Built: c.1765-1768 Architect: James Paine Owner: Earl of Scarbrough Country House Grade I listed
“Dickon Scarbrough was much appreciated in the Sandbeck neighbourhood, and miners from the nearby Maltby pit were happy to act as beaters at his pheasant shoots. During the miners’ strike of 1984 there was a sudden lull during a drive, explained when a beater emerged from behind a bush. ‘Sorry, my lord,’ he said, ‘but we’ll have to scarper. There’s some snoopers from the DHSS over there in a van.'” (Obituary for the 12th Earl of Scarbrough, The Telegraph, 17 April 2004)
The former mining town of Maltby might not be the obvious place for a grand old country house. Many locals consider it down-at-heel yet, not far from its centre, is Sandbeck Park, the family seat of the Earl of Scarbrough since the 18th century, and to whom many residents of this small South Yorkshire town still pay their ground rent to.
Today Sandbeck Park is relatively unknown but it has seen its fair share of noble visitors. It’s close location to Doncaster Racecourse firmly placed the house into the diaries of landed gentry as well as Kings and Queens, including our present one. If all this is forgotten then Maltby’s inhabitants delight in speculation that former model, actress and author Joanna Lumley might somehow be related to the present occupants of the house!
This Grade I listed house dates to the 17th century with extensive remodelling in the 18th and 19th centuries. It lies close to the ruins of the better-known Roche Abbey, founded in 1147 by Cistercian monks.
The 1st recorded house at Sandbeck was built-in 1626 for Sir Nicholas Saunderson, 1st Viscount Castleton. Sandbeck passed to Thomas Lumley later 3rd Earl of Scarbrough who died in 1752.
Sandbeck remained in the hands of the Castletons until 1723, when the sixth viscount, who was granted an earldom in 1720, died without an heir. He willed Sandbeck to his cousin, Thomas Lumley, the 3rd Earl of Scarbrough.
In 1760 the fourth earl hired Neoclassical architect James Paine to considerably rebuild and extend the 17th century house in the fashionable Palladian style. Paine had a favourable reputation in Yorkshire including his work at Nostell Priory, Hickleton Hall, Cusworth Hall and the Mansion House in Doncaster. He was also responsible for the huge stable block at Chatsworth House in Derbyshire.
Between 1763 and 1768 he enlarged the main building with a new Grecian front and added several outbuildings, including gatehouses and the limestone stables. Paine allegedly used stones from Roche Abbey during the construction of the house.
If the Dissolution of the Monasteries and the later handiwork of James Paine hadn’t robbed Roche Abbey of its contents then much worse was to come.
In 1774, the fourth earl commissioned Capability Brown to completely landscape the area, signing a contract to pay him £2,800 for work to last through 1777. It appears that Brown had little regard for the historical value of the abbey and systematically destroyed much of it to satisfy contemporary tastes. When finished the abbey was little more than a romantic folly.
‘Brown engineered a lake and islands over Roche’s southern buildings, substituted a river for the medieval water channels, contrived a waterfall to cascade from the Laughton Pond, and composed irregular tree groupings in surrounding fields. He also levelled the ruins’ irregular walls to provide a uniform grassed foreground for a banqueting lodge’.
In 1857, the 9th Earl of Scarbrough turned to the Scottish architect William Burn to further remodel and improve the house. This resulted in significant internal alterations and in 1869 Benjamin Ferrey, an ecclesiastical architect and pupil of Augustus Charles Pugin, built a private chapel for the earl. A 19th-century service wing that linked the house to Sandbeck Chapel was demolished in 1954.
There might have been a steady decline in its social status, not helped by its close proximity to Maltby Colliery, one of Britain’s largest deep coal mines that closed in 2013. Sandbeck Park is now the home of Richard Osbert Lumley, 13th Earl of Scarbrough (b.1973). They still own the former family seat at Lumley Castle which now functions as a hotel. The 13th Earl has continued the good work started by his father (who was a godson of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother and of the 1st Earl of Halifax) by helping charities, with the Dinnington-based Safe@Last being one of his top priorities. He is a patron of the charity which provides refuge and help for runaway youngsters or those in danger at home.
Built: Probably 1753 Architect; Unknown Owner: Home Group Remains of country house Grade II listed
“Formerly a late C18 mansion, now reduced to provide a farmhouse and buildings. Only intact portion is present farmhouse to the right, of 2 storeys in red sandstone ashlar with slated roof. 3 windows above triple-arcaded ground floor with 2 windows with later hung sashes with glazing bars and centre door of 6 fielded panels with 3-light rectangular fanlight.” (Historic England)
When fire destroyed an empty farmhouse at Maryport in August 2015 there were few tears shed. Its previous owner John Dixon had died in 2012 and the farm had been allowed to deteriorate. The cause of the fire was never determined but suspicion pointed to the work of a grubby arsonist.
Whoever started the fire probably didn’t realise that the farmhouse, rather grandly called Ewanrigg Hall, held long forgotten secrets. The flames would eventually consume the first floor and deprive the building of its roof. Only an exposed lintel with the date 1753 offered any clue to its previous existence.
Here was the last remnant of a grand house that once stood proudly on the site. For this was once the west wing of Ewanrigg Hall, a late 18th century country house and seat of the Christian family of Cumberland for many generations.
The fire might not have meant a tragic end to Ewanrigg but it certainly reflected its circumstances over the past centuries. The house appears not to have been a particularly happy one. Whilst the Christians were Lord of the Manor there were several occasions when the house was unsuccessfully offered for sale and numerous times it was occupied by live-in tenants. In the end it proved to be a millstone for the family who were eventually rid of it by the end of the 19th century.
