Tag Archives: The British Newspaper Archive

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.

03-rebuilding-knepp-castle-jan-18th-1905 (familyhistorymusingsbymarian)
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.

twroda008
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).
Carry On Nurse.avi_000118360
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.

CHATSWORTH HOUSE

A stately home without a Duke. How its treasures were cared for in the absence of the Duke of Devonshire

Chatsworth 1 - The Sphere - Dec 28 1946 (BNA)
The ancestral home of the Dukes of Devonshire. In 1946, the 10th Duke had placed Chatsworth and its treasures on a caretaking basis, as he didn’t expect to live there for many years, partly on account of high taxation and partly on account of the servant problem. (British Newspaper Archive).

The domain of Chatsworth was purchased by Sir William Cavendish and it was he in 1553 who began the old mansion, which after his death in 1557 was completed by his widow, Bess of Hardwick. Here in succeeding years Mary Queen of Scots was five times imprisoned. The present mansion includes the old Palladian pile started in 1687 by the first Duke of Devonshire and the north-wing added in 1820.

With its 636,000 visitors a year, Chatsworth House may have become one of our greatest stately homes. However, life in the Duke of Devonshire’s grand mansion wasn’t always a bed of roses. In 1946, The Sphere painted a rather bleak and uninspiring outlook for the house, a stark contrast to its present-day fortunes.

Back then, ‘one of the private treasure-houses of the nation’ was reduced to one housemaid, a sole survivor of a pre-war domestic staff of forty, and the whole house was being kept on a caretaking basis.

Chatsworth House was without a Duke. Taxation of the time made it impossible for him to live there in the old style while the servant problem was almost insuperable. It was suggested that one day the Duke might return to his Derbyshire home, but he himself didn’t expect this to happen for many years.

The custodian was Edward William Spencer Cavendish (1895-1950), the 10th Duke of Devonshire, who was still reeling from the loss of his eldest son and heir, William John Robert Cavendish, Marquess of Hartington, who had been killed in wartime action two years before. The future of Chatsworth would have rested on the shoulders of Billy Cavendish (and his wife, Kathleen Kennedy), but instead the weight of responsibility later fell to his second and younger son, Andrew Robert Buxton Cavendish (1920-2004).

Chatsworth 2 - The Sphere - Dec 28 1946 (BNA)
Mingled with the shrouded furniture in the Sculpture Gallery are examples of the genius of Canova, Thorwaldsen, Chantrey and Wyatt: During the war, when Chatsworth was used as a girls’ school, this gallery was converted into a storeroom for some of the principal treasures. (British Newspaper Archive).
Chatsworth 3 - The Sphere - Dec 28 1946 (BNA)
Restoring and preserving the great pictures of Chatsworth. Captain T.S. Wragg, who had been librarian at Chatsworth since 1933, at work on the surface cleaning of a painting on copper. (British Newspaper Archive).
Chatsworth 4 - The Sphere - Dec 28 1946 (BNA)
Mr G.H. Constantine, technical assistant at the Graves Art Gallery, Sheffield, at work on a landscape. He spent two days a week cleaning and restoring the Chatsworth pictures, paying particular attention to the regulation of the atmosphere. The Chatsworth pictures included works by Holbein, Titian, Reynolds and Murillo. (British Newspaper Archive).

The Chatsworth estate was saddled with debt. Death duties, liabilities from previous incumbents and a depression in British agriculture had all contributed to its downfall. In 1920, Devonshire House, the family’s London mansion, had been sold to developers and later demolished; Chiswick House, a Palladian villa in West London was sold to Brentford Council in 1929.  However, the financial burden refused to go away, and it was quite impossible to keep Chatsworth House occupied.

While Chatsworth was mothballed everything was being done to preserve its treasures, including its magnificent library, with its 35,000 books, including many irreplaceable first editions, and the art collection, including canvases by Murillo Van Eyck, Titian, Reynolds and other masters.

During World War 2 Chatsworth had been occupied by the Penrhos Girls’ College and it had taken its toll. Fumes from moth-balls in stored carpets, and lack of oxygen due to occupation of rooms by large numbers of people, had affected many of the pictures. Inadequate heating during the acute coal shortage caused fluctuations in temperature which caused the canvas of paintings to contract and expand, leading in time to cracking and flaking.

