When fire broke out a lack of water caused by summer drought resulted in this country house’s destruction
Between the autumns of 1933 and 1934, the southern counties of England suffered extreme drought. The summer wasn’t particularly hot, but lack of rainfall depleted surface water in rivers, streams, ponds and lakes, leaving many of them dry beds. The effect of this had devastating consequences for one Norfolk country house when it caught fire in the early hours of Saturday 23 June 1934.
Fring Hall, built in 1807, was one of the show mansions of West Norfolk, and home to the Hon. Somerset Arthur Maxwell (1905-1942), the eldest son of Arthur Kenlis Maxwell, 11th Baron Farnham. He’d married (Angela) Susan Roberts, daughter of Captain Marshall Owen Roberts, by his former wife Irene Helene Murray, in 1930.
The House, which stood in many acres of grounds, with a beautiful garden and park, had been leased from the Dusgate family, and redecoration had recently been completed in readiness for the incoming tenants. It was described as ‘a neat cemented mansion, upon a commanding eminence, with extensive gardens and pleasure grounds’
Mr Maxwell and his wife had arrived from London about an hour before the fire broke out. He at once communicated with the police when the outbreak was discovered by a servant, and the Sandringham Brigade from the King’s estate was the first to arrive.
So intense were the flames, that by 4 am only the walls were left standing, and some of these had become cracked and in danger of collapse. The roof and two wings had gone and the fine old mansion of about 60 rooms was little more than a blackened ruin.
Only a few hundred gallons of water were available to fight the flames. Owing to the drought there was no water in the ponds or in the ditches, and 60 men from five fire brigades and 20 Royal Air Force men could only stand by after the initial supply was exhausted. The main sources of water turned out to be a well in the grounds and some storage tanks, meaning only a few hoses could be used.
Flames rose to a great height and could be seen for miles, the roads full of motorists who had come to watch. One local resident was able to report on the blaze:
“Mr Maxwell, I believe, only took over the mansion about four months ago, but only returned to it yesterday to attend a Conservative meeting promoted by Viscountess Downe, at Hillington.
“In the glare of the fire he worked in his shirt sleeves, doing all he could to help the firemen. Valuable furniture and jewels were saved before the flames reached the front of the house, I understand.”
Despite the lack of water, men were able to get into the buildings and rescue most of the downstairs furniture and some from the bedrooms. All the jewellery and silver recovered were placed in a cell at Docking Police Station for safekeeping.
Fring Hall was rebuilt in 1936 and said to be a copy of the original, although there are differences in its external appearance. The cropmark of the original building is said to appear in dry weather protruding from the side of the present house.
Lt-Colonel, the Hon. Somerset Maxwell, one of the country’s tallest MPs, died in 1942, of wounds he received in Agedabia (now Ajdabiya) in Libya.
These days Fring Hall is home to the Brun family. Henrik Constantin Brun (1908-2009) came over from Denmark before World War Two and worked for a large farming company before branching out on his own as a tenant on the Sandringham estate. His youngest son, Edward Henrik Constantin Brun (b. 1948), is now the occupier at Fring Hall with its woodland used to supply coppice and woodland products.
John Lloyd Davies inherited one of Wales’ largest estates when he was ten-years-old. He died at 28, having squandered his fortune, and leaving behind a series of ‘dubious’ wills
On the market at Savills with a guide price of £800,000 is Alltyrodyn Mansion, a substantial three storey late Georgian Grade II* listed country house. It is thought to date from about 1827, built in the style of the architect John Nash and retaining many of the original features throughout including decorative plasterwork.
The house, at Capel Dewi, near Llandysul in Ceredigion, was rebuilt for the Lloyd family, owners since the early 17th century, either for David Lloyd (1748-1822) or John Lloyd (d. 1841). According to the 1873 return of owners of land, this estate was once the sixth largest in the county, part of an estimated 6,877 acres of land owned by John Lloyd Davies (1850-1878) in Cardiganshire and Carmarthenshire.
And it is to this person that we focus on the house’s most infamous years, a young man whose eventual death caused scandal and turmoil in the courts.
John Lloyd Davies was born in October 1850 and married in July 1872, shortly after reaching his majority. He became a rich man, possessing real estate in Cardiganshire and other Welsh counties, yielding a rental income of about £4,000 a year. The property he inherited at Alltyrodyn was derived through the old Welsh Lloyd family, long settled in Cardiganshire. The last of the line, John Lloyd, died unmarried and devised the estates to a female cousin, Anne Stewart, who survived her husband. After his death she married a man called John Davies (later called Lloyd Davies), a servant at a hotel in the neighbourhood in which she resided. He was her junior and considered to be illiterate, but before marrying him she had him educated.
