Tag Archives: Country House

ROOKSNEST

One hundred years ago, Rooksnest, a country house at Godstone, found itself the subject of a scandal involving an MP.

Oughborough (Stephen Richards)
Rooksnest was built between 1775 – 1781 on land that once belonged to Tandridge Priory. The house was remodelled in the early 19th century. When a country house it was home to Sir George Gilbert Scott in the 1870s, during which time he undertook many of the church restorations in surrounding villages. (Stephen Richards/Geograph)

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.

Larne Times - 18 April 1914 (BNA)
William John MacGeagh MacCaw (1850-1928). His election as MP for West Down in 1908 was memorable for the fact that he was in India – where he had extensive business interests – when nominated as Unionist candidate, and he was returned by a substantial majority whilst on his journey home. (The British Newspaper Archive)

 

Northern Whig 1 - 5 Feb 1918
The Northern Whig was one of many newspapers reporting the shame of William John MacGeagh MacCaw’s appearance in front of the Petty Sessions. From 5 February 1919. (The British Newspaper Archive)

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.

Ballymena Weekly Telegraph - 17 Mar 1928
William John MacGeagh MacCaw found time for pursuits of a literary and scientific character, and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, a Fellow of the Royal Colonial Institute, and a member of the Society of Arts. (The British Newspaper Archive)

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.

James Voase Rank (Ouborough Kennels)
Ouborough was home to Ouborough Kennels, where James Voase Rank bred Great Danes, Guernsey cattle, thoroughbred horses and Irish Wolfhounds within 170 acres of parkland. (Ouborough – Five Nine)
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GREEN CLOSE

Green Close 1
It is hard to believe that this fine-looking property is actually four 17th century cottages remodelled to form one house. In 1916 all the properties were part of the Snowshill Manor estate owned by Henry Peech (1861-1925). He turned to the architect Charles Edward Bateman (1863-1947), known for his Arts and Crafts and Queen Anne-style houses, to blend the properties together.

“Great ingenuity was necessary to marry the four individual cottages into a whole to ensure both a pleasing exterior and the practical arrangement of the rooms. The house retains many of the original period features, including the great open fireplaces, flagstone floors and mullion windows, which sit comfortably alongside the Arts and Crafts features added by Mr Bateman.” ¹

Henry Peech -Lord of the Manor and absent landlord

Henry Peech, of Sheffield and Wimbledon, was one of those absent landlords that owned Snowshill in the early years of the 20th century. He was the son of William Peech, the co-founder and co-owner of the Sheffield steel manufacturers Steel, Peech and Tozer, and before that a Chief Turf Commission Agent for Lord Rosebery. Henry enjoyed his share of the family riches but quite what his intentions for the Snowshill estate were still remain unclear. While he poured money on Green Close he appears to have abandoned the 16th century Snowshill Manor completely.

When the Snowshill Manor estate was offered for sale by Peech in 1918 it included the derelict manor house and its 214-acres of well-cultivated land, Green Close, ‘a smaller Cotswold home, recently altered and improved at great expense, with nearly 5 acres’, and 13 stone-built and stone-tiled Cotswold cottages. The estate also came with the title of ‘The Lordship of the Manor of Snowshill’.

After failing to find a buyer as a whole it appears that the estate was sold in separate lots in 1919. The dilapidated Snowshill Manor was bought by Charles Paget Wade who spent three years restoring it before eventually gifting the house to the National Trust in 1951. Meanwhile, Green Close, the newer and smarter of the properties, fell into the hands of Major Robert Hogarth Milvain.

Green Close 2 (Country Life)
Robert Hogarth Milvain and Klondike gold

The life of Robert Hogarth Milvain (1868-1933) was one of adventure and tragedy. He was reputedly a descendant of the artist Hogarth, as a youngster he was a good boxer and county footballer, and spent his youth in Spain before travelling to Canada. Here he led an adventurous life, chiefly ranching, and when the Klondike gold fields were found he, with two other men, discovered the route there via the Great Slave Lake and River and down the Yukon. One man died on the way, and Milvain arrived suffering with frost-bitten feet, which were treated by Indians.

Milvain remained for years gold prospecting and mining in the Klondike, only returning to Britain to avoid the cold Arctic winters. He and his wife, Margaret Caroline (1878-1970), daughter of Edward Adlard of Postlip, were in Alaska when the Great War started in 1914. They came straight home and he joined the Loyal North Lancashire’s with whom he spent the duration of the war in France. He was severely shell-shocked in 1916 during the Battle of the Somme and was badly wounded in the head, spine and legs the same year.

