Category Archives: DEMOLISHED HOUSES

ILAM HALL

Ilamhall
Built: 1821-1826. Main part demolished in 1935
Architect James Trubshaw
Owner: National Trust under lease to the Youth Hostels Association  

Youth Hostel
Grade II* listed

Family mansion of considerable dignity and splendour, erected of freestone in a most substantial manner, the masonry being very strong and durable, principally in the Tudor style of architecture, with Norman towers. The mansion contains 40 principal, secondary, and servants’ bed-chambers, besides dressing rooms, men’s rooms, etc.; a noble suite of reception rooms and private apartments, lately re-decorated, and extensive domestic offices. . There is good stabling for 11 horses, a large carriage house and out buildings. (Morning Post, 5th July, 1885)

‘It is popularly thought that the road by the river side approaching Ilam Hall is the scene of the ‘Happy Valley’ in Johnson’s ‘Rasselas’ , and here, no doubt, Congreve when a youth wrote his celebrated comedy of the ‘Old Bachelor’ and a part of the ‘Mourning Bride’.’

The story of Ilam Hall is typical of many country houses. It was built on the riches of industry and became a showy country retreat for two prominent men. However, the advent of the 20th-century marked a rapid and quite remarkable decline in its fortunes.

The Ilam estate stands on land that used to be part of Burton-on-Trent Abbey. Around it sweeps the rich and lovely Vale of Ilam embellished with hanging woodland and views towards the swelling hills of limestone around Dovedale. At its extremity are the River Hamp and River Manifold, which after taking separate subterranean courses emerge and unite to form a wide river at the valley bottom.

Following the Dissolution of the Monasteries the land passed to William Paget, Principal Private Secretary to the King, who sold the manor to John Port in 1547. The Port family built a Tudor mansion on the ridge over the river and remained there for the next 250 years.

Old Hall at Ilam (peakgistrict.gov.uk)
The old hall at Ilam built by the Port family and later demolished  (peakdistrict.gov.uk)

With its beauty came its remoteness. A tale is told of the old Countess of Shrewsbury, who visited Ilam Hall, in the days when the roads were dreadful and carriages extremely uncomfortable. On her arrival from Alton Towers she inspected the beauty of the ‘Happy Valley’ with her companion, the Rev. Bernard Port. He proudly exclaimed, “Now my lady, you are in Paradise.” Her ladyship turned on the parson and retorted, “I thought that must be so, for sure, we’ve been in purgatory all the way we’ve come.”¹

In the end, its isolation probably contributed to its downfall.

David Pike Watts (NPG)
David Pike Watts (1754-1816) (NPG)

In 1809 the house and estate was sold to David Pike Watts, an extremely wealthy brewer and vintner, of Portland Place in London. His daughter and heiress, Mary (1792-1840), married Jesse Russell in 1811 and here the story of Ilam Hall really begins.

Jesse Watts-Russell (1786-1875)

Jesse Russell was the son of Mr Jesse Russell, a successful soap boiler of Goodman’s Yard, Minories, residing at Walthamstow, and Elizabeth Russell, the daughter and heiress of Mr Thomas Noble, of Boroughbridge, in Yorkshire.

He was educated at Worcester College, Oxford, and took his Bachelor’s degree in 1808, presiding his Master of Arts in 1811 as a ‘Grand Compounder’. Russell appears to have taken little interest in his father’s business and by the time of his marriage was resident in Staffordshire.

The newly-weds made Ilam Hall their principal home and inherited the property on the death of David Pike Watts in 1816. From here on Jesse Russell adopted the Watts name by Royal Licence and by this marriage had four daughters and four sons. He became High Sheriff of Staffordshire in 1819.

On the death of his father in 1820, Jesse Watts-Russell was a very wealthy man. He inherited half-share of estates in Essex and a third-share in the remaining fortune. In the same year he became the M.P. for Gatton. Combining the two family fortunes he made plans to build a new house at Ilam to compete with the Earl of Shrewsbury’s grand house at Alton Towers.

The first part of the process was to clear Ilam Hall of its historical contents. In November 1820 he auctioned household furniture and fittings including chimney-pieces, plate glass windows and doors.² Later he commissioned James Trubshaw (1777-1853) to build a new hall to the designs of John Shaw (1776-1832). Work commenced in 1821 and was completed by 1826.

Ilam Hall Auction 1820 (Derby Mercury)
The writer, Ebenezer Rhodes (1762-1839), visited the new Ilam Hall in 1823 and reported his findings in the publication of Peak Scenery, or the Derbyshire Tourist in 1824:-

‘Ilam Hall, though not entirely finished, had a grand effect even at a distance; approaching nearer, the detail began to display itself, and the general design and arrangement to be clearly understood. On a verdant knoll, a little above the margin of the river manifold, that ran rippling and sparkling through the meadows below, I stopped to gaze upon the new mansion at Ilam, which is truly a noble structure, and a proof of the professional skill and taste of the architect (John Shaw, Esq., of Bedford Square, London). The principal part of the building, with its large bay windows, octagonal projections, and richly ornamented parapets, is in that peculiar style of architecture which was fashionable in the reign of Elizabeth; but there are portions of this structure that nearly a-similate with the gothic, both in character and ornament, and these are decidedly the finest and most imposing parts. The whole appears to be admirably contrived, both for picturesque effect and convenience: but the most beautiful feature in this noble mansion is the circular gothic lantern by which it is surrounded. It is not a paltry thing, made merely for the purpose of admitting light; its dimensions are ample, and perfectly in proportion with the capacious base on which it rests. The circle of which it is composed presents to the eye a series of pointed arches, resting on appropriate shafts: these, in connexion with each other, describe a circle, and constitute the framework of the lantern. Where light is wanted in the central part of a building, the dome is sometimes so constructed as to be a noble ornament: but the lantern at Ilam is a more noble contrivance, and one of the most tasteful and elegant architectural ornaments that ever adorned a building. I have mentioned a part only of what is already accomplished at Ilam: a museum, a splendid conservatory, and a picture gallery, upwards of eighty feet long, are intended to be added.’

Illam Hall 1 (Lost Heritage)
Ilam Hall in happier times. The main part of the house later demolished (Lost heritage)

In 1832 Jesse Watts-Russell put himself forward in the Conservative interest for North Staffordshire but was defeated by Sir Oswald Mosley and Sir Edward Buller. It was a gallant and determined fight and his supporters later descended on Ilam Hall to present him with a silver candelabra which stood four feet high.

Mary Watts-Russell died in 1840 but Jesse Watts-Russell would marry twice more. In 1843 he married Maria Ellen, daughter of Peter Barker of Bedford and, in 1862, Martha, daughter of John Leach of Wexford.

by George Salisbury Shury, published by Henry Graves & Co, after Eden Upton Eddis, mezzotint, published 16 September 1857
Jesse Watts-Russell ( 1786-1875)

In his later years Jesse Watts-Russell was in a poor state of health. He died at Ilam Hall on Good Friday in 1875 aged 88. His remains were interred in the family mausoleum at Ilam Church, a building rebuilt by Watts-Russell some years previous, following a quiet and unostentatious funeral. The sombre occasion did not pass without farce. The Rev. C.F. Broughton, of Snelston, was walking up the aisle of the church when he inadvertently stepped into the opening leading to the mausoleum and fell headlong sustaining severe bruising.³

Ilam Hall, along with estates in Derbyshire and Northamptonshire, passed to his eldest son, Jesse David Watts-Russell (1812-1879). However, the former M.P. for North Staffordshire, preferred the family’s other country house, Biggin House in Northamptonshire, and promptly made plans to dispose of Ilam Hall.

First to go was Jesse Watts-Russell’s collection of paintings ‘chiefly of the English school’ which were auctioned at Christie’s. The works included those by Landseer (St Bernard Dogs), Callcott (Dutch Fishing Boats), Collins (The Fisherman’s Return), Constable (Harwich Lighthouse), Turner (Two Street Views in Oxford) and Opie – considered eminent modern painters at the time – as well as a few old masters including A Wood Scene by Gainsborough.  Amongst the prized items was a portrait by Sir Peter Lely, of Congreve, with a landscape background. Also auctioned were a number of decorative objects including clocks, carved oak chimney-pieces, and statuary by Chantrey and Gibson.⁴

In August Ilam Hall was auctioned but failed to sell. Bidding started at £50,000 and reached £73,000 before stalling and promptly withdrawn. The presence of a private buyer in the background might have influenced the decision because, on the same day, the Staffordshire Journal was reporting that Ilam Hall had been bought by Mr Robert Hanbury, the M.P. for Tamworth.

Estate auction (Derby Mercury 30061885)
Ilam Hall  auction notice (1875)

Robert William Hanbury (1845-1903)

With a new owner at Ilam Hall there was still outstanding business in relation to its previous owner. Trustees of the late Jesse Watts-Russell put the library contents up for sale in 1876. The auction by Sotheby, Wilkinson and Hodge contained numerous important works which excited considerable competition.⁵

Library Sale (Morning Post 26011876)Robert William Hanbury was the only son of Mr Robert Hanbury and Mary Anne, of Bolehall House in Warwickshire. He was educated at Rugby and Corpus Christi College, Oxford, with adeptness at rowing. He had captained the Corpus boat when it was head of the river.

Hanbury had also travelled throughout the world – from the Holy Land “from Dan even into Beersheba” and explored Egypt a quarter of a century before the days of Kitchener’s “Express to Khartoum”.⁶

A man of importance he was a magistrate and Deputy-Lieutenant for Staffordshire, Derbyshire and Warwickshire. From 1873 until 1880 he was a Captain in the Queen’s Own Royal Regiment of the Staffordshire Yeomanry. He sat as the M.P. for Tamworth between 1872 and 1878, a seat he vacated to become the short-lived M.P. for North Staffordshire. He would later become the elected M.P. for Preston in 1885. In 1895 he was appointed Financial Secretary by Lord Salisbury but the pinnacle of his parliamentary career was being made President of the Board of Agriculture and a place in the cabinet in 1900.

In 1874 Mr Hanbury made the overland tour to India by the Euphrates and Tigris, a route not often taken.  The journey through Asia Minor was carried out with comparative ease. Dervish Pasha, the Ottoman War Minister, placing at his disposal a troop of Turkish cavalry, to protect his caravan from possible attacks by marauding Arabs.

Robert Hanbury married Ismena Tindal, daughter of Thomas Morgan Gepp of Chelmsford, in 1869. She died in 1871 and he later married Ellen Hamilton Knox.

Hanbury was a man of wealth. He was the son of a country gentleman of ample fortune, and was left fatherless at an early age. Much of his wealth derived from collieries around Cannock Chase and he could now claim to be Lord of the Manor at Norton Canes, Ilam and Calton in Staffordshire.

The fact that Hanbury spent most of his time in London meant he took no part in local affairs and only sat on the local bench on two occasions. However, he used Ilam Hall to entertain political and other friends and was held in high esteem by farmers of the district. This was partly due to his role as Chairman of the Board of Agriculture for which he laboured for the domain of farming.

His stay at Illam Hall was one of improvement. He carried out a comprehensive scheme of electric lighting, power being obtained from the River Manifold. Hanbury’s plan was to power the hall, farm buildings, the church and the nearby village. He also improved the gardens and would personally supervise planting schemes and garden layouts.

Robert Hanbury (NPG)
Robert William Hanbury (1845-1903) (NPG)

The house was full of treasures, antiques and curios, gathered from all parts of the world. His most prized possession was said to be a short bronze sword, which was said to the oldest weapon extant, with an inscription showing its age. Hanbury had obtained it while making an overland journey from Europe to India, when he came across a colony of Franciscan monks at Nineveh, who presented him with the sword as a souvenir of his visit. The British Museum later declared it was Egyptian and, from the cuneiform characters three times repeated on it, had belonged to an Assyrian king reigning about 1300 BC.⁷

Hanbury’s second marriage to Ellen Hamilton, the only child of Colonel Knott Hamilton, took place in 1884. This marriage, like his first, produced no children,  but the couple settled down to life in London and at Ilam.

In April 1903 Hanbury returned to his home at Belgrave Square, London, after a short visit to Preston. The following day he entertained friends but left the dining table feeling ill. Dr Jones, his medical adviser, arrived shortly after and pronounced that Hanbury was suffering from a severe attack of pneumonia and influenza. A week later he grew much weaker and died on 28th April. At Ashbourne, where he was entitled to sit as a Magistrate, flags were flown at half-mast in recognition of the man.

Hanbury’s coffin was conveyed from Herbert House, in Belgrave Square, to Ilam and remained in the spacious hall covered with floral tributes. The funeral was mainly a local affair attended by villagers, tenants and farmers. The coffin was carried from the hall by twelve employees from the Coppice Colliery, Cannock Chase, in which Hanbury held a large interest. His body was finally laid to rest at Ilam Church, a stone’s throw from the house.

