A classical Georgian-style mansion built on the proceeds of glass-making and enhanced by coal profits.
On this day, 100 years ago, an important proposal went before South Shields Town Council that recommended the Housing and Town Planning Committee acquire the Cleadon Park estate (then in County Durham), belonging to the late James Kirkley, about a mile south of the town.
Following James Kirkley’s death in 1916 the estate had been on the market, but the council had no power to purchase it outright. The Mayor, Councillor A. Anderson, instead entered into a personal contract to secure the demesne at the stated price of £18,000.
The completion was set for August 1st and he had offered to give the council the opportunity to obtain possession of the estate at the sum he had agreed to pay for it.
The original house had been an old farmhouse called Cleadon Cottage and by 1839 was owned by Robert Walter Swinburne (1804 -1886), a South Shields’ glass manufacturer. (In 1850 his company provided half the glass used in the construction of the Crystal Palace). In 1845 Swinburne commissioned the architect John Dobson to redesign the property, constructing a two-storey classical Georgian mansion with an additional new 8-bay south wing.
Swinburne later moved to Highfield House, Hawkstone, and by the 1860s the estate had passed into the hands of Charles William Anderson (1827 -1906), a conspicuous figure in public life and a lieutenant in the South Shields Rifle Corps. As well as being a banker, he was one of the principal colliery owners in Durham and Northumberland, with interests in both the Harton Coal Company and the Bedlington and Heworth Coal Company.
Anderson remained until 1875 and there were attempts to sell the property. However, Cleadon Park appears to have been tenanted by several wealthy individuals instead. These included Mr A.M. Chambers, Mr Peter Sinclair Haggie, coal-owner and rope manufacturer, who later removed to Windsor Terrace in Newcastle-upon-Tyne and The Limes at Whitburn, and Mr John Salmon, an ardent lover of the sea.
As well as owning property at 31 Park Lane, London, Anderson returned to Cleadon Park in the 1890s and, despite attempting to dispose of the estate in 1904, owned it until his death in 1906.
James Kirkley (1851-1916), a solicitor, arrived at Cleadon Park in 1907 after inheriting considerable wealth from his cousin. He became a director in the Harton Coal Company and now had the means to live the life of a country gentleman. In a twist of irony, one of his first tasks was to oppose a proposal for a new infectious diseases hospital nearby. He stated he had spent thousands of pounds on Cleadon Park and wouldn’t have done so if he thought the corporation was going to put a fever hospital in his midst. ‘If he had thought the hospital scheme was going on he would never have come to live at Cleadon Park at all, and the town would have been poorer by £6,000 or £7,000 a year.’
In addition to Cleadon Park, standing in 10 acres of grounds surrounded by trees, he also tenanted Fairlight Hall, near Hastings, owned by the Shadwell family, where he spent six months each year. Kirkley later hired J.H. Morton & Sons to create a new palm house, tropical plant house and formal gardens at Cleadon Park but he died before the work was completed.
Following Kirkley’s death the estate remained on the market until the intervention of Councillor A Anderson in 1918. His purchase had also included Cleadon Park Farm and a piece of land opposite Cleadon Park Gates containing over 51 acres.
After weeks of delays the council eventually decided to proceed with the proposal. A portion of the estate, comprising about 130 acres, was appropriated for houses under the Housing of the Working Classes Act, and the remaining 65 acres, including the mansion house, buildings and offices, be used for an infectious diseases hospital, a tuberculosis sanatorium, and a hospital for maternity treatment.
The house became a sanatorium between 1921 and 1967, later becoming Cleadon Park Hospital, closing in 1979. It was demolished in 1981.
The story of a country house that almost became home to Winston Churchill. Instead it was ‘swallowed by suburbia’ and lost forever.
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.
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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 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 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.
