The home of the Earl of Derby appeared in The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News in June 1910, highlighted for its close proximity to Ascot Racecourse.
Coworth Park appears to have been built in 1776 for William Shepheard, an East India merchant. His son sold it before 1836 to Colonel George Arbuthnot, a Scottish Colonel who served in Madras. It passed to his nephew John Alves Arbuthnot , a director of the London Assurance Company and of the London and Colonial Bank, and later a founder of Arbuthnot Latham & Co.
In 1883, his son, William Arbuthnot sold Coworth Park to William Farmer (afterwards Sir William Farmer), chairman of Farmer & Co Ltd, Australia merchants and later Sheriff of London in 1890-91. About 1899 he sold the estate to Edward George Villers Stanley (1865-1948), Lord Stanley, who in 1908 succeeded his father as 17th Earl of Derby. His widow died in 1957 and the house became a Roman Catholic convent school and was later converted into offices by Harold Bamberg, a director of the travel agency Henry Simpson Lunn (later to become Lunn Poly) and also chairman of British Eagle Airways.
In the mid-1980s, Coworth Park was acquired by Galen Weston, owner of Selfridges and Fortnum & Mason, who developed the property’s first polo field. These days Coworth Park is owned by the Dorchester Collection, owned by the Brunei Investment Agency, and is a luxury hotel and resort, altered significantly inside and enlarged between 2005 and 2011.
If stones could speak, Highhead Castle, at Ivegill, Cumbria, would have a tale to tell, one in which romance and pathos, were blended in a chronicle of a man’s bitter disappointment.
Today, the remains of the real castle, built more than six centuries ago are almost non-existent. The Castle was here when the Richmond family became owners in Tudor times and added a West Wing to the old fortified mansion.
A century later a fortunate marriage brought Catterlen Hall to the Richmonds and here, too, they left a memorial of themselves in the fine 17th century wing of that fascinating house.
By 1716 both properties were ruled over by the widow of Christopher Richmond. Ruled was the right word for Isabella Miller – she took a second husband – was a matriarch who ruled with a rod of iron and gave no quarter.
Of her family of eleven, only the daughters married. The one son who grew to manhood died at the age of 26 in 1716, and his mother – who mourned him deeply – was faced with the problem of the disposal of the two estates after her death. She had many descendants from whom to choose, and eventually the lot fell upon her grandson, Henry Richmond Brougham, whom she hoped to make head of a new line at Highhead.
Her will was framed to this end, but its provisions spelt ruin to Highhead Castle in the end.
At the time, Henry Richmond Brougham was 17, and the old lady disposed of Highhead in this way. One half was to be enjoyed by her unmarried daughter, Susanna Richmond, for her life, and the other half Susanna was to have until Henry Richmond Brougham came of age. In the event of his dying unmarried his half was to revert to Susanna.
Isabella Miller died in 1739, the year before her grandson came of age. If she had had dreams for him, so had Susanna Richmond, his aunt, who found that the boy’s uncle, John Brougham, of Scales Hall, Skelton, was equally anxious that Henry Richmond Brougham should reign happy and glorious at Highhead. Nothing but a complete rebuilding of the old castle would do.
Down came the two 14th century towers, leaving only the Tudor wing standing. To this was added an 18th century house, at a cost of £10,000 – a very large sum in the days of its construction when masons were paid 10d a day. ¹
It is said that John Brougham had spent some time in Italy and acquired a passion for Italian designs and workmanship. It is certain that he brought over Italian craftsmen to carry out ceilings, cornices, and other plasterwork. In a tantalising reference, William Jackson, writing in 1874, spoke of the “traditional gossip” about the foreign craftsmen, which still lingered in the district. As the work neared completion, Henry Richmond Brougham, by now 30, was chosen as High Sheriff of Cumberland. To support him in this dignity, his uncle made over to him four estates – no doubt with a hint that they were to be handed back when the year of office was over.
Fate stepped in at this point and death claimed Henry Richmond Brougham before the year was ended. The work at Highhead was suspended, and the building operations never resumed.
The four estates passed to the young man’s legal heir, who, to quote Mr Jackson, “did not recognise the property of returning them” to John Brougham.
