This country house, described as “one of the finest houses in the South of England” was Anthony Salvin’s first major commission.
Mamhead House, in the Haldon Hills, Devon, is one of those country houses that hasn’t been able to find its identity in recent times. For many years we have known this Grade I-listed Tudor-Gothic property as Mamhead Park, and it has just been launched on the market at Strutt & Parker, price on application.
This is one of many houses that has stood on the estate.
Mentioned in the Domesday Book, the estate passed through several distinguished
families. In 1547 it was bought by the Balle family. In 1672, Peter Balle, an
attorney to Queen Henrietta Mara, was awarded a baronetcy for his services.
Later, William of Orange billeted his supporters on the estate. It passed into
the hands of the Earl of Lisburne who sold it to Robert William Newman, MP, in
Robert Newman was a senior partner of Newman and Co, general
merchants of Dartmouth. Originally Hunt, Newman, Roope, Teague and Co, the
company had buccaneered out to Newfoundland, and commenced selling salted
codfish to Portugal in the 1500s, encountering wines of that country through
bartering fish for wine. In time, the company built up its own shipping fleet.
When Robert Newman bought Mamhead Park for £106,000 the
original house was built on low-ground, without the views across the Exe
Estuary. He turned to Charles Fowler, an architect born in Cullompton and
articled in Exeter, who produced several E-shaped plans for his client. Fowler
probably intended to rebuild Mamhead Park on the site of the existing house.
Alas, Newman rejected each plan, excited by new building styles and preferring
a new house about 400 yards up a hill to the west of the old mansion.
Newman instead gambled on Anthony Salvin, an aspiring young
architect, who grasped his first major commission. Built of mellow Bath stone,
Salvin retained one of Fowler’s original ground plans into the design and
construction commenced in 1827 and the shell completed by the following year.
It was a slow-build. The new house was funded out of Newman’s income and its
interiors weren’t completed until 1833.
Mamhead Park was a ‘marriage house’ for his new bride, Mary, and one befitting a man of his status. Robert Newman had become MP for Exeter in 1818 and became a baronet in 1836.
He was succeeded by his son, Captain. Sir Robert Lydston
Newman, who was killed at the Battle of Inkerman in November 1854, and Mamhead
passed to his brother, Sir Lydston Newman, whose son, a prominent churchman,
was created Lord Mamhead in 1931.
He died unmarried in 1945, leaving life tenancy of the
estate to his brother-in-law, Frederick Lumley.
On succeeding in 1948, Sir Ralph Newman, great-grandson of
the first baronet, was able to buy back furnishings but eventually abandoned
the idea of living on a grand scale.
In 1954, he sold the estate, but retained the house and 20
acres, choosing to let the fully furnished property to an evangelical
organisation. Mamhead was sold to Dawlish College for Boys in 1963 and was
acquired by a property company in 1988, who converted the house and stables
into offices, at one time occupied by the Forestry Commission.
Mamhead Park returned to private use in 2000 and twelve
years later was bought by a group of overseas investors, headed by Richard
Fuller, for £8 million.
After considering various uses, including an ill-fated
wedding business, the mansion is once again available to buy.
The sale also includes Grade II*-listed Mamhead Castle, also
designed by Salvin as stables at the same time as the big house, a copy of a
pele tower at 14th century Belsay Castle in Northumberland, and
currently providing six office suites.
One hundred years ago. The mid-Gloucester correspondent for the Cheltenham Chronicle reported that the whole of the Lypiatt Estate had been sold by private treaty and that the new owner intended to take up residence soon.
“There is much historical lore surrounding the fine old Elizabethan mansion. The mansion has been in the hands of faithful servants since the death of Lady Dorington, and it is hoped that with the advent of a new owner some of the former glories of Lypiatt will be revived.”
The house was Lypiatt Park, mostly of the 16th century, once belonging to Throckmorton, of Gunpowder Plot fame. A west tower and crenelated parapet were added by Jeffry Wyatville as part of his works of 1809-1815. An extension was added by Thomas Henry Wyatt in 1877 for Sir John Edward Dorington, a Conservative politician. He died in 1911 and his widow had been in failing health until her own death in 1913.
The house and most of the estate was bought by Walter John Gwyn in 1919 and occupied by his sister and brother-in-law, Judge Hubert Bayley Drysdale Woodcock. However, the house was later leased to Barbara Grace Talbot, widow of Major John Talbot, until her death in 1938. It is debatable how long Walter Gwyn spent at Lypiatt Park, but he was certainly resident here from 1939 alongside the Woodcocks.
