Tag Archives: LOST HOUSES

TEHIDY

One hundred years ago, ‘the most beautiful mansion in Cornwall’ was destroyed by fire. Eye-witness accounts tell us of the devastation that night, and the desperation felt in the aftermath.  

Tehidy - Drawing
Tehidy House, Palladian building started in 1734 by John Pendarves Basset (1713–1739) and completed in about 1740 by his brother Francis Basset (d.1769). Demolished about 1861 for re-building in neo-classical style by John Francis Basset (1831–1869).

The story of Tehidy goes back many hundreds of years. In his ‘History of Cornwall’, Samuel Drew says that Tehidy, which in the Cornish language signifies either the ‘narrow house’, the ‘fowler’s house’, or the ‘single dwelling’, was about four miles north-west from Redruth, and “when surveyed from the summit of Carn Brea Hill, from which it is conspicuous, it appears like a well cultivated garden blooming in the midst of a barren desert. The manor of Tehidy, which is of extensive jurisdiction, and enjoys great privileges, being excepted out of the grant made by the Arundells of the Hundred of Penwith, includes within its circuit many rich mines.”¹

Tehidy Park had been the property and residence of the Basset family for many centuries. The ancient family of Cornwall and Devon descended from Thurstan Basset, who was in all probability the son of Osmund Basset of Normandy, who came over with William the Conqueror. Soon after the Norman Conquest, this great baronial family rose into power and importance, especially in the midland counties. The family gave a Chief Justice to England in the reign of Henry I, in the person of Ralph Basset, from whom sprang the Lords Basset of Drayton and the Lords Basset of Haddington.

During the 12th century, the Bassets of Cornwall obtained the estate by marriage with the heiress of the great house of De Dunstanville. In fact, the earliest mention of Tehidy occurs about 1100, according to William Lake’s ‘Parochial History of the County of Cornwall’ when “Alan de Dunstanville, or Dunstanvile, who was then lord of the manor of Tehidy, granted a lease of Minwinnion, now the home farm, within the park to Paul Guyer.”² From this period they appear to have enjoyed considerable wealth and influence until the civil wars, when three brothers of the family all distinguished themselves in the royal cause. Sir Francis Basset, the Sheriff of Cornwall, was with King Charles at Lostwithiel, when Essex’s army surrendered. Owing to large sums of money expended by them in this unhappy struggle, the family estate became considerably reduced, but it was afterwards retrieved by marriages to heiresses.

Two ancestors of the family married Miss Hele and Miss Pendarves. From the last named union, the estates descended to John Pendarves Basset (1714-1739), who built a new mansion house at Tehidy in 1734, allowing the architect Thomas Edwards of Greenwich to undertake his first work in Cornwall. Sadly, its owner died of smallpox a few years later, aged 25, the house not fully completed, and leaving his widow £100,000. His son, John Prideaux Basset, had died in minority, in 1756, and the estates reverted to his uncle, Francis Basset of Turley (1715-1769), in Northamptonshire, who married Margaret, daughter of Sir John St. Aubyn, of Clowance.

Francis Basset died in 1769 and left as his heir Francis Basset (1757-1835), MP for Helston, who was created a Baronet in 1779, and advanced to the peerage as Baron De Dunstanville, of Tehidy, in 1796. He married Frances Susannah, daughter and co-heir of John Hippesley-Coxe, of Stone Easton, Somerset, and by her had an only daughter, Frances (1781-1855). Lord De Dunstanville married, as his second wife, a daughter of Sir William Lemon, of Carclew, presumably with the hope of securing a male heir. However, he died in 1835, when the barony of De Dunstanville became extinct, but the barony of Basset, of Stratton, devolved to his daughter, Frances, who became 2nd Baroness Basset of Stratton in accordance with a special remainder.

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Francis Basset in 1778 on the Grand Tour in Rome, with the Castel Sant’Angelo and St. Peter’s Basilica in the background. Portrait by Pompeo Batoni, Prado, Madrid.
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In BBC TV’s recent adaptation of Winston Graham’s ‘Poldark’ series, the character of Sir Francis Basset was played by actor John Hopkins. Like the books, it was a sympathetic portrayal. Image: BBC.

The entailed estates passed to his nephew, John Francis Basset (1831-1869), who was the eldest son of John Basset of Stratton, younger brother of Lord de Dunstanville, and sometime MP for Helston. His mother was Elizabeth Mary, daughter of Sir Rose Price, Baronet, of Trengwainton. Following the death of Lady Frances Basset in 1855, he succeeded to the remainder.

Tehidy - Lost Heritage (2)
Tehidy was an historic manor in the parish of Illogan in Cornwall, located on the north coast of Cornwall, far to the west of that county, about two miles north of Camborne, two miles west of Redruth, and about a mile south of the harbour at Portreath. Image: Lost Heritage.

John Francis Basset commenced rebuilding Tehidy between 1861-1863, funded by revenue from tin mining and land rents. His interest in mines was immense, especially North Basset, South Frances, Dolceath, West Basset and Wheal Basset. He possessed one of the largest landed properties in the county, extending from St Agnes through Ilogan and Camborne, the greater part of the town belonging to him. He was the owner of the parish of Perranarworthal and owned  a considerable portion of the parish of St. Gluvias and had a valuable property at Meneage.  In 1860-61, it was said that his income from the Dolceath and Basset mines amounted to £20,000.

