Category Archives: WARWICKSHIRE

COUNDON COURT

A house built by a bicycle pioneer that quietly slipped into unfamiliar surroundings.

Coundon Court 2
The glory days of Coundon Court, built in 1891 for George Singer by Charles Gray-Hill. (P. Riley).

The death of Mrs Singer at 25, Harley House, Regent’s Park, London, on 3rd March 1918, was insignificant. She was the widow of the late Alderman George Singer, of Coventry, for three years Mayor of the city.  However, for the people of Coventry, she would be remembered for the prominent part in her civic life and her performance as Mayoress during the years, 1891, 1892 and 1893. Mr and Mrs Singer broke new ground in respect of the function of Mayor and Mayoress.

That period saw the beginning on the part of wealthy citizens to live outside the city, and Coundon Court, their mansion, a few miles out of Coventry, was frequently the scene of social gatherings of members of local governing bodies, whilst garden parties were frequently held during the summer months. After the death of her husband in 1909 she left the house behind.

The one hundredth anniversary of her death allows us to investigate Coundon Court, a house that has slowly melted into its surroundings ever since.

Coundon Court was built in 1891 for George Singer by Charles Gray-Hill. It was constructed on land that was once part of Coundon Farm and bought for a modest £5,433.  

Coundon Court 11
An engraving of Coundon Court, possibly made for Charles Daniel Miller. (P. Riley).

George Singer was at the top of his game. Born at Stinsford in Dorset in 1847, he served his apprenticeship at John Penn and Sons, marine engineers, Greenwich, and in 1869 moved to Coventry to take charge of sewing-machine production at the Coventry Machinist Company. The company made some of the first bicycles in Britain and it was here that Singer learnt his trade.  A business of his own in Leicester Street was replaced in 1874 by a cycle factory in Canterbury Street, known as Singer and Co, that eventually became one of the world’s biggest cycle manufacturing businesses. Singer paid attention to the smallest detail and his cycles were built with quality in mind.

George Singer
Mr George Singer (1847-1909). (P. Riley).

In 1896 the cycle industry reached its apex. Factories were so busy that even shareholders couldn’t get cycles in less than three months after giving the order. Shares reached great highs and businesses were bought for prodigious sums. Singer and Co was acquired by Mr F. T. Hooley for £540,000 but George Singer still headed the business.

Later he added motor-cycles to his empire and founded the famous Singer Motor Co in 1901, a marque reminiscent of the golden days of British motoring. He was elected to the city council in 1881 but resigned in 1898 to concentrate on philanthropy and charity work.

Im19050909Auto-Singer1

According to the Warwickshire Industrial Archaeology Society the three-storey house of red brick, with incorporated stonework, looked rather severe from the outside. When built it was set in over 50 acres of land complete with three cottages, stables and an impressive gated entrance called Holly Lodge.

In January 1909 George Singer took ill while dining at Coundon Court and died soon after.

The Bystander 8 Sep 1909 (BNA)
Sale notice. The Bystander, 8 Sep 1909. (British Newspaper Archive).

Coundon Court was bought by Charles Daniel Miller, chairman and joint managing director of the Newdigate Colliery (1914) Ltd and Bedworth Coal Supply Ltd. Miller had served in the army during World War One and was a noted rifle shot, captaining the English team on occasions, and a regular competitor at Wimbledon and Bisley.  He filled Coundon Court with his many trophies as well as his passion for old engravings, particularly reproductions of George Morland’s paintings. To locals the house became a favourite rendezvous for fetes and summer picnics.

Miller died in 1944 and his wife, Bessie, stayed at Coundon Court until her own death in 1946.

Leamington Spa Courier 2 May 1947 (BNA)
Sale notice. 2 May 1947. (British Newspaper Archive).

In August 1947 Coundon Court was bought for £15,000 by Mr Harold John Finn and his wife, proprietors of the ‘Sunnyside’ nursing home at Radford. The house was converted into another nursing home with 22 bedrooms available for maternity cases.  It opened to great fanfare in early 1948 and was anticipated to eventually accommodate 44 patients.

The Coundon Maternity Home lasted only a couple of years, probably due to the incorporation of the National Health Service which offered free maternity care to patients. It was obvious that another use was needed for Coundon Court and Harold Finn started taking up to 50 paying guests as long-term boarders.

Finn had ambitions for the parkland and made three applications to Coventry Council to use it as a caravan site. Since 1925 the council had deemed the area as ‘Green Belt’ land and each application was rejected claiming the 13 acres of rich farming land should be used for agricultural purposes. This didn’t deter Finn and in January 1951 he allowed the first caravan onto the property. Within months the number of caravans had reached 65 and the council referred to it as being like a ‘shanty town’. There were no public facilities and after his third application was rejected Mr Finn unsuccessfully appealed to the Minister of Housing and Local Government. It came as no surprise because Coundon Court had gained a notorious reputation for its unruliness and even the odd murder. By 1952 local newspapers were referring to the country house as Coundon Court Hostel.

Mr Finn was frustrated as each attempt to make money came to nothing. However, in November 1952 the Coventry Education Committee suggested they were willing to buy Coundon Court to create a new county secondary school for about 600 children. If Mr Finn thought he was going to make a profit on the deal then he would be disappointed when the house exchanged hands for just £4,000.

