Tag Archives: SHROPSHIRE

LILLESHALL HOUSE

January 1919. Lilleshall House is going to auction. These days we know it better as Lilleshall Hall, a famous name in English sport.

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Lilleshall House, once the Shropshire seat of the Duke of Sutherland, situated on a commanding position, with views of the surrounding countryside. Image: Shropshire History.

One hundred years ago, a notice appeared for the sale of Lilleshall House in Shropshire. The selling point for the property was that for many years it had been the home of the Dukes of Sutherland. However, by this time, the house was surplus to requirement. It had been sold privately for £45,000 in 1917, and was now being offered for £20,000. At the June sale it became the property of  Sir John Leigh for the next few years.

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Lilleshall House. A newspaper sale advertisement from January 1919. It was bought by Sir John Leigh. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.

Sir John Leigh, 1st Baronet (of Altrincham) (1884-1959) was a British mill-owner, who used his fortune to buy the Pall Mall Gazette and launch his career as a Conservative Party politician. He had made his money in the Lancashire cotton industry and was made a baronet in 1918. He was rumoured at the time to be worth £14 million. He was elected as MP for the Clapham division of Wandsworth at a by-election in May 1922, and held the seat until he retired from politics at the 1945 general election.

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A watercolour of Lilleshall House. It was built to the designs of Sir Jeffry Wyattville, The terrace commanded a magnificent view of the park. Image: Shropshire History.

The Lilleshall estate’s origins went back to the 12th century when Lilleshall Abbey , an Augustan foundation, was built. After the Dissolution of the Monasteries the land was awarded to James Leveson, a Wolverhampton wool merchant in 1539. The estates later passed to Richard Leveson, a distant cousin who was a prominent Royalist in the English Civil War and fortified the Abbey, inviting a severe bombardment. As he too failed to produce heirs, Lilleshall then passed to Sir William Leveson-Gower, 4th Baronet, founder of an illustrious political dynasty, who married Lady Jane Granville, daughter of the Earl of Bath.

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The Duke of Sutherland put Lilleshall House up for auction in July 1917. The sale was handled by Knight, Frank and Rutley. The house had twenty-one principal bedrooms and dressing rooms. Image: Shropshire History.

The first of the family to be ennobled, in 1703, was John Leveson-Gower, 1st Baron Gower. His son and grandson, John Leveson-Gower, 1st Earl Gower, and Granville Leveson-Gower, 1st Marquess of Stafford, progressed further up the ranks of the English peerage.  The title of the Duke of Sutherland  was created by William IV in 1833 for George Granville Leveson-Gower (1758-1833), 2nd Marquess of Stafford.

An existing mid-18th century mansion at Lilleshall was considered too small, but it was not until the 1820s that George Granville Leveson-Gower instructed the architect Sir Jeffry Wyatville to start work on the present house. It was completed in 1829, four years before the newly elevated Duke of Sutherland’s death.

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An aerial view of Lilleshall House in the mid-twentieth century. Image: Shropshire History.

In 1914, a year after George Granville Sutherland-Leveson-Gower (1888 -1963), 5th Duke of Sutherland, had succeeded to the title, he decided to break up his estates. During his father’s tenure there were several properties, including Stafford House at St. James’s, Trentham Hall in Staffordshire, Tittenson Chase, Stoke-on-Trent, Dunrobin Castle and the House of Tongue in Sutherland. Trentham Hall had been offered to Stoke-on-Trent Council, but it had refused it, and was subsequently sold to contractors for demolition.

His father had started to sell his Shropshire lands in 1912 – £281,000 worth of them. In 1914, the 5th Duke pocketed £116,000 and, in July 1917, he sold Lilleshall House for £45,000, and 6,200 acres besides in small lots. About 1,150 acres of land were purchased by the Board of Agriculture for the purpose of a farm colony for soldiers and sailors. In total, the Duke of Sutherland raised over £300,000 for the sale of the estate.

The identity of the 1917 purchaser was shrouded in mystery. The Tatler reported that Lilleshall House had gone to “a great north country munition millionaire who hails from Birmingham.” By October, his identity had been revealed as George F. Heath, head of George Heath Ltd, automobile engineers and motor car dealers.