For the restoration of Tehidy, John Francis Basset employed the architect William Burn (1789-1870), of Piccadilly, and the works were reported to have cost £150,000.

Tehidy - Lost Heritage (3)
Tehidy was a seat for many centuries of the junior branch of the Basset family which gained much wealth from local tin mining. Image: Lost Heritage.

John Francis Basset died without issue and the Tehidy estate passed to his two brothers, namely, Arthur Basset (1833-1870) in 1869, and Gustavus Lambert Basset (1834-1888) in 1870. By this time, income from the tin mines was diminishing, but the Bassets found it difficult to live their lives any other way than had been the norm. After the death of Gustavus Lambert Basset the estate passed to his son, Arthur Francis Basset (1873-1950), who turned out to be the last member of the family to live at Tehidy.

He found it extremely difficult to finance the estate, not helped by his costly pursuit of horse-racing and the gambling debts that often came with it. In 1915, there were rumours that the Prince of Wales was going to buy Tehidy, but little importance was attached to the gossip. However, in October newspapers confirmed that the estate had indeed been sold.

Tehidy - Unknown
In 1734 the building of a new mansion house was commenced by John Pendarves Basset and in 1739 Francis Basset took possession of the estate and the almost completed house. In 1861 John Francis Basset again commenced a rebuilding, funded by the income from mining and land rents. Image: Gordon Reed.

The buyers turned out to be Mr Hamilton Edwards, a financier,  formerly connected with Lord Northcliffe as managing Director of the Amalgamated Press, and Mr Arthur H. Bond, a land expert. Between them they secured the Tehidy landed estates, royalties of the mines, tin streams, Portreath harbour, and Arthur Basset’s other interests. The sale, believed to be upwards of £300,000, was regarded as one of the most sensational transfers of landed property since the Duke of Bedford had parted with his Covent Garden estate.

“Broadly speaking,” said Hamilton Edwards, to an interviewer, “the scheme represents the liberation of land and the advent of the small owner. I have long believed that small holdings, as distinct from small ownerships, are quite inadequate as solution of Britain’s land problem. The small holder becomes a County Council tenant and has no fixity of tenure. The farmer who can buy his freehold at a moderate price is his own master, and leaves property to his family, and receives the full benefit of any improvement he makes to his farm.”

Tehidy - Lost Heritage (4)
Tehidy was completed by 1863. By 1888 Arthur Francis Basset had inherited the estate but because of diminished income from the mining industry it was difficult to finance the estate. Image: Lost Heritage.

The bulk of the estate, including its tin mines, was duly sold-off, but there was still the problem of what to do with the mansion and its surrounding parkland. In July 1916, it was reported that Arthur Francis Basset was not leaving the county, having purchased back farms at Illogan and Godrevy, and had secured an option on Tehidy for twelve months.

Arthur Basset didn’t take up the option on Tehidy. In June 1917, The Cornishman sounded an ominous note: – “We can state authoritatively that there is a danger that this Cornish landmark may actually be ‘scrapped’ for building material, unless some Cornish philanthropist comes forward at once and acquires it at an almost nominal price as a convalescent home for Cornish miners injured in the war, or perhaps for sailors and marine engineers.”

Tehidy - Hall - Lost Heritage (5)
The Entrance Hall to Tehidy, now sadly lost. Image: Lost Heritage.

History books tell us that the Basset family left Cornwall for good in 1915. However, with Arthur Francis Basset regaining ownership on some parts of the estate, it was likely that he had remained at Tehidy since the spectacular land sale of that year. In September 1917, The Cornishman was once again on hand to report on developments. The mansion was up for sale again, plants and flowers in pots had been sold at auction, and it was known that some of the Basset heirlooms had left the district, and that other personal furniture was stored in Camborne.

It was announced that Messrs. William Rowe and Co had been instructed to hold a five day auction of the furniture of Tehidy, including an automatic organ, fire engine, antique and modern goods of all kinds, from grandfather clocks to four-poster beds. Admission to the house was by catalogue costing two shillings, and on the morning of Monday 17th September the dining-room was full to overflowing, and bids followed each other in rapid succession.

Tehidy - Drawing Room - Lost Heritage (6)
Tehidy. The Drawing Room. Image: Lost Heritage.

“Many Cornish people found the sale gave them the first opportunity in their lives to see the park and the fine rooms with their elaborate alabaster and other mantel-pieces, the family portraits, the superb mahogany doors, the painted ceilings, old and modern portions of the building with Adams ceilings and decorations, and other features of the mansion, the wealth of colour – almost a riot of gilding and bright hues within contrasting with the sober and severe external architecture and restful greenery of the wooded park and lake seen through the windows.

“To some it will perhaps be a surprise to know that when the last enlargement was made and Italian artists were engaged to litter the walls and ceilings with pictures, the contract was for £70,000 and as this was broken, the amount spent was considerably exceeded, and probably reached the £100,000 figure! The house, park and woods were probably not laid out for less than a total of £200,000 besides the annual upkeep, and at times the Bassets have employed a staff of forty servants in the house and grounds.

