The heavy tome I carefully carried from the counter in the British Library’s Maps department to one of the reading desks was about A3 size, some 4 inches thick and solidly bound. It contained a set of Victorian sales literature for great houses in the south of England, including Shrewsbury House and Mayfield. The Shrewsbury House set was typical: it included a pastel-coloured lithograph of the house, a hand-drawn fold-out map of the estate and half a dozen pages describing the mansion and its grounds. The descriptive statements were centred on each page and contrived to use as many different fonts and sizes as possible.
I’ve included a full transcript of the Shrewsbury House details at the bottom of this post, though I haven’t attempted to reproduce all the different fonts. In true estate agent style it brings out all the advantages of the area – “The Neighbourhood of Shooter’s Hill is exceedingly picturesque and much admired, and a favourite one for residence” – and the location of the house which:
“Is almost on the summit of the hill, about 350 Feet above the Sea Level and commands a beautiful landscape, exhibiting a great variety of extensive distances, a cheerful luxuriance of sylvan scenery, including on the south the Knockholt range in Kent, on the north and east the hilly parts of Essex and Hertfordshire and the Alexandra Palace and Park; on the South, parts of Sydenham and the Crystal Palace and Windsor Castle; and as a home view, the extensive windings of the noble river Thames with its shipping. From the mansion it is said Seven Counties are visible in clear weather.”
This original Shrewsbury House, built in 1789 by the 16th Earl of Shrewsbury was a substantial property with 15 bedrooms, including those for servants, and extensive grounds including pleasure gardens, stables and buildings for livestock, and a 20ft long vinery.
The picture at the top of the post isn’t taken from the sales particulars, the British Library would have charged £60 for a digital reproduction. It is a scan of a sketch originally published in Greenwood’s 1838 “An Epitome of County History“. The house would have been the same in 1873 though – a photograph in the Shrewsbury Park Estate conservation area appraisal shows that the appearance of the house was unchanged through to 1901. The Epitome of County History also extols the views from Shrewsbury House:
Shrewsbury House, in the Parish of Plumsted, the seat of John Cooper, Esq. is situated on the north-east edge of Shooter's Hill, and commands pros- pects unequalled in any other part of the county. The metropolis, the shipping, the winding course of the Thames to the verge of the horizon, the County of Essex, and the most interesting parts of Kent, including the populous towns of Greenwich and Woolwich, are all presented to the eye in a vast panorama from the leads of this lofty mansion. This was the residence, for a considerable time, of her late Royal Highness the Princess Charlotte, during her education : and certainly no situation could have been selected more salubrious, or better adapted to compose the attention to literary pursuits. In the study there is an immense globe geographically delineated on the floor, formed, it is said, to familiarise the science to the mind of the illustrious pupil. The interior of this house is decorated with many works of art, among which are paintings by Waltean, Permigiano, De Here, Weenix, Glover, Chamberlain, and others ; some fine sculpture, &c.
The 1873 sales document doesn’t mention the expected price anywhere, it would be too vulgar to mention money I guess, and I wondered how much the estate sold for. However it’s not clear that the house sold at all in 1873 – dependable Colonel Bagnold lists the owners of Shrewsbury House from 1789 through to its demolition in 1923, and he says that the Rev. John Smallman Masters owned it between 1856 and 1888, though he mortgaged it more than once during 1862-76.
The occupants of the old Shrewsbury House were a varied bunch: from royalty (Princess Charlotte) and the head of the Royal Dockyard, through to the early experimenter in gas lighting, Mr Winser. It also had spells as a boarding school with a dozen boy pupils and as the Crole-Wyndham Home for Convalescent Children – housing 32 poor children from the slums of London. In 1923 the old Shrewsbury House was pulled down by former mayor and later Deputy Lieutenant of the County of Kent F.T. Halse, who then built the current Shrewsbury House, now in active use as the community centre.
One mystery remains about the old house – what happened to the foundation stone? This stone, according to Colonel Bagnold, is inscribed “CHARLES, XVIth Earl &c., &c., of Shrewsbury laid this stone , July 29th, 1789.”, and was installed in a rockery in Well Hall Pleasaunce. It doesn’t seem to be there now as far as I can see – I wonder if it was moved somewhere, or is buried under the shrubbery? The Colonel thought the stone should be mounted on a plinth on the roundabout in Mereworth Drive, which is close to the site of the old Shrewsbury House – what a good way that would have been to commemorate our local history!
Transcript of the 1873 sales description:
ON THE SUMMIT OF SHOOTERS HILL
About 8 1/2 miles by road from London Bridge
PARTICULARS, WITH CONDITIONS OF SALE
The Shrewsbury House Estate
A VERY CHOICE AND VALUABLE
ON THE CREST OF SHOOTERS HILL
About 350 ft. above the sea level and commanding
Very distant and exceedingly beautiful views of Kent, the River Thames with its shipping, the hilly parts of Essex etc.
