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.
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.
In May 1852 a newspaper advertisement announced the sale of valuable land adjoining Bradfield Moor in Yorkshire. It appeared in the Sheffield Independent, a daily newspaper for the town of Sheffield which lay a few miles to the south. This sale of valuable land by Mr Joseph Hammerton of Walker House, Bradfield Dale, included 102- acres of ancient woodland and 7 acres of grassland with commanding views of the surrounding romantic scenery. It also suggested that this freehold estate would be the ideal place to build a summer residence and perfect to use as a Shooting Box in winter.¹
Sidney Jessop and eventful times at Thornsett
The offer was taken up by Sidney Jessop (1809-1871), a nobleman of the eminent Sheffield steel-making firm William Jessop and Sons. The business had been started as a small crucible steelmaker by his father William Jessop in 1830, but there were records of Jessops making steel in Sheffield as far back as 1774. When William Jessop died in 1835 it was taken over by his sons – Montague (1802-1841), Henry (1808-1849), Thomas and Sidney. Montague died soon after and Henry, who established an American branch of the company, also died, in New York at the relatively young age of 41. Their father had taken care not to make any of his sons ‘masters’ and set them to learn the rudiments of the business, often making them toil as hard as other working men.
Sidney, along with his older brother Thomas (more of which we will read about later), continued the firm between them and quickly established it as one of the town’s most reputable manufacturers of steel for the making of tools, saws and steel pens. They also became investors in the Sheffield, Wortley, Silkstone and Wakefield Railway Company.
Sidney lived at 31 Broom Grove Road in the well-heeled district of Broom Hall. The house had been left to his widowed mother, Rebecca, but it was Sidney’s income that provided for the family indulgence. When William Jessop and Sons opened a branch on Dale Street in Manchester it was Sidney who supervised operations. He would move to Shakespeare Street in Ardwick, a house he maintained until his death.
The estate at Thornsett Moor was ideally situated on the way to Manchester. Thornsett Lodge was probably built about 1855 but the architect remains unknown. It was undoubtedly built as a summer retreat and, being a keen sportsman, ideal for Sidney to use during the grouse shooting season. As early as 1858 he was entertaining a party of about fifty gentlemen for the ‘Glorious Twelfth’.
‘The weather was beautifully fine, the sun being exceedingly powerful until towards two o’clock, when the clouds wore a threatening aspect, and the sound of distant thunder attracted the attention of those who were unprepared for a storm. Vivid flashes of lightning, followed by loud peals of thunder, shortly afterwards came in quick succession. About four o’clock the storm became so violent that the sportsmen were obliged to leave the moors. The rain and hail stones descended heavily for a couple of hours, and then somewhat abated, the storm apparently travelling in the direction of Sheffield’.²
When Sidney bought the land at Thornsett he might not have been aware of an important development in the valley below. In 1856 there was talk that the Sheffield Waterworks Company was considering building a new reservoir in order to supply the quantity of water required by an Act of Parliament for the mills of the River Loxley. It became reality in 1859 when construction started and the landscape below Thornsett Lodge was obliterated by hundreds of workmen. In time the ‘Bradfield scheme’ planned to have four reservoirs in the hills surrounding the nearby village.
The work on Dale Dyke encountered frequent problems but by the end of 1863 the embankment was so far complete as to be ready for the reception of water. Through the winter the 76-acre reservoir filled and by March it was almost full. However, disaster was to strike on the evening of Friday 11th March 1864 when, during high winds, the embankment collapsed sending 3 million cubic metres of water down the Loxley valley towards Sheffield. The wall of water destroyed everything in its course and reached Malin Bridge and Hillsborough where the River Loxley met the River Don . The water then thundered towards the town centre and then in the direction of Attercliffe and Rotherham. Altogether at least 240 people died and more than 600 houses were damaged or destroyed by the flood.
It proved to be Sheffield’s worst disaster (although not its last) and the remains of Dale Dyke scarred the landscape on Bradfield Moor. The Mayor of Sheffield, none other than Sidney’s older brother, Thomas, quickly set up a relief fund for the homeless and the needy that eventually reached £49,650. Notwithstanding the huge loss of life and the prolonged work needed to rebuild the dam there was now a stigma attached to the area around Thornsett.
The flood may have prompted Sidney to put the Thornsett Lodge estate up for auction in 1869. When the bidding failed to reach its reserved price the lot was withdrawn and it remained in Jessop hands.³
Sidney Jessop always lived under the shadow of his remaining older brother. He had a retiring disposition and never took much part in public affairs although, for a time, he did represent the Park Ward in the Town Council, during which time he declined an invitation to become Mayor. After a period of indifferent health he died at his Manchester residence in January 1871. Such was the respect given to him by his workmen that the pall bearers at his funeral were eight of the company’s oldest employees. Sidney Jessop was buried at Ecclesall Church in Sheffield.
Thomas Jessop – hero of the town
Upon the death of Sidney, his brother Thomas Jessop (1804-1887) was left the sole proprietor of William Jessop and Sons. Thomas was already an extensive owner of landed property and now inherited the estate at Thornsett. He lived at Endcliffe Grange in Sheffield which remained his principal residence.
While Sidney was considered to have been the restraining influence it was Thomas who showed the most enthusiasm for growing the business of William Jessop and Sons. At the age of 28 he crossed the Atlantic and laid the foundations of the business that afterwards sprung up. It was also Thomas who saw further ahead and from the original premises on Blast Lane, next to the canal, he extended to Brightside, and a year later added the Kilnhurst works as a temporary establishment. The Brightside works grew until they occupied nearly 30-acres of land intersected by nearly three miles of railway lines. At one stage there were six water-wheels and 28 steam boilers needed to drive the engines, hammers and machines.