“It seems almost incredible, but an old keeper who is still as bright as a new shilling, has lived at Tehidy under four male owners. This faithful retainer, who has been nearly sixty years on the estate, is now installed in the south lodge, and is 77-years-old. It may be imagined that in his wildest dreams he never expected to see the estate sold to strangers and the furniture knocked down by the auctioneer’s hammer.”

Tehidy - Lost Heritage (7)
In 1915 the mansion was sold after 700 years of Basset ownership, the deal was finalised in 1916. Image: Lost Heritage.

Weeks later, there was some indication as to what the new owners had in mind for Tehidy mansion. Arthur Bond made an offer to Sir Arthur Carkeek with the idea of any new purchaser using the premises as a hospital. The deal involved the mansion, with its grounds, land and adjoining woods (some 250 acres in all), to be bought for £10,000. The matter was brought before the Committee of the Patriotic Fund at Cornwall County Council, who immediately discussed it with the County Tuberculosis Authorities, who had already made several attempts to set up an institution of this kind without success. The offer was accepted, and Cornwall County Council set about raising money by voluntary subscriptions. By January 1918, the amount subscribed had reached over £11,000, and by the time the deed of gift was handed to Mr W.C. Pendarnes, Chairman of Cornwall County Council in May, the figure had exceeded £16,000. It eventually reached a sum approaching £20,000.

“At the moment, Tehidy Mansion is a big shell or framework set in a beautiful park, sheltered by belts of trees. Some of the exquisite Adams marble fireplaces have been re-bought and removed by Mr A.F. Basset; there are a few ragged corners from which bookshelves have been taken, and there are no beds or other hospital furniture and equipment.

“There was much speculation as to the reason that Mr Basset realised, vaguely at first (which accounted for some vacillation) more definitely as the war progressed, that after the war few landowners will be wealthy enough to pay super-tax and still be able to meet the costs of a large establishment, the difficulty being increased by the scarcity of labour and the higher cost of living as the result of war. All over the country we may expect to see a reduction in the number of sumptuous establishments, and the late Sir Edward Hain was not alone in regretting the passing of these historic homes which he described as the picture-galleries and museums of the country.

“It may interest my readers to know that Mr Basset, while keeping his ‘shooting box’ in Scotland, has not bought any other ‘home’ since parting with Tehidy, and that he has worn khaki as a recruiting officer in London during the past two years. What the future holds we do not know. A.F. Basset, who has been High Sheriff of Cornwall, may come back with us to live in some rose-draped bungalow and meet us all as comrades in peace and co-workers in the rebuilding of England.

“Thousands of Cornish people are still mystified as to exactly what happened when Tehidy became a commodity for sale to the highest bidder. Usually property passes from one hand to another without mystery, and it is seldom that you get deeds signed by the old owners as well as the new, or that (as in Mr Basset’s case) some farms are re-bought by the seller, or that after a mansion has been sold the seller acquires an option to re-buy it, and at the end of a year does not exercise the option.

“The facts, however, are very simple. The purchase of Tehidy, including the mines, farms, tin streams, and leaseholds was not an ordinary straight-out purchase for cash, but a ‘deal in margins.’ Three shrewd London speculators (only two of whom came to Cornwall) had been partners in similar successful deals, which dealt with land and houses, but did not include mines. They put a certain amount of money in security, which has earned interest during the past three years, but has not gone out of their hands. A fund was opened, and as fast as they re-sold farms or other property, the money went into this Basset Fund and earned interest. The speculators were credited with this interest and with the rents received from the tenants, but then they were charged interest on the unpaid part of the balance of the purchase money, and a time-limit was set for the completion of the payment, whether the speculators had re-sold all or only a part of the property.

“At the end of three years they have re-sold property to the value of over a quarter of a million (including mine royalties for £90,000) and have made a profit on the deal. It would not have been a large profit if they had had to part with £250,000 in cash three years ago; and they might easily have lost fifty or sixty thousand by the deal; so, if they made a similar amount it means they have been paid for their risk, expert knowledge, staff-work and personal exertions.”

Herbert Thomas. The Cornishman. May 29, 1918.

Tehidy - Lost Heritage (8)
In 1918 the house became a hospital for tuberculosis sufferers. It received its first patients in February 1919. Image: Lost Heritage.

The Tehidy Sanatorium started accepting patients In February 1919, but the euphoria came to a shattering end a fortnight later, on the morning of Wednesday 26 February.

A few days before, representatives of the county had carefully removed the Basset Coat-of-Arms and motto “For King and People” from the front of the old mansion. It turned out to be a prophetic action; in the early hours of the morning an electric wire fused in a room occupied by the sanatorium’s only five patients. The ward was on the second floor, faced west, and was above the drawing room and library.

Whilst on duty in the ward between 1.30 and 2 o’clock in the morning , Sister Everett smelt smoke and at once informed Dr Roper, the Medical Superintendent, who immediately gave the fire alarm, and started the task of the removal of the patients. With the assistance of the matron and sisters, the patients were removed in their beds. Dr Roper carried some of the patients downstairs on his back; and the Matron and staff worked untiringly from the time the fire was discovered. The patients were deposited on the open lawn on the western side of the house. Here they were warmly wrapped up and were later taken to the motor garage where temporary provision had been made for their reception. Later in the day, one of these patients died from natural causes.

