St. Nicholas sits on the fringe of the historic market town of Richmond. With elevated views across the pastures towards the ruins of Easby Abbey and the River Swale its origins date back to 1171 when St. Nicholas was owned by the Crown. It has been remodelled over the centuries and has been in private ownership since around 1585, making it the oldest structure in Richmond in continuous use as a habitation. The property is on the site of a Benedictine hospital, founded in 1171 by one of the Earls of Richmond. There are still graves from the era underneath large parts of the grounds.
St. Nicholas was the home of much-loved Richmond character Lady Serena James, who lived in the house with her husband, Bobby James, who in 1905 planted the gardens as they currently exist.
She was born Lady Serena Mary Barbara Lumley on March 30 1901, the only child of the 10th Earl of Scarbrough. As an only child, and as a girl, Lady Serena was in a position comparable to that of Vita Sackville-West at Knole; had she been born a boy, she would have been heir to a great inheritance – in her case the medieval Lumley Castle in County Durham and the Palladian Sandbeck Park, near Rotherham in Yorkshire.
Her marriage in 1923 to Robert James, third son of the 2nd Lord Northbourne, brought her to the entrancing St Nicholas. The marriage was unexpected: Bobbie James’s first wife Lady Evelyn – nee Wellesley, daughter of the 4th Duke of Wellington – had died young, and he was almost 30 years Lady Serena’s senior. Lady Scarbrough, moreover, was mortified that St Nicholas was not a great country seat. “She’s going to live in a little cottage by the road,” was how she described her daughter’s future.
Lady Serena continued to live there after the death of Bobby James. The eponymous “Bobby James” rose still grows throughout the gardens, and on the walls of the house. Richmond residents were welcomed to tour the gardens at any time, and were often invited in for tea. Lady Serena died in 2000, and is still fondly remembered by many in the town.
St Nicholas was then purchased in 2001 by Keith Schellenberg. He is a Yorkshire businessman who made his fortune in shipbuilding, livestock feed, glue, and agricultural chemicals. He was also a sportsman, playing rugby for Middlesbrough and Yorkshire, and was part of the British Olympic bobsleigh team.
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)
The Neo-Palladian country house, near Potters Bar and Barnet, was built in 1754 by Isaac Ware for Admiral John Byng. Unfortunately, he was court martialled and executed during the ‘Seven Year’s War’ and never got to live at Wrotham, named after the original family home, near Sevenoaks, in Kent. He’d never married, and the estate passed to the eldest son of his brother, Robert, who’d already died in Barbados. It was through him that the house descended to its present owner.
The house, which was in the Classical Italian Style was described in James Thorne’s Handbook to the Environs of London (1876) as “a spacious semi-classic structure, of the style which prevailed towards the middle of the last century; it consists of a centre and wings, with recessed tetrastyle portico, and a pediment, level with the second story, in the tympanum of which are the Byng arms.” The third storey was erected by the 2nd Earl of Strafford in the 19th century. It bore a strong resemblance to Southill in Bedfordshire, another seat of the Byngs during the 18th century. The principal front of the mansion looked to the west, commanding views across the park, towards Elstree and Watford.
It was during the tenure of George Stevens Byng, 2nd Earl of Strafford, that the house was nearly lost. In the early hours on 6th March 1883, a fire broke out in a box room over the central hall causing much alarm to the servants. The fire brigade from Barnet arrived at 2am, an hour after the fire started, and were soon joined by crews from New Barnet, Hendon and Finchley. However, strong winds and ‘massive woodwork’ caused the fire to take hold of the top floors. It did allow enough time for household staff to remove family deeds and plates to the stables, while valuable paintings were stored in adjoining buildings. A quantity of furniture and the contents of the library also managed to be saved. While the fire destroyed the bedrooms above, the Earl stayed in his library until 3am until he was reluctantly forced to leave. The greater part of the hall and the main ceiling collapsed soon afterwards. The interiors were rebuilt exactly as they were but using ‘new’ Victorian building practices. ¹
It may have been these building methods that saved Wrotham Park from a second blaze in 1938. A servant discovered that plush curtains in the first-floor bedroom of the 6th Earl and Countess had caught alight. She quickly raised the alarm and a ‘chain of buckets’ prevented the fire spreading before the fire brigade arrived. Nonetheless it was enough to destroy tapestries and wall panelling, as well as causing windows to break due to the intense heat. As one newspaper pointed out, “the mansion contained many priceless heirlooms saved from the fire 55 years ago.” ²
These days Wrotham Park is the property of William Robert Byng, 9th Earl of Strafford (b.1964) and is used as an events and wedding venue. Its distinguishing exterior has been used over 60 times as a filming location including Gosford Park, Vanity Fair, Great Expectations, Inspector Morse, The Line of Beauty, Jeeves and Wooster and Sense and Sensibility.
References:- ¹The Globe (7 March 1883) ²Gloucester Citizen (15 Dec 1938)
Originating in part from around 1700, this elegant Grade II listed house at Roseworthy is thought to have been built for the wealthy Daniell family and is mainly of Georgian style with Victorian additions. The conservatory was designed by Silvanus Trevail, a leading Cornish architect, for John Rule Daniell.
