In February 1918 the entire contents of Rickmansworth Park mansion were advertised for auction by the Public Trustees in the Estate of the late Mrs Julia Birch.
The long list of furniture and fine arts provided a clue as to the wealth associated with the house. However, her death cast a shadow on Rickmansworth Park and it is questionable as to whether it was fully occupied again.
Rickmansworth Park dated back to about 1805, built by Henry Fotherley Whitfield (d.1813) and built in the middle of Bury Park. It was described as a two-storey building with a five-bay front and dominated by a giant Ionic portico. After his death it passed to his widow, Mary, later wife of Thomas Deacon, who sold it in 1831 to Mrs Temperance Arden (1763-1843). It passed to her son Joseph Arden (1799-1879) and was sold, on his death, to his son-in-law, John William Birch (1825-1897). He had married Julia Arden (now Birch) (c.1830-1916), daughter of Joseph Arden and Mary Ann Munro, and was a partner of Messrs. Mildred, Gozenseche and Co, merchants, of St Helen’s Place, London. He was one of the directors at the Bank of England and became its Governor in 1878-90. ¹
Following his death in 1897 he left personal estate worth £65,330. Julia Birch received £1,000 as well as pictures, engravings, plate silver, jewellery, horses and carriages as well as live and dead stock on the estate. She was also left Rickmansworth Park for her ‘use and enjoyment’, and which, subject to her occupation of the house, was left in trust for sale, and the proceeds after her death split amongst his sons. ²
The oldest of these was John Arden Birch (1853-1896) but, seeing as he had died a year earlier, the house wasn’t sold after Julia Birch’s death in 1916. Instead, it appears to have passed to his wife, Charlotte Mary Leycester Arden (1858-1935).
Charlotte married a second time in 1905. Her new husband was Walter Bulkeley Barrington (1848-1933), 9th Viscount Barrington of Ardglass. His home was at Beckett, Shrivenham, in Berkshire, and the couple appear to have spent most of their time in residence here. As late as 1924 it was said that Rickmansworth Park was going to be their permanent home, as Lord Barrington had decided to give up Beckett, his fine Berkshire seat. It is not without reason that Rickmansworth was ‘entirely renovated and modernised’ in readiness for the move, but it appears that Beckett wasn’t given up after all. In 1925 Lady Barrington was said to be ‘desirous’ of letting Rickmansworth Park for the summer but they had already decided about the property. ³
In May 1927 a concert was held at the Albert Hall, London. It was chaired by the Prince of Wales and over £200,000 was contributed by masonic orders. Its purpose was to raise funds for the Royal Masonic Institution for Girls whose Clapham school was no longer large enough for its requirements. After the concert they had the funds necessary to buy the Rickmansworth Park estate and its 204 acres of land. (The mansion was said to be in a poor state of repair but, as we have seen, this probably wasn’t the case). ⁴
The first job at Rickmansworth was to demolish the grand old mansion, but it wasn’t until 1930 that the Duke of Connaught laid the foundation stone for the replacement building. Bizarrely, the ceremony involved the ‘scattering of corn, pouring wine and oil, and sprinkling salt on the stone’. The school still exists. ⁵
The Viscountess Barrington died at Beckett in October 1935 and was celebrated for being a member of the Shrivenham Settlement and Welfare Scheme, in which houses were built for ex-servicemen. Ironically, she died while her book ‘Through Eighty Years (1855-1935): The Reminiscences of Charlotte, Viscountess Barrington’ had just been sent to the printers. It was published by John Murray in 1936.
¹ Nicholas Kingsley (Landed Families)
² Morning Post (5 June 1897)
³ Dundee Courier (14 August 1925)
⁴ The Sphere (28 May 1927)
⁵ Gloucester Citizen (17 July 1930)