Ilam Hall’s remote location meant that most of his political colleagues attended a memorial service at St. Margaret’s, Westminster, instead. However, Lord Newport made the long journey as representative of the Prime Minister.  At the memorial service the Prince of Wales was represented, as also was Prince Christian. The Prime Minister, the Duke of Westminster, and practically every member of the cabinet was also in attendance.⁸

His death sparked a number of tributes, the most glowing coming from the Sussex Agricultural Express:-

“It has been said with truth that no one since the Board of Agriculture was called into existence did more to study the difficulties of the British landowner, the needs of the British farmer, and the circumstances of the agricultural labourer. Mr Hanbury during the closing months of his life laboured unweariedly to master this complex – perhaps insoluble – problem, and in the endeavour to do so, by personal inspection and inquiry, he amassed a fund of knowledge that has been lost with him.”

Robert Hanbury left personal estate to the net value of £104,667 (£204,000 at gross value) but the executors, his wife Ellen Hanbury and Charles Fisher, of the Coppice Colliery, would face difficult times ahead.

Ilam Hall image - from Derby Library (National Trust)
A recently discovered image of Ilam Hall  before demolition – from Derby Library (National Trust)
Ilam Hall today looking towards the church (House and Heritage)
Then and now. All that remains from above is the the circular fountain  – now a flower bed and  the square turreted tower to the right (House and Heritage)


Ellen Bowring-Hanbury (1861-1931)

Robert Hanbury’s coffin had barely been in the ground before widow Ellen Hanbury found herself a suitor. The fellow in question was Victor Henry Bowring (1867-1943), a close family friend who had attended the funeral.

The attachment was no surprise as Ellen Hanbury was regarded as a ‘strikingly beautiful and vivacious woman’. (In 1931 the Birmingham Mail reported that she was had been very popular with the miners at the Coppice Colliery. She had cut the first sod in 1892 when the pit was sunk and the miners had chosen to name the colliery ‘The Fair Lady’ after her.)

Bowring was the youngest son of Edgar Alfred Bowring, past M.P. for Exeter and former librarian and registrar to the Board of Trade as well as a former Royal Commissioner of the Great Exhibition of 1851. His grandfather had been Sir John Bowring whose adventurous career had been full enough for half a dozen lives. He had been kept in prison by the Bourbons in 1822 and after the French Revolution of 1830 had been the first Englishman received by Louis Philippe. He became Envoy and Minister Plenipotentiary to China, and involved Britain in the war with the Celestial Empire. On his way home he had been shipwrecked, and spent three days on a coral island without food or shelter before being rescued. He spent the rest of his days writing poetry and prose.

Victor Bowring had been educated at Cambridge and was a 36-year-old eligible bachelor living at 30 Eaton Place, London, as well as owning a country house near Brighton.  His family background opened doors to the upper crust with endless invitations to royal and aristocratic occasions. He might also have been called somewhat ‘eccentric’ – the press enchanted at his aptitude for embroidery and his ability to make curtain hangings for his mother’s home. (In 1925 he displayed his work in an exhibition.)

When his marriage to Ellen Hanbury was announced in February 1904 it was regarded as one of the most fashionable weddings of the year.

It was welcome relief for Ellen Hanbury as she had just concluded litigation with in the courts with respect to her late husband’s will. The question at issue was whether under the will Robert Hanbury had gifted his estate to his wife or whether she simply had life rent. The wording of the will proved  rather ambiguous –  “the whole of my real and personal estate absolutely and in full confidence that my wife will make such use of it as I should have made myself, and that at her death she will devise it to such one or more of my nieces as she may think fit.”

It would appear that Ellen Hanbury needed clarification as to her obligations to Robert’s seven nieces. We can only speculate as to the circumstances leading to the court action. Had the seven nieces wanted to benefit from Hanbury’s death or were they simply protecting their own interests? After all, provision had been made for them in his clumsily worded will, and the presence of Victor Bowring might well have been seen as a threat to any entitlement that they had a legal right to.

The will was subject to scrutiny and after several court cases ended up in the Appeal Court. The ruling was that Robert Hanbury had left his property absolutely to the widow without giving a reversionary interest to his nieces, leaving their future participation to the widow’s discretion.

It wasn’t until 1905 that the matter was resolved once and for all. After the nieces had appealed the original decision the matter returned to the House of Lords where the Lord Chancellor, in giving judgement, said he thought that it was quite clear what Robert Hanbury intended was to give his wife life interest in the property (a trust), and that at her death she should make such selection of his nieces as she thought fit. ⁹

The wedding took place at St Peter’s Church, Eaton Square, on Tuesday 16th February 1904. Despite being billed as one of the most anticipated weddings of the year it was attended by only twelve people. Ellen Hanbury wore a deep diamond collar and brooch which was reputed to have once belonged to Marie Antoinette.¹º Afterwards the party attended an informal reception at the Hyde Park Hotel. From now on the couple would be known as Victor and Ellen Bowring-Hanbury.

The newly-weds retreated to Victor Bowring-Hanbury’s house at Brighton before making their first visit to Ilam Hall in June. For the occasion the village was gaily decorated, the church bells rang and schoolchildren and villagers gave them a warm welcome. It also provided an opportunity to present them with a belated wedding gift – a beautiful rose bowl.¹¹

In December 1905 the Bowring-Hanbury name hit the headline again. This time it was news that Ellen Bowring-Hanbury had been robbed of £8,000 worth of jewellery while waiting with her maid at Euston Station for the train to take them back to Staffordshire. Among the items was a diamond tiara given to her by Robert Hanbury. The train had left London when the loss was discovered and after all efforts to find the jewels failed, the train was stopped by means of the communication cord.

The robbery captivated the press for the next two years. Ellen Bowring-Hanbury had originally offered a reward of £100 for information that would lead to the arrest of the jewel thief. This was boosted by £500 from the London police authorities and after a lapse of nearly seventeen months the Goldsmiths’ and Silversmiths’ Company of Regent Street offered a further £1,000. In the end the jewellery was never recovered, believed to have been spirited away to America where the jewels were broken up and the gold melted.¹²

Ellen Bowring-Hanbury in 1906 (The Tatler)
Ellen Bowring-Hanbury in 1906 (The Tatler)

In July 1910 Victor and Ellen Bowring-Hanbury made their first attempt to dispose of the Ilam Hall estate. However, with the terms of the will in mind the reserve price was set by the Court of Chancery. At the Royal Hotel, Derby, the house and the estate were put up for auction. It was originally offered as one lot but, with no bids forthcoming, the sale was split into several lots. Lot 1 included the hall, grounds and farms, amounting to 852-acres. The bidding opened at £35,000 and reached £38,500 before the auctioneer, Mr Howard G. Frank of Knight, Frank and Rutley, referred to a sealed envelope that contained the reserve price. With the final offer failing to reach reserve the estate remained unsold.¹³

Ilam Hall Auction Notice 1910 (Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer)
Ilam Hall auction notice from 1910

Events might suggest that the Victor and Ellen Bowring-Hanbury were living beyond their means. Future events would dictate that Victor Bowring-Hanbury was not the best guardian of financial matters and the family wealth was obviously tied up in Ellen’s inherited estate. In 1911 Knight, Frank and Rutley offered for sale 30 lots of Ellen Bowring-Hanbury’s fortune which realised over £50,000 and included Worcestershire and Derbyshire properties.¹⁴

Ilam Hall, however, remained a sticking point, and the couple would remain at the house until 1926. By now Ellen was an invalid and ill-health forced Victor to be virtually house-bound. Every year he would make the long journey to Brighton for a few months but seldom left the house.

In August 1926 the Ilam Hall was once again put up for auction, still governed by a high court order concerning the settled estates of Robert Hanbury. The sale took place at the Midland Hotel, Derby, under the direction of Knight, Frank and Rutley. Bidding for the whole estate started at £15,000 and reached £28,000 before being withdrawn. The sale was split into lots and Ilam Hall and its grounds were once again withdrawn at £7,000. The sale was further split and Ilam Hall once again withdrawn when bidding reached £3,500.¹⁵

Victor and Ellen-Bowring left Ilam Hall and took up residence at 5 Belgrave Square. It was another year before Ilam Hall was finally sold by private treaty.

Ellen Bowring-Hanbury died in March 1931 leaving unsettled property to the value of £26,395. The residue of her property went to Victor Bowring-Hanbury who went on to sell parts of her art collection, among them some ten pastels by Dunkarton, and works by Gainsborough Dupont, Hickel, Hurter, King and Morland.

Victor Bowring-Hanbury became a ‘society sensation’ of the 1930’s. The house at Belgrave Square contained old masters, rare china and old furniture, which he valued at over £150,000. However, some of the collection had been collected without the means to pay for it. In 1935, while Victor was spending the day at Ascot, part of the collection was seized for a debt of £5,000. Soon after he declared bankruptcy and was discharged in 1938. Fortunately for Victor, two women friends had bought up a large number of his confiscated lots, and duly returned them before his death in December 1943.

A place of amusement

In April 1927 Ilam Hall was bought by Edward C.S. Backhouse for an undisclosed fee. Backhouse had been one of the bidders in the August 1926 auction and frustrated when his bid was rejected. However, he eventually managed to get ownership of Ilam Hall as well as the nearby Izaak Walton Hotel.

He converted parts of the house into a restaurant with plans to develop the grounds into an amusement park. The restaurant was advertised with ‘excellent catering at popular prices’ and encouraged customers to send for ‘our menus of satisfaction’. A hotel opened in the hall soon after.

By 1930 Ilam Hall was advertised with an 18-hole miniature golf course, archery, dancing in the ballroom to popular bands such as the British Legion Band, and an invite to visitors to see the ‘priceless massive oak 15th-century fireplace and underground rivers’. Later advertisements showed that visitors were also able to play tennis.

Ilam Hall and its grounds were open daily from April and newspaper advertisements showed that popular coach companies like Bartons and the Trent Motor Traction Co were including the hall in their motor excursions.

Derby Daily Telegraph 1931
Ilam Hall advertisement from Derby Daily Telegraph (1931)

Ilam Hall’s location in its beautiful Dovedale surroundings must have been welcome relief for the working classes of Derby, Nottingham and Stoke-on-Trent. However, quite how successful Mr Backhouse’s business venture proved to be is open to question.

In 1932 the North Midlands Regional Council of the Youth Hostels Association rented the right wing of Ilam Hall. The plan was for four dormitory bedrooms accommodating ten men and ten women. In addition there was a large common room, kitchen, cooking apparatus and shower baths for the residents. The intention was to attract hikers, ramblers and cyclists who regularly visited the beautiful countryside around Ilam and Dovedale.

Illam Hall (Lost Heritage)
The demolished Victorian frontage of Illam Hall (Lost Heritage)

The interest shown in the youth hostel was not lost on Edward Backhouse. The YHA, doubtful that the number of beds was insufficient, were relieved when he agreed that any overflow could be lodged in the main hall, having decided upon a special low tariff for hikers and cyclists. He also offered meals for guests if required. Quick to see a business opportunity he was soon telling people to ‘Make Ilam Hall your holiday centre’.

With summer occupancy at capacity the YHA didn’t bargain for the isolation and severe weather conditions that affected the peaks in winter. Quite unsuitable for winter accommodation the hostel closed and was not brought into use again.

The closure of the hostel was a devastating blow to Edward Backhouse who would declare bankruptcy in 1933. By September solicitors acting on behalf of Mr Backhouse put Ilam Hall and its grounds up for auction in six lots including the mansion, fishing lodge, country cottage, entrance lodge, accommodation, parkland and woodland. Buried within the newspaper advertisement was the gloomy declaration of ‘building land’ – obviously aimed at aspiring property developers.¹⁶

Auction Notice Staffordshire Advertiser (2 Sep 1933)
With Edward Backhouse facing ruin the Ilam Hall estate was put up for sale


William Twigg (1881-1958)

The new owner of Ilam Hall was William Twigg, a constructional engineer from Matlock, who paid £1,600. If Edward Backhouse had failed to turn a profit on Ilam Hall then William Twigg was well qualified to do so.

Born in 1881, the son of a farmer, he had developed an interest in second hand plant and machinery. In 1905 he borrowed money to buy Slack Quarry in Ashover and later set up business buying and selling old quarry machinery. He would later buy the Manifold Valley Railway from the L.M.S. Railway Company, including nine miles of track, railway engines and stations, and immediately sell it at a profit to a rival bidder.

William Twigg (twiggs.co.uk)
William Twigg (1881-1958) (twiggs.co.uk)

With regard to Ilam Hall the reasons for his purchase were quite clear.