The Christian family had originally settled in the Isle of Man and held chief public offices in the little principality for generations. Their connection with the Ewanrigg estate came about in the late 17th century through circumstances which afford a curious illustration of the manners of the period. The Bishop of Sodor and Man liked to ease the burden of his duties by gambling and, on one unfortunate night, lost a small fortune to Ewan Christian. From his winnings Christian was able to buy the estate and manor of Ewanrigg in Cumberland. Writing in 1688 Mr. Thomas Denton, the County Historian, said “Mr Ewan Christian hath built a good house out of the shell of an old tower,” which suggests it may originally have been an old pele tower.
Ewan was blessed with five sons and ten daughters. His successor, John, married a Senhouse of Netherhall, and their eldest daughter, Mary, married Dr. Law, afterwards Bishop of Carlisle, and became the mother of the first Lord Ellenborough, who chose that title in consequence of having been born at Ewanrigg Hall, close to the village of Ellenborough. John Christian’s second son, also John, became his successor and married a Curwen of Workington Hall, and their son, John, marrying his cousin – the heiress of the Curwens – took his wife’s name, and as John Christian Carwen, M.P. for Cumberland, acquired fame as a politician and as an agriculturalist.
John Christian’s sixth son, Charles, was an attorney at Cockermouth, and married the granddaughter of Jacob Fletcher, who was descended from William Fletcher who built Cockermouth Hall. Their sixth son was Fletcher Christian, the ill-fated and infamous ‘Mutineer of the Bounty’.
Ewanrigg Hall was rebuilt as a spectacular stone-built house in the late 18th century (probably 1753) with views of the Solway Firth and the Scottish mountains beyond. Within there was a large drawing room, a breakfast room, library and eight good-sized bedrooms. The walls of the tower were reputed to be over 5 feet thick. It was also the setting for Limmeridge House in Wilkie Collins’ ‘The Woman in White’, chosen by him when he was travelling through Cumberland with Charles Dickens.
For many years it was occupied by Henry Taubmen Christian who died in 1859. Unfortunately, his widow soon descended into madness and ended her years at Dunston Lodge Lunatic Asylum in Gateshead. The house was left unoccupied, ‘a deserted and decaying mansion’, where ghosts were said to haunt its corridors and where ‘no tenant could be found with enough temerity to take it’. In 1895 the house and its 600 acre estate was offered for auction by order of the Court of Chancery. No purchaser was forthcoming but in 1897 it was sold to Mr. J.R. Twentyman, a wealthy tea trader who lived in Shanghai, and who had previously bid for Dalston Hall.
Twentyman spent most of his time in China with seemingly little intention of living at Ewanrigg Hall. It was offered to rent but remained empty falling into further disrepair.
It might be suggested that the condition of the house worried Twentyman. Without doubt he was looking for an impressive property in which to display his massive collection of oriental furniture and relics. He pondered on the large amount of money needed to restore Ewanrigg and considered turning his back on it.
In 1903 Twentyman made one of his frequent journeys to China but not before making an important decision. He had set his heart on another property and had decided to buy Kirby Misperton Hall near Malton in Yorkshire. He realised the disposal of Ewanrigg might not be so easy and looked for ways in which the estate might pay for itself. In the end he saw agriculture as the most likely way to achieve it. This meant demolishing the bulk of the house with two-storeys pulled down in the central block – the ground floor now used for cowsheds for the adjacent hall farm. A new farmhouse was created at the west end of the house which was the only part not disturbed and still known today as Ewanrigg Hall. Eight years later the farm was sold for £12,000.
And this is how Ewanrigg Hall survived for the next 100 years; its unique identity slowly forgotten until someone tried to destroy it completely. There is almost a happy end to the story. In 2016 the then owner of the farm, Kevin Thompson, announced plans to demolish part of the historic hall as part of a major homes plan. Allerdale Council approved plans for the Grade II listed building and convert it into two houses and four flats. Outline planning permission was also granted to build 124 homes nearby.
Unfortunately the project never started and in 2017 Ewanrigg Hall was sold to the Home Group who plan to convert it into five homes and build a further 125 homes on surrounding land.
Built: 1846, late C19 additions and rebuild to west tower in C20 Architect: John Rogers Owner: Private ownership Large villa Grade II listed
“An octagonal turret displaying the Stanley Coat of Arms with a higher turret corbelled out from its side provides a striking first impression and offers arguably one of the finest views in Cheshire for those who are brave enough to venture to the top.” (Savills)
Bollin Tower is typical of those Victorian country houses that wanted to imitate the castle. It was constructed with rock-faced sandstone, a Welsh slate roof with four stone chimneys. The walls have now darkened with age and, with its consistent castellation and octagonal towers, can appear dark and menacing. However, the unsymmetrical appearance and 10-bay gabled front adds a charisma that warrants Grade II listing with Historic England.
The house was built in 1846 by John Rogers, a virtually unknown architect and builder, living in Alderley Edge. He was born at Ardley Hall, Essex, in 1799 and at some stage migrated to Cheshire where he built Bollin Tower for his family.
As anticipated the house has been owned by several people, the most conspicuous being Thomas Coglan Horsfall (1841-1932), a ‘civic saint’ who moved here in the 1870s.
Horsfall was the son of William Horsfall, a wealthy cotton manufacturer with interests in Manchester and Halifax. He was educated at private schools in Manchester and Bowden and his move to Bollin Tower corresponded with a partnership to his father’s Bridgewater Street business. He was never the healthiest of men was often absent which allowed him to progress his philanthropic work.
