In 1918 Plas Newydd was sold to the approval of locals. However, within months its historical contents were sold at auction.

Plas Newyd 1 - The Sketch 15 Apr 1903 (BNA)
Plas Newydd had many occupants after the Ladies of Llangollen. It was for a time the residence of two other maiden ladies and afterwards, until 1890, was in the possession of General Yorke, who added a wing and made many alterations. (The British Newspaper Archive).

One hundred years ago, The Liverpool Daily Post reported on the sale of Plas Newydd, the one-time home of the famous ‘Ladies of Llangollen’. Mrs Thomas Wilson of Riseholm Hall, Lincolnshire, had bought Plas Newydd, with all its interesting art treasures, in 1910. She had sold it to Mr George Harrison of Bryntisilio, once the summer residence of Sir Theodoro and Lady Martin, and Liverpool. “In Mr Harrison’s hands it is felt that Wordsworth’s ‘Low-roofed cot by Deva’s Stream,’ as he described Plas Newyd, and Browning’s ‘House beautiful’ of Bryntisilio are in safekeeping.”

However, things weren’t not quite what they seemed. In June it was reported that the house and its contents were going to be sold. “The fine old oak collected with such rare taste by ‘the ladies’ to adorn their home is unique; and included in the collection now to be dispersed, are memorials of the great Duke of Wellington, Madame de Senlis, Lord Edward Fitzgerald, Southey, Wordsworth, and many other famous personages, with whom the ladies were contemporaneous”.

The Sketch - 15 Apr 1903 (BNA)
It is scarcely a matter of wonder that two ladies of such divided originality, in days when the female sex generally entertained no views on woman’s rights or emancipation, became quite a power in the little village of Llangollen. (The British Newspaper Archive).

The ‘Ladies of Llangollen’ were Lady Eleanor Butler (1745-1829), a sister of the 17th Earl of Ormonde, and Miss Sarah Ponsonby (1735-1831). About 1776, discontented with their life in Ireland, decided to take fate in their own hands and moved to Llangollen. They occupied a small four-roomed cottage called Pen-y-Mae which they enlarged and renamed Plas Newydd. With a fine taste in art and decoration it was transformed into a dwelling that people flocked to see from far and wide.

Plas Newydd (History Ireland)
The original cottage called Pen-y-Mae, later enlarged to become Plas Newydd. (History Ireland).
Plas Newyd 1 - The Sketch 27 Sep 1893 (BNA)
General Yorke spent thousands of pounds and spared nothing that would add to its charm and quaintness. After his death the property came into the possession of Mr G.H. Robertson, a wealthy Liverpool merchant, and later Mrs Thomas Wilson . (The British Newspaper Archive).
Liverpool Echo 7 June 1918 (BNA)
The LIverpool Echo. 7 June 1918. (The British Newspaper Archive).

At the 1918 auction the house was submitted and withdrawn at £5,250. The sale of the treasures realised about £10,000 after the six day sale. A movement was started to guarantee the retention of the house as a public property and it was thought that about £8,000 would be sufficient. However, in 1919 Plas Newydd was bought by Mr Duveen of London and Liverpool.

This turned out to be Lord Duveen of Millbank who lived his whole life in art and was known as the ‘King of Galleries’. He built the Duveen Gallery of the British Museum to house the Elgin Marbles and a major extension to the Tate Gallery. His ownership of Plas Newydd was brief. Within twelve months it had been sold to the Right Hon George Montagu Bennet, 7th Earl of Tankerville, who handed it over in perpetuity to Llangollen Town Council (after it had borrowed £3,350 from the Ministry of Health) in 1932. Today it is run as a museum by Denbighshire County Council.

Plas Newyd - The Sketch 15 Apr 1903 (BNA)
The ladies filled the small rooms to overflowing, the dining-room, the library, the drawing-room, and the bed-room, which, of course, the friends shared. (The British Newspaper Archive).
Plas Newyd 2 - The Sketch 15 Apr 1903 (BNA)
One of the richly furnished rooms in 1903. The ‘Ladies of Llangollen’ lived at Plas Newydd for fifty years. “There is not one point to distinguish them from men; the dressing and powdering of their hair; their well-starched neckcloths, the upper part of their habits, which they always wear, made precisely like men’s coats…” (The British Newspaper Archive).
Plas Newydd (Geograph-Gwynfryn)
Plas Newydd, Llangollen. The original cottage was expanded by the ladies, and then again by subsequent owners. It is now restored to essentially the same structure left by the ladies. Its most unusual feature are the pieces of reclaimed oak carvings set out in patchwork style on the exterior of the house. The modern-day house looks remarkably different from the one shown in earlier photographs.(Geograph/Gwynfryn).


‘A Palace of Palaces’: When Osterley Park, a gift of Lord Jersey, was accepted for the nation.

