Alfred and Elizabeth’s house in Morrison Street

Have you seen the recent advertisements from Nationwide UK with fabulous poet, Jo Bell, telling the story of Alfred and Elizabeth Idle? Working with Nationwide, I researched the full history of the former home of Alfred and Elizabeth Idle – No.29 Morrison Street – where Alfred took out the first mortgage with Nationwide in 1884.

The history was compiled to tell the story of the first mortgage, but also because they are offering a chance to win an illustrated house history (researched by me!) If you’re interested – more details can be found here (with full terms and conditions): Competition – Does your home have a secret history?

A short history of the house appears on the Nationwide website, but I wanted to reveal a little more of the story from when the house was first completed in 1876. Although the first mortgage was taken out by Alfred Idle, rent books reveal the very first occupant of the house was a Mr J.R. Cook in May 1876.

Rent book 1876

However, within a few months Alfred Owen Idle, librarian assistant at Mudie’s Library, moved into the house with his wife Elizabeth and nine children. Alfred Idle first bought the house from the ‘Artizans’, Labourers’, & General Dwelling Company Ltd’, for £210 in 1876.

A few years later, when the census was taken in 1881, a full picture of the Idle family is revealed, with Alfred and Elizabeth and their nine children, living in a house with three bedrooms, a parlour, kitchen, scullery, and an outside toilet.

1881 census – Idle family
Example layouts of Morrison Street houses

In 1884, Alfred Idle acquired a new mortgage for No.29 Morrison Street from the Southern Co-operative Permanent Building Society, now part of today’s Nationwide Building Society. At this time the house was valued at £220 and Alfred was advanced £120 from the building society, with repayments of 6 shillings and 1 penny a week for ten years. Mr Alfred Owen Idle was the first person to take out a mortgage with Nationwide. However, after acquiring the mortgage, he moved from Morrison Street and by 1887 the new occupants were the Kedge family.

A few years later, the 1891 census reveals head of the house, Bruce Kedge, a ‘porter – messenger’, along with his wife, Mary and their seven children, aged between one and sixteen. However, this is a classic example of needing to dig a little further when researching the history of a house, as it is revealed that prior to becoming a messenger, Bruce Kedge was a Sergeant of the Rifle Brigade. He had first enlisted in the 1st Battalion Rifle Brigade when he was 20 years old, and served in many places across the country, including Winchester, Woolwich, and Dover, as well as in Canada for eight years, in 1861-1869.


1891 census – Kedge family

Three of Bruce and Mary’s sons followed Bruce into the military, with their eldest son, William enlisting in the Scottish Highlanders (The Black Watch) as a musician, when only 16 years old, in 1890. William Kedge went on to serve in the Second Boer War, in 1901-1902, receiving a Queen’s Medal with four clasps.

Early battalions of The Black Watch

Another of Bruce and Mary’s sons, Thomas, enlisted in the Rifle Brigade when only 15 years old, in 1892, but like his brother William was serving as a musician. He gained the rank of Corporal in 1898, but in 1901 he reverted to Private due to misconduct. The details of his ‘misconduct’ are not certain, but it is clear it did not affect his service to the military as he went on to serve in Hong Kong and Singapore, and he served in The Boer War twice between 1899 and 1902, when he received the Queen’s Medal and King’s Medal. Thomas Kedge transferred to The Black Watch, but by 1905 he had been discharged. He served again in 1906-1907 but left the army again by June 1907. However, at the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, Thomas Kedge re-enlisted (nine days after the declaration of war) and despite being sent to France in August 1914, he returned to England only 18 days later and spent the remainder of the war years stationed in England.

The last of Bruce and Mary’s sons to serve in the army was Albert, who enlisted in the Royal Highlanders when he was 19 years old, in 1906. Albert only served for eight years, and was discharged in March 1914. Like his brother Thomas, he re-enlisted at the outbreak of the First World War and served throughout the war. By 1918 he was serving with The Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) as Acting Company Sergeant Major.