A small staff of experts had been brought in to repair years of inevitable neglect. Pictures were being cleaned, and the books whose leather was becoming brittle were being dressed in ointment, developed by the British Museum.

Chatsworth 5 - The Sphere - Dec 28 1946 (BNA)
The elaborate alter-piece in Chatsworth’s private chapel. An example of the decorative style so typical of the mansion. The alter-piece is the work of Verrio, the walls and ceilings are by Laguerre, and Cibber’s figures of Faith and Hope surmount the alter of alabaster by Samuel Watson. Watson’s wood-carving, can be seen throughout the house. When these pictures were first published it would have been a rare opportunity for people to see inside the house. (British Newspaper Archive).
Chatsworth 6 - The Sphere - Dec 28 1946 (BNA)
In the Orangery. Stored furniture, sculpture and books. The large marble urn in the centre was a copy of the Medici Vase. The Orangery is now a gift shop. (British Newspaper Archive).
Chatsworth 7 - The Sphere - Dec 28 1946 (BNA)
A 15th century masterpiece restored to its pristine glory. Mr Constantine, technical assistant at the Graves Art Gallery, Sheffield, and Mr Thompson examining a canvas after its renovation. The pictures all have a protective coat of varnish, and this had to be removed before they could be submitted to the turpentine-and-wax restorative treatment. Inadequate heating as a result of coal shortage had caused considerable fluctuations in temperature, and this had caused deterioration of some of the valuable canvases. (British Newspaper Archive).

When the 10th Duke of Devonshire died in 1950 there were death duties of £7 million. The 11th Duke, Andrew Cavendish, along with his wife Deborah (‘Debo’), fought hard to keep the estate, selling tens of thousands of acres of land, transferring Hardwick Hall to the National Trust in lieu of taxes, and selling major works of art. Chatsworth House opened to the public in 1948-49, but it would take until 1959 for the 11th Duke of Devonshire to move back into the house. It was a happy outcome and the rest, as they say, is history.  Chatsworth House

Chatsworth 8 - The Sphere - Dec 28 1946 (BNA)
Leather-bound books needed constant care and attention. The covers often became brittle with age, and Captain T.S. Wragg, the librarian, was seen applying a dressing to the batch which he had selected for treatment form the shelves. This dressing had been developed by the Research Department of the British Museum and had been found to be the most effective. (British Newspaper Archive).
Chatsworth 9 - The Sphere - Dec 28 1946 (BNA)
A view of the main library, where half the collection was accommodated. When Chatsworth was rebuilt in 1687 by the first Duke of Devonshire this was the Long Gallery, and it was converted into a library by the sixth Duke at the beginning of the 19th century. The preservation of the books was an unending task, and expert binders were constantly at work on repairs and renovations. (British Newspaper Archive),

CLEADON PARK

A classical Georgian-style mansion built on the proceeds of glass-making and enhanced by coal profits.

Cleadon Park (South Tyneside Libraries)
On this day, 100 years ago, an important proposal went before South Shields Town Council that recommended the Housing and Town Planning Committee acquire the Cleadon Park estate (then in County Durham), belonging to the late James Kirkley, about a mile south of the town.

Following James Kirkley’s death in 1916 the estate had been on the market, but the council had no power to purchase it outright. The Mayor, Councillor A. Anderson, instead entered into a personal contract to secure the demesne at the stated price of £18,000.

The completion was set for August 1st and he had offered to give the council the opportunity to obtain possession of the estate at the sum he had agreed to pay for it.

The original house had been an old farmhouse called Cleadon Cottage and by 1839 was owned by Robert Walter Swinburne (1804 -1886), a South Shields’ glass manufacturer. (In 1850 his company provided half the glass used in the construction of the Crystal Palace).  In 1845 Swinburne commissioned the architect John Dobson to redesign the property, constructing a two-storey classical Georgian mansion with an additional new 8-bay south wing.

Swinburne later moved to Highfield House, Hawkstone, and by the 1860s the estate had passed into the hands of Charles William Anderson (1827 -1906), a conspicuous figure in public life and a lieutenant in the South Shields Rifle Corps. As well as being a banker, he was one of the principal colliery owners in Durham and Northumberland, with interests in both the Harton Coal Company and the Bedlington and Heworth Coal Company.