In the 1920’s Twigg had bought Wingerworth Hall from the Hunloke family and stripped the flat roof of 50 tons of lead, which sold for £1,500. In addition he spent two years stripping and selling the interiors making a handsome profit in the process. (This massacre of a fine old house has been described as ‘recycling’ by some modern-day observers.) Once stripped of anything salvageable the house had eventually been demolished.

Twigg was mindful that Ilam Hall also had a flat roof but well aware that the price for lead had fallen dramatically. To what extent he stripped Ilam Hall of its glories is uncertain but we know that the ballroom fireplace was sold to Arthur Rank studios for use in film productions.¹⁷

William Twigg, satisfied he had taken whatever riches Ilam Hall offered, declared he would look for a quick sale on the property. If unsold by the start of 1934 he said he would have no hesitation in demolishing the entire building.

Sir Robert McDougall (1871-1938)

History books state that demolition was well under way by the time Robert McDougall bought Ilam Hall in June 1934. This is untrue but the house was in such a sorry state that demolition might have been the cheapest option.

Robert McDougall, of Cheadle Hulme, Cheshire, had been brought up in the family’s flour mills business and later became a director of its flour milling companies. McDougall’s Flour was created by the McDougall brothers. It followed their discovery of a new type of baking powder, a ‘yeast substitute’, in 1864 and, later, a product called ‘self-raising’ flour that revolutionised home baking.¹⁸

1930's advertisement for McDougall's Self-Raising Flour (Pinterest)
1930’s advertisement for McDougall’s Self-Raising Flour

McDougall was keenly interested in social and philanthropic work and, in 1933, gave £20,000 to the Society of Friends for a scheme providing allotments for the unemployed. He had bought up large swathes of Dovedale and gifted it to the National Trust. He contested the High Peak division for the Liberals without success on three occasions and would be appointed the unpaid Deputy Treasurer at the University of Manchester. In 1937 he would be knighted for social and philanthropic work in the Coronation Honours.

Sir Robert McDougall
Sir Robert McDougall (1871-1938)

McDougall bought Ilam Hall and 20 acres of grounds for a nominal fee with the intention of saving this once grand house. His first task was to gift it to the City of Stoke-on-Trent but, after careful consideration, the council rejected the offer.

McDougall had approached the council because of the interest which the Stoke-on-Trent Corporation had made, through its representatives on the National Trust Committee. The council’s General Purposes Committee visited Ilam Hall and determined that the only viable option would have been to use it as a hospital for tubercular patients. However, the majority of the committee thought that it would be a very costly matter and almost impossible to use in the winter due to its inaccessibility. Alderman Sir Fred Hayward said that Ilam Hall “had all the faults of architecture 100 years ago. It had 17 staircases and very lofty rooms.”²º

Photoograph of Ilam from Bunker Hill - Late C19 (peakdistrict.gov.uk)
Photograph of Ilam from Bunker Hill – late C19 (peakdistrict.gov.uk)

McDougall’s second option was to donate Ilam Hall with its woodlands and parkland to the National Trust.

He had already decided that portions of the hall would be let to the Youth Hostels Association (YHA), who would also keep up the kitchen garden, and eventually run a tea house for the benefit of the general public. A common room, refectory, kitchen and wardens’ quarters were planned for the old manor house and dormitories would be provided in separate blocks, with bathrooms for men and women. It was anticipated that the entrance hall would be converted into a conference room.²¹

The cost of this project, with central heating and hot and cold water for 150 people, was estimated at more than £3,000.

Part of the plan was the demolition of the greater part of Ilam Hall allowing the old house – built c1600 – to be exposed to view. This meant only the formal entrance, service wings and estate buildings would survive from Jesse Watts-Russell’s house.

Work began immediately and projected for completion in May 1935. However, complications meant the youth hostel did not open until September when it was officially opened by Mr William A. Cadbury of Birmingham.

As well as Robert McDougall, cash gifts were given by the W.A. Cadbury Trust and the Carnegie Trust. It became the largest youth hostel in England with the entrance hall and east wing adapted for the purpose.

Derby Evening Telegraph 23 May 1935Derby Daily Telegraph 24th May 1935
Wartime and beyond

With the youth hostel proving extremely popular, the arrival of the German Youth Orchestra in March 1938 did not detract from future events. The orchestra, consisting of 35 men and 15 girls, played a programme of folk dances and songs as well as classical works. The concert was recorded for broadcast on the BBC Midland Regional service.

Derby Evening Telegraph 28 March 1938
In December 1938 Sir Robert McDougall died. After a business meeting in London he hailed a taxi outside Mansion House Station but on arrival at Euston Station was found unconscious in his seat. The driver drove to the National Temperance Hospital where it was found that he was dead.

With the outbreak of World War Two the YHA activities at Ilam Hall slowed down.

The house was instead used to house a party of 29 Czech refugees, mainly clerical and engineering workers, from Sudetenland. As the Germans plundered the countryside and villages the British Committee for the Refugees from Czechoslovakia had offered them refuge in Britain.

“As the storm clouds massed over Dovedale’s heights and the rain dripped steadily from the tall firs, I heard 28 Czech refugees sing of their ‘fatherland across the sea’.” (Derby Daily Telegraph 27 Feb 1939)

The refugees had to be accommodated elsewhere over the Easter weekend as the hall had been booked up months in advance by people wanting to use the youth hostel.

In May, now numbering 38 people, they were moved to Farley Hall, a residence owned by Major C.F. Bill, near Oakamoor and close to Alton Towers.

The war had forced the YHA to seriously reconsider their position and by September Ilam Hall had closed indefinitely.

The house was used to accommodate a party of blind people evacuated from Derby for ‘national purposes’.²² They stayed at Ilam Hall until 1943 when the Derby Health Committee decided to return them to Derby.

The hall had been taken over at short notice and was considered far from ideal for its purpose. Two severe winters had proved a trial and had once been cut off by snow for four days. During this time a patient had died and it was nearly a fortnight before transport could be obtained to remove the body. ²³

Illam Hall Youth Hostel (derbyshirepostcards.co.uk)
Youth Hostel Association postcards of Ilam Hall (dates unknown)

Ilam YHA multi (derbyshirepostcards.co.uk)
At the end of the war Ilam Hall once again reopened as a youth hostel and still remains in use to this day. It stands in Ilam Park which, alongside Dovedale, both gifted by Sir Robert McDougall, are managed by the National Trust.

Illam Hall (West Leigh Junior School)
The original entrance at Ilam Hall looking towards the church (West Leigh Junior School)
Ilam Hall (House and Heritage)
Once grand – now ordinary. The site of the demolished Victorian house (House and Heritage)
Ilam Hall view (House and Heritage)
View from the River Manifold towards Ilam Hall – a shadow of its former self (House and Heritage)
Ilam Hall entrance (House and Heritage)
The lost Victorian house stood to the left of the image (House and Heritage)

References:-
¹Derby Daily Telegraph (25 Oct 1910)
²Derby Mercury (22 Nov 1820)
³Derby Mercury (7 April 1875)
⁴Staffordshire Sentinel (29 Jun 1875)
⁵Morning Post (26 Jan 1876)
⁶Lancashire Evening Post (12 Feb 1901)
⁷Derby Daily Telegraph (7 May 1903)
⁸Taunton Courier and Western Advertiser (13 May 1903)
⁹Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser (8 Feb 1905)
¹ºCornubian and Redruth Times (13 Jan 1906)
¹¹Lancashire Evening Post (13 Jun 1904)
¹²Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser (9 Feb 1906)
¹³Derby Daily Telegraph (26 Jul 1910)
¹⁴Belper News (31 Mar 1911)
¹⁵Derby Daily Telegraph (16 Aug 1926)
¹⁶Staffordshire Advertiser (2 Sep 1933)
¹⁷Derby Daily Telegraph (29 Jun 1950)
¹⁸www.togethertrustarchive.blogspot.co.uk
²ºStaffordshire Advertiser (30 Jun 1934)
²¹Derby Daily Telegraph (30 Oct 1934)
²²Derby Evening Telegraph (26 Sep 1939)
²³Derby Daily Telegraph (24 Dec 1943)

All above courtesy of the British Newspaper Archive.

Notes:-
Notes on William Twigg were provided from ‘William Twigg – a successful and caring company’ by Brian Hall. The company, bearing William Twigg’s name, still survives. William Twigg (Matlock) Ltd provides steel fabrication, steel stock holding and hardware and plumbing supplies.

We have learned that Jesse Watts-Russell built Ilam Hall to emulate the glories surrounding Alton Towers, the home of the Earl of Shrewsbury. The attempt by Edward Backhouse to create an amusement park at Ilam Hall compared with similar plans taking shape at Alton Towers around the same time. Ilam Hall’s inaccessibility meant the project was always doomed to failure, thankfully so for lovers of the countryside. As for Alton Towers, the rest is history! In the end, both houses were lost in some way or another – Ilam Hall partly demolished and Alton Towers becoming a monumental ruin – but still exist in vastly different circumstances. Some might say that Ilam Hall has come out of it the best of all. 

Ilam Park, Dovedale and the White Peak
Ashbourne, Derbyshire DE6 2AZ

(Ashbourne, the ‘post town’, is in Derbyshire and thus so is Ilam’s postal address, but the Park, and Ilam, are in Staffordshire; the county boundary.)

OSMASTON MANOR

Osmaston Manor (Asbourne-town)

Built between 1845 and 1849. Demolished in 1965

Stone; coarse ashlar of carboniferous limestone from Kniveton and dressings of Ashover Grit from Stanton Moor. Roof: flat and slate. An irregular house of massive appearance in the neo-Tudor genre. There was a 150ft tower in army barracks style, a second smaller campanile, mullioned and transomed windows and a spacious palm house loggia. The Derbyshire Country House (Maxwell Craven and Michael Stanley)

There is usually limited information available when writing about a demolished house. However, with Osmaston Manor it was different. This house threw up different challenges. When researching the house and its people the amount of material proved almost overwhelming. The outcome was one of the longest pieces I have written but as the story took shape the eventual outcome was inevitable.

If Osmaston Manor had survived it would now be considered one of Derbyshire’s finest houses. Alas, for this country house, it suffered highs and lows, the result of ‘boom and bust’ circumstances, which in turn created a love-hate relationship for its owners.

Osmaston Manor 3 (Lost Heritage)
Osmaston Manor, now demolished (Lost Heritage)


Francis Wright (1806-1873)
Osmaston Manor was built for Francis Wright (1806-1873) who inherited the estate from his mother’s family (she was a daughter of Francis Marcus Beresford of Compton House, Ashbourne and Osmaston). The Osmaston estate had originally belonged to the Meynell family of Bradley.

The Wright family were Nottingham bankers but made their fortune from iron and coal production. Francis Wright was the head of the Butterley Iron and Coal Company from 1830 until 1873. When he became senior partner the company was valued at £30,000 and to underline its success its assets amounted to £436,000 by 1858¹ He was also connected to Codnor Park and several other large collieries in Derbyshire.

According to the Sheffield Independent he might have been termed a Christian in the broadest sense of the term. He was a supporter of the Church Missionary Society, the Church Colonial Aid Society and the British and Foreign Bible Society for Promoting Christianity amongst the Jews. In his time he would build a new church, new schools and properties at Osmaston and become a benefactor of the Derbyshire Royal Infirmary². His biggest achievement was his involvement in the foundation of the Trent College, a public boarding school for boys in Long Eaton.

Wright had married his cousin Selina (1806-1888), the daughter of Sir Henry FitzHerbert of Tissington Hall, in 1830. They made their home at Lenton Hall in Nottinghamshire but saw the land at Osmaston as their future.

Francis Wright 1 (A Tale of Downward Social Mobility)
Early portrait of Francis Wright (1806-1873)

Looking to build a new home worthy of his position Wright appointed Henry Isaac Stevens (1806-1873) of Derby to oversee the work. The architect was a brave choice as Stevens’ previous work had mainly been church designs but it would become his greatest commission. The house was built by Messrs. Ford and Co of Derby and was completed in 1849 in Victorian Tudor style with more than a passing resemblance to Tissington Hall.

Osmaston Manor had 70 rooms, a bake-house, wash-house as well as a brew-house. It had a subterranean railway, hot-air central heating and a central tunnel carried smoke from the house to a communal garden chimney, 150 feet high in Italianate style¹. The house was 330 feet long and a height of 192 feet. The terraces covered 4 acres of ground.

It was set within 3,500 acres of parkland with lakes and trees. Sir Joseph Paxton is believed to have advised on the layout of the park.

 Osmaston Manor (The Builder)

Francis Wright 2 (A Tale of Downward Social Mobility)
A later portrait of Francis Wright (A Tale of Social Downward Mobility)

Francis Wright would live at Osmaston Manor until his death from bronchitis, aged 66, in 1873. He left 5 sons and 5 daughters – the oldest of which was John Wright of Eldensley House² who inherited his father’s estates. Another son, Francis Beresford Wright, lived at Aldercar Hall.

