One hundred years ago, Rooksnest, a country house at Godstone, found itself the subject of a scandal involving an MP.
At one point, two years into the Great War, Britain had found itself with only six weeks’ worth of food and on the verge of starvation. However, it wasn’t until end the of 1917 that food rationing was introduced and by February 1918, general rationing was in force. Food hoarding was a real problem. Authorities, as well as the general public, took a dim view of anyone engaged in such practices. Naming and shaming in the press was common, penalties were harsh and imprisonment a real possibility.
In February 1918, newspapers reported that Mr William John MacGeagh MacCaw, the MP for West Down, had been fined £400 under the Food Hoarding Order. At Godstone Petty Sessions, Mr Roland Oliver, prosecuting, said: “It was impossible to imagine a worse case of the people’s representative hoarding the people’s food.” An inspection had been made at his home, Rooksnest, by a local officer who found a significant quantity of tapioca, rice, oatmeal, semolina, biscuits, tea, sugar, golden syrup and honey. Similar quantities were also found at his home at 103, Eaton Square, London. In his defence, Mr MacCaw said: “I think a reasonable supply ought to be kept. I don’t think I’ve neglected my duty in any way. I have a large body of people dependent upon me for food.” He was found guilty, fined and the food confiscated.
Rooksnest is located at Godstone, built between 1775-1781, probably by Richard Beecher. It came into the possession of Charles Hampden Turner, a businessman with rope-making and dock interests, in 1817. It remained with the family for the next 100 years but was tenanted for large periods. Its most notable resident was Sir George Gilbert Scott (1811 – 1876), the Gothic revival architect associated with the building and renovation of churches and cathedrals, who was here from 1870.
William John MacGeagh MacCaw (1850 – 1928), the Unionist MP for West Down between 1908 and 1918, was another who rented the property. In early life he had gone to India where he joined the firm of Kettlewell, Bullen and Co (Calcutta and London), jute manufacturers, eventually becoming its principal partner. He also joined the Bengal Chamber of Commerce and lived there for 20 years. After his conviction he bowed out of politics in the General Election of 1918, called immediately after the Armistice with Germany, and died in Monte Carlo.
Rooksnest was bought in the 1920s by James Voase Rank (1881 – 1952), a flour miller with Joseph Rank Ltd and brother of Joseph Arthur Rank, founder of the Rank Organisation. He renamed the house Ouborough after the Yorkshire town (Oubrough) where his father had started the flour business in 1875. After he died in 1952 the house eventually became Street Courte School, a preparatory school founded in Westgate-on-Sea in 1894 by J. Vine Milne, the father of author A.A. Milne. It closed in 1994 and eleven years later Ouborough and its parklands became the Godstone Golf Club.
These shocking images from the late 1940s showed Moor Park, Farnham, in a perilous state of repair. The fate of Moor Park was uncertain. Occupied by Canadian troops during the war, it was out of repair, and in 1948 its property developer owner had applied to the local council for a demolition order. The Farnham Urban District Council applied to the Ministry of Town and Country Planning to have it listed as a monument of special architectural or historic interest under Section 30 of the Town and Country Planning Act of 1947. This gave it a two-month breathing space in which it was hoped to find some use for Moor Park, which would have ensured its preservation (it was eventually listed in 1950).
Sir Harry Brittain, in a letter to The Times, had been campaigning for its preservation.
Sir Harry wrote: “May I through your columns make an appeal for Moor Park, a historic building of far more than local interest? It lies in a beautiful setting near Farnham, facing Waverley Abbey across the River Wey. To this house Sir William Temple, statesman and man of letters, and his lady (Dorothy Osborne) came in 1684 to spend 15 years of their married life, the remaining 15 being taken up in embassies abroad. Temple called the house Moor Park after the Hertfordshire place belonging to his cousin Franklin.
“Jonathan Swift joined Sir William Temple as his secretary in 1684 and lived with him for four years. After a sojourn in Ireland he returned and remained until the death of Sir William, whose last instructions were that his heart should be buried under the sundial in the gardens he had laid out. It was in this very house that Swift wrote his first book, ‘The Tale of the Tub’, followed by ‘The Battle of the Books’. It was here that he met Esther Johnson – later immortalised in his famous ‘Journey to Stella’. The house was stuccoed in Regency times, and certain rooms on the south side centre block rebuilt in 1733. I am, however, assured by a well-known architect that nine-tenths of Moor Park is actually the house Sir William Temple knew. Many notable people stayed there, including King William III, Addison and Steele.
