Tag Archives: The British Newspaper Archive

KIRBY HALL

“And to think that the sumptuous palace erected by Elizabeth’s wealthiest subject should have become the residence of a humble shepherd.”

Kirby Hall (Wikipedia)
Kirby Hall. A hall whose precise age is recorded, and in which we see plainly that the designer had not quite got rid of the idea that the exterior was to be plain, as being liable, in case of civil strife, to future ‘crenellation’.

Kirby Hall, near Gretton in Northamptonshire, was built from Barnack stone between 1570-1575, for Sir Humphrey Stafford, whose motto, ‘Je seray loyal,’ and the date 1572, were to be seen over the porch of the great hall, and on some of the panels of the parapet one noted the inscription, ‘Hum Fre Sta fard.’

It had one-time represented the high-water mark of Renaissance building, before it degenerated into heaviness and over ornamentation. The original plan is preserved in the Soane Museum, and the architect John Thorpe, very thoughtfully entitled it, ‘Kerby whereof I layd ye first stone Ad. 1570.’ It was so ambitious in concept that it took five years to build, somewhat too long for its owner, Sir Humphry Stafford, who died just before it was ready for occupation. His son, who probably considered the whole scheme unnecessary as they already had a fine house at Blatherwick, only five miles away, at once sold Kirby Hall to Sir Christopher Hatton, so that the only connection with the Staffords was found in the crest and badge carved in stone and wood.

It was never certain whether Sir Christopher Hatton found time to live in Kirby Hall, for he owned many fine properties, besides having to attend the Queen at Court. He didn’t go near it for five years after the purchase, because he wrote to a friend in 1580 that he was going ‘to view my house at Kirby which I have never yet surveyed.’ Sir Christopher, who was well-known to be the favourite of Queen Elizabeth, was said by his enemies to have entered Court ‘by the galliard,’ referring to the famous occasion when he caught the notice of the Queen at a masked ball by the beauty and agility of his dancing. Favours were heaped upon him, even to the apparent absurdity of making him Lord Chancellor, but in the end the Queen tired of her devoted admirer and was cruel enough to insist upon the return of a Crown debt, money which had been advanced to pay for some of the fine furnishings of the house. This was said to have broken his heart, because he died shortly afterwards.

Christopher Hatton - The Sketch - Feb 4 1882 (BNA)
Sir Christopher Hatton (1540-1591) was an English politician, Lord Chancellor of England and a favourite of Elizabeth I of England.

Sir Christopher never married, but Kirby remained with his heirs. His successor, following the fashion of the day, employed Inigo Jones, the English Palladio, to re-decorate the exterior in 1640, and on the north side of the spacious courtyard that occupied the centre of the building, his work and that of John Thorpe was blended together into a harmonious whole. The arcade, pilasters, and cornices dated from an earlier period, and the windows, chimneys and attic storey formed part of Jones’ later embellishments. There was less trace of Inigo Jones’ handiwork on the opposite side of the courtyard, only the window over the porch and the side door being his.

The Hatton family kept Kirby Hall until 1764, when it passed to the Finch-Hattons.

Kirby Hall was abandoned in the 1800s, its owner moving to a newer and more commodious house, and it was left to solitude and destruction. Its lead was stripped from the roof, the oak wainscoting was carried off to ornament other houses in the district, and its stones were used to mend roads. In 1878 the Northampton Mercury said that the house had become a kind of quarry, from which stone could be cheaply obtained for the erection or repair of farmhouses, stables and other buildings in the vicinity and, it was whispered, that many richly sculptured slabs, the work of the most celebrated art-workmen of the Renaissance period, were to be found embedded, face inwards, in the walls of stables and labourers cottages. ‘We have seen such specimens of sixteenth century art in the possession of cottagers, who made no secret of the source from whence they had been obtained.’ The house was left to the estate shepherd who allowed his flock of sheep to wander the once grand halls.

Kirby Hall - Garden Front - The Sketch - Feb 4 1882 (BNA)
This sketch is from 1882 and shows Kirby Hall’s garden front. By this time the house was derelict. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.
Kirby Hall - Inner Quadrangle - The Sketch - Feb 4 1882 (BNA)
The interior court was symmetrically designed, with its carvings and classical forms. Image. The British Newspaper Archive.
Kirby Hall - The Library Front - The Sketch - Feb 4 1882 (BNA)
The library front. Another sketch from 1882 when tourists were freely allowed to wander through the abandoned house. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.

Its last absent-owner was Murray Edward Gordon Finch-Hatton, 13th Earl of Winchilsea. When he inherited the property, his first thought had been to preserve the home of his ancestors from complete ruin, and he did what was necessary to keep Kirby from falling to pieces. It was his intention, ‘if ever his ship came in,’ to restore the property to its old splendour, using the profits from his stone quarries in Northamptonshire. But ‘man proposes, God disposes’; he was never able to carry out his dream. He died in 1898, and Edith Broughton, writing in The Sketch the following year, described the decay that had beholden Kirby Hall to her Victorian readers:

“The oak panelling has been torn from its walls; at the approach of a stranger, rats scuttle away through holes on the worm-eaten boards; and the decorations hang in festoons from the ceiling.

“Through the porch a short passage leads into the banqueting hall, with its musicians’ gallery, where once the soothing strains helped calm the angry passions of bygone revellers, or the merry tunes to which the light feet of the dancers in the room below kept time. Good-living, good-fellowship, good times were these; but alas for the frailty of earthly things, a change has come to this once beautiful mansion.

“The unglazed windows, the skeleton walls, the nettle-decked passages, are in strange contrast to the magnificent architecture that in many places has been spoilt by time and neglect. A few rooms in the house are still habitable, and a caretaker lives and makes tea for the curious tourist who loves to visit ‘the homes of England.’ In the large Drawing-Room, with its huge bay-windows, it isn’t an uncommon sight to see a picnic-luncheon laid out upon the floor where once spindle-legged furniture stood on which were seated the powder-headed courtiers, as they paid their addresses to the be-jewelled and be-satined damsels of long ago.”

