Military heroes in Rosary Gardens

A short time ago, I was asked to research the history of a small family estate – The Day Estate – in South Kensington in London, which covers a number of streets, including Rosary Gardens. However, I never would have guessed that over several years Rosary Gardens was home to such an extraordinary collection of former residents from the military.

Rosary Gardens, London
Rosary Gardens, London

Rosary Gardens was named after Rosary Lodge, an 18th century house that was situated on the site prior to the building of the street and new houses in 1882. Situated off Old Brompton Road, tucked away behind Hereford Square, the houses were built by famous London builder, William Willett.

Herbert Beerbohm Tree (image courtesy of Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea archives)
Herbert Beerbohm Tree (image courtesy of Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea archives)

By 1885 almost all the houses were occupied, which included Anne Thackeray, daughter of author, William  Makepeace Thackeray, and her husband, Richard Thackeray Ritchie (second cousin of William Makepeace Thackeray). It was also the home of celebrated actor-manager, Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree, who had a long and successful career in theatre, and was the founder of the now world-renowned Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA).

Amongst these early residents, Rosary Gardens was also home to many high-ranking military men. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries there were a great many serving and retired members of the Navy and Army, including Lieutenant-Colonel John Dremel, who fought in the Zulu War and in India, as well as Lieutenant-Colonel Alexander Lindsay and Lieutenant-Colonel Warren Hastings, both from the Indian Army.

Colonel Ernest Harrold Fenn
Colonel Ernest Harrold Fenn

Another early resident was Colonel Ernest Harold Fenn, army surgeon who served in the Afghan War in 1878-80, as well as the Sudan in 1885, and later served with the Governor General of India, Lord Lansdowne, and the Viceroy of India, Lord Curzon. He received many awards for his service, including the Companion of the Order of the Indian Empire (CIE) in 1893.

Sir James Digby Legard by Walter Stoneman, 1917 (courtesy of National Portrait Gallery Collection)
Sir James Digby Legard by Walter Stoneman, 1917 (courtesy of National Portrait Gallery Collection)

There were many others, including Colonel Whalley Wickham, Colonel Granville William Vernon, and Major William Boyd Shannon, who fought at Gallipoli in 1915 and whose memoirs of the fighting have become an important historical source of the events of the Gallipoli campaign.

During the early 1900s Rosary Gardens continued as a popular address for military men. This included Colonel Sir James Digby Legard, who served in the Royal Artillery in the Zulu War, when he was mentioned in Despatches. He became an Honorary Colonel in the Yorkshire (Duke of York’s Own) Royal Garrison Artillery and became a Companion of the Order of the Bath in the King’s Birthday Honours list in 1905.

Konstantine Dessino
Konstantine Dessino

At the same time, former Russian General, Constantine (also spelt Konstantine) Dessino, was living in Rosary Gardens. Dessino had a distinguished career in the Imperial Russian Forces prior to the Revolution in 1917, including the Russo-Japanese War and the early years of the First World War. In 1917 he was visiting Britain as a member of a Russian military delegation, which included a long audience with King George V. However, after his return to Russia everything changed as he was forced to flee his home after the outbreak of the Revolution. He managed to escape with his family and sought refuge in England.

One of the most distinguished military residents (although there were many!) in Rosary Gardens was Admiral Sir William Frederic Wake-Walker.

Admiral Sir William Frederic Wake-Walker
Admiral Sir William Frederic Wake-Walker

He served during both the First and Second World Wars, and in particular played a vital role in the evacuation from Dunkirk in 1940. He was placed in charge of directing the evacuation from ships and boats at Dunkirk, where he was under almost constant attack. He “was chiefly responsible for the control of the ‘little ships'”, and for which service he was appointed Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB). Admiral Wake-Walker continued to distinguish himself during the Second World War and he was directly involved in the sinking of the Bismark in May 1941. He was made Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) and was promoted to Vice Admiral and Third Sea Lord and Controller of the Navy in 1942. He was also responsible for creating the huge fleet of landing craft that were used in North Africa and later in the D-Day landings. He was appointed Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath (KCB) in 1943 and promoted to Admiral and Commander-in-Chief in the Mediterranean in May 1945. Sadly, despite this exceptional serving record, he did not live beyond the war as he died unexpectedly, at age 57, in September 1945.

This is just a glimpse into some of the fascinating stories I discovered by delving into the history of former residents of Rosary Gardens!

Hester Thrale and Admiral Nelson’s physician in Bath

I have recently been looking over notes for a house in Bath which was formerly the home of socialite and friend of Samuel Johnson, Mrs Hester Thrale. I first researched the house for my book, House Histories: The Secrets Behind Your Front Door, and along with Mrs Thrale, it has also been the home of celebrated artists and the physician who treated Admiral Nelson!