References:- 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, yet another mansion was lost to fire. The Daily Record reported that Saughton House, on the outskirts of Edinburgh, had been destroyed in a blaze that had broken out in the early hours of the previous day. Only the walls were left standing and a considerable number of valuable paintings and furniture had been lost. The house was occupied by Mrs De Pree whose husband, Major Hugo De Pree, was away on war service. ¹
Mrs Ruth De Pree, her three daughters, and servants, had been asleep when they were aroused by the smell of smoke at about four o’clock in the morning. It originated from a room in the third-storey and help was immediately summoned from adjoining farms. When the Edinburgh Fire Brigade arrived, the roof was blazing and soon fell in. A scarcity of water complicated efforts to rescue the house but allowed enough time to save a selection of valuable items. Among them was a painting of Field Marshal, Sir Douglas Haig, the uncle of Mrs De Pree, and a selection of much-prized letters from him. The Scotsman speculated on their future value: ‘They may some day form interesting historical documents of the great war’. (It was right. These letters survive in the archives at the National Library of Scotland). Only the blackened walls and a vaulted stone roof were left standing. ²
The fire effectively erased Saughton House from history. It shouldn’t be confused with Saughton Hall, in Saughton Park (demolished 1954), but has caused confusion to historians ever since. The ancient manor was approached from the south by an avenue leading from the Calder, or Old Glasgow, Road. The estate of Saughton was transferred in 1537 to Richard Watson, and passed from father to son, in direct line until 1837, when William Ramsay Watson, the last male heir succeeded his brother Charles. Four years later, on his death, succession opened to his sister Helen. In 1844 she married Sholto John, Lord Aberdour, who in 1858 became the 12th Earl of Morton. In 1893 Saughton House came into the possession of Mr William Traquair Dickson of Edinburgh who restored and added to it.
The house, made up of two floors with attics, was built in an L-plan of Scottish architecture. In the high-pitched roof were dormer windows, terminating in stone thistles. The staircase carried right up to the roof and gave access to a small level space, where commanding views of the countryside and the Firth of Forth were obtained. A small room to the right-hand side of the entrance, formed part of an ancient hall, the main feature of which was its roof, and which was still intact after the fire. About 1878 this roof was covered in a very thick layer of whitewash. On being cleaned off, the stone arch was found to be covered over with quaint old paintings in oil, most of them in good preservation. On a blue ground, sprinkled with stars, was painted a conventional sun, filling the centre of the roof of the old hall, with the twelve signs of the zodiac encircling it. Along the springs of the arch on one side was a line of ships in full sail.
William Traquair Dickson (1845-1926), the son of John Dickson of Costorphine, was well-known in church and antiquarian circles and one of the oldest members of the Society of Writers to the Signet. He was a solicitor at Traquair Dickson and MacLaren, a company that had been founded by his uncle. For over 52 years he was a member of the West Coates Church and a member of the Ecclesiological Society. His love for antiques and literature meant that Saughton House was embellished with many fine pieces and books. ³
Traquair Dickson eventually rented the house to its last occupants, Major and Mrs Hugo Douglas De Pree.
Hugo Douglas De Pree (1870-1943) was a British army officer who had been educated at Eton and the Royal Military College, Woolwich. He was commissioned into the Royal Artillery in 1890 and served on the North West frontier of India in 1897. Promoted to captain in 1900 he fought in the 2nd Boer War in South Africa, volunteering with the Imperial Yeomanry. After serving in World War One he eventually became the Commandant of the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, until his retirement in 1931.
In March 1918 Saughton House was put up for sale, but not until any of its salvageable contents had been removed. The following month The Scotsman carried an advertisement for the sale of an oak mantelpiece and wood panelling taken from the house. ⁴
It appears that Saughton House remained an empty shell and was eventually demolished (date unknown). It stood on the site of the present-day Broomhouse Primary School.
