21 June 2011

Houses with history in Hoddesdon

Walking back to High Leigh in the mid-summer sunshine (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Patrick Comerford

I am staying the High Leigh Conference Centre in Hertfordshire, where I am attending the annual conference of USPG. The house dates back to at least the 1870s, when it was bought by the Barclay banking family. But the nearby village of Hoddesdon has many older buildings, and the High Street is lined with timber-framed, black-and-white Tudor houses and pubs, dating back to the mid-16th century.

Rawdon House, Hoddesdon, built in 1622 and extended and restored 1879-1887 ... seen through the Victorian arch on the north side of the house (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

I took some time off this afternoon. Well it is Mid-Summer’s Day, and the sun was shining. One of the houses I wanted to see again is a 17th century house at No 38 High Street, Rawdon House, which was built in1622 by the merchant adventurer, Sir Marmaduke Rawdon (1582-1646).

The town benefited from his philanthropic provision of a new water supply and repairs to the town chapel and the town hall. He put money into building the New River, he gave the town its fresh water supply, flowing from the urn of a statue known as the Samaritan Woman, and he helped to build a Market House.

After fighting as a royalist in the English civil war, he died in 1646. After the war a monument was erected in Faringdon church with a Latin epitaph: “Who lieth here? Rawdon, that Name suffices, What worth can comprehend, this tomb comprises.”

During the rest of the civil war, and throughout the Cromwellian era, his widow Elizabeth Rawdon remained firmly in residence at Hoddesdon.

In the mid-19th century, Sarah Stickney Ellis (1799–1872), a campaigner for women’s rights and educational reform, established a short-lived school at Rawdon House for the education of women in 1847. She described her principles and experiences in books such as The Wives of England, The Women of England, The Mothers of England, The Daughters of England and – of course – Rawdon House.

After her school came to an end, the red-brick mansion was extended and restored between 1879 and 1887 by Ernest George and Peto for Henry Ricardo, who was the owner of Rawdon House from 1875 to 1892. The house was sold to CP Christie in 1895 and remained unoccupied for three years.

In 1898, Rawdon House was bought for the Order of the Nuns of Saint Augustine and was renamed Saint Monica’s Priory. The nuns were canonesses of the Augustinian order, and during their time many of the original fittings were sold about a century ago, and three of the fireplaces bought by Sir Charles Wittewronge were set up at Rothamsted House in Harpenden.

The name of the convent survives in the neighbouring Roman Catholic parish church. Rawdon House is now used as offices, and despite the vandalism of the past century, many of its original Jacobean architectural features survive and there are traces of a knot garden to the rear.

Rawdon House, an L-plan building, is built of red brick, with stone dressings, and machine and terracotta tile roofs, and imitation Tudor chimney stacks. The Jacobean wing is five bays and is three-storeys high. The square porch is rusticated at ground-floor level with detached Doric columns on pedestals and the brick upper floor has Ionic columns.

There are canted two-storey window bays on each side with mullioned and transomed casements, crenellation and a continuous entablature. There are shaped gables to the attic, with the centre one is raised and pedimented, bearing a terracotta date plaque.

The rough-cast rear elevation has a full-height, square, central staircase tower. There are Tudor hood moulds and an arch-headed door with a scrolled date plaque. The much-restored 17th century interior includes a 19th century restored staircase with carved beasts on newel posts and figured strap-work panels. There is a good Ionic door-case on the first floor landing with strap-work pilasters and pedestals. There are also strap-work plaster ceilings to the ground and first floors. In the entrance hall, there is a Jacobean revival fireplace.

The Victorian wing of Rawdon House is a four-window, two-and-a-half storey wing with a south-facing elevation. One of its most visible features is a wide, rusticated carriage arch with detached Doric columns.

Historic public houses

Rathmore House ... where did it get such an Irish-sounding name? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Across the street from Rawdon House, the Golden Lion public house has a blue plaque and a sign proclaiming it dates back to the 1530s.

Further along High Street, Rathmore House (No 56) dates from the 1715, but there is no sign explaining why it has such an Irish-sounding name. This is a three-storey over cellar red-brick house with rubbed brick dressings, and an old tile hipped roof. The ornate Doric doorcase has fluted pilasters, triglyph frieze with patterned metopes – one with the date 1715.

The Conservative Club (No 76) has fine Tudor-style and timber-framed features. This Grade II listed building was built in 1635, but parts of it date back to the 16th century and the house was known in history as The Stanboroughs.

The Rye House plot

The most famous incident in the history of Hoddesdon may have been the Rye House Plot, which was a conspiracy in 1683 to assassinate King Charles II and his brother, the Duke of York, later James II, who had become a Roman Catholic.

The 1681 Exclusion Bill sought to exclude James from the succession, but Charles out-manoeuvred his opponents and dissolved Parliament. Many of those opponents were in disarray, and some fled to Holland.

Rye House, a manor house north-east of Hoddesdon, was owned by a well-known republican, Richard Rumbold, and it was said he planned to hide 100 men in the grounds of his house and ambush the king and the duke on their way back to London from a day at the races at Newmarket. But a fire in Newmarket forced the cancellation of the races, and the attack – if it had ever been planned – never took place. This did not stop Charles ordering the arrest of the suspects, many of whom were minor Whig leaders.

The Duke of Monmouth escaped to the continent, but Lord Russell, a son of the Earl of Bedford, Algernon Sidney, and Sir Thomas Armstrong were executed, Lord Grey escaped from the Tower of London, and the Earl of Essex died by suicide in the Tower. However, the whole plot may have been a fabrication of Charles II or his supporters to allow the removal of most of his strongest political opponents.

The judge at the trial was the “Hanging Judge,” Sir George Jeffreys, who has gone down in history with notoriety. James II eventually succeeded to the throne in 1685, but the excessive reactions to the Rye House Plot helped create the climate that led to the Revolution of 1688.

The White Swan ... a good place to sit reading the newspaper (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Through pubs and pathways

After my stroll through history along the High Street, I sat for a while in the White Swan, reading the Guardian. This is one of the many pubs in Hoddesdon dating back to the mid-16th century.

I strolled back up to High Leigh in the mid-summer sunshine through the public pathways by the river and through the woods and farms on the west of the town.

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