The Sphere - 10 Dec 1949 (BNA)
The main facade of Osterley: A frontal view of the great mansion, which passed into the hands of the people in 1949. Osterley Park had been the home of the Earls of Jersey for more than a century. In this image the gardens were in an unkempt state. (The British Newspaper Archive).

In the 1940s, the future of Osterley Park, near Isleworth, was the cause of frustration for George Child Villiers, 9th Earl of Jersey.

The Manor of Osterley had been bought by Sir Thomas Gresham, Chancellor of the Exchequer to Queen Elizabeth, in 1562, who erected an ‘agreeable edifice’ built of brick and described as ‘large, convenient and thoroughly finished’.

In 1711 the house was bought by Sir Francis Child, a banker and city magnate, and it was one of his descendants, Francis Child, who employed the fashionable young architect Robert Adam, who in 20 years transformed Osterley into a palace.

Two years after Adams’ engagement Francis Child died, but his brother and heir, Robert (1739-1782), saw to the completion of the operations. Robert Child had one daughter, Sarah, who in 1782, eloped to Gretna Green with John, 10th Earl of Westmorland. The couple were soon forgiven, and their eldest daughter, Lady Sarah Fane, eventually inherited Osterley. She married in 1804 Viscount Villiers, who succeeded as 5th Earl of Jersey, and it was his heir who wanted rid of the property.

The Sphere - 17 June 1939 (BNA)
Lord and Lady Jersey seen in the grounds of Osterley Park before it was opened to the public in 1939. “I have opened Osterley,” said Lord Jersey, “as I do not live in it and there must be so many who want to see the place.” Lady Jersey was formerly the film actress, Virginia Cherrill. Lord Jersey gifted Osterley Park ten years later. (The British Newspaper Archive).

There had been long drawn-out negotiations with the National Trust. James Lees-Milne had been negotiating the transfer of the property for years, and in his 1944 diaries wrote:

“What a decline since 1939! Now total disorder and disarray. Bombs have fallen in the park, blowing out many windows; the Adam orangery has been burnt out, and the garden beds are totally overgrown. We did not go round the house which is taken over by Glyn Mills Bank, but round the confines of the estate. There are still 600 acres as yet unsold, Smith and I both deprecated the breezy way in which the Osterley agent advocated further slices to the south-east of the house being sold for building development, in order to raise an endowment. It is going to be a difficult problem how to estimate figures where so much is problematic, the outgoings associated with the museum, the number of visitors and the potential building value of the land itself.”

Lord Jersey had first offered his estate to the National Trust in 1946, but in 1948 withdrew the offer because the Middlesex County Council failed to agree on the management scheme. Afterwards Lord Jersey made new proposals which resulted in the final transfer of the property.

In December 1949, the National Trust announced that Lord Jersey’s gift of the house and 140 acres of land had been accepted.

The Sphere - 10 Dec 1949 (BNA) 1
The magnificent library of the mansion as it was in its heyday: The National Trust had announced the acceptance of Lord Jersey’s gift of the house and 140 acres of land. (The British Newspaper Archive).

The Victoria and Albert Museum bought from Lord Jersey the furniture and furnishings specially designed for the State rooms by Robert Adam. The arrangement and showing of the house was in the hands of the V&A, to whom the Trust lent four panels of Beauvais tapestry to hang in the gallery. The Trust had let the property on a long lease from the Ministry of Works and it was intended that after necessary alterations the house would be opened as a public museum. ( ‘The Sphere’ said at the time that the Government had actually handed over £120,500 for the contents of the house).

Lord Jersey moved to the island of Jersey, taking many pictures (including works by Rubens, Van Dyck and Claude) with him. Sadly, many of these were destroyed in a fire while en route to his new home.

The National Trust took full ownership in 1991, but has been accused by critics that Osterley was being ‘increasingly despoiled and dumbed-down’. Last year ‘The Spectator’ scoffed at plans by the Trust ‘to spend £356,000 and turn it into a ‘child-friendly leisure centre’.

Illustrated London News - 10 Dec 1949 1
The Tapestry Room at Osterley Park. The walls were lined with panels of Neilson-Gobelins fabrics, dating to 1775, and representing ‘Les Amours Des Dieux’. (The British Newspaper Archive).
Illustrated London News - 10 Dec 1949 4
One of the magnificent rooms in Osterley Park. The Dining Room, showing the lyre-back chairs. (The British Newspaper Archive).
Illustrated London News - 10 Dec 1949
Designed for Mrs Child in 1775 and purchased by the Victoria and Albert Museum. The Great Bed in the State Bedroom at Osterley. (The British Newspaper Archive).
The Sphere 2 - 17 June 1939 (BNA)
The Etruscan Room was an outstanding example of the 18th century embellishment at Osterley. Other features were the Wedgewood Hall and the Boucher tapestry room. (The British Newspaper Archive).
The Sphere 1 - 17 June 1939 (BNA)
The Drawing Room had many fine pictures on its walls. The British school was well represented and included the heads of Robert Child and his wife, painted by Romney for 20 guineas apiece, and Reynolds’ portrait of Sarah Child, the Gretna Green bride of Lord Westmorland. (The British Newspaper Archive).
Osterley Park (Wikipedia)
The National Trust continues to maintain Osterley Park. The house and gardens are open to the public and receive around 30,000 of the 350,000 visitors to the surrounding park. The house has featured on film and TV including ‘The Saint’, ‘The Persuaders’, ‘Miss Marple’, ‘The Grass is Greener’, ‘Young Victoria’ and ‘The Dark Knight Rises’.