Gay Street - Bath
Gay Street – Bath

The house is situated half way up Gay Street in central Bath, a key part of the development of John Wood the Elder, leading from Queen Square to The Circus. Gay Street was first named Barton Street, but was later renamed to honour former landowner and MP for Bath, Robert Gay.

No.8 Gay Street was completed in 1753 and has been known as ‘The Carved House’ due to its additional ornate decoration. The first leaseholder of the house was artist, Prince (yes, that was his first name) Hoare, a noted sculptor, who completed commissions for many famous names of the time, including Alexander Pope and Beau Nash. By 1770, the lease for No.8 Gay Street had passed to Prince’s brother, William Hoare, who was also a successful artist, who excelled in portrait painting. He painted a number of 18th century celebrities, including Prime Minister, Robert Walpole, and composer, George Frederic Handel. And, along with Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough, William Hoare was one of the founders of The Royal Academy.

William Hoare
William Hoare

The records reveal that in 1775 the house had become the home of Dr Woodward, one of the many doctors practicing in Bath at this time. This was during the Georgian period when it was extremely fashionable to visit Bath for the healing spa waters. However, amongst all the doctors practicing in Bath at the time, Dr Woodward was recorded as the personal physician to naval hero, Admiral Lord Nelson, in 1781. Horatio Nelson was in Bath during 1780-81, when he was only Captain Nelson, and was suffering with a fever or tropical disease (possibly malaria) but by the August of 1781 he had recovered and was appointed Captain of the Albermarle.

After the departure of Dr Woodward, perhaps the most famous occupant of No.8 Gay Street, Hester Thrale, took up residence. However, by this time Mrs Thrale had lost her first husband and had remarried and become Mrs Piozzi, but she is most often remembered as Hester Thrale or simply ‘Mrs Thrale’ and for her close connection to writer, Samuel Johnson.

Mrs Piozzi by Sir Joshua Reynolds
Mrs Piozzi by Sir Joshua Reynolds

Prior to her marriage to her daughter’s music teacher, Gabriel Piozzi, in 1784, she had enjoyed a fashionable social circle, and along with Samuel Johnson, was friends with Fanny Burney, Oliver Goldsmith, James Boswell, and Sarah Siddons.

After the death of her husband, the brewer, Henry Thrale, it was suspected Hester would marry Samuel Johnson, but instead she shocked society by marrying the poor Italian musician, Mr Piozzi. She was immediately shunned by her former friends and associates and not accepted into fashionable society. It was during this time that she spent the winter months at the house in Gay Street.

Mrs Piozzi was a writer in her own right and published several works. After the death of Samuel Johnson (with whom she was reconciled before his death) in 1784 she published Anecdotes of the late Samuel Johnson, in 1786, along with her letters in 1788. Mrs Piozzi later died in Bristol in 1821.

Plaque on No.8 Gay Street
Plaque on No.8 Gay Street

After the departure of Mrs Piozzi, No.8 Gay Street became the home of a variety of different occupants. These included spinster sisters, Elizabeth and Jane Severs, who occupied the house for many years from the early 1800s through to the 1860s. By the late 19th century, the house returned to being the home of a doctor, when surgeon, Dr Samuel Budd, moved in. He was appointed surgeon of the Eastern Dispensary, but his position in Bath also brought him many high class clients. He continued in the house in Gay Street until he passed away in 1899.

The 20th century brought many changes to the house in Gay Street. It continued as the home of a doctor through to the 1920s. However, after the Second World War, the large Georgian house suffered the fate of many homes across the country and was simply too expensive to maintain as a single family home and was converted into office space.

A skeleton in the priest hole

Yes, it’s true, I have researched a house where a skeleton was uncovered in an old priest hole! Certainly, one of the most unusual stories I’ve heard in researching the history of houses!

I was recently asked by a journalist to tell her the story of priest holes and secret tunnels found in houses. It is a fascinating element in the history of some 16th and 17th century houses when the need for hiding or a quick escape from authorities was a genuine consideration in house design. In speaking to the journalist, I recalled a house I researched in the past which involved the discovery of an old priest hole – and the priest was still in it! The story was mentioned in the article – read it here in The Sun – but it inspired me to write more of the story in a new blog post!

Roof line

Sadly, I’m not able to divulge the name and location of the house, but it is situated in a small village in Wiltshire and has been dated back to the early 1600s, at the end of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I and when James I came to the throne. By this time, the conflict between Protestants and Catholics had been a fact of life in England for almost 70 years, from the time of Henry VIII, accelerating during the reign of his children, Edward VI and ‘Bloody’ Mary.

Priest hole in Boscobel House, Shropshire (Wikimedia/Nilfanion)
Priest hole in Boscobel House, Shropshire (Wikimedia/Nilfanion)

During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, the persecution of Catholics was extreme and practicing the Catholic rites or holding Mass was seen as an act treason and resulted in imprisonment, torture, and in some cases death. It was these extreme circumstances that provoked the creation of priest holes.