“Moor Park was badly treated by troops during the war and is somewhat out of repair, and the owners have applied for a demolition order. It is indeed to be hoped that this order may be averted before it is too late. I am assured that the local authority and everyone concerned are anxious that if possible this old house, with its unique associations, should be preserved for the nation. The capital involved is not large. All that is required is to find some use for Moor Park, either divided or as a whole.
“All who know it will agree that this beautiful valley, watered by the River Wey, is as fair a landscape as one could wish to see. When in addition, it holds not only the remains of England’s first Cistercian abbey, but across the stream an old home filled with literary and historical memories, as is Moor Park, every effort should be made to keep unbroken this special link with the past.” ¹
It wasn’t until the following year that a use was found for Moor Park. It was to become the first in a chain of colleges for adult Christian education, under supervision of Canon R.E. Parsons, formerly the Secretary of the Churches’ Committee for Religious Education among men in the forces and Canon and Prebendary of Warthill in York Minster. The Moor Park College for Adult Christian Education was supported by financial gifts, volunteer help and grants from Surrey County Council and survived a financial crisis in 1953 from which it was handed over to an educational trust. The chapel, library and spacious conference room provided accommodation for assemblies of up to 50 students. The top floor of the house was used by the Overseas Service, as offices and a college for persons about to embark on voluntary or business ventures abroad. The Christian college vacated in the late 1960s and it was used as a finishing school, a cookery school and later the Constance Spry Flower School. More recently it was converted back into residential use as 3 luxury apartments, with 8 new mews houses and 12 new apartments in the walled garden. ²
References: – ¹ Surrey Mirror (27 August 1948) ² The Sphere (10 December 1949)
This fine manor house was built about 1895 by the architect Edward Penfold, a partner in Baker and Penfold of Reigate.
Quite remarkable are the circumstances leading up to the construction of Kingswood Manor. For these we must travel to the USA where Claus Spreckels (1828-1908), a German-born immigrant, made his fortune by starting a brewery and later founding the California Sugar Refinery. When he went to Hawaii in 1876 he managed to secure sole supply of sugar cane and with it much of the West Coast refined sugar market. In 1899 he founded the Spreckels Sugar Company, Inc.
The businessman gave over $25 million to his five grown children but his favourite child was the only daughter, Emma Claudine Spreckels. He gifted an entire city block in Honolulu to her and an endowment worth almost $2 million. However, in 1893, when Emma married Thomas Palmer Watson, a Yorkshire-born grain-broker of San Jose and many years her senior, she failed to tell her father. Claus didn’t approve and taunted her with the gift he’d generously provided. Emma gave it back but, because of her father’s high-standing in San Francisco, the married couple were forced to flee to England.
Thomas and Emma built Kingswood Manor in the village of Lower Kingswood. Thomas died in 1904 and she married John Wakefield Ferris, a Gloucestershire-born civil engineer and contractor, who also gained wealth in California by reclaiming about 80,000 acres of land subject to overflow by dyking and draining. Their daughter, Jean Ferris, later became the Marquise d’Espinay-Durtal, Princesse de Brons. When he died in 1920 the couple were about to vacate Kingswood Manor for Nutfield Priory at Redhill. (Emma later married a third time and died at Nutfield).
In 1922 Kingswood Manor was sold to Mr Alfred Norman Rickett, a stockbroker, and the Hon Jessie Hair Nivison, daughter of Robert Nivison, 1st Baron Glendyne, who remained until the 1940s. According to the sales information the house was reputedly later owned by the Sultan of Brunei but this cannot be verified. The present owners have been at Kingswood Manor since 1996 which still retains period features such as open fireplaces, a grand oak staircase, oak floors, wood panelling, high ceilings and ornate architraves. The house was put up for sale for £3.5 million in 2017.
Built: 1803-1806, altered by Papworth in 1820s and 1830s Architect: J.B. Papworth Private apartments Grade II* listed
Two storeys on basement, stucco 2:1:2 bays with altered sash windows; moulded cill strings, ground floor with brackets to windows. Greek fret cornice; blocking course, returned. Central bay has a Greek Doric portico with paired columns, steps to perron and half glazed door with enriched cornice. (Historic England)
Laleham Abbey, a Grade II* listed building was built in the Palladian style by renowned architect John Buanarotti Papworth (1775-1847) between 1803 and 1806. It was known at the time as Laleham Park but would soon become known as Laleham House.
