In March 1918, The Graphic followed the English footsteps of Benjamin Franklin, the great American negotiator. He was ever a welcome guest at the Twyford home of Dr Jonathan Shipley (who became Bishop of St Asaph in 1769), and here in 1771 Franklin, having the prospect of ‘a few weeks’ uninterrupted leisure,’ resolved to begin an account of his life for the information and guidance of his son. In Twyford House, Hampshire, the “self-taught American” put in hand the book which preserved his fame for all time to come. The apartment in which he penned the early chapters of his autobiography was known as ‘Franklin’s Room’, while opposite the mansion was a row of trees known as ‘Franklin’s Grove,’ because it was here that he liked to pace up and down for hours at a stretch. The house is now divided into three: Twyford House, Wing House and Well House.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Built by the Singer family to take advantage of Devon’s mild climate and cosmopolitan society. One hundred years after use as a military hospital it faces an uncertain future.
On the day that The Victorian Society has released their Top 10 Endangered Buildings List 2018, we take a look at Oldway Mansion at Paignton, the only country house to feature on this year’s listing.
One hundred years ago, life at Oldway was very different, if not more traumatic. American women were rendering generous and greatly appreciated help here to the wounded Allies’ forces, the house renamed as the American War Hospital. It was one of the finest and best-equipped in the whole range of Red Cross undertakings. Mr Paris Singer, who was well known as a skilful aviator, had given over his palatial residence with its hundreds of rooms and beautiful grounds, an ideal home for the wounded. Dr Penhallow was the chief surgeon, and a staff of over a hundred and fifty nurses carried on the work under Colonel Gunning.
This glorious house of 1873 was built by George Bridgman as a private residence for Isaac Merritt Singer, founder of the Singer Sewing Machine Company, and later rebuilt by his third son, Paris Singer, in the style of the Palace of Versailles. Following the end of an affair with dancer Isadora Duncan in 1917, Paris Singer went to live in the United States. Oldway Mansion became the Torbay Golf & Country Club in 1929 and was bought by Paignton Urban District Council in 1946.
Following many different functions during the later 20th century, it was used as council offices from 1946 until 2007 when the council announced its intention to sell the building as it had become too expensive to maintain. This proved controversial with residents who wished it to continue being a public space. In 2012, plans for the building to be converted into a luxury hotel and sheltered retirement flats were approved by the council, but works never started. In 2016 there emerged a legal dispute between the developers and the council over the leases, which developers claimed had caused the delay on the redevelopment. This heated legal dispute ultimately brought an end to the planned development, leaving the council once again with the issue of how to proceed with the empty listed building.
A grand country house that looked after wounded Australian soldiers in the Great War. It later became a sanatorium, the foundation to one of the world’s leading hospitals.
I quote from the Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer on 23rd August 1918: ‘An agricultural correspondent tells of an extraordinary sale of farm stock today, at Harefield, Middlesex, a place so out of the way – nearly three miles from a railway station – that, till the selection of a local mansion as an Australian hospital, it was not known even to Londoners’.
These words tell us that Harefield Park, now in the London Borough of Hillingdon, was as remote as anywhere, but decades later this country house was to become world famous.
The earliest records of this historic mansion, sometime called Bellhammonds, dates to 1306. Amongst the evidence pertaining to the estate at this period, was a deed endorsed Knights Cortes, ‘whereby Prior Alexander and the Convent of Harley granted this Manor in Harefield, with all their lands in Harefield and Rykemesworth, to Richard Weltekart, of Louth, Thomas, his son, and Florence, the wife, to hold to them, and the heirs of Thomas, of the chief Lords of the fee forever, paying one hundred marks for the same’.
Harefield Place was the creation of George Cooke, the chief prothonotary of the Court of Common Pleas, the first of the Cookes who settled at Harefield, after his marriage in 1700. He created the estate after buying an ancient house called Ryes, or Rythes, and about 700 acres of land, from John Stanyan Gent, in February 1704.
