Wednesday, 26 June 2013

The unusual story of a house with an Irish name

Rathmore House on the High Street in Hoddesdon has links in the past with the church ... but how did it come to have an Irish-sounding name? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Patrick Comerford

I have been at the High Leigh Conference Centre five times in the past seven years (2006, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2013). Strolling through Hoddesdon again yesterday afternoon, I wondered once again how Rathmore House on the High Street came to have such an Irish-sounding name.

The house is striking visually because of the woodwork at the entrance doorway, which is a good example of the Queen Anne Style, although it is Georgian and dates from 1743. The brickwork around the windows has beautiful pointing, and at the top there is an interesting cornice.

Today, Rathmore House is the offices of a solicitors’ practice. But to many generations in Hoddesdon, this house at 56 The High Street was known as “the Doctor’s House.” I still have to discover how it came to be known as Rathmore House, but I learned earlier recently that one of the many doctors who practiced there and who helped to popularise it being called “the Doctor’s House” lived at High Leigh.

An early tenant in 1467 was Walter Fader, who held the property under Sir John Say. He was buried in Amwell Church, and it was in his grave that William Shakespeare’s friend William Warner was buried in 1608.

The original house was bequeathed by some unknown owner to the Guardians of the Chapel in Hoddesdon, and they held onto it until the old house tumbled down in 1739.

In 1743, the ground was let by the parish to John Borham, who was given a building lease for 99 years at £1 a year. He built this interesting, three-storey house, with its fine Doric doorcase, and his initials are interlaced in the fretwork over the door. John Borham built a fine new house, a three-storey structure in red brick. Above the doorcase, he also engraved the date 1746 in Roman numerals.

Borham owned the Lynch Mill, and is believed to have been the son of an earlier John Borham, who had built the Quaker Meeting House in Marsh Lane. (The present Quaker Meeting House is at the end of Lord Street, on the walk from High Leigh into Hoddesdon.)

By January 1812, the house was owned by Dr James of High Ground – the house now known as High Leigh only acquired that name after it was bought by Robert Barclay from the missionary and banking family, in 1871. Dr James had previously brought smallpox vaccinations to Hoddesdon, and he became the first of a long line of doctors to practice at Rathmore House.

However, a special vestry meeting when it was found that several entries in the vestry book had been erased so that it appeared Rathmore House was held on a 500-year lease and not on a 99-year lease.

The discovery led to a fraught dispute, and Dr James pointed out that he had bought the house in the belief that he held it on a 500-year lease – the 99-year lease was due to run out by 1843.

The dispute between the doctor and the vestry ran on for almost three years, and was only resolved through the mediation of Thomas Nicholson, steward to Lord Salisbury, the local magnate.

When the original lease ran out in 1843, the property was sold to a Mr Stokes. But the house continued to be used by a succession of GPs for their practice. They included Dr William Locke from Penzance, who came from the same family as the philosopher John Locke; Dr William Gosse, who emigrated to Australia; Dr Robert Ingram Stevens; Dr Manning, Dr WH Sturge and Dr L West.

Dr Gosse later emigrated to Australia. One of his children was a land surveyor and became the first European to climb Uluru, which he named Ayres Rock.

Dr Manning was largely instrumental in starting the Hoddesdon Dispensary for the benefit of the poorer people of the town, and the surgery continued until the advent of the National Health Service.

Rathmore House remained the “Doctor’s House” in Hoddesdon until the mid-20th century, when it was superseded by purpose-built surgeries. It now houses the solicitor’s practice, Duffield Harrison, and the house retains its Georgian elegance. However, I still have to find out why it was given a name with such Irish resonances.

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