The house is neo-Classical with a Doric portico. Inside are marble floors and columns, a semi-circular staircase and a cupola.
It was built as a second home for Richard Bingham, the 2nd Earl of Lucan (1764-1839). John Buanarotti Papworth was also responsible for alterations carried out on the house between 1827 and 1830.
Following the break-up of his marriage the 2nd Earl spent little time at Laleham House. He rented it to an exiled Queen Maria II of Portugal who lived here from 1829.
Following his death in 1839 the house passed to George Charles Bingham, the 3rd Earl of Lucan (1800-1888), who re-engaged John Buanarotti Papworth to complete further alterations including new stables and a farm.
George, an army officer, served in Turkey and the Crimea before reaching the rank of field-marshal. He commanded the cavalry in the Crimea and gave the much-disputed order for the historic advance of the Light Brigade at Balaclava, from which only 195 mounted men out of 673 returned.
Laleham House became the property of Charles George Bingham, the 4th Earl of Lucan (1830-1914), in 1888. Bingham was beset with financial problems for most of life and almost declared bankrupt in 1899 and 1913. He was seen to live a lifestyle that his income could no longer support. He raised money by selling large portions of the estate but it proved to be a miserable existence. However, he was a generous supporter of community affairs and gave Laleham land for use as a village hall and allowed the extension of the local church graveyard. He was also a friend of the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII, who regularly visited the house.
The house was inherited by George Charles Bingham, the 5th Earl of Lucan (1860-1949). He’d taken control of the Lucan estates in 1900 but spent little time at Laleham House. In 1915, a year after his father’s death, he rented the house to the Grand Duke Michael of Russia and the Countess Torby for the summer.
The 5th Earl formed the Lucan Estates Company in 1925 who were keen to obtain much needed income from their assets. Laleham House was sold to Lord Churston in 1928.
John Reginald Lopes Yarde-Buller, 3rd Baron Churston (1873-1930) arrived at Laleham House a broken man.
A serious fire had destroyed his Lupton House in Devon in 1926 razing the house’s upper-storey and interior. Some of the family heirlooms, including valuable paintings and pictures, were saved and removed to adjacent stables. However, a second fire in 1928 meant these were also destroyed.
It is not improbable that Lord Churston bought the house and its contents outright. He would live at Laleham House for two years until his death in 1930.
In 1932 his son, Richard-Yarde-Buller, 4th Baron Churston, was reported to have sold valuable works of art at Christie’s. These were treasures originally bought by Lord Lucan for Laleham House.
Sometime after the death of Lord Churston the house was used by nuns of the Sisters of St Peter the Apostle, Westminster who used the house as a convent school. It was now that the house would be known as Laleham Abbey and most of the surrounding land used as a public park.
Laleham House was eventually purchased by a property developer and converted into private apartments in 1981.
Note: The Lucan family’s notoriety was renewed after the disappearance in 1974 of Richard John Bingham, 7th Earl of Lucan. In June 1975, in his absence, a coroner’s jury found that he had murdered his children’s nanny, Sandra Rivett. There have been no confirmed sightings of Lord Lucan since his disappearance, and he was declared legally dead in February 2016.
Coombe Hill is the estate and hinterland to the demolished Coombe Warren, containing several mid 19th century properties by the architect George Devey, and other large interesting 20th century houses in a spacious landscaped setting, adjoining Coombe Hill Golf Course. Coombe Hill estate today consists of Coombe Hill Road and cul-de-sacs such as Greenwood Park and Devey Close; and neighborhoods along Warren Road, George Road and Golf Club Drive. (The Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames)
Coombe Warren, demolished 1926, stood on land that was once owned by the Duke of Cambridge. When the Duke proceeded to sell up parcels of the land it was the rich and noble that proved to be eager buyers.
Between them they created a number of grand houses and country estates on a pleasant Surrey hillside. Today, with these estates further split, the land on Coombe Park private estate is still regarded as one of the most affluent parts of London.
Coombe Warren was built by architect George Devey in 1865 for Bertram Wodehouse Currie (1827-1896).
Bertram Currie was the second son of Raikes Currie of Minley Manor in Hampshire. He had entered his father’s banking business which in 1864 was amalgamated with the firm of Glyn, Mills and Company to become Glyn, Mills, Currie and Company.