Gwyn died in 1940 and Judge Woodcock remained here with his daughter until it was sold in the early 1950s. Falling into a state of disrepair it was bought by the Modernist sculptor Lynn Chadwick (1914-2003) who restored the house, and which remains in the family.
On this day, one hundred years ago, the Daily Express reported that Lord Swansea had decided to sell his ancestral home, Singleton Abbey, Swansea, owing to rates, taxes and the general increase of the cost of upkeep.
The whole estate of 250 acres and the mansion, with its priceless contents of 70 fully furnished rooms was going to auction.
“I don’t want to do it,” said Lord Swansea, “but it is a sad necessity. To keep up the place as I should like would entail £100,000 a year, and I have not the means to do it. That accounts for my living away from Swansea so largely. It will be a great wrench to part with the place, but it is inevitable.”
The nucleus of the house was built in 1784 by Edward King, a customs official. In 1817 it was bought by the industrialist John Henry Vivian who extended the house and later engaged architect Peter Frederick Robinson to re-model it in neo-gothic style.
Ernest Vivian, 2nd Baron Swansea, sold Singleton Abbey to Swansea Corporation for £115,000 in July 1919, and died three years later.
The council wanted to develop the estate largely for housing purposes and gifted the mansion to the Swansea University College in 1923 – still used today as offices for Swansea University on its Singleton Park campus.
The descendants of Sir Thomas and Lady Edith Dixon look on with anguish, as this Victorian country house, gifted to the people of Belfast in the 1950’s, falls into ruin.
Back in April 1956, the gift of Wilmont House, at Dunmurry, Co Antrim, might have seemed a blessing to Belfast Corporation. Lady Edith Dixon offered Wilmont and its 140 acres of land to the city, with the wish that it be used as a hospital, convalescent home or home for old people, and that the lands be used as a public park. The old lady was winding down her affairs, the only other stipulation was that she be able to occupy the house and lands for her lifetime, thereafter they should be managed by the Corporation for “the greatest good of the citizens of the city.”
Lady Edith died in 1964 and her wishes were granted. Wilmont House became a home for the elderly, a role it carefully fulfilled until closure in 1992. However, by now the old house was less of a good thing, and more of a burden for Belfast City Council.
By 2013, Wilmont House had been used for occasional events, as a parks office for the council and briefly as the headquarters for the Belfast Marathon. A proposal for a seven-year refurbishment was rejected, the house was too expensive to maintain, and the only viable option might have been to hand back Wilmont to the Dixon family.
Six years later, the situation hasn’t changed. Wilmont House has deteriorated, windows are broken and boarded-up, and the Grade B1 listed former country house is designated a ‘Building at Risk.’
Its sorry condition hasn’t gone unnoticed by the Dixon family. This week the Belfast Telegraph reports that Andrew Dixon (58), a great, great nephew of Lady Edith, has told Belfast City Council that it should make “alternative arrangements” if it cannot look after the stately home in its most famous park. ‘The family has watched on in horror as the derelict house in the grounds of Sir Thomas and Lady Dixon Park in south Belfast has gradually decayed since it was handed over to the council by his great, great aunt.’
It is suggested that discussions took place at Belfast City Council several years ago on the future of Wilmont House during which it was suggested the Dixon family should be contacted to discuss its future. According to Andrew Dixon that call never came.
The situation at Wilmont House is no different to many other country houses that ended up in the care of local authorities. A recent Country Life article on Oldway Mansion at Paignton, in Devon, reads remarkably similar, although on a grander scale.
Wilmont House was one of three houses that belonged to the Dixon family – the others being Drumadarragh House and Cairndhu, also in Co Antrim. Drumadarragh remains in the family, the seat of Lord and Lady Glentoran, but Mr Dixon fears that Wilmont might go the same way as Cairndhu in Larne, another property gifted by the family, presented to the Northern Ireland Hospitals Authority in 1947, which now lies in ruins.
Andrew Dixon might be frustrated by events at Wilmont, but Belfast City Council remains restrained over the situation. “We’re currently preparing an invitation for expressions of interest to go to the market to seek a suitably qualified developer for the restoration and regeneration of Wilmont House, to bring it into a new use. As part of this, we’re pursuing efforts to get in touch and engage with the beneficiaries of the will of Lady Dixon.”