A house built by a bicycle pioneer that quietly slipped into unfamiliar surroundings.

Coundon Court 2
The glory days of Coundon Court, built in 1891 for George Singer by Charles Gray-Hill. (P. Riley).

The death of Mrs Singer at 25, Harley House, Regent’s Park, London, on 3rd March 1918, was insignificant. She was the widow of the late Alderman George Singer, of Coventry, for three years Mayor of the city.  However, for the people of Coventry, she would be remembered for the prominent part in her civic life and her performance as Mayoress during the years, 1891, 1892 and 1893. Mr and Mrs Singer broke new ground in respect of the function of Mayor and Mayoress.

That period saw the beginning on the part of wealthy citizens to live outside the city, and Coundon Court, their mansion, a few miles out of Coventry, was frequently the scene of social gatherings of members of local governing bodies, whilst garden parties were frequently held during the summer months. After the death of her husband in 1909 she left the house behind.

The one hundredth anniversary of her death allows us to investigate Coundon Court, a house that has slowly melted into its surroundings ever since.

Coundon Court was built in 1891 for George Singer by Charles Gray-Hill. It was constructed on land that was once part of Coundon Farm and bought for a modest £5,433.  

Coundon Court 11
An engraving of Coundon Court, possibly made for Charles Daniel Miller. (P. Riley).

George Singer was at the top of his game. Born at Stinsford in Dorset in 1847, he served his apprenticeship at John Penn and Sons, marine engineers, Greenwich, and in 1869 moved to Coventry to take charge of sewing-machine production at the Coventry Machinist Company. The company made some of the first bicycles in Britain and it was here that Singer learnt his trade.  A business of his own in Leicester Street was replaced in 1874 by a cycle factory in Canterbury Street, known as Singer and Co, that eventually became one of the world’s biggest cycle manufacturing businesses. Singer paid attention to the smallest detail and his cycles were built with quality in mind.

George Singer
Mr George Singer (1847-1909). (P. Riley).

In 1896 the cycle industry reached its apex. Factories were so busy that even shareholders couldn’t get cycles in less than three months after giving the order. Shares reached great highs and businesses were bought for prodigious sums. Singer and Co was acquired by Mr F. T. Hooley for £540,000 but George Singer still headed the business.

Later he added motor-cycles to his empire and founded the famous Singer Motor Co in 1901, a marque reminiscent of the golden days of British motoring. He was elected to the city council in 1881 but resigned in 1898 to concentrate on philanthropy and charity work.


According to the Warwickshire Industrial Archaeology Society the three-storey house of red brick, with incorporated stonework, looked rather severe from the outside. When built it was set in over 50 acres of land complete with three cottages, stables and an impressive gated entrance called Holly Lodge.

In January 1909 George Singer took ill while dining at Coundon Court and died soon after.

The Bystander 8 Sep 1909 (BNA)
Sale notice. The Bystander, 8 Sep 1909. (British Newspaper Archive).

Coundon Court was bought by Charles Daniel Miller, chairman and joint managing director of the Newdigate Colliery (1914) Ltd and Bedworth Coal Supply Ltd. Miller had served in the army during World War One and was a noted rifle shot, captaining the English team on occasions, and a regular competitor at Wimbledon and Bisley.  He filled Coundon Court with his many trophies as well as his passion for old engravings, particularly reproductions of George Morland’s paintings. To locals the house became a favourite rendezvous for fetes and summer picnics.

Miller died in 1944 and his wife, Bessie, stayed at Coundon Court until her own death in 1946.

Leamington Spa Courier 2 May 1947 (BNA)
Sale notice. 2 May 1947. (British Newspaper Archive).

In August 1947 Coundon Court was bought for £15,000 by Mr Harold John Finn and his wife, proprietors of the ‘Sunnyside’ nursing home at Radford. The house was converted into another nursing home with 22 bedrooms available for maternity cases.  It opened to great fanfare in early 1948 and was anticipated to eventually accommodate 44 patients.

The Coundon Maternity Home lasted only a couple of years, probably due to the incorporation of the National Health Service which offered free maternity care to patients. It was obvious that another use was needed for Coundon Court and Harold Finn started taking up to 50 paying guests as long-term boarders.

