Tag Archives: Country House

PLAS NEWYDD

In 1918 Plas Newydd was sold to the approval of locals. However, within months its historical contents were sold at auction.

Plas Newyd 1 - The Sketch 15 Apr 1903 (BNA)
Plas Newydd had many occupants after the Ladies of Llangollen. It was for a time the residence of two other maiden ladies and afterwards, until 1890, was in the possession of General Yorke, who added a wing and made many alterations. (The British Newspaper Archive).

One hundred years ago, The Liverpool Daily Post reported on the sale of Plas Newydd, the one-time home of the famous ‘Ladies of Llangollen’. Mrs Thomas Wilson of Riseholm Hall, Lincolnshire, had bought Plas Newydd, with all its interesting art treasures, in 1910. She had sold it to Mr George Harrison of Bryntisilio, once the summer residence of Sir Theodoro and Lady Martin, and Liverpool. “In Mr Harrison’s hands it is felt that Wordsworth’s ‘Low-roofed cot by Deva’s Stream,’ as he described Plas Newyd, and Browning’s ‘House beautiful’ of Bryntisilio are in safekeeping.”

However, things weren’t not quite what they seemed. In June it was reported that the house and its contents were going to be sold. “The fine old oak collected with such rare taste by ‘the ladies’ to adorn their home is unique; and included in the collection now to be dispersed, are memorials of the great Duke of Wellington, Madame de Senlis, Lord Edward Fitzgerald, Southey, Wordsworth, and many other famous personages, with whom the ladies were contemporaneous”.

The Sketch - 15 Apr 1903 (BNA)
It is scarcely a matter of wonder that two ladies of such divided originality, in days when the female sex generally entertained no views on woman’s rights or emancipation, became quite a power in the little village of Llangollen. (The British Newspaper Archive).

The ‘Ladies of Llangollen’ were Lady Eleanor Butler (1745-1829), a sister of the 17th Earl of Ormonde, and Miss Sarah Ponsonby (1735-1831). About 1776, discontented with their life in Ireland, decided to take fate in their own hands and moved to Llangollen. They occupied a small four-roomed cottage called Pen-y-Mae which they enlarged and renamed Plas Newydd. With a fine taste in art and decoration it was transformed into a dwelling that people flocked to see from far and wide.

Plas Newydd (History Ireland)
The original cottage called Pen-y-Mae, later enlarged to become Plas Newydd. (History Ireland).
Plas Newyd 1 - The Sketch 27 Sep 1893 (BNA)
General Yorke spent thousands of pounds and spared nothing that would add to its charm and quaintness. After his death the property came into the possession of Mr G.H. Robertson, a wealthy Liverpool merchant, and later Mrs Thomas Wilson . (The British Newspaper Archive).
Liverpool Echo 7 June 1918 (BNA)
The LIverpool Echo. 7 June 1918. (The British Newspaper Archive).

At the 1918 auction the house was submitted and withdrawn at £5,250. The sale of the treasures realised about £10,000 after the six day sale. A movement was started to guarantee the retention of the house as a public property and it was thought that about £8,000 would be sufficient. However, in 1919 Plas Newydd was bought by Mr Duveen of London and Liverpool.

This turned out to be Lord Duveen of Millbank who lived his whole life in art and was known as the ‘King of Galleries’. He built the Duveen Gallery of the British Museum to house the Elgin Marbles and a major extension to the Tate Gallery. His ownership of Plas Newydd was brief. Within twelve months it had been sold to the Right Hon George Montagu Bennet, 7th Earl of Tankerville, who handed it over in perpetuity to Llangollen Town Council (after it had borrowed £3,350 from the Ministry of Health) in 1932. Today it is run as a museum by Denbighshire County Council.

Plas Newyd - The Sketch 15 Apr 1903 (BNA)
The ladies filled the small rooms to overflowing, the dining-room, the library, the drawing-room, and the bed-room, which, of course, the friends shared. (The British Newspaper Archive).
Plas Newyd 2 - The Sketch 15 Apr 1903 (BNA)
One of the richly furnished rooms in 1903. The ‘Ladies of Llangollen’ lived at Plas Newydd for fifty years. “There is not one point to distinguish them from men; the dressing and powdering of their hair; their well-starched neckcloths, the upper part of their habits, which they always wear, made precisely like men’s coats…” (The British Newspaper Archive).
Plas Newydd (Geograph-Gwynfryn)
Plas Newydd, Llangollen. The original cottage was expanded by the ladies, and then again by subsequent owners. It is now restored to essentially the same structure left by the ladies. Its most unusual feature are the pieces of reclaimed oak carvings set out in patchwork style on the exterior of the house. The modern-day house looks remarkably different from the one shown in earlier photographs.(Geograph/Gwynfryn).
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OSTERLEY PARK

‘A Palace of Palaces’: When Osterley Park, a gift of Lord Jersey, was accepted for the nation.