Priest holes were built in many places within a house – under staircases, behind fireplaces, between walls, under floorboards – anywhere where there was enough space to create a secret hiding place for a priest.

There were several Catholic plots to assassinate the queen, so the need to hunt down and quash any catholic support was much bigger than just a personal choice of worship – not to mention the threats from Catholic Spain and rebellions with the support from the Pope in Rome.

‘Priest-hunters’ might suddenly appear on the doorstep and a quick hiding place was a matter of life or death! However, one of the most serious problems with priest holes was the lack of space, but also the lack or air or access to food or a place to go to the toilet. So, hiding in a priest hole could be just as dangerous if forced to remain there for an extended period of time.

This is clearly what happened in the case of the Wiltshire house where the priest was still hiding in the priest hole 300 years later! The story of the poor priest was passed on from the former owner and a little more investigation would be necessary to uncover the full story of what happened, but it all started when former owners began renovations on the house in the late 1940s.

Roof and trees

The Grade II listed house was first constructed in the early 17th century and features exposed timbers with brick infilling, but it has also been altered several times, particularly during the 19th and 20th centuries. The first family connected to the house were recorded with Catholic connections, and given the date of construction, it seems likely it was constructed with a priest hole, or one was added soon after. This is understood further when considering the date of another Catholic plot against the reigning monarch, this time James I, with the Gunpowder Plot in November 1605.

Priest hole in Havrington Hall, Worcestershire (Wikimedia/Quodvultdeus)
Priest hole in Havrington Hall, Worcestershire (Wikimedia/Quodvultdeus)

Despite an understanding of the times and the need for a priest hole in the house, the true story of how a priest came to be stuck in the priest hole for 300 years is a bit of a mystery. One speculation is that the family had time to hide the priest away, but they were arrested and there was no way of getting back to the house to release the priest. Whatever the circumstances, it was over 300 years later, in the late 1940s when new owners were renovating the house that they pulled away a internal panel to find the hidden priest hole and the skeleton of the priest – what a discovery!

The gruesome discovery is certainly unusual, but once again it reveals the extraordinary stories that can be found in researching the history of a house.

Theatrical links and war heroes in Bedford Park, Chiswick

I have been a little quiet on my blog in the last few months as the second half of 2016 was packed with exciting projects, which made blogging my adventures a little tricky! However, one of the projects in west London has inspired this first of my blog posts for 2017! 

Bedford Park, Chiswick
Bedford Park, Chiswick

Late last year, I was working with the Bedford Park Residents Association on a new house history project, engaging with the residents and local people in promoting the social history of this unique enclave in west London. For more details, you can read the announcement here – BPRA Launch House History Initiative. To launch the project, I spoke at an event in Chiswick talking about the fascinating historic stories you can uncover by researching the history of houses. This included a fabulous story about the residents of a house in Bath Road that I discovered in preparing for my talk at the event.

1891 census - Bath Road
1891 census – Marie Saker

In looking through the 1891 census for Bath Road, which runs along the boundary of Bedford Park, I found the widowed, Marie Saker, recorded as an actress. She was living in the house with her grandmother and four children, along with a governess and two live-in servants. Her eldest son, George, was a student at the Royal Academy of Music, while her middle son, only thirteen years old, was recorded as an ‘actor’. I admit, I had not heard of Marie Saker, but I was intrigued by the reference to her being an actress and began to delve a bit further.

Mrs Saker (left) in The Masqueraders, 1894 [image courtesy of https://footlightnotes.wordpress.com/tag/irene-vanbrugh/]
Mrs Saker (left) in The Masqueraders, 1894 [image courtesy of https://footlightnotes.wordpress.com/tag/irene-vanbrugh/]
It turns out, Marie Saker was a renowned actress of the time and before her marriage she performed as Marie O’Burne (also appeared as O’Beirne and O’Brien). In 1874, she married a theatre manager, Edward Saker, after they met at Alexandra Theatre in Liverpool, where he was manager, and she was performing. Edward Saker had many connections to celebrated names of the time, including being a close friend of Sir Henry Irving. However, Edward died after the couple had been married less than 10 years, in 1883.

In an unusual move (or perhaps more likely forced due to financial need) Marie Saker continued the management of the Alexandra Theatre in the footsteps of her husband. She continued to manage the theatre for several years, certainly an unusual position for a woman in those times, but by 1888 she had moved on and by 1891 we find her living in Bedford Park in Chiswick.

Mrs Edward Saker
Mrs Edward Saker

I also found a fabulous piece of theatrical history previously owned by Mrs Edward Saker, which has survived and is now held in The National Archives [Ref: 920 MD 411]. It is the former autograph book of Marie Saker. It is inscribed with a note “This book belonged to Mrs. Saker of Liverpool and came into my possession in February 1895”; signed by Edgar Pemberton [playwright and theatrical historian]. The book is a ‘Who’s Who’ of the late 19th century theatre and includes notes and signatures from many famous names, including Oscar Wilde, Sarah Bernhardt, Ellen Terry, Henry Irving, and former Prime Minister, William Gladstone.

