Treasures of the Essex Record Office: Easton Lodge
PUBLISHED: 06:00 11 May 2016
Hannah Salisbury from the Essex Record Office shares the story of the rise, fall and restoration of Easton Lodge, in Little Easton near Great Dunmow
The story of Easton Lodge, found in Little Easton near Great Dunmow, begins in the 1590s, during the reign of Elizabeth I. For several centuries, the house was owned by the Maynard family, beginning with Sir Henry Maynard. Sir Henry was Private Secretary to William Cecil, Elizabeth I’s Lord Chancellor, and was granted the Manor of Easton in reward for his services. He built a fine Tudor mansion on the property, which was later expanded by his son, Charles. Charles planted a substantial deer park and his additions to the house included a private chapel.
Many of the Maynards made shrewd decisions and their estates grew, and the house with it. In 1775 the property passed to a Charles Maynard, who was somewhat more profligate with his fortune, partly influenced by his passion for an actress, Nancy Parsons. Nancy was the mistress of the Prime Minister, the Duke of Grafton, but Charles married her anyway. The marriage was not a success as Nancy ran away to France with Charles’ valet, and most of the family jewellery.
Disaster befell the mansion in the shape of a serious fire in 1847. The fire was discovered by the then owner of the house, Henry Lord Maynard, Third Viscount, at 3am on a Sunday morning. A newspaper report at the time described Lord Maynard’s attempts to smother the fire with a carpet and the rousing of the household who, ‘set vigorously to work with buckets of water’. Their attempts were unfortunately in vain and by the time fire engines arrived from Thaxted, the fire had taken hold. Many pieces of furniture, paintings, books and other items were rescued, but the house was left, ‘a heap of black ruins, beneath which lies buried much costly and valuable property’.
Despite the fact that the house was not insured, Henry Maynard rebuilt the central wing in the fashionable Gothic style. When he died in 1865, the estate passed to his three-year-old granddaughter, Frances ‘Daisy’ Maynard. The bequest seems to have been rather a shock to some of his family. Henry had been on bad terms with his only son, Frances’s father, and it had been assumed that the property would pass to his eldest daughter’s son. Frances’s granddaughter, Felice Spurrier, recalled a family story describing the reading of Henry’s will: ‘There was consternation amongst members of the family gathered at Easton Lodge to hear the terms of the will. The will was read soon after breakfast in the morning before the table had been cleared, and various members of the family were so enraged when they heard of his Lordship’s bequest, that they hurled pats of butter at the fine Canevori portrait of the last Viscount, hanging above their heads.’
Daisy grew up to become an important society figure, well known for her lavish hospitality and nine-year liaison with Edward, Prince of Wales, who was a frequent visitor to Easton Lodge.
In 1939 the estate was requisitioned by the War Office and used by the Army and the Home Guard. Later in the war, thousands of trees were felled to create an airfield which was used by the US Air Force and the RAF. The Army occupied the estate until 1950, and the remainder of the house was demolished soon afterwards. The gardens have been gradually restored since 1971 and are now open to the public.
Find out more, including how to visit, at www.eastonlodge.co.uk
Bookbinding Taster Day (Saturday, May 14 - 10am to 3pm)
This taster session is the perfect introduction to the world of bookbinding. You will make a simple pamphlet binding and be introduced to some of the materials, equipment and techniques of basic craft bookbinding. Includes a one-hour lunch break. Please make your own provisions for lunch. Tickets: £35. Please book in advance on 033301 32500
Book launch: Printed Maps of Essex from 1576 (Saturday, May 21 - 11am to 2pm (talk at 11.30am))
The Essex Record Office cares for many historic maps of our ancient county, which have been brought together for the first time in this illustrated volume by Peter Walker. Join the launch of the book with a talk from Peter on the maps and the people who made them, and a display of some of the maps themselves. Copies of the book will be available to purchase on the day at a discounted price. Free, no need to book. Saffron Walden Town Hall, Market Street, Saffron Walden CB10 1HZ