Whether he intended to live here or not is a matter of speculation, or perhaps he sensed a quick profit on his investment. But, by the end of  1917, George Heath had unexpectedly put Lilleshall House back on the market.

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Lilleshall House was sold by the Duke of Sutherland in July 1917, and the contents were finally sold at auction on 13 December by Christies. It later emerged that the sale of the house was due to the heavy burden of taxation and death duties. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.

The House went to auction in 1918, but failed to sell. A years later, in 1919, Lilleshall House did find a buyer, this time it was Sir John Leigh.

“Estate-selling proceeds apace. Lilleshall and the Sutherland family are no longer connected, except as a memory. Sir John Leigh is the owner of the Duke of Sutherland’s Shropshire property, and so another ‘stately home of England’ has changed hands. There are no better specimens of Elizabethan architecture in the country than Lilleshall, where King Edward was a frequent guest when the beautiful wife of the late Duke was one of the hostesses for invitations to whose entertainments Society itself was not ashamed to scramble. The place is rich in historic associations, and it is therefore satisfactory to know that Lilleshall Abbey, a gem of Norman architecture, will still be open to the tourist and antiquary, and Sir John has already announced that he has no intention of curtailing any of the privileges hitherto enjoyed by the public.” – The Sketch, June 1919.

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The Grand Hall and Staircase at Lilleshall House in 1917. Image: Shropshire History.
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The Red Drawing Room at Lilleshall House. Image: Shropshire History.

Lilleshall House was sold in 1927 to Herbert Ford (1893-1963), a local man with a shrewd eye for business. He’d acquired his wealth from the industry of the Ironbridge Gorge and from a wealthy wife, who was a member of the Lea and Perrins family, famous for their Worcestershire Sauce.

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The Drawing Room at Lilleshall House. Image: Shropshire History.

Like many others before him, Herbert Ford believed that Lilleshall House might make money for him. Although resident in the house he turned the estate into a tourist attraction, and from 1930 until 1939  the hall had pleasure gardens for the public, including an amusement park, a narrow gauge railway, tea dances, and children’s playgrounds. There were even motor-cycle races in the grounds. He added an additional nine holes on the existing nine-hole golf course, designed by the noted golf course architect, Harry Colt, which later became the Lilleshall Hall Golf Club. However, it was not played on for 20 years owing to a rent dispute with farmers that resulted in cattle on the course. He even increased attendance by advertising that the German airship Hindenburg would fly over the estate even when its route was nowhere near; he explained that the lack of an airship was due to bad weather in a self-sent telegram.

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The Dining Room at Lilleshall House. Image: Shropshire History.
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Lilleshall House. The Billiard Room. Image: Shropshire History.

The pleasure gardens closed at the outbreak of World War Two and the house and parkland were occupied by the Cheltenham Ladies’ College and later Dr Barnardo’s, who used the facilities as an orphanage.

When war ended, Lilleshall House faced a precarious future. The house had fallen into decline and the cost of repair was far greater than Herbert Ford could manage. In 1949 he sold house and 10 acres for £30,000 to the Central Council of Physical Recreation who wanted to build a National Recreation Centre for the north of England.  The sale was made possible by the ‘Aid to Britain’ scheme, sponsored by South Africa, a financial gift to Clement Attlee’s government.

It was probably about this time that Lilleshall House became better known as Lilleshall Hall, although the house had been called both names over time. Ford later gave the facility an extra 10 acres of land, on condition that his family could stay in a flat within Lilleshall Hall for at least another ten years or until his death. He passed away here in 1963.

During the 1960s, Lilleshall’s connection with Association Football brought the centre to the attention of the nation. The England team trained for two weeks at Lilleshall prior to their success in the World Cup of 1966.

The centre passed to the Sports Council in 1974 and many different sports established Lilleshall as their own national and regional coaching centre. The Football Association’s School of Excellence was established at Lilleshall in 1984 and closed in the summer of 1999. Today, Lilleshall Hall is operated by Serco Leisure Operating Ltd on behalf of Sport England, as one of three National Sports Centres, alongside Bisham Abbey and Plas y Brenin.

