Old Park - Where the woods meet the sea

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OLD PARK UNDERWATHE - The History

  • In Brief
  • 1309 Charter issued for hawking,
  • 1340 Charter issued for hunting,
  • 1600 Farm buildings exist
  • 1791 Property of Sir Richard Worsley,
  • 1820 Gothic style introduced by Thomas Haddon,
  • 1865 Victorian wing added by General Sir John Cheape,
  • 1883 Estate purchased by retired German industrialist William Spindler for development as a new town, but only the esplanade and roads completed.
  • In 1889 the project was abandoned.
  • 1906 House failed to be sold by auction and remained empty.
  • 1947 House bought by Mr. W. E. Thornton and opened as a hotel
  • 1971 Family wing added by Mr. R. Thornton
  • 1978 Tropical Bird Park created on Lake and Walled Produce Garden
  • 1998 Bird Park closes
  • 1999 Hotel bought by Mr and Mrs Sharp

Setting the scene

The social life of the Island during the seventeenth century can best be described by quoting from the introduction to the Oglander Memoirs (1594 – 1648) by W. H. Long written in 1888. Isle of Wight Social Life during the 1600s

“After the defeat of the Spanish armada in 1588, a feeling of security from the annoyance of enemies sprang up, with the best effects on the prosperity and well being of the Island and its inhabitants. The custom of sending their families to the mainland on occasions of warlike alarms fell into disuse, and the result of this confidence in themselves and their rulers was the erection of such manor houses as Northcourt, Mottistone, Arreton, Yaverland, Sheat and others.”

At the beginning of the reign of Elizabeth I (date) the condition of the Island was deplorable, a state of general stagnation and decay; but by the efforts of the government and the beneficial and vigorous rule of Sir Edward Horsey (1565) and Sir George Carey (1588), before the accession of James I a tide of prosperity had set in, and “money was as plentiful in the yeoman’s purse as now in the best of the gentry, and all the gentry full of money and out of debt”, however Sir George appears to have overstepped his authority. This caused the gentlemen of the island to complain to the lords of the council demanding a bill of rights for the islanders.

Sir George Carey married Elizabeth, the daughter of Sir John Spencer, of Althorpe. There was a short period of depression towards the end of James I reign, which gradually passed away, and during the Civil Wars, through the immunity from the battles and sieges which disturbed the mainland, the island was one of the most flourishing places in the kingdom. Strangers from the neighbouring countries were attracted here by the prospect of peace and quite, trade increased and rents rose rapidly above the average, only to fall again after the Restoration.

The population of the island at this time was about 15-16,000 ( now 160,000). The houses were built of the native stone and, except those of the gentry, mostly thatched. Each cottage had a garden in which vegetables were grown, with the exception of potatoes, which, though introduced into England before the end of the sixteenth century, were for a long time found only in the gardens of the rich, and were not in common cultivation till nearly a hundred years later. In 1613 they were sold as luxuries at 2 shillings per pound. (this equals about a weeks wages). Bread was made of wheat flour, made at the local mills and farmers would have produced wheat, barley, oats, Pease, and vetches. The island possessed a good breed of horse for agricultural purposes, and was noted for its sheep. Corn and wool, celebrated for its fineness were the chief exports.

The functions of the Justices were more various and their authority much more extensive than today. They regulated the prices of labour and provisions, licensed ale houses and combined the duties of guardians of the poor and those of a local government board. Each parish was supposed to maintain its own roads, but this was so badly done that the roads had deep ruts and holes and in winter they were impassable by wheeled carriages. Nearly everyone travelled by horseback, the mistress on a pillion behind the master.

At this time the Under cliff swarmed with game – partridges, pheasants, curlews, plovers, gulls and other wildfowl. Deer were not plentiful except in the parks of the gentry. The skeleton of a deer was found at Old Park when excavations for the Tropical Bird park were made in 1978.

The defences and military strength of the Island were under the command of the Captain or his deputies and were far from inconsiderable. In the sixteenth century the Island was divided into ten districts called “Centons”. Each was commanded by a “centoner”, who was always an Island Resident landowner, and who had under him a lieutenant and from 150-200 men, with a number of “hoblers” or watchmen, mounted on “hobbies” or small horses, who were perpetually on the alert to give warning of the approach of the enemy. Each centoner exercised his company at least once a month, and was duty bound to see that the field gun of each parish in his district was provided with ammunition and was ready for service. At the time of the Spanish Armada the local militia amounted to nearly 2000, with 3000 more available from the mainland.

Waths and wards, with beacons ready for firing, were kept on all the downs and headlands, and every point and creek was carefully guarded. The watchmen, with loaded muskets and lighted matches, were changed at sunrise and sunset. A “searcher” visited them twice during the day and three times at night. The local watch for the Undercliff was at Cripple.

When OLD PARK was first named is still a mystery, but it must have been a part of the Manor of Wathe, a comparatively large estate within the district known as the Undercliff, an area extending from Dunnose in the east to a farm called Knowle in the west a distance of nearly six miles.