In delving further into the story of Marie Saker and her children, I found a very sad turn of events with two of her sons dying during the First World War.

Frank Harrison Saker
Frank Harrison Saker

 

 

 

Marie and Edward’s youngest son, Frank, had first joined the military in 1901 so was one of the first to be fighting at the outbreak of the war. He was promoted to Captain in September 1914, but died the following month, on 30 October, on Flanders Fields.

Major Richard Saker
Major Richard Saker

Edward and Marie’s second son, Richard (who had been recorded as an actor in 1891) also joined the military early and served with distinction during the Boer War in South Africa and was awarded the Queen’s Medal with five clasps. At the outbreak of the First World War he was attached to the Australian Infantry as Major and took part in the landings at Gallipoli in 1915. He was wounded several times on the landing, but continued to fight until he was fatally wounded and died on 20 April 1915.

This is just one part of the life of one house and just goes to show the extraordinary stories that can be discovered by researching the history of a house!

Note: if you live in Chiswick and want to know more about the Bedford Park House History Initiative, get in touch with the BPRA – here.

You can also hear some more about the project by watching some recent films made by The Chiswick Calendar – Discover the history of your house with Melanie Backe-Hansen

The house historian’s summer

While many of you have been on summer holidays to far flung destinations (or in sunny Blighty!) the summer months have been rather busy for me (which explains the time since my last blog post)!

I have been completing a large project on the history of a house in the Cotswolds, which I was delighted to have traced back to Queen Elizabeth I in 1588 (which is currently being designed in preparation for being bound into a book), while also researching the fascinating stories in the history of a house in Soho in London – connected to a group of notorious gangsters during the 1930s and 40s!

Historic house in the Cotswolds
Historic house in the Cotswolds

I have been continuing work on the history of a house in a Hertfordshire, while also working on a new article for the Chelsea Society annual report. During August, I spoke to the Bromley branch of the North West Kent Family History Society about how to research the history of houses, and in October I will be speaking to the Dartford branch on the same subject!

I have also been branching out with a little television work and will soon feature on a programme (coming soon!) talking about the history of household objects and inventions!

Amongst all the reading and writing, I am also working with the Bedford Park Residents Association in Chiswick on an exciting new house history project. Here is the official announcement:

The BPRA commissions house-historian Melanie Backe-Hansen to help Residents discover the hidden stories of Bedford Park”

Bedford Park terraced cottages
Bedford Park terraced cottages

I will be speaking at the official project launch at High Road House in Chiswick on 8 September, which will feature details of a unique online resource for homeowners and researchers. Tickets for the free event can be booked here – Bedford Park House History launch event

To promote the new house history project, I spent a day with the team from The Chiswick Calendar to produce a couple of short films talking about house histories!

‘Discover the history of your house with Melanie Backe-Hansen’

Know the stories of the people who lived in your house before you?  
“Does it change your attitude towards a house to know the stories of the people who have lived there before you? Francis Cherry says it does.”

So, you see, it has been rather a busy summer for the house historian! More updates and stories uncovered researching the history of houses will be on the way soon!

Shelley and Churchill and the 17th century house

West Wantley in Sussex is a beautiful historic house with many retained architectural features, but most notably it was linked to the family of poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, and later in the 19th century it was also visited by Clementine Hozier, the future wife of Prime Minister, Winston Churchill.

West Wantley
West Wantley

This extraordinary Grade II* listed house in Sussex is believed to include features dating back to the 14th century, but much of the house was extended and rebuilt in 1656 for Richard Haines.

The earliest reference to the land and estate of West Wantley has been traced back to the year 1199 when the land was sold by Philip de Wantele for 100 shillings. The precise date of construction is uncertain, but is believed the earliest portion of the house dates back to the 14th century, and records reveal a ‘house and yardland’ were transferred from Philip of Wantley to John of Wantely in 1327.

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By 1560 when Queen Elizabeth I was on the throne, West Wantley was recorded as Crown land and was granted to a Robert Mitchell, but by 1633 West Wantley had been purchased by George Abbot, Archbishop of Canterbury. However, Abbot died later that year and the property passed to his nephew, Richard Abbot. In 1641, Richard Abbot sold West Wantley to Gregory Haines.

Drain head with date 1656
Drain head with date 1656

When Gregory Haines died in 1645 an inventory of the house was compiled, which provides a fantastic insight into life at West Wantley at this time. This included his ‘feether beeds’ (feather beds) and ‘brase pootes’ (brass pots). When Gregory’s son, Richard, came of age in 1654 he inherited the house, but set about extending and largely rebuilding the house. A date plaque above the entrance porch shows the date 1656, along with the initials ‘R H M’ for Richard and Mary Haines, and as can be seen to the left, the date features elsewhere, including this drain head.