Major Robert Hogarth Milvain and his wife arrived in Gloucestershire in 1918 and bought Green Close. It was the start of a long and enjoyable tenure from which he maintained an interest in horse-racing as well as a passion for fox-hunting. He became Secretary of the North Cotswold Hunt but in his later years ill-health prevented him from riding. ²

Green Close 1 (Country Life)
Country Life magazine visited Green Close in August 1916 and cast a charming view of the area. “High up above Broadway, yet snuggly ensconced in a dip of the hills, is the hamlet of Snowshill… these hills are so full of finely built and beautiful houses… the beautiful local stone with which they are built constitute a continual charm to the eye.” ³

In June 1933, after fulfilling his duty as the vicar’s warden of St. Barnabas Church, and taking part in the annual Barnabas Day celebrations, he suffered a fatal heart attack at Green Close.

His loss was felt by the villagers of Snowshill who subscribed a sum of money and an oak seat, with stone bottom and brass plate, that was erected in the street near to his beloved church.

Robert’s widow stayed at Green Close and remained a pillar of the community. She maintained its beautiful cottage-style gardens and often opened them as part of the ‘Gardens of Gloucestershire’ programme for the benefit of raising funds for the Queen’s Institute of District Nursing and the Gloucestershire County Nursing Association. On other occasions the grounds were used for the annual Red Cross fete. Regular visitors to Green Close were the scout groups who often camped in its parkland (now extended to 21 acres), including a regular group from Wimbledon, a throwback to the days of Henry Peech. ⁴

Margaret Caroline Milvain remained at Green Close until the late 1960s and died, aged 92, in September 1970.

Green Close 8
Modern times at Green Close

Green Close remains in the family but, as of 2017, the house was put on the market with a guide price of £3. 8 million.

“The property is L-shaped and is finely built of beautiful local stone beneath stone slate roofs laid in diminishing courses. There are attractive mullion windows, fine stone dressings and dormers, both hipped and gabled. A half-timbered link with plasterwork was added in 1916 to marry up the elevations.” ⁵

Green Close 10
References: –

¹Savills Sales Brochure (2017)
²Gloucestershire Echo (16 Jun 1933) and Cheltenham Chronicle (24 Jun 1933)
³Country Life (21 Aug 1926)
⁴Gloucestershire Echo, Cheltenham Chronicle and Western Daily Press
⁵Savills Sales Brochure (2017)

All images courtesy of Savills, except black and white images, courtesy of Country Life (1926).

Green Close,
Snowshill, Boadway, Gloucestershire, WR12 7JU

LOANINGDALE HOUSE

Loaningdale 1867
A drawing of Loaningdale House from 1867. It was originally called Sunnyside and featured in a book ‘Biggar and the House of Fleming’ by William Hunter.

In November 1917 a newspaper advertisement in The Scotsman announced the pending auction of the Loaningdale Estate, near Biggar, Lanarkshire. It was offered at the ‘low upset price’ of £3,500 in an attempt to be rid of the property. The newspaper described Loaningdale House as a ‘very desirable residential estate with its mansion-house containing four public rooms, twelve bedrooms and dressing rooms, servants’ accommodation, stables, coach-house and good gardens’. Britain was at war and it wasn’t the best time to be selling; every day country mansions were being offered for sale and, for those still able to afford it, there were numerous properties to choose from.  At December’s auction Loaningdale House failed to find a buyer (as it had done in 1908) and its owner, Gavin William Ralston (1862-1924), was resigned to keeping the house.

Loaningdale House went back onto the rental market, as it had been since the death of Ralston’s father, Gavin Ralston (1827-1894), but the succession of tenants came at a price. In 1901, the property was described by one tenant as being in “a dirty and unhealthy condition with bad smells.”

However, Loaningdale House had enjoyed much better days. It had been built in the early 18th century for Nicol Sommerville on the site of an old farmstead called Sunnyside. It was enlarged by Dr Black and, in 1855, was bought by Walter Scott Lorraine, a Glasgow merchant, who remodelled and enlarged the house three years later to the designs of architect Thomas McGuffie and changed the name to Loaningdale. It was described in 1867 as ‘a spacious and elegant building, somewhat in the Elizabethan style of architecture’.