Speed's map of the Island defines the whole area of the Undercliff as St. Lawrence Park, and I believe that when the Worsley Family developed the Appuldurcombe Estate, creating a 'new park', they referred to their land in the Undercliff as the 'old park'. One of the earliest references ( Worsley appendix LVII) is contained in a charter of Alwarie de Newton, vel(lata) Niton, granting lands subfalacia, that is 'under the cliff' at Niton. The charter is recorded as of the time of Henry III, but could be as early as 1161. The name ' Underwathe ' occurs in another charter ( Whitehead p.l. ) by William de Vernon, Earl of Devon, to the monks of Lyra, one of the Norman Abbeys:-" Be it known to all present, and to come, that I, William, Earl of Devon, and Lord of the Isle of Wight, have given all the tithes of my Lordships in the Island, which are known to belong to the same monks of Bovecombe, of Rockeshale, and of Underwathe in corn.

It would appear ( Whitehead p.l. ) from a Subsidy Roll of Edward III (1327) that the designation WATHE signified the lands below the cliffs, extending from the Manor of Bonchurch on the east, to Niton on the west, hi the assessment list of the Villata de Wathe for the Feudal Aid of 1327, the names of Roberto de Merable, of Mirables, Niton, and Willo de Holeway, of Bonchurch, are included. The Feudal Aid of 1431 refers to Radalphus Dynelay having seized of a free tenement in Suthwathe, a property which was Wolverton Manor.

Throughout this small strip of land, some six miles long, there are no less that six seperate parish boundaries extending to the sea, and are referred to in the Subsidy Roll of 1327 as the Villata de Bonechirche, de Steple, de Wathe, de Whitewelle and de Nyweton, plus the Parish of St. Lawrence.

It is generally thought that original parishes were formed from the shape of the estate of the local manor, as a manor is never found in more than one parish, although a parish can contain more that one estate.

One explanation for the need of inland parishes to reach the sea is that wreckage rights must have been of importance to the lords of the manor, as of self sufficiency, enabling each to have arable land, woodland and fishing. Also we know that from the earliest period ' wrecks of the sea, waifs and strays ' pertained to the lordship of the Island. At an inquisition ( Hillier p.95. ) taken on the death of Baldwin de Redvers, 47 Henry III (1263), the jurors also say ' that the wreck of the sea belonging to the lord of the castle is worth 4s. per annum. During the Island tenure ( Hillier p.97 ) by Isabella de Fortibus the claim was contested by the Abbot of Quarr, by John de Insula of Bonchurch, by Thomas de Aula of St. Lawrence, and by the Lady Matilda de Estur of Southwathe (Old Park ), Whitwell, Undercliffe, on the plea that each of them was entitled to one half of whatever should be wrecked on their respective lands as a compensation or salvage for preserving the other half for the use of the lord of the Island.

The trial took place before the Justices Itinerant at Winchester, 8 Edward I (1280), when Isabella, countess of Albermarle, was summoned to show to the Lord, the King, by what warrant she thus claimed to have wreck of the sea. And Isabella comes and saith that she and all her ancestors, from the time of King Richard, and also before that time, always unto the present time have had their wreck of the sea in her fee of the Isle of Wight without any interruption. This the Justices confirmed.

An area, as yet undefined, is referred to in the Worsley accounts as Fryelands, and we find that a tenant of Lady Matilda, was John le Frye held an 8th. part of one fee in Gatcombe, could this be the Gatcombe land of Old Park?

A return stating the Watches and Wardes that are now kept in our Island 20th. September 1638 gives Sir Henry Worsley having at Apeldurcombe a watch of 2 men. At Cripple at Niton, a watch of 2 men. (Cripple is on the upper cliff, west of the Old Park.) As mentioned Old Park is in the parish of Whitwell, which in ancient times, itself formed part of the extensive manor of Gatcombe. Evidence of this is shown in the tithes paid by the owners and were for several plots of land within the estate. The church of Whitwell was not licensed for burials, and found in the parish chest was a decree stating that;- the people of Whitwell on Gatcombe land must be buried at Gatcombe and the rest buried at Godshill. Needless to say that this has caused difficulty in placing accurately the residence of some people.

Old Park Farm

As a farm, OLD PARK, is quite small being around 144 acres, but it had all the qualities for being successful as we can see from the rental commanded. There are three strong sources of water rising from the base of the cliffs, and these vary very little whatever the annual rainfall. With pockets of very fertile soil amongst the outcrops of rock, sheltered by the cliffs to the north, and warmed by the Gulf Stream on the shore, the growing of a good quality corn seems to have been the main income. The survey, for Sir Richard Worsley in 1774, made by William Watts, surveyor, states that 84 acres were used for arable, 46 for pasture, and 10 acres for woods.

This survey also shows the complexity of the tithe payments, and these payments were upheld until the tithe redemption act in 1952, see court order against William Thornton.