While Osmaston Manor enjoyed the trappings of success under Francis Wright the same could not be said under the guardianship of John Wright.

Osmaston Manor 5 (Lost Heritage)
The terrace at Osmaston Manor (Lost Heritage)


John Wright (Osmaston) (1831-1901)
John Wright (1831-1901) had been married twice. He married Emily Sophia Plumptre in 1853 and, following her death, was wedded to Florence Mary Rice in 1861. In his lifetime he would become Deputy Lieutenant of Derbyshire and Justice of the Peace for Staffordshire and Derbyshire.

Wright was eager to build upon his father’s legacy and just six months after his death had negotiated the purchase of the Old Dalby Estate in Lincolnshire for £19,100. The sale included Old Dalby Hall with its beautiful grounds and gardens and 343 acres of land. A month later he offered the property for lease ‘on the border of the great Vale of Belvoir, within easy access to all the meets of the Quorn and Belvoir Hunt’.³

The following year, in 1874, he was entangled in a legal battle concerning the purchase of Dearham Colliery in County Durham. Wright believed he had bought the colliery through an intermediary for £90,000 only to find that the purchase had actually cost just £60,000. The aggrieved Wright initiated criminal proceedings against a Mr Henry Osborne O’Hagan (who had bought the colliery), Mr Isaac Armstrong, Mr James Saunders, the Cumberland Union Banking Company, the London and Provincial Bank and the London and Liverpool Financial Association, all of whom he believed implicated in the fraud. In the end only O’Hagan and Saunders were tried at the Central Criminal Court where the jury returned a verdict of not guilty.

It was a harsh lesson for John Wright and, with large estates to support, suggests the family wealth was not what it was. Something needed to be done and the first signs of change came when John Wright rejected his patronymic and changed his name to John Osmaston in 1876. He stated that there were several magistrates of the same name in Derbyshire⁴ but it is more likely he had a long term plan.

In 1883 it was announced in a London newspaper that the estates of the late Francis Wright at Osmaston, Shirley and Ednaston, in Derbyshire, and at Langar and Barnston, in Nottinghamshire, were to be sold at auction⁵. Victorian property owners had begun to realise that there was a natural decline in property values if they were not carefully attended to. To ensure that wealth remained for future generations many ‘impoverished’ landowners resorted to the Settled Estates Act which effectively set them free of unwanted and unsustainable properties. Income raised from the sale could then be used for them to live in relative comfort for the rest of their lives.

Auction notice for Osmaston Manor (BNA)
1883 auction notice for Osmaston Manor

The Osmaston Manor Estate, comprising 3,400 acres, with a rent roll of £6,000 per annum, failed to sell at the August auction. The main problem was Osmaston Manor which was thought to be out of proportion to the value of the property and could not be kept up in adequate style on less than at least twice the rental of the Derbyshire and Nottingham estates put together⁶.

Despite its failure to sell at auction there were interested parties willing to take on the financial burden of Osmaston Manor.

In November 1883 it was reported that the estate had been bought by Sir Samuel Wilson (1832-1895) who had made his fortune by sheep farming in Australia. On returning to England he had leased Hughenden Manor from Lord Beaconsfield and his vast fortune was more than enough to cover the upkeep of Osmaston Manor.

Wilson was understood to have paid £206,000 for the Osmaston Manor Estate, including the entire contents of the house, with the exception of the pictures. This was thought to be a low price for such fine estate with many experts stating it was worth at least £25,000 more than that⁷. At the time of the sale it was estimated that Francis Wright and John Osmaston had spent close on £250,000 to build and upgrade the house and grounds.

However, Sir Samuel Wilson was to be frustrated and the potential sale didn’t receive the necessary consent or ratification. The likelihood was that the sale didn’t meet the necessary formalities specified in Lord Cairns’ Settled Estates Act, under the enabling powers of which alone the property could only be sold.

Smoke Room (Ashbourne News Telegraph)
The smoke room (Ashbourne News Telegraph)

No sooner had the sale fallen through when, just twelve hours later, Sir Andrew Barclay Walker stepped in to buy Osmaston Manor. The deal was completed in January 1884 with the Liverpool businessman paying £206,500 for the mansion, including the furniture and contents, excepting the pictures⁸.

Before John Osmaston could sever his ties he had the final task of disposing of the entire collection of valuable paintings from Osmaston Manor.

Art auction notice (BNA)
From the Derby Mercury 1884 (BNA)

The collection, enriched with bronzes and statutory, had been brought together by Francis Wright and his son and was said to have cost £150,000. The auction took place at the Lecture Hall at Wardwick, Derby, in March 1884. Commentators of the day questioned why so extensive a collection had not been sent to the rooms of Christie, Manson and Co in London.

The auction catalogue claimed that two well-known works were included in the sale. These were the ‘Monna Lizza’ by Leonardo da Vinci, and ‘The Magdalen’, by Murillo, purchased direct from the Queen of Spain.

Also included were ‘The Annunciation’ by P.P. Rubens; ‘The Fight for the Standard’, the engraved work by R. Ansdell, R.A.; ‘A River Scene’ by Constable, R.A.; three grand works by J.M.W. Turner⁹.

The Derbyshire Times and Chesterfield Herald gave a word of caution:

“Old masters are dubious things to buy from an auctioneer unless he knows something about art. It is difficult, above all things, to estimate the real value of works by the old masters. Experienced picture-buyers sometimes fall into pit-falls ruinously expensive, victimized by false work which has the irresistible charm of plenty of brown varnish employed by scientific swindlers, who, by their clever counterfeits obtain rashly artificial prices.”

On the day of the auction John Osmaston answered his critics by stating he had offered the pictures in Derby because he thought many of his friends in the country would be glad of an opportunity of purchasing some of them. Mr Huggins, the auctioneer, said that one of the conditions of the sale was that he could not guarantee the authenticity of any of the lots and that considerable doubt was cast upon their genuineness¹º.

In the end the bidders were unconvinced. Proceeds from the entire auction raised a paltry £7,000 – ‘The Magdalen’ sold for 1,900 guineas and the ‘Monna Lizza’ scraped a mere 50 guineas!

So ended John Osmaston’s shorts and ill-fated tenure at Osmaston Manor. We can only speculate as to his character and business acumen but evidence suggests he spent far more than he could afford and the only solution was to dispose of the estates.

John Osmaston, lighter in pocket, was now free to move to another country house, Hawkhurst Court, Billingshurst, in West Sussex. In time he would become a J.P. for Sussex and would remain there until his death, aged 70, in 1901. At the time of his death his estate was sworn at £2,826¹¹. By sharp contrast his father, Francis Wright, had left personal estate worth £700,000. His mother, Selina Wright, would live in the Dower House at Yeldersley Hall and died in 1889.

Osmaston Maor 4 (Lost Heritage)
The imposing Osmaston Manor (Lost Heritage)

Andrew Barclay Walker (1824-1893)
Andrew Barclay Walker was the second son of Peter Walker of Auchingflower who had been the head of the Fort Brewery in Ayr. His father had removed to Liverpool and after completing his education at Ayr Academy and the Liverpool Institute Andrew Walker was taken into partnership in his father’s brewing business.

In the course of his early career it is told that, at one time, becoming aware that foreign brandy would probably become scarce wowing to the failure of crops, he at once applied himself to buying up all the brandy that he could get control of. His anticipations proved accurate and he made a sum of money¹³.

In 1853 he had married Eliza, the daughter of John Reid, of Limekilns, Fifeshire.

Walker had served as a magistrate for Ayrshire and sometime afterwards was made a magistrate for the county of Lancashire. His chief residence was at Gateacre Grange, Liverpool, and joining the municipality had risen to the position of alderman.

Gateacre Grange (Liverpool City Group)
Gateacre Grange, Liverpool (Liverpool City Group)

He had first been elected Lord Mayor in 1873, and the day after his appointment he had announced his intention of presenting the city with an art gallery at a cost of £20,000. For many years he had been in the habit of gathering numbers of poor men and women about him to enjoy a Christmas treat, which he provided for them in Toxteth.

A highlight of his career was a visit by the Duke of Edinburgh to lay the foundation stone at the Walker Art Gallery. As it was approaching its completion in 1876 the council thought it right that Walker be re-elected as Lord Mayor. To celebrate he presented the council with a handsome jewelled badge to be worn by future mayors on state occasions.

Walker had spent a number of years cruising with Lady Walker who had been suffering a lingering illness. She died in 1882, leaving behind her six sons and two daughters, the eldest being Peter Carlaw Walker (1854-1915).

Sir Andrew Barclay Walker (Brewery History)
Sir Andrew Barclay Walker (1824-1893)

By the time Andrew Walker purchased Osmaston Manor he was the head of Peter Walker and Sons and a very wealthy man†. It was understood he owned half the public houses in Liverpool. His main brewery was at Warrington with a second one added at Burton-on-Trent. Walker was also the proprietor of coal mines in South Wales.

In the same year the Liverpool Corporation built an extension to the art gallery, and Walker generously covered the cost of £12,000.

In 1885 he was awarded a baronetcy and would become known as Baronet Walker of Gateacre in the County of Lancaster. He was also appointed Deputy Leiutenant of the same county.

A reporter from the Liverpool Mercury visited Osmaston Manor in June 1887 and described the house and the popularity of its new owner:-

‘The entrance hall is a spacious and pleasant chamber, as are the principal rooms, but the smoke room is evidently much appreciated. Though its appointments are good, and its panelled ceiling of timber very fine, it has an essentially cosy appearance. Like the rest of the house, it is lit with the electric light. I found Mr Richard Keene, the well-known photographer of Derby, taking a variety of views of the mansion and its surroundings. For many years Sir Andrew Walker had known Sir Henry Wilmot, by whose advice, rumour has it, he bought Osmaston Manor. Be that it may, ever since that never to be forgotten garden party, to which the whole county was invited for Sir Andrew by Lady Wilmot, the popularity of its owner has gone on increasing with all classes. Only at the last county ball at Derby the guests were equally astonished and delighted at the sumptuousness of the supper and the excellence of the wines, and it only accidentally oozed out that the supper was the generous gift of Sir Andrew. He is a munificent subscriber, I heard, to all charitable and religious agencies for good, but withal he gives with discretion. He is a familiar presence at county gatherings, and with the middles classes and poor he has made his name a household world no less than with the county gentry’.

In October 1887 he married for a second time. His bride was Maude, the second daughter of Mr Haughton Charles Okeover, a family of very old standing and who had held the lordship of Okeover for over 700 years. Maude had served Queen Victoria in the capacity of Maid of Honour and was rewarded with several wedding presents including a beautiful diamond, ruby and pearl brooch, with a piece of hair and a photograph of her majesty in a silver frame.

Sir Andrew Walker made a number of improvements at Osmaston Manor. Kelly’s Directory 1891 described it as ‘a noble mansion, of dark blue limestone, with dressings of gritstone, situated on an eminence commanding extensive views of the picturesque scenery around, and is surrounded by large and well-kept pleasure grounds covering an area of about 35 acres ; considerable improvements have been made within the last few years, and in 1887 a billiard room was added : there are four lakes with islands within a short distance of the manor frequented by flocks of wild fowl.’

Andrew Barclay Walker (William Quiller Orchardson) BBC Your Paintings
Sir Andrew Barclay Walker Warrington Museum & Art Gallery (The Public Catalogue Foundation)

Sir Andrew Walker was a private man but an extremely generous one. He had contributed £1,000 towards the rebuilding of Derbyshire Royal Infirmary, of which he served as president in 1886. He also sat on the committees of the Derbyshire Agricultural Society and Derby Charity Organisation Society as well as becoming vice-president of Derbyshire County Cricket Club. He was also vice-president of the Derbyshire Natural History and Archaeology Society, a patron of the Derby Burns’ Club, and a director of Francis Wright’s Trent College.

While Sir Andrew was a popular and kindly landlord his stay at Osmaston Manor was relatively short. He had suffered ill-health and even his wedding to Maude Okeover had to be delayed several months while he recuperated on his yacht and a visit to Scotland¹².

During early 1892 he was confined to his room at Gateacre Grange for several weeks with a severe illness. It was a sickness he would never recover from and he died in February leaving estate worth £2,876,781¹⁴.

Walker left the Osmaston estate, together with its contents,as well as the Belle Vue estates and adjoining property at Little Woolton, near Liverpool, to his eldest son, Peter Carlaw Walker¹⁴.

Gateacre Grange was left to another son, William Hall Walker, and another property, The Knoll, at Barton-under-Needlewood, to John Reid Walker¹⁴.

In 1895 Lady Maude Walker would marry Lort Phillips, of Lawrenny Park, Pembrokeshire, Master of the Pembroke Hounds.

