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The history of Wanstead House

PUBLISHED: 16:21 31 October 2016

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Archant

Hannah Salisbury from the Essex Record Office profiles the history of Wanstead House, once one of England’s most lavish country houses

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Philip Morant, in his History of Essex of 1768, wrote that, ‘Wanstead House… for situation, building, waters, gardens and the hereditary command of the forest, may be said to exceed any in England’.

At this time, Wanstead House was a palatial building situated in an enormous park in Wanstead, between Stratford and Ilford. The neo-classical mansion described by Morant was not the first grand property to stand on the site. It replaced a Tudor house that is believed to have been built in the 1560s by Lord Robert Rich. He had inherited the property from his father, Sir Richard Rich, who had been a major player in the royal courts of Henry VIII and Edward VI. In 1577 Rich sold the house to Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester, who was a great favourite of Elizabeth I, who visited him there.

In 1667 the property was sold to Josiah Child, the second son of a London merchant, who began his career as an apprentice and ended up as director and chairman of the East India Company. He spent huge sums of money on beautifying the estate, planting avenues of trees and constructing lakes and ponds.

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In 1704 the estate was inherited by Richard Child, who continued to enhance the grounds even further. To grace the new and improved park, Sir Richard Child commissioned an enormous new house, to be designed by Colin Campbell, one of the great architects of the day. Built between 1715 and 1722, the new house contained over 70 rooms, including grand state apartments, a library, oak dining room, billiard room, grand saloon, ballroom, bedrooms, nursery, kitchens, storerooms, and servants’ quarters. The exterior was of white Portland stone, with a large portico in the centre of the front of the building, supported by eight Corinthian pillars.

The entrance was reached by a double flight of steps, and visitors would enter into the Great Hall, which was 51 feet long and 36 feet wide and high. The house was decorated with fine paintings, statues, chandeliers, tapestries, and gilded ceilings.

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Richard died in 1750 and was succeeded by his son John, who had taken the surname Tylney owing to another large inheritance bestowed upon him. John spent a great deal of time in Italy, collecting valuable works of art. He died in 1784, and Wanstead passed to his nephew, Sir James Tylney-Long.

In 1805 the estate was inherited by Sir James’s 16-year-old daughter, Catherine Tylney-Long, making her one of the wealthiest heiresses in the kingdom. During her minority, the house was let to exiled French royals escaping the revolution taking place in France, including Louis XVIII.

In 1812 Catherine married William Wellesley-Pole, a nephew of the Duke of Wellington, who owing to his wife’s wealth and status changed his name to William Pole-Tylney-Long-Wellesley. William proved to be an unreliable and spendthrift husband, whose extravagant lifestyle drained the entirety of Catherine’s great fortune. He ran up such large debts that the couple were forced to auction off the contents of Wanstead House in a sale lasting 32 days. William then sold the house for building materials and it was taken down stone by stone until nothing remained.

Wanstead Park still remains today, along with some of the garden features and buildings installed during its heyday.

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10.30am to 3pm (talk at 1.30pm)

Essex Record Office

Wharf Road, Chelmsford CM2 6YT

Chelmsford may look modern on the surface, but look a little deeper and you will find layer upon layer of history waiting to be discovered. Chelmsford’s history is richly told by maps, photographs as well as sound and video recordings. Come along to see and hear them for yourself, and for a talk from architectural historian Dr James Bettley on some of the major changes to the city since World War II.

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Free entry. Suggested £2 donation

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