Kirby Hall 1 - The Sketch - Jan 11 1899 (BNA)
The north side of the courtyard in 1899. This photograph was taken by Edith Broughton, of Bedford, for The Sketch magazine. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.
Kirby Hall - The Sketch - Jan 11 1899 (BNA)
The porch to the banqueting Hall. Another photograph from Edith Broughton. Ivy can be seen taking hold of the building. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.

Edith Broughton hoped that the day would soon dawn that would see men hard at work restoring this lovely specimen of the Renaissance. ‘Which it were a sin to leave longer to ruin and decay!’

That day would take a long time coming. In 1935, the ruined mansion was under the kindly protection of the Office of Works and had suffered well over a century the utter misery of neglect. With no one interested in it, or to watch over it, it had become a roofless ruin, its windows broken, more stones removed, and its beautiful interior woodwork long gone.

Kirby Hall - The Sphere - Sat 3 May 1930 (BNA)
The Banqueting Hall. This photograph was taken in 1930, just after it had been taken over by the Office of Works who planned repair and renovation. At this time, the house had not been inhabited for one hundred years. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.
Kirby Hall - The Sphere 1 - Aug 3 1935 (BNA)
Delicate Renaissance carving on the capitals of the fluted columns that alternate with the tall windows, and along the frieze running round the four sides of the inner quadrangle at Kirby Hall, which represents the best of Elizabethan architecture, having been built in 1570 by John Thorpe. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.
Kirby Hall - The Sphere 3 - Aug 3 1935 (BNA)
“Beautiful, stocked with a great variety of exotic plants, and adorned with a wilderness composed of almost the whole variety of English trees, and ranged in elegant order,” was the comment of John Bridges, the 18th century Northamptonshire historian, on the garden at Kirby Hall, which was until the 1930s an overgrown waste. In this photograph from 1935 they were about to restocked with yews and roses by the Office of Works. Image. The British Newspaper Archive.
Kirby Hall - The Sphere 2 - Aug 3 1935 (BNA)
Elegantly ornamented pilasters on either side of one of the great entrances at Kirby Hall, whose owner never lived to see it in its completed beauty. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.
Kirby Hall - The Sphere 4 - Aug 3 1935 (BNA)
Devouring time had brought much of the splendour of Renaissance architecture to decay, but under the care of the Office of Works, the crumbling walls were about to be restored in 1935. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.

Kirby Hall is approached by an outer court, with fine gateways, and is enclosed by a stone balustrade, but the main structure consists of the quadrangular courtyard, surrounded by buildings like an Oxford college. The long east and west sides were occupied by a series of small apartments and connected with one another, in which the household and guests once resided, while the Great Hall was at the southern end. The exterior of Kirby Hall is described as ‘not particularly striking’; it is the richness of the detail and real beauty of the design of the inner courtyard which makes it of importance.

Today, Kirby Hall and its gardens are still owned by the Earl of Winchilsea but is managed and maintained by English Heritage. Although the vast mansion remains partly roofless, the walls show the rich decoration that proclaims its successive owners were always at the forefront of new ideas about architecture and design. The Great Hall and state rooms remain intact, refitted and redecorated to authentic 17th and 18th century specifications.

It now enjoys a new celebrity as a filming location and has appeared in Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation, Mansfield Park, A Christmas Carol for Ealing Studios in 1999, and Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story in 2005.

Kirby Hall (K Team)
The semi-restored Kirby Hall. The house was described in 1878 as being ‘cold grey ruins, the very image of mournful desolation, hidden amid deserted lime avenues and woods, untrodden save the solitary gamekeeper.’ Image: The K Team.
Kirby Hall (The Telegraph)
A managed ruin. Parts of Kirby Hall are still unrestored, but the decay has been halted under the management of English Heritage. Image: The Telegraph.

OAKLEY HALL

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

Oakley Hall 2 (Savills)
Image: Savills.

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.

Oakley Hall 3 (Savills)
Image: Savills.

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.

Oakley Hall Auction - Staffordshire Advertiser - Sat 8 Dec 1945)
Auction notice from 1945. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.
Oakley Hall 4 (Savills)
Image: Savills.

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.

Oakley Hall 14 (Savills)
Image: Savills.

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.

Oakley Hall 5 (Savills)
Image: Savills.
Oakley Hall 6 (Savills)
Image: Savills.
Oakley Hall 7 (Savills)
Image: Savills.
Oakley Hall 8 (Savills)
Image: Savills.
Oakley Hall 9 (Savills)
Image: Savills.
Oakley Hall 10 (Savills)
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Oakley Hall 11 (Savills)
Image: Savills.
Oakley Hall 12 (Savills)
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Oakley Hall 13 (Savills)
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Oakley Hall 15 (Savills)
Image: Savills.
Oakley Hall 17 (Savills)
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Oakley Hall 18 (Savills)
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Oakley Hall 19 (Savills)
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Oakley Hall 20 (Savills)
Image: Savills.

WENTWORTH WOODHOUSE

Flashback to the 1940s: A bitter dispute between a Government minister and an aristocrat

Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News - 26 April 1946 (BNA)
Wentworth Woodhouse, photographed from the air in 1946. The house itself is the largest private residence in England, and was built for the first Marquis of Rockingham in the spacious days of the middle-eighteenth century. The gardens and park were open-cast mined, to the tune of 20 and 90 acres respectively. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.