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Lilleshall House is better known today as Lilleshall Hall. It is regularly used by National Governing Bodies of Sport, Sporting Associations and other Professional Sports Clubs and high-profile teams on both a national and international basis.

OAKLEY HALL

This house’s ownership reflects the changing demographic of wealth over the past century 

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A social history of our country is often reflected in the country house. A good example is Oakley Hall where the Chetwode family held seat from the 13th century. The baronetcy of Oakley was created in April 1700 for John Chetwode of Oakley Hall, then surrounded by a 300-acre park, with a generous annual income coming in from the surrounding estate. By the turn of the 20th century, the riches from agriculture were diminishing, and somewhere like Oakley Park was an unaffordable luxury. The Chetwodes sold up, and subsequent occupants included a chemical manufacturer, a cotton merchant, a ship-owner and subsequently an investment banker. Now that the Queen Anne/Georgian stately home is back on the market, with a guide price of £3.5 million, it is intriguing to see what the occupation of its next owner might be.

Before reading any further, let’s clear up the confusion as to which county Oakley Hall sits in. The house straddles the border of Shropshire and Staffordshire, the River Tern runs next to the 3½-acre lake and forms the county boundary. Oakley Hall sits on the Shropshire side, near Mucklestone, but continues to confuse interested observers.

Oakley Hall 1 (Savills)
Image: Savills.

The Grade II* listed mansion was built in 1710 to replace an older manor house by Sir John Chetwode, a two-storey mansion constructed of brick on a sandstone plinth, with a severe east entrance front of 11 bays, the first three pedimented, with two sphinx-like figures with female heads flanking the front door. It has two differing facades overlooking the lake to the north and parkland to the south.

According to Historic England, subsequent Chetwode baronets improved the estate, with the addition of walled gardens, a large farm and stable block. The plain south front previously had a four-bay veranda that was removed in modern times and replaced with a conservatory.

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The last of the family to live at Oakley Hall was Sir George Chetwode (1823-1905), 6th Baronet, the son of the Rev. George Chetwode of Chilton House, Buckinghamshire, who succeeded his uncle in 1873. He was a military man, serving in the Crimean War in the battles of Alma, Balaclava and Inkerman and the Siege of Sevastopol; he also fought in the Indian Mutiny and was wounded at the Battle of Sindwaho.

Sir George died in 1905 and was succeeded by his eldest son, Major (later Field-Marshall) Philip Walhouse Chetwode, D.S.O., another military man, of the 19th Hussars.

The Chetwodes, meanwhile, remained loyal to their ancestral seat, and spent most of their time at Chetwode Manor, Buckinghamshire.

The house was let to Mr Arthur Reginald Midwood (1863-1936), the Managing Director of Alfred H. Midwood and Co, cotton merchants, Manchester, and a director of the Dennis Motor Company. He later invested in the Lancashire Automatic Glass Manufacturing Company, pioneers in the production of glass-machine made bottles that became extremely popular during the new century. After he left Oakley Hall, Midwood went to live at Oakmere Hall in Cheshire, and died in Sydney, New South Wales, in 1937.

In 1920, the Chetwode family sold Oakley Hall to Charles Cyril Dennis (1881-1964), an Oxford M.A. and chairman of James H. Dennis and Co Ltd, copper and chemical manufacturers of Widnes and London. A member of the North Staffordshire Hunt, he was a keen fisherman and enjoyed shooting on the estate. He had married Mary Scott MacFie, daughter of Mr J.W. MacFie of Rowton Hall, Chester, in 1911, and came from a very old Scottish family. Her grandfather lived at Dreghorn Castle, Edinburgh, and was one of the founders of MacFie and Son, who made a fortune in sugar refining. The Dennis family moved from Broxton Old Hall, and after his wife’s death in 1939, remained at Oakley Hall until 1949. Cyril Dennis moved to nearby Park House in the same year he was appointed High Sheriff of Staffordshire.

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Auction notice from 1945. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.
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During the 1950s, Oakley Hall was used for a time as a boarding school, before being bought by Major Paul Baker Lawson in the sixties. Born in Dresden, he was the son of Francis Richard Lawson, a noted North Staffordshire ecclesiastical architect who had practised in the Potteries for over 40 years. Major Lawson had been associated with Johnson Bros, potters of Hanley.