The issue of this marriage was one child, a son, Arthur Lloyd Davies. He married Adelaide Lacy, the daughter of a publican, and he died in 1852, leaving surviving him his widow (who subsequently remarried) and two children, John Lloyd Davies and Ann Justina Lloyd, later Mrs Massey. John Lloyd Davies Sr survived his wife. He re-married and died in 1860, leaving surviving him two young sons – Hardwick Lloyd Davies and Powell Lloyd Davies. Though having only a life interest in the Alltyodyn estates, he dealt with them as if he were the owner in fee and disposed of them by will.
The consequence was a suit in Chancery in which 10-year-old John Lloyd Davies Jr inherited his estate, but managed by trustees until the child reached his majority. He became acquainted with James Allen, then a Chancery managing clerk and later a member of a firm of solicitors called Eyre and Co, of Bedford Row, London, who acted in his interest.
Lloyd Davies Jr gained full control of his estate at the age of 21, but was of an obstinate and intractable disposition and though gifted, with considerable intellectual power, had little inclination to study. When aged 20 he formed a relationship with Miss Susannah Crowhurst, a ballet-dancer at the Alhambra Theatre, and in April 1872, shortly after reaching 21, made provision for her in the first of a series of wills he executed. He gave her a legacy of £1,000 and an annuity of the same as well as a legacy of £5,000 to Mr Allen. He devised his real estates to his uncles by half-blood, Powell Lloyd Davies and Hardwick Lloyd Davies, in succession.
He married Miss Crowhurst the following July, and the will having been revoked, was revived by codicil, in which the gifts to her were made as to his wife. In June 1873, he executed a second will, and by it he increased the annuity to his wife to £2,000 and the legacy to Mr Allen to £10,000, leaving the remaining parts of the will unaltered. Lloyd Davies subsequently added further codicils, including adding a further £10,000 to Mr Allen’s legacy.
Shortly after the marriage Lloyd Davies needed money and mortgaged his estates to pay succession duties and supply his extravagances. He made a trip to South Africa to hunt ‘big game’ and visit the diamond fields. He sailed, leaving behind James Allen as power of attorney. He returned in 1874, but during absence had written several interesting letters of his adventure to Mr Allen, signing himself ‘your sincere and affectionate friend’.
On his return he went to live with Mr and Mrs Dewdney in Regent’s Park (and would later include them in his wills). Lloyd Davies needed more money and sold a portion of his landed property raising about £75,000.
About this time, James Allen’s relationship with his wife had deteriorated, and he thought it necessary to leave London for a considerable time. He was still a clerk, though admitted an attorney at Eyre and Co, of which he didn’t become a member until 1877. He made known his difficulties to John Lloyd Davies, who placed at his disposal a gift of £10,000. The marriage subsequently collapsed, and Allen stayed away from London.
In the meantime, John Lloyd Davies had stretched himself financially after dealings with a man named Morgan, a horse dealer, with whom he had entered into partnership. In 1875, he left his wife for America, visiting New York, and the Niagara Falls. He then journeyed into the far West, hunting in the Rocky Mountains, visiting the gold digging sites in California, and finally San Francisco.
On his return to Alltyrodyn he communicated for the first time with his sister, Ann, who visited his wife and became very friendly with her. A codicil was made by which she and her children were benefited to the extent of £300 a year. However, John Lloyd Davies developed pulmonary consumption and sought medical advice in London. His sister, perhaps sensing what might lay ahead, suggested that the estates, upon his death, go to her children, also his wife’s diamonds and jewellery. This so enraged him that he made another codicil, leaving her nothing. In the final will all the estates were given to James Allen, his most intimate friend, a legacy of £1,000 to his wife, in addition to an annuity of £2,500 per year during widowhood. By now, he had strained relationships with his family – particularly from his uncles, because their guardian would not allow them to associate with him.
He died in May 1878 aged 28. In opposition to the claim for probate, his sister and brother-in-law, Mr and Mrs Massey, alleged that the execution of the final will had been obtained by the undue influence and fraud of Mr Allen, and that at the date of the execution of the wills and codicils, John Lloyd Davies was not of sound mind.