There follows several extracts from the Worsley papers relating to Old Park

1678 - Rack Rents of Robert Coleman, his arrears due on my last amount of Lady Day for Old Park 1678 £51.05.00. and for his years rent due at Lady Day 1679 £76.10.00. in all £127.15.00. Money dispursed N.B. A rack rent is a rent stretched to the utmost value of a property

1678 - Deducted by Robert Coleman the 17 months tax charged on Old Park £4.16.08. of Robert Coleman for three quarters of a years rent yonder for Old Park this also being part of that joynture, but the rent arrears to the Lady day Quarterly Midsomer 1678 was paid her £60.00.00. arrears

N.B. A joynture is property settled by a husband on his wife at their marriage for her use after her husband's death.
1680 - Robert Coleman his arrears out on my last account of Lady Day £41.10.00. and
for a years rent due at Lady Day 1681 for Old Park £76.10.00. total £118.00.00.

Quit-rents due at Michaelmass Of Richard Coleman for a year at Michaelmass
for Mounts £000.06.00. more for Freelands £000.04.00.

N.B. A Quit-rent is a contra account repaying work done by a tenant
Mounts and Freelands were both properties in Whitwell Undercliff

1685 Robert Coleman’s arrears £85.15s OOd. at Michalmass 1685
for Old Park £153.00.00. total £238.15.00. Paid £164.10.00 arrears £74.5.00.

Rack Rents1684
Richard Coleman's widow, her arrears £22.00.00 and for two years at Michalmass for Freeland £44.00.00 total £66.00.00.

1691 Deducted by Robert Coleman your first payment of your Aid of 1651 702.10s charged on Old Park £3.16.00

Nettlecombe and Wathe old rents
Robert Coleman half a year ended at Michaelmas 1693 £000.05.00

After the death of Sir Richard Worsley in 1803, the property was inherited by his niece Henrietta, who married Charles Anderson Pelham in 1806, whose main seat was Brockleby in Lincolnshire. As founder and first Commodore of the Royal Yacht Squadron, he kept Appledurcombe as a convenient base for his sailing at Cowes. In 1809 part of the estate was put up for sale, and this consisted of some 2300 acres, and in the sale copy we find that Old Park was in the occupation of Mr John Harvey, on lease, until Michealmas 1826. However the property was recorded to be in very good condition and it was purchased by, what appears to be, three speculators Sir Richard Bassett, Mr. Robert Clarke and Mr. Young but it was not until 24th.December 1817 when John Harvey died, that serious interest was taken. Messrs. Bassett, Clarke and others formed the Isle of Wight Provident Bank on October 2°* 1817. This eventually became the National Provincial Bank.

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SEVERAL OWNERS OF OLD PARK

Towards the end of the 18th century it became fashionable to have property on the coast, and led by the Prince Regent, people with money started to acquire or build houses by the sea, and these were known as marine residences. On the Island Sir Richard Worsley chose St. Lawrence to build his marine villa, and it was fitted out 'in a style worthy of his refined taste' he adorned it with a gateway by Inigo Jones, brought from Hampton Court; a pavilion, called the seat of Virgil, ornamented with a bust of that poet; and a Grecian greenhouse, copied from the temple of Neptune at Corinth. Of these only the greenhouse and pavilion remain, says Barber in his "Picturesque Illustrations of the Isle of Wight". A fort was built upon the lawn, and six cannon guns were mounted, a gift of King George III. The standard of the 'villa' is obvious by the guests that visited the house and grounds. John Green in his reminiscences written in 1847, recalls that early in the century the Duke of York visited St.Lawrence with a long train of attendants, and in 1825 the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge paid a visit to a public breakfast on the lawn. In 1832 their Royal Highnesses the Duchess of Kent and Princess Victoria came round from Cowes in the Royal Yacht together with several of the Royal Yacht Squadron. The guns fired a Royal Salute.

THOMAS HADDAN

Following the death of John Harvey in 1817, Old Park was a desirable property, and around 1820 was purchased by;-THOMAS HADDAN Very little is known about this gentleman, except that he was a London solicitor, and he followed the fashion of having a seaside retreat. He and his wife purchased the farmhouse and set about converting it to a private residence. By all accounts they spent much time in building, changing and modifying their ideas, and as we see the house and grounds were to receive great changes. A large pond was dug out to the north and a circular structure, seen to the east was moved to the northern shore as a thatched belvedere where they could view the pond, stocked, no doubt with fish and ornamental ducks and swans. The original farmyard was moved to its present position to remove any obstruction of the sea, and down on the foreshore a seawater-bathing pool was constructed together with a mill. George Brannon in his earlier works of Vectis Scenery 1831 states that " Old Park is the newly-formed residence of THOMAS HADDON, esq. situated considerably below the public road, towards the sea. The house is handsomely built, and the ground highly varied and profusely planted". Mark William Norman in his memoirs blames Mrs. Hatton (Haddan) for much of the expense with her whims and caprices in causing portions of the building to be pulled to pieces and altered to suit her ideas. This and an unfortunate speculation caused the proprietor to be reduced to bankruptcy around 1832.

CAPTAIN BOWLES

The only reference ever found is by Mark William Norman who states that Captain Bowles purchased the property, and that he was an Irishman.

