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.
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’.
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.
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.
Biggar, South Lanarkshire, ML12 6LX
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.
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.
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).
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.