In the end, James Allen’s name was struck out of the will of 1858, by which all other wills were revoked, and was instead given the sum of £5,000, presumably in aid of legal expenses. John Lloyd Davies’ sister, Ann Massey, became the possessor of the Alltyrodyn estates, a situation that caused bemusing celebrations at Llandysul. ‘The brass band marched through the town, followed by the drum and fife band in uniform; The Church bells rang, and bonfires, illuminations and other signs of rejoicings were prominent objects at night’.
However, in 1881, the former estates of John Lloyd Davies – Alltyrodyn, Blaendyffryn and Heolddu -were put up for sale by Ann Massey to settle outstanding debts. The mansion was later bought by Captain James Stewart (1830-1908), JP, DL, the second son of Mr Alexander Stewart, of Woodford Hall, Essex. He was a captain in the Royal Madras Horse Artillery and served in the Indian Mutiny. He married Louisa Charlotte Butler, a daughter of James Butler of the Indian Army. His son, Douglas Dormer Stewart, inherited the estate and the house remained with the family until the mid-20th century.
These days, events at Alltryodyn are much quieter and has been home to the current owner for many years.
A stunning portico entrance leads through double doors into the grand reception hall with exposed floorboards and a fireplace providing a warm focal point. A door leads off to the left and dining room with fireplace, and views across the front of the house. On the right of the reception hall is the drawing room again with fireplace, full-length mirror in frame and views across the front gardens. A doorway with fan lights over leads through from the hall to the inner hall with moulded stair hall cornice and staircase. On the right of the inner hall is a small reception room/extra bedroom. Beyond is the impressive ball room with cornice, arched recesses each end, flanked by matching display alcoves and built in cupboards and views across the side gardens. On the opposite side of the floor, the inner hall leads past the pantry, a cosy snug/office with fireplace, access to the wine cellar and through to the kitchen breakfast room with white Aga set in stone surround. A scullery and larder are situated off the kitchen together with a side entrance leading to the rear courtyard.
There are fourteen bedrooms in total, offering purchasers an opportunity to acquire one of the famous houses of Wales either as a home and/or to explore other commercial avenues including boutique B&B, hotel, wedding venue etc (of course, subject to planning permission).
“Where the house at Findon Place, or the Manor House as it used to be called, now stands, there had doubtless been a house for many hundred years, and it is probable that Edward I spent many a night here.”
Findon Place is a stunning example of classical Georgian architecture. It has an extensive and rich history and is listed Grade II* due to its architectural and historical merit. The present house was largely built in the mid-18th century by John Cheale, Norroy King at Arms. It occupies the site of the original Manor House, and some parts of the present building date back to the reign of Henry VII, if not earlier. It is now on the market at Knight Frank with a guide price of £6 million.
At the time of Edward the Confessor, the lands at Findon were in the possession of Harold, the last of the Saxon Kings, who was succeeded in the ownership of Findon (then called Fine-dune) by William de Braose, who as a kinsman of the Duke of Normandy is said to have received no fewer than forty gifts of property from William the Conqueror. At the time the estate equated to a 15,000-acre deer park.
Findon Place stayed in the hands of the Braose family until 1317 when William VIII gave the house to his daughter Aline and her husband John de Mowbray.
The new family ownership of John de Mowbray was cut short as he was beheaded in York in 1322 after being part of the revolt against the Crown. The King granted a licence in 1324 to allow Aline, the ability to grant the manor to Hugh de Spenser.
Findon Place was then in the hands of the Crown from 1525 until 1538, when Richard Rich obtained a licence and passed on the tenure to Thomas Cromwell. During Cromwell’s ownership, a larger house was constructed over the medieval foundations. There is still evidence of one of the grand chimneys between the present kitchen and the sitting room, which is now blocked off.
Edward Shelley was passed the house in 1541 from Cromwell, and it remained in the Shelley family until 1604.
Coming to later times we find Findon Place held by John Cheale, Norroy King of Arms in the reign of George IV, who rebuilt most of the house before passing it to his nephew, William Green, a friend of the Sovereign who, when Prince of Wales, often visited Findon from Brighton, for the excellent shooting on the estate. Green’s devisees in trust reserved twenty acres and the sepulchral Chapel, in the Church, and sold the remainder to William Richardson.
William Richardson bought the house in the 18th Century and was married to Mary Margesson, the eldest daughter of John Margesson of Offington, who died without issue and the property was bequeathed to a cousin, William Westbrook Richardson, himself the son of Frances, second daughter of John Margesson.