In years to come we might once again consider Wentworth Woodhouse, near Rotherham, to be one of our majestic stately homes. ‘The largest privately-owned house in Europe is finally awaking from its slumber’ heralds the mansion’s website. After years of decline and decay, its fortunes are finally changing; restoration work is underway, the roof is being replaced, while Phase II is planned for the autumn when repairs start on the Palladian east front, the chapel and grand staircase. With millions of pounds of work outstanding it is going to be a long journey.

Wentworth Woodhouse’s problems, like many other country houses, started at the beginning of the 20th century. Too big, too expensive and with dwindling family finances, it was severely affected by two World Wars. However, in February 1946, the house reached its lowest ebb.

Newspapers of the day reported that unless top level negotiations between the Prime Minister, Clement Attlee (1883-1967), and Peter Wentworth-Fitzwilliam (1910-1948), 8th Earl Fitzwilliam, resulted in a settlement, Mr Emanuel Shinwell, Minister of Fuel and Power, would seize 110 acres of garden and parkland from Wentworth Woodhouse. The land would be used for open-cast mining with the total yield of coal, considered to be inferior quality, estimated to be about 345,000 tonnes.

Work had already started on the estate, but it was the rapid advance towards the mansion that caused the biggest consternation.

The Sphere - 20 April 1946 (BNA)
Earl Fitzwilliam had offered Wentworth Woodhouse to the National Trust, together with park and gardens. Meanwhile, the house had become the centre of a bitter controversy on account of the requisitioning of many acres of parkland for open-cast coal-mining. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.

In 1946, the Coal Nationalisation Act was making its way through Parliament between January and May. After World War 2 the country had a coal shortage and the nationalisation of the nation’s private collieries was a way of increasing coal production. Earl Fitzwilliam had accepted that the family’s pits would soon be in Government hands, there was compensation for coal owners, but the fate of Wentworth Woodhouse bothered him.

Fitzwilliam had offered the mansion to the National Trust, but the organisation had been nervous at taking on a building that faced ‘imminent destruction’. It had accepted covenants over the park and gardens to ring-fence the house from the mining operation, but was warned off by the Government who were in no mood to listen.

Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News 1 - 26 April 1946 (BNA)
The black tide had already swept towards the boundary walls. In the foreground are the workings, showing how the soil and subsoil were cleared, trench fashion, to expose the coal which was just below the surface. It was promised that the land would be speedily restored. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.
The Sphere - 27 April 1946 1 (BNA)
Storm over Wentworth Woodhouse. An aerial view of Earl Fitzwilliam’s estate in 1946, showing how devastated it had become by open-cast mining. Earl Fitzwilliam had appealed to Clement Attlee. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.

During the negotiations, James Lees-Milne from the National Trust’s Country Houses Committee had visited Wentworth Woodhouse and recorded his visit in his diaries:

‘Left at ten from King’s Cross to Doncaster. Michael (Earl of) Rosse (of the Country Houses Committee) met me and motored me to Wentworth Woodhouse. Had time to walk around the outside and other parts of the inside. It is certainly the most enormous private house I have ever beheld, I could not find my way about the interior and never once knew in what direction I was looking from a window. Strange to think that until 1939 one man lived in the whole of it. All the contents are put away or stacked in heaps in a few rooms, the pictures taken out of their frames. The dirt is appalling. Everything is pitch black and the boles of the trees like thunder. To my surprise the park is not being worked for coal systematically, but in square patches here and there. One of these patches is a walled garden. Right up to the very wall of the Vanbrugh front every tree and shrub has been uprooted, awaiting the onslaught of the bulldozers. Where the surface has been worked is waste chaos and, as Michael said, far worse than anything he saw of French battlefields after D-day. I was surprised too by the very high quality of the pre-Adam rooms and ceilings of Wentworth; by the amount of seventeenth-century work surviving; by the beautiful old wallpapers; and by the vast scale of the lay-out of the park, with ornamental temples sometimes one-and-a-half miles or more away. Lady Fitzwilliam in a pair of slacks, rather dumpy and awkward, came downstairs for a word just before we left. I fancy she is not very sensitive to the tragedy of it all.’

There was little doubt that the National Trust proposal had been rejected by Manny Shinwell himself, as he had also rejected a plan by Mr Joseph Hall, president of the Yorkshire Mineworkers’ Association, to obtain the coal by other methods. The miners themselves, conscious of their local inheritance, had pledged themselves, to no avail, to make good the loss if the scheme could be abandoned. Their pleas fell on deaf-ear, but Shinwell was able to appease them by considering a speedy restoration of the land and possible financial assistance.

Earl Fitzwilliam had already turned to a group of experts from the Department of Fuel and Technology at Sheffield University. They quickly established that open-cast mining would produce poor quality coal and deemed Mr Shinwell’s plans as not being cost-effective.

Responding to Manny Shinwell’s thin promise of restoration after mining ceased, William Batley, a member of the group, wrote to the Secretary of the Georgian Group. ‘Effective restoration. What a cockeyed yarn. These Ministers of State must think we are a lot of simpletons – spinning us the tale. It is just bunkum, sheer bunk.’

The Sphere - 8 February 1947 (BNA)
The progress of open-cast mining. A view from 1947 showing how the excavation of the property had now reached the very doors of Earl Fitzwilliam’s historic mansion. Over ten months the open-cast workings had been extended from parkland, across the gardens and right up to the historic mansion. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.
The Sphere - 20 April 1946 1 (BNA)
Wentworth No. 3 site. Manny Shinwell had visited the site and declared at the time that little could be done to reprieve the estate. Mr J.A. Hall, president of the Yorkshire Mineworkers’ Association, had stated that the gardens were among the most beautiful in the country and that it would be sheer vandalism to proceed with the scheme. In the background is the spire of Wentworth Church. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.

Earl Fitzwilliam met Clement Attlee in April to appeal against further damage to the property. He urged that work could be done by less destructive methods. The meeting at Downing Street wasn’t a success. Meanwhile, excavators were at work getting out the first 300 tonnes of coal of the promised 345,000 tonnes.