Finn had ambitions for the parkland and made three applications to Coventry Council to use it as a caravan site. Since 1925 the council had deemed the area as ‘Green Belt’ land and each application was rejected claiming the 13 acres of rich farming land should be used for agricultural purposes. This didn’t deter Finn and in January 1951 he allowed the first caravan onto the property. Within months the number of caravans had reached 65 and the council referred to it as being like a ‘shanty town’. There were no public facilities and after his third application was rejected Mr Finn unsuccessfully appealed to the Minister of Housing and Local Government. It came as no surprise because Coundon Court had gained a notorious reputation for its unruliness and even the odd murder. By 1952 local newspapers were referring to the country house as Coundon Court Hostel.

Mr Finn was frustrated as each attempt to make money came to nothing. However, in November 1952 the Coventry Education Committee suggested they were willing to buy Coundon Court to create a new county secondary school for about 600 children. If Mr Finn thought he was going to make a profit on the deal then he would be disappointed when the house exchanged hands for just £4,000.

The contents, nothing of any value, were sold at auction in April 1953 and the council made plans to build at short notice a new girls’ grammar school for 120 scholars using the house and the addition of temporary buildings. It opened that year and the council later bought the lodge and grounds for sports pitches and gardens. It became a comprehensive school in 1956 and one of its first pupils was Mo Mowlam, later to become the Secretary State for Northern Ireland.

Coventry Evening Telegraph - 18 Apr 1953 (BNA)
From the Coventry Evening Telegraph, 18 Apr 1953. (British Newspaper Archive).

The house still stands, known as ‘Old House’, and much of the original woodwork from Singer’s days remains. The site has been significantly developed and is now known as Coundon Court School.

There are modern-day images of Coundon Court available to see on the Warwickshire Industrial Archaeology Society website.

Coundon Court 3
The modification to the left of ‘Old House’ was not the most sympathetic. (P. Riley).
Coundon Court 5
The Victorian House was of plain design by the architect Charles Gray-Hill. (P. Riley).
Coundon Court 4
The interior to Coundon Court is far more elaborate than the ‘severe’ exterior. (P. Riley).



A century ago nobody wanted to take on a big house. 

The Haugh (Elgin from Old Photographs)
The Haugh was built on the west of the site of Blackfriars Haugh, a 13th century property demolished in 1750. (Elgin from Old Photographs).

A century ago country mansions were out of vogue. This was more so in Scotland where a large number of big houses and estates were sent to market. There was no guarantee that they would sell. This was highlighted on the 8 March, 1918, by the Aberdeen Weekly Journal who reported on the mansion house of Blackfriars Haugh.

‘In ordinary times the offer of the mansion house of Haugh would have been considered a bargain at £3,000. Such was the upset price it was offered at on Thursday last, but there was no response. Along with the house, which is one of the most beautiful and attractive residences in Elgin, there are 10 acres of policies. The sale has again been adjourned’.

The Scotsman - 23 Feb 1918 (BNA)
From The Scotsman, 23 February 1918. (The British Newspaper Archive).

The house was built for William Grigor in the mid 19th century and later remodelled in ‘fruity’ baronial style in 1882 for Mr A.G. Allan, a solicitor, by the architect William Kidner. It had become a millstone after the death of its then-owner Mr John Macdonald, a retired tobacco manufacturer, formerly of the firm of J & D Macdonald. The firm was amalgamated with the Imperial Tobacco Company of Great Britain and, following his demise in 1911, Macdonald left estate worth £105,684 and shares amounting to £93,311.

Blackfriars Haugh failed to sell on several occasions and was seemingly destined for the demolition men.

The Haugh 1 (Elgin from Old Photographs)
In 1882 the prominent solicitor A.G. Allan commissioned William Kidner to remodel The Haugh. Kidner had spent some time in Shanghai and oriental influence is hinted at in the design. (Elgin from Old Photographs).

Diminishing in value, it did finally find a buyer in August 1918, but the timing was poor. Mr Hendry Russell Randall, of the Royal Worcester Warehouse Co, London, bought Blackfriers Haugh and its policies. He fitted the house up as a convalescent hospital and offered it to the American Red Cross for the benefit of wounded American officers and men.

The Aberdeen Press and Journal enthused about the proposal.

‘The house occupies a fine situation on the banks of the Lossie, and the grounds are about ten acres in extent, with croquet lawn, tennis court, and bowling green. The interior has been fitted up with every modern convenience, and there are well stocked fruit and vegetable gardens. The river offers facilities for boating and fishing, and Mr Randall intends to provide a motor car, so that the wounded soldiers can visit any of the beauty spots in the district’.