Morrison Street in the Shaftesbury Park Estate, Battersea, 1893

Meanwhile, back at No.29 Morrison Street, Bruce and Mary Kedge continued as the occupants throughout the final years of the 19th century through to the early 1900s. Alfred Owen Idle continued as the leaseholder (which later passed to his children after his death in 1918), while the Kedge family continued to rent the house. Bruce Kedge passed away on 14 February 1911, while Mary Kedge continued in Morrison Street until she passed away in January 1915.

Prior to this time, Bruce and Mary’s second eldest daughter, Mabel, had married motor bus driver, Edward John Gaitt, in the spring of 1902. The young couple spent the first years of their marriage living with Mabel’s parents in Morrison Street, but they later moved to Islington and Fulham. In 1903, Edward Gaitt was recorded as a ‘bus conductor’ but by 1904 he had become a bus driver. This is a significant profession at this time when horses were still the dominant power for transport, but Edward Gaitt was one of the early drivers of motorised buses in London.

After the death of her mother, Mabel and her husband Edward moved back to No.29 Morrison Street. Earlier records reveal Edward Gaitt’s father, also named Edward, was a ‘firework artist’ and ‘pyrotechnical artist’, a most unusual profession.

As a motor bus driver, Edward Gaitt was at the forefront of London transport and its transformation during the early 20th century. The motorised bus first came to the streets of London during the early 1900s and by 1908 there were over 1100 motor buses. The last horse bus service ran in London in October 1911. It is most likely Edward John Gaitt would have driven the LGOC B-type bus, introduced in 1910, which became famous for its use during the First World War.

By the end of the First World War, Edward and Mabel were at No.29 Morrison Street with their eight children. They continued at the house throughout the 1920s and 30s, but by March 1937 they had moved to a slightly larger house nearby and the new occupants in Morrison Street were George and Hilda Gannon. When the 1939 Register was taken in the first month of the Second World War, it revealed George Gannon was 32 years old and working as a general labourer for Southern Rail, and Hilda, also 32 years old, was working in ‘unpaid domestic duties’ (a ‘house wife’). The couple also had a lodger, a cook, 32 years old, Veronica Rose Barker, who later went to serve with the Women’s Royal Naval Service – the Wrens.

1939 Register

The risk of bombing in Morrison Street was very real (with close proximity to the River Thames, Clapham Junction station, and Battersea Power Station!) and the area suffered many attacks during the war. Morrison Street received a direct hit by a V1 rocket on the morning of 17 July 1944, which completely destroyed Nos.37-49 Morrison Street (just a few doors down from No.29).

By the end of the war, George and Hilda Gannon were no longer at the house and they were renting it to a new family, George and Daisy Farrall. George and Daisy lived at No.29 for a little over ten years, but records reveal the house was then sold in 1958. Drainage plans reveal that it was at this time, over 80 years after the house was first built, that a bathroom was fitted inside the house.

This typical London house in the streets of Battersea has certainly seen a lot of history over the years. With its connection to Nationwide and the first mortgage granted to Alfred Idle in 1884, as well as the military connections of the Kedge family, and several other stories of owners and occupants who have all played their part in the history of London, but also the history of this house.

Don’t forget, you can enter the Nationwide house history competition here – Nationwide: Does your home have a secret history? 

The Chelsea mansion block with ‘More’

The Chelsea mansion block with ‘More’

When driving, cycling, walking, and even passing by in a boat, it’s difficult not to spot the mansion block, More’s Garden, in prime position on Cheyne Walk in Chelsea. Situated by Battersea Bridge with views over the River Thames, More’s Garden was constructed in 1904 on the site of the former gardens belonging to Sir Thomas More. Flats were advertised for More’s Garden from 1903, but unusually by 1908 it was being used for student rooms for the University of London.