Oakley Hall in 1960s (Staffordshire County Council)
Oakley Hall in the 1960s. Image: Staffordshire County Council.

Oakley Hall was sold to the Crosthwaite shipping family in the 1970s, who ‘considerably altered’ the interior, as did its current owner, Mr Freddie G. Fisher III, who moved here in 1982.

Fisher is a graduate of Harvard University and gained his M.A. at Oxford University and an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School. With a long career in mergers and acquisitions, he is an international investment banker, particularly in the banking sector. His son, Freddie Fisher IV, gained celebrity status when he appeared as a housemate in television’s Big Brother.

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While principally a private house, Oakley Hall has a civil licence for ceremonies, and has hosted up to twelve weddings a year. The stable block has been converted into offices, the main portion occupied by a specialist engineering business, as has the Brew House, which is presently vacant.

Thirty-six years after buying Oakley Hall, considered to be one of the finest stately homes in Shropshire, it is available to buy once again.

The house is approached past the entrance lodge down a long tree-lined private drive that sweeps in front of the house.

According to Savills, the principal reception rooms flow off the main hall with the formality and elegance of the ballroom and dining room, with the library and morning room being less formal. The kitchen overlooks the lake.

An elegant classic Georgian staircase sweeps up to the first floor, with a beautiful principal bedroom suite with curved windows overlooking the terrace and lake. The main house provides eight bedrooms with en-suite, together with a further three bedrooms and a bathroom.

There is a substantial cellar with wine cellar, steam room, walk-in safe and boiler-room. At the side of the house is a private courtyard which leads on to The Brew House.

Oakley Hall sits in about 95-acres of beautiful parkland and grassland, with about 22-acres of mature woodland. The lake is the centrepiece and was restored to celebrate the new millennium. The house also comes with a walled garden, separate tennis court, and gardens made up of mature trees and shrubs.

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COTON HALL

A Georgian mansion with Victorian additions. Not much remains of the house that General Robert E. Lee’s family once knew

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The selling-point or Coton Hall is inevitably its connection with the de la Lee family, probably of Norman descent, who owned a sizeable chunk of Shropshire for about 500 years. This was their ancestral home, and in 1636, Richard Lee emigrated to Virginia, where he prospered in tobacco. Another descendant, Richard Henry Lee, was one of the signatories of the American Declaration of Independence, and Robert E. Lee was commander of the Confederate States Army.

The present house was built about 1800 for Harry Lancelot Lee, the last of the family to live at Coton Hall, in the Parish of Alveley. In his book In Search of the Perfect Home, Marcus Binney says “the elegant simplicity of the house is pure Regency, but to Victorian tastes it was a little too plain, and a picturesque Italianate tower and wing was added about 1860.”

With attention drawn to the American link, Coton Hall was on the market for £2.2 million back in January 2017. Eighteen months later, still unsold, the guide price has been quietly dropped to £1.85 million.

Coton Hall 1 (Savills)
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According to Marcus Binney, the house is hidden until the last moment, and it is the ruined chapel on the grass circle in front that first comes into view. With its fine interiors, the cellars are of interest, being two-storeys deep, and on the lower level is an entrance to a tunnel which leads to the chapel.

There is another side to Coton Hall’s history, one that is often overlooked. The Lee relationship might have ended with Harry Lancelot Lee, but by the time he died in 1821, he had already let the estate to a local curate.

Coton Hall (Share History)
Image: Share History.

Coton Hall was bought by James Foster (1786 -1853), an iron-master and coal-master of Stourbridge. In 1831 he sat in Parliament for the Liberals, became High Sheriff of Worcestershire in 1840, and became the head of the firm of iron-masters, John Bradley and Company. Foster’s wealth was immense and later allowed him to buy Stourton Castle. When he died in 1853, he left his fortune to his nephew, William Orme Foster of nearby Apley Park.