Richard Haines is remembered as a philanthropist, social reformer, and writer. He published several books including ‘The Prevention of Povery’ in 1674. He was also a noted inventor and he submitted a number of patents, including a spinning engine in 1678.

Richard and Mary Haines continued to live in their large new home until 1684 when they both passed away. The house passed to their son, Gregory, but in 1691 Gregory Haines sold West Wantley to Edward Shelley.

By 1748 West Wantley had passed to Timothy Shelley, but by this time the house was occupied by yeoman farmers from the Harraden family. This situation continued throughout the 18th century and by 1795 it was owned by Sir Bysshe Shelley, 1st Baronet of Castle Goring, grandfather of celebrated romantic poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley.

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West Wantley
Portrait of Percy Bysshe Shelley by Curran, 1819
Portrait of Percy Bysshe Shelley by Amelia Curran, 1819

In 1815 the ownership of the house and land passed to Sir Timothy Shelley, 2nd Baronet, father of the poet Shelley. At this time, his son was 25 years old and was already a renowned writer and poet. He had also been sent down from Oxford, fallen out with his father, eloped to Scotland with Harriet Westbroook, and then in 1814, run off to Switzerland with Mary Wollstonecraft.

Due to the falling out with his father, Shelley had no direct connection with West Wantley, and sadly within a few years the beloved poet died in a boating accident in 1822, shortly before his 30th birthday.

When Sir Timothy Shelley died in 1844, the baronetcy and estate passed to the eldest son of Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Wollstonecraft, Percy Florence Shelley. Throughout this period, the house continued as the home of various tenant farmers and by the time it was in the hands of Percy Shelley, it was occupied by the Skinner family.

Winston Churchill and his fiancée, Clementine Hozier, 1908
Winston Churchill and his fiancée, Clementine Hozier, 1908

Throughout the 19th century, the house, now known as West Wantley Farm, was occupied by the Skinner family, but by the 1890s it had become the home of Cecil and Mary Paget. It was at this time that Mary Paget invited the young Clementine Hozier to stay. Clementine was the daughter of Sir Henry and Lady Henrietta Hozier and it is understood she visited the Paget family at West Wantley several times when she was a child. The young visitor grew up to become Clementine Churchill, the wife of Winston Churchill. The couple married in 1908 and had a long and happy marriage lasting 57 years until the death of Churchill in 1965.

West Wantley was placed on the market in 1921 when it was described as ‘an extremely interesting ancient farmhouse chiefly contructed of stone…very pleasantly situate in rural surroundings’.

Today, the house not only has associations with a world renowned poet and the wife of one of the countries greatest Prime Ministers, but tucked away in the Sussex countryside, it retains many historic architectural features including an inglenook fireplace (including the cupboard for salt and a recess for curing bacon large enough for a person to lie in), as well as oak front door, exposed oak beams, and casement windows.

Winston Churchill and The Rolling Stones in Putney

The history of Hotham Hall in Putney is one of my favourites as it strongly illustrates that no matter what a house looks like – or even how old it is – you can uncover a fascinating history! This former community hall in the quiet streets of Putney is linked with a number of famous names, including Winston Churchill and The Rolling Stones!

Hotham Hall (courtesy of Chestertons)
Hotham Hall (courtesy of Chestertons)

I first researched the history of Hotham Hall while working with Chestertons in 2007. Snippets of the history were known, but I was so excited to discover a long list of famous names associated with this former community hall in the streets of Putney.

Winston Churchill
Winston Churchill

Hotham Hall was first built as St Mary’s Hall shortly before the outbreak of the First World War, in 1913. The freehold of the land was donated to St John’s Church by two sisters, Blanche and Elma Grace Miles, in 1911, specifically for the building of a public hall for the growing Putney community.

The hall was designed by Douglas Wells and constructed by builders, William Brown & Sons and officially opened by local magistrate Mr Samuel Samuel in 1913.

Anthony Eden
Anthony Eden

During the early history of the hall it was the location for local lectures and community and political events, and it was in May 1933 that future Prime Minister, Winston Churchill addressed a meeting of the Primrose League. He spoke on the future of India and declared ‘that the nations in their perplexity leaned upon England and found here a strong prop’.

The following year, in November 1934, St Mary’s Hall was the location for another political meeting. This time for the National Conservative candidate, Mr Marcus Samuel (nephew of Mr Samuel Samuel who had opened the hall 20 years earlier) for the Putney By-Election. Guest speaker supporting Mr Samuel was another future Prime Minister, Anthony Eden, who at that time was Lord Privy Seal and Minister for the League of Nations.