The Sphere - 10 Dec 1949 (BNA)
The main facade of Osterley: A frontal view of the great mansion, which passed into the hands of the people in 1949. Osterley Park had been the home of the Earls of Jersey for more than a century. In this image the gardens were in an unkempt state. (The British Newspaper Archive).

In the 1940s, the future of Osterley Park, near Isleworth, was the cause of frustration for George Child Villiers, 9th Earl of Jersey.

The Manor of Osterley had been bought by Sir Thomas Gresham, Chancellor of the Exchequer to Queen Elizabeth, in 1562, who erected an ‘agreeable edifice’ built of brick and described as ‘large, convenient and thoroughly finished’.

In 1711 the house was bought by Sir Francis Child, a banker and city magnate, and it was one of his descendants, Francis Child, who employed the fashionable young architect Robert Adam, who in 20 years transformed Osterley into a palace.

Two years after Adams’ engagement Francis Child died, but his brother and heir, Robert (1739-1782), saw to the completion of the operations. Robert Child had one daughter, Sarah, who in 1782, eloped to Gretna Green with John, 10th Earl of Westmorland. The couple were soon forgiven, and their eldest daughter, Lady Sarah Fane, eventually inherited Osterley. She married in 1804 Viscount Villiers, who succeeded as 5th Earl of Jersey, and it was his heir who wanted rid of the property.

The Sphere - 17 June 1939 (BNA)
Lord and Lady Jersey seen in the grounds of Osterley Park before it was opened to the public in 1939. “I have opened Osterley,” said Lord Jersey, “as I do not live in it and there must be so many who want to see the place.” Lady Jersey was formerly the film actress, Virginia Cherrill. Lord Jersey gifted Osterley Park ten years later. (The British Newspaper Archive).

There had been long drawn-out negotiations with the National Trust. James Lees-Milne had been negotiating the transfer of the property for years, and in his 1944 diaries wrote:

“What a decline since 1939! Now total disorder and disarray. Bombs have fallen in the park, blowing out many windows; the Adam orangery has been burnt out, and the garden beds are totally overgrown. We did not go round the house which is taken over by Glyn Mills Bank, but round the confines of the estate. There are still 600 acres as yet unsold, Smith and I both deprecated the breezy way in which the Osterley agent advocated further slices to the south-east of the house being sold for building development, in order to raise an endowment. It is going to be a difficult problem how to estimate figures where so much is problematic, the outgoings associated with the museum, the number of visitors and the potential building value of the land itself.”

Lord Jersey had first offered his estate to the National Trust in 1946, but in 1948 withdrew the offer because the Middlesex County Council failed to agree on the management scheme. Afterwards Lord Jersey made new proposals which resulted in the final transfer of the property.

In December 1949, the National Trust announced that Lord Jersey’s gift of the house and 140 acres of land had been accepted.

The Sphere - 10 Dec 1949 (BNA) 1
The magnificent library of the mansion as it was in its heyday: The National Trust had announced the acceptance of Lord Jersey’s gift of the house and 140 acres of land. (The British Newspaper Archive).

The Victoria and Albert Museum bought from Lord Jersey the furniture and furnishings specially designed for the State rooms by Robert Adam. The arrangement and showing of the house was in the hands of the V&A, to whom the Trust lent four panels of Beauvais tapestry to hang in the gallery. The Trust had let the property on a long lease from the Ministry of Works and it was intended that after necessary alterations the house would be opened as a public museum. ( ‘The Sphere’ said at the time that the Government had actually handed over £120,500 for the contents of the house).

Lord Jersey moved to the island of Jersey, taking many pictures (including works by Rubens, Van Dyck and Claude) with him. Sadly, many of these were destroyed in a fire while en route to his new home.

The National Trust took full ownership in 1991, but has been accused by critics that Osterley was being ‘increasingly despoiled and dumbed-down’. Last year ‘The Spectator’ scoffed at plans by the Trust ‘to spend £356,000 and turn it into a ‘child-friendly leisure centre’.

Illustrated London News - 10 Dec 1949 1
The Tapestry Room at Osterley Park. The walls were lined with panels of Neilson-Gobelins fabrics, dating to 1775, and representing ‘Les Amours Des Dieux’. (The British Newspaper Archive).
Illustrated London News - 10 Dec 1949 4
One of the magnificent rooms in Osterley Park. The Dining Room, showing the lyre-back chairs. (The British Newspaper Archive).
Illustrated London News - 10 Dec 1949
Designed for Mrs Child in 1775 and purchased by the Victoria and Albert Museum. The Great Bed in the State Bedroom at Osterley. (The British Newspaper Archive).
The Sphere 2 - 17 June 1939 (BNA)
The Etruscan Room was an outstanding example of the 18th century embellishment at Osterley. Other features were the Wedgewood Hall and the Boucher tapestry room. (The British Newspaper Archive).
The Sphere 1 - 17 June 1939 (BNA)
The Drawing Room had many fine pictures on its walls. The British school was well represented and included the heads of Robert Child and his wife, painted by Romney for 20 guineas apiece, and Reynolds’ portrait of Sarah Child, the Gretna Green bride of Lord Westmorland. (The British Newspaper Archive).
Osterley Park (Wikipedia)
The National Trust continues to maintain Osterley Park. The house and gardens are open to the public and receive around 30,000 of the 350,000 visitors to the surrounding park. The house has featured on film and TV including ‘The Saint’, ‘The Persuaders’, ‘Miss Marple’, ‘The Grass is Greener’, ‘Young Victoria’ and ‘The Dark Knight Rises’.