For now, Wilmont House is surplus to requirement and only time will see how it emerges from a distinctly despondent period.
The house was built in 1859, ‘a plain two-storey red-brick Victorian house, with a three-bay front and balustraded porch.’ It replaced a 1740 property built for William Stewart, the son of John Stewart of Ballydrain, an important farming family.
In 1855, the estate had been sold to Alexander Mackenzie Shaw, a Belfast brewer, but he was quickly forced to sign over the property to the Northern Banking Company in lieu of debts of £12,505. About 1858, it became the property of James Bristow (1796-1866), a director of the aforesaid bank, who demolished the run-down old house and substituted it with the present mansion designed by Thomas Jackson, one of Belfast’s outstanding architects.
According to historian Eileen Black, Wilmont House was really a house of two-halves. One part was occupied by James Bristow, the other by his son, James Thomson Bristow (1827-1877), another banker.
Following J. T. Bristow’s death in 1877 the estate passed to his trustees, William Laird of Birkenhead, and his brother, Samual Smith Bristow of Liverpool, and was sold in 1879 to Robert Henry Sturrock Reade (1873-1913), of the York Street Flax Spinning Company. After his death, Wilmont passed to his son George who sold it to Sir Thomas and Lady Edith Dixon in 1919.
Sir Thomas Dixon (1868-1950), Privy Councillor for Northern Ireland, and a well-known figure in Irish and British racing circles, belonged to a family of shipowners and timber merchants who had been among the founders of modern Belfast.
His father, Sir Daniel Dixon, 1st Baronet, was the first Lord Mayor of Belfast and MP for North Belfast, half-brother to Lord Glentoran, president of the Ulster Unionist Council.
Thomas Dixon entered the business of his father, Thomas Dixon & Sons, timber merchants, and owners of the Lord Line Shipping Company of which he was a director. On the death of his father in 1907 he became managing director, a position in which he remained until the closing of the firm in 1938. (He was also a director of the York Street Flax Spinning Company).
When Larne was created a Borough in 1939, Sir Thomas was elected its first Mayor. He was a Senator until 1949, was a member of the Ulster Unionist Council from its inception and was appointed to the Privy Council in 1930.
He died in Harrogate in 1950 and was survived by Lady Edith Dixon (1871-1964), formerly Miss Edith Stewart Clark, daughter of Stewart Clark, of Cairndhu, and Dundas Castle, South Queensferry, whom he married in 1906.
Lady Dixon was appointed a Dame of the British Empire in June 1921, in recognition of her valuable work on behalf of all the services during World War One.
For the time being, Wilmont House must live with its memories. To the time when Captain Robert Falcon Scott, the famous Antarctic explorer, visited during his stay in Belfast in 1904. To 1934, when it became the temporary residence of the Governor of Northern Ireland when Government House at Hillsborough was damaged by fire, and to the Second World War when it was the headquarters of the American Army in Northern Ireland.
The last word goes to Andrew Dixon and the uncertainty over Belfast City Council’s ownership of the property: –
“They have said they would like to talk to the family. I have plenty of ideas on how it could be used and surely that’s more preferable than letting it go to ruin. I and my father Robin Dixon, Baron Glentoran, have already watched how another of the properties at Cairndhu in Larne has been handled and I would hate to see Wilmont House go the same way,” he said.
From the archives. January 1926. Haddon Hall had been unoccupied for nearly one hundred and fifty years. The new Duke of Rutland made it his duty to restore the old house and make it habitable again.
It was stated in the press that Haddon Hall, in Derbyshire, one of the most interesting and attractive manorial residences in England, was going to be closed to the public, who had long enjoyed the privilege of visiting it.
Its owner, the Duke of Rutland, whose ancestor, the third Duke, had been its last tenant about a hundred and fifty years before, was preparing it for occupation.
It was from Haddon Hall that the famous elopement of Dorothy Vernon and John Manners, the second son of the first Earl of Rutland, took place. To the betrothal of the pair Dorothy’s father, Sir George Vernon, the owner of the Hall and of many other manors and lordships, was opposed; but one night while dancing by a large party of guests was proceeding in the ballroom, Dorothy slipped out to meet her lover, with whom she rode off to Leicester, where they were married next day.