The Haugh 2 (Elgin from Old Photopgraphs)
The entrance to The Haugh during the times of the Bibby family. (Elgin from Old Photographs).
The Haugh 3 (Elgin from Old Photographs)
The Drawing Room. It is understood these photographs were taken about 1946, when The Haugh was gifted to the town. (Elgin from Old Photographs).
The Haugh 4 (Elgin from Old Photographs)
Landscape views decorate the walls in this bedroom at The Haugh. (Elgin from Old Photographs).
The Haugh 5 (Elgin from Old Photographs)
Books, flower arrangements and comfortable furniture. (Elgin from Old Photographs)

It is doubtful whether it was ever used as a hospital. The end of the war in November effectively scuppered plans with wounded American soldiers being shipped safely back home instead. In 1919 Blackfriars Haugh was back on the market once again.

The mansion finally became a family home again in the 1920s when it was bought by Mr H.C. Bibby. The family remained until the 1940s when it was gifted to the people of Elgin by Mrs Katherine Bibby. By her wish it was to be used to rehouse patients in the Munro Home for Incurable Invalids. Part of the house was also set aside as an eventide home for old men and women belonging to Elgin and Morayshire. In the end it was actually used as a pre-nursing training school and later as a music department for the Elgin Academy

But what of the house today? The property still exists but is no longer known as Blackfriars Haugh (or even its shortened title, The Haugh). Nowadays the Category B listed house provides a very different existence as the Mansion House Hotel & Country Club.

Blackfriars Haugh (Elgin) (Mansion House Hotel & Country Club)
The Haugh is now better known as the Mansion House Hotel & Country Club.


The story of a country house that almost became home to Winston Churchill. Instead it was ‘swallowed by suburbia’ and lost forever.

Little Grove - Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic news 5 Aug 1911 (BNA)
The unknown house. East Barnet – on high ground – An imposing mansion with extensive pleasure grounds, lodges, stabling, cottages, farmer, and beautiful parkland, in all about 112 acres. Suitable for private residence, or as an Institution. The surrounding land is suitable for profitable development. Price exceedingly low. From the Illustrated and Dramatic Sporting News. 5 August 1911. (The British Newspaper Archive)

Little Grove, East Barnet, might have been famous had it not been for a change of mind by Winston Churchill. In June 1922 the then-Secretary of State for the Colonies was looking for a country estate to buy. It was widely rumoured that he had set his sights upon Little Grove, in Hertfordshire, with one newspaper stating that
‘it was highly likely that the deal will be carried through’. In the end, Churchill bought Chartwell in Kent, and Little Grove headed into obscurity instead.

This house came to my attention after coming across a sale advertisement in an August 1911 copy of the Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News. It had been posted by Messrs. Trollope’s Register of Houses and listed an imposing mansion with extensive pleasure grounds and 112 acres of beautiful timbered parkland at East Barnet. That was about all it said about the house, other than it might be suitable for private occupation, or as an institution.

The identity of the house involved a painstaking search of images of old houses around East Barnet. It was eventually found to be Little Grove, built in 1719, by John Cotton of Middle Tempest and originally called New Place.  Built of red-brick, later covered with stucco, it replaced a house dating from the reign of Philip and Mary. The first mansion (called Daneland) was the residence of Lady Fanshawe, the widow of Sir Robert Fanshawe, the Cavalier, whose heroic rescue of her husband from prison made her famous. It didn’t take long for John Cotton to change its name back to Little Grove.

The West prospect of New Place in East Barnet, Hertfordshire. A view of the new house built in 1719 that John Cotton named New Place.

After passing into the hands of Fane William Sharpe it was sold in 1767 to Sir Edward Willes (1723-1787), a barrister, politician and judge, who became Solicitor General for England and Wales. The following year he  was reputed to have paid £700 to Capability Brown for work on its extensive parkland.

In the later years of the 18th century it was owned by David Murray (1727-1796), 7th Viscount Stormont, later 2nd Earl Mansfield. After his death it appears to have been occupied by John Tempest, a landowner, Tory Politician and MP of Wynyard in County Durham. His widow remained until 1817 and Little Grove was bought by Captain Colman Hickman.

Morning Post 3 Sep 1817 (BNA)
Auction notice for Little Grove. From the Morning Post. 3 September 1817. (TheBNA)

By the 1830s the estate was home to Frederick Cass (1787-1861), Magistrate, Deputy Lieutenant of Hertfordshire and High-Sheriff in 1844-45. It is likely that Little Grove had been bought by his father, William Cass, and Frederick later moved here from Beaulieu Lodge. He died at the house in 1861.

It was occupied by Alexander Henry Campbell (1822-1918), JP for Hertfordshire, Deputy Lieutenant of Cornwall and elected MP for Launceston until 1868. His departure from politics also led to him leaving Little Grove. The estate failed to sell at auction and remained unoccupied until 1871.

It is possible that Campbell had rented Little Grove from Martha, the widow of Frederick Cass, as there is evidence to suggest that the family had links to the estate up until the 1890s. Their son, Frederick Charles Cass (1824-1896), Rector of Monken Hadley in North London, was often associated by name with Little Grove.