Tehidy Fire - Royal Cornwall Museum
Two weeks before the disastrous fire, Tehidy had received its first patients. After the fire, the Tehidy Sanatorium Committee bought Admiralty huts from St Ives and transported them by traction engine to the park. A hut from Tregenna Hospital at Camborne had already been erected. These were used as accommodation for tuberculosis patients. Image: Royal Cornwall Museum.

The Camborne Fire Brigade were summoned about 3.15 a.m. and were closely followed by the Redruth Brigade. In the meantime, staff and those living around the estate did their utmost, but their services were of no avail. Favoured by a strong easterly wind, the fire spread with great rapidity and soon most of the mansion was a mass of flames.

The firemen set to work on the north and south ends of the building in an endeavour to save these parts. The middle, or main portion, was too far gone to save, and it was a matter of a very short time before the huge roof fell in with a terrible crash. The steam engines were unable to work at a very high pressure due to an inadequate water supply, but the firemen battled for five or six hours and eventually got the fire under control.

Tehidy - Lost Heritage (9)
Aftermath of the fire at Tehidy. It was once described as ‘ the most beautiful mansion in Cornwall.’ Italian artists had decorated the walls and ceilings, their work destroyed in a few hours. Image: Lost Heritage.

The historic building, which had been intended to be both a War Memorial and a Home of rest for ex-soldiers, ex-sailors, miners and other civilians suffering from tuberculosis, had had thousands of pounds spent on it, though the bulk of furniture had not been delivered and the Lady Falmouth room was still awaiting equipment given by the Viscountess, who had taken a great interest in the scheme.

The scene of the fire later in the morning presented a sad spectacle. Except for the basement and one or two other rooms, all that remained were the great bare walls. A representative of The Cornishman was permitted to visit what remained of the house: –

“On the north side is the conservatory which is intact. The hall palms and trees showed no sign of injury by smoke or fire, and there was little water on the tiled floor. Passing through a long corridor on the first floor, the dining room was reached. Here could be gained some idea of the destruction wrought. The beautifully gilded ceiling and marble mantel-piece and grate, with two figures carved at each end, all that remain in the room, are discoloured and ruined. The drawing room with its famous ceiling shared a similar fate. The water in this room was about six inches deep, and on the floor lying about like waste paper, were pieces of what remained of the wonderful painting which took Italian artists many months to execute. At the south end there are a few small houses which escaped. Near the part destroyed is the laundry on the roof of which is a large clock. The effect of the flames did not even stop the motion of the time-piece. The front entrance to the house, which faces south, appears to have escaped more serious injury, and the verandas underneath do not appear to be damaged, and the statue in the centre of the front wall, also remains intact.”

Tehidy Fire
“The interior of the sanatorium now presents a scene of grievous desolation. The facade and the outer walls alone stand.” Image: Owen Trembath.

One hundred years later, it is difficult to imagine the devastation caused by the fire. However, we are thankful to the faithful Herbert Thompson, the correspondent from The Cornishman, who visited Tehidy weeks afterwards. He once again provided a unique account of the damage and the extraordinarily rapid rate in which the hospital facilities were being revived: –

“A few days ago, I paid a surprise visit to Tehidy – my first since the disastrous fire destroyed many costly and valued relics of this historic mansion and undid a year’s work of a devoted band of enthusiastic pioneers. I was not surprised to find on the spot the usual batch of workers – Dr Roper, the medical officer who brought the patients downstairs on his back when the alarm of fire was given; the matron who worked strenuously and coolly to get her patients out of danger and to see that they were comfortably housed beyond reach of the fire and smoke; Mr Howard Lanyon and Mr F.D. Bain, who visit Tehidy almost daily and devote their Sundays to this humanitarian and honorary work; and Mr Crispin, the clerk of works, whose cheery temperament looks for a silvery lining to the cloud, and who has lost no time since the fire in adopting ‘Reconstruction’ as his watchword, like the lad who held ‘that banner with the strange device – Excelsior!’

“The fire assessors are at work on their estimates of destruction: the committee and staff, plans in hand, are busy at their task of preparing for the reception of the cases, some of them heartrending, which but for the fire would now be receiving the attention of trained nurses in beautiful surroundings.

“At a distance there was little sign that Tehidy had been swept by flame. The massive outer walls, the inner dividing walls, the terraces, the new masonry on the south side, even a statue forming a pinnacle above the main entrance remain intact. But as you approach the mansion you see that it is a huge shell. The County Committee recently added £5,000 to the Insurance: so that at the time of the fire the Company had accepted £25,000 worth of liability for damage done to the building. But for a division of opinion that amount would have been increased another £10,000. When the county meeting was held, I told that gathering that they would find Tehidy was ‘less a bargain than a gift.’ I hold to that statement now. I believe there will be no difficulty in proving that far more than £25,000 worth of damage has been done: though it should be possible with £25,000 to carry out much purely practical reconstruction work, with the walls and other materials as a basis. The Government expert was asked (before the mansion was bought) where he would build a sanatorium if the mansion were destroyed by fire and his answer was: ‘On the very same spot.’

“There is, therefore, every reason why the central building – modernised, yet retaining architectural symmetry and dignity – should remain where it is. There is building material on the spot to meet all demands; and within easy reach will be the pavilions, or huts, for certain classes of cases. Already the Tregenna Hut from Camborne is erected, and a veranda has been added by Mr Crispin, so that patients can sit looking southward, in the eye of the sun. On the green bank above the house and sheltered by trees six other huts will be erected – some have already been brought from St Ives, and the sites are being prepared. These are not makeshift buildings but solid wood structures which will last, and which can be easily fumigated and kept in thorough order.