Dorothy was co-heiress of her father, and by the marriage Haddon Hall fell to the Manners family, of which her grandson, on succeeding as eighth Earl of Rutland, became the head. Dorothy’s name was preserved in Dorothy’s Garden, Dorothy’s Walk, Dorothy’s Door (through which she escaped on the night of the elopement), and Dorothy’s Steps (where she met her lover in readiness with horses for the flight).
The restoration of Haddon Hall got underway during the early years of the twentieth century. The 9th Duke of Rutland and his team began to find small everyday objects, lost or thrown away, evocative of the lives of the past occupants. The Duke recognised the importance of these finds and established a museum at Haddon Hall in which to display them.
Where once a mansion stood in open countryside. The railway and the growth of Whitley Bay as a seaside resort eventually sealed its fate.
Deep beneath the recreational space called Whitley Park, one can hope that the foundations of long-lost Whitley Park Hall might remain. It is hard to imagine that this part of Whitley Bay once looked remarkably different than it does today.
So quiet and peaceful was the scene in the 1860s, that a Newcastle minister, who used to rent the village blacksmith’s cottage in the parish of Cullercoats each summer, was able to practice his sermons on the beach with no-one to disturb him. Whitley-by-the-Sea, or the ‘Dream Village’ as it was frequently called was a long way off becoming Whitley Bay, the popular seaside resort.
Picturesque the village may have been, but apart from its houses of quality which included Whitley Hall, Whitley Park Hall, Whitley House, Marden House and Belvedere House, it boasted only a few farms and terraced cottages with a liberal supply of public houses.
Times changed. The introduction of a passenger train between Monkseaton station and Newcastle put the wheels of progress in motion. The picnicking parties, who had previously travelled from Newcastle by wagonette, began to arrive more frequently and in greater numbers to the little station, where colourful rambling roses grew.
The early history of Whitley had been associated with the Hudson family. Henry Hudson, of Newburn, was one of Cromwell’s Ironsides, the lessee of mills at Billy Mill and Tynemouth and of quarries at Whitley and Monkseaton. He was succeeded by his son, Henry Hudson, the second. Henry Hudson, the third, who married his cousin, Elizabeth Ellison, in 1776, sold 11 acres of land to Edward Hall of Backworth, for the purpose of erecting a brewery here.
Whitley Park Hall, built in white stucco, was constructed by Edward Hall about 1789. He was also a cattle breeder and subsequently added to his estate by the purchase of land from his neighbours. He was famous for being the breeder of ‘The Fat Ox,’ immortalised in one of Thomas Bewick’s copper-plate engravings. The ox chewed the cud in Whitley during the 1780’s, weighing 216 stones, 8 lbs before its slaughter by Newcastle butcher Thomas Horsley in 1789.
On Edward Hall’s death in 1792, it was bought by John Haigh, a ‘hostman’ who became bankrupt in 1797 and moved to America. His assignees sold it in 1800 to Thomas Wright of North Shields, who occupied it until his death in 1840. In 1844, it was bought by John Hodgson-Hinde, and sold in 1855 to Charles Mark Palmer, a shipbuilder then at the height of his fortune, and in 1869 to Thomas William Bulman, who later extended it, diverted the road around his property, and planted a tree belt that still exists today.
Thomas William Bulman died in 1879, and his widow sold Whitley Park Hall in 1893 to Theodore Hoyle, Joseph George Joel, Joseph Aynsley Davidson Shipley and Richard John Leeson, who wished to prevent it from disappearing under hundreds of small houses and hoped that a hydropathic establishment could be opened. Plans for the health facility fell through, but a provisional licence for a hotel and restaurant was granted to the Whitley Park Hotel Company in 1893. It opened in the spring of 1896 under the management of Miss Carrie Sokel. In 1910, the company sold parts of the grounds which were turned into the Spanish City Pleasure Grounds (subject of the Dire Straits song Tunnel of Love, along with Whitley Bay and the nearby town Cullercoats), while other parcels of land were sold off for building purposes.
The house was used for billeting during the Great War but was left with only twelve of its sixty apartments in good condition. The hotel was sold to Whitley Pleasure Gardens Company in 1920, with plans to use its grounds to erect elaborate amusements and shows, as well as a scenic railway, extending from Spanish City. The development faltered, but the hotel was sold to Whitley Bay and Monkseaton Urban District Council in 1924, which used the building as offices. In 1939, it spent £30,000 on new offices in Whitley Park, finding the old house “totally unsafe,” and to be “suffering from galloping consumption.”