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CAPTAIN BEARD

Again the only reference comes from the memory of Norman, who saw him in 1835, in the last stages of consumption and recalls a visit at Christmas time when the Captain gave the servants leave to invite a few friends to supper, which was partaken in the house, after which a dance was improvised in an apartment over the coach house. About eight or nine couples were mustered, and their orchestra consisted of one fiddle performed upon by the old gardener, one Westbrook, a man standing over six feet tall and remarkably stout. He had a low bass voice and spoke his words or sentence very slowly. He dressed after the fashion of the day, a large festian coat with immense pockets, a waistcoat of the same material, cord breeches and gaiters. He was a capital fiddler, and on this occasion played his best and the company danced all night until broad daylight.

JOSHUA HORTON

The first owner mentioned in the deeds where he is described as a boiler and gasometer maker late, of Handsworth, Staffordshire, who at the time of his death, the third day of March 1843, was the owner of the said freehold hereditaments with their appurtances. The tythes of 1837 state that Joshua Horton was the owner responsible and that William Reynolds was the occupier, probably of the farm. The History of Thomas Piggott and Co Ltd. claims to have commenced business in 1822 as the Swallow Foundry at Spring Hill, Birmingham, owned by Joshua Horton, and that about 1826 built the first gas holder for the Chartered Gas Co, Horseferry Road, London, and that it was 40 feet in diameter. The census of 1841 for Handsworth, Staffordshire, has Joshua Horton living at 'Island House', where he died of Apoplexy; his death certificate gives his occupation as Coal Master

JAMES WALKINSHAW

Although Joshua Horton was the owner, and William Reynolds the occupier, the census of 1841 gives James Walkinshaw as the person in residence at the house with his wife Barbara and two children Elizabeth and Helen, also Elizabeth aged 45, who was possibly his sister. All the adults were born in Scotland. William Reynolds living at the farm. The deeds refer to a suit pending in the High Court of Chancery dated 21st July 1863 where one James Walkinshaw was the defendant. The plaintiffs were members of the Dawes family who were trustees of Joshua Horton. A decree or order was made by Vice Chancellor Wood that the property ought to be sold for the benefit of the infant Plaintiffs, and that a proper conveyance be executed to Sir John Cheape. The census of 1851 again gives William Reynolds as a farmer of 100 acres, but the house is recorded as uninhabited. Perhaps the Walkinshaws were away on the night of the census.

GENERAL SIR JOHN CHEAPE

Born in 1792, the son of John Cheape of Rossie, Fifeshire, he was educated at Woolwich and Addiscombe, and entered the Bengal Engineers as a Second Lieutenant on 3rd November 1809. He first served in Lord Hastings campaigns against the Pindarrees, and was present at the sieges of Dhamouni and Mondela in 1815 and 1816. He next served with the Nerbudda field force under General Adams in 1817, and under Sir John Doveton and Sir John Malcombe in 1818, and was present at the siege of Asseerghur, after which he was promoted to captain on 1st March 1821, In 1824 he was ordered to Burma, and served through the three deadly campaigns of the first Burmese War. The following 20 years were spent as an engineer with no active service, however his promotion continued becoming a Major in 1830, Lieutenant Colonel in 1834 and Colonel in 1844. In 1848, Sir John happened to be employed in the Punjab, when the siege of Mooltan was determined upon. He was at once appointed chief engineer and conducted the operation, which led to the fall of that fortress. He then joined the army under Lord Gough, and though an engineer officer and chief engineer with the army, it was Cheape who directed the murderous artillery fire which won the battle of Goojerat. Lord Gough mentioned his services in his dispatches and he was made a C.B. and an aide de camp to the Queen. When the second Burmese war broke out in 1852 he was made a Brigadier general and appointed second in command to General Godwin. Following his successful attack on Pegu, which ended the war, Cheape was promoted to Major general on 20th June 1854, he received a medal and clasp and was made K.C.B. he then left India after 46 years service. He established himself on the Isle of Wight, and after being promoted to Lieutenant general on 24th May 1859, and general on 6th December 1866, he was made G.C.B. in 1865.

In 1835, Sir John married his first wife, Amelia Frances Plowden, daughter of Trevor Crichley Plowden, of the Bengal Civil Service, and they had two daughters. The eldest Elizabeth Dalyell married Alexander Stewart and died the same year. The younger, Annette Louise chose Old Park as the venue for her wedding to James Raphael Stewart on October 12th 1869. This must have been a great gathering of the Scottish Clans as her half brother, John Henry, had married Kathleen Sophia Hamborough of Steephill Castle the previous week.