More's Garden, Chelsea [image courtesy of Chestertons]
More’s Garden, Chelsea [image courtesy of Chestertons]
Henry VIII’s Lord Chancellor, Sir Thomas More, moved to riverside Chelsea during the 1520s when he had a large house in open fields with extensive gardens a short distance from the river. The house later became known as Beaufort House (and where the name Beaufort Street originates). Many years later the riverside had been transformed into a busy dock, but with the development of Chelsea Embankment from the 1870s, large sections of the eastern stretch of Cheyne Walk opened up for redevelopment. However, despite the highly prized riverside position we admire today, by the turn of the 20th century, the corner site of Beaufort Street still lay vacant.

More's Garde sales particulars, 1903 [image courtesy of Kensington and Chelsea archives]
More’s Garden sales particulars, 1903 [image courtesy of Kensington and Chelsea archives]
Original plans for the new mansion block were submitted in October 1902 under the name of ‘Cheyne Towers’, but by the time construction was under way in 1903 the new residential block had been renamed ‘More’s Garden’ – an acknowledgement to the site of the gardens of Sir Thomas More.

Original sales particulars from 1903 reveal the block was planned as residential apartments, with the most up-to-date conveniences for modern Edwardian living. These included, ‘hot water from a supply boiler in the basement…tenants will thus be saved the expense and trouble involved by kitchen fires at all seasons of the year and throughout the day…’ There was also hot water radiators in the entrance hall to each house, along with electric lighting (when many people still relied on gas) along with an electric passenger lift. An optional extra was the connection of a telephone allowing tenants ‘to communicate with any part of town, and could instantly speak with the caretaker’. By July 1905 an advertisement in The Times reveals the flats were ready for new tenants at an annual cost of £180-£200.

However, by 1907 things took a different turn when Nos. 2-5 More’s Garden were acquired by ‘The University and City Association of London’, who were closely linked with plans for the neighbouring Crosby Hall.

A study bedroom_brochure_cropped

They officially opened More’s Garden as a University Hall of Residence in December 1907, starting with an initial 10 students, and increasing to 25 by 1910.

At the same time, the University and City Association were campaigning for the relocation and preservation of the medieval Crosby Hall, which had formerly been located in Bishopgate. The aims of the association were to save the historic hall, originally built in 1466 and has been called, ‘the most important surviving domestic Medieval building in London’, but also to create a collegiate environment, similar to those in Oxford and Cambridge, for students in London. Crosby Hall was to be the centrepiece of this new academic environment by the banks of the Thames, with More’s Garden one of the associated buildings. The campaign to relocate Crosby Hall was a success and it was moved piece by piece from the City to Chelsea in 1910. However, the plans of the University and City Association to create an college environment did not eventuate. Part of the reason for this was the onset of the First World War in 1914, which took away much of the funding. In fact, Crosby Hall was used as temporary accommodation for Belgian refugees during the war. Today, Crosby Hall is a private residence, the home of businessman and entrepreneur, Christopher Moran.

Plans for college buildings, including Crosby Hall and More's Garden
Plans for college buildings, including Crosby Hall and More’s Garden
Brochure for planned new University Hall of Residence
Brochure for planned new University Hall of Residence

It was also during the war that the students left More’s Garden and it once again became available as residential flats for private tenants. The flats were empty in 1915, but the parish rate book reveals new tenants moved in during late 1915 and early 1916. By this time, the annual rent was £175.

Since the early 1900s, More’s Garden has continued as residential flats and has been home to many notable residents, including novelist and playwright, Charles Langbridge Morgan, along with his wife, also a writer, Hilda Vaughan. The block has also been the home of Olympian rower, Stephen Ian Fairbairn; photographer and astronomer, Margaret Lindsay Huggins; Captain Edward George Hastings of the Royal Navy, OBE; and British Ambassador, Sir Owen St Clair O’Malley.

Today, More’s Garden continues as a highly sought after residential mansion block in an historic corner of Chelsea with beautiful views over the River Thames.

More's Garden - Chelsea

The real heroes of ‘A Bridge Too Far’ at Millfield

It was a few years ago that I was asked to research a house in a small village in Lincolnshire which turned out to have an extraordinary connection to the heroic parachute regiment made famous by the film, A Bridge Too Far.