Osmaston Manor 2 (Lost Heritage)
Osmaston Manor (Lost Heritage)

Sir Peter Carlaw Walker (1854-1915)
Sir Peter Carlaw Walker, 2nd Baronet, was just 38-years-old when he inherited Osmaston Manor. With the huge burden of maintaining his father’s popularity he wasted no time taking on Sir Andrew’s affairs.

As the head of the Walker and Sons he looked to expand its portfolio of public houses. In 1894 he formed a property company for the purpose of opening new sites and to carry on the business of brewers, maltsters, ale, beer, porter and corn merchants¹⁵.

Sir Peter Carlew Walker 1 (Old Antique Victorian Print)
Sir Peter Carlaw Walker (1854-1915)

Unlike his father he had been educated at home, proceeding to neither public school nor university. Instead he had developed a prowess at sport. Big game fell to his rifle in Norway, Ceylon, Assam, Colorado, Wyoming and British Columbia. He was also a keen sailor, being a member of the Royal Yacht Squadron at Cowes and spending six months in the south seas sailing around in a 30-ton coasting schooner. Walker  was a strong supporter of the National Hunt and later appointed the trainer, Johnny Latham, to oversee his jumpers.

Sir Peter Carlew Walker (Vanity Fair)
Caricature of Sir Peter Carlaw Walker from Vanity Fair

His business interests would be divided between Derbyshire and Lancashire. He was a Deputy Leiutenant and Justice of the Peace for Derbyshire, and a Deputy Lieutenant for Lancashire, of which county he was also High Sheriff in 1896-7. Although a staunch unionist he had little time for politics, nor indeed public life in general. He would be remembered as a generous landowner and country gentleman, an ardent follower of the hounds, a consistent patron of the turf, and perhaps above all as a keen officer in the auxiliary forces seeing out 35 years of service in the Lancashire Yeomanry and Derbyshire Yeomanry. He would reach the rank of Colonel in 1906 before handing over to Lord Henry Bentick, in 1912.

He was President of Derbyshire Royal Infirmary in 1903 and presented the institution  with a complete Finsen light apparatus for the treatment of Lupus. He also invited the inmates of the Liverpool Seamen’s Orphanage to Osmaston Manor every year.

Osmaston Manor (Ipernity)
Outdoor entertaining at Osmaston Manor (Ipernity)

One of Peter Walker’s most interesting innovations at Osmaston Manor was a selection of Wyoming elk, which he purchased during one of his expeditions to the ‘Wild West’.

In 1895 Peter Walker gave away his stepmother at her wedding to Lort Phillips which took place at St. Peter’s Church in Eaton Square.

There was no doubt that the bond between Walker and his stepmother was close. Where similar relationships had failed it was through Maude Okeover that Peter Walker met his future wife. This turned out to be Ethel Blanche Okeover, his stepmother’s younger sister (d.1935), and the new Lady Walker of Osmaston Manor.

The wedding took place at Okeover Church in May 1899. Peter Walker’ was 44-years-old and his best man was Mr Nugent Howard of Broughton Hall at Malpas. It was an elaborate affair with the couple leaving Ashbourne by train for London en route to Paris, where their honeymoon was spent

Ethel Blanche Okeover, the step-daughter-in-law to her own sister, proved to be an able marriage partner. She became actively involved with the Derbyshire Children’s Hospital and was vice-president of the Derbyshire Red Cross Society. She also owned a number of National Hunt horses and raced under the name of Mr Shirley Park, taking the title from a neighbouring Walker estate.

In 1900 the couple celebrated the birth of a daughter, Enid Walker (1900-1988), who would marry Count Cosmo Diodono de Bosdari in 1928 but it would end in divorce in 1949. She later remarried to Bernard H. Lofts-Constable in 1958.

Osmaston Manor Courtyard (A Tale of Downward Social Mobility)
The courtyard at Osmaston Manor (A Tale of Downward Social Mobility)

Despite his liking for privacy Peter Walker opened the gardens at Osmaston Manor to the general public for the first time in the summer of 1900. It was the start of an annual event that lasted many years with entry charges donated to worthy causes. The occasion was always a highlight of the calendar with specially arranged daytrips from Nottingham and Derby.

In November 1902 Sir Peter and Lady Walker celebrated the birth of their son and heir.

Ian Peter Andrew Monro Walker (1902-1982) was christened at Osmaston Church with the Countess of Kingston acting as godmother¹⁷. While Ian Walker enjoyed a charmed childhood his life would change dramatically in 1915.

His father had been suffering from internal ailments for some time before entering a London nursing home in September 1915. The baronet underwent an operation and recovered sufficiently to be moved to Osmaston Manor. However, once settled in his own bed he suffered a relapse and died aged 61. On his death he left unsettled estate of £255,096 with net personlty £174,612.

At the age of 13 Ian Monro Walker inherited the Osmaston Manor estate along with the death duties associated with it.

Osmaston Manor 1 (A Tale of Downward Social Mobility)
The front hall at Osmaston Manor (A Tale of Downward Social Mobility)

Ian Peter Andrew Monro Walker (1902-1982)
Ian Walker fell into his father’s mould with a love for the outdoors. Under the watchful eye of his mother he shouldered the responsibilities as the 3rd Baronet at Osmaston Manor.

He marked his coming of age with the purchase of the Glen Avon deer forest in Banffshire from the Duke of Richmond and Gordon. The estate comprised 40,000.acres producing about 90 stags a season as well as grouse, shooting and fishing¹⁸

His biggest contribution to Osmaston Manor was the creation of a polo ground within the grounds along with a riding school built for the purpose of housing polo ponies. The annual polo weeks would prove to be one of Derbyshire’s principal summer attractions. He became a prominent breeder of polo ponies and Ayrshire cattle.

While enjoying his sporting pursuits the young baronet showed expertise running estate affairs. In 1931, aged 29, he formed a new unlimited company, the Shirley Park Estate Company, ‘to acquire, manage certain estates in Derbyshire, and to purchase certain chief rents, to construct, improve, and alter roads, railways, watercourses, parks and streets’¹⁹

This measure of turning the estate into a company was designed to ease the burden of heavy taxation and one that the Duke of Devonshire and Duke of Bedford had already adopted.

NPG x122801; Sir Ian Peter Andrew Monro Walker-Okeover, 3rd Bt by Bassano
Sir Ian Walker (National Portrait Gallery)

The following year Ian Walker bought Beresford Dale for £15,500, not for the Shirley Park Estate Company, but out of his personal wealth. The Dale, one of Derbyshire’s beauty spots, was well known for its excellent fishing and came with 576 acres.

In 1935, the person who had protected his childhood from the pressure of baronetcy died. Lady Ethel Blanche Walker died at Osmaston Manor after a short illness.

By now it was evident that Osmaston Manor and its estates were becoming a millstone. It was a problem shared with many large houses and, in 1937, the Derby Daily Telegraph lamented the loss of country houses and praised the county’s remaining properties:-

“It is fortunate that very few Derbyshire estates have shared the tragic fate of Drakelow Hall, its glories consigned to the housebreaker and timber merchant. Keddleston Hall, Osmaston Manor, Foremarke Hall, and, of course, Chatsworth and Haddon, remain unsullied by modern changes²º”

For one of these houses the future was not certain at all.

NPG x122800; Sir Ian Peter Andrew Monro Walker-Okeover, 3rd Bt by Bassano
Sir Ian Walker (National Portrait Gallery)

Sir Ian Walker married Dorothy Elizabeth Heber-Percy (1913-2005) of Guy’s Cliffe, Warwick, in June 1938. She was the granddaughter of Lord Algernon Malcolm Arthur Percy, the second son of the 6th Duke of Nortumberland, and a former chairman of Warwickshire County Council. The best man was Ralph Curzon²¹.

Despite the pressures of running a large country estate Sir Ian Walker remained a popular landlord. He had built new cottages and a village hall in Osmaston with traditional thatched roof and half-timbered style.

Sir Ian Walker Wedding (Leamington Spa Courier)
The wedding of Sir Ian Walker and Dorothy Heber-Percy 1938 (Leamington Spa Courier)

The outbreak of World War Two saw Osmaston Manor handed over to the Red Cross to attend wounded soldiers. It also coincided with the birth of the couple’s first child, Elizabeth Anne Walker, born in 1940. She would be joined by Jane Katherine Walker (1942-2012) and Captain Sir Peter Ralph Leopold Walker (1947-2003). King Leopold of Belguim was one of Peter’s godparents explaining the use of his name for the future 4th Baronet.

In 1942 Sir Ian Walker purchased the estates of Slains, including the picturesque village of Collieston and the historic Old Slains Castle. The estate, bordering on the rugged Aberdeenshire coast, extended to 8,000 acres, and included 54 farms and crofts²².

As second-in command of the Derbyshire Yeomanry he saw active service throughout the North African campaign and eventually took over as commanding officer in 1944. The following year he was awarded the D.S.O. ‘for distinguished service’ in Italy.

Osmaston Manor (John Bain)
Lost forever. Osmaston Manor seen in its glory days (John Bain)

The end of the war highlighted the many problems facing many landowners. In 1946 Sir Ian Walker announced his intention to leave Osmaston Manor and take up residence at Okeover Hall which had recently come into his possession. He told the Derby Daily Telegraph that the decision was “entirely due to heavy taxation.”

A string of would-be purchasers looked around Osmaston Manor but the house was not officially on the market. The most viable plan was to convert the manor into a girls’ school while retaining the estate. However, his departure depended on essential repairs being completed at Okeover Hall. In 1947 the Shirley Park Estate Company auctioned Yeldersley Hall further reducing their assets.

Okeover Hall (Gareth Hughes)
Okeover Hall. The family seat of the Walker-Okeovers (Gareth Hughes)

The move away was a prolonged affair with Sir Ian Walker still associated with Osmaston Manor. According to Giles Worsley in ‘England’s Lost Houses’ (2002) Sir Ian Walker didn’t actually inherit the Okeover estate until 1955 and didn’t actually move there until 1962. This is perfectly viable and explains his decision to obtain a Royal licence to change the family name to Walker-Okeover in 1956. The title befitted his role as Lord-Lieutenant of Derbyshire which he had assumed in 1951

However, with the future of Osmaston Manor seemingly doomed, he continued to develop his property portfolio elsewhere. In 1948 he had set up a new company, along with Lady Dorothy, called The Walker Scottish Estates Co, based at the House of Glenmuick in Ballatar, with the purpose of running estates in Aberdeen and Angus²³.

By this time Osmaston Manor was a problem that would not go away. With little in terms of maintenance the house was left to decay and the inevitable occurred in 1965 when the Walker-Okeovers made the irrevocable decision to demolish the house. It was raised to the ground but not before the neo-Tudor main staircase was transferred to Wootton Lodge in Staffordshire²⁴

The Winter Garden
The Winter Garden at Osmaston Manor shortly before demolition

Sir Ian Walker-Okeover died in 1982, aged 79, and Lady Dorothy died in 2005 reaching the grand old age of 91.

Osmaston Park Wedding Venue (Stones Events)
The terraces and staircases still survive (Stones Events)

The Osmaston Estate is still owned by the Walker-Okeover family as well as the House of Glenmuick, Ballatar, in Aberdeenshire. It is managed by Sir Andrew Peter Monro Walker-Okeover, 5th Bt (b.1978), and Lady Philippa Walker-Okeover.

The foundations of Osmaston Manor still exist and the grassed terraces, ponds, stone steps and balustrades have been restored. Today it is called Osmaston Park and serves as a wedding venue where elaborate marquees stand on the site of Henry Stevens’ now forgotten masterpiece.

Osmaston Park Marquee (Stones Events)
A wedding marquee stands on the site of Osmaston Manor (Stones Events)

By coincidence the original plans for Osmaston Manor have recently been discovered by Mark Smith of Derbyshire Records Office:-

“It happens this way in archives sometimes.  One minute, you are moving a roll of plans from one shelf to another, and carefully keeping a record of its new location; the next, you are rediscovering some long-lost treasure.

“It was in 1978 that we acquired collection D1849, the archives of the Osmaston Estate.  The collection includes rent books, tenancy papers, some plans and photographs, and family papers of the Walker family, which acquired Osmaston Manor after the death of Francis Wright (1806-1873).  A list for the collection was circulated soon afterwards. However, entry D1849/14 on that list, (“Osmaston Manor plans”) had no descriptive details, and our internal record to say which shelf held the plans said only ‘number not used’.”

The plans are in a poor condition and conservation work will be needed.