He was especially interested in educational reform, particularly with aesthetic teaching in elementary schools. Horsfall had struck up a friendship with John Ruskin, the art and social critic, and the two regularly corresponded. When Ruskin opened a small museum at Sheffield in 1875 to display his collection of art and minerals it inspired Horsfall to follow suit. In 1877 he created the Horsfall Museum, intended to be primarily educational with paintings, drawings, casts and pottery. The museum, now known as the Manchester Art Museum, moved to Ancoats Hall in 1886 where a nature study room was opened as well as a room about the history of Manchester. It also provided a children’s’ theatre.¹
His marriage to Francis Emma Reeves, the daughter of Henry Wilson Reeves, in 1878 resulted in the purchase of Bollin Tower and the birth of three daughters. Alongside his charitable work he also became a town planner, magistrate and a published author. He wrote The Study of Beauty and Art in Large Towns in 1883, both with an introduction by John Ruskin. This was followed up with The Relation of Town Planning to the National Life in 1908.²
Thomas Coglan Horsfall died in 1932 at Toutley Hall, Wokingham, aged 91. Not bad for a man with feeble health. The Manchester Art Museum closed in 1953 and the contents were transferred to the Manchester Art Gallery.
At the start of the 20th century Bollin Tower was owned by Asa Hardy and the house also contributed to his eventual ruin.
Hardy had set up a business as a fustian manufacturer and dealer in dyed goods with William Welsh at Little Lever Street in Manchester. This partnership was dissolved in 1890 and continued as Asa Hardy and Company, specialising in the making of fine velvet.
For a time the business flourished but a series of calamitous events led to its collapse. First was the defalcation of accounts by one of Hardy’s cashiers. The employee had presented balance sheets showing a large credit balance and absconded when it was discovered that £6,000 had been filched. The company was also entangled with another accounting fiasco after it supplied goods to the Eden Manufacturing Company. On delivery the stock was quickly sold on by an errant employee who pocketed the money. He also fled leaving Asa Hardy to chase up payment for goods never received by the unfortunate recipient. To make matters worse, the company suffered further losses when a firm of drapers, McLachlan Bros of Montreal, failed with liabilities of £140,000. Among the creditors was Asa Hardy and Company.³
Next was an ill-advised investment in the Grand Trunk Railway of Canada. Hardy had gambled on the differences in the railway’s shares and when they bombed ended up considerably out of pocket.
If Asa Hardy thought he might seek solace at Bollin Tower, bought at great expense, he was mistaken. The value of the house had drastically depreciated when dry rot was uncovered resulting in costly rebuilding work.
In the end the financial losses proved too much for Asa Hardy and he was forced into bankruptcy in 1903. His company had liabilities of £20,216 and, with the textile industry in a depression; he had reached the end of the road. Hardy, however, was quickly discharged from bankruptcy when the miserable circumstances were found not to be of his own doing. But, the judge was quick to point out, he could see “no difference between gambling on American railway shares and gambling on the horses”.
Despite the outcome Bollin Tower had to be sold and was bought for a modest price by Edwin Taylor Butterworth, a rag trader, operating at Pollard Street in Ancoats.
By the 1950s the house was now owned by the Sellars family. Graham Dilliway lived nearby in the former coach house of Croston Towers, another castellated house that was demolished at the end of World War Two :-
“Bollin Towers, the last remaining castellated house on the Edge, was occupied by the Sellars family. Mariel Sellars and I were able to communicate at night by flashing our bedroom lights on and off. Bollin Towers was later divided into two, with the Sellars family retaining the “tower” portion of the house. The division deprived Mariel and me of a long polished hall, where we could ride on a small wooden train. I remember going up some greasy wooden steps to the very top of the tower, and having one of the very best views in Cheshire.”⁴
With the house divided into two properties the house has been sympathetically renovated and improved upon during the 21st century. In 2017, the west portion of the house was placed on the market with a guide price of £950,000.
. Built: 1870 Architect: Unknown Owner: Private ownership Country House
Stone steps lead to the main reception with tall doors opening to the formal entrance to the house. The centrally positioned, spectacular T shaped hallway presents an immediate impressive introduction to Rockwood House showcasing original features including deep skirting boards and an impressive high ceiling height (a theme which is continued throughout), ornate coving and the most spectacular bespoke, carved oak staircase and stained glass leaded window reminiscent of the period of build. (Fine & Country)
Rockwood House is an unassuming and little known property tucked quietly outside Denby Dale to the south-east of Huddersfield. In early times Denby Dale was sparsely-populated but like so many other Pennine hamlets it grew with the dawn of the industrial revolution. Not surprisingly, the area developed a small textiles industry and the population spread. These circumstances were the reasons why Rockwood House was built and can be called one of those ‘brass castles’, properties built from the proceeds of commerce and industry.
Walter Norton (1833-1909)
Rockwood House was built in 1870 for Walter Norton, the second son of Joseph Norton who had built Nortonthorpe Hall at Scissett. Along with his brother Benjamin and his cousin, Thomas Norton of Bagden Hall, they ran a ‘plush’ manufacturing business, Norton Brothers & Company Ltd, manufacturing fancy shawl, mantle cloth, dress goods and rugs at Nortonthorpe Mills.
Walter was chairman, a role he appreciated, and held a similar position at the Denby Dale Gas Light Company. Money was something the Norton family weren’t short of, but Walter quickly earned his own fortune. He married his cousin, Elizabeth Norton, the eldest daughter of George Norton of Bagden Hall, in 1859.
