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Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Wanstead House


This is the tragic story of Wanstead House, a fabulous Great House which once stood in what is now Wanstead Park in suburban East London on the Essex border. It was recognised as one of the finest houses in Europe, a rival to Versailles. It's not there anymore and this the story of what the building and grounds were like and why the house is gone.
In England it was on a par with Kensington and Blenheim Palaces and it's architecture influenced the design of the Mansion House in central London, (the residence and office of the Lord Mayor of London).
Wanstead has been been occupied back into pre-history with stone-age flint axe-heads being discovered and a magnificent Roman mosaic was destroyed when Wanstead House was being developed. It was a Royal Deer Park bought by Henry VII in 1499 and his unruly son, the future Henry VIII, spent time there, where he could could be kept under parental control. There was a former palace on the site which was visited by Kings and Queens. Elizabeth I rode out there to meet her half-sister Mary with 1,000 knights on horse!
So the area was well-established when. in 1667 Sir Joshua Child, head of the fabulously wealthy East India Company purchased the estate which eventually fell into the hands of his son Sir Richard Child who commissioned the leading architect Colen Campbell to build a great house in 1715. It had a 60 feet wide portico supported by six Corinthian pillars in the neo-classical style which was quite innovative at that time and there were over 70 rooms. The estate passed down the family and it eventually came into the possession of the heiress Catherine Tylney-Long who, at the age of sixteen became the richest non-royal person in the land.
The old house and gardens in 1710 shortly before the new building was begun
Wanstead House at it's finest

Sir Richard Child & family at Wanstead House
By William Hogarth, 1738
The house was lavishly decorated with murals and painted ceilings and was furnished to an extremely high standard. Members of the French Bourbon family were guests when they had to escape the French Revolution.  Extensive grounds were laid out and a series of large inter-connected lakes were
created in the extensive grounds. Naturally Catherine had many suitors whom she rejected, including the future William IV, uncle to Queen Victoria. Eventually she succumbed to the charms of William Wellesley-Pole, nephew of the Duke of Wellington. The man was a complete scoundrel and as soon as he got his hands on the huge fortune he began to throw lavish parties and spending at an alarming rate. He eventually gambled away all of the money. At the age of 34 Catherine died of either suicide or a broken heart. Her ghost is said to haunts the area nowadays.
Bankruptcy meant the building had to be put up for sale in 1824. It had cost an incredible £360,000 to build but, as no buyer could be found, it was sold off brick-by-brick including all of the interior fittings, raising just £10,000. England had tragically lost one of it's greatest buildings.
Today the beautiful wild park is a tranquil place to stroll around the lakes or in the woods full of oak and sweet chestnut trees. There is plenty of wildlife to see including stoats, weasels and herons. A large part of Wanstead Park is now a golf course. The ruined grotto was where Robert Mitchum filmed the denouement of The Big Sleep. Although within in the London Borough of Redbridge it is officially a part of Epping Forest and is administered by the City of London Corporation. Many of the young families enjoying the bluebells and playing with their children have no idea of it's past and sad history.
All that remains on the grounds today are the ruined Grotto and the Temple, now a Museum
I'm listening to Bette Midler singing 
John Prine's lovely, sad song
Hello in There. You can hear it here.

8 comments:

Parnassus said...

Hello Bazza, So this great house barely lasted 100 years--what a shame! The pictures you show of it are quite impressive. I wonder if there are inventories of what the house contained, and whether any architectural woodwork, etc. that was removed is now identifiable as coming from Wanstead House.
--Jim

bazza said...

Hi Jim. Wansteadhouse.com has lots of information including a link to 'inventory'. It's a fairly unimpressive site but there are lots of links on the Internet, including Wikipedia, to Wanstead House and Wanstead Park.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Bazza - I'll need to come back and read this properly once May comes around and the frazzle and dazzle of A-Zing has gone! Sounds an interesting place to find out more about ... and obviously to read your thoughts here ... cheers Hilary

Starting Over, Accepting Changes - Maybe said...

The good thing is that now the land can be enjoyed by all the people, not just the rich and spoiled.

bazza said...

Hello Hilary. I'm surprised you even find the time to deal with your own Blog at the moment! I can hardly keep up with it myself so it's nice to hear from you at all.

bazza said...

Hi Arleen. Yes, that's right. It's lovely place to go and it's kind of a local 'secret' because it's well hidden from casual passers-by. Friends have told me that they kind of knew about but had never been there!

Sherry Ellis said...

What a magnificent place that must have been! I'm glad there are still historical records of it.

bazza said...

Hi Sherry. It certainly seems to have been magnificent. But at least we can now get to see the grounds and park whereas in the eighteenth century we wouldn't have got within a mile of it!