Osmaston Manor Plans (Derbyshire Records Office)
Previously thought lost. The original plans for Osmaston Manor (Derbyshire Records Office)

References:
¹Bygone Derbyshire
²Sheffield Independent (25 Feb 1873)/Morning Post (25 Feb 1873)
³Morning Post (12 Sep 1873)
⁴Derby Mercury (13 Sep 1876)
⁵Derby Mercury (30 May 1883)
⁶Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser (21 Nov 1883)
⁷Derby Mercury (28 Nov 1883)
⁸Sheffield Independent (24 Jan 1884)
⁹Derby Mercury (13 Feb 1884)
¹ºDerby Mercury (19 Mar 1884)
¹¹Sheffield Daily Telegraph (14 Feb 1902)
¹²Sheffield Independent (12 Oct 1887)
¹³Lancaster Gazette (1 Mar 1893)
¹⁴Leeds Mercury (29 Mar 1893)
¹⁵Liverpool Mercury (30 Jul 1894)
¹⁶Lichfield Mercury (2 Jun 1899)
¹⁷Derby Daily Telegraph (19 Feb 1903)
¹⁸Nottingham Evening Post (30 Aug 1923)
¹⁹Derby Daily Telegraph (28 May 1931)
²ºDerby Daily Telegraph (10 Feb 1937)
²¹Derby Daily Telegraph (28 Jun 1938)
²²Aberdeen Journal (11 Apr 1942)
²³Dundee Courier (30 Oct 1948)
²⁴The Derbyshire Country House (Maxwell Craven & Michael Stanley)

†Peter Walker & Son
The original brewery was started by Peter Walker, father of Andrew Walker, at the Fort Brewery in Ayr. Through investors the business expanded to Warrington and Burton on Trent. Andrew Walker took over the business in 1890 and is credited with pioneering many production, distribution and management systems that are still in place within the industry. The group had a chain of pubs around Liverpool and the north west. The company merged with Cairns Brewery in 1921 and the Tetley’s Brewery of Leeds in 1960, to form Tetley Walker.

In 1961 Tetley Walker merged with Ind Coope of Burton and Ansells of Birmingham to become Allied Breweries. This later became Allied Lyons in 1978 following a merger with J Lyons and Co. The business merged with Carlsberg in 1992 to become Carlsberg-Tetley and is now known as Carlsberg UK.

Further Reading:
A Tale of Downward Social Mobility
Lost Heritage

POTTERNEWTON HALL

potternewton-hall-3
Potternewton Hall, Leeds.

Built about 1720.  Demolished in 1934-1935

A group of history students in Australia claim to have uncovered evidence that the Duchess of Cambridge’s family once had links to a forgotten stately home near Leeds.

olive-middleton
Olive Lupton

Art historian Michael Reed, of Hallam College in Melbourne, and his students discovered that the Duchess’s great-grandmother, Olive Lupton, was born and grew up on the Potternewton Hall Estate near Leeds.

The story is not exactly new as there were reports of her Yorkshire connection as far back as 2006. Her great-grandfather, Noel Middleton, married Olive Lupton, the daughter of Francis Martineau Lupton, one of a number of the Lupton family who were influential in Leeds throughout much of the 19th century and up until the mid-20th-century. The Lupton family have been described as ‘Landed Gentry; a business and political dynasty.’

More interesting is the Duchess of Cambridge’s connection with Potternewton Hall – long gone – but once one of several country houses in the area – Potternewton Park Mansion, Newton Lodge and Scott Hall.

Potternewton Hall stood on land once owned by the Earl of Mexborough. In the early 1700s the Barker family bought a large parcel of land and around 1720 built the three-storey country house.  From 1860 the family had split their estate and sold Potternewton Hall along with 13 acres to Frank Lupton, a wool merchant and mill owner, and the father of politician Francis Martineau Lupton. The Lupton family had been landowners since the 18th century and Frank’s brother, Arthur Lupton, a wool merchant in the family firm, owned the adjacent Newton Hall Estate. Arthur had nurtured ideas for subdivisions on his adjoining estates since the 1850’s and in 1870 decided to sell Newton Hall to Frank and his other brother, Darnton Lupton. Darnton had lived at Potternewton Hall from the 1830’s and had been Mayor of Leeds in 1844.

By the end of the 19th-century the Luptons did not live at Potternewton Hall. The house was now lived in by the Nussey family who are likely to have taken out a long lease and remained there until 1933.

In 1910, the New Briggate Development Company bought half the shares in the Lupton-owned estates and after World War One, with the demand for housing increasing, came the realisation they were sitting on a potential cash windfall.

By 1927 the estates had been sold to United Newspapers who were investing in new markets. The sale of land, and a hefty profit, was obviously their motive because, in 1933, Potternewton Hall was being advertised for sale as “valuable building land”. The Yorkshire Post was already reporting that the Newton Hall Estate was “the largest private building enterprise in Leeds”.

Potternewton Hall was bought by Max Rabinovitch, a wholesale jeweller, of Nassau Place, in Chapeltown. The house and 13 acres had clearly been bought for redevelopment.  Just over twelve months later Potternewton Hall and 5 acres at the front was sold for a hefty loss to Pickard and Co, a Leeds building contractor, who confirmed they would demolish the house and build on the land.

By 1935 both Potternewton Hall and Newton Hall had vanished and the land further sub-divided. At the outbreak of World War Two a new housing development, Riviera Gardens, flat-roofed white painted houses, had replaced the house and surrounding gardens.

Following the demolition of Potternewton Hall a York antiques dealer, G.F. Greenwood, offered for sale old panelling from Potternewton Hall. Much of this is lost but some was bought by Lt Col Gowans and reassembled at Sutton Park, Sutton-on-the-Forest, as a morning room

sutton-park-morning-room
Sutton Park, Yorkshire

While Leeds may not have played a major part in the Duchess of Cambridge’s life she does have a strong connection. Michael Middleton, her father, spent his first two years (until the age of two) living at Moortown in Leeds.

Olive’s cousin, Baroness von Schunck (née Kate Lupton), also spent her early years with Olive’s family at Potternewton Hall. In fact, Baroness von Schunck’s daughter, Baroness Airedale, lived on the nearby estate – Gledhow Hall – which was once painted by J.M.W. Turner.

kate-2_2596932c
Beechwood, Yorkshire

Undoubtedly, the Lupton’s were a very distinguished family. Olive Middleton’s two uncles were both Lord Mayors of Leeds – Sir Charles Lupton in 1915 and his brother Hugh Lupton in 1926. Her cousin, Miss Elinor Lupton, was Lady Mayoress in 1943 in her own right. Apart from Potternewton Hall and Newton Hall, the Lupton’s owned a large number of grand houses in the area. These included Beechwood, in Roundhay, Mount Pleasant in Harehills and The Acacia on Oakwood Garden. Beechwood was a Georgian mansion on a large farming estate. It was purchased by Frank Lupton, Olive Middleton’s grandfather, in 1860 and eventually became the Lupton family seat. It stayed in the family until 1998. Much of the Beechwood farming land had been sold by the 1950’s to create a large council estate.

ADDINGTON MANOR

addington-manor-1
The original Addington Manor in Buckinghamshire

Built: 1856-1857. Demolished in 1928
Architect: Philip Charles Hardwick, later house by F.H. Clark
Private ownership

The house was built of brick with Bath stone quoins and dressings and heavy lead roofing, in the modified form of the French chateau style, with three lofty towers and fine conservatory.

Addington Manor was built by Philip Charles Hardwick (1822-1892) between 1856 and 1857. He was best known for designing the Doric Arch and Great Hall at Euston Station as well as the Great Western Hotel at Paddington Station.

Addington Manor was built for John Gellibrand Hubbard (1805-1889), City of London financier and Conservative politician, who had purchased the estate in 1854.  He would later become the 1st Baron Addington in 1887.

The house was built of brick with Bath stone quoins and dressings and heavy lead roofing, in the modified form of the French chateau style, with three lofty towers and fine conservatory.

philip-charles-hardwick
Philip Charles Hardwick

Round the great central tower were inscribed the words “Except the Lord build the house their labour is but lost that build it. Anno Domini 1857”. Over the library window, amid decorations of vine foliage and fruit, were the words “Dei Donum”. The third storey windows on the south and west sides of the mansion were crowned with the initials in monogram of the Lord and Lady Adlington (John Gellibrand Hubbard and the Hon Maria Margaret Hubbard), while on the north and south fronts of the building were to be seen the family crest and motto “Alta Petens”.

The decorator of the ceilings was Owen Jones, the beautiful ceiling of the oak hall being an exact copy of that in an older Addington Manor.

The family moved into Addington Manor in December 1858 and entertained many distinguished visitors , including the HRH the Duke of Connaught, the Princess Victoria Louise, Bishop Wilberforce, members of the Gladstone family and many prominent leaders of both Houses of Parliament.

The 2nd Baron Addington died in 1915 and during the First World War the house was let as a school.

In later years the house was occupied by Mrs Lawson-Johnston and family. After this the building was used as a guest house and hotel under the successive occupation of Mrs Hocker and Mr Gordon Holmes.

It was sold to Mr C B Smith-Bingham in 1926 who lived at the adjoining Addington House. He demolished the house in 1928 appointing Mr F H Clark of London and Coventry to oversee the work.

An auction sale to dispose of fittings and materials was held in June 1928 with a further auction a month later.

addington-manor-3
Smith-Bingham turned to architect Michael Theodore Waterhouse (1889-1968) to replace the house with a smaller neo-Classical house (pictured below). This became a residence for the Czechoslovak Military Intelligence staff and their families during World War Two.

addington-manor-1928
The 1928 Addington Manor, Buckinghamshire

The house was eventually sold to Lord Inchcape who founded the Addington Manor Equestrian Centre on the estate.

Addington Manor,
Addington, Winslow, Buckinghamshire (now demolished)

COOMBE WARREN

Coombe warren 3
Built 1865. Rebuilt in 1870. Demolished in 1926.

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).

Coombe Warren (St Croix Architecture)
The original Coombe Warren built in 1865

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.

George Devey
The architect George Devey (1820-1886)

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.

Coombe Warren (St Croix Architecture)
Coombe Warren. Rebuilt after a disastrous fire in 1870

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’.

Bertram Woodhouse Currie
Bertram Woodhouse Currie (1827-1896)

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.

Coombe Warren Lodge (British Listed Buildings)
Still standing. Coombe Warren Lodge once stood at the entrance to the house

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.

Coombe House
Coombe House

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.

WarrenHouse
Warren House

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.

PANTON HALL

Panton Hall (Ipernity)
The garden front of Panton Hall, Lincolnshire, about 1900  (Ipernity)


Built around 1720. Demolished 1964.

Panton Hall, the seat of Edmund Turnor esq. MA., D.L., J.P. lord of the manor and principal landowner, is a handsome mansion of white brick, situated on a finely wooded eminence, and surrounded by a beautifully undulating and park-like country.
(Kelly’s Directory of Lincolnshire, 1896)

Panton Hall, near Wragby, was one of those magnificent country houses lost simply because the owners could not afford its upkeep.

The house was built around 1720 by the Gace family on an elevation with faraway views of the Lincolnshire Wolds.

Joseph Gace, Receiver of the Land Tax for Lindsey, had asked William Talman (1650-1719) to design the house. However, the death of Talman in 1719 ended his association with the house. Just how far he had got with his plans is uncertain but a copy of the design is believed to have existed until the 1950s and is presumed lost or simply mislaid.

It was left to Nicholas Hawksmoor (1661-1736) to complete the task but just how much was down to Talman’s blueprint is ambiguous as building work was already underway during 1719. Hawksmoor was an able replacement. He studied under John Vanbrugh who had employed him at Castle Howard and Blenheim Palace. The three-storey house with a front canted bay was completed in 1727¹.

The completion of the house might just have been the start of Gace’s problems. It undoubtedly cost a lot of money and, through bad debt, would eventually lose control of his estates including Panton Hall. In 1742 the house passed to Gace’s son-in-law, Carr Brackenbury (1714-1763), who owned the house until his death².

His trustees transferred ownership of the house to Sir Jacob Wolff (1740-1809) in 1767. He was the son of Baron Godfrey Wolff of Moscow and had married Anne, the only daughter of the Right Hon. Edward Weston of Somersby Hall, the Secretary of State for Ireland, a year earlier. His intention may have been to make Panton Hall a family home but history suggests he spent little time there and did little for its upkeep. By the end of his six year stay the house was in a state of disrepair¹.

Panton House
Panton House. From The Seats and Nobility and Gentry in Great Britain and Wales in a Collection of Select Views.

The house was rescued by one of Lincolnshire’s largest landowning families. The Turnor family had built up their estates over generations and had added the manor of Panton in 1687. Their family seat was Stoke Rochford Hall, near Grantham, where Edmund Turnor lived until 1769 but this is understood to have burned down by the time of his death³.

The new heir was his son, Edmund Turnor (1715-1805), who had married Mary, daughter of John Disney of Swinderby and Lincoln, in 1753. He lived at Kirmond le Mire and bought the manor of Stixwould in 1771³.