Hotham Hall (courtesy of Chestertons)
Hotham Hall (courtesy of Chestertons)

Rolling StonesAlong with political meetings, St Mary’s Hall was the location for lectures and music events, including local Christmas carol concerts. In particular, during the 1960s, it was used as a venue for upcoming British bands and on 22 December 1963 was the location for a performance of The Rolling Stones as part of their first UK tour.

The Rolling Stones were supported by rising band, who were still performing by the name, The Detours, and came to be known as The Who. It has been said that it was here Pete Townsend noticed Keith Richards warm up by swinging his arm before going on stage which inspired Townsend to create his famous ‘windmill’ strum.

The Who actually played at St Mary’s Hall several times during the early 60s and in 1964  they were supported by The Tremeloes. A local resident remembers this concert where the Tremeloes gave out sweets to promote their new song, Candy Man, which later rose to No.6 in the UK charts.

The Who
The Who

St Mary’s Hall continued to be used as a local hall and event venue, but by the 1980s it had fallen into disrepair and it closed in 1986. It was purchased for redevelopment in the 1990s at which time it was renamed Hotham Hall. It was transformed into luxury ‘loft-style’ apartments by The Raven Group, which first went on sale in 1997.

Behind the seemingly simple Edwardian façade of a former community hall, an extraordinary history is uncovered at Hotham Hall.

When a king pops in for tea

In thinking about the next blog post I was inspired by the upcoming 90th birthday celebrations for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and I set my mind back through my earlier house histories searching for something with a royal link. However, sadly, I’ve never had the opportunity to research Buckingham Palace or Windsor Castle, but I have researched a farm house in Nottinghamshire with a surprising link with King Edward VIII!

The Beeches (image courtesy of Chestertons)
The Beeches (image courtesy of Chestertons)

The Beeches is situated down a quiet country lane on the outskirts of Nottingham and was first built as a small cottage called Home Farm Cottage attached to the estate of the Manvers family of Holme Pierrepont. One of the earliest occupants was farmer, William Richards, recorded in the house at the time of a survey of the estate in 1803. His son, George, took over the cottage and farm during the 1820s, where he continued with his family through to the 1850s. The 1851 census reveals George Richards in the house, 69 years old, ‘cottager for 8 & 1/2 acres of land’, along with his wife Margaret and their granddaughter, 13 year old Ann.

1851 census - George and Margaret Richards
1851 census – George and Margaret Richards

George continued at The Beeches until he died at the age of 89 in 1871 when it passed to his son William and his wife Elizabeth. However, during the 1870s the Richards family left The Beeches, still known as Home Farm Cottage, and it became the home of dairy farmer, William Slack.

The map below shows Home Farm Cottage, today’s The Beeches, to the right of the lodge to Holme Pierrepont Hall as it was at the turn of the 20th century.

Ordnance survey map
Ordnance survey map, 1900

During the late 19th century, the 4th Earl Manvers set about renovating the small Home Farm Cottage, as well as adding additional farm buildings to house his herd of pedigree Shorthorn Cattle. In the early 1900s the house became the home of ‘cowman’, Christopher Dobson, along with his wife Hannah and their three children. The Dobson family continued at the house through the years of the First World War to 1918-19, but by the 1920s the house had become the home of William Shelton. Shelton became known as the gentleman farmer and is believed to have apparently worked in white gloves! It was at this time, during the 1920s, that the house was extended and its name changed from Home Farm Cottage to The Beeches.

King Edward VIII
King Edward VIII

It was also at this time that it is believed, the Prince of Wales, future King Edward VIII would pop in and visit The Beeches for a cup of tea. He would often visit Lamcote House (also owned by Earl Manvers) when he was visiting his mistress, Freda Dudley Ward.

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Sheila Loughborough, Edward VIII, Freda Dudley Ward, and George VI

He would also visit Holme Pierrepont and it was during these visits that an old farmer recalls the prince visiting The Beeches!

At the onset of the Second World War, the Manvers Estate, which had been in financial trouble for some time, was placed on the market, including the ‘very attractive farm, formerly the Home Farm of the 4th Earl…and used by him for his world-renowned herd of Shorthorns…Together with a delightful house and model farm buildings’.

Still today, the house is situated in a quiet area on the outskirts of Nottingham, but despite its seemingly ‘simple’ history as a farmhouse, it is a fantastic example of a house that can have an unexpected history. It is uncertain how many times the Prince of Wales would pop into the kitchen of The Beeches and sit down for a cup of tea, but it is certainly a great story!

The Beeches
The Beeches

The Chantry – over 500 years in Devonshire

I am often asked – what is the oldest house you’ve ever researched? – and along with some amazing cottages in Somerset, I think back to this extraordinary 15th century Grade I listed home in Devonshire. The Chantry, built c.1490, is situated in the quiet village of Combe Raleigh, but has former links to royal physicians, as well as the family of Lady Jane Grey, and the Duke of Somerset, Lord Protector during the reign of young Edward VI.

