The latest batch of work includes a late nineteenth century terrace of workers' cottages in Compton, Surrey. As we have often found, a comparatively humble home can reveal an interesting history.
Now known as Puttock's Cottages after the man who had them built in the 1880s, they stand on a plot that was taken from the waste (common land) of the manor of Westbury, probably in the eighteenth century. At that time, this was an area of unenclosed common known as the Pease Marsh and several other houses nearby originated in the same way: as squatter enclosures that were not authorised by the lord of the manor.
As time went on, the lord acknowledged their existence and in 1809 granted them a formal tenure. This enabled the tenants to have legal title to their property and it also gave the lord a small income from what had been an unproductive piece of land.
The original house was still standing in the 1910s, when the Inland Revenue valuer came to visit, but it was in poor condition and by 1935 it had been demolished, leaving only the new row of Puttock's Cottages on the site.
The earlier owners of the plot were found firstly by using the records of the manor of Westbury and then uncovering their wills, whilst parish registers help to complete the picture of them and their family.
We are currently working on three houses. The first is an ex-vicarage, the earliest reference for which comes from the late twelfth century. The second is in the New Forest and was built on a new site in the 1890s. The third was an early seventeenth century timber farmed farmhouse deep in the Weald of Surrey. Three very contrasting properties.
When a vicarage house was built is not known but a document of 1195 strongly suggests that there was one on the site of the current building by then. Whether any traces of this medieval structure still remains hidden in the foundations of the present house is unknown as it has been changed and adapted many times over the centuries. We can be sure, though, that the Old Vicarage is a place of great antiquity.
There have been fifty-five vicars since the first known, a man named William, resigned the post in 1185, the majority of whom have lived for at least some of their time as vicar in the house or in its predecessors. Some lead exemplary lives, faithfully serving the needs of their parishioners, while others were less than popular and have been forced from office because of their religious views. Others have been colourful characters making significant contributions to local and national life.
The house itself has not built in one piece but, rather like the broom that has had four new heads and two new handles, it has been changed and adapted with new additions made at various times over the centuries. It is these changes that have created the intriguing and complicated house that we see today.
The house in the New Forest was built by a stockbroker who had done well for himself and who wanted to have his place in the country. In 1895, he bought over fifty acres of field and woodland on which he had the house built. He also created a park around his new home with a lake, specimen trees and cottages for his employees. Genealogical research has given us details of his family history and information about his successors at the house. This is inevitably a much shorter history but it serves to show that even comparatively recent houses can have an interesting past.
The records relating to the Surrey farmhouse are not plentiful but, nonetheless, a sequence of family wills have enable us to trace its ownership back to the early part of the seventeenth century, around the time the house was built. It remained in the same family for hundreds of years until the nineteenth century when it was taken in to the estate of the Lock-King family, a descendent of which had to sell it, along with much of his other property, to finance the building of the Brooklands motor racing circuit in Weybridge.
With these three interesting houses, and two others waiting in the wings, we are keeping ourselves busy!
We have recently begun working on the history of two houses in South Audley Street in the West End of London, near Mayfair and Hyde Park. This is not our first venture into London and it is an exciting change from our more usual research into rural and small-town houses.
London was growing rapidly in the eighteenth century and high demand encouraged the adoption of the building-lease method of development. Despite the high demand, landowners did not want to take the risk of developing their estates themselves, so they would lease portions of their land to builders or developers for terms of, typically, 61 or 99 years. These men would then erect the houses to sublet to the occupiers. The builder paid for the lease and an annual ground rent that was applied thereafter. During the lifetime of the lease, he would gain the rental income from his houses but, when the lease came to an end, the land and its buildings would revert to the landowner. However, such was the demand for houses that there were easy profits at minimal risk to be made by both developer and landowner. Despite outwardly smart appearances, the building lease system encouraged a poor standard of construction because the developer had no incentive to erect good quality houses that would ultimately end up in the hands of the landlord. Builders became adept at creating houses at the lowest possible cost but which were still attractive and comfortable enough to sublet at a good price. Georgian houses were not always as well built as people like to think!
The work on the house in Littleton (see below) has brought forth an interesting case from the records of the Court of Chancery that took place in 1661. It revolves around an attempt made some thirty years earlier by Thomas Chaundler, Richard Bromfeild's brother-in-law, to have the house and its farm passed to his son rather than to any offspring that the childless Bromfeild may have in the future. Richard rather unwisely agreed to this proposal but his action came home to roost when he was on his death bed in 1661 and his son went to court to claim the property. All human life is here!
We are working on two interesting but contrasting houses at the moment. One, very local for us in Littleton near Guildford, is a timber-framed chimney building that dates from the early seventeenth century and which was once the main house of the Loseley estate’s Orange Court Farm.