“What I saw and heard at Tehidy helped me to realise the rapidity of the work of destruction. The inner dividing walls, and inner main walls faced with granite, are so massive and supported by iron girders and brick arches, that they held together even when the main building became a fiery furnace. It was ‘touch and go’ whether the patients would be saved or not. Men and beds had to be taken downstairs when the fire had begun to come through the floor – the first floor – and the interior burnt like matchwood. The great staircase has gone and some of the splendid mahogany doors. But others of these had been sold to a gentleman in London. Some of the rear rooms are undamaged, together with a few of the beautiful mantelpieces which have been boarded up to protect them from falling roof material. I was surprised to find the great gilded ceiling of the dining room (where the auction was held) still intact: but it has warped and there is an enormous weight of debris above, threatening its destruction. Mrs Basset’s sitting room with its gilded and painted panels, and the oil paintings stored there, is gutted, the Italian painted ceiling is now a wreck and the strips of burnt canvas litter the floor. The many bedrooms, so charmingly decorated and fitted, are gone and the costly ceilings of some of the main rooms cannot be replaced. Yet there is enough left to remind us of the Tehidy we knew; though it is easy to realise that when Mr Arthur Basset revisited his birthplace a few days ago he was saddened beyond words at the destruction of his old home.

“Whether the fire was caused by an electric wire fusing: or whether the low open fireplaces gradually rendered the woodwork as inflammable as timber, may be a matter of argument. It is singular that a second fire has occurred since my visit, due to coals from the fireplace! I was impressed by the outstanding facts that in a twinkling fire can transform a stately building into a shell of bricks and granite: yet I was equally impressed with the fact that if Tehidy as a mansion contained defects from a Sanatoria point of view, the county is amazingly fortunate if it is able to handle many thousands of pounds worth of building material, much of it unharmed by fire, plus £25,000 for reconstruction and furnishing purposes. There are two causes of regret – the loss of features of the old mansion which cannot be restored; the loss of time in caring for the hundreds of patients in the county who need, as Admiral May said, immediate treatment and not that which might be available some years’ hence. I hope the Insurance Company will recognise the full extent of the calamity and the fact that the building as it stood could not be erected for four times the amount of the insurance; and that the committee will be supported in every way in their endeavour to make early provision for urgent cases, while developing as soon as possible their plans for a new central building from the wreckage of the old.”

By January 1922, Tehidy mansion had been partly rebuilt, but it looked different to John Francis Basset’s building from the 1860s. A long building with portico and clock tower, between two angle pavilions was built in place of the original east entrance front, it infilled a courtyard and used pillars and masonry salvaged after the fire. The imprint of the original centre section was used to create a sunken garden, utilising walls from the former basement.

Tehidy Chest Hospital - Rob M Crorie
Tehidy Chest Hospital showing the later additions built in the former parkland. Image: Courtesy of Rob M Corrie.
Tehidy - Rod Allday
Following the fire in 1919, the central portion of Tehidy was demolished and its materials used to build this smaller facade. Image: Rod Allday.

The mansion provided hospital services for many years and, as Tehidy Hospital, later dealt with people with strokes, head injuries and various respiratory disorders. The estate was bought by Cornwall County Council in 1983 for the benefit of the public and became Tehidy Country Park. The hospital shut in April 1988 and was converted into luxury apartments in the mid-1990s, while several houses were built around the former hospital buildings.

Tehidy Aerial - Barry Gamble
An aerial view of Tehidy today. The sunken garden behind the central block was built using the old basement walls. Image: Barry Gamble.
Tehidy - The Santon Group
Tehidy was converted into luxury properties in the 1990s. This building was completed in 1922 as a replacement for the old mansion. Image: The Santon Group.
Tehidy - Sykes Cottages
The remains of the old cellars were used as the outline for the sunken garden at Tehidy. Image: Sykes Cottages.
Tehidy - Express Estate Agency
Elements survive from the earlier mansion built 1734-1739 to the design of Thomas Edwards. Three out of four quadrant pavilions, each with a cupola and clock, surround its central site. Image: Express Estate Agency.

¹ Samuel Drew (1765-1833). A Cornish Methodist theologian. ‘The History of Cornwall’ was published in 1824.
² William Lake ‘A Parochial History of Cornwall’. It was published in four volumes between 1867-72.

More images at Lost Heritage

HOLBOROUGH COURT

holborough court - kent photo archive
Holborough Court. Image: Kent Photo Archive.

These photographs of Holborough Court, at Snodland in Kent, were taken in 1909. It was designed by Hubert Bensted and built in 1884-86 for Major William Henry Roberts (1848-1926), a partner in the local lime and cement industry. William Lee Henry Roberts (1871-1928), the founder of the Holborough Cement Works, succeeded to the property and when he died it passed to his nephew John Cook of Royden Hall, on condition that he took the name Roberts. He sold it to Associated Portland Cement Manufacturers (now Blue Circle) in 1929, who demolished it in 1930 to make way for industrial development. Some of the ancient fittings were saved and now form part of the furnishings of Paddlesworth church.