Highhead and Catterlen now became the property of Susanna Richmond for life. While she lived all was yet well. She lived in state at Highhead and enjoyed the good things in life. In the 1870’s there still remained at Greystoke Castle some of the ale brewed at Highhead and given by Susanna to the then Duke of Norfolk. It was said to have been a drink fit for kings.
Miss Susanna lived on until 1774, when she died at the age of 87. She had the power of disposing of Catterlen and left it to her niece. Mrs Curwen, of Workington Hall.
Highhead, on the contrary, now passed under complicated terms of her mother’s will and the trouble began. The old lady had never envisaged the untimely end of her grandson. He was to have shared one half of the house with his aunt, on whose death he would be entitled to the other half.
Now, however, the ownership of the Castle was divided into two halves and each half into fourths. In the end, none of the owners occupied the Castle, and from 1774 it was deserted except that estate tenants could use some of the rooms as store rooms and granaries.
Writing in 1794, William Hutchinson said “the swallows and jackdaws have now been its only tenants for many years, and it is doubtful the whole fabric will be suffered to go to wreck.”
The divided ownership was the curse of the Castle. Legal squabbles were kept up until the owners of one half at length decided to pull down that portion and sell the materials. The work of destruction had indeed begun but was stayed by the sale of that half about 1820 to Henry Brougham, later to be Lord Chancellor, who eventually bought the other half and so became owner of the whole.
Whellan, writing in 1860, said: “There was formerly a good deal of carved woodwork about the building, but this has been removed to Brougham Hall.” About this time the house was repaired and was let as a farmhouse. ²
The second Lord Brougham carried out more repairs between 1868 and 1874. His son and successor sold Highhead Castle – still used as a farmhouse – in November 1902, to Judge Herbert Augustus Hills for £18,000. From the judge it passed to the Right Hon John Waller Hills, became tenanted, and he sold it to Colonel Alan Dower, MP, on whose instructions it was offered for sale in June 1950.
In August 1950, the Ministry of Town and Country Planning announced that Highhead Castle had been scheduled as a building of special architectural and historic interest.
On Tuesday, December 12, 1956, Highhead Castle, now owned by Mr Gordon Robinson, a Penrith butcher, had been away with his wife on business. On their return they found the 30-roomed Georgian mansion on fire, their three small children having been rescued and taken to safety in a neighbouring farmhouse.
The alarm had been raised after farmers saw smoke billowing from a bedroom window. When firemen arrived only the small wing where the family lived was burning. A Cumberland News reporter said: “In no time at all the wind had driven the flames to another room, then there was no stopping the raging inferno as flames and smoke swirled in the rain. It was a terrible sight as scores of villagers and helpers were told to keep back out of danger, while firemen risked their necks to fight the blaze from inside the castle.”
A split-second saved one fireman as he ran down the main staircase to the main hall. A heavy red-hot beam dropped inches behind him, setting the staircase alight. Other firemen and helpers ran from the house.
The roof began to break in with dull, monotonous cracks, and turntables were brought out to fight the fire from above. Flames were swirling all around the firemen as they carried hoses to the top of the turntables. “They stood out like ghosts in the glare, against the charred black background of the castle walls.” Glass splintered in all directions, bursting with intense heat, as firemen continued to pump water 400 yards from the River Ive all through the night.
Jim Templeton was a firefighter on that December night in 1956 and said the conditions were terrible. It was so windy that one of his colleagues was blown off a ladder. The fire was well alight when they arrived and there was little they could do to save the house. Jim had a lucky escape himself, he said that a heavy iron bath fell through the house as the timbers became sodden with water and almost landed on him. ³
Now only the outer walls and cellars remain. The magnificent terraced gardens are also in need of a lot of work, but the facade of the house is pretty much intact.
An application was made in 1985 to demolish the remains which was defeated after a public inquiry. Christopher Terry (1938-2016), who also owned Brougham Hall near Penrith, bought Highhead Castle just as it was about to be demolished. In fact, he said, he was given an hour’s notice and shot up to the house just in time to save it.
In November 2018, Highhead Castle is on Historic England’s Buildings at Risk Register, classified ‘A’, being the highest priority. With support from Historic England and the Country Houses Foundation, emergency stabilisation works have been completed and an options appraisal has been produced to help secure a viable and sustainable long-term use. It is currently on the market at Savills with offers wanted over £250,000.