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).

 

BLACKFRIARS HAUGH

A century ago nobody wanted to take on a big house. 

The Haugh (Elgin from Old Photographs)
The Haugh was built on the west of the site of Blackfriars Haugh, a 13th century property demolished in 1750. (Elgin from Old Photographs).

A century ago country mansions were out of vogue. This was more so in Scotland where a large number of big houses and estates were sent to market. There was no guarantee that they would sell. This was highlighted on the 8 March, 1918, by the Aberdeen Weekly Journal who reported on the mansion house of Blackfriars Haugh.

‘In ordinary times the offer of the mansion house of Haugh would have been considered a bargain at £3,000. Such was the upset price it was offered at on Thursday last, but there was no response. Along with the house, which is one of the most beautiful and attractive residences in Elgin, there are 10 acres of policies. The sale has again been adjourned’.

The Scotsman - 23 Feb 1918 (BNA)
From The Scotsman, 23 February 1918. (The British Newspaper Archive).

The house was built for William Grigor in the mid 19th century and later remodelled in ‘fruity’ baronial style in 1882 for Mr A.G. Allan, a solicitor, by the architect William Kidner. It had become a millstone after the death of its then-owner Mr John Macdonald, a retired tobacco manufacturer, formerly of the firm of J & D Macdonald. The firm was amalgamated with the Imperial Tobacco Company of Great Britain and, following his demise in 1911, Macdonald left estate worth £105,684 and shares amounting to £93,311.

Blackfriars Haugh failed to sell on several occasions and was seemingly destined for the demolition men.

The Haugh 1 (Elgin from Old Photographs)
In 1882 the prominent solicitor A.G. Allan commissioned William Kidner to remodel The Haugh. Kidner had spent some time in Shanghai and oriental influence is hinted at in the design. (Elgin from Old Photographs).

Diminishing in value, it did finally find a buyer in August 1918, but the timing was poor. Mr Hendry Russell Randall, of the Royal Worcester Warehouse Co, London, bought Blackfriers Haugh and its policies. He fitted the house up as a convalescent hospital and offered it to the American Red Cross for the benefit of wounded American officers and men.

The Aberdeen Press and Journal enthused about the proposal.

‘The house occupies a fine situation on the banks of the Lossie, and the grounds are about ten acres in extent, with croquet lawn, tennis court, and bowling green. The interior has been fitted up with every modern convenience, and there are well stocked fruit and vegetable gardens. The river offers facilities for boating and fishing, and Mr Randall intends to provide a motor car, so that the wounded soldiers can visit any of the beauty spots in the district’.

The Haugh 2 (Elgin from Old Photopgraphs)
The entrance to The Haugh during the times of the Bibby family. (Elgin from Old Photographs).
The Haugh 3 (Elgin from Old Photographs)
The Drawing Room. It is understood these photographs were taken about 1946, when The Haugh was gifted to the town. (Elgin from Old Photographs).
The Haugh 4 (Elgin from Old Photographs)
Landscape views decorate the walls in this bedroom at The Haugh. (Elgin from Old Photographs).
The Haugh 5 (Elgin from Old Photographs)
Books, flower arrangements and comfortable furniture. (Elgin from Old Photographs)

It is doubtful whether it was ever used as a hospital. The end of the war in November effectively scuppered plans with wounded American soldiers being shipped safely back home instead. In 1919 Blackfriars Haugh was back on the market once again.

The mansion finally became a family home again in the 1920s when it was bought by Mr H.C. Bibby. The family remained until the 1940s when it was gifted to the people of Elgin by Mrs Katherine Bibby. By her wish it was to be used to rehouse patients in the Munro Home for Incurable Invalids. Part of the house was also set aside as an eventide home for old men and women belonging to Elgin and Morayshire. In the end it was actually used as a pre-nursing training school and later as a music department for the Elgin Academy

But what of the house today? The property still exists but is no longer known as Blackfriars Haugh (or even its shortened title, The Haugh). Nowadays the Category B listed house provides a very different existence as the Mansion House Hotel & Country Club.

Blackfriars Haugh (Elgin) (Mansion House Hotel & Country Club)
The Haugh is now better known as the Mansion House Hotel & Country Club.

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)

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