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Holborough Court. Image: Kent Photo Archive.
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Holborough Court. Image: Kent Photo Archive.

FOREST FARM

Forest Farm - Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News - 11 Jun 1910 - BNA
Forest Farm at Winkfield. This image is from The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News in June 1910. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.

From The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News in June 1910. This was Forest Farm in Windsor Forest, Winkfield, in Berkshire, belonging to Henry Pelham-Clinton, 7th Duke of Newcastle (1864-1928). He had abandoned Clumber House in Nottinghamshire for the comforts of Forest Farm in 1908, although it appears to have been under his ownership from 1906.

Soon after moving in it suffered a fire that damaged the upper parts of the building. Presumably it had been restored at the time of this photograph. Following his death in 1928, the Dowager Duchess of Newcastle remained at Forest Farm until her own death in 1955, and the house appears to have been demolished in 1956. Consigned to history and virtually forgotten.

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Henry Pelham-Clinton, 7th Duke of Newcastle. He had poor health and played only a small part in public life. As a staunch Anglo-Catholic he spoke on ecclesiastical issues in the House of Lords. One of his achievements was the restoration of the fortunes of his family estate. In 1879 a serious fire destroyed much of Clumber House in Nottinghamshire, he had it magnificently rebuilt to designs by the younger Charles Barry. His Thames Valley estate was at Forest Farm in Winkfield which he eventually moved to.
Forest Farm - Country Houses of the UK and Ireland
Forest Farm was more convenient for the Duke of Newcastle. It was close to London and Eton and suitably positioned for Ascot Races. Sadly, it was demolished, presumably surplus to requirement.

HAYES PLACE

An American shrine on English soil. Following in the footsteps of Benjamin Franklin, the great negotiator, and the sad plight of an English country house.

Hayes Place - The Graphic - 2 March 1918 - BNA
Hayes Place was the home of the distinguished statesman William Pitt, 1st Earl of Chatham, who was Prime Minister in 1766-1768. His son, William Pitt the Younger (the youngest ever Prime Minister) was born here in 1759. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.

In March 1918, The Graphic highlighted Hayes Place in Kent, the ornate home of the Earl of Chatham, and the historical visit of the great American, Benjamin Franklin.

From 1757 to 1774, Franklin lived mainly in London where he was the colonial representative for Pennsylvania, Georgia, New Jersey and Massachusetts. His attempts to reconcile the British government with the colonies proved fruitless. On his return to America, the war of independence had already broken out and he threw himself into the struggle. In 1776, he helped to draft, and was then a signatory to, the Declaration of Independence.

In 1758, when relations between the mother land and her American colonies had become strained to breaking point, William Pitt the elder, later the 1st Earl of Chatham, went out of his way to make the acquaintance of the famous American. They met within the walls of Hayes Place, where Franklin and the Earl held many discussions as to how the differences between Great Britain and America might be healed.

Hayes Place - Lost Country Houses of Kent
Pitt acquired Hayes in 1757 then rebuilt the house and added land to the estate. General Wolfe dined here in 1759 on the night before he departed to his fate at Quebec. During Pitt’s time as Prime Minister, Thomas Walpole held the house and encased it in white brick during further enlargement. Walpole resold it to Pitt in 1768, who died here ten years later in 1778. Image: Lost Country Houses of Kent.

Site of a house since the 15th century, in 1754 William Pitt the elder bought the property, subsequently rebuilding it. The birthplace of his son, Pitt the Younger in 1759 and the scene of his own death in 1778, it was visited by many of the major figures of the late 18th century but passed out of the family in 1785.

Hayes Place - Ideal Home
Other noted owners of Hayes Place included philanthropist Edward Wilson (who acquired the house in 1864) and Sir Everard Alexander Hambro (1880), who carried out improvements to Hayes village. Hayes Place was demolished in 1933 and houses were erected on the site. Image: Ideal Homes.

In 1880 Everard Hambro of the banking family, became the owner. Following his death in 1925 his son Eric decided to dispose of the estate for building, although the need for an improved infrastructure for this rural area meant delays.

As a result the house survived until 1933.

Developed as the Hayes Place Estate by Henry Boot, a Sheffield based company, roads such as Chatham Avenue and Hambro Avenue were named after figures associated with the house’s history.

“Where statesmen once met to discuss state matters, builders’ men now eat their lunches. Hayes Place, the historic mansion of the Pitts, is now used as a store for building materials.” – Taunton Courier and Western Advertiser – March 1933.

Henry Boot - Norwood News - 26 May 1933 - BNA

Hambro Avenue
Hambro Avenue in Hayes, Kent. This is named after one of the occupants of Hayes Place. Sheffield-builder Henry Boot demolished the house in 1933 and laid out the Hayes Place estate. Several local firms put up more estates, including Hayes Hill, Pickhurst Manor, and Hayes Gardens. Image: Google Streetview.

NEW MURTHLY CASTLE

A mansion that was only a shell, but would soon be no more

Murthly Castle -The Sphere - 12 Feb 1919 - BNA (1)
The stones of New Murthly Castle were used by the Hydro-Electric Board to help in building twenty-nine traditional-type four and five bedroomed houses at Tarbet (under the Loch Sloy scheme) and thirty-five houses at Pitlochry (under the Tummel-Garry Scheme). Image: The British Newspaper Archive.