He gained a reputation as a keen sportsman and founded the Rockwood Harriers Hunt in 1868 of which he was Master for many years and which still exists today. It was after the hunt that he named Rockwood House.
Eleven years after his marriage he bought 500 acres of land on the far side of Denby Dale, just far enough away from his employees who worked on the other side of the village towards Scissett. The architect of Rockwood House is unknown but it was typical of a small Victorian country house complete with castellations, a central front door and bays either side. Then, as now, its appearance was deceptive as the interior was much larger than its appearance suggested .
Walter and Elizabeth lived happily at Rockwood House entertaining family and friends. He was a pillar of the community, buying the manorial rights to Penistone in 1877, a strong Conservative and churchman and was much attached to Camberworth Church. For over thirty years he was also a West Riding Magistrate frequently sitting at the Barnsley Petty Sessional Court. Despite all this, his marriage to Elizabeth failed to deliver any children, and he became a widower following her death in 1903. Walter died six years later in 1909 leaving estate worth £45,099.¹
Dr Duncan Alistair MacGregor (1857-1924)
With no heir to Walter Norton the contents of the house were sold at auction but Rockwood remained within the family. It passed to Dr Duncan Alistair MacGregor who stayed for the next ten years. He had married the daughter of Dr Clayton, of Highfield House in Denby Dale, who also happened to be the niece of Walter Norton.
MacGregor had spent nearly 40 years in practice at Clayton West and Denby Dale where he was held in high regard. He was also the Medical Officer of Health for the township of Gunthwaite and Ingbirchworth, near Penistone. In 1919 he was offered the post of Medical Officer to the Exeter City Mental Hospital, and so at the age of 62, he moved his family away from Rockwood House which was put for let. MacGregor died at Exmouth in 1924 leaving a widow and a son and daughter.²
Wilfred Dawson (1871-1936)
Following MacGregor’s move to Devon the house was occupied by Wilfred Dawson J.P., a typical Yorkshire councillor, who had entered the Council of the County Borough of Huddersfield unopposed at a by-election of 1917. He became Lord Mayor between 1921 and 1923 and later became chairman of the Finance and Watch Committee. His greatest achievement had been the purchase of the Ramsden Estate by Huddersfield Corporation in 1919, at the time the largest purchase of valuable land ever made by a British municipality. Outside of council affairs he was a director of W. Bentley & Co, stock and share brokers, as well as being a director and vice-chairman of Huddersfield Town Football Club.
The ownership of Rockwood House at this time is uncertain. It is possible that it remained in the Norton estate after MacGregor left. It is also feasible that Wilfred Dawson eventually purchased Rockwood because newspaper reports of 1924 suggest he might have been the owner. In this year the house was once again offered for let but we do know that by 1925 it was the residence of Henry Gordon Cran.³
Henry Gordon Cran (1889-1971)
Very little is known about Henry Gordon Cran and his purchase of Rockwood House was likely to have taken place during 1924. However, the house was reported to have been sold by Cran by private treaty in 1925. By now the estate consisted of approximately 30 acres including three paddocks with timbered grounds and walks. It was a far cry from Walter Norton’s 500 acres which had been sold off in various lots over the years.
Henry Gordon Cran, a former member of the Royal Regiment of Artillery, had married Dorothy, the daughter of William and Mary Broadbent, of Huddersfield. Her father was the son of Thomas Broadbent, who had founded an engineering and millwright business in 1864. After repairing and refurbishing several centrifugal extractors, installed as dryers in the textile industry, he had seen potential for its application in other industries which had a need for separating liquids and solid. In 1870 he had produced his own extractor to remove water from washed wool and cloth and became a rich man. He died in 1880 and the business was eventually passed to William Broadbent and his brother Horace. The company, known as Thomas Broadbent and Sons, would eventually manufacture a diverse range of products including steam engines, cars and overhead travelling cranes.
It was into this family that Henry Gordon Cran married and inevitably found himself working as an engineer at Thomas Broadbent and Sons. In reality his job role was far more important than suggest. He was a designer and inventor and many patents were registered under his name. Cran became a wealthy man and was able to afford the grandness that Rockwood House provided.
It appears that the sale of 1925 did not proceed and the Cran family remained at Rockwood House until at least 1949 when Dorothy died. Henry died in 1971 at Threlkeld in Keswick.
Matters are confounded by reports that Colonel Alfred Whiston Bristow was living at Rockwood House in 1945. The house is listed as being owned by Henry Gordon Cran but it is conceivable that he may have rented it to Bristow.
Colonel Alfred Whiston Bristow (1879-1949) was an engineer of remarkable versatility. He was a pioneer in aviation rising to the rank of commander in the Royal Naval Air Service and testing many early aero-engines. He transferred to the Royal Flying Corps rising to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. In 1927 he became interested in low-temperature carbonisation and soon developed a successful and profitable industry. Besides being chairman of Low Temperatures Carbonisation Ltd (eventually known as Coalite and Chemical Products Ltd) he was the chair of various other similar companies.⁴
The 1950s and a period of uncertain ownership
Any doubts over ownership and tenancy of Rockwood House pale in comparison after 1950.
It is reported that the house passed through various owners and one significant name is mentioned. He was Commander Henry George Kendall (1874-1965), a British sea-captain who survived several shipwrecks and was involved in the capture of Dr Crippen. He was also the captain of RMS Empress of Ireland which sank in the Saint Lawrence River after colliding with a Norwegian coal freighter in 1914. Alas, I am unable to confirm his connection with Rockwood House. He died in a nursing home in London in 1965.