Notes: – In 1928 newspapers reported plans to convert Saughton House into a Scottish Chelsea Hospital for disabled ex-servicemen, as a memorial to Earl Haig. ‘There they have a building that had lain derelict until it was in a state of obvious disrepair’. It was hoped that the council might hand over Saughton House if an offer was made through the Haig Fund to take it over and restore it. It is easy to link this property, with it Haig connection, to our house, but there is every likelihood that the stories may have related to Saughton Hall instead. ⁵
References: – ¹ Daily Record (2 Feb 1918) ² The Scotsman (2 Feb 1918) ³ The Scotsman (27 Nov 1926) ⁴ The Scotsman (20 Apr 1918) ⁵ Falkirk Herald (15 Feb 1928)
On 1 February 1918, a few lines in the Belfast News-Letter stated that Glynwood House, Athlone, the family mansion of the Dames-Longworth family, had been destroyed by fire. The newspaper coverage might not have been weighty, but it had a devastating impact on the country house. ¹
In 1837, the Glynwood estate had been described as ‘a large and beautiful seat with extensive premises, having on its eastern, southern and western sides extensive ornamental grounds’. The mansion was constructed in 1790 and rebuilt about 1860 by John Longworth (1798-1881). Around this time the Longworth estate amounted to 3,000 acres in County Galway, as well as land at Roscommon and Westmeath. The family descended from Francis Longworth of Creggan Castle, although the family seat was at Glynwood House. ²
When John Longworth died in 1881 he was succeeded by his cousin, Francis Travers Dames-Longworth (1834-1898). This distinguished character was the second son of Francis Dames-Longworth, Deputy Lieutenant of Greenhill, and educated at Cheltenham and Trinity College, Dublin. He was called to the Irish Bar in 1855, created Queen’s Counsel in Ireland in 1872 and elected Bencher of the King’s Inns in 1876. In a memorable career he was a Commission of the Peace for six Irish counties – Westmeath, Dublin, Donegal, Kildare, King’s County (now Co Offaly) and Roscommon. Two years after inheriting the Longworth estates he was also made Lord-Lieutenant of King’s County. Francis rebuilt Glynwood House between 1883 and 1885 at a cost of £16,482, employing the services of architect George Moyers (1836-1916) with ornate plasterwork completed by J Caird and Co of Glasgow. Glynwood House was a three-storey Italianate house and, in 1887, Moyers returned to make further additions, this time spending £10,702 on building work.
The Dames-Longworths might have thought that their Irish utopia would last forever. However, the death of Francis Travers Dames-Longworth in 1898 was arguably the beginning of Glynwood House’s downfall. His son, Edward Travers Dames-Longworth (1861-1907) was only 37 when he took over the estates. He became Deputy-Lieutenant for Co Westmeath as well as being a JP for Westmeath and Roscommon. But his occupancy lasted just seven years. One Sunday afternoon in March he decided to go for a walk in the grounds of Glynwood House. When it started to rain the household expected him back, but when he hadn’t returned by dinner some uneasiness was felt. After a search of the grounds the police at Creggan were informed and they, in company with servants, continued the search. An examination of the grounds by lantern endured through the stormy night until the body of Edward was found in a little copse in the wood. He was found clutching his pipe and walking stick and had suffered a fatal heart attack. In his will he bequeathed the Clontyglass and Kilheaskin estates and real estate in Co Monaghan to his wife, while the Glynwood estate passed to his son Travers Robert Dames-Longworth, a mere eleven-years-old. ³
Because of his young age, the Glynwood estate was put in the hands of trustees, among whom was Thomas Hassard Montgomery (1872-1953), an agent for the land. Montgomery effectively ran estate affairs while the adolescent Travers completed his education. The young inheritor went to Military College, Sandhurst, in 1914-15, around the same time that Montgomery married his sister, Frances. The outbreak of war saw them both fighting overseas; Travers was a Lieutenant in the Irish Guards while Thomas Montgomery returned as a Lieutenant-Colonel.
It was shortly after Montgomery’s return that Glynwood House was ‘accidentally’ burnt down. The house had been leased, may not even have received its new tenants, and the cause of the fire remains a mystery to this day.
Travers chose to spend time in England while Montgomery, his wife and staff, relocated to Creggan House, also burnt down in 1921 by the Irish Republicans. This forced Thomas Montgomery to leave the Glynwood estate and move to Hampton Hall in Shropshire.
It was the end for the mansion and was left in ruinous condition. The surviving estate was sold to William Nash in 1921 and was largely demolished to supply bricks for local houses, while stone balustrades were cut to ornament their gardens.
Travis Robert Dames-Longworth (1896-1925) became a well-known figure in Cheltenham, famous in sporting circles, and celebrated for being the owner of White Cockade, a famed racehorse. He died in February 1925 at Brockten Hall, Shropshire, aged only 29. Lt-Col Thomas Hassard Montgomery died in 1953, aged 80, at Cadogan House, Shrewsbury. ⁴
Glynwood House survives as a crumbling shell, its walls reclaimed by nature as each year passes.