Thomas Jessop will always be remembered in Sheffield as the generous donor of the Jessop Hospital for Women, an institution that still exists today. It had first been established in 1864 on Figtree Lane and a new hospital was opened in 1878. His donation amounted to £26,000 and he explained that while serving as Mayor of Sheffield he had thought it necessary that the town’s women should have their own hospital. ‘He had now built the hospital, he had furnished it, he had given it to the trustees for the benefit of the town, and he asked them to assist him in supporting it’.⁴
The public career of Thomas Jessop dated back to 1843 when he was elected a councillor for the Park Ward. He retired from the Town Council in 1848 and devoted his attention to the family business. In 1863 Thomas was chosen as Master Cutler and decided to re-join the council becoming Mayor a month later.
William Jessop and Sons became a limited company in 1875. Through aggressive business deals and key contracts the firm had grown into a world reputed empire. Thomas believed that the firm had become so big that the responsibility had to be shared with younger shoulders and wanted to develop young fellows who would eventually support his own son, William. He agreed to sell the company’s estate and property to Mr D Chadwick, M.P., and prepared to retire from the business. In the years that followed the firm went through several years’ poor trading and became saddled with a large quantity of iron bought when the price was at its height. Thomas Jessop returned as Chairman and effectively saved the company when he gifted it £46,000.
After he inherited Thornsett Lodge Thomas used his wealth to acquire the Huggate estate, on the Yorkshire Wolds, between Driffield and Pocklington, extending to 4,000-acres. This property, along with several good farms, cost him £160,000. He also became the owner of Foston, some 600-acres near Driffield, which included a trout stream running right through the middle of it.
Thomas married Frances Yates Hope, daughter of Peter Hope, wholesale merchant and grocer of Liverpool, in the spring of 1846. Before this he had lived in his father’s cottage adjoining the Blast Lane works – ‘A beautiful place, with a lovely lake in the front, and delightful surroundings’. After marriage he lived at Claremont and later moved to Farm Bank on Shrewsbury Road, afterwards to Shirle Hill in Sharrow. Thomas Jessop bought Endcliffe Grange following the death of its owner Edward Fisher Sanderson. He extended and improved the house making it one of the most desirable residences in one of the wealthiest suburbs. He also embellished the interior with valuable works of art, including those by Osler, Pettie and other famous painters.
However, it was Thornsett Lodge where Thomas spent his long summers enjoying the view down the valley of the Loxley and the Porter, the Parish Church of Sheffield being discernible in the distance. During the grouse season he made a point of gathering friends around him, including members of the ‘Birthday Club’, meeting on market days at the King’s Head, and he always made a point of visiting Thornsett on the 12th of August.⁵
Thomas Jessop died at Endcliffe Grange in November 1887.
William Jessop – man of the land
The only son of Thomas Jessop was William Jessop (1856-1905) and now head of the third generation of the steel manufacturers. As a youngster he was educated at Collegiate School in Sheffield and later at Repton, in Germany, before finishing his education at Cambridge. For the greater part of his life he didn’t take part in the affairs of the business but finally became a director in 1880 and, on the death of his father, became its chairman. Although he didn’t take a prominent part in the day-to-day running he was influential in establishing a branch in America in 1902.
For some years he had been a director of the Sheffield and Rotherham Bank, and also occupied a seat on the board of the Yorkshire Engine Company. He also supported the work started by his father at the Jessop Hospital for Women and became president of the institution. This inspired him to also become a trustee of the Sheffield Royal Infirmary. Possessed of ample means and inheriting considerable landed estates from his father, William was more at home in the countryside.
William was keenly interested in agriculture, an ardent sportsman, who loved to handle the gun and rod and to play host to his sporting friends. As such he regularly visited Thornsett Lodge and owned extensive shooting rights in the Strines district, and became a prominent member of the Bradfield Game Association, a group of gentlemen who enjoyed grouse-shooting rights over a large area of the nearby moorland.
William was twice married. His first wife was Mary Crompton Bateman of Middleton Hall, Youlgreave, in Derbyshire. Her father and grandfather had been ardent antiquarians and were well-known in connection with their researches into the history of Derbyshire. By this marriage he had five children, four daughters and one son. Following the death of his first wife he married again, this time to Mrs Frances Jane Fenwick Watson, widow of Mr W.J. Watson of Newcastle.
For many years William resided at Forest Hill, near Worksop, and later moved to Wallingwells, an estate belonging to Sir Thomas White. For a time he moved to Endcliffe Grange while spending a few months each year at his house, 5 Westbourne Grove, in Scarborough. However, his liking for country life caused him to resume his occupancy of Wallingwells, where he remained until late in life. Here he indulged in hunting and shooting and could be regularly found with Lord Galway’s hounds when they were out. The tenantry on his estates found him an excellent landlord and he actively worked several of the farms on the Huggate estate. His open-handed generosity to those poorer than himself was evident in those times of agricultural difficulty and there were many who thought him an ideal candidate to take part in public affairs. However, William chose not to participate and preferred a quieter existence, one that had been deprived of his father.
At the Coronation of King Edward VI and Queen Alexandra he made generous arrangements for each of his tenants and workers at Foston and Huggate to enjoy a day of festivities. Each person received an invitation card illuminated in Coronation colours, on it were portraits of the King and Queen alongside the Royal arms. In the centre were views of Foston Church, Wold House, Huggate, and Thornsett Lodge. Below these were photographs of Thomas Jessop on one side, and his grandson on the other; with the host and hostess Mr and Mrs William Jessop between them. On the day itself each person was presented with a Coronation medal with a pendant ribbon of red, white and blue.⁶
During the last two years of his life William was struck down with a painful affection of the throat. In an attempt to rescue his health he journeyed around the world visiting Australia and Japan. William made several visits to London for medical consultations but it was apparent that he was gradually sinking. He left Wallingwells and made Thornsett Lodge his permanent home. It was here that he spent the last 12 months of his life, the last three being unable to leave the safe confines of the house, and here he died on 4 July 1905.