Loaningdale (Panoramio)
This modern image of Loaningdale House provides no clues to its existence as Loaningdale Approved School for Boys that closed in the 1980. (Panoramio)

After his death in 1871 the property was bought by Gavin Ralston, a writer and a Master of Arts at Glasgow University. He died in 1894 and Loaningdale passed to his wife, Christina Ballantine Walker, who lived in Edinburgh but had been inclined to rent the house out.

After she died in 1908 it became the property of their eldest son, Gavin William Ralston, a barrister who practised at Dr Johnson’s Buildings at Temple. After failing to sell Loaningdale in 1917 he finally sold the house in 1921, probably to a Mr and Mrs Baird, but gained national headlines when he married Countess Makharoff in 1924. He had met his wife when touring Russia and she was just a girl of 15. It seems the first seeds of their romance were sown and when she fled the country after the Russian Revolution of 1917 (shooting two Bolsheviks in the process) she eventually arrived in England. Just 11 days into their honeymoon Ralston died of a heart-attack while walking down a country lane at Worth Matravers, near Swanage in Dorset.

Loaningdale (Zoopla)
A modern accommodation extension was built in the 1960’s. The house was put up for sale in 2015 and sold for just £520,000. (Zoopla)

In 1963 Loaningdale House became an Approved School for Boys but nearly suffered closure in 1967 when the body of a 15-year-old local girl was discovered in a nearby churchyard. She had been hit over the head with a heavy object and strangled from behind. The police began taking dental casts, including boys from the school, and it was determined that the murderer was 17-year-old Gordon Hay, a resident at Loaningdale. He became the first person in Britain to be convicted based on evidence from forensic dentistry. The school finally closed in the 1980’s and in recent times the house has been used as an outdoor education centre. The core of the house remains but has been spoilt by a 1960’s accommodation block and outbuildings to the east.

Loaningdale (Dicky Hart)
Not the most sympathetic addition to Loaningdale House, built in 1858 for Walter Scott Lorraine. (Dicky Hart)
Loaningdale House 1
Modern buildings were built to the east of Loaningdale House. It now operates as a Scottish Outdoor Education Centre (SOEC) for children and  young people.

Loaningdale House,
Biggar, South Lanarkshire, ML12 6LX

SUTTON HALL

Sutton Hall 2 (LH)
Sutton Hall was offered as a convalescent home or for institutional use before being demolished in the early 1940s. (Lost Heritage)

Sutton Hall, at Sutton-in-Craven, was built in 1894 by John William Hartley, the reclusive bachelor- owner of Greenroyd Mill (founded by Peter Hartley in 1830) and a throwback to the flourishing days of the textile industry. It was built with views across the Aire Valley and on completion contained a Reception Hall, Morning Room, Dining Room, Library, Drawing Room, Billiard Room as well as 7 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms and a lavatory. It also contained a large attic as well as the centrally-placed ‘Tower Room’. It was lit with gas but had been wired for electricity with state-of-the-art central heating. The house was so big that it was said to have never been completely furnished

On J.W. Hartley’s death, in 1909, he was said to own ‘practically all the houses in Sutton, and also the larger part of the farms on the hillside hear the village’ as well as an estate near Pateley Bridge. The estate passed to a cousin, Miss Emma Hartley, who sold the mill in 1911 due to the poor economic climate and the decline in the textile trade. She died in 1930 and Sutton Hall was left to Ernest Hartley but he only had possession for two years. When he died in 1932 there was a conundrum as to who should inherit the hall. His eldest son, George Clifford Hartley, would have succeeded to the estate had he reached his majority before his father died. However, he failed this by three weeks and, under the deed, couldn’t succeed because he was a minor. This left the bizarre scenario that Ernest Hartley’s brother Allen, a Morecambe bus conductor, might inherit if the title could be proved.

In the end the estate did pass to George Clifford Hartley but he had no intention of keeping Sutton Hall and put it up for sale in 1933. He cleared the contents of the house in a series of auctions that included mahogany, oak and walnut bedroom suites, Axminster and Brussels carpets, oil paintings, watercolours and silverware.