There are those who believe that Manny Shinwell’s actions in 1946 were directed solely at Earl Fitzwilliam, whom he believed was part of the ‘old brigade’ – men who had run the ‘foolish, callous profit-hunting system’ which, he believed had operated before the war.

In ‘Black Diamonds – The Rise and Fall of an English Dynasty’, Catherine Bailey describes what happened:

‘Peter was convinced that Shinwell’s plans for Wentworth Woodhouse were vindictive. It was the proposal to mine the formal gardens – a site directly behind the Baroque west front – that threatened the house. The magnificent 300-year-old beech avenue that ran down the Long Terrace, the raised walkway along the western edge of the gardens, the pink shale path, with its dramatic floral roundels, together with ninety-nine acres of immaculately tended lawns, shrubbery and luxuriant herbaceous borders, were scheduled to be uprooted. The over-burden from the open-cast mining – top soil, mangled plants and pieces of rubble – was to be piled fifty feet high outside the main entrance to the West front, the top of the mound directly level with Peter’s bedroom window and the guest rooms in the private apartments at the back of the house.’

Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News 4 - 26 April 1946 (BNA)
“Private property must be used for the benefit of the nation… There should be no department of public activity in which Labour has not got to have a finger in the pie.” (Manny Shinwell, in Leeds, April 6 1946). Gardeners are seen uprooting rhododendron bushes before replanting. Image. The British Newspaper Archive.
Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News 2 - 26 April 1946 (BNA)
The gardens were among the most beautiful in the country and represented years of care and labour spent in bringing them to a state of perfection. A large slice of them were to become a wilderness of grey clay, with the ever-present risk of subsidence. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.

As we know, Manny Shinwell had his way and Wentworth Woodhouse suffered. In 1948, Peter Fitzwilliam was killed in the same plane crash as Kathleen Kennedy, and shortly afterwards the Ministry of Health attempted to requisition the house as ‘housing for homeless industrial families’.

The move was thwarted by Lady Mabel Fitzwilliam, sister of the 7th Earl, who brokered a deal with West Riding County Council to turn it into the Lady Mabel College of Physical Education. The college later merged with Sheffield Polytechnic who gave up the lease in 1988 due to high maintenance costs.

Wentworth Woodhouse eventually returned to private ownership, first with Wensley Grosvenor Haydon-Baillie and then Clifford Newbold, both of whom made brave restoration attempts. The house was now subject to subsidence caused by old underground mine-workings, not the 1940’s open-cast mining, but something Manny Shinwell might have taken into consideration had he known. (The Newbold family lodged an unsuccessful £100 million compensation claim with the Coal Authority).

Wentworth Woodhouse was sold to the Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust for £7 million in 2017. The cost of repairs to the house were estimated at £40 million, helped by a grant of £7.6 million from the Government, but this figure was reassessed earlier this year and projected restoration work is now likely to be around £100 million.

Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust

Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News 1 - 4 July 1947 (BNA)
At the farmyard gate: The open-cast workings had reached almost to the buildings of this farm on the Wentworth estate. It was estimated that there was an annual loss of 126,000 gallons of milk, 300 tons of bread and 50 tons of beef against a total of 2,060,000 tons of coal obtained in three and a half years. This was taken from the Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News in July 1947. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.
Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News 2 - 4 July 1947 (BNA)
Needlessly derelict: Agricultural land at Warren Vale, which had been used as a stacking site for coal. In 1947, no coal had been placed here for two years and yet the land had not been released and these heaps still covered the ground. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.
Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News 3 - 4 July 1947 (BNA)
Bog: This field at Newhill Grange Farm was requisitioned in June, 1943, and restored in summer, 1944. Drainage, water supply and the condition of the soil were some of the worries besetting tenant farmers on the estate. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.
Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News 3 - 26 April 1946 (BNA)
The Doric Site: It was proposed to preserve the wall and the avenue of beeches. Mechanical diggers were brought to within 250 yards of the mansion itself, which was virtually isolated. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.
Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News 4 - 4 July 1947 (BNA)
Heartbreak at Ashes Farm, where patches of mud and water lay in the field. Cropping was proving a depressing task on restored land which formerly yielded excellent results. In some instances the crops were only fit to be ploughed back in. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.
Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News 4 - 5 July 1947 (BNA)
In 1947, the question was asked, how long would it take before the soil regained its previous condition? Under the arrangements only top soil was kept separate. This section of a restored site at Quarry Field showed a few inches of top soil and stone and shale below. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.

 

FAIRCROUCH

The house of McCall: a house of heartbreak, but one likely to net a healthy profit

Faircrouch 2 (Savills)
Image: Savills.

There were a few eyebrows raised when Davina McCall, the darling of noughties British TV, paid a modest £3.2 million for Faircrouch back in 2009. A year before, the country house near Wadhurst, had been put on the market by Rosaleen Corfe with a guide price of £4.3 million. It was bad timing for Corfe; according to Land Registry records the estate lost 14 per cent of its value in 2008 as the recession started to affect the property market. Nine years later, following the break-up of her marriage to Matthew Robertson, Faircrouch House is on sale at Savills with a guide price of £6.25 million.

Faircrouch is a substantial and elegantly-proportioned Grade II listed country house, probably dating from the 17th century with a later 18th century front portion, set within nearly 38 acres of private gardens and grounds and with substantial secondary accommodation, including a detached Lodge house at the main gate, a Cottage, Barn and Coach House. The house itself has a porticoed entrance porch, entrance hall, drawing room, dining room, study/library, family room, boot room, kitchen/breakfast room, wine cellar, cellar boiler room, and six bedrooms.