The Chantry (image courtesy of Humberts)
The Chantry (image courtesy of Humberts)

Tracing the history of a house back 500 years is always going to have its challenges, but it has been established that a chantry was first founded at Combe Raleigh during the mid 15th century. A chantry was an endowment established for a priest or priests to celebrate specific masses or ‘chants’ for the soul of the founder to ease the founders journey to heaven (paying your way for a shortcut to heaven). It was a little later, in 1498, that a perpetual chantry was established at Combe Raleigh by the lord of the manor, John Bonville (connected to the Grey family and the unfortunate Lady Jane Grey, Queen of England for 9 days) and it was at this time that this house was provided for the chanter priest.

Combe Raleigh and the Chantry House, Ordnance Survey map, 1905
Combe Raleigh and the Chantry House, Ordnance Survey map, 1905
Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset
Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset

Records reveal that during the 1520s and 30s The Chantry was the home of priest, John Adams, but a few years later everything was about to change. The Chantry survived the Dissolution of the Monasteries by King Henry VIII, but a short time later, in 1547, during the reign of the young King Edward VI, The Chantry Act dissolved the chantries and all their associated practices.

After the dissolution of the chantries, the lands and property attached to The Chantry in Combe Raleigh were granted to someone rather close to the young king – his uncle, Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset. He was the elder brother of Jane Seymour, the third wife of Henry VIII, and in 1547-49 he served as Lord Protector during King Edward VI’s minority. However, soon afterwards Seymour was granted the property he passed it to Sir Thomas Pomeroy.

Scan from book_edited-1Meanwhile, after the change from a religious house, The Chantry had become a gentleman’s residence. Later in the 16th century it was purchased by John Peter Esq., who, in 1603, sold it to Hugh Crossinge, a merchant of Exeter. But, by the late 17th century it was in the hands of Benedictus Marwood, a grocer of Exeter, whose ancestors had been royal physicians to Queen Elizabeth I, King James I, and also King Charles I.

The property in Combe Raleigh, along with The Chantry, passed through generations of the Marwood family through the 18th century until it was in the hands of James Thomas Benedictus Marwood in the 1780s. A map of ‘The Estates of the parishes of Beer & Seaton, Honiton & Combrawley [sic]…belonging to James Thomas Benedictus Marwood, 1783″ is retained in the Devonshire County Record Office and shows an extensive estate, including The Chantry.

By the late 18th century the occupiers of The Chantry had become local farmers, with tax records revealing it was the home of Joan Saunders who was paying an annual land tax of 12 shillings. Joan continued in the house through to the early 1800s, but by 1806 it was the home of another woman, Susan Sydenham, and by 1808 it was the home of Samuel Dimond.

Plan of Combrawley, 1783
Plan of Combrawley, 1783

Later in life James Thomas Benedictus Marwood was recorded as a ‘lunatic’ and after his death (without children) in 1811 his estates passed to his sisters, with Mary Marwood inheriting the Combe Raleigh property. Mary married Reverend George Notley and the estate later passed to their son, James Thomas Benedictus Notley. By this time, in the 1830s, The Chantry was the home of the Pring family, and by the time of the 1841 census it was the home of 30 year old Daniel Pring, an agricultural labourer, along with 70 year old, Mary Pring.

The Chantry (source English Heritage)
The Chantry (source English Heritage)

Throughout the 19th century the former priest house was the home of farming and labouring families. The image to the right shows The Chantry during the 1890s by which time it appeared as a rather run-down farmhouse.

In the early 1900s the house was home to the Carnell family, with Richard Carnell and his son Jesse working as bricklayers, along with Richard’s wife, Emma, and their three daughters, all laundresses.

However, the 20th century brought about some significant changes as by the 1930s new owners added a new wing, which included new bathrooms, as well as replacing the thatch with tiles, and it was the beginning of a new life for the house as a comfortable family home.

One of the most significant elements of The Chantry is the survival of so many historic features. With very few changes or renovations made to the house  over the centuries it retains extraordinary historic features, contributing to its status as Grade I listed. This includes a newell staircase, described as a ‘remarkable staircase of heart of oak’, along with a garderobe at the rear and original door frames, timbers, and fireplaces. The hall features intersecting moulded beams with carved bosses, as well as ‘plank and muntin’ screen. The roof has been described as ‘an outstanding survival’ featuring three arch braced trusses along with many other details, including moulded braces and purlins. The house also features a traditional bread oven, and although more recent the 1930s bathroom fittings are also a notable feature.

The hall (image courtesy of Humberts)
The hall (image courtesy of Humberts)

This sweeping history of The Chantry only gives a glimpse of this extraordinary home and I’m sure there are many more stories to discover by delving into the history of a house that has stood in this quiet village for over 500 years!

The Suffragettes of Oakley Street

While researching the history of a house for a magazine column, I stumbled across a fascinating piece of history. It was the 1911 census return for No.93 Oakley Street in Chelsea, but instead of the usual list of former occupants, the enumerator was forced to note that ‘Suffragettes refused all information’.