Sigismund James Stern (1807-1885) moved into the house in 1871. He was a German-born Manchester cotton merchant who later turned his hands to banking in London. William Cass had described him as a ‘merchant and banker of London’.

Little Grove, South Front. Published by Kell Brothers of Holbutn c1860s (Wikipedia)
An engraving of Little Grove. The south front as published by Kell Brothers in the 1860s.

At the turn of the 20th century the house and its 112-acre estate was put on the market but once again struggled to sell. In 1910 Messrs. Trollope and Sons wrote to East Barnet Valley Urban District Council drawing their attention to the Little Grove estate for a public park or recreation ground. ‘The price we are now in a position to accept is likely to be more favourable to your Council than it would later on, when the neighbourhood will have developed to a still larger extent, with the consequent appreciable rise in the value of the land’. The council wasn’t convinced and rejected the idea.

From 1907 the house remained untenanted, save for the billeting of 500 soldiers during World War One. It was in a dilapidated condition with dry rot setting in. However, in 1919 it was bought by the well-known Miss Shirley Kellogg, an American actress and singer, who had found fame in the West End, most notably at the London Hippodrome. She was, in fact, married to Albert Pierre de Courville, a theatrical producer and later film director. She immediately proposed changing its name to Shirley’s Grove and set about restoring and renovating the house.

NPG Ax160297; Shirley Kellogg by Wrather & Buys, published by J. Beagles & Co
Shirley Kellogg (born 27 May 1887 in Minneapolis, Minnesota) was an American actress and singer who found greater success in Britain than in America, mostly in revue. (NPG)

The newspapers reported that Shirley Kellogg had spent almost £10,000 on the house but whilst the work had been completed it appears that the de Courville’s hadn’t parted with much money. In November 1920, Messrs. Maple and Co sought to recover £8,000 it was owed for repairs and decoration of Shirley’s Grove. In a High Court hearing, in front of Mr Scott, the official referee, the defendants alleged defective workmanship and excessive charges. Judgement was given to the plaintiffs for £6,966 of which £3,000 had already been paid, and a further £3,000 was awarded to the plaintiff’s solicitors.

As you might expect there were cheery weekend parties at Shirley’s Grove and on one occasion there was a fire, during which Shirley appeared in a dressing-gown encouraging the efforts of those attempting to put the fire out.

Shirley Kellogg in Zig-Zag at London Hippodrome (ISDN - 17 Apr 1917)
Shirley Kellogg, featuring in ‘Zig-Zag’ at the London Hippodrome. From the Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News. 17 April 1917. (The British Newspaper Archive)

It might not be theatrical coincidence that stories about Little Grove started to appear around this time. There were tales of a ghost, a moat and buried treasure. Column inches were filled with the ancient story of Geoffrey de Mandeville, who owed his power and wealth from being the Constable of the Tower, who levied war upon the King and was attained for treason. According to most historians, he was killed at Mildenhall in Suffolk in 1444, but others said he was concealed in the grounds of Little Grove and fell into a moat, where he was drowned. His ghost was said to walk the parkland, being apparently disturbed by the fact that in the deepest part of the old moat, there was a great chest of gold and gems, which no one could carry away because it was bound to the bottom by iron chains.

To add further mystery there were tales of a hidden chamber and secret passages in which a coat of arms of Oliver Cromwell, elaborately engraved in oak, was discovered. Other valuable works of art were said to have been found, and then the infamous moat was said to have figured in Sir Walter Scott’s ‘Fortune of Nigel’.

With such fanciful stories, we might be forgiven for questioning the integrity of Winston Churchill’s interest in Shirley’s Grove. The story emerged in 1922 when Shirley Kellogg was living the high-life at her restored mansion. However, the estate did adjoin Trent Park, Sir Philip Sassoon’s estate, so the attraction might have been there after all.

Shirley Kellogg’s eventful stay at Shirley’s Grove lasted just five years. In 1924 she was divorced from Albert and she travelled to Hollywood to try to break into pictures. The house remained unoccupied and was sold at auction in 1927. Its pleasure grounds had been reduced to 3-acres, the remaining grounds probably sold off to developers in the preceding years. Whilst the house may not have been an attractive proposition the auction notice made specific detail of ‘three exceptionally fine building sites’.

In 1931 it was sold on behalf of the executors of Mr J.J. O’Brian and, the following year, the mansion was demolished to make way for a housing estate. Its setting has been ‘swallowed by suburbia’ but those residents living at the top of Daneland, just off Cat Hill, in East Barnet, might want to look out for the wandering ghost of Geoffrey de Mandeville.

Little Grove Map
The site of Little Grove, East Barnet, super-imposed with a modern-day street map. (NLS)
These residents of Daneland, off Cat Hill, East Barnet, might not realise they live on the site of Little Grove. Demolished in 1932. (Google Maps)

Note: East Barnet was in Hertfordshire until 1965 when it became part of the London Borough of Barnet.