Another account suggests that Rockwood House became a private school, known as St Aiden’s, and lasted until 1964. This is confirmed by Roy Fisher, a local, who says it operated as a school in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, although he believes it was known as Rockwood House School. His mother worked there as a cleaner and he remembers the closing down sale when lab equipment, coat hangers and various other items were sold off. By the late 1960’s it was once again a private home and he remembers attending a party hosted by the daughter of a ‘very senior naval officer’.
In 1972 the house was converted into the Rockwood House Country Club, a restaurant and club, under the ownership of Richard Mattock Berry. The concept might have appeared reasonable but the undertaking was beset with problems. Financial difficulties pushed it into receivership and the country club closed in 1976.⁵
Rockwood House was bought by Michael Winch in 1980 who carried out extensive renovations to the house and grounds. During the miners’ strike of 1972 he had the enterprising idea of selling homemade decorated candles from the back of a van. This was the start of Candlelight Products Ltd which now employs 130 staff in the UK and a further 2,000 in the Far East.
The house has remained in the family since but it was put up for sale, along with 7 acres of land, for £1.85 million in 2016.
“It was my father who purchased Rockwood House around forty years ago, and for him, looking after the house itself and transforming the gardens has been a lifetime project. It’s an extremely impressive home, almost like a fairy-tale castle with its turrets and castellations. As you approach it via the very long, private driveway, you come around the corner and through the trees and the house slowly comes into view; it’s incredibly striking. It was a magical place to grow up in, very grand in both its appearance and scale. Every room, including the bathrooms has a beautiful open fireplace, and the house as a whole is awash with gorgeous period features. The rooms are all very large and the ceilings are high, but it’s a very comfortable family home and particularly conductive to entertaining. My father invested a lot of time and effort into completely transforming the gardens, and as well as adding lots of beautiful plants, he also had the tennis court refurbished and a swimming pool installed; it’s now an absolute paradise. The views are magnificent and a dense wood of exotic trees that were planted by Walter Norton, who was also a keen botanist, surrounds the house” (Ben Winch – Fine & Country Sale Brochure)
Update: In early 2018 the house was withdrawn from the market. Its owner, Mike Winch, has decided to stay at the house and is currently renovating both the interior and exterior.
References:- ¹Barnsley Chronicle (28 Aug 1909) ²Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer (21 Apr 1924) ³Yorkshire Evening Post (2 Aug 1949)/Huddersfield Directory Who’s Who (1937) ⁴Colliery Year Book and Coal Trades Directory (1945) ⁵The Gazette (Mar 1976)
Built: 1872 Architect: John Foster and Joseph Wood Owner: Kersfield (Property Development Group) Private apartments Grade II Listed
Commonly known as Burwalls House but referred to here under its original name of Burwalls
Orange/red brick with limestone ashlar dressings; stone-coped plain tile roof with carves finials; brick ridge and end stacks with moulded stone cornicing to diagonally-set flues. Jacobethan style. (Historic England)
The year is 1864 and the Clifton Suspension Bridge has just opened spanning the Avon Gorge and the River Avon, connecting Clifton in Bristol to Leigh Woods in Somerset. The opening of the bridge has caused great excitement and, for those heading into Bristol, saves a lot of time.
However, the construction of the bridge had not been without its critics. The Bristol Times, in an article by the Churchgoer, blamed the disruption on three Bridge Commissioners, Liberal dissenters, “the loudest to talk, the last to feel for the humble” who had abused a clause in an Act of Parliament to “mar the scenery.”
The readers of the Bristol Times did not know that the legendary Churchgoer was none other than Joseph Leech, the owner of the newspaper. While they delighted in his prose they were not to know that Leech was also vice-chairman of the Suspension Bridge Company.
This mischievous characteristic would resurface later when Leech discovered plans by Sir Grevile Smyth, of Ashton Court, to create a low-cost housing on part of his estate at Leigh Woods. He carefully put together an alternative proposal to build high-class housing instead. He became a director of the company and succeeded in obstructing the Smyth scheme.¹
It was here that Joseph Leech built Burwalls in 1872.
Joseph Leech (1815-1893)
Joseph Leech was born in Ennis, County Clare, in 1815. He represented the ‘mad Irishman’, a famous spinner of yarns, who embellished his stories so much that now it is difficult to establish fact from fiction.
He was the son of an Irish Protestant, John Leech, who ran a prosperous hardware business in Ennis. His brother-in-law ran a newspaper in Maryborough (Port Laoise) and it was here that Joseph acquired an inclination for newsprint.
In 1838 Joseph made a visit to London travelling back home via Bristol. It was here that he studied local newspapers and decided that the city needed a Conservative publication to respond to the Bristol Mercury , a hard-hitting Liberal title.
Legend has it that Joseph returned to Ireland and obtained £500 early-inheritance from his father . Back in Bristol he set up the Bristol Times, published at a small shop and lodgings on Redcliffe Street, writing many of the early editions himself.