By his second wife Agnes MacPherson late Smythe, he had four children, John Henry, Alice Mary, Antoinette Anne and Hanry. Alice Mary, born 1852, married Fred Disney in 1883, and Antoinette married Augustus Leeds in 1881. Henry, also born in 1858, was struck by a cricket ball at Steephill in 1872. But in spite of being attended to by Lord Lister, the Anaesthetist, and taken to Edinburgh he died shortly afterwards. This is recalled in a letter to William Thornton, dated 4th January 1950 from John Albert Cheape of Greenwood, Virginia, U.S.A. who attended the funeral of Lord Lister at Westminster Abbey in 1912.
General Sir John Cheape died 30th March 1875 aged 82, and is buried at St. Lawrence Church. His wife Agnes joined him in 1877.
Although Sir John purchased the property on 3rd March 1863, the census of 1861, records the whole family in residence. A clue to this is given by the notice in the Times of 16th March, 1858 whereby Old Park could be rented, and no doubt he did so, until the purchase was complete. The description in the Times shows that it was quite a reasonably sized property;


UNDERCLIFF, Isle of Wight, Old Park, St. Lawrence, Nr. Ventnor;-
To be let furnished, OLD PARK HOUSE. a gentleman’s residence,
containing four sitting rooms, 11 bedrooms, three water closets,
housekeepers room, butlers pantry, servants hall, and all the
requisite offices, with about 10 acres of pleasure ground with extensive sea view,
and short distance from the shore, kitchen garden and vinery, six stall stable,
and double coach house, and the shooting over the estate of 140 acres.
Terms moderate.
Apply to Mr Spary, Post Office, Ventnor, Isle of Wight.

Sir John found that he could apply his engineering knowledge to the house, and set about making certain improvements. The lake on the north side was filled in, enabling a new entrance and driveway to be constructed, allowing visitors to come from Ventnor rather than the Niton direction, he also constructed the lower road to separate the house and farm traffic. The most noticeable part is the south east corner of the older part which extended the social side providing a large double cube dining room over which was constructed the drawing room, the hallway rising two stories up contains a splendid staircase which has cantilever risers doing away with the need of newel posts for support. It was always thought that Cheape built the whole of the west side, but it is now likely that he linked two original buildings with the Victorian additions. However throughout the whole it is thought that he installed a form of central heating, using cast iron pipes, a form of air conditioning in each room, by means of a controlled outside source, and frames of glass to be added to the large windows as a type of double glazing.
Following the death of Agnes the house, once again, became available for renting, and we find that by December 1879 it was occupied by the Harrowby family.

LADY MARY FRANCES SANDON

During 1950s the 5th Earl, John Herbert Dudley, paid a visit to Old Park, and kindly sent William Thornton extracts from the journals of Lady Mary. These describe the days of the family whilst in residence at Old Park from December 23rd. 1879 to 1882. The most interesting being the severe winter of 1880/1…

”We had a great gale of wind soon after we came to Old Park. An Austrian Barque was wrecked beyond Blackgang on some rocks at Atherley Point. Thirteen Germans were saved by the coast Guard’s men after endeavouring in vain for many hours (from 8am to 1) to reach the wreck. The Miss Hewitt and Miss Morris were present in blinding sleet and rain. The sea ran so high that the (maroons) failed, and no rope could be thrown to the wreck. At last a barrel with a rope tied to it was floated from the ship, and carried towards the shore by the tide. It reached a certain point, but there stuck, until a brave coastguards man threw himself into the sea, and at the peril of his life got hold of the barrel and rope. But this means a basket was conveyed to the ship, and the men brought off one by one. The last man off, the captain, was bought to land at nightfall. It was feared that there would not be enough light to save him. As the drenched men were landed one by one, the coastguards people dragged or carried them up the cliff, and the ladies, who had prepared food and hot coffee for then, together with the wives of the coast guards…

January 12th 1881 was very cold… We had a frost and a sprinkling of snow... 5 degrees of frost… Sandon (Hall, staffs.) had 22 degrees on Friday 14th and 32 degrees on Saturday… On Monday 17th a bitter southeast wind blew and heavy snow fell, and on Tuesday Ventnor was almost cut off. The butcher and baker came, but had to leave their carts in the road and bring their things down on their backs. Mrs Pitt, the charwoman, could not come from Whitwell… Old Robert and the garden boy came but did not attempt to go back at night and slept in the Bothey in the garden… Our coals were almost exhausted, and we had to borrow some from Mirables… the birds suffered and four large thrushes were on Lord H’s bedroom window at once… We fed them all round the house… Lord H felt the effects of the snow… very much, and seemed nervous. Raglan was careful of him and gave him more stimulants, and towards eve he seemed much more himself.

Jan 21st Friday morning. More snow and a high east wind. It has been a bitter night and the road between the Coachman’s cottage and Osborn’s (farm cottage) is blocked. Allen, the man at the farm has taken his wagon into Ventnor, drawn by seven horses to fetch some more coals… a slight thaw causes avalanches from the roof, and one smashed the glass roof of the fernery.

6:30pm the wagon has returned bringing half a ton of coal, which will last us two days. Allen could only use four of the horses so he could only bring half a load. But he brought meat and bread. The railway line to Newport has been blocked all week. Three engines were employed to bring the train from Ryde.
Saturday January 22nd. Lord Lichfield, his brother Adelbert… Lady Florence and some of her brothers appeared like arctic travellers… they are really anxious about the people shut up at Blackgang… they had 20 degrees of frost.”