The house at Stoke Rochford was inhabitable and he required a house grand enough to match his wealth. In 1773 he bought Panton Hall for £6,150 and planned to make it his new home. Turnor remained at Kirmond le Mire while renovations took place³ but had to invest significant amounts of money to make it grand enough to live in. By 1775 he had appointed John Carr of York (1723-1807) to make alterations to the property including the addition of side wings. This reconstruction of the house would be his obsession that lasted until his death in 1805.

In John Carr’s reconstruction there were nine principal bedrooms and on the ground floor several spacious reception rooms. To save space most of the servants’ quarters were relocated to the basement³.

There has been much debate as to how much work John Carr carried out on the house. William Angus wrote in his ‘Select View of Seats’ in 1787 that the house was late 18th century with no trace of an earlier work⁴ Howard Colvin, the author of ‘A Biographical Dictionary of English Architects 1660-1840’ was in agreement and thought that the house had been completely rebuilt and only some early 18th century panelling re-used in one of the smaller rooms³.

John Harris in ‘No Voice from the Hall’ disagreed:-

“I came here when it was half-demolished, and it confirmed everything: the tall central block with its powerful canted bay rising three-storeys was the original Gace house, and the wings with their canted bays to the ends, answering the centre, were by Carr. The original house was obviously by Talman and at his death in November 1719 Gace clearly brought in Hawksmoor for the finishings.”⁵

Following Edmund Turnor’s death he was succeeded by his son, another Edmund Turnor (1755-1829). He was an MP for Midhurst, an antiquarian and author of ‘Collections for the History of the Town and Soke of Grantham Containing Authentic Memoirs of Sir Isaac Newton’. He married twice. His first wife was Elizabeth Broke and then Dorothea Tucker.

Turnor was a keen traveller in France, Switzerland and Italy and became a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in 1779 and a fellow of the Royal Society in 1786³. By 1817 Turnor was turning his attention towards Stoke Rochford and plans were afoot for a new house to be built there.

These plans would be implemented by his son Christopher Turnor (1809-1886) who inherited the estates on his father’s death in 1829. He preferred Stoke Rochford and built the new house between 1841 and 1845. This grand new house would become his home and Panton Hall was left to deteriorate.

However, in 1847 newspapers were reporting that Mrs Leeke, of the Sycamore, in Louth, had rented Panton Hall to use as a finishing school. The house was thoroughly repaired and Mrs Leeke and her pupils moved in during April.

“The establishment will be conducted as before, the assistance of Ladies (Professors) of high talent from London and Paris. The size and numerous apartments of Panton Hall enable Mrs Leeke further to offer Finishing Lessons in the various accomplishments to Ladies desirous of a temporary home as Drawing Room pupils.⁶”

The school lasted until October 1866 and the following year Panton Hall was back in the hands of the Turnor family. Christopher Turnor’s son, yet another Edmund Turnor (1838-1903), was using the house as his home while his father preferred Stoke Rochford.

Panton Hall from NW (Revival Heritage)
Panton Hall seen from parkland to the north west (Revival Heritage)

Christopher Turnor died in 1886. Edmund, had married Lady Mary Katherine Gordon (1840-1930), the daughter of the Marquis of Huntly and sister of the Countess of Ancaster, in 1866 and now made Panton Hall his home. Edmund was M.P. for South Lincolnshire as well as being a J.P. and High Sheriff of Lincolnshire in 1894. He was a practical agriculturalist and participated on numerous farming bodies. He was a distinguished landowner and much liked by his tenants.

According to the Nottingham Evening Post, who reported his death in 1903, “he would make himself acquainted with the grievance of his smallest tenant, and would use his knowledge and experience to attain a satisfactory solution of the cause”. Turnor met an unfortunate end while shooting with Mr Montagu Waldo-Sibthorpe, at Hatton, near Wragby, where he suddenly collapsed and died in 1903.

Panton Hall (Matthew Beckett)
Panton Hall (Lost Heritage)

The Turnor estates passed to a nephew, Christopher Hatton Turnor (1873-1940). He was educated at Oxford and studied agriculture at Cirencester as well as being a trained architect.

He took up residence at Stoke Rochford Hall in 1907 following his marriage to Sarah Marie Talbot Carpenter, the only daughter of Admiral the Hon W.C. Carpenter of Kiplin Hall in Yorkshire. His interests lie chiefly in agriculture and rural education but he still managed to write a number of books on land and food problems. Turnor applied his knowledge to the study of agriculture on scientific lines and managed to combine theory and practice most effectively on the estate.

Panton Hall 1 (Matthew Beckett)
The south end of Panton Hall (Lost Heritage)

Panton Hall had continued to be the home of Lady Mary Katherine Turnor following her husband’s death in 1903. However, times were changing for the aristocracy and the cost of upkeep for large estates was rising. The Turnor family also owed significant death duties and in 1911 the freehold estates of Stixwould and Wispington went up for auction.

In August 1917 the Panton estate, including Panton Hall with 563 acres as well as 20 farms and small holdings, woodlands, the Turnor Arms Hotel, residences and cottages, were offered for sale at an auction in the Schoolroom at Wragby

Panton Hall Auction 1917 (Lincolnshire Chronicle July 28 1917)
Auction advertisement. Lincolnshire Chronicle. July 28th 1917 (British Newspaper Archive)

Panton Hall, including its pleasure grounds, stables, kitchen garden, entrance lodge, woodlands and Grove Farm, were sold for £15,000. The purchaser was Mr George Keeble, an ex-mayor of Peterborough, who had experience of buying country houses. In 1912 he had bought Finedon Hall in Northamptonshire but had quickly sold it on. The sale of the entire Panton estate raised over£136, 000⁷.

The purpose of George Keeble’s purchase remains a mystery. He clearly had no intentions of moving in and Lady Mary was still in residence in 1918. In March 1919 the Grantham Journal reported the sale of surplus household furniture by Lady Mary and by December it was announced that a party of monks from Oxford had taken over Panton Hall. The ownership of Panton Hall at this time is uncertain but it is likely that George Keeble had decided to sell the house on.

Panton Hall became a Franciscan Monastery and Roman Catholic School. In 1931 newspapers reported the construction of new cloisters that extended around the college quadrangle. It was anticipated that the fourth side of the quadrangle would eventually contain a chapel. The monks existed side by side with the college occupying the stables and the friars occupying the Georgian mansion⁸. They remained until the 1930s before relocating to Kelham Hall near Newark.

In May 1935 Panton Hall was bought privately by Sir John Denton Marsden, 1st Baronet, of Louth (1873-1944)⁹. Most historians suggest Marsden bought Panton Hall from the Turnor family in 1917 and rented the house and stables as a monastery and college. However, newspaper reports from 1935 suggest this is incorrect.

Sir John Denton Marsden (British Newspaper Archive)
Sir John Denton Marsden, 1st Baronet (British Newspaper Archive)

Marsden had been associated with the fishing industry since 1901 and was the Managing Director of the Consolidated Fisheries Limited, a prominent trawling firm, and President of the Trawler Owners’ Federation. He had married Agnes Mary Ronald in 1911. As well as being a prominent businessman he eventually became High Sheriff of Lincolnshire in 1942-1943.

Marsden lived in part of the stables but newspaper reports from the time suggest the house was regularly used for social events. During World War Two the house was used by the army and by the time of John Denton Marsden’s death in 1944 the house was in poor condition. After the war it stood empty. The Panton Hall estate was offered for sale in 1946 but did not include the house.

Panton Hall (Jack Hall)
The garden front at Panton Hall seen shortly before demolition (Jack Hall)

The Marsdens remained at Panton Hall until the early 1950s before moving to Thorpe Hall in Louth.

A few years later John Harris visited Panton Hall and described the house’s last days:-

“Some years earlier the back forecourt had been netted off and the ground floor rooms used as chicken coops: some were black with droppings. There was a handsome Carr chimney-piece in the hall, and fine but plain chimney-pieces in most of the rooms. These were not elaborately decorated, but that was the attraction: all were wondrously reserved. The house had not been tampered with since Carr’s days. The bedrooms upstairs could only be described as windows on the Arcadia of the rural Wolds.”⁵

Panton Hall Entrance (Revival Heritage)
The decaying entrance hall leading to the main staircase (Revival Heritage)
Panton Hall 1950 (Jack Hunt)
Ground floor plan of Panton Hall. Original print from The Lincolnshire Historian No 7 Spring 1951 (Jack Hunt)

Panton Hall crumbled away and one wing eventually fell down. In 1964 the house was demolished and the bricks were to be used elsewhere. However, such was the perilous state of the building the bricks disintegrated when exposed to the weather³. The only reminders today are the Grade II listed stables, built by William Legg in 1777, and the former kitchen garden now privately owned.

Panton Hall Stables (Deviant Art)
The derelict stable block is all that remains of Panton Hall (Deviant Art)

According to the DiCamillo Companion plans were submitted in 2002 to rebuild the house but these came to nothing.

 ¹ Lincs Revival Heritage
² Inheriting the Lincoln Mantua – Research Well Lincolnshire
³ Lost Lincolnshire Country Houses – Volume 5 (Robert Pacey) 2002
⁴ A Biographical Dictionary of English Architects 1660-1840 (Howard Colvin) 1954
⁵ No Voice from the Hall (John Harris) 1998
⁶ Lincolnshire Chronicle/Stamford Mercury 1866
⁷ Lincolnshire Echo August 1917
⁸ Lincolnshire Echo June 1931
⁹ Lincolnshire Echo May 1935

The DiCamillo Companion:
http://www.dicamillocompanion.com/Houses_detail.asp?ID=1560

EASTON HALL

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Easton Hall, Lincolnshire,  in 1902 (Country Life)

Built 1840s. Demolished 1951-1952

The levelled platform of Easton Hall, demolished in the early 1950s, lies towards the north of the site, south-west of Easton estate village. Easton Hall, a medieval manor house and village, was purchased by Sir Henry Cholmeley in 1606. In 1805, Sir Montague Cholmeley took down the west wing and rebuilt the house (Turnor 1806). The medieval village was removed in 1805 (Glenn 1995). The Hall was rebuilt again by his son, Sir Montague Cholmeley in the 1840s and was described in 1872 (White) as a ‘large handsome mansion’. In 1902 the house was described as embodying the best features of Tudor style (CL). Attached to the west front of the house stood a large conservatory (ibid).
(Historic England)

“A dream of Nirvana”… “A dream almost too good to be true.” These were the words of future President Franklin D Roosevelt about Easton Hall and its gardens. He was no stranger to the Lincolnshire estate, visiting at least three times, the last being for his honeymoon in 1905. When Roosevelt made this enthusiastic declaration he would have been dismayed that just 46 years later the illusion had gone forever.

Back in the 1990s I made the journey up and down the A1, near Grantham, on a daily basis. Mature trees and hedgerow lined both sides of the busy carriageway but little did I realise that just yards away were the remains of a fine country house. There was a clue, just past the turning for Burton Coggles, but I was in too much of a hurry for a second glance. Here, screened by unchecked undergrowth, was a decorative gateway. A pair of iron gates were suspended between two stone pillars – padlocked with a rusty chain – apparently leading nowhere.

I now realise that these gates once provided access to Easton Hall, a distinguished country house, once the ancestral home for 14 generations of the Cholmeley family. The house had long gone, a familiar story of decline after two traumatic world wars, the land relinquished to nature.

The Cholmeley family had purchased the Manor of Easton in 1592 after arriving from Cheshire. The medieval manor passed through generations until the beginning of the 19thcentury. From 1805 the original house had disappeared.  Sir Montague Cholmeley, (1st Bt) demolished the West Wing, the oldest part of the house, along with the central block, and extensively altered the fabric of the house. A number of later Victorian additions by the 2ndBaronet created the most desirable home. Old Photographs show Easton Hall as a predominantly two-storey structure made of stone. Only a series of attic windows show the true height of the house.

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Easton Hall (1902) – the east front with carriage porch (Country Life)

Its front was dominated by a series of bay windows – running from floor to ceiling – with an arched porch to take horse-drawn carriages. In the Victorian manner the roof was a complex affair of stacks and chimneys. The most attractive part of the house was the south wing with 5 magnificent arched windows letting in large amounts of light to the ground floor. It comes across as a very irregular house but, like many of its contemporaries, is very aesthetic.

The architect for Easton Hall is hard to determine. However, the walled gardens, garden buildings and terraced gardens are attributed to Anthony Salvin in 1836. He was also responsible for the gatehouse and stables in 1841.

The most dramatic room inside the house was the large entrance hall, adorned with a gallery and hung with suits of armour. The rest of the house was no less handsome with valuable paintings and artwork spread throughout. The West Wing had fine views over the River Witham which flows towards Lincoln. The pleasure grounds rose from the banks of the river in a series of terraces, embellished by fountains, vases and garden statues.

