The House

This house was designed in 1873. Waterhouse was prepared to modify his own ideas for a client’s wishes. Jackson may have envisaged the rectangular three-storey block of Palladian proportions in the Classical style of red brick with stone dressings, which stands today. The houses built by Waterhouse for his wealthy clients were solid and comfortable.

 

Extract from:

            Alfred Waterhouse 1830-1905 The Biography of a Practice

             By Dr C J K Cunningham and Prudence Waterhouse

At Easenhall, near Rugby for an American client, Waterhouse set aside a whole design for a new house in favour of one that is quite untypical. The final design was for a rectangular three-storey block of Palladian proportions with a Classical centrepiece and some French Renaissance detailing. He gave it variety by the range of bay windows, two of single storey to the façade, two of two storeys to the west and one full height one to each end of the south and east façades, the latter placed asymmetrically. The freestanding tower also added to the picturesque asymmetry. The plan, too, was quite unusual. A porte-cochere leads to a panelled entrance hall which in turn opens into a long gallery running through the heart of the house to the bay at the centre of the garden front. On one side he placed three rooms designed to be used en-suite, and on the other two large rooms and a staircase that opened directly off the gallery.

The total amount of designing time came to 203.5 days spread between Waterhouse himself and eleven of his draughtsmen. That is a significant amount of time, and a substantial team, but not out of the ordinary for a house of its size. Waterhouse himself charged 160.5 days, slightly more than usual, presumably the result of the abandonment of one design at a quite late stage.

 

The overall plan would have included a straggle of buildings, coal and wood stores, ash house, stables and lodges. No doubt, horses and carriages were kept for transport. The stables were at the far end where the Garden Wing now stands. The coachman and his family lived above the stables. A man who, as a child, lived in the now demolished Lodge by the back gate remembers the cellars where the boilers were situated and where the coke was stored. He would accompany his father who was caretaker at the time, to stoke up the fires.

The walled garden and accompanying potting sheds and greenhouse was typical of the Victorian era. Wealthy Victorians employed armies of gardeners to provide the kitchens with vegetables all year round and to produce an array of exotic fruit. The garden was walled in order to protect the produce from theft. Large greenhouses stood against the south-facing wall. Boilers powered by coal were well designed and efficient. The extensive grounds were designed as parkland, a shallow duck pond provided interest.

The line of sheds was used to house tools and pots and for storage of vegetables. The little room at the far eastern end was probably a bothy for temporary accommodation of labourers. There were four lodges, all identical and matching the features of the Mansion. One of the lodges was across the paddock from the walled garden and would have been for the Head Gardener, in 1876, a Mr William Liggins. Railway Lodge was the main gatehouse. The half-mile drive ran straight up and down a gentle hill along an avenue of sycamore trees. The verges were planted with daffodils which have multiplied through the years to provide a wide carpet of yellow in the springtime. The Lodge at the canal was the gamekeeper’s. Eyewitness accounts from the days when the mansion was a private home report weasel skins hanging out to dry. The gardener’s lodge no longer exists. It was demolished in the early 1970s due to its derelict condition, but also so that another building could be erected. This is the detached house on the north side and was for the resident Caretaker of the school.

Extract from:

            Alfred Waterhouse 1830-1905 The Biography of a Practice

             By Dr C J K Cunningham and Prudence Waterhouse

Excluding the site and architect’s fees, the cost of building the house seems relatively cheap:  £7149/19/11, but this is not a definitive figure as not all the bills are available. It was probably much higher. Some unspecified alterations were carried out later. A workroom was added and a garden wall built in 1885, costing £431.The general contractor was a Mr Horsman. G N Haden of Trowbridge, one of the leading engineers of the day provided central heating, main boiler and ventilation. Stoves and fires were by D O Boyd of London; plaster ceiling roses by another leading firm J W Hindshaw.

Three of the main manufacturers of ornamental tiles were involved. The largest payment was to Craven Dunnill & Co, who had works in Ironbridge. Smaller payments were made to Minton, Hollins & Co, perhaps the best known of all Victorian tile-makers and to MJ Allen a celebrated maker of ‘Art Tiles’.  W H Burke of London and Paris supplied the marble chimneypieces. Hart Son and Peard made some of the ornamental ironwork. All the firms chosen were of good standing, and favourites of Waterhouse. He used them to fulfil many of his commissions.            

           

Information by kind permission of Dr Cunningham

Alfred Waterhouse 1830-1905

The Biography of a Practice.

 

Waterhouse called the edifice Easenhall Hall. At some point it became known as Town Thorns, taking its name from the wood visible from the top of the front drive. The early meaning of town was a ‘place’. The wood may have held an abundance of hawthorn, blackthorn and buckthorn trees, a place of thorns, hence the connotation ‘Town Thorns’.

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