horses for the flight).
The restoration of Haddon Hall got underway during the early years of the twentieth century. The 9th Duke of Rutland and his team began to find small everyday objects, lost or thrown away, evocative of the lives of the past occupants. The Duke recognised the importance of these finds and established a museum at Haddon Hall in which to display them.