Sutton Hall 1 (LH)
Bidding for Sutton Hall started at £1,000 and just managed to reach £3,000. It had cost £40,000 to build 39 years before. (Lost Heritage)

Considering that it had cost nearly £40,000 to build just 39 years earlier the decline of the British country house was highlighted when it was sold to Ernest Turner, a Keighley builder and contractor, for just £3,000. The estate covered an area of approximately 25 acres, including Sutton Hall, lodges, garages and stables, and the timbered grounds and park. Turner immediately advertised it as being ‘suitable’ as a convalescent home or a public or private institution. There were no interested buyers and in 1934 he proposed dividing it into five flats. He gave 6½ acres of adjoining woodland to Sutton Parish Council, but the rest of the estate was developed into what he called ‘a kind of garden city – the first and the finest in this neighbourhood’, a project which involved the demolition of Sutton Hall itself in the early 1940s.

Lost Heritage

MELLS PARK

Mells Park 1 (LH)
In 1724 Thomas Strangways Horner commissioned Nathaniel Ireson to build the first Park House, and the family moved there from Mells Manor House. His nephew Thomas Horner expanded the park and planted extensive woodlands, a work continued by his son Colonel Thomas Strangways Horner. (Lost Heritage)


Mells Park
 (or Park House), near Frome in Somerset, was lost almost 100 years ago. The house had been built in 1724 when Thomas Strangways Horner commissioned Nathaniel Ireson to build a new mansion in an ‘H’ shape, and the family moved there from Mells Manor House. In 1900 the Horner’s, finding it too expensive to run, left Park House and moved back into Mells Manor House. The house was rented to Mr G.T. Bates, of Edward Bates and Sons, ship owners of Liverpool, until his death in April 1917. His effects were removed and the mansion was redecorated and furnished with a view to the Horner family again going into residence.

The evening of 11th October, 1917, was cold and miserable with driving rain. At about 8.00pm the Misses Horner, daughters of Sir John Fortescue Horner, spotted flames coming from Mells Park. With only a caretaker and his wife on the premises it was left to Sir John Horner and William Bexter, agent of the estate, to summon help and try and put the fire out. The rising wind carried the flames into the older part of the building, and the blaze quickly spread along all three sides. The ferocity of the fire meant efforts were instead diverted into saving the most valuable pieces of furniture, family pictures and books.

Mells Park 2 (LH)
The burnt out shell of Mells Park with salvaged furniture stacked up outside. (Lost Heritage)

The house might have been saved had it not been for a series of unfortunate mishaps involving the fledgling fire brigade. Initially the Frome Fire Brigade had been summoned but was unable to find horses. Instead they travelled to Mells Park by motor managing to arrive by 9.30pm. By this time the fire was out of control and the Radstock Fire Brigade was summoned to assist, but it appears that the motor drawing their engine got stuck in mud on route. The Bath Fire Brigade were telephoned but they declined to set out as Mells Park was considered too far to travel. In the end only the bare walls survived and the only portions saved were the stables and electric station. The cause of the fire remained a mystery but it was thought to have started in a heating apparatus chamber.

Mells Park 4
It was the end for the house. The Horner family stayed at Mells Manor House and the following year there was a sale of valuable furniture, china, prints, watercolours, carpets and rugs that were salvaged from the fire. The architect Edwin Lutyens tried unsuccessfully to persuade the Horner’s to rebuild Park House and it took until 1924, when they let it to Reginald McKenna (Chairman of the Midland Bank and married to a Horner niece), on the understanding that they would rebuild the house. Lutyens finally rebuilt Mells Park in a more modest scale neoclassical style in 1925.

Mells Park 3 (Lutyens Trust)
Edwin Lutyens rebuilt Park House in neoclassical style in 1925. He built a two-storey, hip-roofed house in Bath stone, on the outline of the previous building, and joined it onto the surviving arcaded service court. (Lutyens Trust)

Lost Heritage

BILLING HALL

Billing Hall 1 (Lost Heritage)
In 1779, Robert Cary Elwes, of Roxby, Lincolnshire bought Billing Hall, which by then had been rebuilt in the Palladian style by John Carr for the property’s previous owner, Lord John Cavendish, in 1776. (Lost Heritage)


Billing
 Hall (or Great Billing Hall as it was once known) was built on land owned by the Barry family. It was constructed about 1629 but substantially altered as a Georgian-style mansion by Lord John Cavendish about 1776.

The Elwes family arrived in 1790 and stayed for the next 140 years. Its most famous resident was Gervase Elwes, a tenor singer, who in 1921 while in Boston, USA, had a dreadful accident: he was retrieving an overcoat belonging to another passenger that had fallen from the train and fell between the platform and the train and died of his injuries.