Currie’s increase in wealth and status meant he was able to invest his money in a new home suitable for a man of his position. He turned to George Devey to build a mansion in which he and his wife Caroline, daughter of Sir William Lawrence Young 4th Baronet, could live in comfort.
His joy in the new house would be short-lived. In 1870 a series of disasters befell the Currie family.
In January a fire destroyed the south portion of his father’s house at Minley Manor. A few weeks later a similar fate occurred at Coombe Warren.
On a Saturday night a fire was discovered in a room near the kitchen. The Kingston Fire Brigade were called but were hampered by a limited supply of water. It was two hours after the fire started that water was put on the blaze. In the interim the fire brigade attempted to cut off communication between the main house and a new wing that had just been built.
The Surrey Comet reported that ‘the family being away, there was no one to authorise the breaking of the windows so as to get out the valuable paintings, choice old china, and articles of vertu with which the residence abounded’.
With a pay out from the Sun fire office Bertram Currie asked George Devey to build a replacement mansion.
The house of 1870 was rebuilt on a much bigger scale, and to a somewhat different design. The house was located in the triangle between modern-day Coombe Lane, Beverley Lane and Coombe Hill Road.
Mark Girouard said it was one of Devey’s “most elaborate and best-known houses, in a mixture of stone, brick, plaster and half-timbering, with numerous shaped brick gables of Betteshanger type.
“The typical disjointed plan of the 1870 house, with the service wings stretching out in a series of zig-zags from the main block, was anticipated in simpler form in the first design. The interior was decked with elaborate Jacobean decoration.”
The house had large formal gardens with orangery and a temple to William Ewart Gladstone. The Prime Minister was a frequent visitor to Coombe Warren and spent long spells as the guest of Bertram Currie. The house was once used for a cabinet meeting when Gladstone was ‘temporarily disposed’.
Before we close the door on Bertram we must record his banking achievement.
In 1885 Currie persuaded his bank to form a joint stock company with unlimited liability and became the first of the private banks to ever publish its balance sheet.
However, his greatest achievement was in 1890, on the occasion of the famous Barings crisis.
Currie was selected for his known friendship of his neighbour, Edward Baring, 1st Baron Revelstoke. At the insistence of William Lidderdale, the Governor of the Bank of England, Currie worked with Benjamin Buck Greene to negotiate a solution to the banking crisis.
Between them they persuaded the directors of the bank to undertake the liquidation of their estate on the security of a guarantee to be obtained from the bankers of London.
Barings Bank headed this guarantee fund with £1,000,000 and Currie followed with £500,000 from his own bank. During one famous day, November 14th 1890, the private banks, including the Rothchilds, contributed an amount totalling £3,500,000 and, with the assistance of joint stock banks and county banks, the total eventually rose to £18,000,000. Currie had been instrumental in saving the British banking system.
In 1895 Currie developed cancer of the tongue which spread to the glands of his neck. He died a year later at his house at Richmond Terrace in Whitehall.
The house was sold by Bertram Currie’s grandson and redeveloped in 1926. The main house was demolished and only the garden walls and lodge survive today. The estate itself was sold off in smaller parcels of land and many houses in the area today can still boast structural remnants from Coombe Warren in their gardens.
The adjacent Coombe House (previously Coombe Cottage) of about 1863, with additions of 1870-1874, still survives. This was built for Currie’s neighbour Edward C. Baring (later Lord Revelstoke) of Baring’s Bank, with a tower and gables of different sizes. Coombe Cottage was far from ‘cottagey’ boasting 60 bedrooms.
Queen Victoria visited and on occasions stayed as the guest of Edward Baring and of the widowed Empress Eugenie whilst a resident during part of 1881 – 1882. Dame Nellie Melba, a famous operatic soprano but perhaps more famous for having the dish ‘Peach Melba’ named after her, lived at Coombe Cottage in 1906.
When there was a threat of a railway being built nearby it was sold to the rail company but the line was never built. The house later became Rediffusion Engineering and is now split into apartments.
Nearby Warren House on Warren Road was built in the 1860s by George Mansfield for the banker Hugh Hammersley.
George Grenfell Glyn (1824-1887), the second Baron Wolverton, and a partner in Glyn, Mills, Currie and Co, bought the house and land in 1884 and commissioned George Devey to make large additions to the house and gardens. Wolverton served in all three of Gladstone’s Liberal governments and regularly entertained him at Warren House.