Anderson remained until 1875 and there were attempts to sell the property. However, Cleadon Park appears to have been tenanted by several wealthy individuals instead. These included Mr A.M. Chambers, Mr Peter Sinclair Haggie, coal-owner and rope manufacturer, who later removed to Windsor Terrace in Newcastle-upon-Tyne and The Limes at Whitburn, and Mr John Salmon, an ardent lover of the sea.

As well as owning property at 31 Park Lane, London, Anderson returned to Cleadon Park in the 1890s and, despite attempting to dispose of the estate in 1904, owned it until his death in 1906.

Shields Daily Gazette - Sat 10 Jul 1875 (BNA)
An advertisement from the Shields Daily Gazette in July 1875. Despite the intention to sell Cleadon Park remained in the hands of C.W. Anderson until his death in 1906. (Image: British Newspaper Archive).

James Kirkley (1851-1916), a solicitor, arrived at Cleadon Park in 1907 after inheriting considerable wealth from his cousin.  He became a director in the Harton Coal Company and now had the means to live the life of a country gentleman. In a twist of irony, one of his first tasks was to oppose a proposal for a new infectious diseases hospital nearby. He stated he had spent thousands of pounds on Cleadon Park and wouldn’t have done so if he thought the corporation was going to put a fever hospital in his midst. ‘If he had thought the hospital scheme was going on he would never have come to live at Cleadon Park at all, and the town would have been poorer by £6,000 or £7,000 a year.’ 

In addition to Cleadon Park, standing in 10 acres of grounds surrounded by trees, he also tenanted Fairlight Hall, near Hastings, owned by the Shadwell family,  where he spent six months each year. Kirkley later hired J.H. Morton & Sons to create a new palm house, tropical plant house and formal gardens at Cleadon Park but he died before the work was completed.

Cleadon Park (South Tyneside Historic Images Online)
The glass covered Tropical House at Cleadon Park with palm trees reaching up to the roof. (Image: South Tyneside Historic Images Online).

Following Kirkley’s death the estate remained on the market until the intervention of Councillor A Anderson in 1918. His purchase had also included Cleadon Park Farm and a piece of land opposite Cleadon Park Gates containing over 51 acres.

After weeks of delays the council eventually decided to proceed with the proposal. A portion of the estate, comprising about 130 acres, was appropriated for houses under the Housing of the Working Classes Act, and the remaining 65 acres, including the mansion house, buildings and offices, be used for an infectious diseases hospital, a tuberculosis sanatorium, and a hospital for maternity treatment.

The house became a sanatorium between 1921 and 1967, later becoming Cleadon Park Hospital, closing in 1979. It was demolished in 1981.

James Kirkley (South Tyneside History)
James Kirkley ((1851-1916), J.P. a native of South Shields, who took an interest in the welfare of the seaside borough and its residents. In early life he studied law and practised as a solicitor. In 1892 he went to London where he continued his professional career until 1906 when, succeeding to the estate of his cousin, returned to his native north east and took up his residence at Cleadon Park. (Image: South Tyneside History).
Cleadon Park (Google Maps)
Cleadon Park was demolished in 1981. Modern housing stands on the site of the old house and this aerial view suggests that an original wall in the courtyard may have been used as a retaining wall to an adjoining property. (Image: Google Maps).

PLAS NEWYDD

In 1918 Plas Newydd was sold to the approval of locals. However, within months its historical contents were sold at auction.

Plas Newyd 1 - The Sketch 15 Apr 1903 (BNA)
Plas Newydd had many occupants after the Ladies of Llangollen. It was for a time the residence of two other maiden ladies and afterwards, until 1890, was in the possession of General Yorke, who added a wing and made many alterations. (The British Newspaper Archive).

One hundred years ago, The Liverpool Daily Post reported on the sale of Plas Newydd, the one-time home of the famous ‘Ladies of Llangollen’. Mrs Thomas Wilson of Riseholm Hall, Lincolnshire, had bought Plas Newydd, with all its interesting art treasures, in 1910. She had sold it to Mr George Harrison of Bryntisilio, once the summer residence of Sir Theodoro and Lady Martin, and Liverpool. “In Mr Harrison’s hands it is felt that Wordsworth’s ‘Low-roofed cot by Deva’s Stream,’ as he described Plas Newyd, and Browning’s ‘House beautiful’ of Bryntisilio are in safekeeping.”