Davina McCall (Garnier)
Davina Lucy Pascale McCall, (born 16 October 1967), the English television presenter and model. She was the presenter of ‘Big Brother’ during its run on Channel 4 between 2000 and 2010. She has also hosted Channel 4’s ‘The Million Pound Drop’, ‘Five Minutes to a Fortune’ and ‘The Jump’ as well as ITV’s ‘Long Lost Family’ and ‘This Time Next Year’. Image: Garnier.
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Faircrouch House. Oil on canvas. Painted by Julian Barrow (1939-2013). Image: The Saleroom.

According to Country Life, the house was originally a medieval nunnery that was suppressed during the Dissolution. It was later owned by a succession of wealthy ironmasters, starting with John Barham, who bought the property in 1560, and including William Benge, the builder of the Gloucester Furnace at Lamberhurst in 1695. At some point, the remains of the nunnery buildings, including those of the monastic cells, were incorporated into the main house, which has been extended several times since.

The back elevation of the stuccoed house shows the oldest 17th century work, and is three storeys high and five casement windows in length. The front is 18th century, two storeys, with six sash windows. All this sit under a hipped slate roof complete with parapet.

Unusually for the area, Faircrouch is built with local stone quarried nearby. Some historians believe it was stone from an earlier medieval building taken from this property that helped in the building of Wadhurst Castle.

The area grew in the 1850s with the arrival of the railway, linking Wadhurst to the City of London. The then owners of Faircrouch were granted a permanent set of steps linking the house, via a woodland path, to Wadhurst Station ‘in perpetuity, in exchange for the sale of the cutting where the railway now runs.

Public Ledge and Daily Advertiser - 25 Jul 1807 (BNA)
Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser. 25 July 1807. Image: British Newspaper Archive.

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During the latter part of the 19th century, Faircrouch was home to Mr Walter Prideaux (1806-1889), with links to the famous Prideaux family, a poet and solicitor, who rose to Clerk at Goldsmith’s Hall in London. Born at Bearscombe, he was one of six sons of Walter Prideaux (d. 1832) of Kingsbridge and Plymouth, a Quaker and partner in the Devon and Cornwall Bank.

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Walter Prideaux (left) was featured in ‘A Consultation of the Aerial Voyage to Wellburgh’, painted in 1836 by John Hollins.

After he died in 1889, Faircrouch was let to Mr and Mrs Philip B. Petrie before being put up for sale in 1893. When a sale couldn’t be reached, it was re-advertised by the Trustees in 1894, and eventually sold to Mr E. Symes, famous in the area for removing a small iron church in the grounds of Wick House and re-erecting it at Faircrouch in 1898.

Kent & Sussex Courier - Wed 25 Apr 1894 (BNA)
Kent and Sussex Courier. 25 April 1894. Image: British Newspaper Archive.

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During the 20th century, Faircrouch was occupied by successive people, including L.P. Kekewich, Colonel Foster, Geoffrey Grindling, who installed an art-deco music room in the 1930s, and Lady Schuster. During the 1970s it was occupied by Mr Arthur Collwyn Sturge (1912-1986), awarded the Military Cross in 1945, an underwriter at Lloyd’s of London.

By the time the Corfe family arrived in the 1980s, the house was being used as a weekend retreat and in a considerable state of disrepair. At the time, the estate agent described Faircrouch as being ‘in the Eridge hunt country, 400 feet above sea level, keeping free from fog and enjoying the high sunshine statistics associated with Tunbridge Wells, England’s sunniest inland resort’.

Having a background in interior design, Rosaleen Corfe was responsible for the restoration, including a listed barn destroyed by a fallen oak tree in the great storm of 1987. Having lost her husband, and with her sons mainly working overseas, she reflected on ‘a happy family home’ of 26 years, but felt compelled to put Faircrouch on the open market.

Faircrouch 1 (Savills)
Image: Savills.

Davina McCall moved from her home at Woldingham, Surrey, after snapping up Faircrouch ‘for a song’. Since then the house has been further updated, the main house presented with a stylish contemporary finish which complements the many character features. The many period features include generous high ceilings and large sash windows which enhance the natural light, decorative mouldings and architraves, deep skirting boards, exposed floorboards, wood panel doors and feature fireplaces.

The landscaped area around the house provides interesting colour and structure with well-stocked borders and planting designed to frame the lovely views from the principal rooms.

A south-facing terrace to the side leads to a part-covered loggia whilst a further sheltered terrace is situated to the rear, fringed by scented planting and with a more formal walled garden beyond, incorporating an ornamental pond, clipped evergreen hedging, a level lawn and a swimming pool with a paved surround.

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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

Coton Hall 13 (Savills)
Image: Savills.

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)
Image: Savills.

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.

Coton Hall 15 (Savills)
Image: Savills.

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.

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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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KNEPP CASTLE

A fire in a country house. The night a mansion burned to the ground

Knepp Castle Fire (Knepp Wildland)
The year 1904 was a disastrous one for fires in country mansions. In total, there were 14 fires, including Knepp Castle near West Grinstead. The house was built in 1806 by the Regency architect John Nash, ­commissioned by Sir Charles Burrell, the son of Sophia Raymond, a Sussex heiress, and William Burrell, a local lawyer. (Image: Knepp Castle).

Soon after midnight, on the morning of Monday 18th January 1904, Sir Merrick Burrell, 7th Baronet, woke in the south wing at Knepp Castle and found that something was amiss. There was a strong smell of smoke and his greatest fears were about to be realised. Stirred into action he quickly surmised that the old mansion was on fire. Sir Merrick aroused Lady Burrell and called the household, but it seemed the fire had got such a strong hold that escape was the obvious option. As everyone made a hasty exit the instruction was given to summon the Horsham and Warnham Fire Brigades.

Sir Merrick returned to Lady Burrell’s room to find the bedclothes alight and the floor burning. He quickly retreated and within minutes the floor gave way, collapsing onto the room below. So rapidly had the fire progressed, it became apparent that all ordinary means of extinguishing it were useless. The only thing left to be done was to save as much portable property as possible.