Before his death in 1740, he built the present house, planted the ornamental timber, made the garden, and added about 200 more acres of land, bought at different times. Amongst his purchases was a small tenement, with stables and orchards, with three acres of land, called Bellhammonds, which he bought in 1713. He then gave that name to his own house. In ancient records, the name of Bellhammonds and Bellhackets frequently appeared as landowners in the village.
In 1750, his son, George Cooke, M.P. for Middlesex, added several farms with about 400 acres, and the mills on the River Colne, which he purchased from Sir Robert Newdigate. In 1758, he bought the Evesden Farm and fishery from William Ashby, of Breakspears. In 1824, General Sir George Cooke, his grandson, added the farm called Weybeards, or Hammonds, which he purchased from the executors of Mr R.G. Spedding, once the manager of the Copper Mills.
It was about this time that the estate came to be known as Harefield Park.
Sir George Cooke died suddenly at his chambers in the Temple in 1740, and lies buried at Hayes, where he was also Lord of the Manor. On his death, and his brother, Sir Henry, the property descended to his nephew, Mr William Frederick Vernon, who prepared a complete history of Harefield for private circulation.
The park was well timbered, and commanded extensive views of the Colne Valley. Prominent in the grounds was a fine grove of ilex of considerable size. Close to the house and south of the terrace was a large statue in white marble of Sir George Cooke, the founder of the estate, long thought to be the work of John Michael Rysbrack, but later attributed to Sir Henry Cheere, 1st Baronet, a renowned sculptor and monumental mason.
A full-length picture of George Cooke, painted by John Vanderbank in 1726, hung in the billiard room of the mansion, and many other valuable pictures were left behind by the Cooke family.
At the start of the 20th century, Harefield Park was in the possession of Mr Charles Billyard Leake, who owned extensive sheep farms in Australia. Shortly after the outbreak of the First World War, he offered his house and estate to the Australian Government as a convalescent hospital for the overseas forces. From 1915, the house became the No.1 Australian Auxiliary Hospital, the grounds around the mansion arranged with many huts, in all accommodating about two thousand men. During the occupation, it was visited by King George V, Queen Mary, the Duke of Connaught, and Mr Billy Hughes, the Prime Minister of Australia.
In 1919, Middlesex County Council bought Harefield Park to provide additional sanatorium accommodation for the Middlesex County Hospital for the use of tuberculosis patients, with the Government contributing £38,400 towards the cost.
What a difference one hundred years makes!
After becoming part of the NHS in 1948, Harefield first became a general hospital and then a specialist heart and lung centre. Ground-breaking work, led by Professor Sir Magdi Yacoub in the latter part of the 20th century, included the first successful heart transplant in 1980 followed by the world’s first combined heart and lung transplant in 1983. This led to Harefield Hospital having the largest transplant programme of its kind anywhere in the world.
In 1998, Harefield Hospital merged with Royal Brompton Hospital, Chelsea, to become Royal Brompton & Harefield NHS Trust before achieving Foundation Trust status in 2009. The organisation is now referred to as Royal Brompton & Harefield NHS Foundation Trust.
Grade II* listed Harefield Park mansion provided many years of service, but soon became lost on a rapidly expanding site. It was last used as accommodation for Harefield Hospital’s medical staff and is still standing, although it has become a long-serving entry on Historic England’s ‘Buildings at Risk’ register. According to the list, the house is vacant and in very poor condition, the building is propped-up and a temporary roof is in place.
Tatchbury Mount was built in the early 19th century, possibly for William Timson, or more likely for Henry Thomas Timson, a ‘gentleman of fortune’, who died in 1848. It passed to the Reverend Edward Timson, Master of the New Forest Foxhounds, until his death in 1873, and subsequently to his son, Captain Henry Timson, of the 5th Lancashire Regiment.