In February 1918 the  entire contents of Rickmansworth Park mansion were advertised for auction by the Public Trustees in the Estate of the late Mrs Julia Birch.

Rickmansworth Park 1 c1920 (Matthew Beckett)
Rickmansworth Park House, Hertfordshire. It was altered between 1864 and 1880. Sadly the house was demolished in 1927-28 to make way for a new school. (Lost Heritage)

The long list of furniture and fine arts provided a clue as to the wealth associated with the house. However, her death cast a shadow on Rickmansworth Park and it is questionable as to whether it was fully occupied again.

The Scotsman 9 Feb 1918
Taken from From The Scotsman. 9 February 1918. (The British Newspaper Archive).

Rickmansworth Park dated back to about 1805, built by Henry Fotherley Whitfield (d.1813) and built in the middle of Bury Park. It was described as a two-storey building with a five-bay front and dominated by a giant Ionic portico. After his death it passed to his widow, Mary, later wife of Thomas Deacon, who sold it in 1831 to Mrs Temperance Arden (1763-1843). It passed to her son Joseph Arden (1799-1879) and was sold, on his death, to his son-in-law, John William Birch (1825-1897). He had married Julia Arden (now Birch) (c.1830-1916), daughter of Joseph Arden and Mary Ann Munro, and was a partner of Messrs. Mildred, Gozenseche and Co, merchants, of St Helen’s Place, London. He was one of the directors at the Bank of England and became its Governor in 1878-90. ¹

Rickmansworth Park 2 (Matthew Beckett)
Rickmansworth Park House. Built about 1805 for Henry Fotherley Whitfield. Its Ionic portico at the front of the house gave it a grand appearance. (Lost Heritage)

Following his death in 1897 he left personal estate worth £65,330. Julia Birch received £1,000 as well as pictures, engravings, plate silver, jewellery, horses and carriages as well as live and dead stock on the estate. She was also left Rickmansworth Park for her ‘use and enjoyment’, and which, subject to her occupation of the house, was left in trust for sale, and the proceeds after her death split amongst his sons. ²

The oldest of these was John Arden Birch (1853-1896) but, seeing as he had died a year earlier, the house wasn’t sold after Julia Birch’s death in 1916. Instead, it appears to have passed to his wife, Charlotte Mary Leycester Arden (1858-1935).

Charlotte married a second time in 1905. Her new husband was Walter Bulkeley Barrington (1848-1933), 9th Viscount Barrington of Ardglass. His home was at Beckett, Shrivenham, in Berkshire, and the couple appear to have spent most of their time in residence here. As late as 1924 it was said that Rickmansworth Park was going to be their permanent home, as Lord Barrington had decided to give up Beckett, his fine Berkshire seat. It is not without reason that Rickmansworth was ‘entirely renovated and modernised’ in readiness for the move, but it appears that Beckett wasn’t given up after all. In 1925 Lady Barrington was said to be ‘desirous’ of letting Rickmansworth Park for the summer but they had already decided about the property. ³

Rickmansworth Park 3 (Nicholas Kingsley)
Rickmansworth Park House from an old postcard. The architect of the house was never determined. (Nicholas Kingsley/Landed Families)

In May 1927 a concert was held at the Albert Hall, London. It was chaired by the Prince of Wales and over £200,000 was contributed by masonic orders. Its purpose was to raise funds for the Royal Masonic Institution for Girls whose Clapham school was no longer large enough for its requirements. After the concert they had the funds necessary to buy the Rickmansworth Park estate and its 204 acres of land. (The mansion was said to be in a poor state of repair but, as we have seen, this probably wasn’t the case). ⁴

The Sphere 28 May 1927
Masons building an empire with human bricks. The Prince of Wales, Provincial Grand Master for Surrey, and President of the festival at the Albert Hall. Over £200,000 was raised which would see the demise of Rickmansworth Park. From The Sphere. 28 May 1927. (The British Newspaper Archive)

The first job at Rickmansworth was to demolish the grand old mansion, but it wasn’t until 1930 that the Duke of Connaught laid the foundation stone for the replacement building. Bizarrely, the ceremony involved the ‘scattering of corn, pouring wine and oil, and sprinkling salt on the stone’. The school still exists.  ⁵

The Sphere 7 July 1934
Making a round of inspection. Queen Mary at the new senior school of the Royal Masonic Institution for Girls which she opened at Rickmansworth Park. It had accommodation for 400 students and staff and took the place of the old school at Clapham which had been in use for 82 years. From The Sphere. 7 July 1934. (The British Newspaper Archive)

The Viscountess Barrington died at Beckett in October 1935 and was celebrated for being a member of the Shrivenham Settlement and Welfare Scheme, in which houses were built for ex-servicemen. Ironically, she died while her book ‘Through Eighty Years (1855-1935): The Reminiscences of Charlotte, Viscountess Barrington’ had just been sent to the printers. It was published by John Murray in 1936.