AND CONSISTING OF
A LARGE FAMILY MANSION
Placed in the midst of its PLEASURE GROUNDS, in the centre of
Undulating and well-timbered park and woodlands,
About 54 Acres,
VERY COMPACTLY SITUATE NEAR THE MAIN ROAD FROM LONDON TO DARTFORD,
WITH POSSESSION ON COMPLETION OF THE PURCHASE:
WHICH WILL BE OFFERED FOR SALE BY AUCTION,
Messrs. DANIEL SMITH, SON , & OAKLEY,
AT THE AUCTION HOUSE, TOKENHOUSE YARD, CITY, E.C.,
On TUESDAY, the 29th day of JULY, 1873
AT ONE FOR TWO O’CLOCK PRECISELY, – IN ONE LOT
Particulars may be obtained of Messrs. A.F. & R.W. TWEEDIE, Solicitors, 5, Lincoln’s Inn Fields, W.C.; at the
Place of Sale; and of Messrs. DANIEL SMITH, SON , & OAKLEY, Land Agents and Surveyors, 10, Waterloo Place, Pall Mall, S.W.
SHREWSBURY HOUSE ESTATE
IS SITUATE AT
PARISH OF PLUMSTEAD, KENT,
Near the Main Road from
LONDON TO DARTFORD,
Having a Frontage of nearly
1,500 FEET TO SHREWSBURY LANE,
About 8 1/2 Miles by Road from LONDON BRIDGE; about 20 Minutes’ drive from BLACKHEATH STATION, 30 Minutes from
GREENWICH, and 15 Minutes from WOOLWICH ARSENAL STATION, all on the North Kent Line of the South-Eastern
Railway, with quick and frequent Train Service to and from Charing Cross, Cannon Street and London Bridge Stations
during the day about half-an-hour’s ride from the Metropolis
The Neighbourhood of Shooter’s Hill is exceedingly Picturesque and much admired,
AND A FAVOURITE ONE FOR RESIDENCE
Is almost on the Summit of the Hill, about 350 Feet above the Sea Level and commands a
Exhibiting a great variety of extensive distances, a cheerful luxuriance of Sylvan Scenery, including on the South the
Knockholt Range in Kent, on the North and East the hilly parts of Essex and Hertfordshire and the Alexandra Palace
and Park; on the South, parts of Sydenham and the Crystal Palace and Windsor Castle;
AND AS A HOME VIEW, THE
Extensive Windings of the Noble River Thames with its Shipping
From the MANSION it is said Seven Counties are visible in clear weather
The most important element in the value of this
CHOICE FREEHOLD PROPERTY
Is the facilities it presents as a
Which will suggest itself to an enterprising Capitalist, a Building Society, or Private Company, as offering a favourable
opportunity for Safe Investment
The Subsoil being Gravel and Brick Earth, the Materials are already on the spot for the formation of New Roads, and
the Manufacture of Bricks.
And as the Property is on a Hill it is admirably situate for Drainage
The Roads leading to this Estate having been recently widened, greater facilities of communication have been opened up
which cannot fail to be of considerable benefit to the Property, whether it be developed as a Building Estate or kept as a
Some of the Adjacent Land is now being covered with Residences of a superior class, and Building operations are carried on
adjoining the Estate.
The Land might be so laid out as to preserve the House and Grounds in the centre, and, if not required for a Private
Residence, it would be available for a Public Institution, for which purpose the high and healthy situation renders it
The Property comprises
Built by an Earl of Shrewsbury, and once occupied by Her Royal Highness Princess Charlotte, placed on the crest of the
Hill, approached through Ornamental
Shrubbery and Pleasure Grounds,
CARRIAGE DRIVE WITH LODGE ENTRANCE.
The House is surrounded by
UNDULATING PARK LANDS,
BEAUTIFUL WOOD OF 4 1/4 ACRES,
The whole being Richly Timbered with Oak, Elm, and other Timber Trees.
The Mansion possesses the advantages and the quietude of a Country Residence, notwithstanding its nearness to London, in
addition to being in a healthy situation, and in good position with regard to Society, and is in every respect adapted for
the Residence of a Gentleman of position.
The Extent of the Property is 54a. Or. 21p.,
All being in Pasture except the Wood of 4 1/4 acres, the Pleasure Grounds and Sites of Buildings
Is principally three Stories in height (part being of two Stories), and Basement, substantially built of Brick, Stuccoed, with
strong Lead Flat Roofs, from which (and other parts of the Property), the Views before mentioned can be obtained.
IT CONTAINS THE FOLLOWING INTERNAL ACCOMMODATION:-
LOFTY ENTRANCE HALL
The former being 39 ft. 6 in., by 10 ft., and the latter 21 ft. 8 in. by 7 ft. 8 in., approached by a flight of stone steps.
