Coombe Hill is the estate and hinterland to the demolished Coombe Warren, containing several mid 19th century properties by the architect George Devey, and other large interesting 20th century houses in a spacious landscaped setting, adjoining Coombe Hill Golf Course. Coombe Hill estate today consists of Coombe Hill Road and cul-de-sacs such as Greenwood Park and Devey Close; and neighborhoods along Warren Road, George Road and Golf Club Drive. (The Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames)
Coombe Warren, demolished 1926, stood on land that was once owned by the Duke of Cambridge. When the Duke proceeded to sell up parcels of the land it was the rich and noble that proved to be eager buyers.
Between them they created a number of grand houses and country estates on a pleasant Surrey hillside. Today, with these estates further split, the land on Coombe Park private estate is still regarded as one of the most affluent parts of London.
Coombe Warren was built by architect George Devey in 1865 for Bertram Wodehouse Currie (1827-1896).
Bertram Currie was the second son of Raikes Currie of Minley Manor in Hampshire. He had entered his father’s banking business which in 1864 was amalgamated with the firm of Glyn, Mills and Company to become Glyn, Mills, Currie and Company.
Currie’s increase in wealth and status meant he was able to invest his money in a new home suitable for a man of his position. He turned to George Devey to build a mansion in which he and his wife Caroline, daughter of Sir William Lawrence Young 4th Baronet, could live in comfort.
His joy in the new house would be short-lived. In 1870 a series of disasters befell the Currie family.
In January a fire destroyed the south portion of his father’s house at Minley Manor. A few weeks later a similar fate occurred at Coombe Warren.
On a Saturday night a fire was discovered in a room near the kitchen. The Kingston Fire Brigade were called but were hampered by a limited supply of water. It was two hours after the fire started that water was put on the blaze. In the interim the fire brigade attempted to cut off communication between the main house and a new wing that had just been built.
The Surrey Comet reported that ‘the family being away, there was no one to authorise the breaking of the windows so as to get out the valuable paintings, choice old china, and articles of vertu with which the residence abounded’.
With a pay out from the Sun fire office Bertram Currie asked George Devey to build a replacement mansion.
The house of 1870 was rebuilt on a much bigger scale, and to a somewhat different design. The house was located in the triangle between modern-day Coombe Lane, Beverley Lane and Coombe Hill Road.
Mark Girouard said it was one of Devey’s “most elaborate and best-known houses, in a mixture of stone, brick, plaster and half-timbering, with numerous shaped brick gables of Betteshanger type.
“The typical disjointed plan of the 1870 house, with the service wings stretching out in a series of zig-zags from the main block, was anticipated in simpler form in the first design. The interior was decked with elaborate Jacobean decoration.”
The house had large formal gardens with orangery and a temple to William Ewart Gladstone. The Prime Minister was a frequent visitor to Coombe Warren and spent long spells as the guest of Bertram Currie. The house was once used for a cabinet meeting when Gladstone was ‘temporarily disposed’.
Before we close the door on Bertram we must record his banking achievement.
In 1885 Currie persuaded his bank to form a joint stock company with unlimited liability and became the first of the private banks to ever publish its balance sheet.
However, his greatest achievement was in 1890, on the occasion of the famous Barings crisis.
Currie was selected for his known friendship of his neighbour, Edward Baring, 1st Baron Revelstoke. At the insistence of William Lidderdale, the Governor of the Bank of England, Currie worked with Benjamin Buck Greene to negotiate a solution to the banking crisis.
Between them they persuaded the directors of the bank to undertake the liquidation of their estate on the security of a guarantee to be obtained from the bankers of London.
Barings Bank headed this guarantee fund with £1,000,000 and Currie followed with £500,000 from his own bank. During one famous day, November 14th 1890, the private banks, including the Rothchilds, contributed an amount totalling £3,500,000 and, with the assistance of joint stock banks and county banks, the total eventually rose to £18,000,000. Currie had been instrumental in saving the British banking system.
In 1895 Currie developed cancer of the tongue which spread to the glands of his neck. He died a year later at his house at Richmond Terrace in Whitehall.
The house was sold by Bertram Currie’s grandson and redeveloped in 1926. The main house was demolished and only the garden walls and lodge survive today. The estate itself was sold off in smaller parcels of land and many houses in the area today can still boast structural remnants from Coombe Warren in their gardens.
The adjacent Coombe House (previously Coombe Cottage) of about 1863, with additions of 1870-1874, still survives. This was built for Currie’s neighbour Edward C. Baring (later Lord Revelstoke) of Baring’s Bank, with a tower and gables of different sizes. Coombe Cottage was far from ‘cottagey’ boasting 60 bedrooms.
Queen Victoria visited and on occasions stayed as the guest of Edward Baring and of the widowed Empress Eugenie whilst a resident during part of 1881 – 1882. Dame Nellie Melba, a famous operatic soprano but perhaps more famous for having the dish ‘Peach Melba’ named after her, lived at Coombe Cottage in 1906.
When there was a threat of a railway being built nearby it was sold to the rail company but the line was never built. The house later became Rediffusion Engineering and is now split into apartments.
Nearby Warren House on Warren Road was built in the 1860s by George Mansfield for the banker Hugh Hammersley.
George Grenfell Glyn (1824-1887), the second Baron Wolverton, and a partner in Glyn, Mills, Currie and Co, bought the house and land in 1884 and commissioned George Devey to make large additions to the house and gardens. Wolverton served in all three of Gladstone’s Liberal governments and regularly entertained him at Warren House.