It was dark outside, the only illumination coming from the flames, and the occupants could only watch as the house burned. In the confusion, Lady Burrell and the frightened children were whisked through the night to West Grinstead Park, the home of Mr and Mrs Rolls Hoare, where they would remain for weeks.

The air was thick with dense smoke, the fire running around each room between the plaster and the walls, until walls, floors and ceilings all blazed together, the roof falling in shortly before the arrival of the Horsham Fire Brigade at 2.30am, an hour-and-a-half after the discovery of the fire. Fortunately, they were quickly followed by the Warnham Court Brigade, but were endangered by the flow of molten lead falling from the building.

It was a scene of chaos as firemen struggled to get water from the lake in Knepp Park and onto the flames. Bravely they battled, but it was a long time before they could be satisfied it was under some sort of control. In fact, it wasn’t until the afternoon before an air of calm descended over the scene.

In the light of day nothing much was left of Knepp Castle except for blackened walls and a mass of ruins, and it was perhaps a miracle that nobody had been killed. Practically whole of the old portion of the house had been destroyed and all that remained was a water and smoke damaged servants’ wing.

Knepp Castle - Country Life Archive - 1830 print showing large lake to east (CL)
A view of Knepp Castle from an 1830 print showing the lake to the east. Water from the lake was used to fight the fire in 1904. Afterwards there was criticism of the Horsham Fire Brigade. (Image: Country LIfe Archive).

Knepp Castle had been a splendid Gothic castellated building erected in 1806 by John Nash for Sir Charles Merrick Burrell (3rd Bt.), about two miles away from the fragments of an ancient castle. The interior of the mansion had been in the highest degree elegant and commodious. The principal rooms had been spacious and lofty, especially the Library, Dining-Room and Drawing-Room, of which the first two were 36ft x 20ft, the circular staircase was 20ft in diameter and 30ft high.

Sir Merrick Raymond Burrell (1877 – 1957) was educated at Eton, became a lieutenant in the 1st Royal Dragoons, and served in the South African War. He owned about 9,000 acres and married, in February 1902, Miss Wilhelmina Winans, daughter of Walter Winans, an American millionaire. He had succeeded his father in 1899.

In the days after the fire there was the realisation that a great deal more had been lost. Knepp Castle had a fine collection of valuable paintings. The most valuable of these were housed in the gallery, collected by Sir William Burrell, 2nd Baronet, who had been a Fellow of the Royal Society, and according to Murray’s Handbook, included eight Holbein portraits, notable examples of Van Somer and, more important still, a few Van Dyck’s.  Thankfully, the Drawing Room pictures, which included two Romneys, had been saved. The safe, plate and many valuable items had also been secured but the Burrells had lost virtually all their personal clothing.

Lady Burrell’s grandfather, Mr Winans, was in the Russian fur trade, and the family had a splendid opportunity of acquiring the finest furs. A chinchilla mantle, which had only arrived the day before the fire, was valued at £200. It had come by rail and had been fully insured for the journey. In the ordinary course it would not have been sent up from the station until the following morning, but unluckily the staff thought, from the heavy insurance, that the parcel was important and delivered it immediately. Lady Burrell ruefully commented that “promptitude is not always a virtue.”

According to Central News Telegram, the damage was estimated at £60,000, with furs belonging to Lady Burrell valued at £6,000 alone.

Knepp Castle - Postcard from 1904 (eBay)
The fire at Knepp Castle started behind the entrance hall fireplace and quickly spread to the library, immediately below the bedrooms. The floor fell in only a few minutes after Sir Merrick and Lady Burrell had escaped. The nursery was not in any danger, and the two children escaped unharmed. (Postcard from 1904).

As might have been expected, the fire at Knepp Castle was talked about for weeks afterwards. The fire appeared to have started at the back of a recently altered chimney in the entrance hall, taking hold of bookcases in the library behind, quickly running around the room, and at length setting fire to the ceiling and floor of the bedroom above, in which Lady Burrell had been sleeping.

Most interestingly was a war of words that appeared in local newspapers about the worthiness of the fire brigade. The West Sussex County Times reprinted a letter that had originally appeared in the February issue of the Parish Magazine:

‘Criticism of voluntary workers, though in this case necessary, are undesirable in the pages of our magazine. Still, in the public interest, we cannot help stating one fact plainly noticeable to all the onlookers, and that is the fact that the Horsham Fire Brigade, in spite of many willing helpers at the pumps, were comparatively useless in a fire of such magnitude, and could not have controlled the fire without the help of the Warnham engine (which threw up more water than the combined efforts of the other two), a serious state of things when one considers the money residences in the district whose owner would naturally look to Horsham for help, should occasion require.’

This prompted an angry response the following week from an angry reader called Ernest G. Apedaile:

‘I should like to point out that the Horsham Brigade is purely a volunteer one, and, personally, I feel strongly that all honour is due to its members for their splendid turn-out, especially when it is borne that the fire occurred in the middle of the night, when the men had to leave their beds, and that many of them must have lost the following day’s work and pay. Considering that their engines are manuals, and the many disadvantages they had to labour under, I think they acquitted themselves well on this occasion.’  

Another reader made a rather subtle suggestion. ‘It would be a great advantage if the Fire Engine Station were on the telephone!’

And the dialogue continued until there was a more realistic comment from Onlooker, also in the West Sussex County Times:

“I would like to ask him (Sir Merrick) if, for a small town like Horsham, with a voluntary brigade, supported by voluntary contributions, he can expect to have sufficient apparatus to cope with an outbreak satisfactorily. Most of the large residences are ‘said to be dependant on Horsham for help’ have got at least some description of fire appliances of their own. C.J. Lucas (Warnham Court), Sir Henry Harben (Warnham Lodge), Sir Edmund Loder (Leonardslee) and others are very well equipped, but although there are always tons of water close at hand at Knepp, by some mysterious reason or misfortune any provision for dealing with an outbreak of fire seems to have been a secondary consideration.”