THE DINING ROOM
23 ft. 6 in.. with Bow Window overlooking the Lawn, fitted with a Black Marble Chimney-piece, and an
An Alcove or Garden Entrance,
Paved with Stone, of semi-circular shape, 15 ft. by 9 ft. 6 in.
20 ft. by 18 ft. 6 in., with Bow Window overlooking the Gardens ; (with a Black Marble Chimney-piece)
THE BREAKFAST ROOM
19 ft. 6 in. by 16 ft. 0 in., of irregular shape, with a St. Anne’s Marble Chimney-piece
A GENTLEMAN’S ROOM
15 ft. 4 in. by 12 ft., with Statuary Marble chimney-piece; A DRESSING ROOM adjoining 12 ft. by 7 ft. 6 in.
THESE APARTMENTS ARE ON THE RIGHT AND LEFT OF THE CORRIDOR AND ALL COMMUNICATE
They are 11 ft. in height.
A WINDING STAIRCASE
CONDUCTS TO THE CORRIDOR ON THE FIRST STORY
31 ft. 2 in. by 7 ft. 8 in. and 23 ft. by 9 ft. 8 in. and 11 ft. 6 in. in height from which is approached
THE VERY HANDSOME
OF NOBLE PROPORTIONS,
42 ft. 3 in. by 29 ft. 9 in., including 3 large Bow Windows, a deep enriched Cornice, the paper in panels of an Elegant
Pattern. There are 2 Fire Places. An Iron Balcony extends round the garden Front.
THIS ROOM COMMANDS THE PARK GROUNDS AND LAWNS,
And is 15 ft. 9 in. high.
ON THIS STORY ARE ALSO
TWO PRINCIPAL BED CHAMBERS OR ANTE-ROOMS
AND A DRESSING ROOM
ON THE UPPER STORY
Are 3 PRINCIPAL BED ROOMS, occasionally used as Nurseries, fitted with convenient Closets &c. A Housemaid’s
Closet and Water Closet.
TWO FLIGHTS OF STAIRS LEAD TO THE LEAD FLAT ROOFS.
ON THE FIRST STORY IN THE WING
Are also 2 PRINCIPAL and 5 SERVANTS’ BED CHAMBERS; a Store Room, fitted; a Water Closet; and a
Secondary Staircase to the Ground Floor.
THE DOMESTIC OFFICES,
ON THE GROUND FLOOR,
Are shut off from the Entrance Hall and comprise a Butler’s Pantry and Scullery, a Water Closet, Servants’ Hall, a good
Kitchen, Scullery and Coal Cellar.
IN THE BASEMENT
Are also the following Offices :- Extensive Arched Cellarage, also a Wine Cellar and several Rooms formerly used
as Kitchen, Scullery, Butlers’ Pantry, 3 Bed Rooms, Mangle Room, Larder, Knife Room, Bakehouse, Dairy &Cc
THE HOUSE AND PREMISES
Are supplied with an abundance of Spring Water from the Well by a Force Pump
THE STABLING DEPARTMENT
Two Stalls, with Loft over, Brick, Board and Slate; a Pony Stable; and a Gig House, Board and Tile ;
A 2-Stall Stable and a Carriage House, a Hen House, Board and Felt, and yard, 3 Pigstyes, and a Potting Shed, Board
and Tile, a Lean-to Cow House for 4 Cows, Board and Tile.
THE PLEASURE GROUNDS
Are embellished with a profusion of well-grown Shrubs and Ornamental Timber Trees, including handsome Cedars of
Lebanon, Pink, Red and White Thorns, Arbutus, Azanthus, and specimens of Oak, Beech, Sycamore, and Wych Elm,
and there are Banks of Rhododendron, the Flower Borders being arranged in Parterres.
A SMALL SEMI-CIRCULAR ROSE GARDEN
Contains a Greenhouse in 3 Compartments, 60 ft. long, and at the back a Gardener’s Bothie, and a large Potting Shed,
Brick and Tile, and a Closet.
TWO PRODUCTIVE KITCHEN GARDENS.
ONE CONTAINING A VINERY
About 20 ft. long.
IN THE PADDOCKS
Are a Barn, with Cow Shed and a Hen House, with 3 Men’s Rooms over, Brick, Timber and Tile, and a Lean-to Shed.
THE ENTRANCE LODGE
is of one Floor, built of Brick, Stucco and Slate, containing 2 Rooms and a Washhouse.
The whole is further described in the following SCHEDULE :-
No on Quantity
Plan Description State A. R. P
1 Mansion and Pleasure Grounds 5 1 11
2 Park Ground Pasture 30 1 10
3 Wood Wood 4 0 27
4 Pasture Pasture 2 1 14
5 Do. do. 11 3 37
6 Pond Pond, &c 0 1 2
Total of the Estate A 54 0 21