William Jessop bequeathed his wife a carriage, a pair of horses, harness, saddlery, and stable furniture, as well as wines and spirits and other consumable stores from Thornsett Lodge and Westbourne Grove in Scarborough. He gave her a legacy of £500 and the right to use Thornsett Lodge until his only son, Thomas Jessop, reached the age of 23. It would appear that she had no appetite for alcohol as the extensive cellar of vintage wines was auctioned the following November.⁷
Thomas Jessop and the extravagance ends
When William Jessop’s only son was born in 1888 it was quite right that he should be named after his famous grandfather. He was sent away to be educated in Cheltenham and enjoyed the sporting traditions available to a privileged young man. He was an amateur cross-country jockey and won numerous trophies at point-to-point meetings He was a first-class shot and a cricketer of some repute. In 1905, aged 17, he joined William Jessop and Sons but the death of his father a month later probably arrested any ambitions to serve the company.
It might also be the case that Thomas had little interest in Thornsett Lodge either. His step-mother, entitled to stay until he reached the age of 23, decided to take the sea air and had moved to 127 King’s Road in Brighton, Sussex. In 1908 Thornsett Lodge was advertised to let on a yearly tenancy. It was described with three reception rooms, twelve bedrooms, excellent servants’ offices, extensive stabling and outbuildings. It also came with relatively rare electric light installation and all modern conveniences.⁸
Thomas, like his father, enjoyed countryside pursuits and while in Gloucestershire had met a similar-minded person in Miss Bertha Muriel James, daughter of Mr A.B. James of Somerset and Mrs James of Park House, Thirlestaine Road, Cheltenham. They were married in July 1909 and the fact that Thornsett Lodge was still without a tenant provided the perfect opportunity to spend their honeymoon there.
The couple lived on private means and set up home at 25 Promenade, Moat House, Uckington, in Cheltenham, but there was also time spent in Lincolnshire. In 1906 he had obtained a commission with the Lincolnshire Yeomanry, serving under Lord Yarborough, with whom he served throughout World War One. He was on HMS Mercian when she was shelled in the Mediterranean with the loss of nearly 80 lives. He also saw several years’ service in Egypt and Palestine, much of which was with the Desert Mounted Corps.
Returning to England he settled in the Spilsby district of Lincolnshire and purchased Harrington Hall. He devoted much of his life to hunting, a passion shared with his wife. They had hunted throughout Britain from 1911 until he went to war and he was Master and Huntsman of the Boddington Harriers in Gloucestershire. In 1920 he became Joint Master of the Southwold Hounds and later hunted the Burton Hounds and then South Wold East.
Thornsett Lodge remained under his ownership but by the 1920s was being used by the Bradfield Game Association for shooting purposes. However, in 1928 the association had instructed the Sheffield auctioneer’s of Eadon & Lockwood to sell all the contents of the house.
Maybe Thornsett Lodge had too many close associations with Sheffield and its industrial past to satisfy Thomas Jessop’s rural pursuits. Whatever the reasons the house steadily fell out of favour with him as did the city that had allowed him to live the life of a country gentleman. (Ironically, his step-mother, Frances Jane Fenwick Jessop, had by now moved out of Brighton and had taken a house, ‘Thornsett’, on Falmer Road in Rottingdean. She died in May 1933).
Soon after the contents of Thornsett Lodge had been disposed of the house and estate were sold to Grange and Dale Ltd, a Lincolnshire based property investment company headed by Major Charles Wilson of Riseholme Hall and a Captain Hunt. It is not without probability that they were friends of Thomas Jessop and were keen to exploit the shooting moors that came with the lodge.
The house was made available to let and in 1933 it was home to Gladys Hilda Wyles, spinster, whose only claim to fame appears to be the bankruptcy of her Mowbray Confectionery Works, a wholesale and manufacturing confectioner in Sheffield.
In 1934 Grange and Dale Ltd sold Thornsett Hall to Sheffield Corporation most likely to be used as offices for the waterworks department who were responsible for the nearby Dale Dyke, Strines, Agden and Damflask reservoirs. Grange and Dale Ltd retained the shooting rights and were still advertising that the grouse moors were available to let as late as 1940.
As for Thomas, during World War Two he served as a Welfare Officer in the Northern Command, based in Lincoln, and would later become Major Thomas Jessop. He went on to serve with Spilsby Rural District Council and its committees but it was with the company of ex-servicemen that he enjoyed his role as President of the Lincolnshire Yeomanry Old Comrades’ Association as well as being patron of the Spilsby branch of the British Legion.
While Thomas lived his peacetime in relative comfort, and on the proceeds of William Jessop and Sons, it was apparent that times were changing. Between the wars his move from Harrington House to the smaller Harrington House Farm in the adjoining village reflected the declining years of the steel business and a change in his personal circumstances. He died aged 65 at Horncastle Hospital in February 1952.⁹
Decline and fall
The prospect of war loomed over Europe and in May 1939 it was announced that Thornsett Lodge would house infants from Herries Road Nursery ‘in case of emergency’.¹⁰ This was exactly what happened and the youngsters enjoyed the fresh country air while the city below worked itself to exhaustion and suffered at the hands of German bombers.
It was the start of a long association with children and when peace returned Thornsett Lodge was used as an adjunct to Sheffield Corporation’s cottage homes at Fulwood. It was also around this time that the name appears to have been changed to Thornseat Lodge. A swimming pool was built at the rear of the house and in 1973 it was described as a mixed sex home for 16 emotionally disturbed or ‘difficult’ children of all ages. By 1978 it was listed as an Intermediate Treatment Centre accommodating 12 young people, but its days were numbered.
By the time of its closure in 1980 there was little to associate Thornseat Lodge with its glorious days of domestic pleasure. The 1980s were difficult times for the City of Sheffield. Unemployment was high; its infrastructure was struggling and the council was cash-strapped. There was little else to do but ‘mothball’ it until a better use came along.
The house was not entirely empty. In the early 1990s it was used by the Sheffield Gingerbread Group as a place for families on low incomes to go and stay. As one person said on the Sheffield History forum: – “We stayed there several years’ running. It was a beautiful old house with one room which the caretaker still used in its original state with oak panelled walls. We celebrated children’s birthdays, Halloween and lots more and it was great to see the kids out-of-town and into the countryside.”
