Tag Archives: Country House

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

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