“By the early 1840s, he really hit his stride with a brilliantly inspired idea. He became “The Bristol Church-Goer”. Nowadays we are familiar with the idea of a mystery shopper, someone who goes into retail premises incognito to review them. Leech became a “mystery worshipper”, sampling a different church service each Sunday, first in Bristol and then further afield, and then reviewing it in his paper. He carried out his researches anonymously, leading his readers to believe that the Bristol Church-Goer was a short, portly, balding bachelor in his fifties, when in fact he was a tall young buck still in his twenties.”²
In 1853 Joseph purchased Felix Barley’s Avon Journal and two years later he amalgamated with the Bristol Mirror. As senior proprietor he devoted himself to business management and literary work. His dry humour made him an excellent narrator and a wonderful memory afforded him a storehouse of subjects. He also became part owner of the Bath Chronicle with Charles Thring Bleeck, whose sister Adelaide Elizabeth he married in 1852. He and Ada, as she was known, had six children and lived at Kingsdown Parade and Canynge Square in Clifton before moving to Burwalls.
The house at Burwalls was designed by Foster and Wood, who were responsible for many of Bristols’s finest buildings, including Bristol Grammar School and the former Grand Hotel on Broad Street.
Joseph never sought public life, turning down offers of mayoralty and a position of Justice of the Peace, but carried out several undertakings as vice-chairman of the Bristol Waterworks Company, a director of the Leigh Woods Land Company and the Aberdare Railway Company. He also associated himself with the Clifton Zoological Society.
His zealousness almost cost him dearly in the 1870s. He was sued for libel by Handel Cossham after Joseph had accused him of dishonesty over the winding up of a manufacturing company. The case was complicated and many believed that Cossham would be victorious but Leech was fortunate enough to win the case. Defeat would have ruined him.
Joseph retired from the Bristol Times and Mirror in 1882 and also sold his interest in the Bath Chronicle. His eldest son died just as he came of age and it was said that Joseph never recovered from the loss. In 1888, at the unveiling of the Queen Victoria Jubilee statue, at College Green, Joseph caught a cold resulting in severe illness. He slowly recovered and lived his remaining years at Burwalls.³ However, he suffered from a chronic intestinal complaint that required a live in nurse.⁴
He died at Burwalls in August 1893 after catching another cold. His old rivals at the Bristol Mercury were among the first to pay tribute. “He left a very distinct mark upon the history of Bristol journalism … His name and his work will long be remembered with respect and with admiration.”
Joseph left estate worth £107,000. Ada was given £1,000 with a further annuity of £1,000. She inherited the furniture and household effects and was allowed to remain at Burwalls. His only remaining son, Joseph Bleeck Leech, was given £4,000.
In time, Ada moved to nearby Wentworth House and between 1894 and 1897 Burwalls was rented to Surgeon-Major Robert James Fayle. He was in the Royal Army Medical Corps and later served in the South African Campaign (1899-1901) for which he was awarded the D.S.O..
In 1897 Fayle married Mary Leech, daughter of Joseph and Ada, but it marked the end of his stay at Burwalls. This was also the year that Ada died and the Burwalls estate was placed on the market for the first time.
George Alfred Wills (1854-1928)
George Wills lived with his wife Susan (Britton Proctor), and their four children, in a large house called Woodlands, on Bridge Road. They shared this with his brother Henry, an architect, his wife and their three children.
When Burwalls came on the market in 1897 it provided George with an opportunity to strike for independence and exploit some of the wealth he’d amassed. He paid £8,000.
Wills was born in 1854, the eldest son of Henry Overton Wills, of Kelston Knoll in Bath. In 1874 he entered the firm of Messrs W.D. and H.O. Wills, tobacco manufacturers, and eventually became one of the managing directors.
When the Imperial Tobacco Company of Great Britain and Ireland was formed in 1901 he became its deputy chairman. On the death of his cousin, Lord Winterstoke in 1911, he became chairman, a position he held until the end of 1924 when he retired. On his resignation he was invited to become president, a coveted role he kept until his death four years later. Outside of the tobacco industry he was a director of the Great Western railway and president of the Bristol General Hospital which also benefited from his generosity.
George was a man of retiring disposition and simple life and is long remembered for his generous gifts to the City of Bristol. These provided for the welfare of its citizens and notably towards the University of Bristol. His father had donated £100,000 from which the university was formed and George made gifts far exceeding this amount.
At Burwalls he also invested considerable amounts of money to extend the house and expand its estate. He created Burwalls’ Gardens, acquired Burwalls’ Wood and the Nightingale Valley and, donated both of these to the National Trust in 1908. Major changes and renovations, designed by his uncle Frank Wills, were also completed at Burwalls in 1916.
Despite the extensive work at Burwalls he spent most of his time at Coombe Lodge, Blagdon, which he had inherited from Lord Winterstoke. Here, he carried on the tradition of high farming, successfully bred shorthorn cattle, and spent his time angling and game shooting.
George was created a baronet in 1923 but suffered ill-health in his later years. In 1928 he became seriously ill and died in July. He was survived by his son George Vernon Proctor Wills and daughters, one of whom would inherit Burwalls.⁵
The most staggering details emerged after George’s death. He left estate worth £10 million to which the Exchequer benefited about £4 million because it came under the maximum death duty rate of 40%. After settling certain bequests he split the remaining estate between his children. On his death he became the tenth member of the Wills family to leave estate worth more than a million pounds.⁶
Hilda Proctor Wills (1879-1946)
Burwalls became the home for George’s eldest daughter Hilda Proctor Wills. She remained unmarried but was recognised for her work on behalf of Bristol institutions and all sections of the community.
In 1931 she became the first female president of the Bristol General Hospital, in succession to her brother, Sir George Vernon Proctor Wills. In 1935 she gave £6,000 that allowed the hospital to purchase massage, electrical and x-ray equipment.