But the good times weren’t to last. As the new millennium approached little was done to save Thornseat Lodge. The severe moorland winters were no match and the house quickly fell into a state of disrepair. The worse it became the less likely anybody was going to be interested in buying the property. In 1994 there were plans to turn Thornseat Lodge into a possible location for an eight-place secure unit but hesitancy by Sheffield City Council and opposition from the Peak National Park meant plans were quickly shelved.¹¹
In 2004 the council finally sold the property to Hague Plant Excavations Ltd whose ownership and intentions have been subject of much internet debate ever since. Most certain is that Thornseat Lodge has become a perilous ruin and, without listed status, its future is uncertain. A huge amount of money would be required to restore the property and for what purpose? The easiest option might be to demolish it once and for all but there might yet be salvation. In June 2016 a new company was formed called Thornseat Lodge Ltd. Its purpose is unclear but let us hope that there might be a happy ending for Sidney Jessop’s old shooting lodge after all.
Until then the ghosts will continue to wander through the open corridors, the crumbling stonework and the broken glass.
Note:- William Jessop and Sons, later William Jessop and Company, merged with J.J. Saville and Co to become Jessop Saville & Company. The Brightside Lane works in Sheffield closed in the late 1980s and was later cleared to become ‘Jessop’s Riverside’ business park. In 1998 the company was bought by Allegheny Teledyne.
References:- ¹Sheffield Independent (15 May 1852) ²Sheffield Daily Telegraph (14 Aug 1858) ³Sheffield Independent (30 Jun 1869) ⁴Sheffield Evening Telegraph (30 Jun 1887 ⁵Sheffield Evening Telegraph (30 Nov 1887) ⁶Sheffield Daily Telegraph (12 Jun 1902) ⁷Sheffield Daily Telegraph (8 Sep 1905) ⁸Sheffield Independent (30 May 1908) ⁹Skegness Standard (27 Feb 1952) ¹⁰Sheffield Daily Telegraph (4 May 1939) ¹¹Terry BK (Sheffield Forum)
Nether Hall has been owned by the same family for 179 years who decided, in the summer of 2017, to put the house on the market with a price tag of £2.5 million.
According to legend six halls around Hathersage were built by William the Conqueror and given to the family of six Eyre brothers for ‘valorous conduct’ in the conquest of England.These were Hathersage Hall, North Lees Hall, Nether Hall, Hogg Hall, Haselford Hall and Highlow Hall.
When James Waterhouse Smith, also of Clarence Terrace in Regent’s Park, chose to leave Nether Hall in the 1830s, he sold it to John Spencer Ashton Shuttleworth (1817-1894) of Hathersage Hall. Shuttleworth represented the old family of the Ashtons of Hathersage who had gained wealth through their extensive Derbyshire lead mines. Never a businessman but a country gentleman and keen forester, he held a firm belief that landed property was safe security, his foresight in purchasing land fully justifying his policy.
He demolished old Nether Hall and replaced it with a coarsed gritstone mansion between 1838 and 1840 to the designs of Sheffield architect William Flockton, responsible for many of the city’s grand buildings and having significant influence on the market town of Bakewell. Soon after it became the inspiration of ‘Mr Oliver’s grand hall down i’ Morton Vale’ in Charlotte Bronte’s ‘Jane Eyre’ published in 1847.
The sales information tells you that it has remained in the Shuttleworth family ever since although for the first hundred years the ‘Victorian property developer’ approach meant Nether Hall was tenanted.
First there was Charles James Peel, then Joseph Bright, a Sheffield estate and insurance agent, Mark Thomas Dixon, a director of the Hallamshire File and Steel Company and Thomas Norton Longman, head of the publishers Longmans, Green and Co (established in 1724 and now known as Longman, owned by Pearson). On his father’s death he left Nether Hall for the family seat at Shendish House in Hertfordshire. Its next tenant was F.C. Fairholme, a director of steel manufacturers Thomas Firth and Sons. Of course, the Shuttleworths eventually took advantage of the old house’s charms and have lived there for most of its recent history.
This fine manor house was built about 1895 by the architect Edward Penfold, a partner in Baker and Penfold of Reigate.
Quite remarkable are the circumstances leading up to the construction of Kingswood Manor. For these we must travel to the USA where Claus Spreckels (1828-1908), a German-born immigrant, made his fortune by starting a brewery and later founding the California Sugar Refinery. When he went to Hawaii in 1876 he managed to secure sole supply of sugar cane and with it much of the West Coast refined sugar market. In 1899 he founded the Spreckels Sugar Company, Inc.
The businessman gave over $25 million to his five grown children but his favourite child was the only daughter, Emma Claudine Spreckels. He gifted an entire city block in Honolulu to her and an endowment worth almost $2 million. However, in 1893, when Emma married Thomas Palmer Watson, a Yorkshire-born grain-broker of San Jose and many years her senior, she failed to tell her father. Claus didn’t approve and taunted her with the gift he’d generously provided. Emma gave it back but, because of her father’s high-standing in San Francisco, the married couple were forced to flee to England.
Thomas and Emma built Kingswood Manor in the village of Lower Kingswood. Thomas died in 1904 and she married John Wakefield Ferris, a Gloucestershire-born civil engineer and contractor, who also gained wealth in California by reclaiming about 80,000 acres of land subject to overflow by dyking and draining. Their daughter, Jean Ferris, later became the Marquise d’Espinay-Durtal, Princesse de Brons. When he died in 1920 the couple were about to vacate Kingswood Manor for Nutfield Priory at Redhill. (Emma later married a third time and died at Nutfield).
In 1922 Kingswood Manor was sold to Mr Alfred Norman Rickett, a stockbroker, and the Hon Jessie Hair Nivison, daughter of Robert Nivison, 1st Baron Glendyne, who remained until the 1940s. According to the sales information the house was reputedly later owned by the Sultan of Brunei but this cannot be verified. The present owners have been at Kingswood Manor since 1996 which still retains period features such as open fireplaces, a grand oak staircase, oak floors, wood panelling, high ceilings and ornate architraves. The house was put up for sale for £3.5 million in 2017.