(Note – After a fire at Warnham Court in 1901, Charles Lucas created the Warnham Court Fire Brigade, with a horse-drawn steam appliance and fire crew made up from the estate).

Sir Merrick Burrell found it quite impossible to answer all the kind letters of condolence which had been written to him after the fire. He reflected the loss of the entire library, nearly all the pictures, practically all valuable furniture, all clothing, lace, furs and nearly all Lady Burrell’s jewels, thought to have been safe in the ‘warranted fireproof’ safe.

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The rebuilding of Knepp Castle. Plans were drawn up shortly after the fire. The outside walls, which were left standing, were practically kept in their original condition, but the interior was slightly rearranged. Once completed the house had to be refurnished, as nearly all its contents had been destroyed in the fire. (Image: familyhistorymusingsbymarian).

Two months after the fire, Sir Merrick announced his intention to rebuild Knepp Castle as soon as possible. Externally, the castle was to remain like its former appearance, as the outer walls, with their castellated towers, were to be preserved.  It turned out to be a complete reconstruction of Nash’s original with the addition of a third floor Bachelor Wing.

The start of the new century turned out to be a bad one for Sir Merrick. He allowed his agricultural tenants an abatement of fifty per cent on their rents to show his sympathy with them in what turned out to be a bad season. In 1907 he was granted a decree nisi in the Divorce Courts because of Lady Burrell’s misconduct with Henry James Phillips King, an officer in the Royal Horse Artillery. She had stayed, it was stated, at Bournemouth and at Nice with the co-respondent. A year later the engagement was announced between Sir Merrick and Miss Coralie Porter Porter, the daughter of John Porter Porter, of Belle Isle, Co Fermanagh.

Knepp Castle was the headquarters of the 1st Canadian Division during WW2 and narrowly escaped being burned down a second time when a desert stove exploded in the pantry.

Knepp Castle -The Tatler - 1 Dec 1948 (BNA)
Happier days. This image appeared in The Tatler on 1st December 1948. Knepp Castle was a regular meeting place for local hunts. The restored country house shows no evidence of the fire, some 44 years earlier. (Image: British Newspaper Archive).

Note:
In the week that this was written, Eleanor Doughty in The Telegraph, wrote about Knepp Castle. Within this article, Isabella Tree, the writer and wife of Sir Charles Burrell, 10th Baronet, who both live in the house, revealed a piece of handed-down information from the fire:

“Charlie’s grandfather had just been born, so there was a nursemaid up tending to the baby, otherwise they’d have all gone up.” 

A farce ensued. “They were trying to get the furniture out, and got the grand piano stuck in the front door, so nothing else could get in or out. Meanwhile, a new under-footman had been sent to get the fire brigade, but he got lost, so the fire brigade wasn’t coming, the piano was stuck in the front door, and eight Holbeins went up in smoke in the dining room, with ­everything under-insured.” 

Knepp Castle (Paisley Pedlar)
A modern-day image of Knepp Castle, whose parkland is now a 3,500-acre wild estate. Over the last 20 years, Knepp has become an open landscape where animals roam free. The estate is home to 450 deer, 30 Tamworth pigs, 30 Exmoor ponies, and some turtle doves. (Image: Paisley Pedlar).

HEATHERDEN HALL

Pinewood outrivals Hollywood. A home where history was made 

Heatherden (Heritage Calling)
Once there was a big country house that stood in 92-acres of beautiful parkland. However, in October 1936, The Sphere published photographs from Heatherden Hall, at Iver Heath, when it was about to change its existence forever. The house had been converted from a grand mansion into Britain’s newest and largest film studio. This Victorian house had been turned into a residential club for the stars and was about to enjoy an exciting and completely different future.

Heatherden, with its tree-lined driveway, was built about 1865 by Charles Frederick Reeks, who also designed St. Margaret’s Church at nearby Iver Heath. However, after the Canadian financier and later Conservative M.P. for Brentford and Chiswick) Lieutenant-Colonel Walter Grant Morden bought the property in 1914, he employed the architect Melville Seth-Ward to create the grand country house seen today.

These changes were made between 1914 and 1928 and included a huge ballroom, stone gallery, Turkish bath and a swimming pool, and were reputed to have cost £300,000. (Morden later claimed that the cost was actually between £20,000 and £25,000). The gardens to the south, with their serpentine paths, specimen trees, sunken garden, cascade and lake with ornamental bridge, were laid out at the same time.

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In 1929, firemen fought a moorland blaze which threatened to destroy Heatherden Hall. The fire destroyed about 60 acres of grass and woodland. “The fire was about a quarter of a mile away, where some woods were ablaze. Fortunately the wind was north-west. Had it been west the flames would have been carried direct to the hall.”

Colonel Grant Morden was a Canadian, who came to England at the end of the 1890s with a big reputation, and combined business with politics after the war. He was born in Ontario in 1880, educated at the Collegiate Institute of Toronto, and in his business career he founded the British Commonwealth Union and Canada Steamship Lines Ltd. Before long he controlled over a hundred steamers and became interested in various timber and land companies. Morden also obtained the assets of all the cement companies in Canada, which resulted in the formation of the Canada Cement Company Ltd. He arrived in England to found a business for making office furniture and bookcases and became associated with no fewer than thirty-five companies, one of the biggest ventures being the flotation of the British Cellulose and Chemical Manufacturing Company, which eventually had a capital of £6 million. (It specialised in the manufacture of cloth dope used in aeroplane construction).