Note; - Lady Florence married 15th August 1885, Col. Sir Henry Streatfeild
Mary Maud Lichfield married 19th July 1883, Hon Edward Allen Dudley Ryder.

THEODOR JULIUS WILLIAM SPINDLER

An industrial chemist, he had spent his life at the Spindler Dye Works in Berlin living at the Villa Semiramis, Maassen Strasse, and Berlin. His health had deteriorated, and he was searching for a place to retire to, which would be good for his health, and after much debate finally settled on Ventnor, his research into the weather and climate, appear to be the deciding factors.
Although his time here was short, his impact upon the place was enormous, for in the space of some 7 years he was the inspiration and driving force behind various projects such as the laying out of Ventnor Park, Park Avenue, the Whitwell Road, the collection and piping of water to Whitwell and other areas. At various points around the Whitwell Village can be seen several stand pipes pained bright red and known as Red Boys or Lion Heads. Water outlets for quite a different purpose can be seen within the hotel where ‘wet-risers’ for fire fighting were installed on each floor at strategic points.
At Old Park he built the sea wall and esplanade, laid out the grounds, and imported from the Mediterranean over a million trees, shrubs and sub-tropical plants. The west staircase, built around 1884, was to enable a shorter route between the library and his living quarters.

All of his projects were designed by his architect Major Theodore Saunders.

ERNST WALTER SPINDLER

Only known son of William, Walter became interested in the arts, and developed a fine technique in oils and watercolours, and had several exhibitions at the Royal Academy and the salon de Paris. One large portrait of Sarah Bernhard, painted at Old Park was particularly successful. He was very much in with the art and theatre circle, and appeared to be rather eccentric. He evidently blamed his sister for his father’s death, and this caused a split between them, which eventually led to complications in the future regarding the disposal of the property, and it was not until after his death in 1941 that the situation resolved itself. He died at Westminster Hospital, and his flat in London was bombed, causing the loss of many works of art.

CLARA SPINDLER

After her marriage to Saunders they went to live at Rugans, Park avenue, Ventnor, which he had designed and built, and raised a family there.

THEODOR RIDLEY SAUNDERS

Born in London 12th December 1850, he came to Ventnor in 1872. He became articled to his brother’s practice. He was an F.S.I., A.M.I.C.E., and F.R.I.B.A. until he retired in 1917. During his 45 years in practice he was responsible for an enormous amount of work carried out in the south of the Island. Besides numerous private commissions, he had a hand in the following public works;-

  • Ventnor Town Hall, now Coconut Grove.
  • The Pavilion, Ventnor Esplanade, now Gaiety Amusement Arcade.
  • St. Lawrence Hall, the home of Lord Jellicoe, now demolished.
  • Craigie lodge, the Undercliff home of Pearl Craigie.
  • St. John’s Church Wroxall.
  • St. Margaret’s Church Ventnor.
  • Artillery and Drill Hall.
  • The Royal Spithead Hotel, Bembridge.
  • The Battenberg Block, Royal National Hospital.
  • Capital and counties bank Ventnor.
  • The stables, Steephill Castle.
  • The whole of Alexandra Gardens, Ventnor.
  • The main road between Ventnor and Whitwell, Whitwell and Niton
  • Leeson Road, Bonchurch, and the high road between Old Park and Mirables.
  • The Public Water Supply to the following villages; -
  • Whitwell, Brightstone, Wroxall, Niton, Godshill and St. Lawrence.

15th June 1883, Saunders was made a trustee under the will of Spindler. 5th December 1888, Spindler revoked the appointment of Saunders as trustee, and he was replaced by Dr. John Whitehead of St Lawrence Hall. Was this after he found out about Saunders and his daughter?

10th December 1888, Spindler became a naturalised British subject.
29th May 1889, Saunders married Marie Clara Margaret Spindler.
3rd December 1889, T.J.W. Spindler died.

Sadly, it is understood that Spindler did not approve of the marriage, although he was a witness, and I understand that his son Ernst Walter accused his sister of causing his father’s death and, that brother and sister split apart for the rest of their days, all this having a dramatic effect on the future of Old Park. On 1st June 1906 Clara Wilhelmina Charlotte Spindler died, certified by Dr. John Whitehead. Trustee of the estate.

ON THURSDAY OCTOBER 11TH 1906 OLD PARK WAS PUT UP FOR AUCTION BY FRANCIS PITTIS AND SON, THE HOUSE FAILED TO ATTRACT A BIDDER AND THE FAMILY FEUD PREVENTED ITS SALE UNTIL 1947.
It should be remembered that the island went out of fashion upon the death of Queen Victoria, and many of the estates lost their social status.

INTERESTING VISITORS TO OLD PARK

DUDLEY RYDER 2nd. EARL OF HARROWBY, K.G., P.C., D.C.L., M.A. Oxon.
Member of the Ecclesiastical Commission; M.P. for Tiverton 1819-31, and for Liverpool 1831-47; chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in 1855, and lord privy seal 1855-57; and vice-president of the council 1874; born 19th May 1798; married 15th September. 1823, Frances, 4th. Daughter of John, 1st. Marques of Bute, and by her had; -

DUDLEY FRANCIS STUART 3rd. EARL OF HARROWBY, P.C., D.C.L., M.A. Oxon.

