Tag Archives: Victorian

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.

JMC4 - Church Explorer
Image: JMC4 – Church Explorer.
Coton Hall 3 (Savills)
Image: Savills.

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.

Coton Hall 4 (Savills)
Image: Savills.
Coton Hall 5 (Savills)
Image: Savills.
Coton Hall 6 (Savills)
Image: Savills.
Coton Hall 7 (Savills)
Image: Savills.
Coton Hall 8 (Savills)
Image: Savills.
Coton Hall 9 (Savills)
Image: Savills.
Coton Hall 10 (Savills)
Image: Savills.
Coton Hall 11 (Savills)
Image: Savills.
Coton Hall 12 (Savills)
Image: Savills.

THE WOOD HOUSE

Wood House 14

This Grade II listed country house is situated on the fringes of Epping Forest. The Wood House was built in 1895 on the Copped Hall Estate, inherited by Ernest James Wythes in 1887. He lived at Copped Hall, the Palladian mansion that was largely destroyed by fire in 1917. He initially moved to The Wood House on a temporary basis but stayed after abandoning plans to rebuild the fire-damaged house. The Wood House was constructed to the designs of Walter E. Tower and Charles Eames Kempe and is said to have been inspired by The Ancient House (also known as Sparrow’s House) in Ipswich, a property which features some magnificent pargetting on its exterior. Kempe was an eminent Victorian stained-glass designer and manufacturer and his studios produced windows for numerous cathedrals and churches. It is believed that the house has had several prominent visitors including Winston Churchill who is rumoured to have stayed during The Blitz. In more recent times it was home to singer Rod Stewart for more than thirty years.

Wood House 1959 (Country Life)
Wood House. Taken from the Archives of Country Life in 1956. (Country Life)

LOANINGDALE HOUSE

Loaningdale 1867
A drawing of Loaningdale House from 1867. It was originally called Sunnyside and featured in a book ‘Biggar and the House of Fleming’ by William Hunter.

In November 1917 a newspaper advertisement in The Scotsman announced the pending auction of the Loaningdale Estate, near Biggar, Lanarkshire. It was offered at the ‘low upset price’ of £3,500 in an attempt to be rid of the property. The newspaper described Loaningdale House as a ‘very desirable residential estate with its mansion-house containing four public rooms, twelve bedrooms and dressing rooms, servants’ accommodation, stables, coach-house and good gardens’. Britain was at war and it wasn’t the best time to be selling; every day country mansions were being offered for sale and, for those still able to afford it, there were numerous properties to choose from.  At December’s auction Loaningdale House failed to find a buyer (as it had done in 1908) and its owner, Gavin William Ralston (1862-1924), was resigned to keeping the house.

Loaningdale House went back onto the rental market, as it had been since the death of Ralston’s father, Gavin Ralston (1827-1894), but the succession of tenants came at a price. In 1901, the property was described by one tenant as being in “a dirty and unhealthy condition with bad smells.”

However, Loaningdale House had enjoyed much better days. It had been built in the early 18th century for Nicol Sommerville on the site of an old farmstead called Sunnyside. It was enlarged by Dr Black and, in 1855, was bought by Walter Scott Lorraine, a Glasgow merchant, who remodelled and enlarged the house three years later to the designs of architect Thomas McGuffie and changed the name to Loaningdale. It was described in 1867 as ‘a spacious and elegant building, somewhat in the Elizabethan style of architecture’.

Loaningdale (Panoramio)
This modern image of Loaningdale House provides no clues to its existence as Loaningdale Approved School for Boys that closed in the 1980. (Panoramio)

After his death in 1871 the property was bought by Gavin Ralston, a writer and a Master of Arts at Glasgow University. He died in 1894 and Loaningdale passed to his wife, Christina Ballantine Walker, who lived in Edinburgh but had been inclined to rent the house out.

After she died in 1908 it became the property of their eldest son, Gavin William Ralston, a barrister who practised at Dr Johnson’s Buildings at Temple. After failing to sell Loaningdale in 1917 he finally sold the house in 1921, probably to a Mr and Mrs Baird, but gained national headlines when he married Countess Makharoff in 1924. He had met his wife when touring Russia and she was just a girl of 15. It seems the first seeds of their romance were sown and when she fled the country after the Russian Revolution of 1917 (shooting two Bolsheviks in the process) she eventually arrived in England. Just 11 days into their honeymoon Ralston died of a heart-attack while walking down a country lane at Worth Matravers, near Swanage in Dorset.

Loaningdale (Zoopla)
A modern accommodation extension was built in the 1960’s. The house was put up for sale in 2015 and sold for just £520,000. (Zoopla)

In 1963 Loaningdale House became an Approved School for Boys but nearly suffered closure in 1967 when the body of a 15-year-old local girl was discovered in a nearby churchyard. She had been hit over the head with a heavy object and strangled from behind. The police began taking dental casts, including boys from the school, and it was determined that the murderer was 17-year-old Gordon Hay, a resident at Loaningdale. He became the first person in Britain to be convicted based on evidence from forensic dentistry. The school finally closed in the 1980’s and in recent times the house has been used as an outdoor education centre. The core of the house remains but has been spoilt by a 1960’s accommodation block and outbuildings to the east.