Built: 1907 Architect: Sir Edward Guy Dawber Owner: Private ownership Country house and estate Grade II listed
“Squared rubble stone with ashlar dressings, tall hipped stone slate roofs and prominent rubble stone stacks with ashlar quoins. Two storeys and attic, late C17 style with symmetrical garden front, asymmetrical entrance front and L-plan service court.” (Historic England)
“The selection of an appropriate local stone – taken mostly from old walls about the estate; the exceptionally suitable roofing – old stone slate – also obtained in the vicinity; and the utilisation – fused into the one design – of motives easily separated under the heads of ‘Classic’ and ‘Gothic,’ are all representative of the modern type of residence design in England.” (The Architectural Review 1907)
By comparison to other featured houses, Conkwell Grange, at Limpley Stoke, near Bath, is relatively new. Nevertheless, this Edwardian property, built 109 years ago, has an incredible amount of history attached to it.
Built from the proceeds of Yorkshire wool it suffered at the hands of the Russian Revolution. It was almost destroyed by fire in the 1920s and then we have the puzzling story of the spinster who bought Conkwell Grange and drove around in a chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royce. This is not to mention the Royal Navy Commander who was a failed fruit-grower and the civil servant who shaped the future of one of the world’s busiest airports. Throw in a few Arab racehorses and Conkwell Grange has more to tell than many of its older and grander neighbours.
Conkley Grange, a neo-baroque house, has far-reaching views towards the Avon Valley and Salisbury Plain. The Grade II listed mansion was built in 1907 for James Thornton to a design by the renowned country house architect, Sir Edward Guy Dawber (1861-1938) at an estimated cost of £25-30,000.
Dawber was the president of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) between 1925 and 1927. His work consisted mainly of stone-built country houses in the Cotswolds vernacular tradition. Houses designed by him include Nether Swell Manor (Gloucestershire), Eyford Park (Gloucestershire) and Bowling Green (Dorset).
Conkwell Grange was described as a ‘modern William and Mary-style residence’ with reception rooms, 13 bed and dressing rooms, 3 bathrooms and a squash court.
James Thornton (1865-1939)
James Thornton was the son-in-law of Sir Charles Parry Hobhouse, of Monkton Farleigh, having married Miss Lilian Hobhouse in 1900. Prior to building Conkwell Grange the couple lived at the Priory, at Beech Hill, in Reading.
Thornton was an alderman for Wiltshire County Council and Chairman of the County Education Committee. He became a magistrate for Wiltshire and Berkshire, and contested North-West Wiltshire as a Liberal in 1895 and 1900. He strengthened his political ties by acting as President of the West Wiltshire Liberal Association. Together with Harry Plunkett Greene he also started the Wiltshire Music Festival and became President of the Bath Orpheus Glee Society.
His move to Conkwell Grange courted controversy almost immediately. Thornton, wanting privacy for his new home, closed access to the historic Conkwell Woods which spread across the estate. These woodland walks had been used by locals for generations and the erection of barriers didn’t make Thornton a popular man. The obstructions were demolished by frustrated walkers and a crusade was mounted by the Bath Socialist group who alleged interference with public rights of way.¹ The dispute eventually ended up at Bristol Assizes and Thornton was ordered to take down the barriers.
Thornton might have thought his new family home, a prestigious one at that, the beginning of a new adventure. However, the clashes with locals over Conkwell Woods were nothing compared to what lay ahead.
His immediate family, with strong ties to the Yorkshire woollen mills, had made their fortune in Russia where his father and brother spent most of their lives. As a result James travelled regularly throughout Europe living off his own personal wealth.
At the beginning of the 20th century the Thornton family owned cloth mills near St Petersburg proudly supplying the Russian Imperial Court . This allowed the Thornton’s to accumulate significant wealth, money which paid for the construction of Conkwell Grange, but the events of 1917 had devastating consequences.
The Russian Revolution focused around Saint Petersburg, then capital of Russia. In March 1917 members of the Imperial parliament assumed control of the country, forming the Russian Provisional Government, resulting in the collapse of the Russian Empire and the abdication of Emperor Nicholas II. The aftermath was chaotic with frequent mutinies, protests and many strikes across the country.
Havoc was wrought on the Thornton properties and the cloth mills were smashed by angry dissidents. Production stopped and the family business collapsed with James Thornton reported to have lost nearly half a million pounds.²
While events in Russia raged out of control, life continued quietly in the peace of the Wiltshire countryside. The gardens at Conkwell Grange were being carefully attended by David Lewis Bolwell, a Countrycompetent gardener, who had worked for Thornton’s father-in-law, Sir Charles Hobhouse, at Monkton Farleigh. Prior to their move he had been the gardener for Thornton at the Priory before moving in 1906 to oversee the layout of the new Conkwell Grange gardens. If anyone could speak about the secrets of the house then Bolwell was the man to do it. His love affair lasted 37 years and, rather fittingly, he collapsed and died in the gardens in 1943.
James Thornton’s stay at the house was almost at an end. In 1922, five years after the collapse of the family business, he sold up and moved to a smaller property, Turleigh Combe, at nearby Winsley.
He sold Turleigh Combe in the late 1930s looking to buy another property in the area. The search was unsuccessful and he ended up staying at Pratt’s Hotel in Bath. He died in his sleep, aged 74, in 1939. Following his death he left gross estate worth £23,578, with net personalty £22,742.³
George Pollard Armitage (1867-1952) When James Thornton left Conkwell Grange in 1922 it is possible he negotiated the sale to a friend and business contact. It may have been relief to a man who had lost half a million pounds and the man who offered a helping hand was George Pollard Armitage.
George was the only son of Joseph Armitage and Julia Francis, the daughter of George Thomas Pollard of Stannary Hall, in Yorkshire and Ashfield in Cheltenham. He was educated at Harrow and Jesus College, Cambridge.