However, things weren’t not quite what they seemed. In June it was reported that the house and its contents were going to be sold. “The fine old oak collected with such rare taste by ‘the ladies’ to adorn their home is unique; and included in the collection now to be dispersed, are memorials of the great Duke of Wellington, Madame de Senlis, Lord Edward Fitzgerald, Southey, Wordsworth, and many other famous personages, with whom the ladies were contemporaneous”.

The Sketch - 15 Apr 1903 (BNA)
It is scarcely a matter of wonder that two ladies of such divided originality, in days when the female sex generally entertained no views on woman’s rights or emancipation, became quite a power in the little village of Llangollen. (The British Newspaper Archive).

The ‘Ladies of Llangollen’ were Lady Eleanor Butler (1745-1829), a sister of the 17th Earl of Ormonde, and Miss Sarah Ponsonby (1735-1831). About 1776, discontented with their life in Ireland, decided to take fate in their own hands and moved to Llangollen. They occupied a small four-roomed cottage called Pen-y-Mae which they enlarged and renamed Plas Newydd. With a fine taste in art and decoration it was transformed into a dwelling that people flocked to see from far and wide.

Plas Newydd (History Ireland)
The original cottage called Pen-y-Mae, later enlarged to become Plas Newydd. (History Ireland).
Plas Newyd 1 - The Sketch 27 Sep 1893 (BNA)
General Yorke spent thousands of pounds and spared nothing that would add to its charm and quaintness. After his death the property came into the possession of Mr G.H. Robertson, a wealthy Liverpool merchant, and later Mrs Thomas Wilson . (The British Newspaper Archive).
Liverpool Echo 7 June 1918 (BNA)
The LIverpool Echo. 7 June 1918. (The British Newspaper Archive).

At the 1918 auction the house was submitted and withdrawn at £5,250. The sale of the treasures realised about £10,000 after the six day sale. A movement was started to guarantee the retention of the house as a public property and it was thought that about £8,000 would be sufficient. However, in 1919 Plas Newydd was bought by Mr Duveen of London and Liverpool.

This turned out to be Lord Duveen of Millbank who lived his whole life in art and was known as the ‘King of Galleries’. He built the Duveen Gallery of the British Museum to house the Elgin Marbles and a major extension to the Tate Gallery. His ownership of Plas Newydd was brief. Within twelve months it had been sold to the Right Hon George Montagu Bennet, 7th Earl of Tankerville, who handed it over in perpetuity to Llangollen Town Council (after it had borrowed £3,350 from the Ministry of Health) in 1932. Today it is run as a museum by Denbighshire County Council.

Plas Newyd - The Sketch 15 Apr 1903 (BNA)
The ladies filled the small rooms to overflowing, the dining-room, the library, the drawing-room, and the bed-room, which, of course, the friends shared. (The British Newspaper Archive).
Plas Newyd 2 - The Sketch 15 Apr 1903 (BNA)
One of the richly furnished rooms in 1903. The ‘Ladies of Llangollen’ lived at Plas Newydd for fifty years. “There is not one point to distinguish them from men; the dressing and powdering of their hair; their well-starched neckcloths, the upper part of their habits, which they always wear, made precisely like men’s coats…” (The British Newspaper Archive).
Plas Newydd (Geograph-Gwynfryn)
Plas Newydd, Llangollen. The original cottage was expanded by the ladies, and then again by subsequent owners. It is now restored to essentially the same structure left by the ladies. Its most unusual feature are the pieces of reclaimed oak carvings set out in patchwork style on the exterior of the house. The modern-day house looks remarkably different from the one shown in earlier photographs.(Geograph/Gwynfryn).

BLACKFRIARS HAUGH

A century ago nobody wanted to take on a big house. 

The Haugh (Elgin from Old Photographs)
The Haugh was built on the west of the site of Blackfriars Haugh, a 13th century property demolished in 1750. (Elgin from Old Photographs).

A century ago country mansions were out of vogue. This was more so in Scotland where a large number of big houses and estates were sent to market. There was no guarantee that they would sell. This was highlighted on the 8 March, 1918, by the Aberdeen Weekly Journal who reported on the mansion house of Blackfriars Haugh.

‘In ordinary times the offer of the mansion house of Haugh would have been considered a bargain at £3,000. Such was the upset price it was offered at on Thursday last, but there was no response. Along with the house, which is one of the most beautiful and attractive residences in Elgin, there are 10 acres of policies. The sale has again been adjourned’.