Section of 1911 census for 93 Oakley Street
Section of 1911 census for 93 Oakley Street

The enumerator further notes that the lady of the house had written across the original census return  ‘no vote no census’. This one document (found by accident) brought to life a period of history from 100 years ago, which has had an extraordinary affect on history, but also on our lives today – the right for women to vote! It also raised a number of questions about who were these women of Oakley Street and what was their story?

1911 census return - 93 Oakley Street
1911 census return – 93 Oakley Street

You’ll also notice that the enumerator has stated that information was gained from the neighbour. This included the name of the woman of the house ‘Mrs Monck Mason’, along with her daughter and sister, as well as an ‘elderly domestic servant’ and a ‘younger domestic servant’.

Miss Winifred Mayo (Monck Mason)
Miss Winifred Mayo (Monck Mason)

With the help of Naomi Paxton, I discovered the lady of the house was Mrs Alice Monck Mason and her daughter, Winifred Alice Monck Mason, an actress who went by the name of Winifred Mayo (the image to the left courtesy of thesuffragettes.org). Mrs Monck Mason (nee Alice Portia Wolley) was actively involved in the Suffragette movement, but it was her daughter, Winifred Mayo, who took on a key role in the political and militant fight for ‘Votes for Women’. Delving into the story of Winifred Mayo it became clear that she played an extraordinary role in the right for women to vote, as well as other organisations that fought for equal rights for women and men.

Winifred Monck Mason (Mayo) was born in India in c.1869, but returned to England for her Education. In the late 19th and early 20th century, she was performing on the stage in a variety of plays and productions, including as Elizabeth Bennett in The Bennetts at the Court Theatre in 1901. But, it was a few years later she took on a more important role in the suffragette movement.

Annie Kenney and Christabel Pankhurst
Annie Kenney and Christabel Pankhurst

Winifred Mayo first became involved in the women’s suffrage movement in 1907 when she and her mother joined the Kensington branch of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). Winifred became actively involved in the militant side of the Suffragette movement and was first sentenced  to imprisonment in 1908 for taking part in a demonstration at the House of Commons. She was arrested again in 1909 and 1910, but on these occasions was released without charge.

In 1908 Winifred Mayo founded the Actresses’ Franchise League (AFL) with other actresses, including Adeline Bourne. The AFL put on several performances to raise awareness of the women’s suffrage movement, and Winifred Mayo also assisted in training women in public speaking and performance. The AFL included a number of famous names, including Ellen Terry, Sybil Thorndike, Lilly Langtry, and many others. The AFL also advised fellow suffragettes in make-up and dressing-up “which enabled many women ‘on the run’ from the police to successfully disguise themselves and elude recapture.”

Her involvement in the suffrage movement brought Winifred Mayo in direct contact with Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughter, Christabel, along with a number of noted women. She later described her ‘tremendous admiration and affection for [Mrs Pankhurst]’.

Winifred Mayo was also involved in the window-smashing campaign and in November 1911 was imprisoned for three weeks for smashing the windows of the Guards Club in Pall Mall. She tells the story of the event in a radio interview with BBC many years later – it’s a short snippet but fantastic to hear the story in her own words! Listen here – ‘A smashing time in Pall Mall’

Suffragettes boycotting the 1911 census in Manchester
Suffragettes boycotting the 1911 census in Manchester

By the time the census was being taken on 2 April 1911, the campaign for ‘Votes for Women’ was growing and there was a specific campaign to boycott the census by many Suffragettes (although, interestingly there were many who disagreed with the boycott). Across the country there were a great many who planned events and parties to avoid completing the census return.

In London, there were a number of events, but the most well-known was a large gathering, estimated at around 500 women and 70 men. The event began with music in Trafalgar Square, but later the group spent the evening at the Aldwych ice skating rink (near to where London School of Economics is situated today). Winifred Mayo was known to be part of the Aldwych group and even provided some of the entertainment with members of the Actresses’ Franchise League performing recitals of Suffragist poems. At around 3.30am the group relocated to a restaurant towards Covent Garden for refreshment.

There is far more to the story of the ‘avoiders’ and ‘boycotters’ of the 1911 census, so if you want to know more, check the book ‘Vanishing for the Vote’ by Jill Liddington. More can be found from the blog by Elizabeth Crawford – Women and her sphere (including a fascinating lecture given at the House of Commons (although it is an hour long – House of Commons lecture) – as well as the website of Professor Jill Liddington – here.

Winifred Mayo went on to have an extraordinary life, involved in many campaigns for supporting women, as well as equal rights for all. She passed away at the age of 97 in February 1967.

This one discovery of an entry in the 1911 census reveals the extraordinary history, not only personal but national and international history, that can be uncovered when researching the history of houses.