Coton Hall came into the possession of Edward Lloyd Gatacre (1806 -1891), head of one of Shropshire’s most ancient families, having settled at Gatacre Hall in the reign of Henry III. Educated at Rugby and Christ Church, Oxford, he became one of the oldest magistrates in the county and filled the office of High Sheriff in 1856.

Gatacre put the estate up for sale in 1851, and it was bought by the Reverend Edward Ward Wakeman (1801-1855), a man much esteemed for his great kindness to the poor, and his works for charity. He was the son of Sir Henry Wakeman, 1st Baronet, and Sarah Offley, and married Louisa Thompson in 1835. Wakeman also acquired the Hanley Court estate in 1855, under the will of the Rev. T. H. Newport, but died only months afterwards.

Coton Hall - Shrewsbury Chronicle - 25 Jul 1851 (BNA)
Shrewsbury Chronicle, 1851. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.

His eldest son and heir, Offley Francis Drake Wakeman (1836-1865) only came of age in 1857, and the affairs at Coton Hall were briefly managed by his uncle, Offley Penbury Wakeman (1799-1858), 2nd Baronet of Periswell Hall, in Worcestershire.

After over-exerting himself in a cricket match in 1865, Offley Wakeman was found lying in a pool of blood, his death caused by the rupture of a blood vessel. His brother, Henry Allan Wakeman-Newport (1841-1923), had inherited the Hanley Court estate, and Coton Hall was awarded to the youngest brother, Edward Maltby Wakeman (1846-1926).

Edward graduated from Christ Church, Oxford, with a Master of Arts, became a Chartered Accountant, a J.P., and was awarded Honourable Lieutenant-Colonel in the 3rd Battalion Shropshire Light Infantry. He married Edith Mary Buchanan in 1874, and had two children, Gladys Louisa Wakeman and Edward Offley Wakeman, an only son, who died within his first year.

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In 1878, the roof of the chapel collapsed, and all the Lee monuments were moved to Alveley Church.

Colonel Wakeman died in 1926, and left instructions that his funeral should be ‘the plainest possible description, and that all unnecessary expense should be avoided’. He was drawn in an open bier to the grave at Alveley Church by those whom he had employed. Edward left his property in trust for his daughter, with the request that the successors to the property assumed the name and arms of Wakeman. Gladys Louisa had married Captain Hugh Davenport Colville, Royal Navy, in 1906, and legally changed their name to Wakeman-Colville in 1927. They stayed at Coton Hall until the 1930s.

JMC4 - Church Explorer
Image: JMC4 – Church Explorer.
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In the 1940s, Coton Hall was home to Mr and Mrs Howard Thompson.  The house, which had always maintained a modest degree of secrecy, was opened to the public for one-day in 1956, and was described in the Birmingham Daily Post:

“On show in the Hall – the ancestral home of Gen. Robert E. Lee – will be four of the main rooms. These contain many art treasures, including superb paintings of the Lee family, who owned the hall for more than 500 years.

“In front of the Hall stands the remains of a chapel built in 1275, which was at one time the private domestic chapel of the reigning monarch. It was used by King Alfred the Great and Edward the Confessor. The latter laid a rent charge on the manor which is still paid. A subterranean passage leads from the Hall to a crypt beneath the chapel

“The Hall, which stands on a hill, 550 feet above sea level, commands a wonderful view of the valley and the large trout lake.    

“The main feature of the four-acre grounds are the trees, which have plaques attached to indicate their variety. Behind the Hall, overlooking a valley, stands a magnificent cedar tree, planted 226 years ago. In the same year, Thomas Lee sent some seeds to Coton from Virginia. These seeds have now flourished into the tall red chestnut trees in Coton Park.”

Marcus Binney says the ruined chapel is no antiquity. “Local historians have claimed that this is the chapel of ancient Saxon kings, but it is a simple Palladian box with a pretty Strawberry Hill Gothic window in the east end. It is attributed to Shrewsbury architect, Thomas Farnolls Pritchard.”

Coton Hall, built in mellowed sawn grey stone, with a slate roof, is being marketed by Savills and offers excellent family accommodation. Particularly notable are the well-proportioned reception rooms, with their high ceilings and decorative architectural detail. The additional Victorian wing, with Italianate turret, blends admirably with the Georgian part of the house.

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