The Scotsman - 23 Feb 1918 (BNA)
From The Scotsman, 23 February 1918. (The British Newspaper Archive).

The house was built for William Grigor in the mid 19th century and later remodelled in ‘fruity’ baronial style in 1882 for Mr A.G. Allan, a solicitor, by the architect William Kidner. It had become a millstone after the death of its then-owner Mr John Macdonald, a retired tobacco manufacturer, formerly of the firm of J & D Macdonald. The firm was amalgamated with the Imperial Tobacco Company of Great Britain and, following his demise in 1911, Macdonald left estate worth £105,684 and shares amounting to £93,311.

Blackfriars Haugh failed to sell on several occasions and was seemingly destined for the demolition men.

The Haugh 1 (Elgin from Old Photographs)
In 1882 the prominent solicitor A.G. Allan commissioned William Kidner to remodel The Haugh. Kidner had spent some time in Shanghai and oriental influence is hinted at in the design. (Elgin from Old Photographs).

Diminishing in value, it did finally find a buyer in August 1918, but the timing was poor. Mr Hendry Russell Randall, of the Royal Worcester Warehouse Co, London, bought Blackfriers Haugh and its policies. He fitted the house up as a convalescent hospital and offered it to the American Red Cross for the benefit of wounded American officers and men.

The Aberdeen Press and Journal enthused about the proposal.

‘The house occupies a fine situation on the banks of the Lossie, and the grounds are about ten acres in extent, with croquet lawn, tennis court, and bowling green. The interior has been fitted up with every modern convenience, and there are well stocked fruit and vegetable gardens. The river offers facilities for boating and fishing, and Mr Randall intends to provide a motor car, so that the wounded soldiers can visit any of the beauty spots in the district’.

The Haugh 2 (Elgin from Old Photopgraphs)
The entrance to The Haugh during the times of the Bibby family. (Elgin from Old Photographs).
The Haugh 3 (Elgin from Old Photographs)
The Drawing Room. It is understood these photographs were taken about 1946, when The Haugh was gifted to the town. (Elgin from Old Photographs).
The Haugh 4 (Elgin from Old Photographs)
Landscape views decorate the walls in this bedroom at The Haugh. (Elgin from Old Photographs).
The Haugh 5 (Elgin from Old Photographs)
Books, flower arrangements and comfortable furniture. (Elgin from Old Photographs)

It is doubtful whether it was ever used as a hospital. The end of the war in November effectively scuppered plans with wounded American soldiers being shipped safely back home instead. In 1919 Blackfriars Haugh was back on the market once again.

The mansion finally became a family home again in the 1920s when it was bought by Mr H.C. Bibby. The family remained until the 1940s when it was gifted to the people of Elgin by Mrs Katherine Bibby. By her wish it was to be used to rehouse patients in the Munro Home for Incurable Invalids. Part of the house was also set aside as an eventide home for old men and women belonging to Elgin and Morayshire. In the end it was actually used as a pre-nursing training school and later as a music department for the Elgin Academy

But what of the house today? The property still exists but is no longer known as Blackfriars Haugh (or even its shortened title, The Haugh). Nowadays the Category B listed house provides a very different existence as the Mansion House Hotel & Country Club.

Blackfriars Haugh (Elgin) (Mansion House Hotel & Country Club)
The Haugh is now better known as the Mansion House Hotel & Country Club.

GLYNWOOD HOUSE

Glynwood House
On 1 February 1918, a few lines in the Belfast News-Letter stated that Glynwood House, Athlone, the family mansion of the Dames-Longworth family, had been destroyed by fire. The newspaper coverage might not have been weighty, but it had a devastating impact on the country house. ¹

In 1837, the Glynwood estate had been described as ‘a large and beautiful seat with extensive premises, having on its eastern, southern and western sides extensive ornamental grounds’. The mansion was constructed in 1790 and rebuilt about 1860 by John Longworth (1798-1881). Around this time the Longworth estate amounted to 3,000 acres in County Galway, as well as land at Roscommon and Westmeath. The family descended from Francis Longworth of Creggan Castle, although the family seat was at Glynwood House. ²