Tatchbury was later rented to Mr J.P. Hesletine and then Sir Daniel Fulthorpe Gooch, also of Clewer Park in Berkshire, the third holder of the baronetcy conferred in 1866 on Sir Daniel Gooch, for many years chairman of the Great Western Railway. The third baronet had accompanied Sir Ernest Shackleton in his 1914 Antarctic Expedition as far as South Georgia, signing on as an able seaman on the Endurance.
A century ago, Lord Howe was reported to be in financial difficulty. It came as no surprise when he sold this country house to a furniture baron, but there were troubled times ahead.
On August 21st 1918, The Pall Mall Gazette reported that the Gopsall estate in Leicestershire, one of the seats of Lord Howe, had been sold to Mr Samuel James Waring. The price was not disclosed, but the elastic figure was somewhere between £300,000 and £400,000. At one time the property had extended to 40,000 acres, but now comprised an area of 12,000 acres, including several villages. Gopsall Hall had sold for about £10,000.
The mansion was built in 1750, long thought to be by John Westley for Charles Jennens (1700-1773), the son of a Birmingham industrialist, at a cost of over £100,000. However, there is now speculation that it might have been the work of William or David Hiorn of Warwick.
Jennens was a keen follower of the arts and allowed his friend George Frederick Handel to stay for a time. Handel was reputed to have composed part of his ‘Messiah’ here and was responsible for the installation of a magnificent organ.
It was inherited by his nephew Richard William Penn Asherton Curzon, whose mother was the eldest daughter of Admiral Howe. In later years, King Edward VII took advantage of the house’s shooting estate (as did Kaiser Wilhelm) and a silver bath was installed prior to his visit. Other visitors included Queen Adelaide during her long widowhood, and Winston Churchill.
A feature of Gopsall were its beautiful ceilings, the one in the dining room occupied nearly the whole space and represented Neptune riding in a nautilus shell drawn by horses.
According to the Pall Mall Gazette, Gopsall ‘may claim a prominent place in the ranks of the stately homes of England’.
The sale, however, played sad havoc with the motto of the Curzons: ‘Let Curzon hold what Curzon held.’ Its new owner couldn’t resist the ‘splitting-up’ movement going on all over the country, and he intimated his willingness to consider proposals from tenants to purchase their holdings.
Samuel James Waring (1860-1940), known as Sir Samuel Waring, Bt, between 1919 and 1922, was a British industrialist, public servant and benefactor. He was the grandson of John Waring, who had arrived in Liverpool from Belfast in 1835 and established a wholesale cabinet maker business. In 1893, Waring was given the task of opening a branch of the family furniture making company in London. In 1897, Waring was responsible for the merger with Gillow and Company to become Waring & Gillow, and of which Waring became chairman.
Seven years later, Waring sold the estate to the Government for £1 an acre and it was transferred to the Crown Estate. It was considered for various uses including that of a motor racing centre, an airfield and a country club. The house remained empty until World War Two when it was used by the No1 Radio Mechanics School of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers as a radar training base. They left in 1945 and the house was once again abandoned. It suffered several fires in the 1940s, lead was stripped from its roof and many of its fittings stolen as souvenirs. In a poor state of repair, Gopsall Hall was demolished in 1952.
NOTE: The Pall Mall Gazette corrects an error made by most people, me included, that the estate was sold to Samuel Waring in 1919. We now know that it was in 1918.
From the archives. A country house in West Sussex. This photograph appeared in The Tatler in October 1940. It shows Grove Lands at Henfield that was being used as a war supply depot. Pictured here is Grove Lands’ owner, Sir Gerald Stanhope Hanson, 2nd Baronet, who not only went round collecting supplies, but also collected for his wife’s penny-a-week Red Cross Fund. Six years after this photograph appeared, Gerald Hanson (from the Bryanstone Square Baronetcy) died aged 78. Not being familiar with this mansion, it has taken a bit of research to determine its fate. Grove Lands is now called ‘Grovelands’, on Wineham Lane, at Wineham, a small hamlet, about 2.5 miles away from Henfield.