Loaningdale (Dicky Hart)
Not the most sympathetic addition to Loaningdale House, built in 1858 for Walter Scott Lorraine. (Dicky Hart)
Loaningdale House 1
Modern buildings were built to the east of Loaningdale House. It now operates as a Scottish Outdoor Education Centre (SOEC) for children and  young people.

Loaningdale House,
Biggar, South Lanarkshire, ML12 6LX

FRANKBY HALL

Frankby Cemetery 1
Frankby Hall, built in 1846 for the Royden family, and sold in 1933.

When the will of Sir Thomas Bland Royden, of Frankby Hall, Cheshire was proved in 1917 it came out at a staggering £1,271,354. The baronet had been Chairman of Thomas Royden and Sons, shipbuilders and ship-owners, of Liverpool. He was a former member of Liverpool City Council, Lord Mayor in 1878-79 and High Sheriff in 1903-04. He had been made a Baronet in 1905.

Sir Thomas Bland Royden
Sir Thomas Bland Royden (1831-1917)

Frankby Hall, and its 810 acres, had been the home of the Royden family for more than 200 years. The last house had been built in 1846 and following Royden’s death passed to his son, Sir Thomas Royden, 2nd Bt., later to become the first and last Baron Royden of Frankby. He had an even more prestigious career, becoming Chairman of the LMS Railway Company and a director at the Cunard Steam Ship Company, Midland Bank and the Suez Canal. He was largely absent from Frankby Hall and sold the mansion and 61-acres by auction to Wallasey Corporation in 1933. The house was altered to become two chapels for the Wallasey Municipal Cemetery which was created at a cost of £10,000 in its grounds. One chapel was for Church of England and Nonconformist services, and the other was for Roman Catholic services.

Liverpool Daily Post 2 May 1940
From the Liverpool Daily Post, 2 May, 1940. (British Newspaper Archive)
Frankby Hall 1945
Frankby Hall seen in 1945. From the Liverpool Evening Express, 24 August, 1945. (British Newspaper Archive)
Frankby Hall
Frankby Hall. Now used as chapels for Frankby Cemetery.
Frankby Cemetery
Entrance to Frankby Cemetery, but once the approach to Frankby Hall.

Frankby Cemetery
Frankby Road, Frankby, Wirral, CH48 1QJ

KINGSWOOD MANOR

Kingswood Manor 1
An English country house built with wealth secured in California and Hawaii (Fine & Country)

This fine manor house was built about 1895 by the architect Edward Penfold, a partner in Baker and Penfold of Reigate.

Quite remarkable are the circumstances leading up to the construction of Kingswood Manor. For these we must travel to the USA where Claus Spreckels (1828-1908), a German-born immigrant, made his fortune by starting a brewery and later founding the California Sugar Refinery. When he went to Hawaii in 1876 he managed to secure sole supply of sugar cane and with it much of the West Coast refined sugar market. In 1899 he founded the Spreckels Sugar Company, Inc.

The businessman gave over $25 million to his five grown children but his favourite child was the only daughter, Emma Claudine Spreckels. He gifted an entire city block in Honolulu to her and an endowment worth almost $2 million. However, in 1893, when Emma married Thomas Palmer Watson, a Yorkshire-born grain-broker of San Jose and many years her senior, she failed to tell her father. Claus didn’t approve and taunted her with the gift he’d generously provided. Emma gave it back but, because of her father’s high-standing in San Francisco, the married couple were forced to flee to England.

Thomas and Emma built Kingswood Manor in the village of Lower Kingswood. Thomas died in 1904 and she married John Wakefield Ferris, a Gloucestershire-born civil engineer and contractor, who also gained wealth in California by reclaiming about 80,000 acres of land subject to overflow by dyking and draining. Their daughter, Jean Ferris, later became the Marquise d’Espinay-Durtal, Princesse de Brons. When he died in 1920 the couple were about to vacate Kingswood Manor for Nutfield Priory at Redhill. (Emma later married a third time and died at Nutfield).

Kingswood Manor 5
The house was built to the designs of Surrey architect Edward Penfold (Fine & Country)

In 1922 Kingswood Manor was sold to Mr Alfred Norman Rickett, a stockbroker, and the Hon Jessie Hair Nivison, daughter of Robert Nivison, 1st Baron Glendyne, who remained until the 1940s. According to the sales information the house was reputedly later owned by the Sultan of Brunei but this cannot be verified. The present owners have been at Kingswood Manor since 1996 which still retains period features such as open fireplaces, a grand oak staircase, oak floors, wood panelling, high ceilings and ornate architraves. The house was put up for sale for £3.5 million in 2017.

Kingswood Manor,
Stubbs Lane, Lower Kingswood, Surrey, KT20 7AJ

Kingswood Manor 3
An aerial view of Kingswood Manor shows the generous layout (Fine & Country)
Kingswood Manor 4
Gates to Kingswood Manor. Did the Sultan of Brunei once own the house? (Fine & Country)