References:- ¹ Belfast News-Letter (1 Feb 1918) ² Ballymena Weekly Telegraph (7 Mar 1925) ³ Irish Times (19 Mar 1907) ⁴ Gloucestershire Echo (7 Mar 1925) Family timeline, thanks to Sally’s Family Place
Images, courtesy of Abandoned Ireland
The main house at Eastwell Park was built in Neo-Elizabethan style between 1793 and 1799 for George Finch-Hatton, 9th Earl of Winchilsea, and remodelled in 1843 by William Burn. In the mid-1860s the 11th Earl suffered financial difficulties forcing him to leave and the estate was let to the Duke of Abercorn for 5 years. (Winchilsea was declared bankrupt in 1870). The house was then tenanted by Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, the second son of Queen Victoria. Eastwell Park was bought by the 2nd Lord Gerard in 1894 and it passed to his son in 1902. Frederic John Gerard had gained the rank of Captain in the Lancashire Hussars Imperial Yeomanry and achieved a similar rank with the Royal Horse Guards. He also held the office of Justice of the Peace and Deputy Lieutenant for the County of Lancashire.
In 1920 Eastwell Park was put up for sale and the eventual buyer was Mr Osborn Dan who never lived here but chose to remain in his house at Wateringbury. He sold the estate in 1924 and it was reported that the new owner intended to reduce the size of the mansion. This was Sir John de Fonblanqua Pennefather (1856-1933), a British cotton merchant and Conservative politician, who’d just been created a Baronet, of Golden in the County of Tipperary. Some experts suggest he was more interested in architecture rather than the estate. He demolished the existing mansion and in 1926, using much of the old materials, rebuilt the house as it now stands, but significantly reducing its size. He was overtaken by blindness and never lived in the new house. In 1930, Madeline Cecilia Carlyle Brodrick, 2nd wife of the 1st Earl of Midleton, later Countess Midleton, bought the estate but lived in London. Her son, Captain George Brodrick, managed the estate on modern and efficient lines. The 1920s house survives as Eastwell Manor, a Champneys Spa Hotel. All that remains of the old house is Eastwell Towers, built in 1848, the original gatehouse.
It is sad to think that for several generations the name ‘Drayton Manor’ invokes images of a popular theme park. However, this wasn’t always the case and until the 1920’s was famous for being a grand mansion, the family seat of the Peel lineage.
The rise of the Peel baronetcy
The Drayton Manor estate was sold to Robert Peel (1750-1830), a farming and textiles man from Lancashire, about 1790. He was made a Baronet in 1800, but it was his son, Robert (1788-1850), that brought the greatest honours to the family. He became Prime Minister to Queen Victoria and, as Home Secretary, had created the London Metropolitan Police Force. Shortly after becoming 2nd Baronet he set about building a new mansion, 30 yards away from the old hall, and adopting designs from Sir Robert Smirke (1780-1867), the architect behind Covent Garden Theatre, Lansdowne House and the British Museum.
Building work started in 1831 and was completed at a cost of £50,000 in 1833. It was a quadrangular stone mansion, in the Elizabethan style, of considerable extent, but without any ostentatious display of architecture, either internally or externally. A large corridor, or gallery, in the centre of the building, had its walls covered with fine works of art, as well as almost every available space on the staircase and elsewhere; and it was to his credit that almost every picture was by a famous painter. Its crowning glory was a visit by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in 1843. The art collection grew so quickly that Smirke’s younger brother, Sydney Smirke, returned in 1846 to build a new gallery wing to the north-west angle of the mansion, extending westward for about 100 feet. The exterior was embellished with statues of Rubens, Vandyke, Sir Joshua Reynolds and Sir Thomas Lawrence.
Robert Peel, 2nd Baronet, died in 1850 and the estate passed to his son, another Robert Peel (1822-1895), who managed the estate in a robust manner. It was said of him that his greatest misfortune was in being the son of his father. An eloquent speaker, a fine presence, a daring actor, very irritable and impatient, he was unable to forget that his father had been Prime Minister. He also had to contend with a darkening cloud of the horizon in the shape of his son, yet another Robert Peel (1867-1925), who rebelled against the values that his grandfather, the 2nd baronet, had established.
A bit of a fool; a man without a conscience!
Robert Peel, the younger, had served as a Lieutenant in the Staffordshire Yeomanry, wrote two books – ‘A Bit of a Fool’ and ‘An Engagement’ – but his standing in society could not protect him from a weakness for gambling. Here was a man who had ‘broken the bank’ in Monaco netting no less that £12,000. However, his losses were greater than his winnings, and in 1893 had been declared bankrupt. When his father, the 3rd Baronet, died in 1895 he might have been forgiven for thinking his problems were behind him. However, just three years later he was a confirmed bankrupt for a second time. It happened again in 1901, 1903 and 1910, each time managing to avoid paying back any of his creditors. His marriage to Mercedes, daughter of Baroness de Graffenried, of Switzerland, in 1897, might have provided respite but it was a false hope.