The contents, nothing of any value, were sold at auction in April 1953 and the council made plans to build at short notice a new girls’ grammar school for 120 scholars using the house and the addition of temporary buildings. It opened that year and the council later bought the lodge and grounds for sports pitches and gardens. It became a comprehensive school in 1956 and one of its first pupils was Mo Mowlam, later to become the Secretary State for Northern Ireland.

Coventry Evening Telegraph - 18 Apr 1953 (BNA)
From the Coventry Evening Telegraph, 18 Apr 1953. (British Newspaper Archive).

The house still stands, known as ‘Old House’, and much of the original woodwork from Singer’s days remains. The site has been significantly developed and is now known as Coundon Court School.

There are modern-day images of Coundon Court available to see on the Warwickshire Industrial Archaeology Society website.

Coundon Court 3
The modification to the left of ‘Old House’ was not the most sympathetic. (P. Riley).
Coundon Court 5
The Victorian House was of plain design by the architect Charles Gray-Hill. (P. Riley).
Coundon Court 4
The interior to Coundon Court is far more elaborate than the ‘severe’ exterior. (P. Riley).

 

Advertisements

WOOTTON COURT

Wootton Court (boxbrownie3)
Wootton Court, Warwickshire (boxbrownie3)

Built 1859-1860
Luxury apartments
Now known as The Hayes

The story of Wootton Hall might be considered that of the ‘Ugly Duckling’ in reverse. Nowadays the Victorian mansion is called The Hayes and its appearance is a pitiful keepsake of former glories.

The modest house was built in the late 1850s by Edward James King presumably for his own use. However, his death in 1860 meant it went to auction without ever being lived in.  Along with it came 55 acres of rich pasture and meadow land in an idyllic rural location on the outskirts of Leek Wootton.

Now called Green Hayes the purchaser was a Cheshire cotton broker called Carl Frederick Trepplin who lived there until 1882¹.

The house attracted the attention of Francis Beresford Wright (1838-1911) who had been the victim of his own success. He came from a wealthy family and was an iron and coal proprietor of the Butterley Company in Derbyshire.

His family home, Aldercar Hall at Codnor, was under threat from encroaching industrial growth caused by his own company. At the height of the industrial revolution the nearby hamlets of Heanor and Langley Mill were also experiencing rapid growth and the rural idyll of Leek Wootton looked a more enticing prospect.

Wright belonged to an extremely wealthy family and his father was Francis Wright of Osmaston Manor in Derby. Marriage to Adeline Frances Henrietta Fitzherbert, eldest daughter of Colonel Henry Fitzherbert of Somersall Herbert Hall, in 1862, further strengthened his financial security.

Francis Beresford Wright renamed the house Wootton Court and made it the family home for the next 70 years.

Much as he had done at Aldercar Hall he spent a fortune rebuilding and expanding the house as well as enlarging the lake and creating beautiful gardens and lawns.

Wooton Court
Wright died of a heart attack in 1911 and his widow would live at Wootton Court until her death in 1924. The house was inherited by their son, Arthur Fitzherbert Wright (1865-1952), who moved his family from Aldercar Hall and made a new life in the Warwickshire countryside.

It is said at Arthur Fitzherbert Wright was an amiable character and was well liked in the community. During World War Two the house was used to house nurses working at Warwick Hospital and he regularly welcomed people seeking refuge from the bombs of Coventry.¹

Arthur Fitzherbert Wright (My Heritage)
Arthur Fitzherbert Wright at Wootton Court (My Heritage)

He died in 1952 and Wootton Court was put up for auction. It was described as being substantially of brick and tile, occupying a delightful position in wooded grounds. The auction brief outlined a house with an entrance hall, four reception rooms, games room, fifteen bed and dressing rooms, four bathrooms and seven attic rooms.²

While Arthur’s widow moved to nearby Stone Edge (built by Francis Beresford Wright in 1909) the Wootton Court estate was sold to Aubrey Jones, a Coventry builder. He managed the estate as a mixed farm with traditional crops.¹

The house was sold in 1972 to the Warwickshire and England cricketer, M.J.K. Smith, who foresaw a new direction for the estate. He converted several farm buildings into a country club and eventually sold it to Gordon Barrow, a local hotelier, in 1987.¹

By 1990 the estate was known as the Wootton Court Country Club and was sold, along with Wootton Court Farm, with the former grounds identified as a golf course. The Warwickshire Golf and Country Club was founded in 1994 with plans to build a 150-bedroom hotel.

The plan was abandoned and Wootton Court was renamed The Hayes and converted into several luxury apartments.

The Hayes (Heritage Property)
Wootton Hall, now called The Hayes (Heritage Property)
The Hayes (Billy Rosendale)
The Hayes (Billy Rosendale)

At what point Wootton Court was altered is uncertain. While the house retains its initial plan the central block has been shamefully robbed of its castellation and now looks more akin to a 1970s attempt at art deco rather than Victorian grandeur. The whole exterior has been refaced, virtually pebble-dashed, to obliterate the original brickwork and tiles. Now the house has become a sorry ‘ghost’ of its former self.

¹ Leek Wootton History Group
² Leamington Spa Courier (Friday 11th July 1952).
Courtesy of British Newspaper Archive

The Hayes,
Leek Wootton, Warwick, CV35 7QU