Tag Archives: Ouborough

ROOKSNEST

One hundred years ago, Rooksnest, a country house at Godstone, found itself the subject of a scandal involving an MP.

Oughborough (Stephen Richards)
Rooksnest was built between 1775 – 1781 on land that once belonged to Tandridge Priory. The house was remodelled in the early 19th century. When a country house it was home to Sir George Gilbert Scott in the 1870s, during which time he undertook many of the church restorations in surrounding villages. (Stephen Richards/Geograph)

At one point, two years into the Great War, Britain had found itself with only six weeks’ worth of food and on the verge of starvation. However, it wasn’t until end the of 1917 that food rationing was introduced and by February 1918, general rationing was in force. Food hoarding was a real problem.  Authorities, as well as the general public, took a dim view of anyone engaged in such practices. Naming and shaming in the press was common, penalties were harsh and imprisonment a real possibility.

In February 1918, newspapers reported that Mr William John MacGeagh MacCaw, the MP for West Down, had been fined £400 under the Food Hoarding Order.  At Godstone Petty Sessions, Mr Roland Oliver, prosecuting, said: “It was impossible to imagine a worse case of the people’s representative hoarding the people’s food.” An inspection had been made at his home, Rooksnest, by a local officer who found a significant quantity of tapioca, rice, oatmeal, semolina, biscuits, tea, sugar, golden syrup and honey. Similar quantities were also found at his home at 103, Eaton Square, London. In his defence, Mr MacCaw said: “I think a reasonable supply ought to be kept. I don’t think I’ve neglected my duty in any way. I have a large body of people dependent upon me for food.” He was found guilty, fined and the food confiscated.

Larne Times - 18 April 1914 (BNA)
William John MacGeagh MacCaw (1850-1928). His election as MP for West Down in 1908 was memorable for the fact that he was in India – where he had extensive business interests – when nominated as Unionist candidate, and he was returned by a substantial majority whilst on his journey home. (The British Newspaper Archive)

 

Northern Whig 1 - 5 Feb 1918
The Northern Whig was one of many newspapers reporting the shame of William John MacGeagh MacCaw’s appearance in front of the Petty Sessions. From 5 February 1919. (The British Newspaper Archive)

Rooksnest is located at Godstone, built between 1775-1781, probably by Richard Beecher. It came into the possession of Charles Hampden Turner, a businessman with rope-making and dock interests, in 1817. It remained with the family for the next 100 years but was tenanted for large periods. Its most notable resident was Sir George Gilbert Scott (1811 – 1876), the Gothic revival architect associated with the building and renovation of churches and cathedrals, who was here from 1870.

William John MacGeagh MacCaw (1850 – 1928), the Unionist MP for West Down between 1908 and 1918, was another who rented the property. In early life he had gone to India where he joined the firm of Kettlewell, Bullen and Co (Calcutta and London), jute manufacturers, eventually becoming its principal partner. He also joined the Bengal Chamber of Commerce and lived there for 20 years. After his conviction he bowed out of politics in the General Election of 1918, called immediately after the Armistice with Germany, and died in Monte Carlo.

Ballymena Weekly Telegraph - 17 Mar 1928
William John MacGeagh MacCaw found time for pursuits of a literary and scientific character, and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, a Fellow of the Royal Colonial Institute, and a member of the Society of Arts. (The British Newspaper Archive)

Rooksnest was bought in the 1920s by James Voase Rank (1881 – 1952), a flour miller with Joseph Rank Ltd and brother of Joseph Arthur Rank, founder of the Rank Organisation. He renamed the house Ouborough after the Yorkshire town (Oubrough) where his father had started the flour business in 1875. After he died in 1952 the house eventually became Street Courte School, a preparatory school founded in Westgate-on-Sea in 1894 by J. Vine Milne, the father of author A.A. Milne. It closed in 1994 and eleven years later Ouborough and its parklands became the Godstone Golf Club.

James Voase Rank (Ouborough Kennels)
Ouborough was home to Ouborough Kennels, where James Voase Rank bred Great Danes, Guernsey cattle, thoroughbred horses and Irish Wolfhounds within 170 acres of parkland. (Ouborough – Five Nine)