The extensive Loseley collection at the Surrey History Centre is a treasure trove for the local historians of southwest Surrey. It includes a beautiful map of the farm made in 1735, some early deeds and the records of the Manor of Loseley. These records have enabled us to identify the builder of the house as Richard Bromfeild, a well-to-do tenant farmer who also had property of his own in Guildford. The collection has also taken the story back to before 1400 when John Orenge held what was then a much larger property.
The other house is very different. The core of the building dates from the 1790s and was built high on the cliffs near Deal in Kent as a semaphore, a part of the network of signal houses constructed as part of this country’s defences during the Napoleonic Wars. During the nineteenth century, after the semaphore system was made redundant by the invention of the electric telegraph, it was converted into cottages to house members of the Coast Guard. During the 1870s, it was further changed to become the bijou summer residence of Lord Granville, Warden of the Cinque Ports who named it Villa Vita after his daughter.
One very interesting twentieth century owner was the managing director of Rolls Royce, Claude Johnson, who enlarged the house massively and made it one of the hubs of high society in the early 1920s. The place hummed with life during that period. After the Second World War, it was converted to a hotel and was then reduced in size during what was a difficult period for owners of large houses. High on its hill overlooking the coast of France, it remains a beautiful and much loved home.
Since March, the work on the Wallingford house has progressed. A manorial survey of 1550 at the National Archives and a map of 1665 in the Bodleian Library have given us the names of the tenants at those times. Using other sources, we have found that William Fetyplace was a sixteenth century gentleman, a member of a prominent landowning family, who did not live at the house but for whom it was but one part of his property portfolio. A century and a half later, it was held by Edward Commin, a man of more humble background but for whom, again, it was not his home. He was living Streatley and evidently rented out the house and its half acre of land.
Research on the Winkfield house has yielded a great deal of information about the various people who have owned and lived there but, sadly, it has not been possible to track down any old pictures of the property. It is now time to marshall all these facts and write the story.
Since March we have been asked to research two more houses. One is near Deal in Kent and the other very conveniently situated round the corner from our second home, the Surrey History Centre!
March saw us begin work on two contrasting Berkshire houses. One, near Ascot, is from the last quarter of the nineteenth century and was once a farmhouse. The farm itself had been recently established having being created after the 1817 enclosure of that part of Windsor Forest within the parish of Winkfield. The enclosure map and award shows how the vast area of common land was divided up amongst local property owners and shows the rectangular shape of the land holdings that survive today. Old newspapers, census returns and other genealogical sources have provided information about successive owners and occupiers, whilst maps show how the plan of the farm yard and the houses have changed over the decades.
The other house is a complete contrast, being a two cell, one-and-a-half storey thatched house near Wallingford. Again, parish enclosure documents and tithe survey of the 1840s and 50s give us the names of the owners and occupiers, as well as a lead into the local manor records and few surviving deeds. So far, the story has been taken back to the 1770s but there is a possibility that a manor survey in the National Archives may take us back to 1550.
We started work on this commission some time ago but it was only this month that we arranged to visit the house. This was to produce the most exciting find so far: the Department of the Environment listing states that it dates from the seventeenth century but a brief glance inside revealed that it is a cruck house. This is an early form of timber structure that was commonly used in the medieval period. This means that it dates from the mid sixteenth century at the latest but is almost certainly much earlier.
Houndless Water near Haslemere, Surrey, is a seventeenth century chimney house that was once attached to a large area of land that spanned the county boundary with Sussex. At the end of the sixteenth century the Sussex part was separated to become a distinct property. In the 1640s, there was a similar change when Surrey portion was subdivided to leave the house with a much reduced holding of about 50 acres.
At the National Archives at Kew, there is a probate inventory from 1679 that records the household belongings of John Farnden who had lived and farmed Houndless Water since the 1640s. This was an exciting find as probate inventories are comparatively rare in Surrey and it is rarer still to be able to be able to assign one to a particular house with any degree of certainty.
It is a difficult document for not only is the handwriting poor but also the document itself has suffered from damp and the ink has fallen off the parchment leaving just a faint stain in many places. An ultra-violet lamp helped show up the words but it took many hours to decipher. However, most of the work is now done and it shows that Mr Farnden lived in quite a spartan house, despite being well-off compared to many of his neighbours. The main room of his house, the hall, had just a table, a form and a few chairs although his bed chamber had a few more comforts with the most valuable piece of furniture: the bed and its fittings. The seventeenth century saw winters cold enough to freeze the tidal Thames and beds and bedding figure largely in the inventories of that period.