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Easton Hall. A sketch from the 1870s
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Easton Hall – the same view pictured in 2014

The weakening fortunes of Easton Hall probably started at the beginning of the 20th century. When Sir Arthur Henry Cholmeley (3rd Bt) died, in 1904, the title and the 11,500 acre estate passed to his son, Montague Aubrey Rowley Cholmeley. He’d been a captain in the Grenadier Guards serving in the Sudan and the Boer War. After inheriting the baronetcy he retired from the army to focus on estate matters. He’d married Mabel Janetta Waldo-Sibthorp, from Canwick Hall, near Lincoln, in 1903 and she gave birth to their son, Hugh John Francis Sibthorp, in 1906. Maybe the proximity of Mabel Janetta’s family at Canwick looked a better proposition because the Cholmeleys spent most of their married life living at Norton Place, Glentham, north of Lincoln. This elegant 18th century house, by John Carr of York, had been in the Cholmeley family since the early 19th century. Easton Hall would be let out, around 1907, to Captain Marshall Roberts

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Cholmeley re-joined his old regiment at the outbreak of the First World War but was killed in action, near La Bassée, in France, on Christmas Eve, 1914.

“The enemy were throwing hand grenades and one of these killed the Captain, who had come along the trench and warned us to keep down. A grenade exploded near him, and I think one of the pieces struck his head. He was killed instantly.” Private C Fuller

At his death Cholmeley left property to the value of £11,290. The baronetcy passed to Hugh John Francis Sibthorp Cholmeley (5th Bt), who was just eight-years old.

The loss of the 4th baronet was felt at both Norton Place and Easton Hall. While the Cholmeleys spent time in North Lincolnshire life at Easton Hall had been exciting. It had become the perfect place for visiting aristocrats who attended house, hunting and shooting parties. In 1902, the house had featured in the pages of Country Life magazine and had captured the imagination of people wanting to visit. Not least Franklin D Roosevelt who included Easton on his honeymoon tour of 1905.

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Looking down from the west terrace towards the River Witham in 1902 (Country Life)

Marshall Owen Roberts (1879-1931) rented the house from around 1907. He was the millionaire son of the New York transport entrepreneur, Marshall Owen Roberts. His father made his fortune after taking over the US government contract subsiding mail steamships. During the civil war he’d made huge profits by selling boats to the federal government. He would be instrumental in a Caribbean steamer service and would become involved in the development of transatlantic telegraphic cables. In time he was elected the President of the New York Chamber of Commerce. Our Marshall Owen Roberts was one-year-old when his father died. Seven years later he would sail to England with his wealthy mother.

Roberts would grow up to be a British subject and serve with the Scots Guards during the South Africa campaign. In 1903 he married Irene Helen Murray and spent their honeymoon travelling through France. Whilst driving back to Paris late at night from Fountainebleu, at considerable speed, their car came into contact with an unlit cart. The couple was thrown from the car and into a ditch but were fortunate to escape serious injury.

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Marshall Owen Roberts (Vanity Fair)

With plenty of money at their disposal the Marshalls were seen as part of the intelligent crowd. They lived in London’s fashionable Grosvenor Square and used Easton Hall as their country retreat. A keen sportsman, Marshall Roberts would become Master of the Belvoir Hunt. He was a keen and enthusiastic golf player and his many golfing parties at Easton included many well-known professional players including Harry Vardon, the 6-times British Open winner. Roberts would eventually build a 9-hole golf course attracting top golfers to take part in tournaments.

At the outbreak of the First World War, the British Red Cross and the Order of St John of Jerusalem formed the Joint War Committee. Under the emblem of the Red Cross they set out to secure locations to be used as temporary hospitals as soon as wounded men began to arrive from abroad. Marshall Roberts decided that Easton Hall would be a perfect location and part of the house was used for the duration as a convalescent hospital.

Roberts would re-join his old regiment but was severely wounded at the first Battle of Ypres. When recovered he transferred to the Welsh Guards and would soon become Captain Marshall Roberts. He served with the Welsh Guards in 1915 and 1918 twice being invalided.

After the war it was evident that Roberts’ marriage was falling apart. In 1921 his wife filed for divorce after identifying Marshall Roberts’ handwriting in a letter sent to the manager of the Grand Hotel in Brighton. A registration form from the hotel was also in his handwriting. It was alleged that Roberts had stayed with an unidentified woman over four nights. This woman was likely to have been Glen Alexandrine Charlotte Oldham whom he married in December of that year.

His marriage over, it was also time for Roberts to end his long association with Easton Hall. In 1922 he moved to Holme Pierrepont, near Nottingham, leaving Easton untenanted with only a caretaker. The house would become a target for thieves and in December a gang of ‘international crooks who secured little booty for their pains’ broke in. Instead, they crossed the Great North Road and stole gold and silver curios from Christopher Turnor’s country house, Stoke Rochford Hall.

Captain Marshall Roberts died in 1931 after taking ill in Venice while returning from a Mediterranean cruise.

The next tenant of Easton Hall was Andrew Alexander Watt (1853-1928). He was a hard-nosed businessman from Derry whose family had made their fortune as one of the largest whisky distillers. Their Abbey Street distillery covered eight acres and produced three world famous brands. Tyrconnell was named after the Watt family’s racehorse that ran in the Irish Classic “National Produce Stakes” and won against all odds at 100 to 1. This was the best-selling brand in the United States while, Favourite and Innishowen, enjoyed major exports across the word – to England, America, Canada, Australia, Nigeria and the West Indies.

In 1902 Andrew Watt merged his company with two other Belfast distilleries to form a new company called the United Distilleries Company. He would become chairman, increasing his personal wealth, and managed to negotiate a deal with the Distillers’ Company, of Scotland, to divide trade and limit production of grain whisky. This would prevent saturation of the market and ensure that prices remained at a competitive level.

The deal between the two companies was not an easy one and the United Distilleries Company found itself in financial trouble. This was worsened when the United States introduced Prohibition from 1920 depriving Watt of his biggest market. To confound matters the company suffered unrest amongst its workers resulting in a calamitous strike in 1921. They complained about Watt’s careless attitude towards working conditions and their meagre wages. Watt, dogged and merciless, told his workers that no money was available.

“Watt asked to be helped up on to one of his own whiskey barrels and from there he addressed the crowd with the menacing words – ‘Well men, I shall put it to you like this …what is it to be? Will you open the gates?’

The workers retorted angrily- ‘The gates stay shut!’

‘Very well!’ exclaimed Watt bluntly. ‘Shut they are, and shut they shall remain!’”

Andrew Watt turned out to be a man of his word. History clouds what happened next. It is more melodramatic to believe that Watt closed the distillery for good.  However, it is more likely that the Distillers’ Company were breathing heavily down his neck. In 1922 the Scottish company took full control of United Distilleries and, by 1925, all the Irish factories had been dismantled. Whatever the circumstances, Andrew Watt was blamed for the appalling job losses and poverty that followed. With whisky sales in freefall, and the ominous Irish Question loitering, it’s likely that Watt was clever enough to get out while he could. (Fortunes were better for the Distillers’ Company – it grew into a major company, eventually taken over by Guinness in 1987, and is now interred within the prodigious Diageo organisation) Watt left Ireland behind, headed for the peace and quiet of the English countryside, and enjoyed the magnificence of Easton Hall for the next six years.

While it had housed tenants for over twenty years Easton hadn’t been forgotten by the Cholmeley family.

In 1927, to celebrate ‘the attainment of his majority and succession to the Easton estate’, all tenants and their families were entertained, at Easton, by a now grown-up Sir Hugh John Francis Sibthorp Cholmeley. With the permission of Andrew Watt close upon 500 people, including a delegation of 35 from Canwick Hall, advanced on Easton for a day of celebration.

The stone cross approaching the hall flew Union Jacks, the archway leading to the courtyard being most effectively decorated in red and blue flowers, with a horseshoe design in centre, the colours of the Grenadier Guards and bearing the inscriptions, ‘Long Life’ and ‘Prosperity’ and ‘Health and Happiness’. Other flags, including one with the family crest, were flown from the tower. Grantham Journal 27/8/1927

Andrew Watt looked on in admiration but had only one more year to live. He would leave over £900,000 in his will, a huge amount, of which £270,000 ended up in treasury coffers as death duties. In November, a newspaper advertisement appeared for the sale of ‘household linen, glass and china, as well as kitchen requisites’ from Watt’s time at Easton Hall.

It would be ten years before Sir Hugh Cholmeley moved into Easton Hall. He’d been educated at Eton College and the Royal Military College at Sandhurst. In 1931 he married Cecilia Ellice, and, after 12 years in the Grenadier Guards, retired to a house he barely knew. However, his stay at Easton would be short-lived.

When war was declared in 1939 the future of Easton Hall was condemned. Sir Hugh returned to fight with the Grenadier Guards and the house was requisitioned and used as barracks for the Royal Artillery and of the 2nd Battalion, The Parachute Regiment. Like so many houses Easton Hall did not come out lightly.

According to the architectural historian, John Martin Robinson, ‘nearly every house which was used to accommodate the military has some horror story to retell of staircases chopped up for firewood, subsidiary wings gutted, the Van Dycks used as dartboards, jeeps driven through wrought iron gates or stone balustrades, carved or painted graffiti, smashed windows and much else besides.’

Easton Hall suffered all this and much more. The fabric of the house was damaged, contents ravaged and family records destroyed forever. Stories abound of live ammunition being fired inside the house and hand grenades thrown into the greenhouses.

The Cholmeleys never returned to Easton. After the war, the house, scarred and broken, waited empty for the next six years. Like all unoccupied properties it suffered to vandals and thieves who stole the lead from the roof.  No longer watertight, no longer habitable, the house had become a burden for the family.

It would have been with heart-wrenching sorrow that Sir Hugh chose the only viable option. In 1951 he made the decision to demolish Easton Hall.

Stone by stone, tile by tile, the house was raised to the ground. Memories from generations of the Cholmeley family were obliterated in a just a few days. When the demolition people had gone only a few foundation walls and steps remained.

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The carriageway to nowhere. Remains of an elaborate gate from Easton Hall (2014)

During the destruction fate played a remarkable hand. On the day that the gatehouse and stables were due to be flattened the bulldozer broke down. With time costing money the bulldozer was sent away and the buildings remained intact.  A judgement that one day would prove advantageous. For a time the gardens were sustained to supply the markets of Grantham and Nottingham but these, too, were soon abandoned. Nettles, sycamores and brambles were left to take over the estate for the next 40 years.

Sir Hugh Cholmeley would live an exemplary life. He had been decorated with the award of Companion, Distinguished Service Order at Camino in Italy in 1945. Following the war he gained the rank of Honorary Colonel in the service of the 4th/6th Battalion, Royal Lincolnshire Regiment, and held the office of High Sheriff of Lincolnshire in 1961. He was invested as a Companion, Order of the Bath two years later. He would live with his wife in the Dower House at Easton Hall and died at St Thomas Home, London, in 1964, aged 57.

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Remains of Easton Hall terrace in 2014

Had I chosen to stop the car and fight my way through the dense growth I would have been saddened to find crumbling steps, dilapidated walls, all covered with ivy and moss, trees growing from the ornamental bridge across the river and a woodland advancing where flower gardens once stood. The ghosts of the Cholmeleys would have been bemused. Their memories would have been whispers on the breeze teased by the hundreds of wild rabbits that had taken over.

Over the coming years Sir Montague John Cholmeley, (6th Bt), would turn away from Easton and strengthen the fortunes of the remaining estate. It now includes arable and livestock farming, acres of ancient woodland, a flourishing public house, a farm shop and nearly 80 rental properties.

In 2001, Lady Ursula Cholmeley, wife of Sir Hugh John Frederick Sebastian (7thBt) recognised the potential of the vanished house and its former gardens. By her own admission ‘there was a national outbreak of garden restorations, spearheaded by the famous Lost Gardens of Heligan’.

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Anthony Salvin’s gatehouse and courtyard (1902) (Country Life)
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The same view. The gatehouse standing in 2014


With scarcely a budget she led a group of people who miraculously retrieved the remnants of Easton Hall’s past pleasure grounds. In the years since walls and buildings have been repaired and today the public can visit Easton Walled Gardens, combining many of the original schemes with new areas of planting. The gatehouse and stables, fortuitously saved from the bulldozer, play a significant and inspiring role as entry to the site. The results are impressive and, with the remainders of Easton Hall still evident, this small part of Lincolnshire has been reborn.

Country Life Magazine visits Easton Hall in 1902

Easton Walled Gardens,
Easton, Grantham, Lincolnshire, NG33 5AP