By the time of his final insolvency trustees had been appointed to manage his finances, paying him a yearly allowance up to £1,800. Robert had sold some of the Drayton Manor gallery in 1900 (and rented the house to Mr Eugene Kelly of New York) but still owed £1,700 with no assets of his own. He claimed the situation had arisen after losing £1,000 through opening the grounds at Drayton Manor on public holidays. He had provided three bands of the Household Brigade and firework displays but it had been a loss-making undertaking. However, his creditors claimed reckless extravagance; one said he demanded a taxi to wait for him outside his London home at Burlington Gardens but rarely emerged before midday. “Sir Robert is living at Drayton Manor as a tenant for life, and he had his usual servants and retinue. He also went about in a motor-car and usually travelled first class by rail.”¹
The house is erased from history; the rise of the pleasure garden
For the rest of his life Sir Robert, still unwilling to pay back creditors, couldn’t escape the financial burden. In 1911 he declared that he had severed all connections with Drayton Manor and wrote an open letter to his tenants thinly explaining his reasons. It was a deception because he never actually left the house. When war was declared in 1914 he offered Drayton Manor as a sanatorium or hospital to naval and military authorities, but was most likely a feeble attempt to delay the inevitable.
In July 1917 Mr Justice Sargeant directed that the remaining contents of Drayton Manor should be sold by public auction. For the next year the Peel treasures were sold off piece-meal – “The fine things which Sir Robert Peel (2nd Bt.) collected with such care and taste have been dispersed by those who came after him.”² In November 1917 the family estates in Lancashire, Warwickshire and Staffordshire were put up for sale.
The Drayton Manor estate was sold off in lots in 1919, but mysteriously the mansion was withdrawn at the last-minute. A troubled Sir Robert Peel died at Drayton Manor in 1925. The remaining portions of the original estate were offered at auction in April 1926, the mansion being sold to Mr G.H. King of Aberdeen for £6,780 who also bought the adjoining stables for £400. Later that year demolition work began with speculation that the site of the mansion-house and the park farm adjoining might be developed as a garden city.
Mr George Handley, of King’s Heath, visited Drayton Manor in 1927: “A few days ago I revisited Drayton Manor, but not the mansion. No it wasn’t there! All I could discern was the place it once occupied. Gazing on a scene of desolation of confused heaps of bricks and rubbish, it appeared to me to resemble the excavations of an ancient site than the mere debris of a modern mansion! I tried to trace the path of the building but without success. Everything I remembered (excepting the clock tower) had been ‘wiped off the map’. Heaving a sigh I was unable to suppress, I turned away from the scene of the devastation the ‘house-breaker’ had so effectively wrought, and recalled what I still remembered of that once noble building – a building which attested to the genius of its architect, Sir Robert Smirke and also the consummation of the hopes and ambitions of the first baronet.”³
In 1931 Mr D. R. Fox, a well-known Lichfield sportsman and garage proprietor, bought the grounds and gardens of Drayton Manor and converted them into pleasure grounds. For the next eighteen years they proved to be a popular tourist attraction with two lakes, spectacular gardens and a café. They passed into the ownership of Mr Charles Deakin who, in 1949 announced that he was negotiating a sale to Mr and Mrs George Bryan, whose family had experience running a similar facility, ‘California-in-England’, near Wokingham. They proposed to restore the grounds to their former beauty and to add many new innovations. The rest, as they say, is history!
The treasures from Drayton Manor were scattered far and wide. In 1928 it was reported that a bath from Queen Victoria’s visit in 1843 was on display at the Crane Co showrooms, next door to the New Convention Hall, in Atlantic City.
In 1961, the Birmingham Daily Post, reported on four sculptured figures found at Messrs. Bateman Ltd in Knowle. These had stood on the roof at Drayton Manor and were sold in 1926 to the then owner of the salvage yard. In the catalogue these had been described as Sir Walter Raleigh, Sir Isaac Newton, Sir Joshua Reynolds and the younger William Pitt. However, according to the newspaper, two of the statues appeared to be Elizabethan figures, speculating that the nearer one might have been Sir Francis Drake.
References:- ¹Birmingham Mail. 7 December 1914. ²Tamworth Herald. 27 October 1917. ³Tamworth Herald. 9 April 1927.