Hilda also had the distinction of being the first lady president of the Society of Bristolians in London in 1938, and held other interests as governor of the Bristol Homeopathic Hospital, vice-president of the Peter Herve Benevolent Institution and president of the Colston Research Society.⁷
She stayed at Burwalls until 1937 but had already bought Horton Court, at Chipping Sodbury, Gloucestershire, the previous year. Building work at Horton Court delayed her departure but she eventually turned her back on the family home.
Burwalls was offered for sale but eventually let as an unfurnished property. It was requisitioned by the War Office at the outbreak of World War Two, the house adapted to become the headquarters of the Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment who found it ideally situated to protect Bristol and its port. Towards the end of the war it became an army educational centre.
Hilda Wills later moved to Langford Court, near Bristol, where she died, aged 66, in 1946. This allowed Bristol University to buy Burwalls from her trustees.
The house and grounds were used as halls of residence until 1973 when it was converted into Bristol University Conference Centre. By 2010 the building was deemed surplus to requirement and the university placed Burwalls on the market for £5 million. The house was considered run-down and future occupation would need considerable investment.
“Its impressive red brick frontage will be instantly recognisable to anyone who regularly goes across the Clifton Suspension Bridge.”
The sale process was long and complex but a deal was eventually reached in 2013. However, this fell through soon after and allowed Kersfield, a London and Bath based property developer, to begin negotiations for the purchase. The company, run by David Newton, specialised in high-end flat conversions and paid a sale price of £4 million.
Over the next few years almost £6 million was invested at Burwalls. The conversion went over budget due to the presence of asbestos and the discovery of an old well underneath the house. The aim of Kersfield was to remove many of the university’s later changes and re-engage with the original purpose of the house. They appointed Nash Partnerships to design and reconstruct Burwalls into luxury apartments but this meant consultation with English Heritage and Bristol’s Conservation Department. They were required to restore the building to its former glory with minimal disturbance to the fabric of the building. At the same time they introduced contemporary features sympathetic to its original features such as fireplaces, timber panelling and the decorative ceilings. The old stables, along the southern boundary of the estate, were also redeveloped to provide two refurbished houses along with four new detached houses and a studio.
In 2016, a year later than planned, the new apartments were advertised for sale with prices ranging between £1.1 million and £1.5 million.
References:- ¹Peter Gould (2011) ²Bristol Post (17 Mar 2015) ³Western Daily Press (14 Aug 1893) ⁴Derek Smith www.leighwoods.org ⁵Western Daily Press (12 Jul 1928) ⁶Western Daily Press (4 Aug 1928) ⁷Western Daily Press (14 May 1946)
Built: 1871-1877 Architect: George Devey Private apartments Grade II* listed
“Red brick, English bond, with diaper patterns in blue headers, above a coursed rubble stone base, and with ashlar dressings and stone mullioned windows; Welsh slated roofs with multiple stone-coped parapeted gables, numerous multiple shafted moulded brick chimneystacks with moulded bands and oversailing caps.” (Historic England)
Goldings is a large country house built Elizabethan-style by architect George Devey between 1871 and 1877.
Devey (1820-86) was one of the major Victorian country house architects, designing in a picturesque style, with Elizabethan and Jacobean details, which merged with the evolution of the Arts and Crafts Movement in the late 19th century. A skilled water colourist, Devey’s picturesque massing was based on pictorial composition, but his plans were often rambling and haphazard as at Goldings.
One critic is Mark Girouard who said of Goldings:-
“Devey’s weakness is especially apparent in larger buildings; and his big country houses are very big indeed. However fascinating the plan of a house like Goldings may be as an example of capable planning combined with apparent haphazardness on an enormous scale, the actual house is depressingly shapeless: it seems to dribble on for ever.”¹
The earliest known Goldings mansion was built about 1700 for Thomas Hall, Squire of Bengeo. In 1813 the estate was sold to Samuel Smith and inherited by his grandson, the merchant banker Robert Smith, son of Abel Smith.
Robert Smith (1833-1894) took over the Goldings estate in 1861, and was Sheriff of Hertfordshire in 1869. He was the head partner in the old-established banking firm of Smith, Payne and Smith, of Lombard Street, and a partner in Samuel Smith and Co, Nottingham, Smith Ellison and Co in Lincoln. He married a daughter of Henry John Adeane, of Babraham Hall, Cambridgeshire.
The old Goldings Hall of 1650-60 was demolished around 1875, by which time the new house by George Devey, his biggest country house, was nearing completion.
Following Robert Smith’s death the house passed to his son, Reginald Abel Smith, who died in 1902. His wife, Margaret Alice Smith, remained at Goldings and allowed it to be used as a Red Cross Auxiliary Hospital during World War One.
The estate came to market in 1920 and attracted the interest of the Council of Doctor Barnardo who were looking for premises in countryside surroundings with open fields for recreation.
“One day, sometime around 1920, Mr Ernie Walker was working in the engine room when three well-dressed men came along to see him. They wanted to know whether the house, which at that time was only occupied by an handful of people, was capable of supplying water and handling sewage etc. for up to 260 people. This was the beginning of the negotiations, which led to a very dramatic change for Goldings.”²
In 1921 the house was sold to Dr Barnado’s Homes for use as an orphanage and renamed the William Baker Technical School.
“A great change occurred in April 1922 when the first Barnardo’s boys arrived. Two hundred and sixty from Stepney, led by their own band, marched along the road from the railway station at Hertford and took up residence. Later that year the Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII) came for the official opening of the William Baker Technical School as it was called. The large stables of the mansion were ideal for workshops and in the fifty acres of grounds there was plenty of space for a swimming pool and other sports facilities.”³
In 1923 Goldings was modified and enlarged and a chapel added. A new wing was added north of the arched entry to the forecourt in 1960. In 1967 the orphanage closed and Goldings was purchased by Hertfordshire County Council for use by the County Surveyor’s Department.