Like the Thornton’s, the Armitage family were wealthy woollen manufacturers from Yorkshire. George’s grandfather, also Joseph, had built his first woollen mill in 1822 at Milnsbridge, two miles west of Huddersfield. In the 1840s, he handed over control of the thriving business to his sons who renamed it Armitage Bros. The company prospered during the industrial revolution and with it came riches to match.
George’s own prosperity came about in 1898 when he inherited Milnsbridge House, a country mansion, and the lease of Storthes Hall, at Kirkburton, quickly selling the freehold of the latter to the county council.
He later became a J.P. for the West Riding of Yorkshire in 1902 and married Coralie Eugenie, youngest daughter of Rev. Chastel de Boinville, the vicar of Burton in Westmoreland, in 1912.
By this time the woollen industry was not such a viable business after all. The boom years had gone and the First World War caused inevitable disruption to the industry. It would be some years before the market collapsed altogether but these were ominous times for George Armitage.
He also faced a dilemma over what to do with Milnsbridge House. When built, around 1748, the magnificent house had been in idyllic rural surroundings. Over time the industries of Huddersfield had advanced and now threatened to surround Milnsbridge. About 1919-20 George decided to sell and enjoy old age in a more suitable environment. On hindsight, his prognosis was quite correct. Armitage Bros ceased trading in 1930 while Milnsbridge House survives in an industrialised suburb of Huddersfield. For more details about Milnsbridge House please refer to an earlier post at Rudding Park.
With proceeds from the sale of Milnsbridge House George Pollard Armitage moved to Conkwell Grange in 1922.⁴
He spent his time at Conkwell Grange developing the estate for agricultural use and extended it to about 400 acres.
His stay was not without drama and the house was nearly lost on Christmas morning in 1925. A fire started in the day nursery and a call made to the fire brigade to attend. By the time they arrived at this remote location the fire had been brought under control by hard-working servants including, no doubt, the gardener David Bolwell. The blaze caused £400 worth of damage but Conkwell Grange survived owing to the nature of the walls and ceiling, which were lined, rather alarmingly, with asbestos. Fortunately the main damage was confined to the one room but the house was smoke-logged.
In 1933, with the collapse of Armitage Bros still rankling, George decided to put the Conkwell Grange estate on the market. He had his eyes on a nearby property, Hunters Leaze, and so appointed Thake and Paginton, of Newbury, and Fortt, Hatt and Billings, of Bath, to negotiate a sale. The land was divided and Conkwell Grange, along with about 125 acres, was sold to Miss Ethel Hallewell.
George Pollard Armitage moved to Hunters Leaze and died in 1952 leaving estate worth £14,440.
Ethel Winifred Catherine Hallewell (1864-1945) Ethel Hallewell was described in the press as ‘a lady who frequently visited Bath and chose to make her home in one of the choicest country districts that surround the city’.
The 1911 census reports that she was living by private means but as to how she acquired such wealth remains a mystery. For several years Ethel Hallewell had been a regular guest at the Pulteney Hotel in Bath and was most likely keeping an eye out for a suitable country house to live.
She was born in 1864 in Cape Town, the daughter of Charles James Maynard Hallewell and Amelia Catherine Barber, who had moved to South Africa.
Charles Maynard was a Captain in the Cape Mounted Rifles but the birth of Ethel prompted their return to England. He became a Lieutenant with the 19th (1st Yorkshire North Riding – Princess of Wales’s Own) Regiment but the family lived at Axminster in Devon.
Charles retired from military service in 1866 and a year later a son, Frank Maynard Hallewell, was born. In later years Charles (and his second wife Catherine Sophia Wilde) lived at Bryn Hyfryd, Conway, before returning to Devon at Deepdene, in Bathampton.
Charles died in 1919 leaving just £917 in his will. A lot of money then, but in comparison, when Ethel died in 1945 she left estate worth £144,649. She remained a spinster and, with no husband earning an income and no obvious benefactor, her finances remain a matter of speculation.
Maybe the answer to this conundrum lay thousands of miles away in South Africa? There were strong family connections and her brother, Frank, had followed in their father’s footsteps and joined the Cape Mounted Rifles. He died in 1937, aged 70, in a car accident at Vereeniging in the Transvaal. Sadly, he was also unmarried and without issue.
When Ethel died in 1945 she made provision for several charities, all of whom received £500 each.
The Child Emigration Society, founded in 1911 and better known as the Fairbridge Society, was dedicated solely to child migration, sending children to its farm schools in Australia and British Columbia and to a college in Southern Rhodesia.⁵ In addition Ethel made further provision of £500 to support the Fairbridge Homes.
The reason for Ethel’s support is speculative but no doubt she believed she was bettering the lives of impoverished children from Britain’s slums. Far from improving lives, the scheme was eventually exposed with stories of cruelty, hardship and of families torn apart.
Two further charities benefited from her will. These were the National Library for the Blind and the Royal Blind Pension Society (pensions for the blind poor). Dare we speculate that Edith was herself blind, perhaps prompting her parent’s hasty departure from South Africa after she was born? Or was it simply a case of her being a caring and wealthy individual?
Another bequest of £250 was made to the Home of St Giles, an Essex charity that raised money to fund a hospital designed specifically for the care and treatment of leprosy. Although, by the turn of the 20th century the disease had long been eradicated in Britain, this hospital provided for the few people who had caught it abroad.⁶
Ethel also made provision for her chauffeur, Sidney J. Waldron, who had paraded her around in a Rolls-Royce, and received the handsome sum of £600. However, her greatest bequest went to a relation, Commander Edmund G Hallewell, retired of the Royal Navy, who received £12,000.
It was he who decided to put Conkwell Grange up for sale and, in 1946, sold it to another Royal Navy officer, Commander Wardell-Yerburgh.
Arthur Wardell-Yerburgh (1891-1953) In the course of researching these articles there often comes a time when something doesn’t quite ring true about a person. All too often history tends to be kind but something about Arthur Wardell-Yerburgh suggested ‘scoundrel’.
When I originally wrote this piece I invited comment from anyone who might have been able to put the record straight. I was subsequently delighted to hear from his son, Richard Wardell-Yerburgh, who said he was “profoundly amused by the description of him as a ‘scoundrel’ because it precisely reflects my own view.”