In February 1949, The Sphere published photographs of New Murthly Castle, at Dunkeld, in Perthshire, where demolition work was in progress. The stonework, amounting to 200,000 tons, was to be used to build workers’ houses near the new hydro-electric dam at Pitlochry, six miles away, and at Loch Sloy.

The castle, which was never completed, was begun in 1827 by Sir John Archibald Drummond Stewart, 6th Baronet (1794-1838), Laird of Murthly, and was said to be the outcome of his rivalry with John Campbell, 1st Marquess of Breadalbane (1762-1834) who had also started to rebuild Taymouth Castle in grandiose fashion.

Sir John called his residence New Murthly Castle and engaged John Gillespie Graham, said to be the most expensive architect in the country. When Sir John died during the progress of the work, Murthly was left just as it was, a magnificent empty shell.

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Experts bored into the ashlar with pneumatic drills, then strung charges of gelignite together with lengths of detonator cord.

Charlie Brand, an expert from ICI Nobel, who worked at the world’s largest dynamite works at Ardeer in Ayrshire, supervised the work. ‘The four flanking towers were pulled off their footings using a hawser attached to a huge Caterpillar tractor, then the central block was blown up by ICI’s men, using four tons of gelignite’.

Several hundred spectators turned up to watch.

John Stirling Maxwell, the founder of the National Trust for Scotland, said in 1937, that: “This unfinished house, for dignity, proportion and beauty stood quite alone in its day and is still without rival.” 

But these were the days before conservation. The National Trust for Scotland’s founding aim was to protect wild places from development, rather than to save buildings, and New Murthly Castle was lost.

Murthly Castle -The Sphere - 12 Feb 1919 - BNA (3)
The walls of New Murthly Castle crumble: One of the wings falling after the detonation of 900 lbs of explosive. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.
Murthly Castle -The Sphere - 12 Feb 1919 - BNA (2)
After the dust had settled: Part of one wing of New Murthly Castle lies on the ground and a gaping hole is revealed. The castle had stood unfinished and untenanted since 1827. Ammunition was stored here between 1939 and 1945. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.

ASTON CLINTON HOUSE

Nothing remains of this former mansion; the only reminder of its existence is the balustrading which once encircled the garden at the front of the house. 

Aston Clinton 1 (Lost Heritage)
The exact date of Aston Clinton House, and who built it, are unknown but it was sometime between 1770, when a house called Church Farm was still the manor house, and 1793 when, on the plans for a proposed canal a house was marked as ‘seat of General Gerard Lake’. Image: Lost Heritage.

The age of opulence. In October 1902, The Sketch visited Aston Clinton House, to the south-east of the village of Aston Clinton in Buckinghamshire, thought to have been the most charming of the country houses belonging to various members of the Rothschild family and their immediate descendants. As one observer said: “This typically English homestead gains rather than loses by contrast with its stately neighbour, Waddesdon.”

The long, low white building was unpretentious in general design, and had been bought in 1851 by Sir Anthony de Rothschild from a well-known Aylesbury banker. Both the house and the estate had been improved and altered; but the general appearance of the fine old square manor had not been altered, and the additions were charmingly picturesque, while the views from the windows commanded the loveliest prospects.

Sir Anthony Nathan de Rothschild (1810-1876) was the third child and second son of Nathan Mayer Rothschild and Hanna Barent Cohen, and had worked for N.M. Rothschild & Sons in London as well de Rothschild Frères in Paris and M. A. Rothschild Söhne in Frankfurt. In 1840 he married Louise Montefiore (1821-1910), a cousin, and daughter of Abraham Montefiore and Henriette Rothschild.

Aston Clinton 3 - The Sketch - Oct 15 1902 (BNA)
Aston Clinton House in 1902. The Buckinghamshire seat of Lord and Lady Battersea. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.

Sir Anthony and his wife Louisa made alterations from 1853 using the architectural talents of George Henry Stokes, assistant of Joseph Paxton, and using the builder George Myers. Extensions to the existing house included a ‘billiard room building’, dining room, offices and a conservatory. Between 1864 and 1877, they turned to the steady work of George Devey who designed the park gates and various cottages on the estate.

Back in 1902, Constance Flower, Lady Battersea (1843-1931), the only surviving child of Sir Anthony, and his widow, the venerable chatelaine of Aston Clinton, were interested in gardening, long before horticulture had become a fashionable hobby; accordingly, the gardens of Aston Clinton were full of rare and interesting plants and shrubs. Fortunately, Cyril Flower, 1st Baron Battersea (1843-1907), was as keen a horticulturist as was his wife, and both at The Pleasaunce, their other property at Overstrand, Norfolk, and at Aston Clinton, he had given up much time and thought to the practical beautifying of the grounds.

The interior of Aston Clinton was arranged in an artistic and original manner. The rooms weren’t large, but a corridor connecting the principal apartments was full of objets d’art, collected by the Rothschilds. Particularly beautiful was the china, arranged in such a fashion that it added to the artistic effect, instead of, as was too often the case, detracting from it.

Aston Clinton 2 (Lost Heritage)
After Gerard Lake’s death in 1808 his son Francis Gerard (1772-1836) inherited the title and the estate and used the house as his country residence. Francis died in 1836 without heirs and the title and estate passed to his younger brother Warwick (1783-1848). Image: Lost Heritage.