Whitley Park Hall was demolished in 1939, and a library was built on the site in 1966, since also demolished.
One of Suffolk’s finest country houses is facing an uncertain future. It shows no signs of reopening as a hotel, and appears to be falling into disrepair.
In his book ‘In Search of the Perfect House,’ architectural historian Marcus Binney suggests that “in almost every other European country, Shrubland Hall would be called a palace. A grand Italianate composition with belvedere tower, breathtaking terraced gardens, Swiss cottage and five drives.”
Some of our finest architects were associated with Shrubland Hall (or Shrubland Park), making it hard to accept that the mansion has stood empty for nearly four years. In 2015, an ill-fated attempt to use the country house as a luxury hotel ended in failure. Since then, Shrubland has been left to ruminate its past glories.
Shrubland Hall was built in the 1770s by James Paine (1717-89) for the Reverend John Bacon. At the same time, Paine was commissioned to remodel Moor Park in Surrey for John Bacon’s younger brother, Basil, who had inherited the estate in 1770. The third brother, the Reverend Nicholas Bacon, almost certainly used the architect as well, rebuilding the vicarage at Coddenham (now Coddenham House) in 1771.
John Bacon died in 1788, Shrubland passing to his brother, Nicholas, who immediately sold the estate to Sir William Fowle Middleton (1748-1829), 1st Baronet, of Crowfield. Born in Charleston, South Carolina, where his family owned Middleton Place, he arrived in Suffolk after inheriting Crowfield Hall near Stowmarket. His brother, Henry, gave him £30,000 to spend on improvements at Shrubland, and he employed Humphry Repton to expand the park from 1789 onwards, and replaced Paine wings in about 1808.
Shrubland Hall was inherited by his only son, Sir William Fowle Middleton (1784-1860), 2nd Baronet, who brought in architect John Peter Gandy Deering in 1831-38, and later Alexander Roos between 1838-45, who enlarged and redecorated the house. About 1850, he turned to Sir Charles Barry who turned the property into an Italian palazzo.
After his death, Sir William’s cousin, Sir George Nathaniel Broke Middleton, took over. In 1882, it passed to his niece, Jane Anne Broke, and her husband, James St. Vincent (1843-1937), 4th Baron de Saumarez, in the Island of Guernsey, and leased to tenants, including Lord Magheramorne.
During World War One it was one of the first country mansions to be turned into a Red Cross Convalescent Hospital.
In 1965, James Victor Broke Saumarez (1924-1991), 6th Baron, opened the house as a health clinic, leaving the family furniture and valuable collections in place. It was the brainchild of Lady de Saumarez, a former Royal Ballet dancer who married into the family and supervised its running. With an emphasis on detox and weight loss, the hall remained unchanged for forty years, and attracted high-profile guests, including actress Joan Collins. When the clinic closed in 2006, the contents were sold, and the house eventually put on the market by Eric Douglas Saumarez (born 1956), 7th Baron de Saumarez, to cover an inheritance tax bill.
In 2009, the Shrubland estate was sold in 42 lots, the house being bought for £6 million by Dr Muhammad Farmer, Chief Executive and founder of the British Institute of Technology and E-Commerce, which used it as residential accommodation.
Shrubland Hall was far too grand. Farmer’s decision to convert the mansion into an extravagant hotel in 2014 should have been a rewarding undertaking, taking “prestigious guests … on a journey back to the future,” but the Shrubland Royale Hotel suffered scathing reviews, quickly closing in 2015.
Mr Farmer claimed that a “celebrity guest” had booked the entire hotel until the following year. However, by September 2016, signs outside the hall had been removed, the gates were closed and booking attempts were declined. It went on the market for £6.5 million, but remains unsold despite recent claims from Mr Hubbard that the Hilton hotel franchise were interested in taking over the property. A claim later denied by the hotel operator.
The East Anglian Daily Times visited the Shrubland Park Walk – a public right of way that passes through the grounds – in 2017. “The hall appeared an unlikely retreat for any film or music star. The only sign of activity was an older man chopping wood with a chainsaw. Many of the outbuildings appeared in disrepair and the vast grounds left overgrown.”
Meanwhile, Shrubland Hall deteriorates and following complaints from the parish council, Historic England has visited the house to assess the condition of the gardens and the Grade I listed mansion. The park has been on its Heritage at Risk Register for several years.