It was soon after his arrival in 1787 that the house was restored, and the reception rooms rebuilt. After his death in 1801, his widow built the big room to the west end of the house.
Findon Place was later sold to Lieutenant-Colonel William George Margesson in 1872, who added a storey to the east wing, which improved the servant accommodation. He also built a reservoir holding 15,000 gallons on the hillside. However, Margesson died in 1911 and his two sons died in the First World War, leaving no heirs.
During the early years of the 20th century the house was let and one of the occupiers, Mr E.J. Spencer, carried out several extensive internal improvements, embracing among other things an electric lighting plant, heating, drainage and septic tank, additional bathrooms, panelling to several reception rooms, a new reservoir holding 45,000 gallons, new croquet lawn and two tennis lawns.
In the 1920s and 1930s, Findon Place was let to the Savills and then to the Hartridges, who eventually bought it. John Hartridge sold it to Keith Middlemas, who in 1972, sold it to John Young.
The oldest part of the present house are the cellars, which were originally the base of the medieval house. The hard stone foundations, laid about 1200-1300, can be seen and a cut chalk and red mortar wall from before 1300.
The property is beautifully set back from the lane, with a stone gravel drive. The accommodation is well proportioned and arranged over four floors. Of note are the three principle reception rooms, which have extraordinary high ceilings.
The house has been adapted for modern day living with a great balance between formal and informal areas and maintains the ability to entertain on a grand scale. The bedrooms are arranged over two upper floors and as expected are well proportioned. On the first floor there are six principal bedrooms served by four bathrooms, including a generous master suite with bedroom, bathroom and dressing room. The second floor is served by a separate staircase and provides more flexible accommodation with a kitchenette, five bedrooms and two bathrooms giving the ability to create a separate apartment for staff or guests.
The gardens provide the most glorious setting and have been laid out to create a high degree of privacy and protection. They include a mixture of high flint walls, herbaceous borders, mature trees and areas of level lawns. There is a range of additional outbuildings including stables, garden stores and a hexagonal room. They also include a heated outdoor swimming pool and tennis court. The grounds extend to approximately 52 acres and is a mixture of pasture and woodland.
A secretive house built on the riches of West Indian sugar plantations and slavery
Country Life magazine describes this house as ‘a fitting addition to the market in Humphry Repton’s bicentenary year’. Dullingham House, near Newmarket, Cambridgeshire, is being marketed by Savills with a guide price of £2.75 million.
The country house is understood to have been built for Sir Christopher Jeaffreson in the early part of the 18th Century – possibly on the site of an earlier house and is a fine example of red brick Georgian architecture, with patterned burnt headers beneath a slate roof.
A look into the history of Dullingham House shows it was likely constructed from the riches of sugar and the slave trade.
In 1878, two volumes entitled A Young Squire of the Seventeenth Century, edited by John Cordy Jeaffreson, made up from the papers of Christopher Jeaffreson (1676-1686) of Dullingham House, were published.
Within these volumes we learn that Christopher Jeaffreson was born in 1650, and that he was in his seventy-fifth year when he died at Dullingham House.
His father was a ‘fortunate adventurer’, one John Jeaffreson, became a landed proprietor in St. Christopher’s Island, and obtained the title of Colonel from his command of the militia on the island. The Colonel became a rich man and among other estates in England, where he spent the last years of his life, he acquired ‘the manorial property and farms pertaining to Dullingham House in 1656 (from the infant Sir Richard Wingfield), so that his son Christopher, the ‘young squire’, on reaching the age of 22, at which he succeeded to his inheritance, ‘had the revenue of an affluent country gentleman, apart from the rents of his West Indian property’.
Christopher married soon afterwards, but his wife soon died, leaving him a disconsolate widower. He set out on a voyage to St. Kitts ‘in order that he might settle and restore his estate on the island’. He ended up staying five years in the West Indies, where he worked energetically as a planter and merchant, and took an active political interest in the colony.
On his death in 1725, the estates in the West Indies and Suffolk passed to another Christopher Jeaffreson, M.P. (1699-1749), the man thought responsible for building the Dullingham House we see today.
At a by-election in 1744 he was returned unopposed for Cambridge on the interest of his friend, Samuel Shepheard. He was replaced by Shepheard at the general election of 1747, but on Shepheard’s death the next year was again returned. He died in 1749, according to William Cole, the Cambridge antiquary, ‘from too much drinking, which brought him into a consumption. He was one of the tallest men I ever saw’.