However, Arthur’s upbringing had been impeccable, being the son of Reverend Oswald Pryor Wardell-Yerburgh, Vicar and later Canon of Tewkesbury, and Edith Wardell Potts. Arthur lived with them until his early twenties at the Abbey House in Tewkesbury. This wealthy family were descended from the Rev. Richard Yerburgh, the vicar of Sleaford in Lincolnshire.
Arthur joined the Royal Navy in 1904 training at Royal Naval College, Osborne, on the Isle of Wight, and at Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, in Devon. He joined active service in 1909 serving as a Midshipman on HMS Agamemnon and later HMS Indefatigable. In 1914 he was promoted to Sub-Lieutenant and given command of submarines. He was decorated with the award of the Distinguished Service Cross (D.S.C.) in 1918 for operations off the Belgian coast..
The following extract is taken from The Dover Patrol 1915-17, by Admiral Sir Reginald Bacon, and refers to his preparations for a “Great Landing” on the Belgian Coast, a plan which was eventually postponed but which was at least reflected in the subsequent raids on Ostend and Zeebrugge. It also mentions Arthur Wardell-Yerburgh and the circumstances into achieving the D.S.C.:
‘It was necessary that our survey should be accurate to within six inches. A submarine (known as C30) was, therefore, sent to submerge off Nieuport, to lie on the bottom, and to register the height of the water above her hull continuously for twenty-four hours by reading the depth gauge. The rise and fall and the tide curve at this spot was thus obtained at springs, neaps and intermediate tides.
This information was obtained by Lieutenant Wardell-Yerburgh. It was a weird experience for a submarine to steal up and submerge right under the guns of the enemy’s coast defence, always with the off-chance that in her journey to the bottom she might settle down on a mine. Also as the submarine was a C Boat, and not large, and as she had to remain submerged for twenty-four hours, she was apt to get stuffy. The number of crew was therefore reduced to a minimum.’
Arthur retired from the Royal Navy in 1921 and married Enid Mary Florence Till, the daughter of John Till of Kemerton Court. In December 1921 John Till died while hunting after suffering a seizure and falling off his horse. He left gross estate worth £35,334. Kemerton Court was left for his wife, Florence, and the residue of his property was placed in trust for his three daughters, including Enid, and presumably Arthur.
He re-joined the Royal Navy in 1922, probably as a commissioned officer, and was awarded the rank of Lieutenant-Commander. However, the period between two World Wars saw a decline in the number of Royal Navy ships and Arthur probably never saw active service again. If this is the case, then considering he always referred to himself as Commander Arthur Wardell-Yerburgh, then never has such a title been so ill-used
Without a ship to command, but a title nevertheless, Arthur and Enid moved to Wesmacott, near Tewkesbury. It was here that he hatched plans for a fruit farming business at Bredon. While at Wesmacott they had their only child, John Gerald Oswald Wardell-Yerburgh, born in 1925.
There was a difference between the sea and fruit farming and Arthur realised he had made a mistake. The business wasn’t a success and his relationship with Enid was strained to say the least. Just how much money was lost in the enterprise is unknown but, in 1926, they sold up and went to live with Enid’s mother at Kemerton Court.
If this was an attempt to reconcile their differences within a stable family environment then it proved ill-advised. More likely the move was the result of financial hardship caused by Arthur’s failed business venture. Enid, frustrated by Arthur’s inability to gain meaningful employment and no doubt encouraged by her mother, became increasingly disenchanted. By 1929 the couple were living apart with Arthur staying at Westbourne Terrace in Paddington.
In January 1931 he and Enid were divorced on the grounds that Arthur had committed ‘misconduct’ at a London hotel.⁷ Arthur didn’t defend the suit and Enid was granted a divorce, with costs and custody of their child.
We know that many divorces were ‘staged’ affairs. The law at this time required one of the parties to be caught and witnessed in liaison with another person. In circumstances where a relationship had broken down it was not unknown for such affairs to be instigated by both parties. In this case the witnesses were John Russell, a private inquiry agent, and Thomas Hawkins, a waiter at the Hotel Central in Marylebone, where the wrongdoing was alleged to have taken place.
Richard Wardell-Yerburgh believes that Enid Till was disgracefully treated as was his half-brother, John.
“I believe the principle reason for the trouble was that Arthur Wardell-Yerburgh was in the habit of borrowing from Enid’s friends and relatives. Unfortunately, it appears he was not in the habit of re-paying these loans. Arthur never spoke or wrote to his son, John, from the day of the divorce until the day that he died. I only learned of John’s existence by accident.”
Enid might have had moral ground to obtain a divorce and we will never know whether this woman was a ‘put-up’ affair or someone directly involved with Arthur. That someone might have been Marion Georgina Cooper, from Paddington, because, with the ink barely dry on the ‘decree nisi’, she was married to Arthur in September 1931 (although Richard Wardell-Yerburgh believes this was in 1933).
With changes in the air it was also time for Arthur to call time on the Royal Navy and he officially retired from the service.
This time the marriage appeared more compatible and lasted the course. The couple settled at Worton Grange, near Devizes, where they had a son, Richard Geoffrey Robert Wardell-Yerburgh (b. 1935), subject of welcome correspondence in this post.
“The marriage between my mother, Marion Cooper, did nothing to stabilise Arthur Wardell-Yerburgh’s financial position. She was penniless, the daughter of a London milkman, and had determined that she would somehow get herself out of Paddington. She lived in the area of Paddington either in, or adjacent to, Westbourne Terrace (where Arthur had been living in 1929).
“Arthur Wardell-Yerburgh was apparently well-healed and Marion grasped the opportunity. That she had made the wrong decision only dawned to her as the paucity of Arthur’s finances became apparent.”
The move to Conkwell Grange followed a succession of deaths within Arthur’s close family. In April 1941 his sister, Hilda, died when a fish bone caught in her throat while dining at Littlewood House, near Frampton. Three months later his mother died leaving an estate worth £14,498. Arthur received £2,200 and shared the residue of her property with his younger brother, Geoffrey Basset Wardell-Yerburgh. Geoffrey didn’t live long enough to enjoy his windfall and died in 1944.