Morden had a distinguished career in World War One. He served as the personal staff officer to General Sam Hughes and operated in France as an airman, turning Heatherden Hall into a convalescent home for Canadian soldiers.

He combined his busy business life with a vigorous open-air life. Shooting and hunting were his favourite sports, and his hobbies included the breeding of horses and pedigree cattle. The magnificent grounds at Heatherden Hall contained tennis and squash courts and a golf course, which were threatened by a big forest fire in 1929. At one time he owned a yacht claimed to be the one of the best-equipped medium-sized yachts in existence. It had cost him £21,000 but was eventually sold by the bank for £4,000.

Heatherden - The Tatler Nov 9 1921 (BNA)
Some of the guns at Heatherden Hall in November 1921. Left to right: Standing – Commander Neligan, R.N.R., Colonel Sir Mathew Wilson, Bart., the Hon. Harry Stonor, Captain the Hon. Thomas Hay, and Captain J. Bell White, R.N.R.; Sitting – Lord Desborough, Colonel W. Grant Morden, M.P., and Major-General Lord Lovat. (British Newspaper Archive).

In 1931 Morden was declared bankrupt with total liabilities of £151,280. He told the London Bankruptcy Court how he had made and lost a fortune. He said he had been financially interested in over forty companies and in the big slump in securities in 1929 his shareholding greatly depreciated. At one time he had been reported as being a millionaire with household expenses in 1928 of £30,000 – by 1930 these had been reduced to £10,000. The bank seized his assets, including Heatherden Hall, and when Morden died, aged 52 in 1932, he was suffering from serious heart trouble and practically blind. He left just £10 in his will.

For a short time Heatherden Hall became a country club but in 1934 the estate was acquired by Charles Boot, head of the enormously successful Sheffield building firm of Henry Boot and Sons. He lived at Thornbridge Hall, Derbyshire, but the purchase of Heatherden had nothing to do with it becoming a family home.

Charles Boot 1874- 1945
Charles Boot (1874 – 1945). He was the eldest son of Henry Boot and the driving forced behind Henry Boot & Sons in the inter-war period. As well as creating one of the largest contracting and house-building firms of its time, he was a staunch advocate for better housing and the virtues of private rather than local authority housing. He was the creator of Pinewood Studios and his building firm constructed most of the facilities.

Boot’s dream was to establish a film studio that would rival those in Hollywood and make Britain a big film producer. He went off to Hollywood on a fact-finding mission and returned within months with plans to establish Pinewood as the studios we know today. Those plans were to cost more than £1 million and the first chairman of the company was the millionaire flour-miller and film entrepreneur Mr J. Arthur Rank.

Heatherden Aerial
The development of Pinewood Studios. The stages were modernly equipped as any in Hollywood and covered over 7 acres. Adjoining was the administrative block and residential club – Heatherden Hall – where there were eighty bedrooms available for those who wished to live near their work. (British Newspaper Archive).

Boot and Rank employed the architects A.F.B. Anderson and H.S. Scroxton to develop the parkland to the north of the house, called Pinewood (in Rank’s words, ‘because of the number of trees which grow there and because it seemed to suggest something of the American film centre in its second syllable’). The mansion was used as a residential club and a large administration block was built alongside the house. The studios opened in September 1936 and  grew to become a mainstay of the British film industry, home of the Rank Organisation and the birthplace of hundreds of films including The Red Shoes (1947), The Ipcress File (1965), Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968) and the James Bond and Carry On series. Heatherden Hall itself has frequently been used as a film location, as well as to accommodate visiting actors, directors and production staff.

Haetherden 1 - The Sphere Oct 31 1936 (BNA)
Panelling from the Cunard liner, Mauretania, adorning the walls of the board room at the newly created Pinewood Studios , which had just opened at Iver, Buckinghamshire, and were being occupied by various film companies. (British Newspaper Archive).
Haetherden 3 - The Sphere Oct 31 1936 (BNA)
The Picture Gallery in the residential club, where there were many good examples of nineteenth century art. The club was in Heatherden Hall, originally built at a cost of £300,000 by Lieutenant-Colonel Grant Morden. (British Newspaper Archive).
Haetherden 2 - The Sphere Oct 31 1936 (BNA)
‘Mr Gladstone rides to Piccadilly in an old-time bus’: A canvas by Alfred Morgan which seldom failed to attract the attention of visitors to the Picture Gallery. It was dated 1885, when the great statesman was nearing the end of his long parliamentary career. (British Newspaper Archive).
Haetherden 4 - The Sphere Oct 31 1936 (BNA)
Where a hearth is at the threshold: The main entrance of the administrative offices was something of a curiosity, being formed from the elaborately carved oak fireplace adorned with hunting scenes and other designs. It was finished in 1568, and came to PInewood from Irlam Hall in Derbyshire. (British Newspaper Archive).
Haetherden 5 - The Sphere Oct 31 1936 (BNA)
The fireplace in what was now the Cocktail Bar, showed the following inscription: ‘In this room, on November 3, 1921, the ratification of the Irish Free State Treaty was settled by the Earl of Birkenhead, Viscount Long, Viscount Younger of Leckie, Sir Malcolm Fraser, Bart., and Lieut.-Colonel W. Grant Morden, J.P., M.P.’ (British Newspaper Archive).
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Millions of people have seen Heatherden Hall without actually knowing it. This scene is from ‘Carry on Nurse’ (1959) when the country house doubled as Haven Hospital. (British Film Locations).
The Amazing Mr Blunden (Final Image Blogspot)
The final scene from ‘The Amazing Mr Blunden’ (1972) when Heatherden Hall was put to good use. In the same film it was also made to look fire-damaged and derelict. (Final Image/Blogspot).
PinewoodAerial
Pinewood Studios today. The film and television studio is at Iver Heath, about 4 miles from Slough, 2 miles from Uxbridge and about 17 miles west of central London.