Lady de Rothschild’s boudoir was hung with fine tapestries, and the white panelling in the dining room had been carved by a sixteenth-century Dutch artist. The drawing-room contained more fine works of art, worthy of inclusion in any world-famous collection, and among hundreds of curios was an old clock showing a mighty Sovereign walking in a procession, while above his head waved a Royal umbrella.

According to the commentator in The Sketch, “Pictures were here, there and everywhere, sharing the space with books, etchings and prints.”  Sir Anthony Rothschild had been a generous patron of painters and etchers, and had been ready to back his own taste, a love of creative art that was shared by his son-in-law Lord Battersea, whose study at Aston Clinton contained a remarkable series of amateur photographs, several watercolours and engravings, each chosen with reference to their intrinsic interest or artistic value.

A feature at Aston Clinton was a splendid winter-garden (conservatory) which had been arranged in such a manner that it became part of the long corridor already mentioned. ‘Lady de Rothschild, bringing, as it were, the varied delights of leaf, fruit, and blossom into the house itself’.

Aston Clinton 4 - The Sketch - Oct 15 1902 (BNA)
Aston Clinton House in 1902. The Conservatory and North Wing. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.

Both Lady Battersea and her mother showed a practical interest in the welfare of their poorer neighbours. Anthony Hall, a building erected by Sir Anthony’s widow in memory to him, formed a centre not only for those in the neighbourhood, but also for the many practical philanthropists who met there at the invitation of Lord Battersea. The Aston Clinton Coffee Tavern was another familiar benefaction conferred on the village by the Rothschild family, and successful had been the Training Home for Girls, an institution that had solved locally ‘that difficult modern problem – the servant question’.

Both were keenly concerned in what was going on in the political, artistic, and philanthropic worlds. The Sketch painted a lavish, if not saccharine, portrayal. “They are among those whom the nation should delight to honour, for they have done all in their power to make happier and better the many large circles of human beings with whom they are brought in contact. Lady Battersea has the energy of her wonderful race, and she is ardently interested in all that affects the welfare of her own sex.”

When Lady de Rothschild died in 1910, Aston Clinton reverted to the Rothschild estate, but Lady Battersea and her sister, Annie Henrietta (1844-1926), remained in occupation until the First World War. It was given over to the Commanding Officer of the 21st Infantry Division, then based on the Halton estate.

The Rothschild estate sold Aston Clinton for £15,000 in 1923 – a house with seven reception rooms, billiard room, ballroom, thirteen principal bedrooms and dressing rooms, seventeen secondary and servants’ bedrooms, four bathrooms and domestic offices. To commemorate the sale the Rothschilds placed a tablet in the wall of the portico recording that the family had owned Aston Clinton between 1853 until 1923, a period of 70 years.

The country house was bought by Dr Albert Edward Bredin Crawford who used the house as a school for boys. Evelyn Waugh was a schoolmaster for a short time from 1925, and in his diaries he referred to it as “an unconceivably ugly house but a lovely park” and “a house of echoing and ill-lit passages.”

Aston Clinton 2 - The Sketch - Oct 15 1902 (BNA)
Aston Clinton House in 1902. A charming pool in the grounds. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.

After a brief period as the Aston Clinton Country Club in 1931, the house was on the market again the following year and described as being suitable for a club, school or institution.

Aston Clinton became the Howard Park Hotel in 1933, ‘a first-class country hotel’ complete with a landing strip for aeroplanes. It was run by Mr Stanley Cecil Howard, the son of a well-known hotelier, and had studied hotel improvement across the world. (The house itself was owned by Charles Richard Stirling of Sysonby Lodge, Melton Mowbray, and was rented on a five-year lease).  Howard had trained as a hotel manager and a restaurateur in Paris and Dusseldorf and had been the general manager of the Royal Hotel in Scarborough.

The Howard Park Hotel was a business failure and became the Green Park Hotel in 1938, run by Douglas Haslett of Surrey. The curtain came down on Stanley Howard’s career when he was declared bankrupt in 1939. (The ownership of the house had since transferred from Richard Stirling to Stanley Howard; on his bankruptcy it was seized by H.M. Treasury before being sold to Thames Side Property Developments Ltd).

Aston Clinton 3 (Lost Heritage)
Warwick Lake decided to sell the estate and put it up for sale in 1836. The sale attracted the attention of the Duke of Buckingham and Chandos but didn’t actually complete until 1838. It was later sold to Sir Anthony de Rothschild. Image: Lost Heritage.

The Green Park Hotel was more successful and survived until the late 1940s. During the Second World War it became the temporary headquarters for Oxo Ltd, while the stables were used by Eric Kirkham Cole for his Ecko Radio Company, which used them as offices and for the development of radar.

Buckinghamshire County Council bought the country house and land in three lots between 1959 and 1967. Aston Clinton House was demolished in 1956, and Green Park Training Centre eventually built in its place. The extended garden of Aston Clinton House is now incorporated into Green Park, while the stables survive as part of the training centre.

Aston Clinton 1 - The Sketch - Oct 15 1902 (BNA)
Aston Clinton House in 1902. One of the Entrance-Gates. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.
Green Park (Aston Clinton)
The same view in modern-times. Very little remains of Aston Clinton House. This is now the entrance to Green Park.