When Sir Christopher died in 1749, the estate, its new house and small pleasure ground passed to his son, also Christopher, who remained at Dullingham until his death in 1788. His only son, Colonel Christopher Jeaffreson inherited and in 1799 called in Humphry Repton (1752-1818) to give advice on the alteration of the grounds.
Christopher Jeaffreson died in 1824, and the estate passed to his daughter Harriet, who married William Pigot in 1827. Their son, Christopher William Pigot, born in 1836, took the name of Robinson in 1857 under an inheritance from his maternal grandmother. In 1870 he married Mary Marianne Mariana Dunn-Gardner, the eldest daughter of John Dunn-Gardner, MP, DL, JP of Chatteris, and sister of Algernon Dunn-Gardner, of Denton Hall, Suffolk.
When Christopher Robinson died in 1889, Mary Robinson, a lady of peculiarly fine character, had a high sense of duty and took her responsibilities as the owner of a large estate very seriously, frequently lending the grounds of Dullingham House for flower shows and fetes.
Mary Robinson lived at Dullingham until she died, aged ninety-one, in 1939. The estate then descended to her half-brother’s daughter, Miriam Leader, who sold it in 1947 to Frederick Boyton Taylor (1894-1959). His son, Peter Boyton Taylor (1921-1996), divided up the property, the house, gardens and park being purchased by Angela Tomkins who, together with her father, developed the park as a race-horse stud.
In 1994 the House and its immediate grounds were purchased by Sir Martin and Lady Nourse and the stable courtyard developed for private housing.
Dullingham House is Grade II listed as being of Historical and Architectural interest. The property has been the subject of various additions and alterations over the centuries – at one point (according to the listing) it is described as having had ‘two projecting cross wings to the east and west which were substantially reduced in the 1950’s to be replaced by flanking, shaped walls’. The façade looked very different in Victorian times with altered fenestration, and according to Savills, the top floor was added about 1900 by Mary Robinson. Indeed, there were dormer windows on the upper floor before subsequent alterations resulted in the existing elevations.
Apart from the normal reception rooms, Dullingham House has eight bedrooms and comes with the Repton ‘pleasure’ grounds and walled gardens, set within 8-acres.
Nothing remains of this former mansion; the only reminder of its existence is the balustrading which once encircled the garden at the front of the house.
The age of opulence. In October 1902, The Sketch visited Aston Clinton House, to the south-east of the village of Aston Clinton in Buckinghamshire, thought to have been the most charming of the country houses belonging to various members of the Rothschild family and their immediate descendants. As one observer said: “This typically English homestead gains rather than loses by contrast with its stately neighbour, Waddesdon.”
The long, low white building was unpretentious in general design, and had been bought in 1851 by Sir Anthony de Rothschild from a well-known Aylesbury banker. Both the house and the estate had been improved and altered; but the general appearance of the fine old square manor had not been altered, and the additions were charmingly picturesque, while the views from the windows commanded the loveliest prospects.
Sir Anthony Nathan de Rothschild (1810-1876) was the third child and second son of Nathan Mayer Rothschild and Hanna Barent Cohen, and had worked for N.M. Rothschild & Sons in London as well de Rothschild Frères in Paris and M. A. Rothschild Söhne in Frankfurt. In 1840 he married Louise Montefiore (1821-1910), a cousin, and daughter of Abraham Montefiore and Henriette Rothschild.
Sir Anthony and his wife Louisa made alterations from 1853 using the architectural talents of George Henry Stokes, assistant of Joseph Paxton, and using the builder George Myers. Extensions to the existing house included a ‘billiard room building’, dining room, offices and a conservatory. Between 1864 and 1877, they turned to the steady work of George Devey who designed the park gates and various cottages on the estate.
Back in 1902, Constance Flower, Lady Battersea (1843-1931), the only surviving child of Sir Anthony, and his widow, the venerable chatelaine of Aston Clinton, were interested in gardening, long before horticulture had become a fashionable hobby; accordingly, the gardens of Aston Clinton were full of rare and interesting plants and shrubs. Fortunately, Cyril Flower, 1st Baron Battersea (1843-1907), was as keen a horticulturist as was his wife, and both at The Pleasaunce, their other property at Overstrand, Norfolk, and at Aston Clinton, he had given up much time and thought to the practical beautifying of the grounds.