“Arthur earned not one penny from the Royal Navy after he retired until the day he died,” says Richard Wardell-Yerburgh. “Everything came from his mother, Edith Wardell-Yerburgh, who has been described as being ‘As rich as a Croesus’ – including settling debts from two bankruptcies – the fruit farm and a business called the Light Car Company.
“In 1931 she paid a settlement figure into a Trust for the support of my half-brother, following the divorce from Enid. My mother told me this was in the sum of £25,000 (in 1931/32). According to the Historic Inflation Calculator (HIC), this equates to £1,472,650 at today’s rates. When she died, I understand my father actually inherited £167,000 after deduction of the monies paid out for his debts. According to the HIC this amounts to £8,419,963 at 2016 values.”
Arthur and Marion moved to Conkwell Grange in 1946. The house, with its stately grandeur and a Rolls-Royce to match, suited him in his retirement years. However, they were to stay just 5 years before ‘down-sizing’ and re-locating to Hall Farm, at Thickwood, in 1951. This was where Arthur died in 1953, at the relatively young age of 61. He left effects to the value of £21,493. His wife, Marion, died in 1984.
The last word goes to Astra Towning (nee Wardell-Yerburgh), the daughter of Richard Wardell-Yerburgh:
“My grandfather was a very handsome young naval officer and he and my grandmother (Marion) made a very glamorous couple. Marion ended up in a small house stuffed with glorious, if unloved, furniture, antiques, jewellery and furs. Most of this went in a series of burglaries, including Arthur’s ceremonial naval swords. We have a journal from his time in the navy. This book is huge and beautifully presented – lovely writing, glorious pictures of ladies he knew in various ports, and wonderfully detailed technical drawings.”
Philip Eric Millbourn (1902-1982) Conkwell Grange was bought by Philip Eric Milbourn (1902-1982), a Yorkshireman, whose reputation has diminished with history. He was the Honorary Advisor on Shipping in Port to the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation.
Here was a man, from humble beginnings, who shunned publicity and chose to get on with his job while, at the same time, acquiring a personal fortune. For this reason his name is almost ‘air-brushed’ from the archives and virtually unknown today.
Eric, as he liked to be called, married Ethel Marjorie Sennett, the only daughter of Joseph Ernest Sennett, of Kingswood Grange, Reigate, in 1931. His job required a town house and for many years they lived at 41 Parkside in Knightsbridge, as well as living at a cottage on the Kingswood Grange estate.
Their move to Conkwell Grange corresponded with a glorious decade for Eric. In 1950 he had been awarded the Order of Saint Michael and Saint George (C.M.G.) and was knighted five years later. However, his greatest accomplishment came in in circumstances not dissimilar from today. Faced with escalating passenger numbers at London (Heathrow) Airport he was asked to head a committee to determine how the problem might be resolved. With meticulous foresight his findings were presented in the Millbourn Report of August 1957.
His contribution shaped the Heathrow Airport we know today. In the report he recommended that all Heathrow’s terminals be located in one central area. With this he suggested the construction of a new long-haul terminal (now Terminal 3) and a short-haul terminal (which became Terminal 1). In addition, the report called for the expansion of Gatwick Airport. The total cost of these proposals was an estimated £17 million to handle the 12 million passengers anticipated by 1970.
The Millbourn Report was the zenith of a career that demanded Eric travel the world advising on transport problems. It also made him a very wealthy man and, on his death in 1982, he left estate worth £1,779,975. Lady Millbourn died the year after and Conkwell Grange was once again put on the market.
The Fosler family and the racehorse stud The house was eventually purchased by the Fosler family in 1985 who made the estate the centre of a stud farm and racing stables. Today it is an estate of 300 acres mostly devoted to woodland and horses. A 100 box complex of equestrian buildings have been used as a thoroughbred stud and, at the turn of this century, was used for the breeding and training of Arab racehorses. More recently it has been the home to the Neil Mulholland stables.
Nowadays, Conkwell Grange is approached through impressive stone pillars and a pair of lodge cottages leading into a magnificent mature beech avenue. Surrounded by mature plants, accessed through its own gated drive, the property sits in a private position within maintained gardens and grounds amongst the pastureland.
In 2016 Conkwell Grange was brought to the market with a guide price of £5.9 million. Today’s accommodation is on three floors, including five reception rooms, 10 bedrooms and five bathrooms. In addition there are two lodge cottages, six further cottages and four staff flats providing secondary accommodation, with 128 acres of managed woodland to the west of the estate creating shelter and privacy for the main house.
References:- ¹Wiltshire Times and Trowbridge Advertiser (22 Jun 1907) ²Gloucestershire Echo (1 Apr 1939) ³Western Daily Press (3 Jun 1939) ⁴Landed families of Britain and Ireland (Nicholas Kingsley) http://landedfamilies.blogspot.co.uk/2015/07/177-armitage-of-high-royd-and.html ⁵ Child migration: philanthropy, the state and the empire – Stephen Constantine, Lancaster University (History in Focus) ⁶“Caring for Hansen’s Disease – The Hospital & Homes of St. Giles 1914-2005” by Nicholas Best ⁷Cheltenham Chronicle (17 Jan 1931)
I am indebted to Richard Wardell-Yerburgh and Astra Towning for providing fascinating details about the colourful Arthur Wardell-Yerburgh.
Notes:- In 1937 James Thornton was involved in an unusual incident at Bradford-on-Avon Police Court. While presiding as a magistrate he left the bench and entered the witness-box to answer a charge for failing to stop at a halt sign. Thornton, who pleaded guilty, said he had a lady passenger in the car at the time who attracted his attention talking about the beauty of some trees. In future, he said, he would fix a notice on his windscreen requesting passengers not to talk to the driver while they were approaching halt signs. He was fined £1, which he paid, and then returned to the bench to administer justice elsewhere. (Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette – 18 Sep 1937)