For decades, the Daniell family were associated with the firm of Daniell and Thomas, solicitors, of Camborne. At the turn of the last century the house was let to tenants but was put up for sale in 1904. It passed to Mr R Arthur Thomas, Managing Director of Dolcoath Mine Ltd and later Chairman of the Cornish Chamber of Mines. It was he who made a milestone speech in 1943 in which he declared that “Instead of Cornish mining being dead, it is probably sleeping.” Unfortunately, the industry would vanish in years to come.
Of course, the house also has its own ghost story where a ghostly carriage and a pair of horses manifest themselves at Polstrong House every ten years at midnight on Christmas Eve, driving up to the front entrance and depositing a spectral couple on the doorstep who then vanish, a scene encountered by an unwitting visitor to the house in 1912. In recent times Polstrong House has been used in a Rosamunde Pilcher film, having an abundance of period features.
The main house at Eastwell Park was built in Neo-Elizabethan style between 1793 and 1799 for George Finch-Hatton, 9th Earl of Winchilsea, and remodelled in 1843 by William Burn. In the mid-1860s the 11th Earl suffered financial difficulties forcing him to leave and the estate was let to the Duke of Abercorn for 5 years. (Winchilsea was declared bankrupt in 1870). The house was then tenanted by Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, the second son of Queen Victoria. Eastwell Park was bought by the 2nd Lord Gerard in 1894 and it passed to his son in 1902. Frederic John Gerard had gained the rank of Captain in the Lancashire Hussars Imperial Yeomanry and achieved a similar rank with the Royal Horse Guards. He also held the office of Justice of the Peace and Deputy Lieutenant for the County of Lancashire.
In 1920 Eastwell Park was put up for sale and the eventual buyer was Mr Osborn Dan who never lived here but chose to remain in his house at Wateringbury. He sold the estate in 1924 and it was reported that the new owner intended to reduce the size of the mansion. This was Sir John de Fonblanqua Pennefather (1856-1933), a British cotton merchant and Conservative politician, who’d just been created a Baronet, of Golden in the County of Tipperary. Some experts suggest he was more interested in architecture rather than the estate. He demolished the existing mansion and in 1926, using much of the old materials, rebuilt the house as it now stands, but significantly reducing its size. He was overtaken by blindness and never lived in the new house. In 1930, Madeline Cecilia Carlyle Brodrick, 2nd wife of the 1st Earl of Midleton, later Countess Midleton, bought the estate but lived in London. Her son, Captain George Brodrick, managed the estate on modern and efficient lines. The 1920s house survives as Eastwell Manor, a Champneys Spa Hotel. All that remains of the old house is Eastwell Towers, built in 1848, the original gatehouse.
Shardeloes is a magnificent Grade I listed building of special architectural and historic interest set in around 50 acres of parkland grounds overlooking a lake and Misbourne valley on the edge of Amersham Old Town. The present mansion was once the ancestral home of the Tyrwhitt-Drake family. The Lord of the Manor, William Drake, had the house built between 1758 and 1766, mainly designed by Stiff Leadbetter from Eton who was among a group of architects responding to changing fashion within Country Houses. Wanting the latest décor Drake engaged the rising architect Robert Adam to complete much of the decoration and plasterwork. Further interior work was carried out by James Wyatt from 1773. The house was finally built of stuccoed brick, one and a half storeys high, with a top balustrade and a grand pedimented portico of stone, with Corinthian columns and pilasters.
The Tyrwhitt Drake family fortunes declined in the 19th and 20th centuries and the house was auctioned off in the 1930s. It was requisitioned as a maternity home at the outbreak of World War II. Uninhabited and neglected by 1953 the newly formed Amersham Society fought for preservation and prevented its demolition. Subsequently the house and its adjoining stable block were beautifully and sympathetically restored and converted into apartments and houses, at first rented and then sold in the 1970s, with all owners sharing the freehold for 999 years.
In January 1918 The Sphere published photographs of the Hart House V.A. Hospital at Burnham. It opened in January 1915 at The Gables, a property owned by Mr and Mrs Gerald Lysaght, with only 25 beds. This number doubled, and the hospital moved to larger facilities at Hart House. Three outdoor huts were provided in addition to the indoor accommodation. It claimed to be the first hospital in England to employ ‘Flavine’ (a yellow acridine dye, used as antiseptic in the treatment of wounds) and had processed some 993 soldiers through its doors.
The construction date of Hart House is unknown. It had once been owned by the Dod family, who owned Paradise Farm and acquired the nearby Manor House which they renamed Paradise House. In the 1880s it was owned by John Bolton Thwaites, JP, Chairman of the Local Board of health and local President of the Lifeboat Institution, who renamed it The Grove.
Following his death in 1892 the property, a family mansion standing in 6½ acres, was placed on the market and came to the attention of the Rev. Herbert John Ker Thompson of the Hart House School at Tregoney in Cornwall. The school had been established in 1861 but suffered a devastating fire in 1893. Instead of rebuilding the school it was decided to relocate nearer to a centre of population, hence the move to The Grove at Burnham.
The house was renamed Hart House School and operated as a boys’ prep school until 1911. The Rev. Thompson became Vicar of Pensford with Publow (until 1936) and Hart House remained empty. It was offered free of charge to the Red Cross in 1916. The hospital moved to these ‘spacious and well-wooded grounds’ over a few days and functioned until 1920. After it closed it was bought by Violet Waterhouse and Humphrey Thomas Logan who converted into the Manor Hotel that was still going by the late 1940s. It ended its days as a hotel and was eventually demolished, although the exact date is unknown.