The interior of Aston Clinton was arranged in an artistic and original manner. The rooms weren’t large, but a corridor connecting the principal apartments was full of objets d’art, collected by the Rothschilds. Particularly beautiful was the china, arranged in such a fashion that it added to the artistic effect, instead of, as was too often the case, detracting from it.
Lady de Rothschild’s boudoir was hung with fine tapestries, and the white panelling in the dining room had been carved by a sixteenth-century Dutch artist. The drawing-room contained more fine works of art, worthy of inclusion in any world-famous collection, and among hundreds of curios was an old clock showing a mighty Sovereign walking in a procession, while above his head waved a Royal umbrella.
According to the commentator in The Sketch, “Pictures were here, there and everywhere, sharing the space with books, etchings and prints.” Sir Anthony Rothschild had been a generous patron of painters and etchers, and had been ready to back his own taste, a love of creative art that was shared by his son-in-law Lord Battersea, whose study at Aston Clinton contained a remarkable series of amateur photographs, several watercolours and engravings, each chosen with reference to their intrinsic interest or artistic value.
A feature at Aston Clinton was a splendid winter-garden (conservatory) which had been arranged in such a manner that it became part of the long corridor already mentioned. ‘Lady de Rothschild, bringing, as it were, the varied delights of leaf, fruit, and blossom into the house itself’.
Both Lady Battersea and her mother showed a practical interest in the welfare of their poorer neighbours. Anthony Hall, a building erected by Sir Anthony’s widow in memory to him, formed a centre not only for those in the neighbourhood, but also for the many practical philanthropists who met there at the invitation of Lord Battersea. The Aston Clinton Coffee Tavern was another familiar benefaction conferred on the village by the Rothschild family, and successful had been the Training Home for Girls, an institution that had solved locally ‘that difficult modern problem – the servant question’.
Both were keenly concerned in what was going on in the political, artistic, and philanthropic worlds. The Sketch painted a lavish, if not saccharine, portrayal. “They are among those whom the nation should delight to honour, for they have done all in their power to make happier and better the many large circles of human beings with whom they are brought in contact. Lady Battersea has the energy of her wonderful race, and she is ardently interested in all that affects the welfare of her own sex.”
When Lady de Rothschild died in 1910, Aston Clinton reverted to the Rothschild estate, but Lady Battersea and her sister, Annie Henrietta (1844-1926), remained in occupation until the First World War. It was given over to the Commanding Officer of the 21st Infantry Division, then based on the Halton estate.
The Rothschild estate sold Aston Clinton for £15,000 in 1923 – a house with seven reception rooms, billiard room, ballroom, thirteen principal bedrooms and dressing rooms, seventeen secondary and servants’ bedrooms, four bathrooms and domestic offices. To commemorate the sale the Rothschilds placed a tablet in the wall of the portico recording that the family had owned Aston Clinton between 1853 until 1923, a period of 70 years.
The country house was bought by Dr Albert Edward Bredin Crawford who used the house as a school for boys. Evelyn Waugh was a schoolmaster for a short time from 1925, and in his diaries he referred to it as “an unconceivably ugly house but a lovely park” and “a house of echoing and ill-lit passages.”
After a brief period as the Aston Clinton Country Club in 1931, the house was on the market again the following year and described as being suitable for a club, school or institution.
Aston Clinton became the Howard Park Hotel in 1933, ‘a first-class country hotel’ complete with a landing strip for aeroplanes. It was run by Mr Stanley Cecil Howard, the son of a well-known hotelier, and had studied hotel improvement across the world. (The house itself was owned by Charles Richard Stirling of Sysonby Lodge, Melton Mowbray, and was rented on a five-year lease). Howard had trained as a hotel manager and a restaurateur in Paris and Dusseldorf and had been the general manager of the Royal Hotel in Scarborough.
The Howard Park Hotel was a business failure and became the Green Park Hotel in 1938, run by Douglas Haslett of Surrey. The curtain came down on Stanley Howard’s career when he was declared bankrupt in 1939. (The ownership of the house had since transferred from Richard Stirling to Stanley Howard; on his bankruptcy it was seized by H.M. Treasury before being sold to Thames Side Property Developments Ltd).
The Green Park Hotel was more successful and survived until the late 1940s. During the Second World War it became the temporary headquarters for Oxo Ltd, while the stables were used by Eric Kirkham Cole for his Ecko Radio Company, which used them as offices and for the development of radar.
Buckinghamshire County Council bought the country house and land in three lots between 1959 and 1967. Aston Clinton House was demolished in 1956, and Green Park Training Centre eventually built in its place. The extended garden of Aston Clinton House is now incorporated into Green Park, while the stables survive as part of the training centre.