Notes:- ¹ The Classical House was built for the Brougham family between 1744-49, from the same red Lazonby sandstone as the gorge below it and is thought to have been designed by renowned architect James Gibbs.
² What happened to the woodwork which Lord Chancellor Brougham took from Highhead to Brougham Hall? Presumably it was among the 5000 square feet of linen fold and Jacobean oak panelling which was sold at Brougham Hall on July 18, 1934, before the house was abandoned. On that day, 730 square feet of oak linen fold panelling in the dining room were sold to a London buyer for £130, and a screen of Italian workmanship from the Armoury was sold for £30 to Mr Eugene Andrews. This screen was relocated to St John’s Church in Girvan. It may have come from Highhead Castle or have been bought from the Continent by Lord Chancellor Brougham, who bought many treasures during his frequent trips abroad.
³ BBC Radio Cumbria. May 20, 2006.
⁴ The Classical House, northern garden wall and Tudor West Wing are all separately listed Grade II* and the servants wing and piers to the end of the drive are both listed Grade II.
In June 1938. Ashley Courtenay, the resident hotel inspector for The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, visited ‘a new sporting hotel’, Knappe Cross in Exmouth, Devon, managed by Mr William Dedman and his wife Winifred.
“Driving up a narrow lane on the Honiton side of Exmouth you will come upon an imposing pair of park gates. It is a magnificent building designed in the best Tudor style by a famous architect, and its outside appearance, as it stands in its beautiful tree-girt grounds looking across the valley to the sea, a mile away, is truly impressive. Inside you will find rooms which are as magnificent in proportion as the outside of the building suggests.
“The furnishings are modern and very fine, but chosen to accord, perfectly with the natural dignity of the house. Every modern luxury of equipment, such as central heating and softened water, is here for your convenience, but the pleasant features of the more romantic periods of domestic architecture have been allowed to take their place.”
It was a new dawn for Knappe Cross, a country house that was completed in 1908 for Dr Ethelbert Petrie Hoyle (1861-1955) by architect William Ansell and built by Crediton builders, Dart and Francis. Hoyle was an American homeopathic doctor who was said to have enjoyed a generous income from investments in South African tin mines. It was a large house of red brick with stone dressings and clay tiled roof in Elizabethan style; an interesting design that attracted the interest of Architectural Review magazine.
In the end, Hoyle’s stay at Knappe Cross was short-lived. Shortly after moving in, tragedy struck when his son Michael died at birth, possibly casting a shadow over the mansion.
In 1910, Hoyle sold Knappe Cross to Augustus Arthur Perceval, 8th Earl of Egmont (1856-1910), whose family had been owners of Cowdray Park in Sussex which he had sold two years earlier. He was an interesting character. Born in Lancashire he had lived in New Zealand for a while, later becoming a naval cadet, a fireman and a caretaker at Chelsea Town Hall. Unfortunately, he died before taking possession of Knappe Cross, and it was his widow, Kate, daughter of Warwick Howell of South Carolina, who lived in the house.
By the 1920s the house was in the possession of Mr E. J. Spencer, passing in 1928 to George Ernest Wright of Pudleston Court, Hereford. He had been High Sheriff of Hereford in 1914 and was a director of the Lilleshall Company and John Wright and Co of Edgbaston in Birmingham. Wright died in 1933 and his wife, Matilda, stayed at Knappe Cross until her own death two years later.
Knappe Cross Devon Ltd was formed in 1938 as the holding company for the new hotel. However, the outbreak of war in 1939 meant it was an unfortunate and ill-fated move. There was little enthusiasm for a ‘sporting’ hotel and Mr and Mrs Dedman needed alternative revenue to keep the business solvent. Salvation came in 1941 when the Royal United Service Orphan Home for Girls (‘children of our brave sailors, soldiers and airmen’) moved from Devonport to the peace and quiet of Knappe Cross.
After the war the orphanage moved to the Army and Navy Villas at Newquay, in Cornwall, and Knappe Cross became a hotel again in 1946, this time under the management of Edgar Philip Jenkins. It became a convalescent home for the Post Office in 1952 and became a hotel again in 1981, before being converted into a nursing home, with a new wing added to the house in 1992.
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.