In 1997 the council sold the property to London-based Harinbrook Properties to be converted into apartments.
Built: 1758 Architect: James Paine Private apartments Grade II* listed
“Ashlar; roof of graduated Lakeland slate. 3 storeys; 3, 3, 3 bays x 1, 3, 1. South elevation: cornice to rusticated ground floor; central three bays project under open pediment containing later corbelled arms.” (Historic England)
Axwell Hall , a house once so splendid, it is hard to believe that it fell into spectacular decline. So dramatic was the decay that by rights it should not be with us today.
In its heyday it belonged to the wealthy Clavering family with prosperity gained through land and mines. They remained custodians for 162 years before economic conditions eventually forced them out.
The Clavering family were descended from 13th century Anglo-Norman aristocracy, the Lords of Clavering and Warkworth, from Alan de Clavering of Callaly Castle, who died in 1328.¹ The lands around Axwell were purchased by James Clavering, a merchant adventurer from Newcastle upon Tyne, for £1,700 in 1629. However, this Lord Mayor of Newcastle would die just a year later.
The estate passed to his John Clavering who died in 1648 but it was his son, Thomas Clavering (1620-1702) who became the first Baronet, ‘Clavering of Axwell’, in 1661. The title was graciously passed down the line until it was handed to Thomas Clavering (1719-1794) who succeeded the title in 1748. He found the existing manor house inadequate for a man of his means and made plans to replace it with something much grander.
Sir Thomas Clavering, 7th Baronet, was MP for St Mawes (1753-1754) and for Shaftsbury (1754-60). He resigned his seat at Shaftsbury to fight for a seat in County Durham but would only succeed in 1768. However, it was a seat he held until 1790. With substantial mining interests, with collieries at Beckley and Andrews House, he had lived at Greencroft Hall (demolished in 1960). In 1782 he was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Civil Law (D.C.L.) by Oxford University².
The old house at Axwell was demolished in 1758 and the architect James Paine engaged to build a Palladian-style house in its place. By all accounts it was not a harmonious relationship between Clavering and Paine, who complained of regular interference in the design by his client.³
Differences apart, Axwell Hall was a resplendent property with parkland laid out in ‘English landscape’ style. It has been suggested the new house and estate was Clavering’s attempt to keep up with the Bowes’ family estate at nearby Gibside.
The next few years saw improvements to Axwell Hall, culminating with significant remodelling by north east architect John Dobson† in 1817-18. A garden temple was erected in the grounds but this has since been demolished.
The Baronetcy became extinct on the death of Sir Henry Augustus Clavering, 10th Baronet, in 1893, but only after he’d made further improvements to the pleasure grounds. The title now extinct, Axwell Hall remained with the Claverings until the early part of the 20th century. The last occupant was Colonel Charles Warren Napier-Clavering who battled to keep the estate alive but eventually admitted defeat. In 1920 he turned his back on Axwell and moved to Staplegrove House, near Taunton, in Somerset.⁴
The Axwell estate was put up for sale and the inventory provided an insight into the enormous size of the property. Details in the sale catalogue listed the hall, stables, pleasure grounds, walled kitchen garden, home farm, a gardener’s house, a villa, several lodges, cottages, a dairy and the spa well.
The estate was eventually bought by the Newcastle Industrial and Ragged School founded in 1847 at Sandyside. ‘There being no agency to bring moral and religious training to bear upon the juvenile depravity and delinquency prevalent in the town’. Its aim was to provide education and industrial training to poor youngsters.
The change of use allowed youngsters from Newcastle, Gateshead, Durham, Sunderland and Middlesbrough to move to Axwell. When it opened there were 153 boys all receiving a dinner of a pennyworth of bread and cheese.
In 1933, Axwell Park as it was now known, became an Approved School, under new legislation introduced by the Children and Young Persons Act, which replaced Reformatories and Industrial Schools. The house was run by the Home Office and received regular mention in newspapers as young offenders were compelled to spend time at Axwell. Locally, the house was referred to as the ‘bad lads’ home.
Forty years later, around 1973, Axwell Park became a Community Home with Education (CHE) under the control of Newcastle City Council. However, the house was in such a poor state of repair that it eventually closed in 1981.⁵
For almost a quarter of a century the house and estate suffered vandalism, arson attacks and had to be boarded up to deter its attackers. Finally, in 2005, it was bought by Eight Property Ltd, which turned the derelict walled garden site into the 18-home Axwell Gardens. In 2016, the £3.3 million Courtyard development was completed with 27 apartments and houses on the site of the former stables adjacent to the hall.
Presently, work is underway to restore the main house, with its interior being converted into luxury apartments.
References:- ¹Sunniside Local History Society ²Douglas Archives Genealogy Pages ³Chronicle Live. 26 Jan 2016 ⁴rolyveitch.20m.com ⁵childrenshome.org.uk
Notes:- †John Dobson (1787-1865). The architect worked in the north east of England. With the builder Richard Grainger he was responsible for the area of Newcastle upon Tyne bounded by Grey, Market and Grainger Streets. He was also responsible for Newcastle’s gently-curving Central Railway Station regarded by many as one of the finest in the country. His best-known country houses are Nunnykirk (1825) and Meldon Park (1832) in Northumberland.