The stately homes of England were being closed down or sold: the cruel toll of super-taxation
“This will catch ————-,” said Sir William Harcourt in 1894, when, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, his devastating measure revolutionising death duties passed its third reading. The name he mentioned was that of a big landed proprietor whom he detested.
Sir William Harcourt (1827-1904) was a solicitor, journalist, politician and cabinet member in five British Liberal Governments, who in 1894 had achieved a major reform in death duties.
As Chancellor of the Exchequer, he introduced estate duty, a tax on the capital value of land, in a bid to raise money to pay off a £4 million government deficit. The imposed graduated tax on the total estate of a deceased person was capable of producing much more revenue than taxes only on the amounts inherited by beneficiaries.
The new death duties were passed despite the opposition of many, including William Gladstone and the 5th Earl of Rosebery, who believed that easily increased taxes would encourage frivolous Government spending. Other opponents regarded the tax as an attack on the great hereditary landowners.
By a rare instance of poetic Justice Sir William himself was one of the earliest to suffer under an Act which increased death duties according to the degree of relationship. He succeeded unexpectedly to Nuneham, the Harcourt family place near Oxford, and was taxed heavily by his own clauses concerning inheritance from kinsmen.
It was a contentious act that impacted on the nation’s country houses throughout the opening years of the 20th century.
However, it took a few years before the long-term implications for landowners were realised. The Sphere, ‘an illustrated newspaper for the home’, had been founded in 1900 by Clement Shorter, who also founded The Tatler in the following year. In 1931, it highlighted the problems created by Sir William Harcourt’s act:
“The confiscation of capital – glossed under the name of ‘capital levy’ – has become the thickest plank in the Socialist and Communist platform. It has also become the practice in countries wherever the opportunity has offered. But in England – the monarchical and democratic – this confiscation has been going on steadily ever since the passing of Sir William’s Act. Later legislation has added burdens both to land and capital, with the result that the ultimate burden is becoming too heavy to be borne, and whole estates, or parts of estates, have to be sold merely to meet the death duties. However, the process may be disguised under ‘duties,’ the fact remains that men have to pay fortunes to the State simply because they have inherited money or its equivalent in land. Actually, the confiscation of capital. And that capital is used year after year as part of the national income.”
It wasn’t only The Sphere that voiced opinion. George Holt Thomas’ The Bystander was equally opposed to death duties:
“The landed classes are, in fact, being taxed out of existence under our very noses and before our very eyes. It is one of the most dramatic and cruel episodes in the whole of England’s chequered career, and most people who should know better talk like the Socialists and say that it is all for the public good. They forget that England became what she is as a result of the feudal system and that the feudal system is the best possible thing for the countryside. Time and time again in the past great landlords used to remit the rent to their tenants if it was a bad year. They were able to see that tenants got proper attention if they were ill. In fact, they looked after them. Today there is no one to do that. There is no doubt about it that the politicians have got the country into such a position that there is practically no chance for any great estate to survive financially the death of two consecutive heads of the family. It might be possible if there were a couple of very long minorities. But that is the only hope. In fifty years’ time who can say with any assurance if a single one of the great houses will still be in private hands?”
There could, said The Sphere, be only one result – the sale or closing of big country houses, with the consequent loss to local employment, tradespeople, charitable subscriptions, cutting down pensions to old servants, probably the raising of cottage and farm rents; in short, the withdrawal of one of the biggest influences in the English countryside, especially strong where the landowners have realised their responsibilities.
The newspaper’s response came after news from Lullingstone Castle at Eynsford, in Kent, where the Hart Dykes had lived in unbroken succession for five hundred years, a house famous for its hospitality and kindliness. The new baronet, Sir Oswald, had been obliged to close the house because, not only had he paid the duties upon his father’s death, but also on the reversion of his elder brother, on whom it was entailed, and had died in the late Sir William’s lifetime.
Lord Durham, too, had to close Lambton Castle, near Durham, having had to pay something like half a million in duties owing to the successive deaths of his father and uncle. If the late Lord Durham had lived a little while longer the duties would have been three-quarters of a million.
Sir Oswald Hart Dyke hoped to return to Lullingstone ten years later, but the Duke of Newcastle, closing Clumber House, after succeeding his brother, could entertain no hope so definite, and had lent some of the best pictures in the house to the Nottingham Museum. (Clumber House was demolished seven years later).