Millfield, Colsterworth [image courtesy of Chestertons]
Millfield, Colsterworth [image courtesy of Chestertons]
I recently had the privilege of speaking about researching the history of houses at Peterborough Cathedral for Peterborough Local History Society, and in preparing my presentation I was reminded of the history of a nearby house – Millfield in Colsterworth, Lincolnshire.

The house isn’t particularly old, having been built during the early 1900s, and for much of its early history it was the home of a local farmer, Robert Doubleday. The name of the house, Millfield, simply originated from the name of the field on which it was built.

1911 census - the Doubleday family
1911 census – the Doubleday family

The 1911 census reveals Robert was a ‘farmer and grazier’ and was living in the house with his wife, Elizabeth, and two of their children, 20 year old Martha, and 19 year old Robert, who was ‘working on the farm’. The Doubleday family also had two servants, George Tomlin, ‘wagoner on farm’, and Edith Bass, a general domestic servant.

The Doubleday family continued at Millfield until the 1920s, but by the late 1930s it had become the home of Wing Commander Gerard Stephen Oddie. Gerard Oddie was part of the Royal Air Force when only in its infancy during the First World War. He took part in some of the first campaigns on the Western Front and went on to receive numerous awards and honours, including the Distinguished Flying Cross, and in 1927 he received the Air Force Cross from King George V.

A Bridge Too Far

Millfield continued to have a military link during the Second World War, as in 1943-44 it was used to billet soldiers and officers from the 2nd Battalion, Parachute Regiment, who are often remembered for their heroic efforts in Operation Market Garden, now known as the Battle of Arnhem in the Netherlands. The Battle of Arnhem is also remembered through the book and film, A Bridge Too Far, which featured a long list of famous actors, including Sean Connery, Laurence Olivier, Dirk Bogarde, Michael Caine, Edward Fox, Anthony Hopkins, and more!

The connection between the real heroes of the Battle of Arnhem and Millfield in Colsterworth continued when one of the soldiers, Private Vincent Goodwin, returned to the house many years later.

Drawing of Millfield by Vincent Goodwin, 1944
Drawing of Millfield by Vincent Goodwin, 1944

Vincent Goodwin was also an amateur artist and completed several drawings during the war, including one of Millfield (above). It was drawn on the very eve of Operation Market Garden, on 16 September 1944.

Vince Goodwin with penny that saved his life
Vince Goodwin with penny that saved his life

Private Goodwin’s story is worthy of a film in its own right, as he revealed his real wartime experience. Firstly, out of the 10,000 soldiers who took part, he was one of the 700 or so soldiers who made it to Arnhem Bridge and continued to hold it against German forces for much longer than was originally expected. However, after surviving for so long when many others had fallen, he was shot and taken prisoner. He later told the story that after being captured he thought he was going to be shot by an SS officer, but instead, another German officer intervened and he survived.

On his return, Vincent Goodwin also revealed the story of an old penny that saved his life. His Commanding Officer had suggested he sew pennies into his uniform as extra protection and here he is with a flattened penny that helped to save his life when he was shot during the Battle of Arnhem.

So, once again, an extraordinary story is revealed by delving into the history of a house!

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!

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]
Mrs Saker (left) in The Masqueraders, 1894 [image courtesy of]
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

Remembrance and Sir Edwin Lutyens in Mells

With Remembrance Sunday yesterday and Remembrance Day approaching on Wednesday, I am reminded of a project I completed a short time ago in Somerset. I was asked to research the historic and architectural significance of a row of 15th century cottages in the small village of Mells, but along side this, I was asked to research a number of links to the village with one of the countries greatest architects, Sir Edwin Lutyens.

New Street - Mells
New Street – Mells

Firstly, my research involved delving into the story of the medieval cottages in New Street, believed to have been built by John Selwood, Abbot of Glastonbury between 1456 and 1493. Today, they are recognised as the first example of what we know as town planning.