Royal Masonic School for Girls (jacqueline Harvey)
The Royal Masonic School for Girls. To ensure that the site would be suitable for many years to come, a lot of thought was put into the design of the new school buildings. It was designed by John Leopold Denman, an architect from Brighton. (Jacqueline Harvey)

¹ Nicholas Kingsley (Landed Families)
² Morning Post (5 June 1897)
³ Dundee Courier (14 August 1925)
⁴ The Sphere (28 May 1927)
⁵ Gloucester Citizen (17 July 1930)


One hundred years ago, Rooksnest, a country house at Godstone, found itself the subject of a scandal involving an MP.

Oughborough (Stephen Richards)
Rooksnest was built between 1775 – 1781 on land that once belonged to Tandridge Priory. The house was remodelled in the early 19th century. When a country house it was home to Sir George Gilbert Scott in the 1870s, during which time he undertook many of the church restorations in surrounding villages. (Stephen Richards/Geograph)

At one point, two years into the Great War, Britain had found itself with only six weeks’ worth of food and on the verge of starvation. However, it wasn’t until end the of 1917 that food rationing was introduced and by February 1918, general rationing was in force. Food hoarding was a real problem.  Authorities, as well as the general public, took a dim view of anyone engaged in such practices. Naming and shaming in the press was common, penalties were harsh and imprisonment a real possibility.

In February 1918, newspapers reported that Mr William John MacGeagh MacCaw, the MP for West Down, had been fined £400 under the Food Hoarding Order.  At Godstone Petty Sessions, Mr Roland Oliver, prosecuting, said: “It was impossible to imagine a worse case of the people’s representative hoarding the people’s food.” An inspection had been made at his home, Rooksnest, by a local officer who found a significant quantity of tapioca, rice, oatmeal, semolina, biscuits, tea, sugar, golden syrup and honey. Similar quantities were also found at his home at 103, Eaton Square, London. In his defence, Mr MacCaw said: “I think a reasonable supply ought to be kept. I don’t think I’ve neglected my duty in any way. I have a large body of people dependent upon me for food.” He was found guilty, fined and the food confiscated.

Larne Times - 18 April 1914 (BNA)
William John MacGeagh MacCaw (1850-1928). His election as MP for West Down in 1908 was memorable for the fact that he was in India – where he had extensive business interests – when nominated as Unionist candidate, and he was returned by a substantial majority whilst on his journey home. (The British Newspaper Archive)


Northern Whig 1 - 5 Feb 1918
The Northern Whig was one of many newspapers reporting the shame of William John MacGeagh MacCaw’s appearance in front of the Petty Sessions. From 5 February 1919. (The British Newspaper Archive)

Rooksnest is located at Godstone, built between 1775-1781, probably by Richard Beecher. It came into the possession of Charles Hampden Turner, a businessman with rope-making and dock interests, in 1817. It remained with the family for the next 100 years but was tenanted for large periods. Its most notable resident was Sir George Gilbert Scott (1811 – 1876), the Gothic revival architect associated with the building and renovation of churches and cathedrals, who was here from 1870.

William John MacGeagh MacCaw (1850 – 1928), the Unionist MP for West Down between 1908 and 1918, was another who rented the property. In early life he had gone to India where he joined the firm of Kettlewell, Bullen and Co (Calcutta and London), jute manufacturers, eventually becoming its principal partner. He also joined the Bengal Chamber of Commerce and lived there for 20 years. After his conviction he bowed out of politics in the General Election of 1918, called immediately after the Armistice with Germany, and died in Monte Carlo.

Ballymena Weekly Telegraph - 17 Mar 1928
William John MacGeagh MacCaw found time for pursuits of a literary and scientific character, and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, a Fellow of the Royal Colonial Institute, and a member of the Society of Arts. (The British Newspaper Archive)

Rooksnest was bought in the 1920s by James Voase Rank (1881 – 1952), a flour miller with Joseph Rank Ltd and brother of Joseph Arthur Rank, founder of the Rank Organisation. He renamed the house Ouborough after the Yorkshire town (Oubrough) where his father had started the flour business in 1875. After he died in 1952 the house eventually became Street Courte School, a preparatory school founded in Westgate-on-Sea in 1894 by J. Vine Milne, the father of author A.A. Milne. It closed in 1994 and eleven years later Ouborough and its parklands became the Godstone Golf Club.

James Voase Rank (Ouborough Kennels)
Ouborough was home to Ouborough Kennels, where James Voase Rank bred Great Danes, Guernsey cattle, thoroughbred horses and Irish Wolfhounds within 170 acres of parkland. (Ouborough – Five Nine)


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