The Duke of Leeds wasn’t even fortunate enough to be able to close Hornby Castle and wait for better times. It had been demolished and the materials sold piecemeal. Stowe House, in Buckinghamshire, which Lady Kinloss had inherited from her father, the last Duke of Buckingham, had become a public school. Moor Park, at Rickmansworth, formerly belonging to Lord Ebury, was a country club. Ashridge Park, the old Brownlow property at Berkhamsted, had to be sold, and had been bought as a memorial to Mr Bonar Law, and was a training college for Conservative workers.
And the list went on. According to The Sphere, “these instances are repeated all over the country.”
The Duke of Portland had already expressed doubt, publicly, whether his heir would be able to live at Welbeck. There were rumours, too, that two big ducal castles, one in the north and the other in the south, may have to be closed, and the announcement had just been made that Lord Derby wished to dispose of his London home in Stratford Place.
Another sign of the pressure of taxation was the coming to market of The Old Palace at Richmond, the homes of Kings and Queens from the time of Henry I to Queen Charlotte, and where Queen Elizabeth died. For many years it had been the scene of delightful parties given by Mr Middleton, who had done much for its restoration. Yet other signs were Lord Harewood and Princess Mary leaving Chesterfield House, and Lady Louis Mountbatten leaving Brook House.
And Devonshire House, Grosvenor House, Dorchester House, Lansdowne House, Spencer House – where were they? Said The Sphere: “Taxation answers – flats or clubs.”
Modern inheritance tax still dates back to William Harcourt’s intervention in 1894. Today, inheritance tax is paid if a person’s estate (their property, money and possessions) is worth more than £325,000 when they die. The rate of inheritance tax is 40% on anything above the threshold, and that rate may be reduced to 36%, if 10% or more of the estate is left to charity.
A five-day auction that brought the curtain down on a fine country house
Today marks the 100th anniversary of an important and interesting five-day sale of the ‘magnificent surplus furnishings’ at Belvoir Park, Newtownbreda, near Belfast. It was an indication that times were changing for this country house… and not for the better.
The estate, once called Ballyenaghan, had once been the home of the Hill family, named so it is said, by Michael Hill’s wife, Anne Trevor, subsequently married to Lord Midleton, owing to the view (belle voir’) and in part to her childhood recollections of Belvoir castle in Leicestershire. She was responsible for creating the grand mansion and it is suggested used the German architect Cassells for the design. Her son, who became Viscount Dungannon in 1766, inherited the estate before it was sold in 1809.
It was originally bought by three Belfast merchants – John Gillies, Robert Davis and William Blacker – for £35,000 – until it was bought by Robert Bateson, a Belfast banker and landowner, in 1818.
Robert Bateson was born in 1782 and died in 1863. He was created a Baronet in 1818. His eldest son, Robert, was an MP for Co Londonderry; his second son, Thomas was born in 1819, he was raised to the peerage as Baron Deramore in 1885 after 34 years of service in Parliament and died in 1890.
Decline set in after the death of Baron Deramore. For a time, it was occupied by Walter H. Wilson, a shipbuilder and partner in Harland and Wolff’s. It was his widow that instigated the sale of its contents in 1918. Its last resident was Sir James Johnston, Lord Mayor of Belfast in 1917-1918.
Belfast was quickly growing, and the estate which had once stretched to more than 6,000 acres, was now only a few miles from the city centre. It falls into the category ‘swallowed by suburbia’; the land was more valuable than the house and was prime residential development.
In the 1920s parts of the estate became a golf course and at one time it was suggested that Belvoir Park might be used as a residence for the Governor of Northern Ireland (Hillsborough Castle was chosen instead).
Belvoir Park stood empty until 1934 when the building company, W.J. Stewart, leased the building and land. The obvious motive was to build houses on the estate, but this was scuppered by the outbreak of war. The Admiralty requisitioned the house during World War Two as a temporary armaments depot and built over a hundred nissen and elephant huts.
Afterwards, it was handed back to Stewart and Partners and used for the storage of building materials.
From the 1950s Belvoir Park was in serious decline. Empty, derelict and populated only by its by ghosts, the estate was sold to the Northern Ireland Housing Trust in 1955. 150-acres of former parkland was leased to the Forest Service and became Belvoir Park Forest, while the rest was used to build much-needed housing.
Belvoir Park was blown up by the Army, presumably as part of a training exercise, in 1961. The site of the Georgian mansion is now used as a car park.