When John Longworth died in 1881 he was succeeded by his cousin, Francis Travers Dames-Longworth (1834-1898). This distinguished character was the second son of Francis Dames-Longworth, Deputy Lieutenant of Greenhill, and educated at Cheltenham and Trinity College, Dublin. He was called to the Irish Bar in 1855, created Queen’s Counsel in Ireland in 1872 and elected Bencher of the King’s Inns in 1876. In a memorable career he was a Commission of the Peace for six Irish counties – Westmeath, Dublin, Donegal, Kildare, King’s County (now Co Offaly) and Roscommon. Two years after inheriting the Longworth estates he was also made Lord-Lieutenant of King’s County. Francis rebuilt Glynwood House between 1883 and 1885 at a cost of £16,482, employing the services of architect George Moyers (1836-1916) with ornate plasterwork completed by J Caird and Co of Glasgow. Glynwood House was a three-storey Italianate house and, in 1887, Moyers returned to make further additions, this time spending £10,702 on building work.

The Dames-Longworths might have thought that their Irish utopia would last forever. However, the death of Francis Travers Dames-Longworth in 1898 was arguably the beginning of Glynwood House’s downfall. His son, Edward Travers Dames-Longworth (1861-1907) was only 37 when he took over the estates. He became Deputy-Lieutenant for Co Westmeath as well as being a JP for Westmeath and Roscommon. But his occupancy lasted just seven years. One Sunday afternoon in March he decided to go for a walk in the grounds of Glynwood House. When it started to rain the household expected him back, but when he hadn’t returned by dinner some uneasiness was felt. After a search of the grounds the police at Creggan were informed and they, in company with servants, continued the search. An examination of the grounds by lantern endured through the stormy night until the body of Edward was found in a little copse in the wood. He was found clutching his pipe and walking stick and had suffered a fatal heart attack. In his will he bequeathed the Clontyglass and Kilheaskin estates and real estate in Co Monaghan to his wife, while the Glynwood estate passed to his son Travers Robert Dames-Longworth, a mere eleven-years-old. ³

Because of his young age, the Glynwood estate was put in the hands of trustees, among whom was Thomas Hassard Montgomery (1872-1953), an agent for the land. Montgomery effectively ran estate affairs while the adolescent Travers completed his education. The young inheritor went to Military College, Sandhurst, in 1914-15, around the same time that Montgomery married his sister, Frances. The outbreak of war saw them both fighting overseas; Travers was a Lieutenant in the Irish Guards while Thomas Montgomery returned as a Lieutenant-Colonel.

It was shortly after Montgomery’s return that Glynwood House was ‘accidentally’ burnt down. The house had been leased, may not even have received its new tenants, and the cause of the fire remains a mystery to this day.

Travers chose to spend time in England while Montgomery, his wife and staff, relocated to Creggan House, also burnt down in 1921 by the Irish Republicans. This forced Thomas Montgomery to leave the Glynwood estate and move to Hampton Hall in Shropshire.

It was the end for the mansion and was left in ruinous condition. The surviving estate was sold to William Nash in 1921 and was largely demolished to supply bricks for local houses, while stone balustrades were cut to ornament their gardens.

Travis Robert Dames-Longworth (1896-1925) became a well-known figure in Cheltenham, famous in sporting circles, and celebrated for being the owner of White Cockade, a famed racehorse. He died in February 1925 at Brockten Hall, Shropshire, aged only 29. Lt-Col Thomas Hassard Montgomery died in 1953, aged 80, at Cadogan House, Shrewsbury. ⁴

Glynwood House survives as a crumbling shell, its walls reclaimed by nature as each year passes.

Glynwood House (Abandoned Ireland)

Glynwood House 1 (Abandoned Ireland)

Glynwood House 2 (Abandoned Ireland)

Glynwood House 3 (Abandoned Ireland)

Glynwood House 4 (Abandoned Ireland)

Glynwood House 5 (Abandoned Ireland)

Glynwood House 6 (Abandoned Ireland)

Glynwood House 7 (Abandoned Ireland)

Glynwood House 8 (Abandoned Ireland)

Glynwood House 9 (Abandoned Ireland)

Glynwood House 10 (Abandoned Ireland)

Glynwood House 11 (Abandoned Ireland)

Glynwood House 12 (Abandoned Ireland)

References:-
¹ Belfast News-Letter (1 Feb 1918)
² Ballymena Weekly Telegraph (7 Mar 1925)
³ Irish Times (19 Mar 1907)
⁴ Gloucestershire Echo (7 Mar 1925)
Family timeline, thanks to Sally’s Family Place
Images, courtesy of Abandoned Ireland