Billing Hall was sold to the Musicians Benevolent Fund in 1931 by Geoffrey Elwes who moved to the run-down Elsham Hall, near Brigg, in Lincolnshire to make the family home habitable again. The proposal was to make BillingHall a home for aged musicians (in memory of Gervase Elwes) but the £50,000 cost to upgrade the mansion proved a stumbling block. There was talk of placing the mansion in the hands of house-breakers and the idea was eventually abandoned several years later.

Billing Hall was put up for sale in 1937 and was acquired by Drury and Co, Northamptonshire builders, who intended to demolish the house and erect a number of period and character-type houses in the grounds. However, uncertainty in the housing market halted plans and the house was probably rented out during the war years.

Billing Hall 2 (Lost Heritage)
Great Billing Pocket Park in Northampton now occupies what was once part of the Billing Hall estate. (Lost Heritage)

In 1945 the house and its 17 acres of woodland was bought by the Northampton Brewery Company Ltd. Two years later it announced plans to convert the house into a four-star hotel at a cost of £25,000 with longer term ambitions to add a further 30 bedrooms. Mr R.C. Vaughan representing the company said: “It was going to seed and falling into dilapidation… becoming an eyesore… it has been abandoned for some years now.”

It would appear the hotel plans never materialised but the brewery company retained possession. Installing a handyman and caretaker (who spent many years rebuilding estate walls) the house remained empty. In 1952 the Northampton Brewery Company decided to take advantage of Northampton’s growing population and its close travelling distance to London. It started to sell off plots of land and build ‘large’ private houses in the estate grounds. This inevitably led to the demolition of Billing Hall in 1956.

Lost Heritage

SCRUTON HALL

Scruton Hall 2 (Scruton History)
Scruton Hall was built on moorland on which the Scots fought a battle with the English in the 14th century. In the 1950’s, Scruton woodlands and farms, its park and Hall, were sold as part of the winding up of the Coore estate. (Scruton History)

The death of Mrs Marion Evelyn Coore in February 1953 brought an end to the family’s long tenure at Scruton Hall and in July most of the pretty village of Scruton, in the Hambleton district of North Yorkshire, went under the hammer. In addition to the hall, the 1,100 acre estate included 5 farms, the village shop and post office, cottages and small houses and a large area of timber.

The estate at Scruton came into the possession of Dr Thomas Gale, later Dean of York, in 1678. Scruton Hall, a Queen Anne country house, had been built by Roger Gale in 1705. Before that the estate had been owned by the Danby family of Thorpe Perrow. It passed into the possession of the Coore family when Harriet Gale married Lieutenant-Colonel Foster Lechmere Coore in 1816.

The hall was subject of a building preservation order as of special architectural and historical interest and came with the title of ‘Lord of the Manor of Scruton’ but not the patronage of the living of Scruton, which had been left to the Bishop of Ripon in Marion Evelyn Coore’s will.

The sale of the contents attracted a crowd of more than 1,400 who snapped up furniture, artworks, china and silverware. More than £5,500 was raised, one of the highest bids being for a silver tankard believed to have been given by Charles II to Barbara Villiers. It had been made by John Plummer of York in 1664, and was bought for £460 by Mr A. Craven Smith Milnes of Hocherton Manor, Southwell, whose wife was actually a member of the Coore family.

Scruton Hall 1
Scruton Hall in 1900. The central portion was built by Roger Gale around 1705. He was the MP for Northallerton four times and the first Vice President of the Society of Antiquarians. The two wings were added in Victorian times. Originally Called Scruton House, the building was re-named Scruton Hall when the medieval manor house, Scruton High Hall, was demolished in the late eighteenth century. (Scruton History)

The estate was sold in 38 lots reaching a value of £61,545 and Scruton Hall itself was sold to J.W. Tunnicliffe, timber merchants of Silsden, who paid £14,600. They bought the property primarily for the timber on the 60 acres of woodland but were unsure what to do with the mansion.

Within 12 months they had made an inquiry to Bedale Rural Council about demolition who were obliged to inform the North Riding Planning Committee that while they didn’t want to see the property demolished they couldn’t suggest a use for it. The view of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government was that the structure of the hall was sound and wanted to see it preserved if possible. Despite its preservation order Scruton Hall was eventually stripped, allowed to decay, and sadly demolished between 1956 and 1958.

Scruton Hall 3 (Darlington Stockton Times)

Scruton History
Lost Heritage