The history of Mells is also believed to have been the inspiration for the famous nursery rhyme ‘Little Jack Horner’! In 1543 the manor of Mells was acquired by Thomas Horner, but it is at this point that the old tale becomes mixed with the truth and apparently John ‘Jack’ Horner stole the deeds to the manor – from a pie! The deeds had supposedly been hidden in the pie and sent from the Abbot of Glastonbury to Henry VIII. This rumour led to the story that it was the inspiration for the nursery rhyme ‘Little Jack Horner’, who put in his thumb, and pulled out a plum. Although a good story, it is without foundation as the document recording the purchase of the manor by Thomas (not John) Horner is still retained in the manorial records of Mells.

However, along with the early history in Mells, my research also involved the historic links with Mells Manor during the early 20th century.

Mells Manor House and Church
Mells Manor House and Church

By the turn of the 20th century, Mells manor had passed to Sir John Francis Horner with his wife Lady Frances Horner. Prior to this, the family had been living in the Georgian ‘Mells Park House’ but in around 1900 Sir John and Lady Horner moved back to the old manor house and set about restoring it back into a family home. Lady Frances decided to engage her good friend Edwin Lutyens to undertake the alterations.

Sir Edwin Lutyens and Lady Horner
Sir Edwin Lutyens and Lady Horner

Lutyens added a Loggia with Tuscan columns and an outdoor sleeping area, as well as updating the interior of the 16th century manor house (where Charles I had stayed in 1644) with new bathrooms and kitchens, along with heating and electric light.

Amongst the surroundings of a newly updated manor house and the improvements to the gardens, Sir John and Lady Horner welcomed many family and friends to Mells at this time. Lady Horner was particularly known for her hospitality and with her connections to the artistic world, plus the family links to notable families of the age, Mells Manor is often highlighted as one of the country houses representing the golden Edwardian age before the horrors of the First World War. This is particularly poignant as Lady Francis Horner wrote of that time at Mells ‘…as if the sun always shone’, which contrasts sadly with the great loss they suffered in the First World War.

The designs of Sir Edwin Lutyens feature across Mells, and this is particularly noted in the war memorials in the parish church, St Andrews. In 1916, Lutyens completed a bronze wreath (with lettering by Eric Gill) to Raymond Asquith, eldest son of Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith (and husband to Katharine Horner, daughter of Sir John and Lady Horner) who died fighting in September 1916 at the beginning of the Somme offensive.

Memorial to Edward Horner, with base by Sir Edwin Lutyens
Memorial to Edward Horner, with base by Sir Edwin Lutyens (photo by Tom Oates)

Sadly, the following year Lutyens was asked to complete another memorial, this time to Edward Horner, son of Sir John and Lady Horner, who died during the Battle of Cambrai in 1917. Lutyens completed the base of the memorial, which was then topped with an equestrian statue of Edward Horner by Alfred Munnings. Significantly, the base by Lutyens much resembles his most famous war memorial, The Cenotaph in London, appearing as a miniature version of the world-famous landmark in Whitehall.

Lutyens completed a number of other projects in Mells, including a public shelter, in honour of Mark Horner, youngest son of Lord and Lady Horner, who died at the age of 16 in 1908, but given Lutyens’s reputation for war memorials, it is not a surprise to learn that he was also responsible for the Grade II* listed Mells village war memorial. It was completed in 1921 and features a tall column topped by a figure of St George slaying the dragon, surrounded by a curved wall with a yew hedge behind. On the central panel is an inscription to the lost of Mells:

“We died in a strange land facing the dark cloud of war and this stone is raised to us in the home of our delight”

The names of the fallen soldiers were then inscribed on panels to the side. Additional plaques were added in 1945 for those lost during the Second World War.

The contribution by Lutyens in Mells was significant, and in 1933 Lady Horner expressed her sentiment about him by saying: ‘Both in London and in the country he has beautified every house I had anything to do with, and the village of Mells owes a great deal to his skill.’

Mells War Memorial (photography by Tom Oates)
Mells War Memorial (photo by Tom Oates)