J.P. and D.L. Staffordshire, chairman of Staffordshire County Council, M.P. for Litchfield 1856-59 and for Liverpool 1868-1882, President of the Board of Trade 1878-80; Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal 1885-86. Born 16th January 1831; Married 3rd October 1861, Mary Frances, eldest daughter of Brownlow, 2nd Marquis of Exeter.

He was also President of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and hanging in the corridors of Sandon Hall at Stone, in Staffordshire is a picture of Queen Victoria with her daughter Princess Beatrice, together with her dogs. This was presented to him whilst at Old Park.

An extract from “ The Osborne Journals, and Notes of Events of Dudley Ryder, Viscount Sandon, 1879-86.“ Left Old Park about 10 minutes to 4pm in Fly- after farewells for year to M(ary) and Papa (2nd Earl, who was not well and a doctor having been called). Drove in high gale across the Island-soon dark. Arrived in tempestuous evening before 6 o’clock. Summoned, after a notice of a few minutes to the Queen between 7 and 8, along endless corridors full of pretty statuary and up a staircase shown into a dressing room… full of pictures… a writing table in one window, a dressing table with ivory brushes and looking glass in another… a washing stand in one corner… in centre writing table… small fire. I waited awhile alone… when the Queen came in and we stood, I suppose for nearly half and hour, face to face… I leaning occasionally on the back of a chair between us… she inquired much about the terrible Tay Bridge accident. We talked about Afghanistan and the recent happy successes. I spoke of my anxiety about a railway on that frontier-about Russia-the attempt on the King and Queen of Spain’s life, about the cape and the happy opening of the telegraph (which had just been completed between Aden and Zanzibar).

Most kind enquiries were made about Old Park home… Mary’s health… and my father. I was led back again- when she had bowed me to leave. Then doubt arose… as no notice had been sent me… that I was to dine with the Queen… I dressed in trousers… towards nine message cam that I was to dine with the Queen… and a great scramble ensued to get into breeches.

It was quite normal to take long holidays of several months, and during the owner’s absence property was leased or lent to friends for their holidays. An example of this is shown above with the occupancy by the Harrowby family. During the summer of 1899, Mrs Spindler decided to take a journey abroad, and offered the use of Old Park to her friends Mr. and Mrs. John Morgan Richards for a period of three months. This was accepted and they took up residence on August 1st staying until November 1st.

MR. and MRS. JOHN MORGAN RICHARDS

Mr. and Mrs Richards first came to England from the United States around 1868, when Mr. Richards had business arrangements that necessitated his settlement in London, and so England became their home. After a period they began to travel and in 1872 they saw in a copy of the “Advertiser! An illustration of Ventnor. This led them to stay at the Royal Marine Hotel, Belgrave Road. The journey, in those days took some five to six hours as it required a train journey to Portsmouth town, then on to Southsea by horse drawn tram, crossing to Ryde Pier head, then by omnibus to Ryde St. Johns Road, and carriage or train to Ventnor. For several years they stayed at Belinda house on Ventnor Esplanade, followed by Richmond Villa, and then Hughendon and 1 Marine Parade. By coincidence, Hughendon was purchased by William Thornton in 1946, and its name changed to Honeythorn, being part Thornton and part Honeychurch, Mrs. Evelyn Thornton’s maiden name. All this covered some fifteen years of visits to the Island. From 1887 they secured accommodation at Rock Cottage, and it was there that their daughter gave birth to her child John Churchill Craigie, on August 14th 1890.

Amongst their earliest friendships in the island was one with the Spindler Family of Old park, and many a pleasant day was spent at that ‘charming and delightful place’. Mr Walter Spindler, was a favourite amongst all, and he became a fine artist, who began a portrait of Mr. John Morgan Richards at his studio in London, and during the summer of 1898 he was anxious to complete the commission Mrs Spindler invited him to visit Old Park for a fortnight in September. Mrs Spindler decided to travel abroad during the summer of 1899, and suggested that the Morgan Richards would like to occupy the house for the period August 1st to November 1st. This they gladly accepted, as they were so familiar with the house that it was like coming home.

During this period several events took place worthy of note. It was the first year of the South African War, and Mrs. Richards was pro Boer, and considered President Kruger quite justified. One day on a journey to Ventnor she presented a shilling to a bystander asking him to drink the health of President Kruger, this he accepted, and then asked who the gentleman was. Sir Thomas Lipton made his first attempt to win back the America Cup in his Shamrock I, unfortunately this, and following attempts failed to bring the cup back to England.

During the September H.M Queen Victoria attended a fete at Carisbrooke Castle, and a large party went from Old Park, amongst which a certain gentleman was anxious to sing before the Queen. Sadly his turn came up before the arrival of Her Majesty, and he deplored the organisation. A fellow guest, Judge Morean, consoled him by saying that he could claim to have sung ‘before the Queen’ – got there.

1899 saw the completion of the railway line through the tunnel to St. Lawrence, and by early 1900 the line was complete to Ventnor West Railway Station. This last section proved difficult until a Mr. William sold Steephill Castle to Mr. Charles Mortimer, who was interested in the project and gave favourable terms to the scheme. Mr. Mortimer, having an estate in Surrey, was able to let the castle and the Richards took up residence from August to October 1900. Their only complaint was the lack of stabling which had been lost in the railway. In 1901 they repeated the arrangement and actually stayed at the castle from July 15th to the end of November. On September 9th 1903 Mr. Mortimer agreed to sell the castle with the contents to the Richards, and they moved in at once, and set about making good the few deficiencies. The stables were built, a large kitchen garden laid out together with a vinery, and at Steephill Cove a bathing house was erected.

PEARL MARIE-TERESA CRAIGIE

Born on November 3rd 1867 at Chelsea, Mass. USA the daughter of Mr and Mrs. John Morgan Richards, she came to England, with her Mother to join her father in February 1868, and by the age of five she was able to read and write, and soon started to read books will in advance of her age, and she became a natural leader, and when only about seven she expressed the desire to write books. Her first school was at Newbury in Berkshire, and by the age of 13 knew all the work of Thackeray, she loved Museums and galleries, and by the age of 14 had been to every theatrical production in London and knew all the names of the actors and actresses. The year of 1885 was spent in Paris where she became a fine pianist, and in May 1886 she was presented at court.

Her marriage to Mr. R.W. Craigie took place in February 1887, and for two months they lives in Cannes, where she was taken seriously ill, they returned to England in May, and it took six months for her to return to full health, occupying her time with writing and studying, and becoming a journalist writing a series of articles upon drama and art for a weekly publication called “Life”. After establishing a reputation as a critic and writer she attended a study course at University College London.

In July 1890 she and her husband visited her parents at Rock Cottage, Ventnor, where she gave birth to her son John Churchill Craigie on August 15th. They moved to a house in High Barnet, where they lived for a while, but unhappily she became depressed and relations with Mr. Craigie became strained, and in May 1891 she moved to her parents, and subsequently obtained a divorce, the decree was made absolute and she obtained exclusive custody of her son.

1891 saw the publication of her first book “Some emotions and a Moral”. This had been offered to Messrs. Macmillan, who had requested alteration, Pearl refused to comply and the MS. Was given to Mr. Fisher Unwin of the “Pseudonym Library”, she adopted the name of John Oliver Hobbes.

Pearl, was received into the Roman Catholic Church in 1892, and Lord Curzon at the unveiling of her memorial at University College said of her: “She had the religious sense in a highly developed degree, and in a time of trouble she sought refuge in the Roman Catholic Faith”. For some years she kept an apartment at Convent of the Assumption in Kensington Square. Her first play, “Journeys end in lovers’ meeting” was produced at Daly’s theatre, London in June 1895. Miss Ellen Terry took part of Lady Soupire, she then bought the acting rights and played in it many times at the Lyceum Theatre, London, and on her tours of the United States with Sir Henry Irving. Whilst the play was at Daly’s, Mr Gladstone sent for her, and asked her to read it to him while he was confined to his rooms after an eye operation for cataracts.

Desiring a house, away from it all, Mrs Craigie rented a property known as St. Lawrence Lodge, on the Old Park estate. The longstanding family friends, the Swindler’s’ owned the house, and their son Walter developed remarkable talents as an artist, and took great interest in the Lodge. He designed an Italian garden, and painted some panels in the dining room, and helped her choose the colour scheme. He painted several portraits of her, the frontispiece of her book “The Sinners Comedy” was drawn by him. She dedicated her work “A bundle of Life” to him. After her death Mr. Morgan Richards bought the house and renamed it Craigie lodge.

SARAH BERNHARDT

How often Sarah Bernhardt visited Old Park is uncertain, but she probably came through Pearl Craigie and her connection with theatre world. There is no doubt that a close friendship existed between her and Ernst Spindler, as not only did she pose for her portrait at Old Park, they remained friends for many years.

Whilst staying at the Old Park on March 24th 1881, THOMAS DUDLEY RYDER the Registrar of the diocese of Manchester was asked to enter his ‘wants’ in the presence book.

  • Wants at Old Park! Nay the term sounds absurd
  • For there one forgets there is such a word;
  • E’er to wish, you need scarcely venture at all
  • Your wishes and wants, thoughts of kindness forestall,
  • There is but one thing I should like to see tried,
  • A tunnel and railway from Portsmouth to Ryde-
  • Then you’d, in spite of thick fog and rough ocean,
  • Haste here without much delay or commotion.
  • But long may Old Park its sweet beauty remain
  • And its peace ne’er be shocked by the rush of a train
  • And its flower spangled grove and musical rills
  • Cast their spell, safely sheltered under the hills.
  • And what e’er smacks of noyance and unrest
  • Be far, far off expelled from this delicious nest.